Friday, October 31, 2003

Something in the air... 

There’s something in the air. I have a feeling of expectancy, of suppressed excitement. An inner energy I haven’t felt for a long, long time. I catch myself smiling, chuckling inwardly, for no apparent reason; there’s a spring in my step, such that sometimes I almost feel like breaking into a song and dance routine like they do in the musicals – except that my singing is pretty dire and my dancing totally, utterly non-existent. Although I went into work by train today, not on the bike, I don’t have the slightest feelings of guilt. No need to prove anything; no need to find identity that way.

Part of the magic is a reawakening awareness of experience.

It’s a bit like being a kid on the night before Christmas, about to wake up with a new toy. I’ve shaken the box and rattled it, guessing at what’s inside but still uncertain. But is it a gift I can just receive, or will it be a gift of my own making?

I think I have to do the work; the universe isn’t going to hand me anything on a plate. The future is no clearer today than it was yesterday. I could easily take a wrong turn – or rather a turn that takes me away from the unseen path I’ve stumbled onto. I’m not going to try and map out the future. I tried that before and it didn’t work; it led only to disappointment as my poorly-founded, shakily-built towers of circumstantial strategy tottered and fell time and again.

It’s a bit like following an indistinct path in the mist – no good just walking in the right general direction; the path is so indistinct I could easily stray off it without knowing, and stumble around lost. No, I need to follow this path one step at a time, seeing each step, each new direction as it emerges from the swirling mists and gradually becomes clear. And with each step, the mists hiding the next part a little.

Watch this space.

And thanks John, Stormwind, Lois, Jack, Bj, Euan, Jon, Beth, Flemming.


I wrote that earlier today, but didn't post it at the time. Something held me back - I just made a mental note that maybe my feet need to stay on floor even if my head goes above the clouds from time to time. Now, some of that earlier energy has dissipated a little (well, it is 11:00 on a Friday night!) But I wanted to record my state of mind from earlier; it was valid then and it will be valid again.

Be Bold... 

" Whatever you can do or believe you can or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power,and magic in it."

- Goethe

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Music blogging 

Some very interesting ideas from MrG about opening up the music recording/distribution business to the people, in the same way that blogging opens up publishing. Its a long article, but worth the read.

There's no requirement for a big production website, no requirement for Akamai-hosted streaming content servers, no requirement for bands to spend big dollars on productions out of any fear this is their one-and-only chance. In my new model of distributed digital distribution, we can afford to cast all these pebbles up on to the beach, and in so doing, we can create a new industry around a new music distribution paradigm where the objective is not to extract graft for the privilege of owning an obsolete plastic disk, but instead the objective is to get the music heard.

News immunity 

It says a lot about our immunity to horrific scenes on news broadcasts that these photos (also these and these) from emese communicate so much more about living with the fires in California. Or they do to me at any rate.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Practical NLP... or... The Right Trousers 

I can't believe I'm posting this…

This is going to sound bizarre, silly, laughable… but… I bought The Right Trousers.

OK, the story first, then the lesson.

I went shopping yesterday lunchtime and bought some new trousers and a shirt to wear to work. I was getting bored with the semi-formal – not to say stuffy - conventional office attire so I thought I’d go more casual. More in keeping with the persona who appeared from somewhere and started writing this blog, than with the Dilbert-like person who goes to meetings and writes technical reports. It know this sounds silly and I shouldn't allow myself to be so influenced by external factors, but there's no doubt I felt a lot better for it. More whole, more free, more able to be me.

It wasn't until I was cycling home that the penny dropped - I often find that when I'm cycling home my brain must be going through a sifting and filing of the day's events similar to that which occurs when we sleep and dream. I think this whole trouser thing was an example of NLP anchoring.

About 7 years ago I discovered for myself the truth of the idea that instantaneous personal change is possible, just by exercising choice. I was working for a very charismatic boss at the time, and she was leaving at the end of the week. I'd already learned a huge amount from her, and knowing she was leaving, the relationship was going through some subtle changes. We talked a lot more openly about many things – her philosophy, ideas about personal limitations and personal power. Anyway, her leaving somehow allowed something to be released, to come to fruition, that had been growing steadily over the previous few months.

