Sweeping change.

If we are going to be the change, how on earth do we get started? It’s easy enough to think, it’s easy enough to reflect that we might be able to change ourselves and even change the world, but that first step to action can feel daunting. Or even impossible.

Last night I was filled with anxiety about the world, the direction of my life, my family and pets, and financial worries. As I look back at the year I see the steps that I’ve taken, some seemingly impossible at the time. What pieces of experience might I find to help with my own next steps, or to encourage others? As I embark on this writing today, I think and hope that that in itself will help me with sense-making.

Recognizing our stuckness

I’ve worked hard over the past year to get my business and personal life back on track. As I think about the actions that I wish to take now in my life, as things start to turn the corner, in a number of ways, I’ve come to realise how stuck in negativity I’ve become – almost bitter about some things. I’d like to return to positivity and hopefulness, which were so much more strongly part of my identity a few years ago.

I could identify so many things that led to my negativity and unpack each of those. I’ve become hard on myself, cranky with the people I care about, extremely critical of the city I live in, and despairing of the world. My expectations are high and I more often see failure than appreciation. I see the negative everywhere, from world ‘leadership’, to society’s failings to handle the climate crisis. I watch as the global shift to the ‘political right’ is undoing years of protection for our shared environment, our prosperity, our health etc.

It’s easy for us to be complacent about our attitudes and issues, never mind those we see in the world. Our unique set of relationships carry with them an inertia that wills us to take the same direction. It may lead us to feel stuck. This same inertia can be put to work for our benefit however. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Acknowledging our doubts

All of this feels heavy and I question my own role in making things better or worse. I fear that we haven’t seen the worst that humanity will do. It’s just coming up to 80 years since the beginning of the second world war. September 1, 1939 is considered the start of the second world war, but the events that led up to it might be included and started several years before. We could think of the war as something that we slipped into over time.

I could think of my own negativity and doubt as something that I slipped into over time. It was likely brought on by a lack of awareness of my relationships and the direction they were taking me. It’s okay to doubt whether we can correct the course of our own lives, or help society take a better path. In acknowledging our doubts we must also recognise that we have relational resources which can help us foster change. In resourcing ourselves we must become aware of both the positive or negative influence that relationships may have.

We’re not alone.

I recently watched a film called The Aftermath which was set in Hamburg, Germany a few months after the war ended. It was about how the English and Germans were trying to make meaning in their lives, reassemble Hamburg and its social fabric, and find a way of being together after so much destruction and death. It’s a story about love, reconciliation, and humanity’s nature to cling to assumptions and ability to change. Be prepared to weep, be angry, and ultimately feel your heart swell with hope.

Like now, before the last war the world seemed to be function under the influence of individualism, us-and-them thinking, where everything is apart and separate, that people, places, and things exist with identities of their own creation. Today, we’ve being slipping again and inertia is blocking us from our goals of peace, prosperity, and happiness. Prevalent thought then was that we had complete control over ourselves, our society, our environment, or places etc. This may have set us up to fight with everything and with one another. These beliefs may be what leads to hierarchical systems of control which give dominion and power to a few – sometimes very evil people – including the belief in all-powerful gods.

There is more to say about how and why we might give our power to another and ultimately how each time we do we set ourselves on a path to destruction that can only be repaired by working together, cooperating, and abandonment of individualism. I will explore this in much more depth in future chapters.

Breaking through judgment – enlisting others.

When we have have deeply bought into the individualism paradigm, even within our internal struggles we might hear ourselves say things like… ‘you can do better than this’, ‘if you just tried harder’, ‘just stop’, etc. Decisions and actions seem so simple when we believe that we have individual control within us to change. Personal change takes influence from outside ourselves. We know this and yet often berate ourselves for our failings and cling to the belief that self improvement is a solo activity.

What humanity may need now is a fundamental shift away from individualism toward relationalism – to begin to see that things change for the good and the bad only in relation.

Relationalism is a theoretical position that is based on supposition that all things exist and can only exist in relation, that everything in existence moves and changes as relational entities. If we consider this as a possibility we might be able to rethink how we engage and influence the world currently. We might come to see ourselves as the world leadership rather than beholden to the world leadership. Our involvement with one another is perhaps the only way to shift the discourse, redirect the inertia, and discover new windows of possibility that remain illusive on our current course. The same is true with ourselves.

The thread I hang onto is a belief that a difference can be made by shifting what we are in relationship with, including our own thoughts. In addition to making physical changes in my personal and business life. I’ve come to a place where I need to use my skills to make changes to my psychic landscape, particularly if I wish to see positive changes in my community, our city, and the world generally. The interconnection between the physical world and the world inside our heads is perhaps much stronger than we consider it to be.

If we can see the possibility that we are a composite of the relationships of which we are part, rather than a solo actor in a corporeal body, sitting at the helm in complete control of its destiny… then we might be able to let go of the judgement we hold for ourselves and others, and even the world. We might be able to see how strengthening connections with what is good could help us make course corrections. Harsh judgment of ourselves and the world may stem from that individual belief that we alone are in control of our destiny – individualism vs relationalism.

As an aside, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we do neither abdicate responsible for personal and global change nor dismiss our part in unhappiness, sorrow, and despair. Even though we are not solo actors in the world, it does not mean that we are not influential and responsible. We must share the things we’ve created with those around us, whether they are good or bad, divine or evil, invite joy or cast misery.

As I muster the strength to attempt a return to positivity. As I work to weaken the bonds of negative thinking I’m aware of the difference between negativity and critical thought. It’s important to catch oneself being negative and perhaps reframe our thinking in ways that lead to positive action by critiquing with honesty and appreciation.

Where to start? – the simple things that power up your relational change potential.

Once I realized that my life had become a shambles I had no idea where to start to rebuild. I just knew that I needed to start somewhere and so I did and I learned in the doing.

I started with the simple things that would help me correct the direction I was headed and build momentum that would take me to bigger decisions and actions. The potential we have to create change for ourselves is immense when we realize that we are fully supported by our relational network, and that we have the ability to shift it as we need. We do however need to learn and practise to become good at using it to our benefit otherwise we will go with the flow of others and the world. We risk slipping backward as individuals and society.

Here I’m dividing the next section into two parts, principles that would be worth remembering, a touchstone of sorts, AND actions that we might take as we things we work toward making positive changes.

Principles to remember.

