Thinking Out Loud No. 4
On feeling awe and playing the games of life
Write of Passage has now finished! That means I’m embarking on my own now. I’ve found the pressure of a weekly article and newsletter challenging, but also hugely valuable, so I’ll try to keep it up.
This week I share a new article about mind-wandering (and the dark side of productivity), I talk about why I’m thinking out loud, my experience and love of awe and being sincere (but not serious) in playing the games of life.
I hope you enjoy and if anything resonates with you then please let me know. Thinking out loud with others is a lot more fun.
Converging on something as yet unknown
When I called this newsletter ‘Thinking Out Loud’, I really meant it. What I’m doing here is exploring and searching for something I know exists, but that I can’t yet conceptualise. All this writing is my journey from here to there.
I don’t yet have a clear ‘hook’ for what I’m writing about. The topics seem pretty disparate and unconnected, but I can’t shake the feeling that there is a convergence somewhere.
It’s something like “the intersection of human experience, personal growth, climate change, civilisation building, coaching, mindfulness, creative expression, productivity and telling positive stories about the future”.
For now, that’s a mess – and that’s fine. With every word I write it becomes clearer in my mind.
One framework I’m working with that may connect them is what I’m calling the ‘Courageous Why’. This is where I keep asking myself 'why?’, even when it seems like I’ve already reached a perfectly acceptable answer. The point is to keep asking why beyond the point it feels comfortable.
It looks something like this:
I want to work on helping to address climate change.
Because I think it’s important that we navigate our way through it.
Because I want human civilisation to continue.
Because I think human awareness is interesting and valuable and it’s important to me to keep exploring it.
Because we are an expression of a fundamentally playful universe in the process of experiencing itself.
Wh – actually that’s probably enough.
What was a perfectly uncontroversial, grown-up answer became five ‘personal axioms’, beliefs that I assert to be true and which guide my interests. These span from a normal professional interest in energy innovation all the way to spirituality, giving me a framework to understand how these things might be connected.
We’ll see. Thinking out loud, remember?
Mind-wandering and the dark side of productivity. Do you find yourself reaching for your phone in little gaps in your day? By doing this you’re blocking your mind’s Default Mode Network, which is crucial for learning, creativity and giving you your sense of self. This article explores why we can’t focus and mind-wander at the same time and why you might want to leave your phone in your pocket next time you feel that urge.
Awestruck in a cathedral to nature
One of my favourite places in London is the Natural History Museum. And while I love the exhibitions and the elevation of the natural world, that’s not why I go back. I go for the awe.
Take a look...
Credit: Gene Krasko
In a quiet corner of this vast atrium is a small, unremarkable notice. It says:
Taking inspiration from the collections it was to house, the building was designed to be richly decorated with a diversity of extinct and extant species. It was to be a cathedral to nature.
A cathedral to nature. It sends a shiver down my spine. This cathedral wasn’t built for the glory of any god, but to inspire awe in the glory of nature.
Awe is one of my favourite emotions. For me it’s stepping into the atrium of the Natural History Museum, or looking down at the city of La Paz in Bolivia, or watching Apollo 11 on a big screen. For you it will be something else, but you know what I’m talking about.
As I step into this space, for a single, expansive moment my brain drops its perceptual filters, I step through a veil and all I can do is stare. Time slows down and my thoughts vanish. I’m no longer just an observer, I’m an integral part of the fabric of existence in front of me.
There’s even awe in the fact we feel awe at all. What’s it for? As Carl Sagan said,
The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
We are not separate from the universe, we are it. As we learn, understand and experience more of the universe, the universe learns, understands and experiences more of itself. That’s why feeling awe as I step into the Natural History Museum is so powerful. As a cathedral to nature it’s a cathedral to the universe.
In that brief moment of awe the walls between the isolated me ‘in my head' and the universe ‘out there’ come crashing down and it’s all just one thing. I am that. And in that one brief moment the universe is awestruck by its own majesty – as seen through my eyes.
I think awe is important. Let me know if you feel the same.
Best of the web
Awe - Jason Silva. This is the video that first got me thinking about awe as a valuable emotion worth cultivating. What I love about Jason’s videos is how he channels the feeling and tries to evoke it in us. It’s of a particular style that will either resonate with you or it won’t, but you know he’s feeling it.
“One of the ways that we elicit wonder is by scrambling the self temporarily so that the world can seep in.”
Media of the week
I was in Brighton yesterday, a seaside town in the south of England, for what appeared to be the last day of summer. This poster by the beach really caught my eye. It captures something we all know, but easily forget.
It made me think about how we play the games of life. A corporate job, like all of life, can be thought of as a game. It has a set of rules, rewards that make it worth playing and includes other players.
If you’ve ever played a board game, you’ll know there are two kinds of people you never want to play with: the ones who take the game so seriously that they forget it’s just a game, and the ones who act as if they’re above such trifles as games altogether.
Neither of these people are any fun. The most enjoyable games are played with full sincerity, but without seriousness. This is how I think we should play all the games of life, including the corporate one. Play it wholeheartedly, but never forget that it’s just a game.
Until next week,
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