I remember quite clearly the moment of realisation that change was possible. Later in the evening after farewell drinks I was standing in a muddy field on a Scout campsite at 11.30 at night waiting to pick up some Scouts after an event. I remember it so clearly because in that moment, coincident with the realisation, came the reality of change. All I had to do was swap one set of beliefs about self for another set. It really is that simple.

And I was wearing a pair of trousers almost identical to those that I bought yesterday, and doing so for almost identical reasons.

So I think an association was created in my mind. I'm not going to try and explain NLP anchoring here (I couldn't anyway because I only know what I’ve read in one book), but in essence it's a way of creating a physical trigger that can allow the power of previous positive experiences to be recaptured and translated into the present. So something as sublime as personal transformation can be anchored to something as ridiculous as a pair of trousers.

The change doesn't necessarily stick, but that doesn't make it any less real. Over time, some of those self-limiting beliefs have crept back in. Making the choice a second time though is scary. Freedom isn't comfortable. Once bitten, twice shy.

Silly? Fanciful? Maybe. Whatever, the conveyor belt just stepped up a gear.

Oh, and in the stunningly unlikely event that you read this, thanks Sue, I haven't forgotten.

Monday, October 27, 2003


"You don't consider yourself a therapist, but you are a therapist".

"Well, not really".

"Well, let's pretend... that you're a therapist who works with people. The most important thing... when you're pretending this... is to understand... that you are
really not... You are just pretending... And if you pretend really well, the people that you work with will pretend to make changes. And they will forget that they are pretending... for the rest of their lives. But don't you be fooled by it."

Milton Erickson, quoted in Frogs Into Princes by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

"This above all - to thine own self be true" 

There's a few loose strands I want to try and pull together. Muddled thoughts bouncing around in my head; various blog posts – mine and others' - now beginning to converge on something; a theme, a structure dimly visible through the mists.

When I started blogging, it was all so easy. I hadn’t really got any idea what I was getting into, so I hadn’t got any yardstick. There was some interesting stuff floating around out there in the blogosphere and it seemed kinda cool to be part of it. Not just cool though; I did have a feeling that maybe there were some things I wanted to say and maybe this would be a good medium in which to say them.

To begin with my blog had no site meter; no commenting capability – I had no idea who was reading my words, or what they thought of them. A one-sided conversation is a little, well, one-sided but it does allow total freedom to say just what you want without worrying about how its going to be received – or more accurately, you may hope it will be well received but as you’ll never know you don’t have to worry about having to deal with the feedback.

But it would be nice to know, wouldn't it, what others think, if indeed there's anyone out there thinking about it at all? So along comes sitemeter, and commenting capability, and before you know it blogging has become a competition. How many visits today? How many comments? What, none? I’d better up the quality of what I’m writing. Then with a couple of positive responses, spontaneity goes out the window – now I have standards to maintain. I have to judge what I write. Is it good enough?

But good enough for what? Without some kind of purpose I'm a leaf blown this way and that, moving from one hot issue to the next, picking up the latest fad, unknowingly conforming to the thought-patterns of cyberspace. Very like a whale…

A few things lately brought this to a head.

First John Ettorre was quite complementary about some of the things I've written. But I’m sure he didn’t intend the effect his remarks had, which was to make me more judgemental about my own writing – as though I had a standard to live up to.

Then, as a result of meeting Stuart Hughes and having him point to olderandgrowing from his blog, I suddenly started receiving many more visits than usual. At the time, I had a lengthy, poorly structured and rather self-indulgent post up and I felt embarrassed that this was what all these extra visitors were going to see – surely I could write them something better and attract them to come back to my blog? I was too hasty. The idea I posted wasn't a bad one – it was something I'd been thinking about for a while – but I wasn't happy with the words; they were too clumsy. Or so I felt. But why? Why judge myself in this way? Why feel the need to attract people to the site at all? Why worry about the size of my audience? Surely quality of readership is better than quantity? (And in all humility I am honoured by the quality – I'm sorry, that’s not really the right word but I hope you know what I mean – of all of the people who have blogrolled me).

