Yeah, I know. It’s what I tell myself all of the time, echoing the I Ching and assorted other wise guys and smarty-pants, ancient and new: The goal is getting to clarity.
The problem with that one, of course, is that I’m such a little thing and the Universe is really, REALLY huge.
What are the odds that I’m ever really going to be able to know enough to make sense out of it all?
How likely is it that I’ll be the know-it-all who can suss out the Whopper Mystery and the All of Everything – even with the help of all these electronic devices and beaucoup-pile of databases and stacks of books and that?
IT’S A DILEMMA, ALL RIGHT.
As far as I can tell there are just two basic stances you can take when you start dancing your Tao Dance. There are ongoing, long-standing arguments for either one.
Everybody and everything is against you and they’re all out to get you.
The world all around you is conspiring to do you good.
The first stance is so old it has an established name. It’s called “paranoia.”
Google will tell you that “paranoia” is a noun that means, “a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically elaborated into an organized system.”
The entry warns that this “may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, of drug abuse, or of a serious condition such as schizophrenia in which the person loses touch with reality.”
The second one has a made-up name that’s slowly making its way into dictionaries and such: “pronoia.”
Wikipedia credits a psychologist, Dr. Fred H. Goldner of Queens College in New York City, as the probable official coiner of the name. The good doctor wrote an article in 1982 that was published in the academic journal Social Problems.
That article, titled “Pronoia,” detailed a phenomenon that is the positive mirror-image of the more established social delusion we call paranoia.
Goldner said that there are those among us who take the social complexity and ambiguity we encounter in the modern world and rearrange the events and circumstances that we all encounter in our lives into a story of support, connection, and well-wishing.
They carry this story with them and the actions that arise out of it are very different than the ones engendered by the paranoia paradigm.
The ideas in Goldner’s article resonated (and continues to resonate) with a lot of people.
Just six years later, in 1988, author Paulo Coelho came out with a novel, THE ALCHEMIST. In it the protagonist, a young Andalusian shepherd boy, dreams about traveling in search of an extravagant worldly treasure that will fulfill his every wish.
From his home in Spain, Santiago journeys to the markets of Tangier and across the Egyptian desert and has a bunch of adventures before encountering an old, wise man called “the Alchemist.”
The wise old magic guy encourages the boy on his quest telling the boy, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
And so Santiago goes on.
Thirty years later, the book is still going strong.
This YouTube video, “Paulo Coelho on Luck, Coincidence and Faith” was published in 2008 by HarperOne (an imprint of HarperCollins) to celebrate the book as a “modern classic.”
At the time, 22 million copies of the book – two million of which were in English — had been sold worldwide.
Nine years later, in 2017, Jubilee published the next YouTube video entitled, “How the Universe Is On Your Side” as part of their Patreon campaign called Dear Humanity.
The idea continues to gain ground, it seems.
MY OWN THINKING
All of this stuff got me thinking about how each of these two seemingly opposing and (equally delusional) systems of thought-constructs might affect the way you walk through the world.
Which point of view colors your days with rainbows and fills it with bouquets of sweet-smelling flowers?
Which one peoples your world with smiles and laughter and kindness all around?
Which filter would be likely to lead you to view the world with brighter eyes and more joy?
We humans are lucky. We get to choose the glasses we want to wear. It is, more than anything else, our birthright – just because we’re human.
In my perambulations through the multi-versal Internet, I ran across yet another YouTube video, just published in 2018 by EntertainHumorousVlooper. It’s called, “When You Want Something All the Universe Conspires in Helping You Achieve It.”
So that’s why I came up with this thing:
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an increasing tendency towards radical trust in the Universe. [It’s a cool thing to feel that there’s a conspiracy afoot to enhance your well-being. Hawaiians say, “Akua take care.”]
I am fascinated by rules. I haven’t run across a rule yet that doesn’t make sense or have some relevance in a particular circumstance or situation.
Rules are always relative. They depend on who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and how you want to do it.
Rules are, I think, a fundamental part of every structure, every process, every game, and every lifestyle. Humans have used the power of rules to build religions and construct philosophies and organize sciences.
If you set them up right, rules are a way for you to just do it – whatever it is – without having to re-think every step every time.
Ideally, you should be able to use your rules to remind yourself of the choices you’ve already made so that every time you come to a crossroads the direction you’re going to take has already been predetermined.
Rules are a kind of shorthand for all the choices you’ve made among the various ways you can (or want) to act when you interact with the world around you.
The biggest benefit to you in having well-defined set of rules connected to a variety of situations is that you don’t have to waste brain power trying to decide which way to go whenever you come across something you’ve done before.
You don’t have to power up your brain neurons. They’ve been there; they’ve done that. All you have to do is go.
Look all around you and all you see are rules, rules, and more rules.
Ancient wisdom guys just pile on the rules, assuring us that following this or that set of rules will get us to a good place. (They know this works, they say, because of all the precedents and traditions and stuff which are just other names for rules.)
The guys in the lab coats will all tell you that making up rules are how us humans make sense of this very confusing world.
If we didn’t make up rules for ourselves — belt ourselves up and box ourselves in — we’d be so overwhelmed by all the incoming data from the world around us that we’d just stand there paralyzed and unable to move.
We are hard-wired to cringe away from uncertainty. The chance that our very next step is likely to pitch us off a cliff or into some very toothy predator-mouth makes us want some guidelines, some maps…something or somebody telling us what to do.
It’s an important survival trait for us humans.
Whether any of the rules we adopt as our own are effective or not will often depend on the people around us (also known as Society or Family or Friends) and how well their sets of rules mesh or interact with our own.
A LEGACY OF RULE-MONGERING
My fascination with rules does not mean that I’m going to follow every durned rule I encounter. It just means I like looking at them, deconstructing them, seeing the why behind them and watching where following them takes you.
I think this is probably a legacy from my Grandma, the Rebel-Without-A-Pause, who raised me.
It is ironic in a way.
The woman was a force of nature who did what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted. There was not a rule made she could not dismantle by using some other rule as a lever.
She was an impossible woman and I loved her dearly.
For me, growing up, she was The Rule Factory. Mama had more rules on tap than anybody else I knew. I was the wild child she tried to impose them on.
Her ground rules were very simple. There were only two.
Do no harm.
From that foundation flowed an incredible variety and array of rules and sub-rules and precepts and corollaries and such that could make your head spin if you actually stopped to consider them.
Living and dealing with Mama and her rule-making propensities taught me one very important lesson: In any game, if you set up the rules, you can always win.
THE THING ABOUT RULES
For most people, their life-rules are just a given. These rules are subconscious — unexamined bits of an assortment of hints and allegations, life-hacks and commandments — often imposed on us (when we are way too young to defend ourselves) by the people around us.
Somebody or other once pointed out that most people live from rules and standards and expectations they received before they were six years old.
These rules are rarely systematic and are often contradictory with little built-in flexibility. Sometimes these rules can be self-sabotaging and self-defeating. Sometimes they can be positively toxic.
(Hey, when you’re little, what do YOU know? Everybody knows better than you, right?)
There’s an old Jesuit maxim that goes, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.”
This saying is widely attributed to Ignatius of Loyola, the Spanish Basque Catholic priest and theologian who founded the Jesuit religious order.
Saint Iggy lived from 1491 to 1556, but the idea that by the time a child is seven he or she has been loaded up with all the rules and such that will pretty much determine how that individual will behave and react to the world is an ancient concept.
Everybody you will ever meet carries around a whole backpack of rules – ideas of how the world works that determine and dictate how they (and you) are supposed to act and how they (and you) are supposed to feel as you make your way through the world.
Few people recognize what most of the rules they live by are.
They hardly remember that many of these hard and fast rules are actually ideas and constructs imposed on them by other people.
They probably don’t even notice whether these rules support or prevent them from experiencing emotions they consider most important or living the life they want to live.
Often, because they don’t even know the rules they are living, these people will do things that are detrimental to how they say they want to be walking.
Even if they are feeling the need to change the way they do things, they keep making the same old moves that they’ve already found to be ineffective over and over again.
After all, they tell themselves, this is the way the world is supposed to be, right? Acting this way and not that is supposed to work, right? So, why isn’t it working?
Good questions, huh?
SO, WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
If you feel life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for you, maybe those rules you are following are like a badly fitted pair of shoes. They may be excellent, high-quality shoes, but they just aren’t right for your feet.
Let’s parse it out….
Let’s say the life-rules you are currently following arise from other people’s ways of seeing the world.
Now let’s say that the way you see the world is not the same as those other people’s perspectives.
Okay, now think about it: How likely is it that all of these rules you were gifted with or that you inherited are going to be the ones that will get you to where you are doing what you most want to do?
FINDING THE RULES THAT FIT
Maybe it’s time to go take a look at all those rules you’ve been following (probably from early childhood) that have not worked for you.
I do have to issue one caveat: Nobody else is going to be able to do this part for you. It’s your rules, after all, just as the stupid shoes that gives you blisters and bunions are your shoes.
A shoe salesman can make suggestions, but you’re the one who puts on those things and checks out how they feel on your feet. You’re the one who decides whether they look good on you.
