Relational Gardeners.

Imagine, if you will, a single mythical seed that contains everything it needs to grow — sunlight, shade, water, nutrients, soil, and pollination. It would be a miraculous, self-contained, self-pruning, self-caring, fruit-bearing wonder to behold.

One of the fallacies that individualism promotes with such great success is, like the mythical seed, the idea that humans are self contained — that everything we need to change is already within us.  The great ruse of the modern time is: if we want to be different, have a different life all we need to do is to assert ourselves; that we can be anything we want. I was told this as young as can remember. We all were.

I am reminded of a gardening. The capacity to grow and become something doesn’t come from within the seeds.  Seeds needs the right conditions. Sunshine, water, shade, nutrients, the right soil type, everything must be right for the seeds to germinate, to put down roots and grow.  

Yet when it comes to humans we strangely believe this growth capacity comes solely from within.

What is lovely about being human — and this may be unique to humans unlike our seedy cousins — we may have some capacity, albeit limited, to change the conditions which nurture us. If we can grasp the relational imperative, we may be able to see that all of the resources we need to be someone different than we are now are not within us, but that we have the ability to change our conditions so that the resources may become available, surround us, and as a result help us to shift gradually.  Our relationships with others, places we visit, what we read, what we ‘scroll’ through, what things we collect or buy, and the activities that we do can become our strengths, our guides, our motivation and inspiration. These relationships are like angels in the wings, standing at the ready to help our every move. We should be cautious because the wrong relationship, even one’s we are currently in, may be exert influence as well and take us in the wrong direction — perhaps the devils in the wings.

We can invite the right growing conditions for ourselves.  

As we think about shifting our identity, we encounter a paradox.  How can we be choose to be different and yet be completely influenced by the relationships in which we live.  If say that our identities are formed by our set of relationships then it may seem logical to conclude that we have no control over who we are and who we become, but this leads to a false assumption. There are places where we can intervene in our own becoming in spite of the influences of the world.

I don’t want to tackle the whole philosophical discussion of free will here, but do want to bridge the gap between the random and constant external influences one us, and their seeming ability to to keep use from change, and our ability to direct our own lives.

We are very much like a seed that by chance lands in a random spot and then struggles its whole short life until it finally succumbs to its growing conditions and withers or immediately finds the conditions perfect and thrives.   

However, the one thing we do have some control is our sets of relationships. We can activate them, weaken them, attach and detach (attaching may be more simple than detaching, which may not completely possible).  Essentially we are the gardeners in our relational garden. With careful choices we can create the conditions for personal growth and the changing of our own identities, those around us, and also our communities.

Seeds can’t choose their conditions but we do have some sovereignty in this area. We can choose to create a life-giving micro-climate which includes not only physically places, but also things, ideas, and of course people.  Our environment is the medium in which we grow and we are never not in relationship with it. When we practice creating the right environment we increase our capacity to change, to learn and to become different. We increase our chances for happiness.  

So this paradox of having no control versus having some control is bridged by our ability to influence and to create a special and unique micro-climate. We can make our environment our environment better for ourselves. If we shift them we shift our ability and capacity to become different.  

So why would we expect something different in human development/ community development/developing our identity.

We may discover that we have much more influence on our environments and our ability to change once we begin to understand that we actually do have influence. As we practice making relational shifts we will become better. We will find small behaviours that can have massive influence and enable outside environment to support us in our goals to become the people we want to become.

It may be easier for some people to practice than others but I believe that all of us have the ability to make shifts in our behaviour that will enable better relationships which in turn can help to influence who we are can help take us in a more positive direction.

It was Lao Tao who said. “To see things in the seed , that is genius.” Seeing what is possible in the seeds of humanity means also what we must become relational gardeners for ourselves and for one another. The randomness of humanity can be nurtured in ways that help our becoming. Individually, we can make small changes for ourselves and others. When we come together as communities our efforts can be multiplied in ways that truly are life-giving.

In upcoming posts, I will talk more about micro-shifting our behaviours in ways that empower our motivations and abilities to move into positive action.

Until next time, I wish you much peace. As always, people, do comment below, share this post or others with anyone who you might think it could be of interest to. 

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Something in seed.

Drops from the sky, these seeds, 
Carried by the beaks of birds.
Sky gardeners.
Random landings,
On rocks, in water, in darkness, in crevices.
Myriad conditions.

Some never spout.
Potential lost.
Some struggle.
Just enough to germinate.
Not enough to become.
Dying before the season of fullness.

A seed lands in just the right place.
Conditions perfect.
Its roots put down.
Water feeds its need.
Its tender leaves unfurl.
The dappled sun just ideal for its nature.

Days, then months, then years.
It becomes.
Bares fruit.
Gives opportunity for new potential.
Away new possibility, seed.
Carried on wings of promise.
Of hope for life,
In the random relationships of existence.

— Paul Harris

Knock on wood.