It was probably this situation that made me think about deleting this blog – the feeling that I wasn’t being honest and was writing for effect, or for self-aggrandisement.

Now in the last few days there has been some thought-provoking dialogue on gassho's Wiki Wednesday about what it means to be wholly yourself. John Ettorre has posted a summary that is, frankly, a little scary, as I realise that after 25 years of trying various things I’ve accidentally stumbled on something I enjoy and, with some practice and hard work, might even get to be vaguely good at.

So why's that scary? I've been here before. Twice I've got close enough to the edge of the precipice that forms the boundary of my comfortable world to peer over the edge and glimpse the new landscapes beyond; twice I’ve drawn back from negotiating the rocky slopes that separate my comfortable grassy uplands from the uncharted terrain beyond. Now I seem to be drawing close to that precipice again. Blogging has awoken thoughts, feelings, possibilities that have lain dormant for quite a while. Maybe that’s the real reason I nearly deleted this blog. Doing that would have kept me safe.

I just have this very strange feeling that I've stepped onto a conveyor belt that's actually going to take me somewhere I want to be.

[Although I haven't quoted Jeneane here I'd like to acknowledge her post, quoted on The Obvious, which provided the seed from which this post grew].

Friday, October 24, 2003

The power of language 

It's strange how a familiar thought can be given new life by a new set of words.

I came across this yesterday, in a comment on Real Live Preacher. It was supposedly said by St Francis of Assisi:

"Always preach the gospel. Use words if necessary".

Eight words containing a profound message. Essentially he's saying walk the talk - whether that be the Christian gospel or whatever set of beliefs drives your action. Not a new idea. But the simple way in which the words are put, saying that verbal explanations are only a supplement to the actions which are the prime medium by which our message is communicated, have allowed me to see that idea afresh.

Its a memorable phrase that will stay in my mind - and, I hope, colour my actions.

Either or 

I often listen to BBC Radio 3 streamed on the web if I'm working at the PC, especially if I'm doing something graphical. For anyone unfamiar with the BBC's output, Radio 3 is the serious music station - mostly classical with a mix of jazz and new music thrown in for good measure.

I was getting increasingly frustrated getting a large diagram printed out right - for some reason everything was condensed into a little corner of an A3 sheet. At the same time Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis" was playing. The timing was perfect - as I got more frustrated the music swelled until I couldn't ignore it's message. "Listen, you can either get het up with what you're doing, or you can pay attention to me. But not both. They're mutually exclusive".

I gave in and listened to the music.

And stopped getting het up.

Should I stay or should I go? 

Several times in the last couple of weeks I've wondered whether to delete this entire blog. Sometimes it seems no more than a mass of pretentious twaddle.

But I wont deny there are one or two pieces in which I've surprised myself by the pleasure I've found in writing them, so I've decided to leave it in place for the time being - if only to serve as an indicator of how far I've got to go.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


Its easy to get so wrapped up in things that we don't notice - and I mean really Notice - the world around us. And its not easy to break out of the treadmill of habituated thought patterns and become truly open to the sights, sounds, smells and feelings that surround us at all times.

Sometimes its useful to have some process to fall back on - a method by which you can draw your attention away from the tramlines of those habitual thoughts and spend some time in that landscape of the senses that usually we'd pass straight through.

Chris Corrigan has an intriguing post today about noticing space. One way I'll sometimes use to awaken awareness of space and form is to observe motion to reveal the structures and relationships in what I see. A tree, for example, in calm air has a certain form but that is hidden behind the outwardly simple appearance of a trunk surplanted by a leafy blob. Yet in the wind, as I look out of the office window across the Euston Road, the three-dimensional structure of the plane trees becomes clear - the single mass of leaves becomes a network of complex interrelated movement; branches sway in synchronism revealing the form beneath. Smoke curling from a cigarette reveals the invisible movement of the air. Watch people walking along the street - the way they move reveals perhaps something of the way they are feeling.

The idea of movement revealing structure goes further. Flexing an organisation through change reveals some of the hidden links that subvert the hierarchy. Flexing relationships reveals the strengths of the bonds. Changing your habits may help reveal what matters to you.

