Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Almost, but not quite... 


The pieces whirl around in a maelstrom of confused, incomplete knowledge.

Flashes of recognition come and go as a piece flies past, comes into focus for a brief moment, then vanishes once more into the fog. I reach out, hold for a moment, but my grasp isn’t sufficiently secure and it’s lost until the next time round.

The feeling grows that there’s something larger there; some Knowledge, a Revelation, a deep and lasting “a-ha” as all these pieces integrate and click into place – yet all the while, strain as I might, it remains tantalisingly out of reach.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A sign of the times... 

Back in pre-history, music used to come in round, black, vinyl packages. As well as lugging half a ton of equipment up and down stairs in gig venues, DJs would arrive with crates full of these things - maybe as many as a couple of thousand?

Times have changed. At my daughter's 18th birthday party last night, the DJ arrived with no such crates, not even CDs. His entire music collection was on his laptop, containing several tens of thousands of MP3s.

I thought I was getting old, but took some comfort in the fact that the equipment needed to PLAY all these MP3s at conversation-killing decibel levels looked exactly the same as it did 30 years ago. It seems some things don't change - the laws of physics still require very large, very heavy and very black boxes in order to make lots of noise. There's something peculiarly comforting in that kind of changelessness.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I may need this some time... 

I found this quote in a comment at Real Live Preacher:

"The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty."

Googling to try and find the source, it seems to be a well-used phrase, although it was new to me. It's one I'm going to store up for when I need it.

Breaking the links of false logic 

I have a sense that if I were to think long enough and hard enough about this, maybe step back a little and take in the whole picture, I could pull together something rather more coherent than that which I suspect is going to find it’s way onto the screen right now. Perhaps I’m writing this too soon; the ideas still need to settle and link together; at the moment they are still jumbled together, still taking shape, as a sun and planets takes shape from an amorphous cloud of dust. But I don’t have a few billion years to wait, and I don't know when else I’ll have time over the next few days; too many posts have got lost because there was never time to think them through and write them down. Not even time to write them without thinking.

This picks up the story of A Watershed together with the framework of the Unholy Trinity
I learned a little more this week about the apparent power struggle that goes on between these three. To set the scene, some lines from an embryonic blog post yesterday morning:

“It’s a beautiful day. All my senses tell me so. So why don’t I feel it? Why do I feel uncomfortable with the word beauty? I even have difficulty formulating words to describe what my senses are telling me about what is out there. Straight description of what I see sounds flat and wooden; anything more sounds false, trying to describe an emotional response that “ought” to be there, but isn’t. So I get as far as a paint-box blue sky, and there it stops.

“My senses are receiving all this data about the world out there – colours, sounds, smells, the touch of sun and breeze; my nervous system carries the data to my brain, which does a pattern recognition exercise and comes up with “hmmm, yes, this data matches the characteristics of what is generally accepted as being what is known as a beautiful day”. Do I feel it? Do I have an emotional response? No.

“Why? In a word, disengagement. The day, the world, the people, you – they’re all “out there”. I’m in here, somewhere, I think. If I can find the light switch I’ll tell you; until then I’ll carry on fumbling around in the dark.

“I wish I knew why I do this. Find the light, but then go wandering off into dark corners and lose my way, lose the path back to the light. The gloom has some attraction, some pull. Maybe it’s safe.

“This isn’t black darkness; even that would be an engagement of sorts. This is just greyness; a neutral place; a place with no extremes. Unmoved by life or death. Unfeeling of love or hate. It hardly seems a pleasant place to be, not a place anyone would choose, so why stay here? There must be some pay-off.

“My guess is that it’s all about avoidance of pain. Allow myself to drift too far towards darkness (something for which lately I seem to have developed a natural tendency) and things start to get scary. First that “nothing matters” feeling, then a sudden awareness of the ground slipping away under my feet, at the edge of an uncontrolled slide down. I’ve never yet suffered the full depths of that slide, but it’s come close a couple of times. Fingertips clinging to an edge of solid ground; days that are spent clawing my way from minute to minute in an instinctive survival response, until feet once more rest on secure, if uninspiring, ground.

“So once I make it back into the light, why not stay there? Well, the light brings it’s own form of pain too. Pain that comes from realising the possibility that could be, and contrasting it with what is. In theory, that ought to be a driver to move what is towards what could be; this is how we grow and develop, how we bring about positive change, by creating a vision of the desired goal that is so compelling we are irresistibly drawn towards it. Okay, so we have two end points: a desired future, and a here-and-now; and a gap between them large enough to cause pain. So something has to give, and in my case it seems that the here-and-now, the status quo, however undesirable, has more power to resist change. It has its feet firmly planted in solid foundations of practicality. So the shutters come down and the vision fades.

“And I stop being able to appreciate beautiful days.

“There has to be a way out of this...”

