A new year and a new theme: balance

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Yoga Porn in Swamp - Tree Pose via catwommn
Photo courtesy of catwommn

I don’t do new year’s resolutions since they’re usually a flop by early in the new year. Instead, I pick a theme that will inform my thinking and behaviour (hopefully in positive ways) for the year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about balance over the past few months. And as we start a new year it seems appropriate to adopt balance as my theme for 2014.

Perhaps this is inspired by focusing on balance during the recovery from a nasty ankle sprain in late 2012? Or perhaps it is all the discussion, that still continues, of work-life balance?

The notion of work-life balance has always been problematic for me.  This is mainly because it puts work before life, and also because I don’t seem to be able to find a way to do it. Many interpretations of work-life balance seem to assume equal time for each. And this seems like an impossible task.

While rehabilitating my ankle it became clear that balance is not necessarily standing still,  perfectly balanced like in the yoga tree pose (or vriksasana). But rather balance consists of making constant adjustments, some very tiny and others large, to maintain that balance.

Of course, the initial step is working out what balance looks and feels like.

This is year is going to be the time for identifying what adjustments need to be made for balance in my life. To make space for living a meaningful and productive life with good relationships and space to enjoy the world.

It seems that to achieve those goals the first thing that needs to go is anxiety, and the second thing that needs to go is the phrase “I have to”.

I suspect that other words and unconscious thought-patterns that currently shape my thinking and behaviour will also have to go. It will be interesting to work out what they are.

 

 

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De Profundis: The final mystery is oneself

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Recently I was re-reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, a moving letter from prison that looks at spirituality and faith from the depths of despair and degradation.

This particular quote stood out for me, especially the notion that we do not know ourselves very well.

“But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can’t know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom.

The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?

When the son went out to look for his father’s asses, he did not know that a man of God was waiting for him with the very chrism of coronation, and that his own soul was already the soul of a king.”

Oscar Wilde – De Profundis

It seems, as we move into the interesting year of 2012, that this is a good time to turn our efforts towards understanding ourselves more fully. And, along with that, to discover how to accept ourselves as we are, both flawed and fabulous in parts.

I have come to suspect that our good relations with others hinge more upon our own understanding and acceptance of our own self than upon any other thing.

Hopefully we are not fated to suffer – as did Wilde (or Verlaine or Prince Kropotkin) – similar trials to achieve clarity and understanding.

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Theme for 2012: Compassion, composure, and flow

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Each year, instead of making new year resolutions, I pick a theme for the year. That way when I get sidetracked (as often happens)

I can simply return to the theme. Also with a theme there are often many different things I can do to support it.

This year my theme is: compassion, composure, and flow.

This theme came to me as a I wrote a recent blog post, 2012: Not the end of the world, but perhaps the end of the world as we know it, where I discussed some of things we can do to change the world.

Some of the things that popped out for me were around mindset and lifestyle, and these themes fit nicely into that.

Mindset?

Kindness. Compassion. Love. Community. Dignity. Composure. Peace. Grace. Flow.

Lifestyle?

Find our tribes. Build communities.

Sustainability. Grow a garden.  Simplicity.

Walk with a friend. Slow down. Eat fresh food. Share a meal. Breathe.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year.

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Worth thinking about: Seven social sins (not about social media) | via M. Gandhi

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No, I’m not talking about social media. This is about real life. And I think that Gandhi summed up a lot of what the #Occupy movement is on about in his note on the Seven social sins.

Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice

Naturally, the friend does not want the readers to know these things merely through the intellect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

Source: Young India, 22-10-1925, p.135 (opens pdf)

For those interested in protest and the #Occupy movement it is really worth reading the writings of Gandhi. He grappled with many similar problems with regards to protest and resistance to civil authority.

This is worth thinking about given the situation we find ourselves in today in the world. At this festive season for many of us it is an interesting question to consider how can we shift away from these seven social sins?

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Are we living in the age of rage?

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There are so many angry people these days. It’s something I don’t really remember from my youth and childhood. Only in recent years does it seem that everyone is angry.

I’ve been trying to understand why there should be more anger now than in the past. It might be something to do with our standards now. Standards for everything are so much higher now than in the past. We expect everything to be ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ all the time.

Are we putting too much pressure on ourselves and the people around us with our attitudes?

The daisy chain of pressure in our lives is remarkable. If we want an awesome house/car/boat then we need an awesome job to go with it. Those jobs often mean that both parents work. Which, in turn, means that there is constant time pressure on the family. Then there is the pressure of being accountable to your boss and the company as well as to your family and friends.