So the path of observing movement and change may begin at increasing awareness, but it leads on to learning.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The "Too Difficult" pile 

I've been pondering my lack of anything worthwhile to post on here. Here's the symptoms of the disease from which I seem to be suffering:
- Detached from experience
- Difficulty paying attention
- That "nothing really matters" feeling
Familiar to anyone?

I think its all connected with the fact that I've got too many things sitting on the "too difficult" pile at the moment. They're all issues related to the role in the wider organisation of the department for which I work:

- address the issue that the fundamental raison d'etre of our department is flawed when viewed in the context of the wider organisation. Somehow, our group has remained unchanged through numerous corporate reshuffles - probably we were put on the corporate "too difficult" pile. We're becoming an anachronism that doesn't need to exist any longer as a separate group. The useful elements of our functionality should be incorporated elsewhere.

- address the issue that the processes and accountability structure on which our effectiveness depends have serious failings, being based in mid-20th century management practices - rigid hierarchy, command-and-control, vertical communications, fox-hole management (dig yourself a secure hole, surround yourself with barbed wire, sit behind your machine-gun and shoot anyone who comes too close).

- address the issue that the relationships on which our effectiveness depends are undermined by powerful adversarial undercurrents, fed by mistrust and muddled accountabilities.

- address the root issue that our department's circle of influence is inadequate to address these issues which sit within our circle of concern and which therefore get left on our departmental too difficult pile.

- address the issue that all of these issues that concern me personally are outside my current personal circle of influence, either within or external to our department

The healthy state is supposed to be a circle of concern that's just a bit wider than your circle of influence. That approach keeps you on your toes - it provides a driver for change and improvement; it maintains a challenge so that the circle of influence gradually widens. But too big a gap and it creates an unbridgable chasm - the unfulfillable wishes result in endless crusades that are doomed to failure, sowing the seeds for adversarial relationships and leading to cynicism, embitterment and ultimately withdrawal.

In theory you can deal with this situation in a number of ways:
- widen the circle of influence
- reduce the circle of concern
- migrate the gap onto someone else
- let go of the whole thing; go somewhere else; go find new circles of influence and concern

I tried reducing my circle of concern - it doesn't work. I can't not be concerned about these things. If need be I can live with inefficiency; I can live with muddled accountabilities. There's some hope of being able to improve these. But the inadequacy and poverty of relationships and processes, and more than anything, the deliberate blindness to these issues of those with the power to address them hits me between the eyes every time.

As a group we've tried and failed to find anyone else to take up the issues on our behalf. Maybe the organisation is trying to tell us something…

I make half-hearted attempts to widen my circle of influence, but even half-hearted is too positive a description - really my heart isn't in it at all. I just go through the motions as a humble minion because its what I know I "ought" to be doing. What I'd rather do is go somewhere else altogether, and deal with issues that really matter to me.

So that little lot sits there as a logjam - paralysing, stifling creativity, killing momentum.

The lesson? Keep the gap between your circle of influence and circle of concern down to a manageable level. And don't leave too many things on the too difficult pile.

My favourite topic... 

Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.
Philip K. Dick

More on the nature of reality here
Found via leftblank

Friday, October 17, 2003


Found this when googling for the Richard Bach quote in my last post:

"The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it"

- W M Lewis

Life Is. 

I think it was Richard Bach who came up with that phrase in one of his books. You can't explain Life. Life Is.

I was lazy today - I came into work by train. Out of habit I dug out a book and started reading, but it was a beautiful clear sunny morning so after a few minutes I gave in to the beckoning sunshine and just sat and watched the world go by outside the window.

The view is amazingly green (in a figurative sense; actually green-yellow-gold-orange-red at this time of year). Life is everywhere. The unruly tangled masses covering every square centimetre of the trackside verges; a ruined hut engulfed in creepers with trees growing where once there was a roof; the retaining walls with greenery sprouting from every crack; even huge buddleia trees growing out of apparently bare brickwork.

Life, even supposedly simple plant life, has astonishing power. If humankind were to desert London, I wonder how long it would take for the greenery to creep gently millimetre by millimetre until it had quietly strangled the dominance of concrete and steel? So much for mankind's apparent dominance of nature.

