One Apple A Day #556 – water and stone

Yesterday I visited a place called “I cadini del Brenton”. It is a series of 15 potholes (the “cadini”) carved in the stone by the water of a stream (the Brenton). Flowing down from one cavity to the other, the water creates small waterfalls. As if the river takes a little jump, then rest for a minute in the silence of nature before taking another plunge downwards.

While I was there, listen to the lulling sound of the water and the wind playing with the trees, I can’t help but admire the relationship between the river and the rock.
The course of the stream is moulded around the shape of the mountains and the rocks. The water twists and jumps and dives adapting its path, but in doing so, it also digs, carves, erodes and smooth out that same stones. Millennials of this dance between the water and the mountain, have gifted us with the beauty that we can admire today.

That view reminds me of how our behaviours and words, like streams of water, are moulded on our identity. But at the same time those behaviours, over time, shape and carve that same identity. The person that I am today is the result of this never-ending dance.
This is where self-awareness plays a vital role. It helps us see how our identity informs our behaviours, so then we can create the habits and rituals that will help us shape the person we want to be.

One Apple A Day #555 – eternity

“Within you is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” – Hermann Hesse

When I breathe into stillness.
When I’m carried away by a song.
When I’m staring at something beautiful.
When I’m walking in silence along a river.
When I’m completely immersed in a conversation.

In all those moments, time dissolves.
There is no before and after.
Just me being me in the present moment.
That is the experience of eternity.

There are concepts for which we don’t have words.
Concepts like eternity or infinity.
Words are a product of our mind, and our mind thinks in forms and shapes.
Eternity can’t be explained.
It can only be experienced.
Directly, or through art.

MINUTE ETERNITY

I remember
needing nothing

but what I could smell and touch
and hear in the minute

eternity between sounds or the long
shimmer of the barley’s

green-gold dance on the wind,
my life a spreading ring

of quiet, like the trout’s brief
in-breath

at the surface of a river,
like the slow

outward movement of a raindrop
spreading on a still lake…

By David Whyte – From ‘Death Waits’: in ‘River Flow:
New and Selected Poems’

One Apple A Day #554 – jump in

“Dare to let go of control”.

This is the card I pick this morning.
I’m trying to understand what this card wants to tell me. And I’m doing it while I write. I decided to make this empty page my listener and my mirror.

I’m sitting on an uncomfortable bench in a noisy airport. I’ve been awake for 5 hours already, and this is the first moment I carved out to do my daily writing practice. Maybe it is about this? To remind me that when I travel, things happen outside my control, and if I’m not ready to let go of the control, I won’t enjoy the journey?

Nope. It’s not that. I don’t know how I know, but I feel there is something more.

The outcome. Yes, this is what this card is about. The tension that I experience anytime I focus on the final result.
When I do that. When I put all my attention on the outcome, then the need to control kicks in. I want to achieve that or, even more insidious, I want that outcome for others.
That’s when the need to control grows and ruffles my emotions.
To let go of control, I need to shift my attention into the process.
No, it’s more than that. I need to fall in love with the journey.
How do I do that? I just jump in.
When I’m immersed in the process, in a journey or in a conversation, then I become courageous, and I can easily let go of control.

One Apple A Day #553 – Conversations

This morning I draw a Be The Change card that says “Invite multiple perspectives“.
I’m well aware of the power of finding and having multiple perspectives on things. It is the only way to go beyond the “flat” reality created by our beliefs and assumptions, and give substance to the world.
But this card uses the verb “invite“.
So, it is not inviting me to seek new viewpoints. Instead, the card challenges me to draw different perspectives to my life.
The best way I know to do it is by creating space for a “conversation”.
An open and enriching conversation.
One in which everyone feels invited to contribute.
I’ve been lucky to experience the wonder of such conversations.
And I’ve learned that to make those conversations happen, we must direct our energy on creating the space for the conversation, not on having it.
It’s not about talking, it’s about being open and ready to listen.
If we create a listening space, then that space will draw multiple perspectives, and a transformative conversation will start.