Also, be aware that this rule-finding expedition is an exploratory process that won’t get solved by taking a 15-minute quiz.
You didn’t grow your rules in a day, and there’s probably a whole pile of them in there, all gnarly and tangled-up in a mass.
[Look at that. Even making your own rules has rules!]
It’ll probably help if you set up a notebook and grab something to write with when you’re doing this.
That way you’ll notice when you start repeating yourself and when you get stuck in yet another tangle of thoughts.
First, just notice the rules you are following. Look for the default set of actions you take in certain situations.
When you’ve got a pile of them stacked up, start asking yourself why you do this and not that. Try to find the underlying reasoning behind your actions.
When you start finding a common theme running through several sets of default actions that you take without thinking very much about it, you’ve probably discovered one of your hidden rules.
Do you like how following this rule make you feel?
Are the actions that you take as a result of following this rule congruent with the values and principles that you hold most dear?
Do the results you get from following this rule make you feel good about yourself and the world?
Do you like the places that following this rule are taking you?
Are you satisfied with the life you live when you follow this rule?
If you answer “yes” to these questions about a rule, then the rule that you found is keeper.
If the answer is “no” to each of these questions, dump the rule. Look for alternative options.
If the answer is, “it depends,” then you have probably found that the rule you are following is layered and nuanced and you’ll need to dig deeper to ferret out all the whys and wherefores for each of the connected pragmatic moves. It’s a sign that you haven’t reached down to your layer of ground rules yet.
Keep on running each new rule discovery through this process – dump, keep, dump, dump, keep.
Eventually you’ll start to see the shape of the rules that work for you. You will begin to refine the collection of the ground rules that you want to govern your actions and your life.
The funny thing about all this is that as you focus on what works for you and what does not, the process will start to snowball.
You won’t even have to worry about making new rules. They’ll just show up all on their own without fail. (Remember my Grandma, the Rule Factory? Rules are really easy to make up.)
When these new rules arrive, you’ll be better able to decide whether the newbies might be an effective way for you to move.
Then it’s back to asking the questions and dump, dump, dump, keep, dump, and so on. After a while it gets to be automatic.
When other people suggest rules to add to your pile, you can just run them through this process and decide for yourself whether the proposed rule would work for you and not against you.
Lori Deschene has an excellent blog about the rules she has developed for her own life walk that she first wrote published in 2009.
Click this button and you can enjoy her thoughts on the subject. (I agree with them wholeheartedly.)
This YouTube video, “In Unorganized Baseball Games, Kids Play By Their Own Rules” was a “Sunday Closer” published by TODAY.com in 2017. It’s a lovely reminder of one of the greatest benefits of playing by your own rules.
Here’s a poem:
RULES FOR ASKING
Ask and it shall be given,
Seek and ye shall find.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?
Just manifest what’s in your mind.
When you ask Dad for the keys to the Universe,
It’s good if you already know how to drive.
You have to really mean it, really want it,
‘Cause the old guy just won’t take your shuck and jive.
The asking has to be wholehearted,
And the granting of your wish comes at a cost.
Before you ask, be sure you know the price tag.
Is the treasure gained worth the asset lost?
You cannot ask for something that’s not righteous,
For something that will harm some other one.
If you’ve given all your heart for a falseness,
Then the Real will eat you up just for fun.
Making ultimatums and Or-Elses,
Trying to dictate how and what will be,
You’ll be all misaligned and nothing you will find,
Back in the ‘70’s I ran across a small book of distilled teachings taken from talks given by Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND.
There was this quote in it:
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
It spoke to me, that quote, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to unpack the thing.
I’ll probably do other posts about Beginner Mind, so all I’ll say about it right now is that Beginner Mind is an ancient wisdom teaching that helps you develop what educator Barbara Oakley dubbed a “growth mindset.”
This way of thinking keeps you from locking into fixating on the same-old “shoulds” and “musts” and “that’s-the-way-it-is” that all of us humans tend to create as we experience life.
Beginner Mind is expansive. It’s not cluttered up by a lot of specious assumptions, expectations and preconceptions.
A gear-head analogy for Beginner Mind would be something like attaching a satellite dish to some receptor or other and having access to a whole bunch of channels.
Martial artists wax poetic about standing receptive to whatever comes at them when they talk about Beginner Mind.
Whatever. Beginner Mind is a very cool tool to have in your Life Toolbox.
That’s been my take on Beginner Mind for a while now.
It may be why the YouTube video, “Nurturing a Beginner’s Mind,” that I’ll be sharing with you towards the end of this post caught my attention.
The video is a production of INKtalk, an off-shoot of the TEDtalk phenomenon. INKtalk is organized by Lakshmi Pratury, who put together the first TEDIndia talks in Myosore in 2009.
(The reason the video’s at the end of this post is mostly because it introduced me to some other fascinating side-trails that I think are also worth exploring. Come take a look!)
TALKING ABOUT INK
The video I’m going to share with you (after a bit of dancing around) is an INKtalk published on YouTube in 2013.
It is one of a series of talks that have happened during the annual conferences, mini-conferences and salons coordinated and produced by INK, self-described as “India’s foremost platform for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and inspiring stories.”
Click here for more information about INK and the talks:
Pratury wants the world to see INK as “a curator of contemporary oral history.”
The organization, she says, searches the world looking for people with stories and missions that center around innovative solutions for the broad scale problems that plague young economies, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
The stories they have gathered together are about innovative, world-changing ideas that address problems in recurring societal issues like education, governance, energy, health, poverty, and infrastructure.
The stories make for very interesting reading. Check them out.
ANOTHER WAY OF SCHOOLING
In the upcoming INKtalk video, Saba Ghole, a former architectural urban designer who became an education and technology entrepreneur, talks about the work she and the members of her team do at the NuVu Studio at Cambridge University.
Ghole is one of the co-founders of the NuVu Studio, which was a brainchild of fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus Saeed Arida.
As part of his Ph.D. dissertation while at MIT, Arida explored the concept of a learning place modeled on the apprenticeship and project-based learning and hands-on problem-solving that is characteristic of an architectural studio.
Before he graduated, Arida implemented an on-campus pilot program at the Beaver Day Country School in Brookline. This pilot was so successful that it led to an even larger project.
Arida collaborated with Ghole and another fellow MIT student David Wang, an engineer and technology enthusiast, to launch NuVu Studio in 2010.
Wang collects degrees, it seems. He’s got them in aeronautics, astronautics, electrical engineering and computer science.
The three friends have a penchant for collaboration and they continue to gather people together so they can help other Makers build cool stuff.
NuVu Studio has become an amazing “innovation studio” that is an alternative full-time, trimester-length schooling experience for middle and high school students — baby Makers who want to learn how to grow their spirit of innovation and to experience hands-on, real-world problem-solving of the finest kind.
More than 3,000 students – mostly from the local schools in the Boston area — have gone through the program since it began.
It is a far cry from your regular school experience, as this short video, “What is NuVu,” published by HarvardX in 2017 illustrates:
Capitalizing on the immense resources of MIT and Harvard University, the Studio facilitates the participation of the students in multi-disciplinary collaborations with Studio-trained “coaches” who are themselves architects, engineers, or experts in science, leading-edge technology, music, art, photography, fashion, and more.
Many of the coaches are MIT or Harvard students who are excited about doing hands-on work in their fields as well.
They work in large open-space studios and workshops using state-of-the-art tools that include things like laser cutters, 3D printers, as well as more mundane tools and assorted building materials.
Here, students don’t get grades – they have portfolios showcasing their work and progress. Problems are tackled in weeks-long blocks rather than hour-long classes.
The students are challenged to learn in new ways.
Analytical thinkers are inspired to explore their creative selves while creative students expand their capacity to think and learn analytically.
Whole-brain thinking is nurtured and encouraged.
The goal for these students is to make products that solve real-life problems that the students have defined with the help of their coaches using “themes” selected by the organizers.
In the video, Ghole presents a collection of wonderfully clear insights about the components that make up the Beginner’s Mind stance.
(By the time she did the talk Ghole had already been working on helping to grow creativity and innovation for a number of years.)
The three big ideas are as follows:
THE POWER OF MIXING
Mixing together people (experts and neophytes), combining assorted themes that relate back to the real world, and tinkering – also known as breaking and re-making (which includes repurposing and reusing, collaboration with other minds and making use of open sourcing platforms to find ideas) – are the foundations that the Studio uses to encourage and support the students in their efforts to produce novel and effective solutions to problems they have chosen to pursue.
WHAT MAKES THE HEART OF A BEGINNER?
Ghole says the Beginner’s heart is an intriguing mix of Trickster, Craftsman and Poet.
Each of these are archetypes that come with sets of behaviors that are often focused on seeing the world in ways that are different from group-mind and consensus.
NOT 2, NOT 1 (BOTH 2 AND 1)
This is the best iteration I’ve ever seen of the concept of wu, a really esoteric and dizzy-making ancient teaching that proposes that when two ideas (or people) come together, the dynamic interaction, relationship and flow between them produces a third idea or concept or way of moving that combines aspects of both.