Life Is.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


I was idly thumbing through a teachers' resources catalogue belonging to my wife and came across a poster with the slogan:

The highest fences we need to climb are those we've built within our minds

A little trite perhaps, but its so easy not even to be aware that those fences exist. Times are certainly changing for the better if they're starting to get ideas like this across in schools.

Unknowable influence 

Lois has been blogging recently about her reactions to seeing Les Miserables, reminding me of something that came to mind when I saw the show several years ago.

At the time one tends to get caught up in the big, dramatic, emotional moments - and there are certainly plenty of those in the show. But there's more to the story than that. Reflecting afterwards it struck me how the entire sequence of Jean Valjean's critical involvement in the lives of the key characters derives from one simple act of compassion.

Early in the story, Valjean, an ex-convict, is given shelter by a Bishop but can't stop himself stealing some silver from the Bishop's house. He is caught by the police but the Bishop defends him, saying he gave Valjean the silver; moreover he gives him two candlesticks as well saying "Here, you forgot these".

Valjean vows to change from this point on. The paths of their lives had run separately, touched for this one brief moment and then diverged, never to cross again. From the bishop's perspective, it was just an isolated incident; from Valjean's, the course of his life branched onto an entirely new track as a result of this encounter, a path he would not otherwise have taken. Yet the bishop remains entirely unaware of the impact he will have on so many lives through this one simple act of compassion.

I often wonder about the unknown impact our daily acts have on each other. Even though the effect of our responses may not be as far-reaching as the Bishops's, every interaction we have with another has some effect, and the choice is ours whether we respond with animosity, selfishness, compassion or just plain indifference. At the least we have the capacity to brighten someone's day, and who knows - maybe a simple act of kindness might one day be the catalyst that influences another at a turning point in their life, unknown to ourselves and even to the other.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Brain gone AWOL... 

What do you do when your brain goes on standby? Not completely shut down - the basic life support systems are up and running; the lights are on but there's no-one at home. The last couple of days have been like that. Functioning in reactive mode only. Prick him and he jumps; leave him be and he moves automaton-like from one routine task to the next, leaving meaningless spaces between them.

Without something to force change, this state could go on indefinately - and often has. Ming talks about bootstrapping - pulling yourself up by your own bootlaces - and with no guarantee of any external stimulus that's the only way to go. That's why I'm sitting writing this.

Original thought is just as much a creative process as any artistic activity - painting, composing, sculpture, writing etc. The artist's product is a reflection of something going on is his or her own mind; the ultimate purpose of that product is to create a response in the mind of others. The artistic product is just a medium; the tangible means by which the intangible response is brought into being.

Now I'm no artist in the conventional sense and so have no direct experience of exactly how an artist goes about producing art, but hearsay implies that artists need - or at any rate work best in - an appropriate environment. One that provides mental nourishment, stimulation, support, space to play. So if my creative thought processes have shut down, maybe that's because I haven't given them the best environment. That's where bootstrapping comes in - no-one can force creativity, but you can give it a helping hand.

In it's purest form, creative thought deals in abstractions, yet there needs to be some kind of seed to initiate the process. Nothing comes from nothing. Even this line of thought here in this blog came from the notion of an absence of a line of thought. Artists of all kinds find their source material in life (note to self - what about J.S. Bach?); so too must creative thinkers. Ideas feed off each other and its no coincidence that the blogs I watch have been relatively quiet over the last few days.

One way I've found of getting the creative juices flowing is to do something that intrinsically demands creativity such as playing the piano (even playing someone else's composition requires that you have in mind a idea of the sound you want to create), designing and constructing something physical (its amazing the thoughts that spring unbidden to mind whilst screwing pieces of wood together), engaging in dialogue. Or just taking time and space to notice and pay attention to what's around.

I'm going to go and yank on those bootstraps now.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

On Listening 

"Listening is a rare happening among human beings. You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or with impressing the other, or trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking or are debating about whether what is being said is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered."

"Listening is a primitive art of love in which a person gives himself to another's word, making himself accessible and vulnerable to that word."

- William Stringfellow

Applies also to reading blogs methinks...


