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STANDING IN AMBIGUITY

STANDING IN AMBIGUITY

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that the willingness to stand still in the middle of uncertainty without giving in to despair allows for new opportunities to show up and gives you the space you need to notice them.  [If you focus on fears and doubts, there really is no room in your head for paying attention when a new door opens.]

Apple founder Steve Jobs had an interesting take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life.  He suggested using the ultimate uncertainty, death, to get past the fears and doubts you are likely to encounter during times of change.

steve-jobs-with-red-shawl
Steve Jobs With Red Shawl by Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, ProjectRED Grouppicture, retouched by Sagredo, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]
Jobs has been quoted as saying, “All external expectations, all fear of embarrassment and failure – all these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.   You are already naked.”

This is, I think, a profound thought, and it is probably the best (and the most difficult) way I know of dealing with “standing in ambiguity” – the whole uncertainty of just living your life, making plans and executing them, having goals and realizing them,  and so forth and so on.

WHAT IT IS AND WHY DO IT?

“Standing in ambiguity” equates, I think, with poet John Keats’ “negative capability,” which he describes as “when a person is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason….”

Wise guys through the ages have tried to get us to just sit with the uncertainty, feel the feelings, understand why they are welling up in us, and then step away from those feelings and look at where we can make our next move.  After that we can take the next step, then the next one, and so on until we get to a new place that feels more comfortable for us.

But, uncertainty and ambiguity is never an easy space to be in.

So then there’s this question:  If it makes us so uncomfortable, why would we even go there? 

One answer is that it is in this space that Creativity happens.  All that discomfort produces new ways of looking at things, change-making moves, and products never seen before.  (It also produces a lot of crazy people…but that’s another story.)

Here’s a short YouTube video, “Embrace Ambiguity,” by IDEO.org, an organization that works with nonprofits, social enterprises and foundations to design solutions for social impact around the world.  It explains some of the benefits of standing in ambiguity that creative people can use.

 

CULTURAL AMBIGUITY TOLERANCE

How much ambiguity you can tolerate is a personal thing.  Each person has his or her own level of tolerance.  The same is true for different cultures.

This YouTube video by Mary Rowland explains about the “ambiguity tolerance” of different cultures and what it means to you in practical, nuts-and-bolts fashion.

(I’m not sure who Mary Rowland is.  I couldn’t find anything about her on Google and her other YouTube offerings are not particularly helpful.  Still, this video is a lovely schmooze about an important topic.    Thanks, Mary Rowland…whoever you are.)

If your own ambiguity tolerance doesn’t match that of your culture, it’s quite likely that there will be friction.  If your own high ambiguity tolerance clashes with your culture’s lack of tolerance for ambiguity, you’ll have to deal with being labeled as a troublemaker or a ne’er-do-well.  If your ambiguity tolerance is low and you’re in a culture with a high tolerance for ambiguity, then you might be labeled as a ‘fraidy-cat, a worry-wort, or even a coward.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out how to work with your culture’s level of tolerance for ambiguity as well as your own.  If the mismatch is too great, then perhaps you will need to go find a more supportive environment for yourself.  This, of course, will add to all the uncertainty.

JUST DO IT

Another take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life is in this YouTube video by Bob Miglani who exhorts, “Dealing  With Uncertainty?  Stop Waiting.  Move Forward and Embrace the Chaos.”

(Bob Magliani is the author of EMBRACE THE CHAOS: How India Taught Me To Stop Overthinking and Start Living.  In 2012, it was a Washington Post bestseller.  In it Magliani addresses how to deal with facing major uncertainty and stop doing the deer-in-the-headlights freeze.  He tells you that you have to let go of trying to control the chaos all around you and focus, instead, on what you can control — your own actions and your words and thoughts.  An interesting read.)

FINAL THOUGHT

The irony in all of this is that standing in ambiguity is…well…ambiguous and also very personal.  There are no final answers, no right or wrong way to do it.  There is only you and what you feel you can or must do.

About a year after my husband died, this poem came.  It  was a signal to me that I was ready again to turn around and face future.

After Fred died and the world I knew changed, I was very lost.  One of the first steps was getting through the grieving intact and through the acceptance and letting go.  And then there was the learning how to stand up strong in the middle of a heck of a lot of ambiguity.

When you’re already naked and the illusions in which you used to dress the world have all melted and dribbled away, when you no longer have anything obscuring your look into the Void, it does tend to free you up to do lots of other things.

I went and did a lot of other things.  Many of them turned out pretty okay.


I CAN TELL YOU GOODBYE

I can tell you goodbye now

And mean it, in my heart of hearts.

Your passing nearly killed me,

The pain squeezing me into

An otherness that whimpered

Helplessly against the loss

Of you and of the world

I thought I knew.

What is it somebody said?

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional….”

Something like that.

 

I decided not to suffer.

I don’t know what I’m doing

And no ultimate answer rises up,

No banner or signpost

To show me where to go.

I am lost in ambiguity,

Lost in the illusions

That keep swirling

Through this shadow-play.

And I cannot find my way

Back to the surety

I once knew.

 

You’re the one who was sure.

I thought you knew the way.

I only had to follow you.

Then you left me

Standing lost on this

Mist-covered mountain

And the world has changed

And changed and changed.

No visible landmarks –

All gone, along with you.

And your assurance that all of this is real.