  1. Your superpower. Understanding that in relationships you have influence, remember it’s your superpower.
  2. Fear exists. Acknowledge that fear may exist in making changes. In the spirit of relational thought however, I believe that too much attention paid to exploring fear may increase your stuckness, just as too much exploration of issues may result in further despair. Thinking about what can go wrong may prevent us from seeing what can go right. This is not to say that spending some time thinking about your fears and what may have led to your circumstances is not good but rather than they need to be balanced with good forward-looking thinking that help us to see the possibilities for our futures. Fear and possibility are related. In the end there will be a tomorrow with a different set of circumstances. And it never hurts to hear that: today we have only today.
  3. Language creates momentum. Language we use creates change and gives power to inertia that can take us in the right or wrong direction. We use language to give action to our intentions. If our language isn’t congruent with our intentions we create a intended consequences. We may give power to the very thing we are trying to change.
  4. Self-care matters. Caring for yourself as you make changes is so important. Remember that each person is unique and that self-care needs to be tailored to fit you, where one person might think self-care is going to a fun party, another might want to be alone with a good book. Self-care might be thought of as a way to care for yourself as you would for another in need. What often prevents us from good self-care is:
    • not acknowledging our worthiness for it,
    • thinking we are strong so we don’t it need as much as others or
    • feeling guilt that we should be doing something more productive.
  5. Simplicity is always a good place to start. If ever you experience that stalling feeling like you just don’t know what to do next, do something simple, EXTREMELY simple. Build momentum by doing the simple things that can grow into bigger things. Steps not great leaps. When you start out with simplicity you support and guarantee success for yourself by changing things that you absolutely feel you can.
  6. Quietness is essential. To make thoughtful change we need quiet, time to think, reflect, and ponder. Quietness is most effective when it becomes a habit.
  7. Sanctuaries. We need a place and time to retreat. It’s hard to be quiet if we have no place to go. This is a place and time you can call your own so that you can think, be, and do some of the self-care that is so important. It may be a room in your home, a place in nature, or a time of day.
  8. Reward yourself. Even the smallest steps need to be recognised and acknowledged before we take another. It’s important to identify an action, undertake the work, recognise what was accomplished, and then plan the next action. Move slowly and carefully.
  9. Celebrate. Involve your relationships in what has been done. This strengthens the bonds, makes it more difficult to undo, and helps build new energy for the next action.

From principle to action

You may recall the poem Sweep I wrote that suggests, in troubling times, the best place to start is with the simple things. Sweeping and decluttering have tremendous influence to give us the ability to tackle bigger challenges. They build up our confidence and help us see other steps we need to take.

  1. Plan it.
    • Choose something that has been standing in your way of change.
    • Break it down into steps, remembering that you don’t need to know all the steps, only the first one or two, the others will appear. Can you identify the first step?
    • Name one or two new possibilities that this one step will open for you in the future? Say them out loud, or write them down.
    • Do you have any fears about doing this one step? If so, say them out loud or write them down.
  2. Do it.
    • Notice how are you are talking about this step as you do it? Is it positive, negative, practical, fearful, joyous etc. Again say it out loud or write it down.

Praxis

Praxis is a non-judgemental practice of purposeful reflection on what you’ve done with the goal to learn, appreciate, and care for yourself. We reflect on the actions we’ve taken, and also think about the what it’s like to reflect on the actions you’ve taken. It’s helpful to make notes or talk about it with another.

  • Notice how you feel after the changes you make. Acknowledge the fear, relief, pride etc. Remember you want to nurture that wee sprout of change you’ve just started. Give it sunlight and water.
  • What kind of language seemed most present as you worked to make a change? Was it language that keeps the bad parts of a relationship alive? Does it feed the good parts?
  • Did you give yourself quite, time and space to think about what you were planning and how you did with the action? What was that like for you? How could you reward yourself better? How did you celebrate your success?

Until next time, I wish you much peace, thoughtful pondering, and strength in being your own best guide. As always people, do comment below, share this post or others with anyone whom you might think it could be of interest.

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Towards relational mapping.

Faced with a blank page and two worthwhile directions to go.

1) The process of detaching. This post has been stirring in me for quite some time particularly as a number of friends are in the process of changing careers and residency. It would follow in the wake of the post called “What are we maintaining?” Which is essentially about exploring all the things we do with our time and thinking consciously about how we might shift our activities so that we do things that are more aligned with the vision we hold of our ideal selves. It made sense I as began to think through detachment, that we first consider an inventory of sorts.

2) Meanwhile, as I was writing that piece on maintaining, I began to think about whether place and space and our relationship to them have a stronger influence on our identities than do our activities.

Today I thought it might we worthwhile to just write in a free flow form and see if anything useful arises. I’m on a bit of a writing retreat with two days remaining before I return home to the thunder of everyday commitments. As we ramp up into the summer and all of its busy-ness I’m nearly exhausted just thinking about the number of changes that are yet to be done to put our businesses back on solid financial footing. I suppose this is one reason that both maintaining and place are forefront in my mind.

I undertook a dramatic shift by relocating our store and in the process I realised that I was maintaining so much more than the store itself in the location it was. I was holding on to old retail ideas in a time where the internet and the sharing economy have transformed retail shopping habits. In the possess of moving, I began to notice that in detaching from the old location I was helped to be open to what is possible in the new location. Partly the process was to get past the hurdle of wanting to hang on to what was, and to be willing to let it be history.

As I detached I began to also understand the incredible influence of place itself. This as led me to consider a question of strength or intensity of relational influence.

Does the relational connection we have with a place or space or the physical generally have a stronger influence on us than our relationships with people? How might we surface or highlight the influence place has on us? Is there a way to compare the strength of influence that relationships have, particularly as it comes to place. Are there some indicators that could help us understand relational influence, and navigate change?

I raise this here because if the conjecture that place could have a greater influence on us than relationships with people (note: I’m aware of ideologies and their influence and will come back to that in later writing) it behoves us to consider why it does, and how we might use this knowledge to better serve ourselves and those around us.

It might help inform where we should live, how we should design our spaces, how the physical could be constructed in ways that create room for healthier living. And in this age where world governance is uncertain, are there things that, on a macro scale, we could build that would serve to transform our communities, not just now but into the future?

On a micro scale, how would this knowledge inform our own living. What might we do with our own living spaces, working spaces, and what lies in between them as we travel from space to space?

Those are all big questions. It’s perhaps the quality of the questions that guides our direction, not how well we answer the questions.

Let’s return to the the idea of indicators that might help us determine the strength that particular relationships have over our identity, whether those relationships be with ideas, people, place, or activities.

What are the questions we could ask about their influence? What are the questions that we could ask to assess the quality of those relationship, ie: do they take you in the direction you would like to go, or away from it? Are there questions we could ask about how easy or difficult it might be to change the influence of a relationship?

For now let’s consider questions in general. In future writing I think we can further categorize our questions into two groups: 1) the influence relationship have on our identity, and 2) how easy or difficult that influence might be to alter.

Praxis

Consider various relationships in your life and how they influence your identity and ability to move toward your ideal self. I’m posing some questions here but you may well design many of your own.

  1. Can you identity relationships you have with:
    • people
    • spaces, places and things
    • ideas
    • activities?
  2. Can you notice now, or might you consider, how strong or weak the influence of any particular relationship has on your identity?
  3. When a particular relationship is active, are you compelled to participate more or less?
  4. Do you feel forced to participate, or are you a willing participant?
  5. Does the relationship exert influence on you as well as others?
  6. Is the relationship of your own creation, whether that be positive or negative?
  7. Is the relationship one that sustains you in tough times?
  8. Is the relationship one that depresses you?
  9. Is the relationship one that brings you joy, or does it cause you anxiety?
  10. If the relationship were to end tomorrow, would that be a good thing for you?
  11. How much do you want to attach to, or detach from, this relationship?
  12. How much control do you have to attach to, or detach from, this relationship?
  13. Are you able to look at this relationship from multiple perspectives and consider its influence on you?
  14. Does this relationship alter you physically?
  15. Can you see this relationship’s influence on others?
  16. Can you see how this relationship is influencing you or others?

Develop some of your own windows to look into your relationships. Here are a few examples to get you started. These might help you create a map of your relationships and their identical influence.

