Daily chores (film review: Of Gods And Men)

I recently went to watch a movie, Of God and Men, with Adriaan and Mei and it’s left me thinking a lot about life and the things that scare us most.

In the film, a group of French, Christian monks have been living in a small village in Algeria. They offer medicine and welfare to their community, and practice their faith with discipline.

In the time the film was set, Algeria is experiencing a run of insurgent and terrorist acts from the Jemaah Islamiyah group, who are killing Christian people  who have migrated to the area.

The monks, who hear of these brutal slayings through the grapevine, begin fearing they will soon be targeted.  They discuss the idea of leaving the monastery, and fleeing home to France. They can’t reach agreement on what to do and so stay, in deep fear about the outcome that will surely befall them.

Soon after, they are visited by the terrorists who are seeking medical assistance for a few of their men. The monks discuss their issues and ideas about this, and turn the men away – not because they don’t wish to help them but because they cannot survive the travel to the remote areas the injured men are located.

When the monks were confronted by the scenario they feared the most, they dealt with it only as they knew how – by being as honest and compassionate as they could be.

From this moment on in the film, the monks find a new peace with life. They embrace each other and their daily chores, delighting in the serenity such simple pleasures bring. The prospect of slaughter still hangs over their heads, as ever present as before their visit. Yet they find that what once terrified them now holds a different meaning. They find they learn more about each other and of what their life has meant to them. And they continue to grow and embrace that, even amongst the fear they continue to feel.

I have thought a lot since about how the things we fear most; be it loss of job, separation from a partner or even death itself, are often more real in thought than in practice. We can consume ourselves thinking about them, giving our attention to them every day. But the lesson I’ve taken from the film is that it’s much more enlightening to carry on with your life, paying attention to the smallest of joys and tasks.

I won’t discuss the film any more than that, but it’s well worth seeing if you find yourself with a spare night. In the mean time, I’m going to try to keep my thoughts and actions focussed in the present.

Patience

I just finished reading Euan’s awesome blog post on patience. It’s a short one, but a great one. Thanks for sharing, Euan, and prompting me to post this.

Patience

I’ve been thinking lately that all of the work we do is as great as the time we give it to become awesome. We must learn patient stewardship when working with our organizations and friends. 

I’ve recently felt the power of time in my work. I’ve noticed the people I work with, who you can follow on the @accessinclusion twitter list, are now amongst the people I consider my friends. I’ve noticed that, because of the respect and trust we share, it’s easier to have tough conversations and solve problems that would have seemed too hard a year ago. I’ve noticed that, with the benefit of time, all of the little things that we’ve been doing everyday for the past 18 months have added up into a rich an valuable artifact to use for future plans.

Ross Hill recently wrote in his letterly all about relentlessness, and especially how he’s inspired by people like @Rexster who keep pushing and pushing for great ideas and innovation. I think patience and relentlessness goes hand in hand and love the feeling I get when I feel the pulse of time stretching back through the things I’ve thought and done.

So when you’re next confronted with a problem or delay, thank your lucky stars that you have been given the chance to practice patience and lay a strong foundation for tomorrow’s relentless, grand, plans. It will all happen, if you let time work it’s wonders.

Compassion

This is a response to Jan Stewart’s excellent post the other day, and stems from many conversations I’ve been lucky enough to share with her over our journey.

Since Mindful I’ve been percolating on a few different lines of thought. You can see some of the things I took away from Mindful in the immediate moments after the event in my post I wrote the week after. Since then, I’ve begun considering some ideas on a deeper level, and one of those is Compassion.

Breakfast coffees

But what is compassion? Why is it important? And so what? To me, compassion is about transcending the way we colloquially define it. Compassion has always been, to me, something that you were able to give people in a very limited way. My definition was probably closer to the idea of ‘passion.’

The way the Dalai Lama, and others, seem to define it has a much broader meaning. They talk about it as moving to a place where you respect and appreciate all human kind as equals. Where you find the space to connect with people on the most basic of all levels – the fact that we are all human on this earth and that we share that experience amongst (almost) 7 Billion people today.

In my own practice during this past month, I’ve learned to respect myself a lot more. I’ve been stretching more and generally looking after my own health. I’ve also really found myself to be more accommodating of others, where as perhaps I would be more negative about a particular situation. I’ve really focused on taking a more open mind into my dealings with others, and trying to focus my inner monologue on meeting them at a human level.