I was prompted by Ming's blog to dig out this quote:

"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth or power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints; possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility!"
- Soren Kierkegaard

Restting the context 

Today brought some welcome variety work-wise - a train journey to an office across the country for a couple of meetings. The trains out from London are only one an hour and I didn't want to miss it so I arrived at Paddington station with half an hour to spare. With nothing particular to do I just sat sipping a coffee and watching people come and go.

I love people-watching; it works best if you're relaxed, mildly detached, mind free-wheeling, just idly watching the world go by. I never fail to be struck - enchanted even - by the endless variety of humanity; the uniqueness of each individual. 2 billion of us, yet we're all different. That much diversity can only arise out of an equivalent degree of intrinsic complexity. You just couldn't get 2 billion variants of something simple. I'll try and remember that next time I pigeon-hole someone into some pre-determined category.

Sometimes I notice particular individuals. The young woman in a smart brown business suit sitting next to me, expertly juggling bagel, coffee and mobile phone; a tall guy across the way in a dark suit with pale pink tie, struggling with his large hands hands to key numbers into an incongruously petite mobile phone; a teenager in a beanie hat, hand deep in pockets, eyes lowered. I start to imagine stories about them - where they've come from, where they're going; who they're meeting. All pure fiction, but it makes them more real; makes it easier to appreciate their individuality.

After a while, time play tricks and the panorama of people criss-crossing the station concourse takes on the character of a stop-motion film - you know, where you see a few hours activity condensed into a few minutes. I become further detached; an outside observer looking in on this corner of humanity.

Do you remember protractors from maths lessons at school - a semi-circle of clear plastic marked out for measuring angles? In idle moments in class I would sometimes use mine to give a different view of the world, holding it close to my eyes so that the angle marking were indistinguishable, and looking through the scratched plastic made the classroom seem distant, unreal, as though I were watching it on film or TV. It separated me from the reality of the class giving almost an objective viewpoint - a welcome change from the sometimes extreme subjectivity of classroom situations.

Today's detached people-watching was a bit like that. A bit of detachment every once in a while can be quite helpful really. It helps reset the context of self; appreciating my own individuality alongside that of all the other players in this game we call life. Seeing the world without the distractions of my own baggage I feel much more balanced, and paradoxically much more in touch with the world.

Sometimes its good just to stand and stare.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Random walk to bloggery 

Its curious how life’s paths twist, turn and branch almost randomly from each other. If you look back at a sequence of events that have led you to a particular moment, like as not the linkages will be far from the planned, linear, progressive structure we sometimes imagine. I’m here blogging because I wanted to buy an ice-axe…

A couple of years ago, I was in the market for an ice-axe and was Googling for comments on a particular model. I found some interesting stuff on a climbing forum; I’d never come across forums before but before long I’d got hooked on this one, mostly because in between the superficial chat and the anoraks there were some really rather interesting discussions going on, on all manner of subjects – the most interesting often having not the remotest connection with climbing. Climbers are often anarchic; anarchy is an expression of free thinking; free thinking produces interesting, if not always rational, debate. (It can be varied though – it’s a bit bland at the moment should you go and look).

Then I discovered we had an internal forum on our work intranet. I wouldn’t have given it a second glance if I hadn’t already discovered forums and the possibilities that they provide for connecting with people; something sadly missing in my job. Although the topics weren’t so interesting - people are perhaps less open where their workmates/managers may be listening in - a few moments light relief breaks up the monotony of office life, and so I dipped in from time to time.

One day someone raised a question about blogs. I hadn’t a clue what blogs were, and wasn’t especially motivated to find out. What attracted me was that the people talking about them had some interesting ideas about organisations and moreover sounded like the kind of people with whom I like to have dialogue. So I followed some links, as you do…

Oh, and I blame it all on Euan Semple, whose enthusiasm for blogging was the final spur that stopped me thinking about it and started me doing it.

Interesting blogging statistics 

via elearnspace

Key extracts:

Over 50% of bloggers are under 20 and over 90% are under 30.

Of 4M hosted blogs, two thirds are abandoned (not updated for 2 months or more).