  • weak influence ——-> strong influence
  • subtle ——–> obvious
  • influences just you ——–> influences everyone
  • easy to change ———-> difficult to change

In my next post I’ll explore some ideas about relational influence, and the ease of difficulty they are to change. Then, I think it will be time to navigate the waters of detachment.

Until next time, I wish you much peace, thoughtful pondering, and strength in being your own best guide. As always people, do comment below, share this post or others with anyone whom you might think it could be of interest.

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What are we maintaining?

I suspect that many of us, at some point in our lives, have fantasised of disappearing without a trace – starting a new life elsewhere. From a relational stance however, we can’t simply just start over because we, ourselves, embody the essence of all that has gone on in our lives.

We might think of this as a relational blanket, its weave and texture a representation of our lives. From Charles M Shultz’s cartoons, Peanuts, it’s like Linus’ security blanket, it goes with us everywhere and is a comfort to us. It’s nearly attached to us and can’t be abandoned easily much as we might like to do so.

Metaphorically, our relational blanket is woven with all of our memories and the experiences of all the things that have been created in our world. If we were to move to a new location, form new relationships, and try to create a different life, we would also have the lessons, memories, and ties to much of which we’re trying to leave behind.  

These non-physical artefacts, comprise everything of which we’ve been part. Even as we change settings they continue to influence our feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. This influence is felt almost as if it were independent of ourselves, and is impossible to ignore.

Nonetheless, we may be able to escape a place and the specific ways it influences us: we do however take our blanket with us when we move. Perhaps beyond the scope of this post, there are real merits to changing the physical, and often these changes can serve as a catalyst for non-physical changes.

Hence, the idea of leaving our relational blanket and just starting over, no matter how much we might like a clean start, simply is not that easy. Our relational blankets help keep us intact, whether or not that’s our wish. Nothing says that we can’t mend the holes, adorn them differently, or… ahem … even give them a good wash from time to time.

Recently, I had some serious sickness which caused me great physical pain and some emotional despair. I guess I’m a wimp when it comes to pain. I experienced such confusion about what I want for the next part of this life — however much time is left. I spent much of my waking hours thinking about mortality.  

A cascade of questions continued to roll back and forth in my mind like a big marbles in a wooden box, clumping against the sides. The questions: “What is it that I am maintaining? What effect does maintaining everything in my life have on my time, time that I might like to use for a variety of other things?” As I thought about possible answers to these questions, the next obvious question became: “why am I maintaining these things? How much of this maintenance work might be taking me away from the activities that would help me create the life and identity I’d like?”

Much of my writing to this point has been about how our identities are formed, how we can recreate them, renew them and find ways to become the people we’d like to be. Relationships need attention, and as such we find ourselves obligated and committed to them and them to us in a cycle of constant maintenance which uses our capacity and time to make changes, or take on new things.

What are the maintenance activities that use up our time?  Do these activities contribute to the identity we want to create? What are we maintaining and why?

If we want to reset or consider making new space for new activities or new undertakings, then it becomes important to consider how our time is being used now. Some would say, how we are spending our time, but this places the control entirely on us. The world does demand things of us and uses our time. There are perhaps two categories to examine: 1) What of our time the outer world uses? and then, 2) what of our time our inner world uses?

When we begin to list our commitments and obligations we see the weave and pattern of our relational blankets.  

Finally, if we think about our time as something finite, one question might be: where is our time leaking away and what can we do to change or maintain our relationships differently so that in the end, the time is delivered to activities of our choosing, as much as is possible.

The bidirectional nature of relationship.

Let’s break this down into a series of pondering questions. At the moment I see two broad categories, since all relationships are bidirectional. We exert influence outward, and the relationships exert influence inward. Even our relationships with ourselves might be thought of as outward and inward — self-talk could be framed as participant and witness, observer and doer, student and guide. In this way we can be mentors to ourselves. Let’s group our questions bidirectionally.

Outer world influences on our time.

What are the relational structures in the world outside our minds that act upon us in ways that compel us, both consciously and unconsciously, to maintain what exists?  

The outside world exerts influence on us and as a result we use our time to maintain relationships with the outside world. Some of these are societal expectations, political obligations, financial structures and laws that govern who we are as a society. They consume our time in their maintenance. We must earn a living, pay our bills, participate in our organisations, have the car serviced, cut our lawns, walk the dog, be an attentive partner …

A lot of this has to do with being a ‘good’ citizen. We have a finite amount of time, and it gets used because we perceive obligations to the world and we receive various things in return for how we use our time.

  • Relationship expectations — doing what those around us expect of us
  • Societal expectations — doing what society expects of a good citizen, participating in ways that allow society for function reasonably.
  • Systemic obligations  — working for a living, paying the bills, contractual commitments such a financial or legal.
  • Societal pressures to conform — social media pressures, fashion.

Make no mistake, we do these activities in relationship because we perceive a benefit. We exchange our time for something, such as pleasure, learning, harmony, and laughter. Therefore, making choices about what we’d like in return will help inform what changes we might like to make with our relationships.

Praxis

As you go about what you do daily, think about the benefit or negative return you receive on your investment of time and consider if each activity is high or low on your list of worthwhile activities.  

Is what you receive in return worth your time to maintain a particular relationship? If you are serious about making changes you might ask yourself about the value of what you receive. For example: does social media offer enough of a reward that you want to invest a lot of time?  Does having a green lawn offer enough joy that you want to mow it every week?

How can you pare down the list of things that draw on your time? Can you free up time to do things that take you in the direction that you would like to go?  What activities help you shape your identity and being in ways what thrill you? What activities might you eliminate, reduce or give more energy?

Inner world influences on our time.

Like outer world influences which exert themselves on our time, we also create our own internal demands. Our choices come with rewards and negative consequences as well. However unlike outer world influences, we have much more control over our choices. Obligations and commitments are to ourselves primarily and to a great extent we need only answer to ourselves for our choices. Nonetheless, much of what we choose will exert influence on the outside world which in turn will invite a response.

How we use the time that is left after all of the other things ‘required’ by the outer world are done is our choice. In many ways, it’s what is left over that is all we have to work with. There is a lot of time during activities however — that’s a wonderful thing about being human, we can often do more than one thing at a time.  

Even as I write this, there is a repairman here in the condo to fix the bamboo blinds. As he works he hums to himself. It’s lovely to be around. He’s obviously happy. Perhaps his humming is an expression of the joy he finds in the world, or perhaps he fills the gaps in times less exciting. Maybe it helps him concentrate.  

Our attitudes alone can slip into all aspects of activities. It’s important to consider not only what we do, but also how we treat ourselves, and how we talk to ourselves. These are all ways that we use our time which then shapes our identities.

Activities that we engage in shift our identities. We need also to make room for these new or increased activities by letting go of some other things. This is why the question of maintenance becomes so relevant. To live the life you want to live, to do the work you want to do, to enjoy the friends you want to enjoy, what are the competing factors? Here are some of the influences on our choices to use our time:

  1. Personal expectations — doing what we expect of ourselves as we enact our relationship with ourselves and others.
  2. Habits, vices and addictions — activities that compel us to act in a certain way, often contrary to our preferred identity.
  3. Excuses and reasons — choosing to act in ways to avoid or to do things we hold as an ideal.

Praxis

As you go through your day, notice how what activities you are doing that are not required by the outer world. Notice how you treat yourself. Notice how you talk to yourself.  

Are there things that you do that keep you from doing activities that would help you be the person of your ideals.

