Increasing Light in the Coming Year

I wrote this post in December 2016 when, unusually, Christmas and the Jewish winter festival of Chanukah exactly coincided. This year Chanukah was over in early December, but the rest of the content seems just as relevant today as it did two years ago. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and that it will be useful to you in the coming year, and that 2019 brings many forms of goodness and opportunities to contribute, to everyone.

Today, the final day of 2016, is both the seventh day of Christmas and the seventh day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah. The two festivals coincide only about every 30 years or so, when a combination of factors pushes the Jewish year – in which the months turn by the cycles of the moon – later into the Gregorian calendar than usual.

Chanukah always falls in the week with the longest, darkest nights of the year, straddling the new moon that falls close to the winter solstice. As with winter festivals marked by many traditions, it’s concerned with our capacity and responsibility to bring light to the dark.

And so, after starting with one candle last Saturday and adding a candle each night, people all over the world will tonight be lighting eight candles to mark the final night of Chanukah and, coincidentally, the final night of this calendar year.

As the rabbis who shaped Chanukah some 1600 years ago said, it’s our responsibility to gather light, to increase light, and to be light. It’s harder to see this in those times when the world itself seems shining with hope and possibility. But in the darker hours, when the sun is down and even the moon is obscured from view, we see the darkness itself more clearly. And we see how easy it is, when we’re gripped by fear or self-righteousness, to wittingly or unwittingly contribute to its spread.

As we end a calendar year that has seen an upsurge in the politics of division and fear, a new legitimacy given to voices – in Western democracies at least – of prejudice and rage and suspicion of the ‘other’, and the election in the US of a powerful, narcissistic leader with a fragile ego, let’s remember our human responsibility to increase the light around us and between us.

Let’s increase it with art and poetry.

Let’s bring light by being fierce advocates for reason, critical thinking, and science. By learning, ceaselessly. By feeling, fully and truly. By reading, widely. By overcoming our self-diminishment enough to say what’s called for.

Let’s bring light by giving up treating ourselves and others as objects, or commodities, or means-to-an-end. By opening to one another.

Let’s bring light by giving up using language as a way to cover up truth in our organisations, our institutions, our schools, our families. And let’s do it by giving up the cover of ‘it’s only business’, or ‘that’s just the way politics goes’, or ‘it’s my truth’ as a way to gain power over others or to silence them.

Let’s bring light by finding out how to be ones around whom others’ hearts soar, around whom others can find out what’s uniquely theirs to bring and then bring it without shame, or self-reproach.

Let’s do it with song.

Let’s bring light by getting over our self-pity, our resentment, our sense of how unfair it is that our lives are whatever way they are.

Let’s bring light by learning how to listen to, and speak with, ever wider circles of people who have lives, commitments, and beliefs very different to our own. And by standing for kindness, and dignity, being a force for the elevation of life rather than the diminishment of it.

Let’s bring light by dedicating ourselves to projects and commitments that are bigger than our own comfort, and bigger than our own personal gain.

Let’s remember that we can only do this hard and necessary work by being committed to our ongoing development. And that we can be at our most wise and compassionate only when we do all this with the help of one another.

Photo Credit: ShellyS Flickr via Compfight cc

Stuck on the bus

I know, you’re stuck on a crowded bus, in a boring meeting, in a traffic jam, washing the dishes, doing your expenses, waiting for the cashier.

I know, from here, life seems pretty boring, mundane, lifeless even. I know, it seems like what matters is happening somewhere, to other people right now.

I know how often I am caught in seeing life that way.

But perhaps that’s mostly because we imagine, or at least feel like, we’re going to live forever.

But if you were dead, if you were no longer around, if you were offered just one minute more of life, and it had to be this moment in the queue, in the bus, in the meeting, with the dishes, would you take it?

I’m sure I would.

Then you might see this humdrum moment for the absolute wonder that it is – filled with enormous possibilities for curiosity, discovery, and purposeful action. Or for just looking in amazement.

And if your answer was yes, is there any chance you might start seeing things this way, at least occasionally, in the life you already have?

Photo by Edgar on Unsplash

When We Mistake Who We Are

Here’s Episode 64 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

This week we talk about how we might understand the mystery of being human. So often we both find ourselves in a place of real confusion, and it’s tempting while there to treat the confusion as something wrong – either with life or with ourselves. We know this is true of many other people too.

But there are bigger narratives to step into when life seems a mystery, or when things are breaking down around us and within us. One powerful and stretching source of different perspectives is the 13th century Zen teacher Dogen. Our source for this week begin’s with Dogen’s suggestion that we are all a kind of ‘time’, and follows with some questions and interpretation by our friend and colleague James Flaherty.

The way the self arrays itself is the form of the entire world. See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time.

Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another. The way-seeking mind arises in this moment. A way-seeking moment arises in this mind. It is the same with practice and with attaining the way. Thus the self setting itself out in array sees itself. This is understanding that the self is time. 

