Over scheduled and too busy to worry

over scheduledDo you have the over-scheduled virus? It is a type of modern flu that has all the symptoms you’re sadly familiar with: fatigue, poor sleep, low level physical ailments (sniffles! That half cough!), a constant sense of not quite being ‘all there’ (because you’re keeping at least one eye on the clock to make sure you get to your next appointment on time), and perhaps worst of all is the gnawing doubt that a helluva lot of what is taking up all that time is not actually important. You know, proper important. Especially compared to the things you’re too tired for at the end of the day, like conversation.

I remember conversation, it is when you talk about something other than the logistics of the next day or who will do which chores. I’m sure I’m still capable of it, if only I had the time. Of course any spare time gets soaked up quickly by the ever-present “should do” list or sleep but presumably there’s a possible future in which I’m caught up on all those things and so is someone I know and we could have a conversation. Hahaha When did that become an almost outlandish fantasy?! Even people I know who are retired from work are busy busy busy. Strange days.

Why you stay over scheduled

But you know, there’s a payoff to this behaviour too, a hidden lining that creates comfort. You wouldn’t think so but there’s plenty worse your brain could be doing and keeping you busy today and tomorrow is really quite clever because when we slow down our habit is not to stay in the now. Oh no, we send our giant brains out into the days beyond and into what might happen. Dangerous ground indeed for this is the hunting grounds for anxiety. Dwell briefly in the future and make a decision about the suitable path and all is well, one can navigate through events and respond when challenges arise. Lingering in the permutations of what might be is necessary for great work but demands huge capacity to defend and define one’s limits and scope. Otherwise the clever early-mammal part of your brain is lured into a hamster wheel of what ifs and becomes trapped in the momentum of its own spinning. Anxiety feeds on you again. There’s a nascent part of our (perhaps higher) self working hard to explain these traps and warn us of the dangers. We tend not to listen.

The ego believes passionately that we’re above such silly situations. The compromise is our over-scheduling. It appeases the puff of the ego and perilously protects the vulnerable brain from too much anxiety. It would be funny if it wasn’t so personal! So the payoffs are always there in our behaviours. You could call it the comfort of complaining. These habits can be so hard to acknowledge without someone to talk things over with and that time in which to reflect on our own patterns or those of our friends (actually I’m a lot wiser when it comes to other people than I am about myself). I’m also lucky to have some very wise friends! So although I’m over-scheduled I’m cautious about just stopping and so making a gap. Even if I could completely stop work and all my commitments and responsibilities that comes with a different risk. We all know that nature abhors a vacuum and in the past it has been another extreme – anxiety – that filled it. I’d like to do it differently this time. I’d like to find a middle way.

Have you ever tried a self-development course and come across a facile question like “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Oh you’ve GOT to be kidding?! But I tried, I tried so hard to soar with eagles and do better and be better and unleash the giant within and all that stuff. But what I’ve learned is a hard lesson to share, and it is that pretending you can’t fail is unfalteringly useless and here’s why.

Making a friend of failure

Of course you could fail. Most of us actually live from a primary identity of failure. That’s a constant in our lives. From the moment we fell over learning to walk we have implicitly understood that failure is part of the human condition. Even as a mind game to expand our comfort zone it is really really the wrong question to be asking.

Here’s a question to try on. “What is so important to you that you will do it anyway, knowing that you will fail in part?” It is likely that you will fail to meet your fullest dreams, on the other hand there are amazing discoveries promised if unknown at the outset. How might you answer that question? Take a minute now if you like to roll it around and see what you come up with.

This choice, this engagement with your own private calling, does not ignore or diminish the idea of failure and instead embraces it. It is not some light optimism that evades the shadows or distorts the reality of challenge, but instead a serious call to us to face the source of meaning and value in our lives. It is a middle path that expects courage and offers a radical hope. I’m not quite proud of my failures yet, but I am ready to expand them. Are you? Share your proud failures or your middle path in the comments.

Nanowrimo and the risks of research

nanowrimo‘Stretch goals’ we used to call them, when was that? The 90s maybe, then ‘audacious’ goals and then goals somewhere along the line morphed into either challenges or indicators – depending on if you get paid for delivering them. Nanowrimo is a challenge that stretches what you think might be possible for you to achieve within the arbitrary timeframe set for your challenge by the rules of the game . There are lots like it (Inktober for example) and nearly all of them hold their traps and risks. In Nanowrimo, one of the demoralising traps is ‘comparisonitis’ and a risk is ‘research paralysis’.