Looking around your inner world, are there things that you do or think about often? Are your thoughts and actions in good repair?  Are there things that you keep doing in spite of their low enjoyment or benefit? Do you hold onto ideologies that serve you or hold you back?  

Conclusion

What we do with our time is a question that is covered in many popular leadership and self help books. To pay attention to how our time is used is not new. Where this writing differs is that I propose that when you think about time within a relational framework it’s no longer just about the benefit we achieve from using our time wisely but also the shift it makes in our identity and the world. Each activity has a relational influence for ourselves and others which makes it easier or harder for us to become the people we want to become.  

A consideration of what we are maintaining help us make changes to our relational blanket and how we are in the world.

Until next time, I wish you much peace, thoughtful pondering, and strength in being your own best guide. As always people, do comment below, share this post or others with anyone whom you might think it could be of interest.

If you haven’t already become a subscriber, please join by clicking on the button below. You’ll receive an occasional email when I post.

Tending your relational garden.

In my last post we talked about three types of human artefacts that exist in the world and how these have lives and influence of their own beyond us.

They are:

  1. In physical form, created intentionally through our actions to build and shape the physical world, including art, parks, buildings, clothing etc.
  2. In consequence, created unintentionally through the way we’ve interacted with the world and one another.
  3. In message form, through media, writing, books, and symbols that transmit ones thoughts across time and space.

We may have a hand in creating them but for the most part they carry on without us. This does not mean that they continue in the exact form of our creation, they morph overtime, are influenced by other things, evolve, devolve, atrophy and potentially die.

In their carrying on without us, we may have a certain responsibility to keep them alive and maintain them over time if we intend for them to serve us into the future. They may be much more resilient than we may know and it may be difficult to keep them in their original form. Further, the unintended consequences they create aren’t easy to anticipate at the outset. Think, for example, of the influence of gas-powered vehicles on the world – health, urban design, and the planet. Only recently do we see how the ways we built our new communities contribute to our unhappiness and have profound effects on the planet itself.

Depending on how far reaching and adopted artefacts become they can easily out live the humans that created them.

Physical artefacts need maintenance. A road, or a building, or a garden may come into existence, then over time deteriorate as they are influenced by the world.  Weather, use, the affects of other things in relation to them, all change them into something different than they started.

Even the Roman wall crumbles over time, yet we attempt to preserve it and make it meaningful for us today.

That meaning is different today than when it was created. A wall is never just a wall. Now it’s a symbol of something older, of history, of specific people that went before, and of the ingenuity of humans to create something to serve their needs.

Gardens for example need water, care, weeding, pruning etc.  This may be a great analogy for considering how we handle human artefacts. How do you tend to your personal relational garden? 

When do you pull a weed? When do you let an plant that has become too big for your garden go to a new home? When it is time to harvest? A gardening metaphor is quite good in describing things that we helped create and then must tend. If we don’t they may become something different than what we intended.

All human artefacts are maintained and transformed over time as we continue to engage with them. Even though they have lives of their own, their identities continue to be influenced by us and people they are in relationship with.  So we need to become custodians of humanity’s artefacts in ways that serve us, all living things, and our collective habitat.  

As guardians of the things we create we need to be aware of their maintenance and potentially their life cycle.  Such questions as: when does this idea or thing, stop being useful? How much is it holding us in place for good and how much is it holding us in place from changing?

Sometimes things that hold us in place could be from our lack of guardianship.  We create things but then abandon them. We become comfortable with what has been created even though they keep us from change and may have unintended long term consequences that are harmful. Some of them go on to randomly create chaos for us, others wither and die.  Some we continue to feed and nurture even when better and more useful things come into creation.

Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011), offers a lovely way to let things go by learning to express gratitude for things that served you in the past and then saying ‘thank you’ to them when it’s time to let them go.

Although Kondo is speaking of physical things in her book I wonder what correlation there is to all things we are in relation with. How might we tidy up of our relational gardens so that we can be grateful for the past and yet make room for a future that serves us better?

Praxis

What follows are five ideas that might help us to tend our relational gardens. I invite you to look at a few of your human artefacts, as described at the start, using these five ideas.

  1. Detaching: the thoughtful elimination of things that no longer serve our future identity. Consider what graceful detachment could look like.
  2. Selective pruning: the process of deciding what things are incongruent with the identity you are looking to cultivate. Consider how much time you’ll need to prune and how careful you’ll want to be.
  3. Maintenance: maintaining those relationships that give you joy and value. Consider ways to ensure proper caring?
  4. Nurturing:  the cultivation of relationships that have potential to become something bring you joy and value. Remember that it may not be possible to know in advance. Consider how and when you could nurture something new.
  5. Development, evolution, and repurposing: the thoughtful consideration about whether a relationship could serve a different purpose than when it was originally created. Consider the implications of repurposing or further developing an artefact.

Some considerations

In this work there are processes that work against us but also for us. Here are a couple of ideas to think about as we consider transforming who we are – making an identical shift.

Your physical space may be a reflection of our relational space. Have a look around at where you live and how you live and consider how it may or may not mirror your relational space.

Detaching is hard because of the life things have on their own. Detaching from people and activity is more difficult than detaching from things. Detachment isn’t a solo activity. You may need to enlist professional help, or at the least the listening ear of a friend.

Creativity and ingunity.  New ideas want to be born, new ways of thinking and change ache to be realized.  It’s like they exist in pieces on the humanity’s synaptic network just waiting to be fit together, almost randomly, or to be discovered.  Creativity is perhaps the process of uncovering what is already there in the network… the sculpture is in the wood already. The artist’s job is to reveal it.  


Until next time, please sign up to receive updates below and be part of this ongoing discussion. I truly value your thoughts, ideas, and the dialogue we have together.

What’s holding us in place?

Everything we do, we first do inside our minds – forming the world outside ourselves through our constant inner chatter about every relationship of which we are part, including with ourselves. This inner dialogue leads to our actions and therefore our creations in the world.

We spend every moment of our existence transforming our inner immaterial world into the material world, making it physical to be experienced by ourselves and others in the world outside of our minds. With our actions, whatever they may be and no matter how fleeting, we create human artefacts which take on a life of their own – each with a lifespan separate from our own, and an ability to not only influence others but also our future selves and further inner and collective thought. We leave our fingerprints on the world through every action.

It’s a dynamic process that continues to evolve with myriad potential actions we could take, each in turn influences our next action. In this way, the process of becoming may be thought of as both individual and collective action and be considered circular and iterative.

Thus, in ourselves, we may also be artefacts of everything that has gone before us. Everything that had influence in the past is embodied in us and therefore takes new form in the actions we take.

Containing Artefacts

The relationships of which we are part could be thought of as containers that hold us and shape our identities. For some this creates safety, for others it’s a box that keeps them from change.

An increasing awareness of the relationships which make up the containers of our lives, whether they provide safety or inertia that makes it difficult to break free, can provide us with renewed opportunities to begin to unform and re-form our lives, our identities, our communities and our relationship with the planet.

Let’s take a brief look at three possible types of artefacts that contain us and reflect on how we might shift their power to control our destinies.

In physical form.

Artefacts take many forms. The obvious ones are things like buildings, streets, art, clothing, homes – these things can be thought of as things with no obvious human language – they don’t speak directly to us verbally but they do speak to us and they do influence us. Many of them have lifespans far greater than the humans that create them.