And on top of all of this we commute. Our commutes are often long and add to the pressure we feel. To get from home to work, or from work to childcare when the traffic is heavy or the train is late just adds more pressure.

For many of us there are very fine margins of time between activities. And this lack of gaps and lack of downtime adds pressure too.

I’m becoming aware of how much pressure we put ourselves under. Racing the clock. Trying to achieve all the things we want. And how, we can get angry when the pressure builds. How a little thing like a missed train or a traffic jam can cause rage to build.

So here we are: overworked, tense, and tired, while some suffer from lack of money and struggle financially – the tension builds up with nothing to dissipate it.

Very few things in our lives work to dissipate this tension, there appears to be few outlets. Instead it builds and bursts out when kinks hit our extremely tight schedules. And when it does burst out it does so in reaction to delays and interference in our plans or tight schedules.

But what can we do to change this? A few things I’m trying include saying ‘no’ to adding more things or activities to my life and doing yoga classes a few times each week.

It does make me ponder the notion of existential estrangement.

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Generational theory cannot explain how people behave

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Quite often there’s an article that bundles us all up into handy age-based cohorts (a.k.a. ‘generations’). Behavioural phenomena are neatly explained by the characteristics of the particular age cohort or generation. Based on the theories of Strauss and Howe generations have been adopted as a popular explanatory model for people’s behaviour, and demographers like Bernard Salt and Mark McCrindle have done very well in explaining this model to business and marketing folk.

While large scale external factors can impact on a particular generation and influence them in a particular ways, individuals of that generation shape their lives by other means too. A generation that suffers a war, like the First or Second World War, or a Great Depression like during the 1930s, is shaped in important ways by that shared experience.

Yet I am not convinced that the individuals within each generation are like a mob of sheep who respond as a mob to stimuli.

Instead, based on my experiences in implementing technology and process change in the workplace, I am more influenced by the technology adoption lifecycle (as popularised by Rogers).

I think that this model can be generalised to explain other parts of human behaviour in addition to technology adoption.

Clearly significant life experiences influence an individual’s responses to events throughout their life. And shared experience, such as wars and major disasters, can influence how cohorts behave in future. But we respond to stimuli as individuals who live within societal, kinship and friendship structures that influence our behaviour. And that behaviour is also enacted within our internal physical, psychological and spiritual context. Thus our age cohort compatriots may be part of the mix, but they are not the entire story.

Which leads to one of my pet peeves about generational theory. Articles like this, (from 2007) A-Z of Generation Y:

“THEY’RE hip, smart-talking, brash and sometimes seem to suffer from an overdose of self esteem.”

It is this kind of glib summary that irritates. It fails completely to reflect the diversity, magnificence and sheer idiocy encompassed by humanity.

We see the best and the worst of humanity every day. And just when you feel like giving up hope for us as a race someone somewhere does something amazing, moving and awe-inspiring.

For example, I do a lot of work with those Gen-Y kids who are so often the target of this shallow analysis in the media, and every day their enthusiasm and passion to make the world a better place inspires me.

I also work with a number of Baby Boomers (the so-called “Baby boomers: powerful and selfish“) who work every day to improve their corner of the world and the global community.

Perhaps it’s time we stop making assumptions about what people are like and judging them by stereotypes? I suspect people are more complex than the simple stereotypes so beloved of tabloid journals.

Here’s a few inspiring examples mentioned on Twitter today in response to one of my questions about inspirational things people had heard about recently:

@casandjonesy trek 2 southpole 2400km on foot” via @ljLoch

Well, @Nyx2701 did some pro bono legal work to (ultimately) help let the family of a missing person know they’re still alive.” via @mjberryman

My good friend having a bone-marrow transplant.” via @zbender

I read in the Enquirer that a blind couple adopted two blind children previously thought unadoptable. It’s an amazing story.” via @AskMonte

what planet are you on? How about @CadelOfficial Cadel Evans 1st aussie to win TourdeFrance?? #tdf #yellforcadel” via @lisafeg

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Staying human

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I’ve had a very lucky life in many ways. But along with that I’ve lost a lot of people in my immediate family over the years – parents, aunts, cousins, grandparents – to untimely death. No great traumas. Traditional family illnesses mainly rather than accidents.

The thing I’ve learned through all of this is that we need to honour those we love and those who loved us by experiencing the pain and sadness.

We live in a time where one need not even suffer the full effects of the common cold. Take a few simple tablets and we can omit many of the nasty symptoms. The same goes for our emotions.