Nanowrimo and ‘Write what you know’

You’ve probably heard the advice to ‘write what you know’ and during the NANOWRIMO challenge it makes sense because you probably don’t have time to research the thing you want to set your story in or around. If it is fantasy, no worries, make that stuff up and move on (this can be tiring, but there are heaps of tricks to this). You might think you’re off the hook with Science Fiction (or speculative fiction) but oops, not so. Readers are wonderful, clever people with all their attention on your world.

You better have a decent excuse for how that spaceship got to where it is if you expect any of your other technological excuses to fly too. ‘Continuity of world’ is so very important. Readers don’t mind suspending disbelief in one or two areas in the name of entertainment, but you cannot afford to jolt them away from your narrative with broken edges or logical gaps they fall into and cannot get out of.

Nanowrimo can feel like a sprint when you’re trying to get down dialogue between your characters or descriptions of their world, but the moment you come to a real world detail that you know is going to matter, unless you already know it, you stop and check. If you’re experienced at this particular game you do not do this, you simply put in your own code for ‘check this detail later’ (BARNACLE for example – anything you can do a ‘find’ command with) and keep moving because you know that to stop now for research is a terrible risk to run. A risk you probably can’t afford to take.

Research is not writing

Oh it feels so good to be learning something and you just know your characters and plot are going to explode with this fantastic detail you’re getting! Trouble is, oops, where did that hour go? And that one? You’ve only got a limited amount of time for writing and every time you hit up Dr Google to help you with a name for someone or a town or any detail you know you need, you’re going to be distracted. There’s 20 fantastic search results in less time than it took you to hit enter. Even skim reading those is taking your mind away from building what you were going to say next. Research is awesome and one of my favourite parts of writing, but honestly, when you’re up against the clock, indulging in it is a bit of a rick. Type in your best guess, whack a BARANCLE to it, and move on.

Happy story telling everyone.

Travel resets the wonder button

Republic square PARISThe recent hiatus and travel provided some time to experience the broader world and consider the themes of happiness, belonging, compassion and so on from a perspective outside of my normal (narrow?) day to day. Being exposed to centuries of foreign culture for weeks at a time was thrilling and at the same time the flood of details was enormously overwhelming in person. That’s what’s nice about armchair travelling or documentaries – the focus is supplied, the details are managed, the experience is curated for you by the book editor or narrator. In person, the reality is that you’re in queues, desperate to find a loo (or to find the right change to use the loo), hungry, and/or transfixed by the fact that each street has different ornate light posts (or some other mindboggling thing that everyone else is able to walk past but you want to scream to the world “LOOK AT THIS!”).

It is of course an evolutionary survival mechanism that all animals have developed a way of filtering information to only that which is most likely of value to them. Humans have loads of biologically initiated filters. For example, we are good at depth perception and spotting movement (as for a long time we were a prey species) once we got the hang of tools we’ve worked to our strengths ever since. We create more tools that work mostly by combining our sight with our hands (every thought about the inputs and outputs of a computer?) rather than, say, through sound and other frequencies of vibration. Because we build all the things we use, we tend to reinforce our own preferences and strengths, we also send ourselves the message that we’re increasingly successful by this filtering. So to travel to somewhere completely different, where comparatively few things were familiar, was to bypass the existing filters and be opened up all over again to confusion, curiosity and wonder.

Wonder is exhausting.

Great, but exhausting. Confusing too, and when you come home you go through it all over again with things that you used to comfortable with and now you’re not that sure about. That’s also amazing (and exhausting). Before you know it the day-to-day of going to work intrudes and you find yourself back in the harness of being a wage slave, but this is the gift of travel. It is possible (necessary) to remember that we have a choice about the way we see and experience the world. It is not just fun to go somewhere else, it helps train our brain in remember that our filters aren’t truths. For us to find ways to solve the problems we’ve created in our worlds, the most useful thing to do is to think differently about it.