One Apple A Day #552 – responsibility and freedom

Bureaucracy.
This is the word that emerged and filled up my mind this morning.
Not a fanciest or most inspiring word in my dictionary, for sure.

I have a complicated relationship with bureaucracy. At any levels and in any context.
Sure, the worst experience is when I have to do with the public administration. In those cases, I feel as if bureaucracy has been carefully designed to create uncertainty and doubts.
But to be honest, I struggle anytime some rules and procedures overshadow human relationships to make things happen.

To me, bureaucracy is the epitome of a form depleted of the energy from which it manifested.

So, I woke up with this word in mind, and I want to do something with it, not just vent out my annoyances.

I remember a quote that I read a while ago.

“Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

That made me immediately think about the relationship between freedom and responsibility.

In a workshop that I did a few months ago precisely on this topic, I’ve been reminded that responsibility is the “Ability to respond” to situations.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

So, freedom and responsibility are strongly linked.

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

If we don’t feel free, we won’t take responsibility. But if we don’t take responsibility for our words and actions, we can’t be free.

I recollect many conflictual conversations in different organisations, where employees were asking for more freedom and the manager were asking for more responsibility. And they couldn’t find an agreement; apparently, they were asking for two different things without realising that they were just talking about two sides of the same coin.

Great! So, where do we start? From responsibility or from freedom?

It looks like a typical chicken or egg problem.

“The first step toward personal freedom is awareness.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

My feeling is that we should always start by expanding our awareness.

One Apple A Day #551 – untitled

“Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don’t know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, ‘You can’t do a thing’. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of `you can’t’ once and for all.”

Vincent van Gogh wrote this passionate advice to his brother Theo. As I shared yesterday, I have the same experience when I stare at the blank document on my screen before writing anything. This is why I spend a few minutes to find a starting point before opening the laptop. Some mornings I look back at the experiences or the conversations I had the day before, other mornings, I use the BeTheChange cards, or I can start from something I’ve read.
I believe inspiration is within us, it is a state of the being. All those sources of inspiration are just triggers that allow for something, a story that is already in me to find its way out.

So, this morning I did the same process. But nothing came out. To be honest, I had many ideas, but no one stuck. I find myself staring at the black canvas within. It soon becomes paralyzing.
At that moment, when I felt lost before the void in my mind, I remembered that quote from Van Gogh.

How often in life, we feel stuck staring at a blank canvas? That canvas take may many forms: the story we want to tell, the love we want to share, the journey we want to start, the future we want to paint. And we stand there, without an idea on how to begin while the void of that blank canvas grows into us.
I know the feeling, I’ve been there. And I don’t have an easy trick to get out of it. In the end, the only way to begin something is to do it.
I know, this doesn’t make it any easier.

Though, maybe the first step can be to acknowledge that we are stuck. That we have no idea on how to begin our craft.
Who knows, maybe in accepting our humanness we may create the space for an unexpected story to emerge.
An untitled one.

One Apple A Day #550 – focus on nothing

What you focus on expands.

I’m sure you already experience this straightforward law. When you focus entirely on one thing, that thing fills up all your sensory space.
I experience the power of this law every morning when I approach this writing exercise. If I focus on the white page before me, it quickly fills up my mind until I’m stuck, unable to write a single word.

So, I know I have to find an idea before opening a new file. Most of the time is just a small seed like a sentence, an image or just a word. Once the seed is there, I focus on it for a minute or two. I allow for that seed to expand until it becomes an idea, and it wants to flow out.

This morning, the seed is a question.

What would happen if I deliberately decide to focus on nothing?

Being able to laser focus on something is extremely powerful. It removes all distractions, so our energy is wholly devoted to making happen the target of our attention. It’s one of the first concepts taught by all experts in high performances.

So, what happens if I deliberately turn off my attention?
When I don’t have a goal to reach, a target for my attention and I just am?
I’m not sure I can describe it in words.
I remember feeling like that when I was wandering in Patagonia with my best friend. We didn’t have anything to focus on but fully being in the moment.
And it was bliss.