I was born and raised in the prairies in Canada. Beyond the natural environment and the beauty that shaped my identity and attachment to this place, most things I encountered growing up were created by humans during the past 150 years. Even though I had some relationships with human artefacts created by the indigenous people who lived on this land long before others arrived, it was hard for me to imagine a time in human history more than a couple of centuries old. Calgary’s Heritage Park collected artefacts mostly from the early 1900s onwards; these shaped me and gave me a sense of how I fit into human history and perhaps where I might go. To me and many other young people it was as if humanity had only begun at the beginning of the 1900’s. As I grew older, however, through traveling abroad, seeing other places in the world shifted possibilities for me.

Medieval wall built with Roman stone.

I remember in 2008 being quite emotional when I first touched part of London’s Roman City Wall. I was in awe of the fact it was still there. I recall now feeling it was a voice from the past still influencing the future. Certainly I was influenced to see a bigger picture beyond my short lifespan.

In consequence.

And then there are the less obvious manifestations, things like unintentional human influence on the natural world, and human influence on one another. Over the past hundred years, for example, we have had a tremendous and damaging effect on the oceans, air, and land – perhaps upsetting the very ecosystem that sustains humanity. The changes we’ve set in motion are rapid when comparing them to the age of the earth. In our human experience though, we barely notice the changes: a summer may be warmer than we remember, or wetter, or dryer. We hear on the news the extinction of another animal daily. These were creatures we never knew or barely remember. On New Year’s day 2019 Lonesome George, a Hawaiian tree snail ( Achatinella apexfulva ), the last known of the species, died (National Geography, 2019).

Cumulatively these changes are altering habitats on the planet. Earth may soon no longer support human life but if it does and if we are able to see our relationship with the natural environment in a different way, human life will be still inextricably altered. It’s happening as a result of our past relationships with the earth and the unintentional artefects we created. Those fingerprints continue to live on and define who we are today even though we may be evolving and starting to glimpse of what we’ve accidentally done to humanity and life in general.

The story of humanity’s survival, if we are to survive, may be marked with solemn humility and realisation of what we’ve done together over the past 100 years. Our ancestors set us on this path and we continue because the relational influences are too great for us to escape without unforming those relationships and reforming them anew.

A relational perspective may give us a chance and possibly the tools to see ourselves for what we have collectively become and where we are headed today. No one will make it alone and collectively we may not either, not without understanding that we are related to everything in the world. We must learn what gave rise to us in the first place and how the things that we created continue to act upon us.

In message.

Written material and other forms of media from cave paintings and geoglyphs, to youtube and celluloid film give our future selves the ability to look into the inner world of others to see how they ticked. These artefacts help us see how we became what we are now. Today, our engagement with various media grants those artefacts and therefore their creators permission to influence us.

Praxis

I opened this entry by suggesting that everything we do, we do first inside our minds. Is it not then important to deeply understand what we do in our minds and why in order to form the best world outside ourselves? Perhaps by working toward a more holistic understanding of our identities and the relational influences, and with conscious practice to be in dialogue with the whole rather than the parts, we could begin re-forming ourselves and therefore re-shaping the world outside of ourselves.

In the spirit of reflexive practice or conscious evolution. Here are a few questions to consider. These questions are intended to help you think about the relationships you have with human artefacts, those of your creation and those of others, and how these relationships hold or influence your personal development, your becoming. With more experience you will craft your own more powerful questions, but in so doing think about how your identity is influenced by human history, your past self, ideas, physical things, and others.

  1. In what ways is my identity being formed by my physical environment, possessions, and things I read, listen to, and watch?
  2. What parts of these influences might I think about differently? Are there some things that I could let go of, or pull closer?
  3. What are the stories that I hold onto that define who I am, and that may limit who I become, or more positively, help me become who I’d like to be? Are there parts of these stories that I need to reconsider or tell differently? Is there room for forgiveness or pride?
  4. What unintended consequences have been played out in my living and working environment, which influence the lives that I, my family and work colleagues lead.

Primed for continuation and change.

Whether these artefacts have been created intentionally in physical form, through unintended consequence by the way people have interacted with the world and one another, or through messages from the past, each relationship primes us to accept a continuation of the path we’re currently on, but they also set the stage for new directions, possibilities, and for conscious evolution.

This raises a concern of almost epic proportions. All of these artefacts in the outer world act on us and create a sense of inertia that can feel almost unstoppable. It can feel like one against everything. Some among us perpetuate this cycle. How often have you heard people in your circle say ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ or ‘that’s not the way we do things here’. These types of statements, and actions that support them, are the essence of inertia. We may think that we can’t change because we hold onto a belief that we shouldn’t or it isn’t good to change.

We are in this sense formed by everything of the past and potentially held static.

The compelling question before us may be how we could reconsider what is shaping us today and perhaps give it a different meaning in order to positively influence our future – in ways that take advantage of our past mis-steps. If our individual and collective identities are products of past influences, how can we use what we know about the relational process of identity forming to unform, reshape and re-form them? How can we reconsider, and perhaps undo some of the things that we’ve come to embody? How can we change the odds from one against everything, to one-to-one?

Ultimately we must understand not only the process by which our identities were formed and subsequently manifested in human artefacts, but also learn and become skilled at a new process of unforming our collective and individual identities in order to create new and better forms for them. Such practice will help us create new artefacts that take us all to a better future.

In future sections, we’ll discuss what we might do to enlist the assistance of new human artefacts to help us change directions and support us in our goals.

The space in between.

In today’s world the mainstream concept of leadership may no longer have the relevance it once did and certainly does not seem to be serving us well. It has its roots in the paradigm of individualism which gives preference to individual action over the collective. Mainstream thought seems fixated on the idea that if individuals can master certain skills and a series of defined actions that people will do as the leader wishes – follow-the-leader thinking. And further, that individuals are solely responsible for everything in their lives including their own situations. The world ‘leader’ invokes hierarchy, which positions some people, their abilities and impact above others, and often takes little or no account for the influence of place, time, history, or the dynamic of the relationship among things.

This can be very troublesome. We just need to look around the world and our short human history to see the pitfalls of this popular model of ‘leadership’, whether in government, private industry, or religious organisations. Individualism allows, and even encourages, leaders to collect power as, what they may perceive to be the only way of being able to influence the world. And sadly we often turn over our rights to them and choose to believe in their ways, giving many a cult-like following and therefore influence to shape the world.

In this traditional model everything and everyone has edges, everything is singular. This is a place where one thing ends and another begins – us and them, this and that. Parts are defined. Everything is thought of as separate and apart. Words like impact and force are commonly used to describe how to change the world. Often change is thought of as immediate and complete rather than shifting over time.

In the relational framework that I’m proposing, leadership stems from our ability to be aware of how the world shifts for us, against as, and with us as we learn ways to use the superpowers we each hold. It does not favour the individual over the collective but in fact draws its strength and potency to influence the world through the active relationships that exist, that connection among all mono (things) , including people.

My invitation is to enter the nebulous, foggy, and unclear space in between things – to step into the place where edges no longer exist, where time seems slower, where it’s impossible to see where one thing ends and another begins, if indeed we can even use the concepts of beginning and ending. It is here that we as individuals exist, tightly coupled to core relationships with place, people, history, beliefs, and things… and secondarily coupled to relationships of those – in a vast web of interconnected singulars at the same time existing as plural. (Nancy, 1996)

In this place of relational existence, we are dependant on everything around us, sentient or not for our very identity and ability to act in the world. This is the place where our superpowers work, where we can exercise our skills, practice our influence, shift the future, and find new ways of being in this world. It’s the place where time is limitless and the moments extend with possibility. This is where the magic happens, not the kind that is full of illusion but the kind of real miraculous change. The kind of magic that is open to everyone who wishes to consciously evolve.