You would probably like to punch the next person who suggests to you that you “think outside of the box” about something causing trouble. I know I’d love to. It is useless. If we could, we would! So instead let’s share ways of learning to shift our perspective, and one of the critical steps to that is to realise what things actions or ‘realities’ we’re taking for granted, what we’re valuing and filtering for, then we can put those assumptions aside and invite in some wonder. A recent article talked about how cities, by their man-mad nature, reinforce some of our mental models and that this creates a (another) blind spot in how we face challenges. Especially ecological challenges.

The difference between watching a documentary about a city and being lost in the metro there is an experience of being ‘reset’, of being a beginner, a foreigner. How valuable it can be to know that you know nothing. We can be the best kind of stranger to ourselves and to others by sharing perspectives and becoming more than the sum of our filters. Let’s get wonder-ful together.

Itchy feet

travellingThere’s a meme going around along the lines of “imagine living a life you don’t need a holiday from”. That’s an idea with a lot going for it and ties into our themes here of happiness, gratitude, self-knowledge and meaningful living. And yet … I get itchy feet … I get curious about the world beyond my commute and I wonder what it is like to stand in a different ocean. I want to go somewhere … else.

I’m not sure then how to understand this urge. It builds, and over time it becomes discontent if I don’t acknowledge it. So much as our focus here is on seeking connection with happiness and using self-knowledge and connection with each other to establish ourselves, sometimes we must grow too, through the unknown, through the mysterious urges of seeking and exploring people, things, ideas and places that are, to us, ‘other’.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

Then we come home and we integrate, we mull things over, we massage our sore and painful feet. It is not ‘better’ one way or the other, to travel or tour-ist, or to wander half-lost and half-found. It just is and for each of us our own journey is inspired by itches of all kinds. Some we decide to scratch and some we leave as a unanswered want for now, for other reasons, for duty or obligation. We imagine and we cajole ourselves and none of us have a map. We are all looking or a horizon to trust in.

Ten years living with ulcerative colitis

Janine Prince March 2015This week marks ten years living with ulcerative colitis. Not an anniversary to celebrate. No. However a moment worth marking nonetheless and I’d like to bear witness to my experience. My intention is to do so as a recognition of all the other people who are living with a chronic illness or for those who might find these words when they are first diagnosed, and search (as I did at the time) for some hint that life goes on.
I haven’t learned enough in life yet, but I have learned that my burden is not the heaviest nor the only burden being carried. So many people suffer every day, and that’s the normal part of their day. Many of them are brave, they are courageous, generous, loving and all those things that people are and to me they seem to be saints because they do all of that without ever asking for pity or a special deal for their own personal situation.
I’ve never been like that. I grew up a self-centred, petulant and ego-driven individual who coasted through life enjoying good health and generally easy successes. If something didn’t go my way, I threw a tantrum. I was bad mannered and basically, if you’ll excuse the expression, a pain in the arse.

The fall

Like many people I was misdiagnosed in the early stages and also like many people, the arrival of this condition was extreme. I won’t bore you or try to shock you with the tedious and grotesque details, but if you are interested, by all means read about ulcerative colitis on Wikipedia and be warned, it isn’t pleasant and there are pictures. The first months were a traumatic roller-coaster of denial, endless specialist visits and a cocktail of anger, fatigue, loneliness and humiliation.
Anyone who has a chronic illness has probably had a similar experience in the broad sense. It is something that undermines your sense of identity, worth and optimism. I came to my knees and the landing was hard. Nothing was fair, and no amount of tantrums would change the physical facts. I kept fighting, and I kept not getting anywhere. Chronic illness does not have any obligation to get better or ease up or otherwise change itself just because your life is falling apart.

I can’t go on

For me, it got a bit worse psychologically even while my physical symptoms began to stabilise. Due to the large blood loss sustained on a daily basis, I had a lovey delicate pallor that was visually appealing. I didn’t have anything bandaged, or in a cast, or visible bruising – I looked pretty good. Inside I was in constant pain (no suggestion at that time from any specialist that I seek or simply be given some support for this, other than more drugs) and questioning if this might be a good time to make an informed decision to exist the great stage. Not only was I not confident that the daily regime of drugs would ever restore me to functional operation, but I felt that I had lost my place in the world. Who would ever want someone this broken?