One Apple A Day #549 – Make it personal

Don’t take anything personally” is the second of the four agreements shared by Don Miguel Ruiz in his most famous book, The Four Agreements.

Ruiz reminds us that nothing other people do is because of us, but it is because of themselves. Using his words: “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.

This is a powerful reminder that would remove a lot of tension and stress from our life. We spend so much time worrying about the opinions of others. In doing so, we let those opinions shape our behaviours and, in the end, our lives.

As Ruiz wrote: “You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in the dream of hell. What causes you to be trapped is what we call personal importance. Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about me.

What happens around me is not about me. It may impact my life, indeed, but it is not about me.

Though, in my experience, I’ve learned that only when I make something personal, I really give everything I got to make things happen.

So, my agreement becomes “Don’t take anything personally, but make everything personal.

Whatever happens around me, it is not about me, but it is part of me as much as I am part of it. So, I won’t take it personally, but I’ll make it personal infusing my whole being into my doing.

“If we understand and feel that every animal, person and object is our very own self, we cannot go wrong. That is the experience of love.” — Rupert Spira

One Apple A Day #548 – stereopsis

I’ve been shortsighted my all life. I began wearing glasses when I was 6 years old, and I got rid of them only two years ago with laser surgery.
Maybe this is why I’ve always been fascinated by everything related to vision, the eyes and the way we see the world.
Humans are visual creatures. About 30 % of the neurons in our cortex are dedicated to processing visual information. That’s a lot compared to the 8 % devoted to the sense of touch or the tiny 3 % focused on hearing.

When I facilitate a workshop, I invite people to swap their places often. Sitting on a different chair gives a different perspective on what’s happening in the room. This is important to provide more substance to the reality we are experiencing, and it is one of the many lessons we can learn from our visual system.

We generally have two eyes located side-by-side in the front of our heads. Thanks to their close side-by-side positioning, each eye sees the same area from a slightly different angle (binocular vision). These two different images are then fused in our brain, creating the perception of depth and 3-dimensional structure of what we are seeing. This perception is called Stereopsis (from the Greek στερεο- stereo- meaning “solid”, and ὄψις opsis, “appearance, sight”).

Reality may seem flat from where you are. But if you merge your perspective with someone else’s (through an open and authentic conversation), you can add substance to it. And if you don’t have someone to conversate with, you can just move often to collect and fuse different perspectives.

Sources:

  1. https://www.seyens.com/humans-are-visual-creatures/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereopsis
  3. https://www.vision3d.com/stereo.html

One Apple A Day #547 – sensing and making-sense

During a conversation with one of my mentors, I became aware of the essential difference and the vital connection between sensing and sense-making.

Sensing is the ability to perceive something even if often we can’t describe it. It’s an innate capacity of our intuitive intelligence that allows us to sense the energy and vibrations of the universe, the one within and the one around us. It is at the base of empathy and compassion.

Sense-making is the ability to find or give meaning to something, to create a logical frame to explain what we experience. It is mostly a cognitive ability.

Our material society favours sense-making. We spend most of our time in school learning how to make sense of everything. Mainly because “making sense of things” is what is supposed to help you move forward in life and have success.
Though, a lot of studies proved that very successful people also have a high ability to sense. Emotional Intelligence is now widely considered essential for a successful life.

Sensing and sense-making are activities of different “muscles”, but only when they work together, we can express our full potential. A high ability to sense that is not matched by a developed capacity of sense-making can easily lead to a sense of overwhelming. Sense-making without the ability to sense is like an empty shell, dry and non-generative.

How can we develop our ability to make sense of the world without losing our capacity to sense it? And how can we awaken our dormant innate ability to sense?

I have the feeling that “art” is an excellent answer to both questions.

“While a toddler’s world might be geographically tiny, it is mentally limitless; conversely, when we grow up, we have the potential freedom to explore everything around us, but will often limit ourselves to the same narrow range of places, people and experiences.” — Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler by Paul Lindley