That was a perfectly plausible logical explanation. I’m good at coming up with logical explanations; for years, logic and rationality defined who I was (that will be the subject of another post). But because they’re logical doesn’t mean such explanations are helpful, or that they’re right. You see, I’d fallen into a trap – rationality was bossing authentic self around, saying “If you’re really like this, then you should do that” – turning a wished-for future that would allow the latent abilities of authentic self to develop, into a should-do future as some form of counselor. By attaching a tag that said “this is the future that you ought to follow; here is your authentic path”, freedom of choice was taken away. What had felt so right to authentic self suddenly became snatched away and put in the hands of logical self who, being wiser in the ways of the world, understood the impracticalities of such a notion. And because the action seemed impossible, so did that way of being – all because of that link that implies “if you are this, then it follows, as day follows night, that you should do that. And if you don't, you'll be denying who you are”.

The voice of rationality was all I could hear; authentic self felt invalidated and fell silent again. But rational self wasn’t being vindictive, rational self was only doing what he does best; what he has been doing so effectively for so long – applying logic and reason to protect the organism. He’s not the enemy of real self, just much stronger, more vocal, and apt to take control, especially in stressful situations.

And being rational, this self is perfectly open to rational arguments. M. suggested at yesterday’s counseling session that to be this real, authentic self I don’t actually have to do anything, not in terms of following any particular course of action – being authentic is just that: being. I still have choice over the doing bit. So at that, logic fell silent, admitting the validity of the counter-argument.

And I became able to appreciate the beauty of the day.

A moment of calm 

It’s a beautifully still and peaceful evening; I’m sitting in a rocking chair next to the patio doors, making the most of the fading daylight – or at any rate, I was when I wrote this out longhand. I have only feline company and he’s asleep (well there’s a surprise), so the only sound in the house is the fridge quietly humming. Outside, the warm sun of the last few days has given way to more typically English greyness – an overcast sky from which a light but steady rain falls.

Immediately outside the window is a collection of greenery – I confess I don’t know the names; my wife is the gardener, I’m just the labourer who does the heavy stuff out there. Anyway, knowing the names doesn’t add anything to the appreciation of colour, texture and form. I can just hear the steady background patter – cliché it may be, but there really is no better word - of the rain dancing on leaves. There’s little wind, but the leaves are in constant motion; water collects, gathers into a droplet and runs off the end of a leaf, which springs back as its load is released, whilst below another leaf twitches at the little hammer blow from the falling droplet. The bush seems to twinkle as this little scene is played out randomly all over it.

All in all, it’s a very calming feeling, and I’m greatly appreciative of it. After days of silence here, all of a sudden there is much to say. Oh, nothing world shattering, I haven’t found the answer to the Ultimate Question (anyway, we all know that is 42…), just some little insights that have meaning for me. So I’m hoping that on this peaceful evening – the first such available time for some while – I’ll be able to write some of them down.

I’ll be back later – or if not then, tomorrow.

Friday, May 14, 2004

An unholy trinity 

Up until now I’ve tended only to post when I had something positive to say – well, most of the time anyway. But you can see how many posts that has resulted in over the last few weeks so I thought I’d try the stream-of-consciousness approach instead.

It’s been a strange week at work. With two colleagues in the US and the third out for most of the time I’ve been sat in the office with just this PC for company. The monotony only interrupted by two meetings, at which I may have said as many as half a dozen words. For someone inclined to be introspective, facing all sorts of Big Questions, being stuck in solitary confinement is not healthy.

There’s been an unholy trinity vying for my soul of late. First, there’s the rational façade. The logical thinker, the one who controls the fingers that tap the keys and forms the words that mediates between this soul and the rest of the world. He’s something of an observer; detached, scientific, but able to hold the façade together. But way TOO rational at times; in the name of realism, this guy is easily convinced that hopes and dreams may be okay for other people, but not for him.

Then there’s the new voice of authentic self. A very quiet voice as yet; uncertain, unsure of itself, not used to being heard. And all but drowned out by the other two.

And finally there’s the killjoy; the inner critic, the one who can always find a reason why things wont work – always on the grounds of realism, but he’s the one who’s determined the rest of us are going to suffer a really bad day. This guy’s really smart – he has an answer that will squash every optimistic thought. He’s a real smoothie too, taking your arm and sweet-talking you round to his way of thinking before you know what’s going on. And with very little to hold him back, he’s had a field day this week.

I’d been looking at future options, job-wise. I was looking at ways of financing counselling training. I tried to keep it as broad as I could, so started with some very simple assumptions - like I need an income. Trouble was, I was using logical, linear thought processes and before I knew what was going on, the logician and the killjoy had teamed up, forced authentic self back into his dungeon and locked the door again.