Only just over 100,000 are updated weekly or more often.

Full report here

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Giving it all you've got 

On TV here in the UK we have a series called Fame Academy. Its probably a format used elsewhere around the world - several thousand young would-be pop stars are auditioned, 13 selected, and the show follows their progress week by week as they enter the "Academy" and get top-rank training to develop their skills. And each week, as they perform live on TV, the audience and their teachers vote and one has to leave. So after 13 weeks there is a winner, whose prize is a recording contract apparently worth £1M .

Now, although I love all kinds of music I'm not a great fan of the current pop scene so I haven't been following the series that closely, particularly because there's also an element of "reality TV" about the show which is something I generally avoid at all costs. But something caught my attention in the last few weeks. Strip away all the show-biz glitz and the artificiality of the situation and there's actually something quite special and authentic going on.

These kids don't have an easy time of it. It may sound like a dream come true - performing on TV every week - but they're having to work phenomenally hard for it. Their teachers recognise what they're capable of and don't pull their punches if they think the kids are performing anything less than 110%.

I admire dedication, commitment, determination; I believe if you have a dream you should go for it. Work, learn, challenge yourself, hold fast to your vision. And this is exactly what we were seeing, especially in the later weeks as the numbers got whittled down. It was quite humbling to see some of these kids give it everything they've got, not only in performance but behind the scenes as they struggled, learned and developed - both musically and personally. And in spite of the competitive element, they were also supporting each other.

The girl that won had amazing raw talent and individuality. Some of the other performers may have been more slick, more seemingly professional, more commercial. But she seemed to have something within her that put her apart from the rest. An inner power; a soul seeking expression.

You may call me an old softy, but it was really rather uplifting to see her.


From whiskey river:

"Be joyful. Because it is humanly possible"
- Wendell Berry

Friday, October 03, 2003

Touching the infinite 

For some reason, the discussion about spiritual practice on gassho’s Wiki Wednesday reminded me of a recurrent dream I used to have as a child of 10 or thereabouts. It wasn’t a pleasant dream, but not a nightmare either.

Imagine looking at the world in front of you. A few feet or a few miles away, everything is still tangible, within your grasp. Now its night. Look up a little and you’ll see the stars. They’re a long way away, but the distance is still measurable. But tip your head a little further back and suddenly all of infinity is there arching back in an involute spiral; you’re drawn into it and immersed in it yet it recedes away from you for ever; you shrink to nothingness. Holding in your mind at one and the same time your own extreme smallness and something that feels like a direct experience of the universe’s unfathomable infinity.

It was a frightening dream. Not because there was something tangible to fear; no bogeymen, no monsters, no being trapped on a runaway train… Its hard to describe; it was frightening because I seemed to touch the infinite. I woke up disoriented; not crying but inwardly sobbing with the feeling of having experienced something terrible. I could only get back to sleep again once I’d turned on the light, woken up thoroughly, read a book, and become comfortable in the familiar, ordinary world again.

I remember now what it was that reminded me of this. John Ettore said something that made me think of the gulf between the way we – I – practice spirituality, and the almost inconceivable heart of the Christian faith.

I had that dream several times over a period of a year or two but then it stopped. It might not be an altogether bad thing if I were to have it again…

Too Much! 

I think I need to take to heart Abyssal Mind’s recommendations about managing information overload. My head seems on the verge of exploding with a profusion of new ideas; the potential for new understandings just over the horizon; windows opening where I didn’t even know they existed. In the last few days, through others’ blogs, I’ve across enough exciting new perspectives to keep my decaying grey matter occupied for weeks to come.

First there was The Support Economy via Jon Husband, which seems to articulate the deep feeling of unease I have over the way governments and corporations seem increasingly divorced from the values of people they profess to serve.

Then came the idea of Pattern Language from Chris Corrigan via Ming and Christopher Alexander’s discovery of the 15 properties which correlate with an objective sense of beauty in architectural design (and beyond).
I’ve long been fascinated by architectural spaces so I’m looking forward to finding out more about “what works” and how spaces can be created that support human wholeness rather than merely acting as containers for our working and domestic lives.