Imagine as we stand here in this moment that we can see how things interact with one another, how power and change move through the web, how change happens, and how we come to be who we believe we are. We can test our ideas, see how they shift the future timeline, our identity and the identities of those around us. We can see how the things we say and do, the words and symbols we use, the things we create alter everything around us, not only for ourselves but with every relationship. Other’s worlds change as a result of our being. As we become everything around us becomes.

Our first and perhaps most important task is to bridge our conscious everyday world of doing with this place where we can see and feel how our actions will change things in relation to us. In the midst of today’s chaos and a world that is moving and changing at an unbelievable pace, it’s easy to be swept away, so much so it may seem impossible to find time to do anything differently.

This invitation is to pay attention to a skill you already have, to stop at any moment no matter how short it may seem and cross the bridge. Stop, slow down time for yourself and the world. Give yourself enough time to consider other possibilities and ways of acting that could lead to the best outcome for you and all of us.

When we decide to use our innate bridge, we have access to exercise and use our superpowers.

Praxis

Practice this skill to slow down a moment instead of reacting with the ‘stop, drop, and roll’ instinct you’ve learned to embody. Notice whatever feeling you have welling up inside of you, and instead of going down the same path you have in the past almost instinctively, consider other options to describe that feeling. Instead of anger maybe it’s curiosity, instead of anxiety perhaps it’s fear, or excitement, or passion. Play it in the future, see what it might look like if you choose something different. Instead of reacting, pause, practice and chose something that leads to a future you’d most appreciate.

Using your superpower to choose in the moment is one of the first skill to achieving more positive influence in the world. Later I will explore how you might build yourself a material hook during these moments in the space in between to help you anchor yourself in more positive way in the world for now… feel, pause, notice, play things out, choose. Experience how your work changes your future for the better.


Exploring relational psychocartography.

It’s 4:45 a.m. I’m in an airport hotel in Edmonton.  My flight is in two and a half hours.  I stand blurry-eyed and naked at the glass shower door.  I reach in and turn the water on full only to discover that the last person to touch the shower pointed the showerhead at the door… which I have open.  I’m now stand dripping on a cold soaked mat.  And so the day begins.  

As I point the shower head into the stall and struggle to adjust the water to a reasonable temperature, I think about how lucky I am to be able to enjoy a shower at all.  Running water, even cold and unwelcomed, is a luxury for which I’m grateful.

Today, my inner maps have various options available for me to navigate the world in a positive way.  I think about the day I’d like to invite. I think about the holiday I’m leaving for. I think about the year that is coming, and all of the changes of the past four months.

As I work my way through US customs, I notice how grey and flat the workers are.  They are doing their jobs almost like robots.  I wonder if it’s because it’s so early, it’s Christmas Day, and whether they’d rather be somewhere else.  Or maybe it’s because they’ve chosen to work even though the chaotic US government leadership has been unable to agree on the Federal Budget and many government services have shut down. The grey and flat workers are likely not getting paid for their work. 

I do my best to smile and to be kind.  It will make a difference no matter how small.  This is the essence of being in relationship with the world.  Every action we take, based on our own inner maps, will change the world around us. I’m lucky because today my maps hold these actions as possibilities, some days I’m unable to muster a smile even when I wish I could.  Though, even then, I usually try.  

We’re one and a half hours into the flight now – a baby four seats away has discovered its lungs. I’m trying to write the first draft of my book proposal. The ear-piercing screaming is making it harder to smile.  I feel for the parent.  My inner maps are showing me many options to navigate this experience, I will choose the one that seems mostly likely to lead to happiness.  

The constant tension between being aware of our ever shifting inner navigational maps and the various choices we can make is at the crux of transforming our inner and outer worlds.

Imagine for a moment what it might look like if you were to draw your inner navigational map – the great terrain of your options. We’re not talking about your immense databank of stored memories, wisdoms, and education, but rather about the various actions you could take at any given moment. Each pathway leads into new territory with new actions available, which become more clear once you’ve taken that path. You may have some idea of where the path may lead. Your memories and experience are there to remind you, but you cannot know all of the features on next map because it is not fully under your control to know or to create. This is because as you take an action you’ll receive new input from the outside world which opens up new possibilities.

Here’s a bit of a curiosity concerning our inner mapping systems. They function on input, inner input through your memories, wisdom and experiences, and outer input as you encounter and process the relationships and random events in the world around you. Much input is outside of ourselves.  If we accept that we move through the world as relational beings, that we don’t exist in isolation, then it follows that all relations have the ability to shift our inner navigational maps.  Perhaps you can recall a time when a friend or colleague helped you see different choices to look at the world. Or maybe someone ‘pushed your buttons’ and you reacted in a way that you wish you hadn’t.

Others’ ability to influence us is not limited to their understanding of our inner maps, in fact they may know nothing about us and still be able to influence us. They may do this without even being aware. Their ability to influence is enhanced if we share a common language, culture, and/or place. Where we share similar experiences we have more direct access to one another. There are large swathes of your inner maps that others may not be able to easily access because of your unique life experiences and your own personal narrative. These stories may form the core of your identity and make available to you choices about how to move in the world that may be yours alone. However, this does not mean that others can’t influence you through their relationship with you.

Two secrets

Secret One: A personal guide

Firstly, you have own personal sentinel and guide to help you see what input is coming your way from outside and also from inside, and to help you make choices. It is your own awareness.  You do have access to your awareness as you navigate the world.  You might think of this as your second you, one who is an expert in what we might call relational psychocartography – being aware, your guide has the ability to help you explore using your inner maps, perhaps showing which routes lead to the best and worst outcomes. This could be thought of as our helm control, helping us steer our way through worlds of infinite possibilities.

For example, at this moment my inner guide said, ‘you can wince every time that baby screams or you can get out your headphones’. There of course were many options, some of them pure fantasy.  This time I chose the headphones, and it’s likely helping me from becoming frustrated by the noise that I cannot control… nor seemingly can anyone else.  

Secret Two: Your superpower.

You have a superpower.  Working from the relational being perspective, just as others have access to your maps, you too have some access to the psychocartography of everyone around you and can open up choices for others through the way you engage with them.  

This means that you can alter the world by the way you choose to engage with it.  If you approach situations with anger you’ll see that anger multiply – anger creates anger.  If you feel joyful you’ll notice that happiness follows. In everyday situations we do not offer choice to those around us, in this – we merely present them with our own anger or joy. You create change in those around you at your own will and choosing.

As human beings, we thus have an incredible power, which we mostly wield without being aware: the ability to transform the outer world, and the inner world of others, into places which replicate our inner world order.

It’s pure magic.

This isn’t only a philosophical concept. In the mid 1990s a group of Italian scientists who were mapping brain functions of monkeys made an unexpected find that is beginning to shift the way we understand human interaction. During their experiment with macaque monkeys they discovered that neural patterns active in one monkey’s brain during actions, such as eating and grasping, were nearly identically mirrored in other monkeys that were observing the action. They developed the idea of ‘mirror neurons’, a type of cell that may respond equally whether we perform an action of some kind or observe another performing the same action (Gallese et al, 1996).