She explains the three pairings that the Studio uses to try to ignite new thinking among their students: Process + Product, Mindful + Mindfulness, and Fiction + Reality
I found the whole thing mind-blowing. I hope you enjoy it too.
Here’s a poem:
WHERE IS THAT KNIFE?
If I rehash the old stuff,
They come alive again,
And I make the threads
Just by adding
Strands of thought –
Little, tiny thoughts –
Like fibers crowded together,
Tighter and thicker,
Turning into one heavy-duty rope,
Turning into one huge knot.
Where’s that knife?
I had it a minute ago.
I need it to cut through this stupid knot!
Back to beginner mind….
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Photography In The Garden” by Olds College via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
One of my favorite Einstein quotes is this: ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’ Of all his theories, I think, it’s the best one.
Life is either sacred or it isn’t. Life is either amazing, just as it is, or it’s not.
You don’t even have to be a big brain to figure out that acting as if everything is a miracle and trying to respect and celebrate that premise as a “fact” will probably have different consequences than acting as if nothing is a miracle and, therefore, it doesn’t really matter what you do.
Our moves that arise out of each of these basic premises are very different. The life that results from making moves predicated on them are also very different.
Of course, most of us are not as “either-or” as Einstein or the assorted wise guys and smarty-pants who offer guidance on these things. For us, Life-Its-Own-Self mostly runs through a spectrum of “meh” with an occasional off-the-scale event featuring fireworks and other significant joyousness.
The daily grind and our jam-packed calendars and too-full to-do lists roll right over our days and leave us feeling flatter than street pizza.
We often end up moving faster than the speed of everyday miracles.
Our discontents blossom even as we accumulate all the touted “good stuff.” They grow as the pile of accomplishments and achievements increases and sprouts new projects and initiatives and so on and so forth.
It’s like we continue to cultivate the kudzu vines that got away from us and are even now taking over the landscape. YEEP!
SAVORING = MOVING AT THE SPEED OF MIRACLES
Countering the ubiquitous Meh Creep is not really hard to do and all of us can do it. With a minor investment of time and attention we can get so good at it that we can let the miracles in our life catch up with us.
It’s called “savoring,” described by dictionary.com most beautifully as, “giving oneself over to the enjoyment of.”
Fred Bryant, a social psychologist and professor at Loyola University in Chicago, wrote a very detailed and learned book, SAVORING: A New Model of Positive Experience in 2006. His co-author, the late Joseph Veroff, was a researcher and a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
That book grew out of his work analyzing a wide range of studies that focus on “being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings during positive events”. It lists the benefits that come to you when you savor (i.e., enjoy) the good things that happen in your life.
The smarty-pants have figured out that paying attention to enjoying yourself helps you build stronger relationships, improve your mental and physical health and find more creative solutions to problems too. The wise guys always said that as well.
A beautiful illustration of “giving oneself over” is this YouTube video, “Far Leaves Tea: Slow Down. Pay Attention. Savor Life.” was published in 2017 by Far Leaves Tea as an explanation of the company’s mission.
BUT, WHERE DO I FIND THE TIME?
Considered as an abstract concept, “giving oneself over” may seem like an impossibility in the face of that overfull and ever-growing To-do List.
Sure, we’d all love to have huge blocks of time where we can devote ourselves fully to the moment.
A few hours on a quiet beach to gaze into the waves rolling in? Yes!
A whole weekend devoted to doing whatever we most love to do? Sure!
How about a sabbatical in the mountains with time enough to spare for exploring and dreaming? Yum!
And what happens? The latest crisis/trauma drama whirls us around and we get caught up yet again in the rough-and-tumble. ACK!
“Life is not made up of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years, but of moments. You must experience each one before you can appreciate it.”
While it’s true that you may not have weeks or days or hours of time to focus on the touchy-feely stuff, you do have moments. You do have spaces between and within the busy bits.
You can use those spaces to help yourself do some very small, very powerful things.
BUILD SOME SAVORING RITUALS INTO YOUR DAY. Find a few things that you do every day and make them into a special ritual for savoring.
You might want to copy the Far Tea guys and build a ritual around your early morning tea or do one in the mid-afternoon. (Coffee works for this as well.)
Taking a tub bath can be a ritual to savor.
Reading to your child or snuggling with a loved one are others.
SAVOR THE FOODS YOU EAT. Don’t just cram stuff in your mouth. Pause for each bite. Give the food in your mouth space. Notice the taste and the texture. Think about where the ingredients of a dish came from, who made it, what went into it.
It’s a funny thing. Several studies have shown that speed of eating may be a factor in the problem of being overweight. Apparently, people who quickly shovel food into their mouths are more likely to overeat. By taking the time to pay attention to and enjoy what you are eating, there is less of a tendency to speed through a meal, gobbling up more and more and more.
Taking the time to taste and feel the foods you eat also allows you to develop a feel for the kinds of foods your body really likes. Very often these foods are good for your body.
Also, slowing down and paying attention to how your body reacts to the food you eat allows you to notice when you are full. You stop eating.
SAVOR THE CHORES YOU DO. Slow down and pay attention to what you are doing, especially when it’s some task that you dread. When you’re writing that stupid report, when you’re cleaning the bathroom or doing your taxes, slow down.
Ask yourself what is enjoyable about it.
Notice how you position your body, how your hands move, how you breathe as you do the task.
Enjoy your skill at getting the surfaces you’re working on super-clean. Appreciate your ability to work with words or numbers or the tools you are using.
ENJOY LITTLE PLEASURES. The French culture emphasizes the value of little treats, “petits plaisirs.” They understand, the French, that taking the time to indulge in small pleasures add a little bit extra to an ordinary, mundane experience.
A scented candle or a single gardenia floating in a dish can add a little bit of richness to the air around you.
A special pen or fine papers can make writing a letter to a special friend a pleasure that beats out a post on FB or yet another Tweet.
Looking for and indulging in little joys like this consistently can change the pace and the flavor of your days without a lot of huge money outlay or massive planning. Their effects are cumulative; they can add up.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW. Avoid thinking about what else you could be doing. Just do what you are doing and when it’s done, enjoy the doneness of it.
If you can pay attention and savor what you are doing right now, then eventually you will be able to give many of the moments of your life the space and attention they deserves.
No moment cannot be savored. Even the ones when you are stuck in a not-so-pleasing routine can be given your attention and your focus. Perhaps you might come up with some new ways to make the everyday routine more pleasurable if you do this.
Savoring the way you are spending your time and feeling what is happening when it is happening helps you appreciate how you are spending the time of your life. That awareness and appreciation and reveling in the moments of your life can lead you to growth in a direction you find more pleasing. A good thing.
These are all little things, it is true. The Real is, however, life is actually made up of little things.
ONE MORE TAKE
This video, “Savor the Coffee Not the Cup” was published in 2017 by Rushabh Dediah. It presents a little bit of wisdom that I wanted to share.
Probably every wanna-be Creative has been told (at some point or other) that in order to reach their full potential as a writer, visual artist, musician, performer or whatever, it is imperative to “find your own voice.”
Now, in the Age of Social Media and Self-Branding — when the “Creative Mindset” is supposed to be The Way to $ucce$$ and Happiness — we are told that we must go looking for our individual, unique voices. Our success depends on it.
I confess, I almost lost it when a pragmatic, more literal-minded friend snarked, “I KNOW where my voice is. It’s right here in my mouth!” Gales of laughter came bubbling up.
Explaining this “voice” thing gets confusing because even people who are engaged in developing themselves in a craft or an art or some other skill that doesn’t use words and doesn’t engage the mouth’s ability to make sounds can get all tangled up in trying to figure out how to find their own “voice.”
Now that the business world has turned on to getting creative, it seems that everyone wrestles with the idea of developing a voice.
There are Titans out there – the guys who built empires using their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses by surrounding themselves with people who have other, complementary strengths. Lots of people admire them and want to be them.
There are Mega-Stars and Rainmakers and Heroes and Idols and Headliners and Leaders and Big Cheeses and High Muckamucks and Household Names and Treasures and Wonders and Leading Lights and so on and so forth, ad nauseum.
Every one of them will probably tell you that they reached the stratosphere of massive accomplishments because they were successful in finding their own unique “voice.”
WHAT IS YOUR VOICE?
This concept of the elusive “voice” all wanna-be Successes are supposed to be nurturing is the crux of a story I encountered in a blog published by a flamenco dance teacher, Rina Orellana.
She relates how students come to her asking, “How do I find my voice? How do I allow myself to become the dancer I want to be?”
When dancers ask her this, she says, to her it’s an indication that the dancer is “not quite comfortable in their skin. They’re thinking too much and not feeling or allowing themselves to be in the movement.”
Her advice to these students is particularly insightful, I think.
Orellana tells them that they “need to allow themselves to be the bad-asses that they are” and she reminds them to “look at themselves in the mirror not to correct any physical part of the dance but to CONNECT with themselves as the person dancing.”
She assures them that looking at themselves in the mirror with acceptance will ultimately lead to their being confident in their movement and in their skin.
Being comfortable in your own skin is how you tell when you are speaking with your own voice.