Four hard loud knocks on the wooden door outside my bedroom jolt me awake in the very early morning. They sound urgent as if someone really needs to get in. It’s still dark out and just before 3 a.m. I lay there listening and waiting for another knock. It doesn’t come. The outdoor lights are off which means there is no one outside. It’s happened many times before while I’m sleeping, loud knocking that interrupts what I’m dreaming. It’s a reoccurring experience, except it isn’t happening in the physical world. Often I get up and check to see if anyone is there, but it’s always the same; it’s just a weird dream within a dream.

Awake. I lay there thinking about the events of the past couple of years and specifically the past few days. I had planned and worked toward being in Maui for most of September, it’s been two and half years since Terry and I have been able to go. The night before I was to fly out from Edmonton in the morning I was all settled in the hotel at the airport. I had a lovely dinner in the bistro. Then, I developed a headache and sniffles and didn’t sleep well. I suspected that I had contracted a breakthrough infection of COVID 19.

It was a real moral dilemma for me. I certainly felt well enough to fly but didn’t know how the virus would progress in my system. All research around double vaccinated people indicated that I would have a mild infection that would clear up in a few days. I’d had both my Pfizer shots months before. I’d read a well researched article from the Atlantic that eased my fears about the course the infection would take.

And of course there was the issue of infecting others on the flight, certainly something that I did not want to do. I found myself in an ethical conundrum. Anyone flying at this point must have tested negative, as I had a couple of days earlier, and most would have been fully vaccinated. There was the possibility that there could be people on the flight who were not fully vaccinated because that is not a requirement of travel — a serious ethical flaw in public health and travel policy. I would run the risk of infecting someone who was not vaccinated and that could lead to serious consequences for them. Part of me thought ‘it serves them right’ as my compassion for antivaxers and those slow to get their shots has all but disappeared. I was not worried about being in Maui and I would spend most of the first week alone in the condo cleaning, painting, or sitting on the beach across the street trying to reground myself after two years of extremely hard and emotional work.

Still it felt better to play it safe and return home.

The fact that I was feeling ill as I was finally about to travel, after 18 months of dealing with shuts downs, and poor public health policy, made me extremely resentful of those people who refused to be vaccinated without good reason. The businesses have struggled through three shut downs and many restrictions. We have debt to show for it even as business begins to come back. During that time we did everything we could to keep people employed and make improvements that would help set us up for success once we were able to open again. I remain eternally grateful for our customers, employees, and friends that stuck by us during the pandemic.

Every time I encounter an antivaxer, I still smile and try to treat them with respect but inside my resentment for the damage that they’ve done to the economy, our business, and personal lives festers like an open wound which I’m really having trouble healing. This is not a time when the ‘needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many’ (The Wrath of Khan, 1982).

Recently, I have been thinking about how we learn and the systems we have in place to learn. When I grew up the internet was not yet available to the masses. If I needed information I would go to my local college or public library, use their cataloguing system to locate relevant information that had been curated by smart, educated librarians. (You know who you are).

If I had trouble finding something there was a librarian there with practice, credentials and expertise to help guide me to helpful resources. It was a delight, and I always felt that I walked out with real information that had been carefully selected to educate and promote trust.

Today, however we have the internet, anyone with a computer can publish anything they want for anyone to read, just as I am doing here. There is no librarian, with wavy hair, and a sense of humour to guide you through the maze of confusing media that is available. I really miss librarians and the role they play in helping us find accurate information to make informed decisions.

In the end the antivax phenomenon is a product of the accidental removal of safeguards and systems that use to help us sort through conspiracy and misinformation. It comes down not only to education but the skill required to educate oneself and to critically think.

One person I recently spoke with said, ‘oh, the vaccines don’t work then.’ when they heard about someone close to me contracting COVID. This very simple myth that vaccination purports to block transmission completely is such a screaming example of the misinformation out there. I likely will not get any sicker than I am today thanks to my vaccinations. I will continue to enjoy the smell and taste of good food, and sadly bad food. However as the current wave of delta variant sweeps through the community everyone we know will contract it at some point, those unvaccinated are 36 times more likely to end up in the hospital because of it and some will die or have long term complications. I’m thankful that I didn’t take that risk with my life. I’m grateful for those around me who didn’t take that risk. And I’m glad that I encouraged friends and colleagues to get their shots as soon as possible.

To those reading this, if you’ve been slow to get your vaccinations please don’t wait. Go right away. Your productivity and lifestyle will be affected soon if you don’t. The stability of the economy and employment are being affected.

As for me, I went and got tested yesterday and the results came back positive. Now I’m at home staying away from you as best I can. I may need some fresh bread, or a smiley face card to help me get past postponing this trip yet again. My new plan is to leave about two weeks from now. There will be no reason at all that I can’t go this time… with some careful planning. Knock, knock.

Four quadrants of change.

In my last post, Sweeping Change, I suggested that we begin with what is simple, those things that are easy to change. Starting off with what is easy brings immediate results especially if they have a strong influence to move you in a positive direction.