I’ll go on

Thankfully, I didn’t have the energy or the requisite escape-velocity of self-loathing to finalise the exit at that time and urgent practical matters took my mind off the subject in the long, dark nights. If you’re in the first year or so of having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, please get support as soon as possible for managing your physical and emotional pain. Much as you may think it, you’re not currently in a position to make an “informed decision” about what to do with yourself. In hindsight, I can see it was my ego throwing a pretty big tantrum. A bluff I wouldn’t wish on anybody to call.
The sun rose in the east, arced through the sky and set again to the west. The tides of the moon and the wheel of the year swung around me while my bubble of self-protection and self-pity got cramped and ever lonelier. People have different experiences. I was slowly to learn that I was one of the lucky ones. For a long time I kept a list of illness I was grateful I didn’t have and it got longer as I began to listen to other people’s stories. The burdens I was unequal to carrying slowly lightened as I was able to return to work and also to listen with empathy to what others were carrying. It was still unfair, and so little in life was, that the bleakness never wavered. Days trudged by and the game became one of fighting boredom. I was still fighting, still not winning, still pushing people away as much as begging for closeness. It was a life, but it felt hollow. The fight had been to stop the illness from taking over, from changing things, from taking the freedom of choice away. Laugh if you like, it had done that from the moment it appeared, would I ever come to my senses and stop fighting something that had already won?

The serpent

The trouble was, chronic illness is so easy to see as an enemy. For years I thought of it as a great coiled serpent where my bowel should be. A serpent that in some nightmares ate me whole from the feet up. My powerful enemy could bring me to my knees at any time it cared to flex and coil, raise and strike. My feeble body was a warzone of drugs, fear and fatigue.

What if it is all ok?

Thankfully there are a lot of wise and giving people in the world, some of whom planted seeds of wisdom and compassion in my stony skull. I still had some long dark nights where I wondered if all this effort was for nothing, yet at the same time I slowly began to understand the incredible power of helping other people. I began to see a third way between the fantasies of freedom and total annihilation. The endless confrontations with nightmares opened my other eyes to the shadows I held within. Most importantly, I accepted that sometimes the pain was horrible and I stopped trying to anticipate that or wish it away. I held a rock and took it one breath at a time. I checked in every few breaths, maybe changed the rock to the other hand. Breathe. Right now. This is what is happening. Time helped the reality replace the fantasy. I could live in the cracks. Maybe I could bloom where I was planted too. What if I was ok enough?

It is what it is

There’s no snake now, no enemy, no answer either. I have a thing, like you might, or someone you know does. I manage it as best I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I forget I have it, other times, well, I still have that rock to hold. My road in the last ten years has been hard work, and followed a river of tears. Along the way I’ve changed and (hopefully) grown. I wish you all the best on your journey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Putting down roots

The tree in the Flammarion engravingI love spending time on Earth. The ephemeral nature of it reminds my soul of the precious fragilities of life. Earth shows us glory and wealth. Earth teaches us that everything has a role to play, that there’s purpose in all things and also that humans suffer most from their own making.

I love the way that all our ancestors that have ever been are right here, still with us. That there’s a little kink in our orientation so that as we spiral and circle and dance around the sun, beautiful repeating patterns are made for us to enjoy.

I mean this, not in some abstract, symbolic way, but in a literal, actual way each day, every year. The physical world of our lives, right here under our feet, is both the source and the destination.

I’m repeating this from last week because this is what is so liberating.

It is freeing to be humbled by the totality of the Earth and accept that the expectations we create, the measures we have chosen, the agreements we’ve made to live our lives the way we do, so many of the things that we crave or expect or demand are all of our own invention. Those things are superfluous. Seek them if you wish, but do so with the knowledge that you’ll be able to breathe anyway, that the sun will come up in the morning, and that the trees will fruit in season.

You have seasons too.

Wishing you were ripe in Spring is very hard to fulfil, creating tension for yourself and those who care about you. Likewise in Autumn to obsess about lost days in youth is so pointless. That’s not to say ‘don’t have them’. Create art with those longings, or seek a higher truth from the impetus to understand, work with what is possible inside the physical limits of our reality. That leaves a lot of room for emotional, spiritual and psychological maneuver, it leaves a lot of room for fun, and for the here and now. Sway with the breeze, drink from the rain, tingle with the fire in your sap. There’s freedom here. There’s liberation in knowing what is real, and what is a wish.