-From the essay “Uji” by Dogen (1200 – 1253), philosopher and Zen teacher

When we mistake who we are, we hopelessly strive to protect ourselves, fruitlessly attempt to defend what we feel we need to maintain ourselves and, at the deepest level, feel unmet, unheld, unknown by the world. All of this because we define ourselves, feel ourselves, know ourselves as much too small and then insist that everyone submit to our definition and treat us as this smallness. All of this of course is quite normal and what our culture produces; nonetheless, it is the source of our discontent and our sharing that discontent with others—see dysfunctional families, territorial politics at work, wars, crime, violence… you get the picture.

Dogen, in the quote above, has a different possibility for us to enter into, a different path to take. What if we are the same being as the world? What if we are the same being as time is? Even if we think that world is limited (by the way, Dogen means the entire universe, not just the planet Earth) we know that time has no beginning or end that we can imagine. If we are time, which is inseparable from all other phenomena, then certainly we don’t have to defend, protect or feel relationally wounded.

And the answer to “How far do I extend?” is answered quite differently.

— by James Flaherty

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A quiet and genuine joy

I remember the moment with gratitude, though it was tough at the time.

“You have no idea how self-judgemental you are”, Andy had said to me. And it had cut like a knife. But he was right. I was thirty-five years old and had over many years become seasoned to the harshness of the world.

I didn’t know it as harshness to be so filled with self-doubt and such worry about how I was doing all the time. It was just the way the world was. Unquestionable. Invisible. And I had no idea that it wasn’t so much the world that was harsh but my own inner experience.

Andy’s carefully timed observation was one of those moments when what had been in the background for so long came crashing into the foreground – when what I had been swimming in for so long was made apparent to me.

It was a doorway into a profoundly new world in which I began to see that most of what I thought others were thinking about me was actually what I was thinking about myself. And that I no longer had to believe everything I thought so completely.

Eleven years later, I’m still sometimes out-foxed by the shape-shifting cleverness of my inner critic. But I am more often, and more quickly, able to spot it and see through its ways of holding me back and of pulling me apart.

And, more and more, in the space that envelops me when it steps aside, I’m able to feel a quiet and genuine kind of joy.

Photo Credit: Kristofer Williams via Compfight cc

 

Can You Just Love Me Like This?

Here’s Episode 63 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

This week we talk about poem Lizzie’s sister Hollie wrote which has gone viral in the past year. We believe it’s so popular because of how harshly we treat our bodies in our minds and hearts, and Hollie’s call for us to treat our bodies call with simple, powerful loving-kindness.

During our conversation we talk about what it is to know ourselves in a gentle way, to appreciate the miracle of an embodied life, and steps we might take to be less caught up in the punishing narrative of shame, self-improvement and comparison that fuels our understanding of our bodies at this point in history.

Today I asked my body what she needed,

which is a big deal

considering my journey of

not really asking that much.

I thought she might need more water.

or proteins.

or greens.

or yoga.

or supplements.

or movement.

But as I stood in the shower

reflecting on her stretch marks,

Her roundness where I would like flatness,

Her softness where I would prefer firmness,

All those conditioned wishes

that form a bundle of

Never-Quite-Right-Ness,

She whispered very gently:

Could you just love me like this?”

-Hollie Holden

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Fear is Easy

Here’s Episode 62 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

This week we begin with a source, Fear is Easy, written by Justin for his blog.

Our conversation covers the unavoidability of fear, how contagious it is, and the choices we must each make about whether to be uncritically ‘had’ by it, or whether to reach past it to bring forward other qualities that can help us to respond. Along the way we talk about the gifts we human beings can be to one another in the act of remembering – showing the others around us qualities they may have forgotten and turning, together, towards doing what’s called for rather than freezing, numbing ourselves, or turning away.

Fear is Easy

Fear is easy.

Really easy.

It spreads, like wildfire – my fear becoming your fear becoming their fear becoming my fear again.

It makes us feel special – if I’m so afraid, there must be important things to do, like saving myself or saving the company or saving the country. At last, because of fear, I have a role to play.

It makes things look simple – there is no choice here, no nuance, no time to talk together or think together about what’s really called for, or if we’re doing the right thing, or what the consequences over time might be. There is just action, this action, my action, and now.

It helps us look right – how dare you suggest another way, a different way? Can’t you see what’s at stake here? How risky this is? How much we have to lose?

It saves us from having to listen to one another – if you’re not with me you’re against me, and if you’re against me you must be wrong, and it’s because you’re wrong and all of those others of you who are wrong that we’re in this terrifying mess in the first place.

It saves us from having to think – that there might be another way to see this, that your point of view might have merit, or integrity, or something to offer.

It saves us from shame – at the ways I’m hurting you, or hurting myself, or hurting those who will come after us.

It sells – the idea that I’m the best, that my way is the right way, that we’re the chosen ones, that they’re out to get us, that you have to work harder, that you must never stop, that our values are under threat, that we have to do this vital but terrible thing, that after all it’s only business or politics or necessity.

