Hello my friends. It’s been a while since I’ve written. I am searching for a way back in to my book project after what has turned out to be a tremendously challenging couple of months. This post is an update of sorts, just to let you know how my universe has unfolded recently.
Firstly I became quite ill for a while with a series of things that feel mostly resolved now, but I will have a check up or two before I signal all clear. The strange thing about UTI, which was central to my health issues, is that it affects one’s thinking as well as everything else. I found myself in a very dark place, sleeping every moment that I could get away from work, and being not particularly future-oriented – just trying to get through the next few minutes and hours. All of this was compounded by stomach problems, and then ended with that prolonged flu and cold that doesn’t seem to go away. I have to laugh out loud at the chain of events.
If you’ve been following the winter and spring as I write, you’ll know that it all occurred as we were moving Sunworks after 22 years into the new location. That’s mostly done now, just several more truck loads to clear out of the old place and some clean up. Lots of things on various buy-and-sell sites. The new tenants are starting to move in and they’re pretty happy about it. It’s going to bring new life to Ross Street.
Meanwhile, we are nearly the end of a provincial election cycle and Albertans are going to the polls in record numbers. I fear that the rise in populism hasn’t hit its peak yet and that Alberta may make that mistake as well. I see what is happening in the UK, US, and Ontario, and wonder why we cannot see. It’s likely that the fall of populism will happen when voters realise that the promises cannot be delivered or sustained over the long term. The future is almost always uncertain. To expect that it can be the same as the past is truly an impossibility. Most people need to experience the issues before they can engage with them: climate change and the economic shift away from oil and gas are two that many Albertans seem unable to accept.
No matter what happens on Tuesday when the polls close the future has lessons to teach us all. At this point those that can see it coming may just have to wait until those that need to experience it catch up. It may be a few more years … but class is in folks, and we’re not particularly fast learners here in Alberta. Instead of being angry or depressed with election results we might be able to frame this as a process of coming together to learn through experience. We will likely have a number of crises to address but hopefully collectively we’ll be able to rise to the challenge, especially if we can learn that no one person has the answers — that’s been the biggest weakness and threat of populism. Certainty corrupts inquiry and possibility.
Since I’ve been so active politically over the years it’s been impossible for me not to be engaged with this election as I try to get well and continue the changes to our business. It feels like yet one more thing to handle. However, I’ve met some truly wonderful people as a result of the campaigns. New friendships are wonderful.
So next week I will begin again to engage with my writing, give you a short update on the store since the move, and dive back into questions of detaching, becoming, and identity.
It’s a snowy day in Red Deer. Looks like we’ll have about 30 cm before it stops. It’s really coming down still.
Meanwhile our builder made progress with the cabinets last night, hopefully everything will be ready for the big move tomorrow.
Things are looking great. I have a little anxiety about where we’ll put everything. Tomorrow is the big day. One more sleep and then everything shuffles for good. I keep looking at the place and pondering if it’s all going to fit. I guess we’ll find out. Gulp.
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.
In physical form, created intentionally through our actions to build and shape the physical world, including art, parks, buildings, clothing etc.
In consequence, created unintentionally through the way we’ve interacted with the world and one another.
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?
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.
Detaching: the thoughtful elimination of things that no longer serve our future identity. Consider what graceful detachment could look like.
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.
Maintenance: maintaining those relationships that give you joy and value. Consider ways to ensure proper caring?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In what ways is my identity being formed by my physical environment, possessions, and things I read, listen to, and watch?
What parts of these influences might I think about differently? Are there some things that I could let go of, or pull closer?
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?
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.
One year ago today I died in a ballistic missile attack on Hawaii launched from North Korea or, in fact, I didn’t. The night before, my flight to Canada is cancelled so the airline put me up in a hotel on the far side of the island. I watch a hula show, drink fluffy topical cocktails and go to bed early. I enjoy my extra evening here, even though I wasn’t planning on being here.
The next morning I wake under warm blankets, a gentle ocean breeze coming through the opened patio doors. As I lie there thinking about whether I would have an afternoon flight or be staying another day, it happens.
An emergency alert is sent to everyone’s cellphone that we are to seek immediate shelter. My phone is off so I don’t get the message immediately. I can hear a bit of commotion outside and wonder what is going on. I stand on the lanai and watch. All of the usual things are happening. There is some talk about people going to the common room to watch the news. Instead I shower, dress, and walk along the beach. I go for a coffee. About 38 minutes later another message arrives saying it is all a false alarm and I’m not going to die after all.