Your “voice” is how you’re recognized by others. It’s the “tone” and the themes of your body of work (whatever it is).
Every time you do anything that other people notice, whether you’re an artist, a businessperson, an intellectual, a scientist or a geek, you are also putting your values and the unique perspectives and skills you bring to your work on display.
What is on display is the meaning and the mana that you have developed so far in your life. Your work shows how you are standing in the world.
Like every other human thing, your “voice” changes as you grow and evolve. It develops nuances and layers. It deepens. It may develop greater clarity or get muddied up by life-induced confusions.
As an accomplished dancer and teacher, Ornella says, she cannot help passing along her own ways of moving and styling as well as the basic theories and techniques surrounding the craft.
However, in the middle of all that, her aim as a teacher is to encourage each individual dancer to find and focus on the movements that feel “right” for the dancer and to explore the rhythms that resonate.
Kevin Fitz-Gerald, a professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, in this YouTube Video “ARTS: Finding Your Voice,” which was published by the school in 2007, agrees with Ornella. The video was produced by artistshousemusic.org.
As Fitz-Gerald points out in the video, the things that his students point to as things they don’t like about themselves are very often what sets them apart and makes them unique individuals. It is those things that can help them move beyond being “average” or “mediocre” and generic.
Both of these teachers advise their students to discover and develop their own natural strengths and make allowances for their inherent weaknesses and limitations by working on improving their techniques and by choosing a framework within which they can reach for their best work.
Both of them say that you will only be able to discover and use your own voice to present a message that is unique to you when you are able to explore and accept the whole package that is you.
VOICE, AUDIENCE AND YOU
All performers (and businesspeople are performers too) need an audience. It’s part of the dynamic of this self-expression jones Creatives have. They trip out on the reactions they can engender in their audiences.
Every Creative understands that their audience will have an effect on how the artist does what he or she does. Often the audience will determine whether the artist can continue to do it.
As a performer you want your audience to actually see who you are. You want them to pay attention to what you have to say. The audience doesn’t have to like what you say. They don’t even have to like you.
Getting these others to pay attention to what you need to say can be the most important, life-affirming thing a human can do.
As a young girl who was a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted adult, acclaimed poet Maya Angelou had to choose between going silent and remaining trapped in an untenable situation or finding and using her own voice to get the help she needed to escape and to transcend this soul-shattering thing.
The girl chose to speak, and she kept on speaking and affirming life throughout her long and productive time on this earth.
In this YouTube Video, “Finding My Voice,” published in 2010 by visionaryproject, she tells how she brings herself out of her inherent tendency to go silent and closing herself down by deliberately making herself speak and speak and speak.
As Angelou points out in the video, mutism and freezing when overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life can be a very dangerous thing. It can become too comfortable.
You become invisible.
Angelou was acclaimed as a poet, story-teller, and writer. At one point she became an actress, playwright, producer, and director. She was renowned as an educator and as a civil rights activist.
Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86. Throughout her long life, she was not invisible.
THE SHAPE OF THE SELF YOU SHOW
Your audience – anybody who’s watching what you do – will respond to the You that you present to them in your performance. They can only know what you choose to show.
Maybe you’ve decided to spend your time imitating what those who have become the icons and the “best-of-class” in your field do. Maybe, you think, if you do what they did, then you will glow with their kind of shine.
There’s only one problem with doing this: The You that you are showing to your audience will never be more than just a copy of somebody else.
For example, there are excellent Elvis imitators out there. They serve a useful function: They help keep the legend of that good ole boy alive. But, really…off the top of your head, can you actually recall the names of these performers?
The same is also true in any other field of human endeavor. Imitation is its own reward. Maybe you win a lot. Mostly not.
I suppose, “finding your voice” is all about choosing the You that you want the World to know. And, probably, you do hope that the You that you choose to show will not be ignored, dismissed or mocked.
Let’s be frank here. You really do want at least some of the other people in this world to like that self you’re showing them because, basically, you do need to win enough support for what you are trying to do so you can keep on doing it.
Part of that is a matter of survival. You have to eat. You need a place to lay your head that’s more comfortable than a piece of cardboard under some highway underpass. You need to take care of the people you love too.
And you have to achieve all that among all these other people (seven billion and counting) who are wanting to do the same thing as well.
However, it seems to me that if you’re any kind of a Maker, what you really want out of all this dancing around is to get to a place where you will have the freedom to get on with doing what you like to do best.
HOW DO YOU GET ON THE BUS?
The biggest problem with all this head-scratching and mooning around trying to hear your own voice is, as jazz great Miles Davis once pointed out, often a matter of spending enough time just doing what you want to do. Miles said, “Sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
For one thing, there are a lot of different “selves” inside every one of us.
All the wise guys and smarty-pants agree. All of us humans are pretty much assemblages, made up of the bits and pieces we’ve picked up over time from the other people around us as we continue to wander through the world.
These assorted bits get glued onto the basic package. Sometimes all those life-bits turn us into lumpy messes.
To find the self that best encourages other people to respond positively to your spending your days in ways that resonate with that self you actually started out being can be a bitch of a project.
Every hour of every day and night you’re dealing with the pressures and demands of all of your dailynesses. Work, and the needs of your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your stuff eat up your time.
Trying to deal with satisfying other people’s priorities, goals and expectations and maintain the life you’ve become accustomed to is often simply overwhelming.
Now, on top of that, we’re supposed to dig out our true selves and find our own voice as well? Ri-i-i-ght….
Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that works with people and companies all over the world to foster creativity, productivity, leadership and passion for work.
Besides explaining why finding your voice is important if you are looking for the meaning and mana in your ordinary life and in your work, Henry puts forward questions to ask and ways to find your own answers to them.
Here’s a list that he put together:
What angers you? What triggers an urge in you to rectify a great wrong?
What makes you cry?
What have you mastered? What do you do well?
What gives you hope? What do you look forward to?
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do?
What would blow your mind?
What platform do you own?
What change would you like to see in the world?
If you had one day left, how would you spend it?
YET ANOTHER 30-DAY CHALLENGE SERIES
It occurred to me that Henry’s question list would make good 30-day challenge material. Here’s the how-to:
Grab an ordinary small-kid kind of composition notebook and a pen and label it “The Voice Project.” (No need to get fancy with this.)
Now, choose one of those Henry questions or make one up that’s your own, then make a commitment that for just ten minutes every day for the next 30 days, you will think on that one question and write down your answer to it in that notebook you’ve labeled. (If the time you take to answer the question stretches past the five minutes, that’s fine too.)
Do this notebook thing every day for 30 days. Be honest with yourself. Nobody else is going to see this thing. Just you.
If it starts to get boring, you might want to use colors and drawings and other stuff to illustrate the thing. Cut out magazine pictures and stick them in there. Write a poem. Whatever. Have fun with it, but answer the question.
By the end of that time, you’ll at least get some idea about the kinds of thoughts that arise when you ask yourself this one question.
After you finish the first 30-day challenge with the question of your choice, do it again for the next question, then the next, then the next.
Ten minutes a day for thirty days equals 300 minutes – a minimum of 5 hours total in a 720-hour time period.
It’s less than the time spent attending yet another workshop or working your way through one more online course.
It’s less time than the time spent participating in networking events listening to everybody else’s pitches and slinging some your own self.
In between the question-answering sessions, you might want to go back and read over and look at the stuff you’ve produced. You might ask yourself whether you really agree with all this blather and B.S. you’re shoveling.
That’s when you really start figuring out what you actually think about the thoughts you think. You find the shape of your own basic self – the one that just sits there waiting for you to notice.
It gets to be quite fascinating after a while.
I notice that the weirdest result of this little exercise is how just answering these questions and others like them affects you in your daily life.
You might start doing things that surprise you: accepting an invitation to a gathering that you might normally not consider, taking on some project or supporting a cause that resonates strongly with you, or trying something you never tried before just to see whether you might like it.
These things may have some pretty amazing results. It can be a very good thing.
Here’s a poem:
THAT IS THE SAD
Melancholy sits, a knot at the small of my back,
My companion as I walk through sunshine and through rain,
As I do my days,
Charging at windmills,
Taking in the wonderments,
Drinking down the joyousness,
Choking on the tears.
Maybe I’m understanding now:
The sadness is only the residue
Left behind as a flood flows
Through my heart cave yet again,
Leaving behind a high-water mark.
You know, of course, that all that shiny stuff
Running through all of our heart-caves are
Tributaries that merge together into a great river
Running through this ancient universe,
Pumped out by the jostling masses of living creatures,
Flowing all together like the notes of one grand song.
The birds singing their morning hosannas as they greet the sun
Go on through their day with the sound of that
Mighty chorus sounding in their ears,
Content that they’ve established their place in the world.
I am thinking we humans are no less connected than they,
But ours is a darker richer song,
Its complexity woven into our days and nights like a subsonic rumble
As we delude ourselves into believing we are immune –
Apart somehow – from the music we are making,
That grandiloquence that touches the edges of our own universe and beyond.
We fool ourselves and think we can sidestep the consequences
Of our myriad tiny choices,
That we can stand apart and inviolate, away from the all of everything.