It allows us to justify – these punishing targets, our culture of hyper-activity, my monitoring of your every move, the hours I expect you to work, our obsession with measurement and deliverables, my not listening, our race to the lowest common denominator, your being available at every moment, our treating others as objects.

Of course, fear works best when it doesn’t display itself as fear. It’s at its most potent when dressed up as civility, and best practice, and just-doing-business, and competency frameworks, and HR policy, and micro-management, and ‘smart’ goals, and this-is-work-not-a-playground-don’t-you-know.

Fear is easy, and fear is cheap, but it’s dignity that sets the human spirit free to contribute, and create, and address our difficulties, and listen, and change things, and improve our situation. And dignity takes work, and courage, and honesty, and sincerity, and integrity, and wisdom and compassion and humility and love.

Yes, love. Not a much-respected word in many organisations or in politics, and easily dismissed by the easy politics and business of fear. But it is indeed love that reminds us how brilliant human beings can be, how capable, how varied, how much there is to marvel at in our situation and our capacity, and how much we need all of this right now, just as we always have done.

by Justin Wise, from justinwise.co.uk

 

PhPhoto by Marina Vitale on Unsplash

 

Only One Wild Way

Here’s Episode 61 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

This week we begin with a source written by Lizzie:

Only One Wild Way

Being broken open is the gateway to God
Letting creation in, allowing the Divine
Means living from a truly softened heart
And it means letting life have its way

It hurts and it’s physically painful
We tried to fight to keep it closed
There’s only one wild way to live once you’ve been opened
Like a can of sardines and the metal is sliced and the lid can’t be put back on again

There’s no shutting up shop
Backing into oblivion again
Not for an opened heart
Beaten around by life
By what happened
Who I’ve become
What they did
Who they are

And everything else

A heart once opened is like that forever
And maybe that’s what grief is made of

The love becomes fully obvious when the body is removed from our touch
And it’s hard to bear how much we love each other

It hurts to go direct
It pains to be truly and messily intimate
And as we wriggle into this space
Of deep connection
In all its Individual and specific glory

We find ourselves
Unseparated
Excruciatingly aligned with life itSelf
As it sears through us
And wipes us out
At the same time as bringing us to life
As our shell falls away
And we are mushy

Smashed to smithereens
We run the bath
Make dinner
Wonder what our loved ones might like for a Christmas gift
Put the bins out
And carry on

With our broken hearts leaking out love just about everywhere

 

Photo by Honey Fangs on Unsplash

 

Foundations of Coaching with me, Jan 21-22 2019, London

On January 21-22 I’ll be teaching our two-day introduction to coaching, an inspiring, moving, deeply practical exploration of ways to work compassionately in support of the development of others.

We meet in a lovely venue in London, in a small and intimate group, to enter into the possibilities of ‘integral development coaching’. There’ll be conversation, the philosophy of being human, music, coaching demonstrations, and a chance to practice. Many of the hundreds of people who’ve learned with us over the years say the two days are eye-opening, heart opening, and sometimes life changing.

And it’s a wonderful opportunity to get to meet some of the many of you who read, watch and follow here.

I’d be delighted if you chose to join me.

All the details are here.

On the economic narrative, and its limits

Behind any life, and any society, are numerous background narratives that give us a sense of who we are, who other people are, and what’s possible for us. They tell us how we can live, what’s of value, and how to relate to one another. And they tell us what’s important to pay attention to, and what’s marginal.

Sometimes the background narratives are visible and explicit in a family or community, such as the way in which biblical narratives give a sense of belonging and orientation to people who are part of some religious communities. But most often – even when there are visible and explicit narratives available – the narratives we actually live by are invisible, and we see them clearly only as an outsider entering a society for the first time, or when the narrative runs into trouble and starts producing unintended consequences.

For the last century or so in the West, we’ve lived in a background narrative that’s directed our attention most strongly towards what’s measurable, particularly what’s financially measurable, and has discounted almost everything else. The bottom line, financial return on investment, this quarter’s results – all have been taken for what’s ‘real’.

And at the same time, we’ve considered what’s not measurable largely ‘unreal’ – the quality of our inner lives, our relationships with others, supportive and close-knit communities, the care we give and receive, our capacity to nurture and appreciate beauty. We can’t pay much attention to these, we say, because in the ‘real world’ there are tough business decisions to make. There are profits to be made.

I’m not arguing that profit is somehow unreal, while beauty and care are real. That would be an equally narrow way of looking at the world. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer how our narrowness – our failure to appreciate and include all dimensions of human life in our businesses, institutions, and in our public discourse – is wreaking havoc in our present and seriously limiting our capacity to respond to the complexity of the future we’re creating. The shocking rise of inequality in even the richest of the worlds societies, the shaking of our financial systems, our seeming inability to respond creatively to climate change – all ought to have ourselves asking whether what we take to be unquestionably true about how to live is, really, deeply questionable.

We urgently need to expand our horizons – to start to take seriously that which we’ve marginalised in the relentless colonisation of all aspects of human life by the narrative of economics.

Photo by Freddie Collins on Unsplash