The ten books that changed me


If you want a reminder of the abundance in Nature’s DNA, you have only to think about the number of books in the world, plus the staggering statistics of the number of new books published each year, whether by traditional presses or self-published. That’s a lot of words! My own house has floor to ceiling bookshelves in several rooms and still there are piles on the tables in my office and bedside.

So why write anything more? Hasn’t it all been said already? These questions haunt me.

In a recent conversation, a friend said the only kind of book he was interested in writing is one that can have a profound affect on people, the way he’s been changed by a handful of books. Now, the two of us are in a challenge to name the ten books that most changed us. Continue reading

The joy of creativity, risk and improvisation


I’ve been listening to a great TED Radio Hour on the theme of creativity. In one segment, the host interviewed a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, Charles Limb, who is researching the source of creativity by studying jazz musicians’ brains with an MRI while they improvise.

Keith Jarrett apparently improvises whole concerts; he just sits at the piano and channels music. He said he has, from long experience, an intimate relationship with the piano and even now he never knows what will come out. He considers it a great joy and privilege to be that channel.

One fascinating thing the Hopkins researcher found was that the prefrontal cortex shuts off during these improvisations. Continue reading

Sentimentality and Cynicism at the crossroads


Once upon a time, in a far-away land, a sister and brother lived in a tiny cottage at the edge of a vast forest. They were called Sentimentality and Cynicism. You might be thinking that the sister’s name was Sentimentality, while the brother’s was more befitting a man of the world. In fact, it was the reverse.

Their parents were lost to them when they were young children and they had fended for themselves for ten years. They had a few neighbors who sometimes dropped by with eggs or a loaf of bread, but for the most part, they were on their own.

Cynicism was older by two years and ruled the house with an iron will and military order. Sentimentality was grateful for the safety of a roof over his head, but he was happiest wandering in the meadows and fields surrounding their house, conversing with the grasses, flowers and birds. Fortunately, he had started a vegetable and herb garden, so his sister couldn’t complain that he was outside from sunrise to sunset nearly every day. He also cared for her with his medicinal herbs, for she often had terrible headaches and weeping fits. Continue reading

Are we really rewriting the OS?


Last week, a tech entrepreneur announced the OS Fund, offering $100 million of his own money to the best and brightest startups that want to change the world by designing a better future. Sounds exciting, right? Their manifesto says it straight:

“In order to affect real change for humanity at a global scale, we need to think and operate on a fundamental level: the operating system.”

Yes, I thought, he’s onto something. It’s another way of saying we need a new story. This is a compelling perspective:

“Historically, germ theory, American democracy and the Internet rewrote the operating systems of healthcare, governance and our societal infrastructure.”

Can’t argue with that. As I read further, though, I realized this wasn’t about a new OS at all. It’s about fancy new software. An arms race of software, like those fat seats and giant cupholders in American cars. Continue reading

One hundred words for why


I was born asking why, and have never understood why the question bothers so many people. I used to drive my mother crazy, asking her why about everything; her annoyance would build until she finally snapped. My husband learned years ago at a corporate training event that asking why is aggressive and off-putting. It threatens people and stresses them out. He took it upon himself to purge to our household of the question why.

The problem is, why is so ingrained in my nature; it’s an expression of my innate curiosity. Liz Gilbert tells an audience from Oprah’s stage that not everyone has a passion they can follow, or maybe they don’t know what their one big passion is. But, she says, we all have curiosity. We can start the day being curious about something, and that’s enough. That curiosity emerges from me as the question why. Continue reading

Uncertainty crashes the summit


Once upon a time, a beautiful but downtrodden young woman named Uncertainty lived on the edge of town with her three homely and unpleasant stepsisters, Certainty, Control and Data. One day, the three stepsisters went to a fancy-dress summit on climate change. Uncertainty, as usual, was left behind to clean: breakfast dishes piled high, clothes scattered all over, and newspapers in great drifts in the living room (this was in the days before e-readers).

Uncertainty wept lonely tears as she swept out their tiny cottage. Suddenly, a kindly old man appeared at the door.

“I’ve come to take you to the summit, Uncertainty,” he said, patting her hand after leaning the broom against the wall. “But first, we must dress you up in a clever disguise.” Continue reading

A case for sharing our gifts


I have a friend who works with clients who suffer unimaginable difficulties. In a recent conversation, I asked her how she cultivates joy. She ticked off a number of practices: conscious breathing while walking her dogs, yoga, self-care, and exercise. Each year, during her birthday month, she journals about what gives her life meaning, her gratitude for her children’s health, her own good fortune, and what’s in store for the year ahead.

Practicing self-love in the face of hardship can take any form, one of which is to notice and appreciate the natural world. The theologian / historian / philosopher Thomas Berry said that humans came along late in evolution because we need the dazzling beauty and diversity of the world to give us solace. We have a lot to grieve, starting with the paradox that we must take the lives of other living beings in order to survive. Continue reading

Reconnecting with the feminine

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There is a dark side to our culture’s affinity for the hero’s journey that stems from a mistaken elevation of the masculine over the feminine. This is not about gender; both women and men participate in and are affected by this bias. It shows up as a preference for control rather than adaptation, for rational knowing over intuition, for answers instead of mystery, and separation in place of connection. Writ large, these ways of being do great damage.

A quite sane response, then, is the yearning to reconnect with the feminine. Sounds simple enough, yet since most of the weight of our culture is skewed in the opposite direction, it often requires conscious choice, if not effort. It’s also subversive and generally frowned upon. An interesting aspect of being on the threshold between stories is that we feel this pull in two different directions, all the time. Continue reading

The mythic undercurrent of story


The British mythic storyteller Martin Shaw says the stories we most need now are here; they arrived right on schedule, three thousand years ago. These mythic stories remind us of our reciprocity with the whole of life and help us to imagine a more accurate role for ourselves. Stories of human frailty and creativity, of our humility and daring, wickedness and perseverance show us in robust context, rather than, as our current story holds, as the exceptional species in charge of everything.

The word “myth” is not used here in the devalued sense of fantasy or make-believe, but rather of archetypal wisdom and guidance. Of patterns gleaned from engaging directly with the strangeness and wonder of the other-than-human world. Continue reading

Transformation and shedding


When i find myself obsessing too much about the state of things, I play a game called “hero’s journey.” Sometimes I use it as a lens on my own life, bringing new insight and meaning to past events, or greater understanding and patience to a current challenge. I also imagine it can be applied at any scale, since we are all on the collective adventure of being between old and emerging stories. By that token, we have received the call but are probably still back at refusing it and trying to keep on living a “normal” life. Eventually, things will get so bad (if they haven’t already), we’ll be forced to embark. And then who knows what will happen?

There’s a tension in the hero’s journey between transformation and becoming. Continue reading