Now today via gassho’s wiki wednesday comes Danah Zohar’s ideas of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ), The Quantum Self, and their impact on organisations

More to come here on all of these as I explore each further. In the meantime, follow the links if any of these spark a moment's curiosity.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Consumers of Care? 

This comes from Chris Corrigan’s globalchicago wiki, quoting one John McKnight:

[ed: oops, think I got the ownership wrong there, although I believe Chris is involved. The site in fact is put together by Michael Herman - thanks to George Nemeth for putting me right on this]

"Service systems can never be reformed so they will produce care. Care is the consenting commitment of citizens to one another. Care cannot be produced, privileged, managed, organized, administered or commodified. Care is the only thing a system cannot produce. Every institutional effort to replace the real thing is a counterfeit."

This rather reinforces Euan’s comment in my recent Soul@work post, that in the community of the workplace, corporate initiatives that are designed to engage the soul instead risk alienating it.

John goes on to say:

"Care is, indeed, the manifestation of a community. The community is the site for the relationships of citizens. And it is at this site that the primary work of a caring society must occur. If that site is invaded, co-opted, overwhelmed, and dominated by service-producing institutions, then the work of the community will fail. And the failure is manifest in families collapsing, schools failing, violence spreading, medical systems spinning out of control, justice systems becoming overwhelmed, prisons burgeoning, and human services degenerating."

It seems to have become the norm these days that care is expected to be provided by institutions – hospitals, schools, local authorities, national government – we have by and large become passive consumers of care, rarely providers of care to one another. Care has indeed become a commodity, and has thereby all but lost the quality of caring.

One of the attractive features of true communities that are recognisable as such is the way is which the members do indeed care for each other.

If John is right, and caring is an outcome of community, then we need to work on building community. And a week or so ago I quoted Don Iannone as saying: "...community evolves from a space where people are encouraged and rewarded for appreciating themselves and others".

Respect – appreciation – community – care.

I guess truly valuing those around us (and ourselves) is an essential pre-requisite of a caring society. Without such valuing, care-by-policy can only produce a hollow shell - a façade – leaving those “cared for” feeling more like a commodity themselves than a whole person.

[Later edit - I don't want to imply that no-one working in the so-called caring professions actually cares any more; but those that do, do so from their heart, not because their employer mandates it. And with the employers' focus on performance measures, league tables and budgets, its no wonder that real human care sometimes gets squeezed out].

Wednesday, October 01, 2003


Lois seems to have, I think unwittingly, provided an answer to my questions below:
"There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy". --Mark Twain

Would the film of your life go straight to video? 

This is an advertising slogan for the magazine “The Economist” that I passed on a billboard this morning. It set a train of thought going that went something like this:

Thought 1 – Good Question!

Thought 2 – Most of us wouldn’t even make it onto video

Thought 3 – Why not?

Thought 4 – Given that plenty of films get made about “ordinary”people and their lives, what makes such films interesting, even inspiring? It needn’t be excitement or some dramatic event. Maybe a heartwarming film with the “feelgood factor”; maybe a demonstration of some human characteristic we admire or aspire to such as courage, determination, love, selflessness.

Thought 5 – Would you expect an expert film-maker to be able to make a good film of any of our lives? Does the interest derive more from perspective - how you identify significant events; how you weave the thread of a story from daily existence - than it does from content?

And would it be a Good Thing to try and see our lives in film-worthy terms? Would such a change of perspective cause us to behave differently? And would the difference be for the good?

Thought 6 – Does it matter?

Spoof blogs 

One of the blogs I look into from time to time is Baghdad Burning, a report from within Iraq of what's really happening there. Although in such a politically sensitive zone its perhaps natural to be a little suspicious, I have no reason to believe that this blog is anything other than that which it purports to be - an honest, personal account. Just what you'd expect from a blogger.


I discovered there's also a fake (well, I presume its a fake), rather obviously pro-US version as well. One letter different in the URL.

I'm just wondering whether this has been produced by a private individual, or whether it has US government backing. Either way, its a little sad to see blogging apparently being used to deceive. But I suppose whilst there are deceitful people in this world there will also be deceitful blogs.

My natural inclination however remains to trust first and question second.