 

You lied to me.

(Or maybe it was only to yourself.)

You were so sure that

I believed you.

I followed your lead

Because I thought I had no

Guidelines of my own.

And now I have to make them up,

All by myself, all over again.

Every day I make it all up.

 

It’s been good, you know.

I like it just fine now.

I have to thank you

Even though you brought

So much pain and confusion in your wake.

You taught me about a world

I had not known and made me

Play to its many faces.

 

Now I’m going back to what

I used to know,

Richer for having known you.

I loved you the best I could.

You loved me too, I know.

 

Good-bye, ei nei,

It was all good.

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Sunrise by blese via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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POST-MODERN MEANING AND MANA

POST-MODERN MEANING AND MANA

In my own art and poetry, I am wanting a “Polynesian aesthetic” in my work … what I hope is a “native” feeling to it.  Even more than that, I’d like it to be a part of my business.  This Polynesian aesthetic incorporates three things – a high level of skill, indirectness, and mo’olelo (story).

What makes an object a work of art to me is a feeling that the thing is “special,” imbued with a sense of the person who made the thing and the place where that person grew into the artist he or she is.  Art evokes presence, I am thinking, and that is why it is special.

The process of the manufacture of an art object or the performance of some song or dance or story has to incorporate the history, meaning and cultural identity inherent in the artist and in the place, I am thinking.  If art is to be a real expression of the person who is making it, then it does have to built out of pieces of that person’s heart.

A business is also a human-made thing.  Could it not be practiced as an art?  Hmmm….

The making of lauhala hats is an honored Hawaiian art form passed down from generation to generation.  Aunty Elizabeth Lee is the acknowledged best of the practitioners in Hawaii and she has been one of the people who has helped to keep the art form alive.

Many of the artists who are Polynesian tell us that in order to produce good work the artist must be “of good heart.”  This, they say, will “show” in the work.  In the hat-weaving, for example, anger and discontent in a person is transmitted through the hands and the weave shows a tension that is not there when the person is calm and at peace.  The hats get misshapen and lumpy. For this reason, many of these artists seem to make the art they do into a moving meditation filled with ritual and mindfulness.

Ritual is an important part of the Polynesian aesthetic and when ritual is a part of the object then the object becomes an amazing thing.  It becomes an opening and a gateway to a world where everything is interconnected and the parts all move in concert to more cosmic rhythms than are discernible in everyday life.  Usually, when someone is learning an indigenous art form, at some point they will be introduced to the rituals involved in the making of the craft.

A touching You-Tube Video, “Weaving From the Heart,” is a documentary made by Alayna Kobayashi about weaver Lynette Roster and her thoughts about  weaving the lauhala, the leaves of the pandanus tree, into a hat.  The weaver in the video, Lynette Roster, mentions that the weaver “asks” the tree for the leaves that will be used for making her hats.  The weaver thanks the tree and also takes care of the tree which supplies her materials.  This, it seems to me, adds another dimension to the process of weaving a hat.  It adds gravitas, a kind of spiritual “weight.”

Since much of the cosmic, “other” world is hidden from direct perception it can only be approached sideways…obliquely.  That’s why kaona, the hidden meaning, is important.  However, kaona slides away from a direct gaze.

Making this way of doing things a part of modern life is a bit of a puzzlement.  We moderns are so straightforward:  Okay….there’s the leaves….grab a ladder…pick the leaves…and so on and so forth.  Ritual gets us making faces and going, “You want me to TALK TO A TREE?  HUH?”

It gets even more hairy when you’re trying to put together a business.  The hard-nosed bean-counters roll their eyes at you when you talk about “meaning” and  “mana.”  Still, the times they are a-changing.

Here’s another video…one showing Steve Jobs talking about  modern-day branding.  In this video, where Steve Jobs introduces Apple’s Crazy Ones campaign to investors and his top people, he starts from the premise that marketing is about core values, values that don’t change.  He says, “People with a passion can change the world….Those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.”

One of the best marketers of the modern age is talking about “meaning” and talking about “mana” and how his company is going to promote some.  Interesting, huh?

Maybe “meaning” and “mana” has relevance in more than just the world of native arts and crafts.  Maybe it might have relevance for you as well.

What do you think?  Let me know.

Here’s another poem….


SMALL ENOUGH FOR DREAMS

It’s a complex thing,

This trying to get back to simple,

Reaching towards the place

That is small enough for your dreams.

 

The details of a life lived out loud can overflow,

Flooding through you,

Submerging the shine of

The mana-bits that sparkle in you

In an urgent, onrushing tide of

Other-people needs,

Other-people wants,

Other-people dreams.

 

Holding onto even the memory of your own dreams

Grabbing hold with both hands on

The knowledge that you are on your way to

Your own place in that onslaught

Can be a battle against an overwhelming force sometimes.

 

But, in the quiet time,

When the ebbtide flows out and away from you

And the moon rises up over a calmer sea,

Your half-drowned self can

Sit on some lost and forgotten beach

Just listening to the wind

Soughing through the ironwoods.

 

If you’ve managed to hang onto that dream –

The one that gives your own life meaning –

If you remembered not to let it go

In the middle of the flood-time,

Sometimes you can catch the glimmer

Of the shine as it starts coming real…

As you start coming real.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Hala (Pandanus tectorus) by David Eickhoff via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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