Their work spurred new research that may be helping us understand how human experience can jump from one to another through observation. I’m sure you can recall how it felt for you to witness someone experiencing something unpleasant like falling off their bicycle, or tasting something rotten. Or maybe you’ve been part of a gathering where an emotion moves through a crowd like a wave. Perhaps riots, group hysteria, or joy move in this way.

The idea of relational-being has a physiological basis. What we see others experience, we can also experience. This supports that idea that we are not isolated individuals, but rather interconnected in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

So, your superpower is there to use. You may choose others to feel pain, or joy, or anger or happiness. It’s up to you. It’s simple when you smile, you can activate a smile in someone else.  What we know, for now, is that others must be looking at you for mirror neurons to activate. That is the current understanding but I suspect we’ll learn that there are other ways.

Be Cautious.

Your superpower goes two ways.  Whatever you do you’ll get a little on yourself.  If you poke at the world with the stick of irritation, voila you’ll be rewarded with an irritating day.  If in contrast you choose to spread love, glitter and joy, you may find yourself rewarded for your efforts.

Every conversation and action changes the world in some way, what will you choose to create in the world today?


As always, I invite you to comment below, and sign up for future posts.


Vittorio Gallese, Luciano Fadiga, Leonardo Fogassi, Giacomo Rizzolatti; Action recognition in the premotor cortex, Brain, Volume 119, Issue 2, 1 April 1996, Pages 593–609, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/119.2.593

Illuminating our becoming.

Divine nine.

Today is the first day of winter, on Autumn day 48 I shared the idea of relational identity and four possible distinct relationships to consider. As winter arrives and it’s time for rest and renewal I pose the following question:

Your Divine Nine.

If your identity, happiness, prosperity, and personality were to shift as a result of the relationships you activate, what nine relationships might you want to focus on for the day or over the next while – what we could perhaps describe as your divine nine?

This post will probably form the nucleus of one of the later chapters in my book, which are more directed towards positive action in the pursuit of healthy identity, and positive relational practice.

Nine seems like a quite a large number but drawing on the different types of relationship that we have outlined elsewhere, we begin to have a manageable suite of areas to focus on.

First we’ll explore our relationship with self and others, and then two distinct types of relationships which I’ve separated into the non-physical world of thought such as ideas, concepts, words etc, and the physical world such as places and things.

Relationships with human artefacts may be thought of as non-material and material in form. That is to say that much of our interaction as humanity is through our own thinking itself, such as with ideas, concepts, theories, words etc.

The second form of human artefact is the material as we make physical the very things we thing about, whether intentional or not. As we express our thoughts we begin to bring them into the physical world, sometimes temporarily through sounds we utter or make, or more permanently through our buildings, living spaces, art, poetry, music, and books.

Then lastly we’ll briefly consider our relationship with activity.

I recognise that these relational categories here are completely arbitrary and you may find it useful to think of the world in different ways. Today my offering is to help us think together about what choices we could make as we shift our identities.

Relationship with self.

This primary relationship is often neglected. We spend our waking hours engaged in self-talk, often unconsciously, that may or may not contribute positively to our well-being and identity development. I’m not merely suggesting that when we talk to ourselves we should use a bunch of positive self-affirmations, although this may well be helpful to face difficult challenges that you need to rise to meet.

What I think is simple and helpful to remember is self-compassion. It’s fair to say that we, for the most part, know how to be compassionate with others. We can craft fairly good responses for friends going through hard times. Yet sometimes when it comes to ourselves we have trouble. Kristin Neff explains it well when she talks about treating yourself with the same level of compassion as you would treat others. Here’s a short youtube talk she gave in 2013.

We know how to be kind to others, let’s find a way to do this for ourselves. Hold a mirror up for yourself and be compassionate and kind. Give yourself a break once in a while.

Relationship with people.

People with whom you associate have a dramatic influence on who you are and how you are in the world. Every day people drift in and out of our lives each of them leaving their fingerprints on our worlds. Some influences are better than others. We too influence the people we encounter throughout our day. In cultivating an identical shift that helps us become better people it may be important to be aware of each interaction but also to consciously activate those relationships that you trust will contribute positively to your life.

Praxis

Pick two people you’d like to have a more active relationship with and make a plan. Invite them to engage with you. These may be people who you’d like to learn from, whom you might want to emulate, whom you might have fun with and so on. It’s your choice. Know that whomever you spend time with will change you. It may be an important choice for you to consider.

This doesn’t mean that you abandon your other relationships but if you need to find time to activate your chosen relationships, you may first have to let go ever so slightly of something less healthy that occupies your time, which may even be another person. Perhaps less time on social media or watching too much news is an easier example to consider. Disconnecting from others is quite rightly a different topic, so for now focus on activating the relationships that draw you in your right direction.

Find some balance to bring these folks closer into your space, while letting less healthy things drift a little.

Relationship with ideas, concepts, and words.

When we think of relationships we almost always think about people. However, we are constantly in relationship to ideas, concepts, words and various other constructs that help us navigate the world. In fact, there is so much language, and there are so many words, images, and symbols surrounding us that the past our forebears created continually asserts itself in the present, sometimes making it difficult to reimagine the future. These constructs have a relational gravity that may create an inertia that keeps us going in the same direction we always have, rather than consciously adapting ourselves.

Thinking about these as part of our relational identity it behoves us to not just slip along in this world of the past unconsciously but also to create new meaning through exploration. We can form new connections based on our unique experience and set of relationships that may help us consciously evolve. Exploration of the symbolic world helps us to create new frames and diverse views of the future.

Praxis

Pick two ideas that you’d like to explore. This is about learning and making new connections. Have you ever noticed that even saying a word makes you feel better? Say to yourself “fun”, or “love”, or “anger” and notice how your body feels and how your attitude toward life moves. Pick a couple of words that would move you in a way that feels good. How would concepts like “organised “and “collaborative” look if they were more active in your life? What would “loving” and “hopeful” feel like? How about “powerful” and “confident”? What about “healthy” and “active”? I suspect that you can easily create images of these ideas for yourself. The images alone have an allure to draw you toward them as you think about them more fully.

One way of developing this type of relationship is to engage with written material about the idea you have chosen to focus on: perhaps read an article or a book about a topic that you’ve wondered about. Journalling about your exploration might also be interesting. I invite you to pick a couple of words, symbols, or ideas and imagine what they look like as they move positively through your world.

Relationships with place and things.

Like ideas, words, concepts, and symbols there are other human artefacts that carry expression of past humanity, and even hold us from change: architecture, places and physical things. The material world, with which we interact daily, influences who we are and indeed who we can be. These material things have many forms, and there are myriad ways we could subcategorise. For the purposes of this discussion I’ve grouped the material together into subheadings, but for the moment let’s acknowledge that place and architecture are quite difference from objects that we surround ourselves with. An old key given to you by your grandfather, that you wear on a leather cord, may have much more meaning and influence for you as you put it on each day and recall him and your family history, than the church bill board you pass daily on your way to the gym.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)

The streets we travel, the places we inhabit, the things we wear and collect in our homes all have an influence on our health, well-being and the way we live and how we think of ourselves. They all contribute to our relational identity.