And so we stand uncertain, unsure that this how, this place is righteously ours…
Unlike the bold birds who understand otherwise.
That’s the deep sadness, I am thinking,
The “suffering” wise guys ponder – this forgetting that is uniquely human –
The disremembering that, one and all, we are
The favored children of this old universe…
Welcome, gifted and alive,
Swimming in the same golden stream.
That willful denial keeps us grabbing at the silly, glittering flotsam,
That awful lostness rasps and scrapes us raw,
Dogging our days and trotting us around all crazy.
You have a really crazy idea that you absolutely, deep down in the pit of your stomach, KNOW will be totally RIGHT for you. You want this. You irrefutably NEED this!
You get a truly awesome limited-time chance to make it happen and it is imperative that you do this thing right now, or else….well, you just keep doing whatever you’re already doing.
Right then fear will rear its ugly head.
You get the shivers running up and down your spine. All the hair on your body — on your arms and behind your neck — stand up. Sweat pours out of you.
Your eyes narrow down and your nostrils flare as you get really, really focused and all the Boogey-Man thoughts take over your brain.
Your head aches because all of your internal sirens are wailing and every one of the alarm bells are bonging and clanging.
Maybe you start trembling. Maybe you want to cry. Maybe you want to throw up.
You get tense and you are all ready to rabbit away…run-run-RUN! Or you freeze in place, paralyzed by all the noise in your head.
(Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m exaggerating a bit. Sometimes you’ll just get a squirmy feeling in the pit of your stomach, nervous foot-shuffling and a really dry throat. Other times it’s just a teensy twinge of tingly nerve endings rather than a full-blown panic attack.)
WARNING! WARNING! WOOT! WOOT! WOOT!
I’ll bet that every time you were on the verge of doing something that was different than what you had done before — every time you tried to push the edges of your comfort zone and every time you tried to go somewhere or do something that you really wanted to do or faced something that was new-to-you and most uncertain — all this trauma-drama showed up like a scary pop-up.
It is a given: Fear will show up EVERY time you’re growing or going in the direction of your dreams and every time you have to face something new or different or other.
Fear always shows up when you are getting ready to undergo any kind of change — anything that disrupts the life you’ve known so far.
It doesn’t matter that the change is going to bring good things into your life or stop bad things from happening.
It’s Change-with-a-capital-C, and with change there will always be that feeling of risk. There will always be the feeling that you’re stepping out of line somehow.
Basically, the smarty-pants who study such things say that all these body-symptoms of fear are like the blip-blip-blip of the standard-issue radar equipment that’s part of your internal early warning system.
As you go through your day, your mind always scans ahead, looking for things that are out of place or different. When it detects something that is not-the-same, your brain responds by sending out these fear signals throughout your body.
Fear puts you on alert. This is fear’s job. It gets you ready to respond to whatever is coming out of the ethers at you.
Fear is a signal that you are moving into a situation that is different than what you’ve experienced so far.
It is invaluable when you are facing situations that are dangerous and/or life-threatening.
(If you’ve survived for a while in the world, you’ll probably be able to recognize those dangerous or dicey situations easily enough and can work on figuring out how to avoid, mitigate or arrest any developing debacles.)
It becomes problematic, however, when the fear-signals trip you up on your way to your own kind of better.
WHEN THERE’S A TIME-LIMIT
The worst thing about this automatic response-readying system we call “fear” is that it can screw up your ability to take an appropriate action at the time when it’s really needed.
There are times when you are one critical choice away from accepting an opportunity to move forward and reach towards whatever goal you’ve set and that choice is in-your-face right NOW.
If you let the fear-signals stop you, the chance for change will dissipate. It just won’t be there anymore.
Maybe that’s okay for you.
But, what if it’s not?
In one of his blog posts, productivity and marketing guru Seth Godin once pointed out, “By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you’re not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant.”
Godin advises that you can use your fear-signals to guide you in your actions. Rather than shying away or coming to a dead stop, he suggests that you go towards that thing that’s scaring you.
He says, “The reason you’re afraid is that there’s leverage here, something that might happen. Which is exactly the signal you’re looking for.”
If you can make a practice of moving forward to meet and deal with your fear of the opportunity you have been given to make progress in the direction you want to go and to do what you really want to do, then maybe you’ll be able to find more and more ways to keep on doing that.
Maybe you’ll even grow enough to be able to keep on doing it over and over again until you make your dream become real.
The quintessential go-for-it guy, Richard Branson, once said, “Don’t let fear hold you back from achieving your full potential…I know I’d rather look back on life and say ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I’d done that’. How about you?”
HOW TO GET MOVING WHEN YOU’RE SCARED
The thing you have to understand, though, is that your body is really lousy at math and logic.
Rational thoughts and piles of paper spreadsheets, goals, schedules, and lists of pros and cons as well as to-do lists constructed in your more lucid moments do not help make the fearful, fearsome blip-blip-blipping stop.
Being all prepared and everything won’t get you moving.
This YouTube Video, “The Secret to Stopping Fear and Anxiety (That Actually Works) was published in 2017 by motivational speaker Melanie “Mel” Robbins. She is an on-air commentator on CNN, a television host and a serial entrepreneur.
The technique Robbins demonstrates in her video is one she developed to help people understand that the kind of fear you experience when you are trying to do something outside your own comfort zone can actually be reframed as “excitement” and can be used to push yourself forward.
“The secret isn’t knowing what to do – it’s knowing how to make yourself do it,” she says.
It’s a very different take than the more usual “give until it hurts” that Mother Theresa espoused.
Mother Theresa’s thing seems to encourage a degree of selflessness that’s way over the top. Some folks take it to mean that you’re supposed to give and give and give until you’ve nothing left to give….and then you give some more.
With that one, I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to do when you’re totally depleted and unable any more to take care of your own self, your own dreams, and the responsibilities that are yours.
I’ve often wondered.
MINDFULNESS AND GIVING
Levinson’s take on the whole giving thing seems, instead, to encourage mindfulness, looking at whether the “help” you’re giving is actually a help to the other person and is not a detriment to yourself.
Is this help you are giving effective?
Are you empowering the other person?
Does the help you are giving encourage the recipient to continue walking their own road?
Does it help them to build themselves up so they can tackle their own problems?
Very often, you have to watch to make sure that the responses and moves you’re evoking from the other person as a result of the actions you’ve taken are heading in the direction that can allow them to make the best use of the energy (money, time, talent) that you’ve expended on their behalf.
So, what happens if it doesn’t? What if your gift keeps the other person from learning the lessons they need to learn? What if your gift actually diminishes them?
An everyday example of that is the effects of being raised by a so-called “helicopter parent.”
A well-meaning, overprotective parent who does your chores and your homework for you; tries to resolve your every social problem; is your personal rally squad who cheers you on for every little thing you might accomplish and attempts to completely eliminate any sort of contact you might have with frustration of any sort is NOT a help.
If every obstacle is eliminated for you, how are you going to learn how to do your own work-arounds and develop your own strengths to power on through the potholes and hurdles and to fix your own mistakes?
If your way of giving involves solving another person’s problems without giving them the chance to face their own challenges, the net result is that your gift can prevent them from developing their own abilities and making their own choices and decisions.
It sends the unfortunate message that you don’t think they can do it without your help. Is that a message you want to send?
AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Also, a major question you might want to ponder is this: When you are making this gift, are you using your available resources in a way that adds meaning and mana (inherent power) to your own life?
Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written about the positive effect generosity can have on one’s sense of freedom and our own sense of self.
When we give, we continually test our limits, she says. “The practice of generosity is about creating space. We see our limits and we extend them continuously, which creates a deep expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.”
The late poet Maya Angelou once famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What other meaning does the power of giving lend to your life? Is it worth the cost?
TWO ENDS OF A GIFTING TRANSACTION
It occurs to me that every gift has a giver and a receiver. The gift is a transfer of life-energy from one to another.
Gifting is always a transaction between the one who gives and the one who receives.
The thing is, human relationships are always complex. Questions to ask yourself before you offer to help someone with more than an easy-fix problem are these:
Does the person want your help?
Is the person ready to accept your help?
Do you have the skill, the time and the inclination to do what is really needed? Trying to help people when you don’t have the skills or the time or the commitment to a project is likely to do more harm than good.
Jumping into somebody else’s life and messing with their “stuff” does require a lot of heavy thinking beforehand. Be respectful. Be careful. That may be somebody’s heart you’re stepping on.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING?
Sometimes it’s just a matter of pitching in. Some project needs to be completed and you are willing and able to lend a hand.
The goal is clear, everybody agrees on the purpose and the method is fairly obvious. You go.
However, it does get more confusing and a lot more difficult when you’re trying to help others as they cope with circumstances that are catastrophic or perhaps the result of societal issues over which they have little control.
This YouTube video, “Help That Helps – Giving What Is Really Needed,” was published in 2016 by the Visalia Rescue Mission. It was put together by people who spend their days providing concrete help in many different ways for the homeless in their area.
The major take-away from this one is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the bigger, more problematic circumstances humans often face.