I love spending time on Earth with you. There’s nowhere I would rather be. We’re all in this together.

Image Credit

You are already home

We’ve come to the core, possibly the most important element that there is in reconnecting to your own soul, your own freedom. It is a bit counter-intuitive, because initially it will seem like it has basically nothing to do with you personally, but if you can stick with it is a big one. There’s nothing bigger in our world. Literally.

Earthrise photo taken by Bill Anders of Apollo 8 1968It is, of course, the Earth.

Our precious planet is so vast and accommodating, perfectly suited to us and so amazingly varied but even that sentence shows a human point of view. We are just one of the multitudes of creatures who belong here (and only here), we consider it ours, but we belong to it. We were born of this world, not just on it. I find this endlessly wonderful but I understand if you’re asking ‘What’s in it for me?’

Imagine you knew, deeply and without question where your loyalties always fell? Wouldn’t that make things clear? What if there was a really simple equation that could always inform your decision making at a fundamental level?

The Earth is a single, finite planet. For all the rah-rah of astronomy in the almost infinite reach of the space we’ve been able to explore through our amazing technologies we’ve found maybe a dozen that maybe might do the trick. If we could get to them, which we can’t (the best candidates are between 20 and 1200 light years away). And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty leery about signing up for a one-way ticket to even a hotel no one has reviewed, let alone a planet no one is confident can support weeds or insects.

What you can get from this is that the Earth is special. We all enjoy a nice Sci-Fi, just remember that the Fi part stands for fiction. The reality is that we are lucky lucky lucky to have this planet. More than lucky, without this planet nothing about us makes sense. We’re formed by this gravity, we’re formed of this chemical mix, and we find only a small range of temperatures and chemicals safe. So how does this help you? YOU BELONG HERE. The needs of the planet are your needs.

Pretty simple.

Anything that damages the planet is not in our interests as a species. Economy, culture, sport, fossil fuels, wildlife, tourism, smartphones, all of it, everything you can imagine is a fully-owned subsidiary of planet Earth. Look at that amazing photograph. Taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 by Bill Anders as the lunar orbit brought the NASA ship into sight of the Earth.

“For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. There was a home worthy of careful stewardship.”

What a lovely line there at the end, “worthy of careful stewardship”. I think that’s a much more graceful way to explain sustainability. No matter how many ways we describe the intricate interdependencies of related ecosystems, that single image sums it up so perfectly – there is nowhere else. It is all there, in that one ball. We are all in this together. Sustainability isn’t an ‘ism’ we should be into because it is cool or underground or a way to achieve carbon emissions, it is because it is the unarguable reality of a closed system. There’s nowhere to throw anything ‘away’ when you look down on the blue-green sphere.

To an individual human the Earth is so huge, so humbling. Our technology gives the impression that we’ve shrunk it, that we’ve tamed it and controlled it and put it to use for our betterment. Try walking somewhere. Try growing your own food. Try to swim to that island you can see. It is hard. We’ve created a tension between our physical and technical relationships to the Earth. They are out of synch. If you get back in touch with your personal, physical reality to the Earth, it can be so freeing. You know, deep into the core of yourself, that you are one of the stewards of the Earth. We all are, we’re born into that relationship. You know that there’s nowhere ‘away’ for (for example) nuclear waste to go – we simply bequeath that problem it to generations on from ours.

You and I, we’re part of this world. Our bodies come from the alchemy of our ancestors and the Earth. Physically and spiritually we are of this place. It is miraculous and obvious and comforting. In the words of Marshall McLuhan  “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

I find that incredibly liberating because it reminds me that everything else is a form of consensus reality. I can choose if I participate or not. When you start with what is real – the planet and the gifts of air and water, when you live from those as your basis, the relative value of everything else is easier to gauge.

So take your shoes off and feel some dirt beneath your feet. Look up at the stars and the moon tonight and be glad for your beautiful blue bubble that holds you tight as you do.

