This “In the Pocket: Loose Change” series consists of random, connected, inspiring goodness shared in short-form.
Read Time: 6 1/2 minutes
Gratitude to Janel Loi at BrainPint.com
Welcome to new subscribers who found me via this week’s BrainPint newsletter! Thank you to BrainPint creator Janel Loi for raising up this little pocket of the world. And thanks too, for this beautiful wisdom from Paul Kalanthi that Janel shared, about the collective, emergent nature of knowledge:
“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
And that’s what I aspire The Pocket to be, a network of relationships created around the optimism, growth, and continuous learning our shared curiosities raise up.
To that end, if you feel it, please email a bit about yourself, how’s your heart, what’s inspiring you, how might I help?
The Art of Daily Living
As the year comes to a close and quarantine persists, I’m continuing to get curious about how to make life better here in my home. The challenge of quarantine with a full house and of working and creating from within this fullness, is real. One of the best little books I read in 2020 provides the exact stimulus package to redeem the everyday living constraints. It’s Zadie Smith’s Intimations, and there’s one passage in particular that sparks a beautiful revelation:
“When in the presence of a child, get on the floor. Or else bend down until your own and the child’s eyes meet. Mothering is an art. Housekeeping is an art. Gardening is an art. Baking is an art. Those of us who have no natural gifts in these areas—or perhaps no interest—too easily dismiss them. Making small talk is an art, and never to be despised just because you yourself dread making it. Knowing all your neighbor’s names is an art. Sending cards at holidays, to everybody you know—this too, is an art. But above all these: playing.”
There’s a two-fold magic to this quote for me.
It reminds me, first, for myself, that the little daily things I must do are not just chores but practices. Cooking for my family, tidying the kitchen after, all the daily trappings: an art. It’s an invitation to slow down, to mindfulness. Breaking down the boxes, separating recyclable paper from our abundant Christmas morning to bring the trash to the wintry curb this morning, an art also. A slow down invitation.
The second, and the best part of the magic of this quote for me: it reminds me that the little things my wife does, that my kids do, our friends and community do, they’re all little bits of art. My friend in Philly sharing a short video of her little boy finding his first sledding joy. My wife bundling our kids up and finding her own way to breakout laughter on a sled with them. My daughter wanting to turn the Chvrches record over to side B and learning first-hand the delicate art of handling vinyl.
This and a thousand more that others do in a day, for a shared experience, are all little artistic gifts in their own right. Tidy little pockets of gratitude.
The Loudest Alarm Is Probably False
Speaking of gratitude, I recently bought this beautiful little collection of essays by LessWrong, a community dedicated to reasoning and critical thinking. The collection represents some of the best curated essays shared within that community.
The first book, called Epistemology, has this essay called “The Loudest Alarm Is Probably False.” It’s about the inner monologues we have and the most common ‘alarms’ that trip us up internally.
I wrote earlier this week in Slipstream Attuning about my fearful perfectionism; this is one of my loudest alarms. I fear that there is no room in a space for me, my ideas, or opinions. I fear that what I say or write will be raked over the coals. I fear my own voice. It’s one of the loudest, longest-blaring alarms in my head.
The LessWrong essay provides a short, valuable reframe that any of us can try for ourselves. In sum, it comes down to asking ourselves:
“What do I frequently fear is going wrong, despite reliable reassurance that it's not?”
The reframe for me helps to position that loud, inner alarm at a distance, at a dispassionate remove. It helps me see it for what it is: an age-old loop not representative of reality. It helps me feel how useless the alarm is.
It helps me move on and get out of my own way.
The Shame of America’s Foundational Caste System
On the topic of moving on and getting out of my own way… that’s the work of our individual lives, right? We are here to grow and to deepen our capacity for loving others. It’s the ongoing art of living.
Because we live in this world, in communities, in systems built before our time, we can’t do this individual art of living without looking at these systems.
My wife xmas-gifted me the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s hefty, important, timely, urgent, and incisive. Its essential framing is that there is a hidden phenomenon in America that no one really talks about: a caste system that secretly serves as the organizing principles of every other system in our nation.
“Slavery is commonly dismissed as a “sad, dark chapter" in the country's history. It is as if the greater the distance we can create between slavery and ourselves, the better to stave off the guilt or shame it induces.
But in the same way that individuals cannot move forward, become whole and healthy, unless they examine the domestic violence they witnessed as children or the alcoholism that runs in their family, the country cannot become whole until it confronts what was not a chapter in its history, but the basis of its economic and social order. For a quarter millennium, slavery was the country.”
Reading Caste thus far has brought to the forefront this profound, ineffable shame.
It’s reminiscent of the terrible, beautiful feeling I got reading The New Jim Crow seven odd years ago. It’s reminiscent of the overwhelming grief and shame felt while visiting The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, at the end of 2019.
It’s a shame that is not mine—because I didn’t create the system. And of course it’s a shame that’s totally mine—because I live in that system and enjoy the one-sided abundance and privilege of its strange and awful fruits. And shame is a hard feeling, maybe the hardest, particularly for a man. But we have to do hard things. And the hard things bring the most reward. As Charles Eisenstein wrote:
“Authentic shame is the breakdown of a self image. It dissolves and the chemical bonds, the psychic chemical bonds that held it together; they release heat and your face flushes. Energy that had been bound up in defending and upholding a self-image is liberated, and you feel a lightness and a new clarity of vision."
Our individual work is to clarify our vision and heal ourselves. There’s a similar collective reckoning we in the States need to do as well to heal our nation. Shame is the inevitable. Shame will be the crucible. Shame felt and released, and the source of it amended, will usher in a new era.
A blessing of gratitude to the movement leaders, writers, and thinkers doing the hard work of rising up for justice and truth.
Slipstream Attuning, At Another Angle
My piece on Slipstream Attuning deals with the delicate art of seeking clarity about the organizing principles that guide us through our days. It was an invitation to consider more closely what mindsets and biases drive our choices. Needless to say, it’s about personal development and about nurturing sovereignty for the betterment of each of our lives.
One of my best friends, writer, musician, polymath Bill Barclay read the piece and offered some incredible feedback. And that feedback had me thinking deeper about the “why” of pursuing that attuning. Why do we do this? To what end, this sovereignty? Our own happiness? Our productivity? Our clarity? Yes, and each person might have their own combination of reasons.
For me, my reason became clear as I was writing the piece, and I thought I’d share it here. The primary reason I do it is to be a better human to others. To be able to love deeper. As Bill put it, “it’s not about you, but about who you touch.”
Put another way, “How do you make the room feel?”
I see now that I want fulfillment in the work I do and passion behind what I create… so that I can be more present to others. When I was doing things, working jobs, that were adjacent at best to what felt lit up for me… I often felt deflated. I couldn’t really feel fully into my enthusiasm for connection.
So, that’s why I write The Pocket. For now, and for next year, because it feels meaningful to explore and share these thoughts. Maybe they’ll resonate. Maybe they’ll make a small crack of light on a dark day. Maybe they’ll get even a single reader lit up in a new way.
Moment of Zen
Speaking of lit up…. I took this photo at about 11pm on the night of the recent full moon. Supercharged brilliance near midnight.
Thanks for reading. Happy New Year everyone.
Onwards, with love,
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