Instead of enduring, of going through the feelings of denial, anger, sadness and pain we can simply pop a pill or two. We can avoid the pain. We can reject the feelings that are natural and human.

But I think that by doing that we reject the love we knew before the loss. By accepting the pain we acknowledge the loss of the one we love. We acknowledge the fundamental nature of being human. We acknowledge that we are each here for a relatively short time. We acknowledge that our loved one existed and that their loss means something.

I take no shame in shedding a tear for those I love who are gone from me. I remember why they were special to me and I to them.

I celebrate their time here and the love we shared. That is all that matters in the end. It is part of staying human.

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Why LOLcats are important

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Many people have pondered my fascination with lolcats. The answer is simple: humour using animals as a proxy allows us to delve deeply into the human condition, to reveal our foibles  and frailties.

funny-pictures-meme-cats-business-cat-climbA good example is the recent post I shared from icanhascheezburger. It highlights the dangers of success for human beings.

We strive and strive to achieve power and status and then often discover that this achievement does not fulfil as we had hoped or planned.

There often remains unnamed, inchoate desire that is unsatisfied by achievement of long held goals.

Or, we achieve the goal and then discover that we’re on a treadmill from which it can be hard to alight. The achievement of success can be a trap, one where satisfaction remains elusive, and yet one cannot seem to stop.

As a person who has achieved a variety of ‘successes’ during my life this lolcat reminded me that success is not always what one imagines.

The lolcat is a charming, cute mechanism for transmitting humourous and important ideas about humanity. They also make me LOL.

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What's real and what's not

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“Sometimes life happens and you can’t stop it. Now is that time. When it happens, you discover where true love lies, and where it never existed.”

A good friend said this very recently in response to a significant life event. It got me thinking about how much time and energy I have wasted on things and people that have nothing to do with true love.

Then the question arose: what do I mean by true love? For simplicity I adopted the terms for love used by C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves (however, not necessarily his explicitly Christian reading of these four types of love). He adopts much of his analysis of love from Aristotle. For those unfamiliar with the four loves of which he speaks:

  • Storge – Affection: fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance.
  • Philia – Friendship: a strong bond existing between people who share common interest or activity; the love between family and friends.
  • Eros – Romance: love in the sense of ‘being in love’ or the emotional connection with the other person as distinct from sexuality.
  • Agape – Unconditional Love: love that cares and acts regardless of circumstance or behaviour.

It is interesting to go back and think upon one’s life, to consider how much time was spent with companions with whom one shared bonds of love. To consider how much time one has spent with people who did not wish you well. To consider how much time was spent on things and not on people. And to ponder how much time was spent on people who had no love for us or for others.

Spent is the right word. We spend time like a currency in our lives. We are allocated an unknown yet finite amount of time in life and our challenge is to spend that time. And the choices we make create the value of that time we spend.

Notice that possessions and wealth are not on that list? Things cannot give love they can merely inertly receive our love, never return it. Only other people can share love with us.

Now that I am older it is clear how precious and short our time here is. I do not want to waste another minute. And I want to spend my time on love and loving; on real things and not imaginary things.

This sums up why this matter is important, not just to individuals but to the entire world:

“Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.”
Source: His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

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Protecting babies: whooping cough vaccination boosters for adults

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Many people who were vaccinated as children do not realise that by the time we’re all grown up some of our protection no longer works.

In the case of whooping cough, or pertussis, the protection can wane in as little as six to ten years. This means that many of us are wandering around at risk of catching whooping cough ourselves or asympomatically transmitting it to others. This is not so much of a problem for adults we might run into, but for little babies this can mean exposure to a life threatening illness.

Whooping cough is a disease that does not evoke fear in our generation as it did in past generations. It used to be a terrible killer for children before the advent of the pertussis vaccine.

“Whooping cough is a relatively mild disease in adults but has a significant mortality rate in infants. Until immunization was introduced in the 1930s, whooping cough was one of the most frequent and severe diseases of infants in the United States.”
Source: Kenneth Todar, Ph.D. Textbook of Bacteriology

Now many parents are refusing to vaccinate their children against whooping cough and this makes things more dangerous for very young babies. This is a real networked world problem. One person’s decision not to get vaccinated can have implications for the health of those around them.

In Australia the adult booster vaccine typically includes diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. I had one of these booster shots recently because I knew that I would be spending time with some newborn babies and wanted to ensure they were protected.

Check out this video … and consider consulting your doctor and getting an adult booster shot.

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