The book has a Christian bent. Its goal is to educate missionaries and ministries as well as other helpers who work in poverty- and disaster-stricken areas about how to effectively alleviate poverty for the long-term.
The authors advise that these helpers need to focus on the resources and abilities a community already has rather than focusing on what the community does not have.
The book is an interesting read for anyone who’d like to gain a better understanding of the different facets of helping those in need.
HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU’RE GIVING TOO MUCH
Professor Shawn Meghan Burn’s 2014 article in Psychology Today, “Twelve Signs That You are Giving Too Much,” gives a rundown of the signs that the help you are giving to someone may be dysfunctional and unhealthy.
He says the most successful and effective givers are those who rate high in concern for others and also in self-interest.
These givers contribute in ways that reinforce their social ties and they say yes to the things they for which they have the unique skills, resources or time to give.
They also limit what they do.
Failed givers, Grant says, tend to say “yes” to everything. Often they end up either overwhelmed, ineffectual, or resentful and put-upon.
LOOKING FOR THE SIGNS
Perhaps Levinson is right. Looking at the real effects of what you do to help other people can guide you in determining how much you give and how.
If what you are doing is truly a help, then it makes sense to keep on doing what you’re doing.
If it does not help (either because you’re making stupid or ineffective moves or because you’re dealing with blind people), then it’s probably a good idea to stop whatever you’re doing and reassess.
As one commentator pointed out, if you help the wrong person for the wrong reason or in an ineffectual way, you may miss opportunities to really help the right person who needs the kind of help you can gladly give.
GIVING IS A GOOD THING
We all agree that helping people is a good thing. We believe that it’s a way to ensure our own happiness.
Wise guys have told us that forever.
There’s a Chinese proverb that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
Saints, power dudes and other famous sorts all tout giving and serving others as the way to happiness.
Even scientific research provides compelling anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.
The guys in the lab coats have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology to map out how giving activates the pleasure centers in the brain, just like food and sex.
Humans are hard-wired to feel great about giving, it says here. We like doing it. Giving makes us happy.
For some people, giving is as natural as breathing. For others, not so much.
If you feel like you are starving to death and the world is set up to take everything you have away from you, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be moved to generosity very often.
Generosity is a learned response and you can learn it from the people around you.
That’s what research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests, anyway. He concluded that it is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity.
This 2015 YouTube video, “Joy” was a story presented by Ashok Ramasubramanian in Speakeasy DC’s monthly storytelling series. It was part of a show at Town Danceboutique, a bar in Washington, DC, on the theme, “The Charismatic Leader: Stories about those we follow for the right and wrong reason.”
The video gives an example of how someone can be influenced towards more generosity. It’s also an engaging story.
Smith is not completely convinced that the increased activity that happens in the brain when we are being generous is actually responsible for increasing our happiness.
Maybe all that cogitating is triggered by questions like, “Should I?”, “Can I?”, “Is this worth it?”
He’s one of the guys who suggest that, maybe, because generous people tend to view the world as safe, secure and abundant, it could just be that they are happy because they have a generally sunny outlook. Whatever.
It’s a funny thing, though. Even seeing other people’s generosity tends to be uplifting and induces a bit of teary-eyed smiling. This sweet video, “The Most Generous Boy in the World,” published by filmmaker Meir Kay in 2017, is a smile-maker that way.
Another science of generosity finding backed by a lot of anecdotes and stories is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion he or she often feels. This compassion is likely to increase the tendency to be generous.
One of my favorite YouTube videos is this 2013 short film made by TrueMoveH, “Inspiring Power of Giving and the Power of Veggie Soup” that was published by Get Your Health Up in 2013. (Got your Kleenex handy?)
Here’s a poem:
An everyday wonder are the friends of your heart,
They see you and they let you know you are there with them.
They cherish you for who you are
And they honor what you are making of your own true self.
Their love’s embrace is soft,
But the love is solid and deep.
Like a gentle bay, they invite you to come and play
On warm, golden sands shaded by tall trees
With leaves that rustle in the softest breezes,
And swim in calm waters ringed by strong reefs.
You can build sand castles there.
You can float in the water cradled between sand and sun,
A peaceful bit of flotsam among the ripples.
Like the moana beyond the reef,
The deep, rolling waves of their love
Carry you on your way beyond the horizons
To new worlds that you can only imagine
As you dream on the beach while you watch the sun set.
I’ve just read Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s book, THINKING FAST AND SLOW, which is a summary of Kahneman’s lifetime study on how the mind works.
Kahneman, now in his 80’s, has been called “one of the world’s most influential living psychologists.” His work – which includes things with names like prospect theory, loss aversion, anchoring, separate mental accounting, the representativeness bias and the availability bias — has helped to shape and continues to influence the field of behavioral economics and finance.
For laymen, the book lays out Kahneman’s insights about two often-conflicting systems we humans use for making decisions. The book is written in a clear and engaging style that led to the book becoming an international bestseller in 2011.
I’ll probably go back to read this book several more times. It’ll be a reference book for me, sitting on my shelf.
THINKING FAST AND SLOW is one of those primers that is just chock-a-block full of useful insights that can be applied to regular living. It’s worth more than one visit.
THE TWO “SYSTEMS” OF THOUGHT
In his book, Kahneman builds mind-constructs that delineate and explain the two main ways we humans use our minds to decide how to move in the world.
These constructs are based on work from the decades-long collaboration he maintained with another brilliant psychologist, Amos Turyev, whose focus of study was decision-making and judgement. Turyev died in 1996 at the age of 59.
Kahneman sticks labels that he got from psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West on the constructs – System 1 (the automatic system) and System 2 (the effortful system).
As Kahneman explains them, these systems each have inherent strengths and weaknesses. They are available to us at all times. If we can learn how to work with both of them, then we’re likely to reach better decisions than if we rely only on one or the other.
GOING ON AUTOMATIC PILOT
System 1 operates with little or no effort. It’s sort of like breathing. You don’t need to call it up and you don’t have to pay any attention to it.
System 1 is always there, at the ready for action, and it is lightning-fast.
Because of this system of thinking we are all really good at creating a consistent story from the data and the observations we have on hand.
With that story, we can make up ways of walking and directions to take. We can create new things, evoking a Something out of the possibilities that present themselves because we have and believe that story.
This is cool and all, but there does happen to be a downside to it.
With System 1 running, we see what we see, throw in memories of old lessons learned and mix in assorted hints and rumors and allegations we’ve heard from someplace or other to build a logical sort of a story that becomes a platform from where we can launch off in some direction or other.
Kahneman likes to call the underlying mode of this system by the acronym WYSIATI for “what-you- see-is-all-there-is.”
Notice how the picture above is an automatic story-starter. (You can check out the photographer’s story about it by clicking on the caption. Did your story come close?)
In our almost-immediate story-creating, we do tend to ignore sometimes-critical information. After all, if we can construct a logical story from the information we have, why bother to see new facts, figures or ideas? Right?
Rebel-psychiatrist R. D. Laing once famously said, “If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.” (Read that again. Like much of Laing’s work, it’s confusing but it does make sense.)
The fact that we are so prone to take things at face value does have a bearing on the problem with just running with System 1. When it comes to making decisions, we can be fearless in our ignorance.
In the absence of detailed, accurate knowledge we can construct stories that support our beliefs and act on those beliefs with a confidence that can border on insanity.
Using System 1, you can effortlessly form impressions and generate feelings that can be used to build complex patterns of ideas that engage your interest and influence your decisions.
You can even react to a threat before you recognize that it is one. (Sometimes you’re even right.)
The one fly in the soup is this: System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of information we hold. All it looks for is a coherent, believable story.
It’s the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness.
We can make totally believable stories with next to no facts. We can even make totally believable stories out of downright lies.
That can be a problem.
Very often in our System 1 parkour-style free-running through life, we neglect to suss out the big drop on the other side of the low wall we’re jumping over and…ouch! Street-pizza happens.
[This awesome 2018 YouTube video, “Late For Work – Parkour Run,” was published by urbanamadei. I figured we needed a break from all the heavy-duty thinking.]
WORKING ON THROUGH SYSTEM 2
Kahneman calls the conscious and deliberative System 2 thinking “effortful.” It is neither automatic nor is it easy.
You would be likely to tap into System 2 thinking when you’re trying to solve one of those durned word puzzles on a math test. Very often these riddles are tricky. The first answer that comes to mind is probably not going to be the right one.
Here’s a cute animated YouTube video published in 2017 by funza Academy, “The Bat and Ball Problem That 50% of Harvard Students Got Wrong.”
As the video points out, we really have to push ourselves to get into the process of System 2 thinking. The mental work involved is deliberate, effortful and orderly.
If you are really grinding on a complex problem, even your body gets involved. Your muscles tense up, your blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases. Your pupils dilate. You stress.
It doesn’t stop until you either solve the problem or you give up.
Only the slower System 2 thinking can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps. To activate it and use it, you do have to pay much more attention to what you are doing than when you use the automatic System 1.
Think of an American driving in Europe for the first time. There she goes, driving down what she totally feels is the wrong side of the road.
You’d better believe she is paying strict attention to what she is doing, especially if that road gets busy.
