Jan 27

It’s Stardust….

infinite potentialSometimes, someone says something that’s worth reflecting on. Author Neil Gaiman often says something that’s worth reflecting on. Neil is the author of lots of wonderful books, including Stardust and American Gods, as well as the amazingly evocative, spooky and thoughtful Sandman comic books.

 

I’m particularly fond of The Graveyard Book (from which todays quote comes – this may in fact be my favourite quote ever) and I also loved his address to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.. worth reading the whole thing.. but here’s what I took away from it…

 

First of all: When you start out you have no idea what you are doing. Don’t let that be an excuse for not starting. As Morpheus observed of Neo in ‘The Matrix’:

“Everyone falls the first time. If you never know failure, how can you know success?”

But get going. Make things happen. Some of them will work. Do more of that. Some of them won’t. Learn from those.

Secondly, If you have an idea of what you want to achieve, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that. Don’t deny the call in your soul. Don’t say ‘I couldn’t possibly do that’ or ‘no-one can make money from that’. You’re going to be miserable unless you give free reign to the call of your inner truth.

Thirdly, you’re going to have to deal with the problems of failure. Get used to it. Even when you’ve got experience, you’re going to fail sometimes. But now they’re not beginner’s error. They are real up front slap bang ‘should have known better’ and ‘I feel stupid’ failures. Deal with it. Dust off your pride. Move on.

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. Welcome them. Value them. Learn from them. Use them. Remember Post It Notes? That came out of a project that was a huge failure. They invented an apparently useless non stick sticky glue. Yet someone saw the possibility of a non-sticky glue and made 3m a fortune. The history books are littered with things that worked out but that started out in abject failure. Take heart. Sometimes your failures are your greatest successes.

Fifthly, while you are at it, do your thing. Do the stuff that only you can do. We don’t want another version of someone else. We want you. YOU. Uniquely, wonderfully, powerfully you. Only you can bring your unique gift to the party – and the universe is waiting with bated breath for you to do it.

Sixthly. Stuff happens. Serendipity brings things together. Surprises will surprise you. Watch out for them. There is a huge amount of magic going on in the world. I agree with whoever said

“A coincidence is a small miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous”

Pay attention. That song, that movie, that poster, that person you sit next to on the bus, the world is full of coincidences. Learn to spot them.

Seventhly. Make up your own rules. You think there’s a rule book for life. You think there’s some cosmic Santa Claus checking his list? As Neale Donald Walsch records God as saying to him in “Conversations with God”

“There’s only what works and what doesn’t, given what you are trying to achieve”

The greatest things that got done got done by people who decided to ignore the rule book and do it differently. I love this from DiscWorld:

Tiffany: “I thought there were rules?”

Granny Weatherwax “Oh? Really? Did you sign anything? Did you take any kind of oath? No? Then they weren’t your rules.”

The last word goes to Neil:

“And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes.

Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”

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For Neil’s full address to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia – go HERE

Jan 26

Surprise yourself

gaimanAs we start into February, many of us start to lose our New Year motivation. Maybe the diet is proving tough, or we can’t find space for nights at the gym… our search for a new career is proving fruitless.. we can’t find the way to make the changes we want…(and if your year so far is working out just fine – well, ‘Go You!!’).

Maybe, though, as we let go of all the things that we feel we should do.. ‘I should make more money’, ‘I should lose weight’, ‘I should get fit’, ‘I should get out more’… well, maybe now the real dreams start to find a voice. Now our heart begins to speak, whispering true longing into your soul.

Maybe now the real desires of your heart start to bubble up. Maybe they’re more magical than you dared believe. Maybe they’re more outrageous than you thought. Maybe they take you by surprise, or catch your breath in their scope – and their simplicity. Maybe now you can dare to believe that this can be the most amazing, most wonderful year ever.

Go You!

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(I set out to create a poster for this one… but Neil Gaiman’s own banner seemed darned good to me. And since I think he’s got a bit more to say, we’ll have some more from Mr G tomorrow. Probably.)

Jan 20

Forgetting the past . . .

rear viewA couple of days ago I asked the questions:

Did I live?

Did I love?

Did I matter?

One of my wonderful friends asked the question “what if the answer is ‘no’?” Now, I happen to know that this young lady actually should be answering a huge ‘yes!’ to all three of those questions. For many of us, we underestimate the effect we have on those around us – we forget the impact that we have on others, and how a kind word and gentle encouragement can have a huge impact on those around us. I was talking about this with my dance instructor the other day – how many people have different beliefs about themselves, and massively increased confidence, simply because she has helped them to learn to dance. She does that because she loves it – and yet because she is doing something she loves, other people find their lives changed. I know this, because I am one of them!

But the real question is not about the past. It never is. We can learn from the past, for sure – our mistakes AND (please) our successes. We are all doing the best we can with the resources we have available to us – believing what we believe, having what we have, knowing what we think we know – we move through life trying to do the best possible, trying to be the best possible human beings we can be. And as my son said, aged about five – “there’s no such thing as a mistake. There’s just what has happened”.

The real question is about the future. How do we want to be? I want to look back at those questions when I get to the end of my life and be able to answer “Yes!”

Did I live well? Did I manage to enjoy the experience of life as fully and as completely as I could? Did I take the risks I need to take?” – and if I sense that right now, today, I am holding back, that I am not truly living this life as vividly as I could be – then I have the chance, right now, in this moment, to change that.

Did I love others? Did I find ways to make the lives of others around me better? Did I do the best I could for my family…my partner…my friends…my colleagues? Was I kind? Was I encouraging? Did I help people? Did I give something of myself to others?” – and if I sense i am withholding love in any way, to resolve, right now, in this moment, to love more fully tomorrow.