What a relief, especially if I had known what was going on in the first place. I spend the remainder of the morning enjoying the sunshine, and hanging at the tiki bar. People at the bar are saying ‘it’s a great morning to get bombed.’ It truly is a lovely morning. Beside laughing, no one I encounter is giving the messages much thought. Most are just going about their day like nothing happened, which of course it hasn’t. I fly out that afternoon.
Today is one year to the day and I’m again on the island. I’m here thinking about the year that has just past and the year about to begin when I return home later this week. Did I make good use of this free year? Are the plans for the new year a good use of my time? Are the changes I’m making enough? What would I do differently if I knew I had only so much time left? These aren’t the kinds of questions that we think about day-to-day, although I wonder if perhaps we really should pay more attention to them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It seems that as we approach the end of this season the time is rushing by more quickly. Terry has left for Maui and I’m here in Red Deer finishing up a bunch of things that need to be done to help with the sale of the building, and the amalgamation of the companies.
This morning I have a conference call with the university to chat about the next steps in my master’s program. I’m quite excited about that. Then it’s a complete day of accounting and desk work, with the big hairy audacious goal of having the top of the desk visible.
The Sunworks building is finally listed and we’ve started to show the building. It’s lovely to do the tours with Davin. Not only has he been a joy to work with, but it’s nice to remember every aspect of the building and how we’ve improved it over the years. If it doesn’t sell, then we’ll just have to carry on with managing it and making the next series of upgrades. That’s an exciting prospect for me either way.
The restructuring of our companies is underway and I’m so much looking forward to less work in the new year as a result. The ladies and gentlemen that have been advising us are fantastic. Some new friendships are developing from the experience and I very much am enjoying that.
While all of this is happening, I’m still thinking about the letter I’m writing from my future self and considering who and what are the nine more important relationships that I might activate in the winter season. Over the next few days as we approach the solstice these will be the topic of my blog posts. I hope you’ll find my explorations helpful as you too think about the new year ahead.
Last night was the party. It was a delightful event. So many friends arrived and lovely things were said. It was so helpful to hear reflections of the work that was done together in so many places. All of my posse were here. Jenny, Ben, Brian and I enjoyed some time together and started on planning for our next time together. And the food was so fantastic.
Jenny is visiting from Winnipeg and we’ve had a lot of time to talk about what is next in our futures. She has just finished 20 years of municipal service. Here’s a bit of an insight that I want to frame carefully.
Often times when we think about the possibilities that the future holds, and work toward that vision we find ourselves running all sorts of negative ‘what if’ scenarios in our heads.
As we think about the past, with all of our best intentions, we find ourselves entertaining all sorts of ‘should have/could have’ thoughts. Last night was so wonderful in so many aspects, and yet by the end of the night I was thinking of ways that I could have been better, shared wittier or more important thoughts during my little speech at the end, been a better host, more prepared etc.
As Jenny and I sat quietly by the fire and the end of the night talking about the loveliness of the evening I shared with her some of these self-doubt thoughts and she quite rightly said ‘stop picking at it’. This got me thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves when we think about our pasts and our futures. Our intentions of goodness can be overshadowed by our perceived flaws. We can pick at our past, our service, our decisions to the point that we start colour over our experiences with negativity and blur our good intentions.
It’s quite possible that we do the same thing as we envision the future. On day 37 of this autumnal journey I wrote the following.
Dear Past self, It’s February 2020, and I wake up today, look around with awe on all that has changed since Autumn of 2018 when I made those brave decisions to make positive changes in my life which would take me toward the future I enjoy now. Let me tell you about my life now after all that the end of a wild decade, and the truly creative and forward looking effort that brought me to this new place. In this letter I’ll tell you where I live, what it’s like here, who’s around me, what new interests that I’ve discovered, how my soul feels and what it means to be me in the world now. I’ll share how I made sense of the journey that brought me to this place where change was needed and became possible… With love and admiration for the work you are doing and are about to embark on. — Future self.
I’m still writing this letter to myself even as I’ve been travelling along the path to 2020. As I reflect this morning I’m thinking about how in the writing of this letter I’m picking at it at the same time.
So, just stop it. Ha! As if its that’s easy. At least this little phrase might help us remember to let the goodness of the past be, and as we think about our preferred futures we might also remember to explore possibility without dragging along our internalized flaws.