The other thing System 2 can do, Kahneman says, is to overrule the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1.
System 2 goes into action when you need to control yourself. When you’ve already made a mistake because of your inattention that requires fixing, you’ll reach for the System 2 thinking. When you need to be logical and rational, System 2 will be there on-call.
System 2 will keep you polite when you’re angry. When you’re driving at night, System 2 helps to keep you alert.
Also, when System 1 runs into difficulty, when tried-and-true solutions to some problem does not work or when you encounter a question for which you have no answer, System 2 can be mobilized to look for new solutions and for better answers.
The biggest problem with System 2 thinking is the urge to keep looking for one more factoid, one more factor, or one more aspect or angle. You can get so caught up in analyzing and philosophizing that you forget to get up off your behind and start doing.
“Paralysis by analysis” sets in and you need to call in System 1 thinking to cut to the chase.
When you get to the point where all the fact-gathering has you in “Park,” you need to dismiss the System 2 thinking and let the System 1 thinking take over again. Otherwise you’re never going to get out of the parking lot.
You take all your new insights and information from the System 2 thinking and you build another story using the System 1 thinking. Then you go.
The following YouTube video, published by The Commonsence in 2018, presents some thoughts on how to work with both of the systems in day-to-day living.
Knowing fast and slow thinking are a part of your mind’s toolbox means that you’ll be able to use them appropriately as needed, it seems to me.
I do recommend Kahneman’s THINKING FAST AND SLOW. It has a plethora of insights and ideas that can help you understand about how you are thinking and why you do that. It can also help you direct your course corrections more consciously.
One thing that Kahneman does not emphasize in the book is the part where you take all the insights you’ve worked so hard to gather using the System 2 explorations and figure out how to sink that new knowledge down into your bones so that the insights become a more permanent part of your System 1 story-making.
That one is the result of doing, repetition and deliberate practice — something athletes, martial artists and Makers of every stripe know is necessary to develop mastery. And that’s a whole other story….
Here’s a poem:
SLOW THINKER LAMENT
This is irritating!
In a world of fast thinkers and pyrotechnic wizards,
I know, I know. You’ve heard it before and will almost certainly hear it again: You are the creator of the world you inhabit. You become what you think.
Every motivational video and podcast producer focused on self-improvement is probably going to whack you upside the head with that one.
Here’s an especially good one published in 2017 by Tom Bilyeu as part of his “Impact Quotes” series.
Bilyeu is an American entrepreneur, the co-founder of Quest Nutrition, maker of a best-selling protein bar. He is also a powerful motivational speaker and life-trainer.
CLICHES ARE TRUTHS REPEATED SO OFTEN THEY TURN INTO BABBLE….
Every advocate for positive thinking and optimism and every feel-good therapist of every flavor, backed up by all the guys in lab coats who are into probing the secrets of our brains and other aspects of our lives, will haul out this old chestnut at some point.
Even the wise guys who aren’t telling us we’re a bunch of delusional creatures will tell you this.
They’ve built all kinds of thought-constructs that prove that it’s true. You’ve gotta believe them. They know, right?
My own favorite is American entrepreneur T. Harv Ecker’s take on the matter. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.
Ecker has said,
“Thoughts lead to feelings.
Feelings lead to actions.
Actions lead to results.”
Therefore, once you’re aware of the thought-to-feeling-to-action-to-results progression, you are in a position to change your thoughts.
This will lead you to new feelings and perspectives that will affect the actions you take and the moves you make.
Using this progression, you can get to the results you want…it says here.
Okay. Fine. Right.
BUT THEN THERE’S THE PRIMAL QUESTION
I have to confess that I always get a bit squirmy and fidgety when I get yet another hit of this particular bit of nebulous wisdom that pushes me forward onto center stage as the “World-Creator.”
That sort of implies that the burden is on me to get my own world right.
The thing is, it seems to me that it would be a heck of a lot easier to get a handle on being a big-shot World-Creator if I could just figure out the answer to the Primal Question:
SO, WHO AM I AND WHAT DO I REALLY WANT TO DO IN THIS LIFE?
There are, of course, many opinions, positions and theories about how you can find the answer to that question.
There are all kinds of tools you can use to figure out “The Big HUH?”. Every self-development book probably contains a dozen or so.
Many people have explored this question and returned from their journeys to explain and expound on the answers they found for themselves. Some may even ring true for you.
ONE OTHER DIRECTION TO EXPLORE
At the start of the 20th century, University of Michigan professor and sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864 – 1929) went against the trend of thought held by his fellow sociologists of the time. They were firmly committed to considering the development of individuals and societies as separate processes.
The classic utilitarian (and selfish) individualism of economics, which was promoted by the theories about the dynamics of social interaction held by other sociologists of his time, did not make sense to Cooley.
Cooley argued that society and the individuals in them were not phenomena that can be separated. He said they were “different aspects of the same thing, for a separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so likewise is society when regarded as something separate from individuals.”
To Cooley, studying how people develop and behave separately from how a society operates was a lot like dissecting a frog in biology lab class.
He said, “Our life is all one human whole, and if we are to have any real knowledge of it we must see it as such. If we cut it up it dies in the process.”
Out of this way of thinking, Cooley developed the concept of the “looking glass self,” which has become known and accepted by most modern psychologists and sociologists.
Cooley’s theory expanded William James’s idea of the self having the capacity to reflect on its own behavior.
According to Cooley, we see ourselves as other people see us, as if reflected in a mirror. People gain their identity and form their habits by looking at themselves through the perception of society and other people with whom they interact as well as by directly considering their own personal qualities, he says.
Whether our beliefs about how other people see us are true or not, it is those beliefs that truly shape our ideas of ourselves.
The following YouTube video, “Charles Cooley Looking Glass Self | Individuals and Society” was published in 2015 by khanacademymedicine. It gives a good, easy-to-understand explanation of Cooley’s theory.
HOLDING UP THE LOOKING GLASS
Tom Bilyeu, who was featured in the first video, is also the host (as well as co-founder and CEO) of Impact Theory, an interview video series exploring the mindsets of the world’s highest achievers.
This next video, “I Am Not What I Think I Am,” was published in 2018 by Fearless Soul and features life coach Jay Shetty in an interview with Bilyeu. It presents one way to use Cooley’s “Looking Glass Self” theory to find the life-direction and path that holds the most meaning and mana for you.
Jay Shetty has been called “one of the most viewed people on the Internet internationally.” Among other things he hosts his own daily show, “HuffPostLive#Follow the Reader.”
In the video, he points out that all of us “live in echo chambers. We’re just surrounded by the same thinking. We meet people who are just like us most of the time.”
Shetty outlines three steps you can make to counter that condition:
Expose yourself to new experiences or role models.
Find the experiences or role models with the most meaning for you, that you can be passionate about, and take seriously.
Ask, “Yes or no? Does that work for me? Do I want to, for-real, live the life my hero/heroine is living?
This will at least keep you from unquestioningly following what you think the people around you are saying about who and what you are and what you “should” be doing with your life.
It can help you judge for yourself whether a particular lifestyle, with all of its inherent pros and cons, is really how you want to spend your days.
It might put you on the road to finding the life that has meaning and mana for you.
Here’s a poem….
THE WORLD IS MY MIRROR
I have come to the conclusion
That the world is my mirror.
In its many-storied face I can find
Bits that resonate in me,
The hapless spectator with the flat feet.
I am like a harp wire, tightly wound,
That awakens as the air is stirred by
The sound of just one other string
Plucked by some insistent hand
That thrums and vibrates through me.
The stories are all around me,
Playing themselves out,
No more mindful of me
Than a stream is mindful of
A fallen leaf floating in it.
But, here’s the deal:
The stories I NOTICE are the ones
That tell me a thing or two
About what I am and who I am
And why I do my walk.
It is the fact that the story snagged my attention,
Raised up banners high,
Started horns tooting,
And fire-bombs flaring…
THAT’S the thing that needs attending.
Like the overly-sensitive, alarmingly bleeping parked car
In the middle of a quiet night in the ‘burbs,
It is mine to sort out.
I am the one that has to go deal with the durned thing,
Because it’s my car, my alarm, my concerns, my fears.
Here’s another way of Un-Seeing, one involving time and space.
Google what “Hawaiian time” means and you will probably get some variation of “late.” Sometimes the definition comes with a fifteen-minute grace-period added and, often, there’s a bit of humor-filled tolerance included.
As more than one entry so delicately puts it, we island people are afflicted by a “relaxed indifference to precise scheduling.” Uh-huh.
These days, many of us have speeded up some.
Some of that is just modern living. As things crowd in and everything moves faster and faster around us, even the slower-moving ones pick up speed.
Time gets chopped up smaller and smaller and we are compelled, it seems, to cram more doing into those little bits of time.
Some of it’s about getting more in tune with goal- and future-oriented thinking.
Some of it is just another facet of being a different kind of polite, another way of showing respect.
THEY GOT IT WRONG
The thing is, all those folks on Google got it mostly wrong.
For Hawaiians, at least, time flows deep and wide.