Let’s get a little more nuanced about change in this post. As I set out at the beginning of this work (see Use a Stick), relationships are with people, places & things, ideas/concepts and words, and activities. As you look at these relationships you may quickly notice that change is easy in some relationships and more difficult in others.

Here I’ve split the relationships into four categories, putting us at the centre of each. This is to make it easier for us to think about our relationships, but ultimately these are not separate but layered and interconnected in various ways. And, of course, all relationships do not exert influence on us to the same degree. We might, for the purposes of exploration consider one or two relationships from each grouping that have the strongest influence, or the weakest.

In so doing we can begin to see how we are influenced and what direction our lives may be going. Take a few moments to think about which one or two people have the greatest influence on your life positively or negatively. Consider which places you visit or things you possess that influence you. What one or two activities do you participate in that influence your life for the good or bad? What about your beliefs? Are there one of two that have a strong influence for you?

As you think about these relationships you may take comfort in the ones that are supporting you in you we are or would like to be. You might also notice there are some that aren’t helpful.

Here are a few examples from my own life and those that I’ve mentored over the years.

  • I spend a lot of time with my brother and I have always counted on him as a friend. He is someone that I look up to and want to be more like
  • My immediate supervisor works in the same space as me at work, and is so moody. Some days I can barely stand to go in to work, and at the end of the day I’m exhausted.
  • I’m glad there is a coffee shop within a block of my house. I go there twice a day. The people are friendly and feel like I belong. I would have a hole in my life if this place closed.
  • I walk to work almost every day. There are several derelict and empty buildings I pass. Sometimes I am saddened by seeing them. Sometimes I am curious about their history. Sometimes I wonder if there is something that could be done, or even that I could do.
  • I drink too much and can see that it is affecting who I could become if I could control it or stop drinking.
  • I read a lot, and am so glad I do. I see the world more broadly than others, I think.
  • I believe people are rotten to the core and I watch out so they don’t hurt me.
  • I believe people are inherently good. I see them doing good things every day. It inspires me.

The more you think about the specific relationships you have in your life the clearer it will become which ones you want to change, strengthen, activate, ignore, or eliminate. You will see things that you want to change for the good. You will see things that make you uncomfortable. You will see things that inspire you and make you despair.

All of that is important in making a shift in identity, becoming more the person you would like to be. It’s important improve your happiness, your personal well-being, your health, your financial wellness etc. At the same time it may seem quite overwhelming.

We might make a list of everything that we would like to change. Some of the things may be easy to accomplish and others may be difficult. Some of the things may have a strong influence in your personal wellbeing and happiness. Others, although they may seem important, have a weaker influence.

The task then for us becomes prioritising the list with a mind toward doing the things that have the greatest influence and which take the least amount of time. This helps us build momentum and get a foothold on something better.

Below is a simple diagram to help you map your change actions in your relationships and what potential influence those actions might have. You may find that some of the easiest things to change have a tremendous influence, or some of the hardest things to change have little influence. None of us want to fall into the trap of doing things that have little return.

Change actions might be thought of as actions you are taking in the relationships that you are consciously trying to activate or deactivate or shift in some way with the goal of changing your identity, your happiness, your skills etc. First, look at all of your relationships. Remember you have relationships not only with people, but also with places and things, ideas and beliefs, and activities. Consider the strength of the influence they have on you. Next consider their ease or resistance to change. Prioritize the relationships that have the greatest influence on you and that are easiest to change. These offer the most immediate success and often help open paths to seeing new possibilities.

Suppose that you are struggling financially, having trouble managing your anxiety, or want to become a better writer. Let this be the focus of your mapping.

When making a change in a specific part of you life you can create a map helps you discover how your sets of relationships are influencing you. You then can consider which of the relationships are easy to change and which are more difficult. And you can ascribe to them the influence they have in your life. Do they have a strong influence toward helping you tackle your challenge, or do they take you away from our goal.

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 who you might think it could be of interest to.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.


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 each of us embodies the essence of all that has gone on in our lives. For this reason starting over isn’t possible entirely.

We might think of this embodiment 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 as much we might like.

Our relational blankets are woven with our memories and experiences of all the things that have been created in our worlds. If we were to move to a new location, form new relationships and try to create a different life, we would also take with us the lessons, memories, and ties to much of which we’re trying to leave behind.  These are non-physical artefacts and 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.

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.


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. What are the competing factors to live the life you want to live, to do the work you want to do, and to enjoy the friends you want to enjoy? 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.


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?  


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 helps 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.

Wobble wobble balance.

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.

Day 16, it’s a snowy one.

A lovely neighbour shovelled our walks for us before I arrived.

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.

Day 13, getting ready for the big move.

Thanks to Fletcher’s Printing, the presses are fired up creating 100 numbered badges we can write names on. I put my mom’s name on this example, because after all she is number 1. 17 people have signed up to help on Saturday morning so we have room for more help. Sign up here. More people, fewer steps, more fun. Bring a friend.

If you aren’t sure yet, don’t feel you need to sign up in advance, there will be lots of room for help, and the chilli pot is bottomless. Show up, to help or just for chilli.