In the short term, so they said, there are only two options. The do nothing option – stay where I am – or find another role within the same organisation. Yes, I know, there are lots of other options, but these guys had me convinced. Maybe I’ll tell you about the others another time. Now, I’ve been looking for other roles ever since I joined this outfit – this is the fourth job here in seven years – and the message is slowly getting through that I simply don’t have the convincing track record for the kind of jobs I’d really rather be doing. So I was convinced I was left with the do nothing option. And the thought of that was driving me nuts. Stuck here until retirement in a job I hate, in a role that’s a complete mismatch for the person I’m coming to have faith that I am. The only viable way to survive it seemed to be to conform to the mindset that surrounds me. Become just another cynical inhabitant of a Dilbert cartoon, get absorbed in worthless trivia and leave the world to get on with it’s own business. Keep taking the tablets…

I needed a third option. Do this job, but do it authentically. Be all of the person that I hope I am. Now that wont be easy. Surrounded by negativity and cynicism, with a natural tendancy to conform, and with my most positive qualities unrecognised and in any case held to be irrelevant for this job; a job where people are seen are seen as barriers to be overcome. Sorry, my cynicism is showing again…

Hmmm… I hadn’t meant to get so deep here. Not today. This was supposed to be much lighter. Okay, I admit it, that wasn’t stream of consciousness. I ended up structuring and editing. Maybe I’ll do better tomorrow…

Monday, May 10, 2004

A whole new world.. 

This is going to be fun...

Just playing with the new toy. I may think of something to say, but for now this is where I'd rather be.

just testing... 

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The demon strikes back... 

"Fool; you thought you could banish me forever did you? Thought your puny little soul could shut me out and live happily ever after?

"Think again. My tentacles will be forever fingering the stones of the temples you build; creeping over the structures, finding the cracks where I can prise apart your crudely-laid blocks before the mortar sets. As fast as you can build, I can destroy.

"I can be cunning too; I don't have to make a frontal assault. All I need do is hold a screen in front of your eyes to protect you from the truth. Whichever way you look you'll see only what I want you to see. I can colour your view so completely you'll believe black is white.

"Every brightly-coloured, hopeful picture you paint, I will daub with black and grey and brown smears.

"Every song you sing, I can drown out with thunderous crashing chords. Hell, I don't even need to do that. All I have to do is sound one discordant note and I can break the music's spell. All I need do is slip just one innocent little note in amongst so many others; you'll never spot it in the score but your ear will hear it and you wont be able to get the sound out of your head. It'll drive you nuts and you'll grow to hate the music. So do you dare open your mouth? Do you? I'll be waiting. Oh, I'm gonna love this. Haven't had so much fun in years. Sucker!

"Ha! So you're going to be a counsellor now, not a writer? Better be a damn good one then. Fool, to declare it so. Now you give me once more the power to strangle you, to suck the energy out of you. Bolt every door, close every crack to keep me out - suits me fine. I still win. Open your soul and you open it to doubt and fear; close it and I laugh at the simplicity of my victory. Either way, I have you.

"I have so many weapons to use against you. You think you know about guilt, fear, doubt, ridicule, sloth, logic, busyness, procrastination, mindless trivia. But I can take love and caring and compassion and turn them against you too; I can turn yourself against you; I can turn the whole world against you. You don't stand a chance, you know that, don't you? You might as well give up now and save yourself the bother of fighting. You're only going to get hurt, after all - why suffer when you don't have to? Life could be so easy, so comfortable.

"Just listen a moment. Things aren't really so bad, are they? See all this lovely security; this beautiful sameness. You don't want to have to think, do you? To make decisions? That's so hard, so stressful, so tiring. Just sit back and take it easy. I'll look after you; make sure there are no awkward questions, no difficult decisions. I'll shelter you from all that painful reality out there. It's so easy; all you have to do is nothing. What could be easier than that? You know it makes sense."


Shit. This guy means business. I'd better watch out.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Asking the right question.. 

Many thanks to Jack for finding this wonderful piece of inspiration:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs - ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Howard Thurman, Philosopher and Theologian


Books on shelves tend to stay there. Books that are read get scattered around the house. I tidied up these volumes of recent and current reading the other day, and put them together on top of a chest of drawers in the bedroom.

In one sense, this is an arbitrary selection out of the hundreds of books I own. Some were read many months ago and never put away, some have yet to be started; some have been read many times over, others probably will never be finished. It’s an eclectic mix – poetry next to economics; science rubbing shoulders with spirituality. If I’d been deliberately trying to select a list of a dozen books that represent me, probably only three or four of these would have been on it. But looking at the titles along the row of multi-coloured, multi-sized spines I couldn’t help thinking that this selection is a pretty good reflection of who I am:

The Support Economy – Shoshana Zuboff & James Maxmin
Cold Mountain – poems by Han Shan
New and Selected Poems – Mary Oliver
Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux
Wind, Sand and Stars - Antoine de Saint Exupery
The Elegant Universe – Brian Greene
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Road Less Travelled – M Scott Peck
Life, the Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams
The Path of Least Resistance – Robert Fritz
Clear Waters Rising – Nicholas Crane
The Forest for the Trees – Betsy Lerner
Frogs into Princes – Bandler and Grinder

And cheating a little, because the most current reading isn’t together with the rest, I’ll include these:

The Artist’s Way –Julia Cameron
On Becoming a Person – Carl Rogers
HTML for the world wide web – Elizabeth Castro