Did I matter? Did I set out to achieve something with my life that contributed to the world? Did I do something that mattered to someone? Did I set out to do something worthy? Did I attempt something worthy of the amazing being that I am? Did I dare to make a difference? Did I choose to do something spectacular? Did I think big?”

On this last one, I don’t care whether you changed the world or changed the life of one person. Because, if you changed the life of one person, you did change the world. In every moment that you decide to live from love you change the world. As Mother Teresa said:

“There are no great deeds. There are just small deeds done with great love”

So go easy on yourself. Recognise who you are and what you have already achieved…. and then, tomorrow, go and be even more amazing. Live even more fully. Love even more passionately. And decide to make a difference in the lives of others. Make a difference in every moment you are here.

As Liora Garcia said in the movie “Conversations With God”

“I don’t want to spend my life making a living. I want to spend my life making a life.

A life that makes a difference. A life that is built on love and compassion”

Are you with me?

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Jan 16

Over the edge . . .

Today, it feels like story time…..

canyon bridgeI have a memory of exploring the desert near the Grand Canyon… it was late evening, and as dusk fell the shadows of the rocks loomed across my path, while the eerie stillness of the gunmetal sky was interrupted by irregular shards of lightning, and the protesting grumbles of thunder rolled across the landscape. In between the intermittent rolling bassline of the clouds’ soundtrack playing in the distance, the plains were still and silent, with only the occasional animal sound punctuating the emptiness.

As I walked, looking to see how far I could get, I came across a chasm slicing across the desert floor as far as the eye could see in either direction. Many metres below, the silver of a running river could be seen dodging from rock to rock, the boulders crested with foam as the water charged through the canyon.

Disappointed and frustrated by this interruption to my hike, I was about to turn back when i noticed a wooden post in the ground on the edge of the canyon. Maintaining a respectful distance from the sheer drop onto the rocks below, I approached the weather beaten post. Leading from the post across the canyon was a rope bridge – two ropes running out across the void with sturdy wooden planks between them, and two more slighter ropes as handholds. Every few metres cross-bracing held the handholds to the main bridge. It seemed solid enough, and the planks seemed worn by the passing feet of hikers and locals before me. And yet I have never been fond of heights, and the growing darkness added a further menace to the scene, the ominous growls from the lightning storm in the distance sounding like angry warnings should a mere mortal attempt to cross.

I had come too far to simply give in and turn back, and surrender has never been my preferred option, so with my heart in my throat I set out across the gap. At first the bridge felt solid under my feet, and yet as I inched forward, it began to sway alarmingly, the planks of wood beneath my feet increasingly swinging from side to side. I had seen the old westerns where one hurried footstep splintered through the planks, sending debris crashing to the canyon floor below, and these images played out in my mind as I attempted to rally my courage and forget my fears. All suggestions of ‘don’t look down’ were gone, my eyes alternately riveted by the river swirling below, threatening to reach up and pull me down, and the promise of the other side of the bridge, so many metres distant.

So many times the promise of a return to safety called to me – going back where I knew I could be safe, a place where the solid rock I had so recently left almost felt tangible under my feet. And yet the promise of a different world the other side of the emptiness still called – the opportunity to discover something new, to find myself in a new place with new explorations and adventures to be had.

It seemed that I made progress handhold by handhold, inching slowly across and keeping my eyes fixed on the end of the bridge, only occasionally being tempted to look down – or to look back. I could always go back to safety….there’s no shame in giving up….what if you find yourself in a dead end….it seemed as if the bridge would never end, as if the gap was stretching and expanding, getting further away…

Yet slowly the wild swaying of the bridge subsided, and almost without realising it I found my feet touching rock once more. I had passed the test and made it to the next step of my journey. My trembling legs would hold me no more as I collapsed onto the nearest boulder, uncorked the small flask I always carried, and steadied my nerves. There would be more exploring in the morning, but for now… I could rest in safety. The sky split open as a bolt of lightning shredded the horizon, and the following thunder reverberated like the applause of a thousand angels.

Perhaps now.. it’s time for a rest.

It’s not so different when we set out to do something new, is it? We don’t really have a map for the journey, because we are pioneering – going somewhere no-one has been before. Even when we are following in the footsteps of others, it’s still going to be different as we carve our own path into the unknown. We can prepare, we can consider the possibilities, we can plan, we can get advice.. and yet there comes a moment when we have to take a step of faith – to step beyond our safety and into the raw chilling unknown.

There’s always the temptation to go back – to run to safety, where those who called us foolish for setting out in the first place are waiting, willing us to fail. The further we go into the unknown, the more our fears cry out to us, and the draughtier and scarier, the more ‘on the edge’ we find ourselves.

Yet if we push past those fears, we find them slowly subsiding. One by one, moment by moment, we find ourselves becoming one with the very things that scared us at first. What we feared becomes a place of safety, until we can catch a breath and gulp down the fresh air of calm tranquillity again.

I cannot prove it, but I suspect that if you’re reading this, then somewhere that resonates with you… that there is an exploration to be made, a risk to be taken, a chasm to be crossed. In our relationships. In our careers. In our personal lives. Our dreams lie just beyond the point we can see – just over the horizon. Listen to the encouragement of those who have dared to pioneer in their own lives… and step beyond where you feel safe. The bridge will take your weight. Your nerves will hold out. Your dreams are real. As John Updike observed:

“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”

It doesn’t take much to step into the unknown – but until you do, you will never know the power of what is possible. For you.

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