Burning in the wind

Flame clipart

A few years ago, I was ready to wrap things up. Maybe you’ve felt this way before. As far as I was concerned, there was no point to going on with a job I hated and with a personal life that had ground to a halt. I knew that my dog would be well looked after by my family and he’d forget about me after a while. I thought about it for a long time, it isn’t the kind of thing you want to rush into. I got an unexpected small windfall of money and so went to a friend’s wedding that was far away in a part of the country I’d never visited before. I took time off from work so I could look around while I was there and have a chance to experience a different perspective. I did a lot of bushwalking, exploring and walking.

One day, I had been walking for a long time along a hilly coastline. There was a dry cold wind blowing. I faced into it and closed my eyes. It felt like I was flying. It was a nice feeling. Up from the rocks came a warmth and as it travelled up my legs it became a fire. It was an amazing feeling. My blood was singing and I was alive again. I was burning in the wind. It wasn’t the only important experience I had on that trip, and out of it I was able to start looking for new choices to make.

Talking about a quest for release and following the wind took me right back into this experience.

Spring is itching inside those of us in the Southern Hemisphere and that ‘rising sap’ – the spark of new life – is our next checkpoint for personal liberation.

So much in modern culture suggests to us that there are correct answers to the challenges that life throws at us, but our own experience tells us otherwise. We know that no one is willing to give us these precious answers, because we’ve begged for them. We’ve found that the best we can do is make a choice based on who we are and what we believe in. Then just cross your fingers and hope the gods are smiling.

Spring helps us to remember that our beleaguered brain is not the only organ in our body that can guide us. There’s a fire in us too – so essential – that is a compass pointing only towards passion, only towards our true connection.

Don’t fret right now if you can’t feel it, it is still inside you. It is probably smothered. Fire needs air to breathe just like you do so you’ll need to get out and get some decent chunks of follow-the-wind time to create a space for the spark to catch again. Shelter that flame from the worst of the numbing, smothering, delusional elements of your day to day. It is your personal gem, a ruby of immense value that is your own private wealth.

When your spirit is aflame, you are rich beyond belief.

Follow the wind

Back in our nod to debt grief we asked a core question “Do we have power to release ourselves?”

We yearn for release, for freedom. People have done so through time, it just feels like there’s a stronger sense of entrapment in our wealthy modern world than there really should be. We are not politically oppressed, we are fed, can vote, we each enjoy a quality of life that surpasses that of even royalty just two generations ago. Why then are our quality of life surveys so constantly negative?

This is a haunting question. How can we release ourselves?

I’ve been looking for a choice for us to consider and I was told it would come from an unusual source. I looked and listened and scribbled notes and got nowhere waiting for a teacher to give a hint. Then, while down at the waterfront watching kites, a little toddler said “Follow the wind” and she faced into the breeze and closed her eyes in total bliss. A-HA!
Woodcut of Zephyrus from Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493In that moment she gave us all a reminder of what it is to be free. She reminded us that our shackles are mostly illusions. She saw through to the core of the situation and with her sharp sword of insight she sliced the knot in two.

Well that’s how it was for me, let’s unpack it together.

Freedom is not living in some vague, future utopia that will appear one day without any effort from us. It isn’t a ‘better’ that we can just buy. It is hard to say what it really is anymore because for most people freedom has begun to sound like an advertising slogan or an empty rhetorical stick that a politician uses to make a complicated important issue into a knee-jerk response. Our hearts are gummed up with this foul misuse. At best, we visualise a long holiday, but without the boredom.

But children know what it is. They don’t need to reference a dictionary meaning. They don’t fret about their own value or what curiosity will cost them. We know that freedom is not the same as being childish, but here’s a tantalising clue to lead us back into the right direction.

Our pets know what it is. They don’t even need human language to show us joy in the now and pure experience of whatever the moment is holding. Pets might be tame, but they stay free in a way we deeply envy. You’ve probably met someone who lives through their pet’s experience of the world. We know that freedom is not the same as being wild, but here’s a delicious scent of the juicy potential we used to have.

We know what it is not. We know somehow that these wage-slave lives where people worry about a 3 percent rise in interest rates, or how will they pay for getting any kind of sick that their insurance doesn’t cover aren’t it. Spending a year planning how to use a few weeks off to have a ‘decent break’ isn’t freedom, especially when no-one else does the work while you’re away. Triple jeopardy points if you paid for that ‘break’ on credit. That doesn’t feel like freedom.  We know that it isn’t really having two aisles of soft drink options in the supermarket or having more than 67 brands of cars to select from but somehow that’s what we agreed to accept somewhere along the line and now it is set in stone.