As an ocean people, we are aware that we are sailing off into unknown waters pushed by winds and wave, guided by the stars and by our own knowledge, sustained by our skills.
We depend on each other to help all of us deal with whatever we encounter. We are on the same boat and the ocean is very big.
We know. We are all in this together and each of us depends on every other one to try to help us all get to a better place.
Each of us gets a turn to try.
TIME (AND SPACE) AND ANOTHER WAY OF UN-SEEING
There is a Hawaiian proverb that says, “I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope.” One translation of that phrase is this: “In the past, the future is.” An even looser one is, “We look to the past as a guide to the future.”
However, the proverb itself, when translated literally, is layered with meaning and reveals itself as something of a paradox.
The term for the past in Hawaiian, “i ka wā ma mua,” literally means “the space/time in front of your body” and the one for the future, “i ka wā ma hope,” means “the space/time in back of your body.”
Hawaiian historian Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa was one of the first modern-day native scholars to point out and elaborate on this concept. She said, “It is as if the Hawaiian stands firmly in the present with his back to the future and his eyes fixed upon the past, seeking historical answers to present day dilemmas.”
It sounds like Hawaiians look forward into the past and walk backwards into the future, doesn’t it?
But, in a very pragmatic way, the people who are sensitive to indigenous ways of walking and who look towards the traditions of their culture for solutions to complicated modern problems accept the reality that we humans are blind to the future.
The best of the wise ones are also aware that many of the problems we now face were once addressed quite handily by the people who lived before us. (Trying to live a “sustainable” life, for example, is a supposedly “new” solution that native peoples lived every day for centuries.)
Often, those who honor cultural traditions will choose to look at and pay attention to the old ones’ solutions when they brainstorm ways of dealing with the newest iterations of age-old problems.
NON-LINEAR NATIVE TIME
This concept of looking to the distant past for solutions to present-day and future problems may be a bit confusing for more modern-minded folks.
It directly contradicts the Western view that the past is “behind us” and our future lies “before” or “ahead” of us. It refuses to agree that the past is something we need to let go so we can get on with doing the future.
To many native peoples, however, time is not particularly linear.
The native view involves cycles within cycles, day and night, season following season, generation following generation. Time spirals outward, accompanied by the rhythm of continuing heartbeats and the ins-and-outs of breaths.
The past and the ancestors are remembered. They are honored and respected as much as the ones who stand beside you now and the ones who are coming up behind you.
TOEING THE LINE
The aboriginal peoples of Australia, who are arguably among the oldest peoples in the world, call modern people “the line people.” To these ancient cultures, Line-People Time is a relentless progression, always looking and moving ahead, never stopping, never doubling-back.
Every new iteration of an old problem the line people encounter demands “better” and “improved” solutions than those tried in the past. All of it is supposed to be guided by visions of what-might-be.
It does work. Sometimes, though, the baby gets thrown out with the bath-water.
One example of this is the Big Agriculture “solution” that swallowed up small, sustainable family farms and ranches, erased a wide diversity of food-crops, and eliminated farm animal breeds that were not so profitable.
Visionary, forward-looking solutions that were supposed to help feed more and more people often created present-day monster-problems as farmlands become less and less productive, as foods become less nourishing, as problematic pests mutate and proliferate, and as resources that once renewed themselves no longer do.
LOOKING BACK INTO THE FUTURE
In the backward-walking conceptualization of time, telling the old stories and lessons learned as well as trying some variant of the old way is at least as important as racing off, blinded by visions, and flinging yourself unthinking into new.
This other way of seeing allows a person (and a culture) the time to integrate the best of the new with what is still valuable in the old.
It lets a person and a people keep track of who they are and helps them stay connected with their deeper humanity as they flow along the streams of change into the brave new world forming all around them.
For many, it is not that the traditional solutions that have worked in the past are the only ones worthy of consideration as we face the complexities of our problems today.
What is important, however, is the idea that perhaps the effective solutions we are seeking for our current problems have already been tried in the past and might still work if they are adapted to new circumstances and situations.
Poet, writer and Hawaiian activist Dana Naone Hall, in her book, LIFE OF THE LAND: Articulations of a Native Writer, expresses this idea beautifully, “In my thinking, traditions are not monolithic. They must be continually refreshed at the roots by the present and next generations. This is your challenge and birthright as ‘Ōiwi (people of the bone) in the twenty-first century.”
THE FIRST HAWAIIAN VOYAGING CANOE IN SIX HUNDRED YEARS
This YouTube video, “Worldwide Voyage, History of Hōkūle’a and Polynesian Voyaging” was published in 2014 by Oiwi TV.
The film documents the start of a journey to circumnavigate the world by Hawaii’s most famous modern-day traditional sailing canoe, which was built by a group of enthusiastic volunteers over a two-year period and first launched in 1976 from Kualoa Beach Park in Kaneohe on Oahu.
Three men — artist and historian Herb Kane, nautical anthropologist Ben Finney, and writer and rough-waterman/sailor (Charles) Tommy Holmes — had a dream more than 40 years ago.
They wanted to answer a question: How did Polynesians settle the far-flung islands of the mid-Pacific? By accident, as some scholars claimed? Or by design?
After the canoe’s first voyage to Tahiti, from May 1, 1976 to June 3, 1976, with the skillful master Micronesian wayfinder Mau Piailug guiding the canoe using his traditional knowledge of the stars, the waves, and the winds, they had their answer: The islands of the Pacific were not settled by accident.
[For more about the sailing canoe’s worldwide voyage, you can check out Sara Kehaulani Goo’s article on the NPR (National Public Radio) online newsletter, “Hōkūle’a, the Hawaiian Canoe Traveling the World By a Map of the Stars” by clicking the button below.]
NATIVES NAVIGATING WITHOUT INSTRUMENTS
The sailing canoe’s maiden voyage also helped to spark a continuing and evolving interest in old island ways and the practices of their native peoples.
A historic connection between all of the native peoples of the islands of the Pacific as well as along the coastlines of lands bordering the ocean was renewed and revitalized and continues to strengthen with time.
The native peoples are remembering.
They have become acutely aware of a traditional perspective of time and space that reflects the spiral (a key metaphor especially in Polynesian poetry and arts) which some say represents a doubling back and a reconnecting with the past for the benefit of the future.
Traditional crafts and native practices and mindsets flourish and, for many people, they have become ways to help make sense out of the confusion of modern life.
Each person, regardless of their culture, fashions their own life using legacies left to them by those who came before. How not?
It is a basic truth that our ancestors live on in us in our DNA. This brain and heart and body are structurally the same as those possessed by human beings 150,000 years ago.
Is it such a mind-wrench to go from there to the possibility that this brain, this heart, and this body works and feels and functions in the same way that theirs did?
Is it such a mind-boggle to believe that the ways our ancestors lived their lives might hold answers to the dilemmas we currently face?
NOW IS OUR TURN TO TRY
The thing to remember, I suppose, is that each generation spends their time in the world trying to live their lives the best way they know how.
We are, each of us, a part of a journey that began a long time ago. The journey will probably continue long after we are gone.
In the meantime, while we are here, remaining mindful of our ancestors might bring us to the understanding that this time now is just our turn to try.
At some point in the future, each of us will become an ancestor to the generations that follow us. Perhaps we can hope that they, too, will remember and honor us and the way we lived.
THREE WAYS OF WALKING WITH THE ANCESTORS
Every one of us humans walks our own walk.
Here are three You-Tube videos about the choices made by individual Hawaiians who are taking their turn at trying….
The first video, “Hula Is More Than a Dance – It’s the ‘Heartbeat’ of the Hawaiian People,” is a short film by filmmaker Bradley Tangonan which was featured in the National Geographic Short Film Showcase in 2018.
The film features kumu hula (hula teacher) Leina’ala Jardin, who explains what she feels is her “kuleana,” her responsibility, to pass on the traditions of Hawaiian dance.
This next video is a trailer for “Sons of Halawa,” an award-winning feature documentary about elder Pilipo Solatario and the old-style life he and his family continue to pursue in Halawa Valley.
It was produced by Molokai filmmaker Matt Yamashita (QuaziFilms) and was broadcast on PBS in 2016.
This third video was published in 2013 by Tomorrow Ancestor and features Cliff Kapono. At the time the film was made, Kapono was pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology at the University of California San Diego.
Here’s a poem:
HAWAIIANS TEACH BY LIVING
“Kuli, kuli…too much noise,”
Tutu would always say
To the loud and curious grandchild
Who ran around all day,
Looking for the answers,
Wanting to know NOW,
Always looking for shortcuts,
Grumbling about ‘as how.
Too much questions,
Too much talking,
Too much namunamu.
Close your mouth, move your hands.
One day you will understand.
Lessons you learn in silence,
Watching hands move
With graceful skill.
Lessons you find in silence,
Hearing old voices,
Talking long and slow.
Lessons you see in silence,
By doing it over
Again and again.
Lessons you feel in silence,
While the old ones play.
Hawaiians teach by living.
It’s the only way they know.
If you want to learn, be still.
When you stop making noise,
They will show.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Kahoolawe, Hawaii” by Justin De La Ornellas via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.