Praxis

Pick two places or things that you’d like to experience a bit more. It may be going to a park, hanging out in your favourite cafe, learning about a distant place you’d like to see.

Notice how places and things change you. Perhaps interrupt your routines and do something different. Start your day with music instead of news. A book instead of a smart phone. Go a different way to work. Walk in the park for a break, instead of going for a coffee.

Have fun with this and remember to notice how are you different, either better or worse. Be conscious about how places and things affect you.

Relationships with activities.

Lastly we have our relationships with the things we do to fill our time, how we spend the hours in our lifetime. Each of the activities we choose will influence who we are and of course the quality of our lives. These relationships with activity are important to our health, happiness, emotional, spiritual, and economic and well-being.

Since we are focusing on shifting our identities in ways that help us become our best selves, choosing a couple of activities that interest you in ways that influence you positively is a tremendous opportunity.

As I’ve mentioned earlier when we fill our time with better things we also have the benefit of quieting activities that are destructive or less useful in your life. Choosing to read a book rather than watching Netflix, or baking a cake rather that buying one, walking to work rather than driving – each have a different outcomes. You know your life best, express what interests you. Choose activities with different and perhaps more healthy rewards.

Praxis

Pick two activities that you’d like to do more of. Perhaps walking, or baking, or reading. Set aside time each day for these two activities, and each time you take part, make sure you reflect and take notice of your thoughts and feelings at that time. If you can, then write these down.


All of these relationships shift who you are, ever so slightly. I grouped the relationships above in a manner that suits me, but for each of us the balance between self, people, ideas, place and activity focussed relationship will be different. Some of us will be better served by choosing four people relationships and one of each of the others. The usefulness of the model here, then, is that you can identify your divine nine the way your want, the way that suits you at this time in your life, being aware that you’ll change, with awareness, for the better. Your divine nine will of course also change as you grow.

Use a stick if you have to, but be thoughtful.

In painting we use various pigments, types of paint and methods of applying colour and texture to surfaces be they canvases or brick walls. When I first started painting again in my forties, I went back to school and studied with Dave More. He’s since become a life long mentor and friend. I recall him telling me that it doesn’t matter how we get the paint onto the canvas: ‘Use a stick if you have to.’ The point was to begin, to make one stroke after another in a thoughtful way. Carl Grimm, one of the world’s top conservators of the world’s masterpieces of fine art, told me that every stroke on a canvas should be applied with meaning, that it’s there to do something. These two ideas,  to begin and to be thoughtful, apply to all forms of creative expression. Combined with experimentation and practice these ideas provide us a useful metaphor for creating and shifting our identities in the world. Nuance and skill take time to learn and develop. Practice is essential as we learn any form of creative expression, identity expression is no different.  

In every creative practice there are tools that we use to create masterpieces. In music we have a framework of scales and tones which develop rigorously, and rather beautifully, from the mathematics of soundwaves, through systems of notation and a vast range of musical instruments which produce an almost unlimited range of sounds.  At one extreme is the sound of the symphony orchestra, sometimes with soloist, producing an extraordinarily complex soundworld. There are decades of practice and training behind each performance. In contrast,  we’ve all heard people sit down at a piano with no training and hammer the keys in a way that makes us want to plug our ears and hope for silence to return.  So it can be, when we are around people that haven’t tried to master relational skills. How can we develop our skills towards the relational equivalent of symphony orchestra, chorus, and solo singers and players?

If we imagine our identities as composites, developed from the many relationships that we are in, then we can think of them like we do painting or music, each composition rich with textures, and layers, and colour that give us each our own unique aesthetic and make us individuals like no other. To create our own personal masterpieces of identity we need to consider the materials and tools at our disposal. And then we need to practice and develop skills that enable us to shift our identities in ways that are unique to us and express what we might call our divine selves, an expression of ourselves that rises close to our ideal imaginings. 

The raw materials that make up our own personal masterpieces – our individual identities – are indeed the various and shifting relationships in our lives. The skills and abilities we use as we interact to create meaning in these relationships could be conceptualised as our relational aesthetic.  

I suggest that we engage in four distinct types of relations. These influence who we are in the world and can limit or enhance our ability to realize our divine selves, particularly if we are unaware of their influence.

four primary relations

We might think of these relations as: 1) people – who we know, 2) place/things – where we go, 3) activities – what we do, and 4) ideas/concepts/words – the tools we use to make meaning.

If we take the above diagrams and write in our strongest relations for each of these four types we might begin to see the underpainting, or hear the melody, of our relational aesthetic. Who we are might be just a little clearer and begin to raise questions about the importance of each relationship to our well-being and challenges.

You can read the introduction at: An identical paradigm shift. This is the second post of this series. As always I invite you to connect with me below by engaging in discussion, and by signing up for future posts at the bottom of this page.

An identical paradigm shift.

James Thurber said, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” And so I begin this book about identity and change. It is perhaps the very essence of my blog, conscious evolution. How do we evolve as individuals, communities, and society as a whole? Can we be conscious about how we change over time? What are the questions we need to ask of ourselves and the world around us? Are there things that we can do to help ourselves be happier, well, and more fulfilled? What factors might be a play that enhance or detract from our ability to change in the ways we’d like?

First let’s address a debilitating assumption: in much of the world, but primarily the west – although likely spreading – we hold a belief that, as individuals, we are wholly autonomous in our actions, decisions, and choices, that our identities come from some inner source that makes us unique and different from everyone else. For most people I think that this belief is held unconsciously. There is ‘us’ and then there is ‘them’. With this thinking we are solely responsible for our own success or failure.  It all rests on our shoulders, just as we believe that the problems of others rest on their shoulders.  With this assumption we are alone but we are fully free to do what we like and create ourselves as we wish.  As I write this, I think to myself, how can we possibly believe this? Yet when we watch the news or engage in conversation we use words that reinforce this assumption. Perhaps it’s time to move past this idea.

We might consider a different view. What if there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’? What if all of our actions, decisions, and choices are influenced by, and flow from the relationships we have with other people, with place, ideas, and things? What if we think of ourselves as a composite made up of those relationships? It may still hold true that we are unique and different from everyone else, but the source of that difference is derived from the relationships themselves. In this view we would not be solely responsible for our success or for our problems but we would share them with everything and everyone we are in relation with.

You can visualise those relationships as a diagram, a painting with multiple colours, shapes, and layers, or as music with various instruments working together and in harmony or dissonance. The image you construct of these relationships, their strengths, closeness and distance, volume, and texture could be thought of as your identity. How they influence you and how you influence them over time we can describe as the aesthetics of living.

By thinking of our identities as composite, made of relationships, we can begin to see how we might evolve through consciously choosing which relationships to activate, enhance, feed, develop, starve, sever or weaken. The possibilities for change are then nothing short of magical.

In this work I hope to share with you a way of inquiring about our identities, and the aesthetics of living, so that we might become more aware of the influence we have over our own happiness and well-being, and also more aware of the influence that the world has on us and we have on it.

The universe will unfold for you with the questions that you ask. Our goal here is to ask the very best questions, the ones that have the most power to invite what is good and useful for yourself and the world around you. I’d like you to discover your superpower and to put it to work in the world. I invite you to explore together how to bring it to life.

As always you are welcome to comment. I appreciate questions that help me clarify and write more as we go. I invite you to subscribe to the blog so that you’ll receive notifications when new posts are made. There is a place to comment and also to sign up placed below.