Well, that little girl reminds us that it is not set in stone. That many of the social conditions that we accept and treat as invincible are actually as fragile as a house made out of straw. There are a number of ways that if we huff and puff we could see them fall in. Do you remember how the global economy had a hiccup a few years back over some little ‘misunderstanding’? That was a good example of how things that we’re used to being bullied around by can actually turn out to be rotten or even simply a façade. We get to make a choice about how we participate in our society. We are actually in charge of how we participate.

We are actually in charge of how we participate.

We are actually in charge.

Those companies, those governments, those councils, banks and credit card companies, they all work for us. They’ve forgotten that and most importantly so have we, Everything can be different. They are not invincible. They are not the only way or the single answer. The wind blows the whole way around the earth. The wind blows into every home, every village, it blows across our faces and it whispers ideas into our ears. Welcome the wind and welcome the hope back into your heart. We are all in this together. Take a moment now and feel this, you have something in your hands that we’ve all been told not to notice, to ignore it, to treat it as a bother. It is a tiller. Feel it now. Can you feel that vibration in it? That is the wind of change, the zephyr of self-determination and if you want, the rudder it is connected to that you control, can set you on a new course. Where will you go? Ask some new questions.

That’s what I heard when she suggested we “follow the wind” and I can’t thank her enough.

Image credit: Woodcut of Zephyrus from Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Do you want better?

Thanks for sticking with the debt thing for the last few weeks. It is worth talking about because it links so closely into our faith that there’s a brighter future around the corner. That faith is insidious and it is only by using specific examples that we can understand how it is woven throughout our lives. Eventually we can identify it turning up and make an informed decision about whether to believe it or not. At least you’d know what flag you’re rallying under. That’s important because your expectations and resiliency come from your sense of your own ability to respond to the world.

Here’s an example. There’s an advertisement that’s come out recently. It is impeccably conceived and beautifully executed. This is how it goes.

“Everybody wants better. Everybody. It’s a given. Bigger. Brighter. Faster. Safer. Smarter. Better in a whole lot of ways.” <credit>

Ah, rousing isn’t it!? The advertising creative types have framed it cleverly. “Everybody wants better.” You can’t really argue with that. That’s why people emigrate to far away ands and learn another language. What reasonable person wouldn’t *want* *better*. Wants are like distractions – endless – and ‘better’ is obviously an improvement on whatever it is you’re currently making-do with.

Sometimes making things better is just darn practical.

A bridge across a river is better than a ferry – but wait – compared to what? If you’re trying to deliver on a deadline, yes it is better, but if you’re an artist wanting a lingering inspirational journey, you’re probably going to want the ferry.

Hand written copy of a document anybody? Wow, it can be beautiful, but gee it takes a long time and at the end you only have the one copy. If you want an artwork it is a great idea but if you want to reach the masses or at least 5 friends, probably a printing press is better.

Offical German postage stamp issued to commemorate Gutenberg press

Most of the decisions we’re making today in our lives are more nuanced than those practical examples. The first world makes so much fast and easy that we have very few practical needs unmet. For the economy to continue to grow, wants must be made stronger and stronger.

‘Better’ is an open word, waiting for you the reader (or listener) to put in the comparison. In an ad it basically can’t fail. ‘Want better’ is a double-subjective that creates a vacuum so powerful it can immediately suck any of your attention and then available disposable income into the vortex of that need that it just created.

Look again at the phrase, it is code too for “What you have is not enough and there’s a lot more that you’re missing out on.” It is kinda wasted on the product that paid for the ad. That agency should have bundled a whole bunch of mid-sized aspirational wanna-be products and sold them shares in this campaign. But I digress.

So yes, everybody does want better, it *is* a given. This is a chance to make a choice about what you’re going to compare things to. Do you want better from our governments for the generations not yet born? Do you want better for the billions of people who live without running water or hope of a secure food supply? For whom do you want better and against that what decision will you make next time you see an ad for a new smartphone?

We move through scenarios all the time and our bias is for optimistic outcomes, but there is not necessarily a brighter future around the corner for all of us. How you make decisions is becoming a lot more important than the decisions you make because the future really is an unknown country.

Image source.