How have you engaged in compassion? Is this is all new to you? Have you engaged in practising compassion in your life?

Compassion and performance

Pete Spence wrote a fantastic blog post on Performing in a self-organizing world recently and it sparked some thoughts of my own.

I’ve recently been reading ‘The Art of Happiness’ by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and one of the lines of inquiry I’ve most enjoyed in the book is that compassion ultimately leads to happiness. Taking this line of thought one step further, we can see that to achieve high performance, be it in your sport, your work or your personal life, requires compassion. I believe that these two topics intersect – that by practicing a high level of mindfulness and compassion in the situations you are placed, you can adequately deal with the complexity of self organizing systems – thus performing.

Street art

From the book:

“Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, non-harming, and non-aggresive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.”

And on garnering a compassionate attitude, even when faced with resentment.

“Now, in general compassion, when you are taking on anothers suffering, you may also initially experience a certain degree of dis-comfortableness or un-bearableness. But in the case of compassion, the feeling is much different, underlying the uncomfortable feeling is a very high level of alertness and determination because you are voluntarily and deliberately accepting anothers suffering for a higher purpose. There is a feeling of connectedness and commitment, a willingness to reach out to others, a feeling of freshness rather than dullness.

This is similar to the case of an athlete. While undergoing rigorous training, an athlete may suffer a lot – working out, sweating, straining. I think it can be quite a painful and exhausting experience. But the athlete would take it as a great accomplishment, an experience associated with a sense of joy. But if the same person was subject to some other physical work that was not part of his athletic training, the the athlete would think ‘Oh, why have I been subjected to this terrible ordeal?’ So the mental attitude makes a tremendous difference”

It seems to me that maintaining and cultivating an attitude of compassion is therefor required to act in a self organizing system. How else can we work completely without an actor or instigator, if we do not trust one another?

What do you think?

A productive day

Today has been a very productive day! After attending Mindful on the weekend, and then catching up with a few people after the event, I’ve come back up here to Sydney with a rather expanded balloon. Jan Stewart wrote the other day about how peak experiences can expand your level of consciousness, before you shrink back close to your previous level. What’s lovely is that after such experiences as Mindful, you never quite shrink all the way back. Just like how a balloon never quite returns to normal once you blow it up and let the air out.

I feel like I’ve grown that little bit more, and that I understand my ‘mind, mindless, mindful’ selves a lot more than before the event. The key is, continuing to keep the balloon expanded through mindful practice of the takeaways from the day. So what have I been doing today?

Journal

1. Dropbox, finally.

I register for Dropbox fully today. I’ve had an account for years, but never really learned how to use it. Ross Hill and I were chatting with Bryony Cole over breakfast on Monday morning and it came up that Fred Wilson had recently moved all of his stuff into the cloud. Ross had been using Dropbox for a while, and it just struck me a simple thing I could do. So I have. I’ll move all of my files slowly over in the next week. I’ve already made a great start. One of the important aspects that came out of Mindful was resilience, and my laptop and it’s encompassed files have always been one of those things I’ve ‘meant’ to back up/secure. It’s amazingly powerful to have done that today.

2. I bought a journal.

I was lucky enough to have an expansive coffee with Ron Laurie, one of the speakers from Mindful, on Monday afternoon at Kinfolk. I really resonated with Ron’s talk, and was grateful that he was able to spend some more time with me and walk me through a few of the finer points of his thinking. One of the great questions Ron asked me towards the end of our chat was “Do you journal, Steve?”

I’ve often bought ‘visual diaries’ and used them for notes, thoughts, tasks – the whole gamut. But I haven’t done that for a while now, and Ron’s idea nudged me into thinking it was probably a very good idea to start again. So, this morning on the way to work, I bought a journal for my ‘mindful’ thoughts. It feels an enormous relief just knowing I have an outlet there, waiting.

3. #deepdive

One of the parts of the day I really enjoyed was the meditation session Xavier Shay ran in the morning, and briefly in the afternoon when the Open Space session got a little too heavy for everyone. I enjoyed a #deepdive tonight, and look forward to picking up that practice again. I listen to a recording I have of Craig Hassed, to help me through the beginning stages of re-engaging with it. It’s worth watching and listening to Craig’s stuff on the Lantern Mental Health YouTube channel when you have the mind space. It’s a great place to begin your practice.