Laying down the questions

Kath Hadden was on the Colourburn stall at TEDxExeter creating a LIVE painting of Dartmoor. She told us:

I am inspired to paint by two things; my love of colour and the landscape around me in the south west of England. Having spent many wonderful family holidays (growing up and now with my own children) in the South West, the landscape for me is intrinsically linked with these fond memories, which are still being created as family life continues to grow and change.

Life brings many ups and downs and subsequently questions and doubts about all sorts of things. For me being outside, looking at creation, turning my phone off, listening undistracted to my children, husband, friends, looking into their faces, holding onto that moment in time and treasuring it  can stop me in my tracks, ground me, and helps me live with those questions, which may never be answered, because in that moment I am just thankful for the present. So I guess what I am trying to say in painting these special places I am holding onto those moments for a little bit longer. I am not forgetting the questions, I am laying them down.

Delegates could submit their names for the chance of winning the painting, and the winner was Clare Br…….. (so nearly me!) …….eckin.

Here’s a photo of the painting with Clare Breckin and Damo Cross from Colourburn.

And Clare’s response on Twitter? “Oooh thats’s me :-)I look a bit shell shocked!” Congratulations!!

LtQ: If you could ask a stranger any question, what would it be?

In a recent TED Blog Q&A, Davy Rothbart talked about his travels across North America, trying to discover what people most wanted to know about each other. He gathered the questions into a guidebook for people who want to get to know those around them: “How Did You End Up Here?: The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us“.

Being British, and tending towards introversion and shyness, I would immediately want to insert a “could” into that book title – “The Surprising Ways Our Questions Could Connect Us” – if only I/we had the courage to extend ourselves and try and make that connection, and the other were able to respond in kind.

In “Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour“, Kate Fox writes about the rules of weather-speak. This is how in reality the English break the ice, start conversations and fill in longeurs. We must state a fact – “turned out nice” or “bit chilly today” – as an implicit question (n’est-ce pas? innit?) requiring a response. And that response must be agreement; disagreement is a serious breach of etiquette. I confess to enjoying the occasional bit of subversion – “actually it’s pretty cold/mild for April”. But Fox’s point is that the English talk about the weather because we find the exchange of personal information too uncomfortable.

I wonder whether it would be possible to overcome those inhibitions at TEDxExeter? We could prepare ourselves, have a question ready to ask and be open to the questions others ask in return. Here’s mine, and I hope I can remember it buy strattera in india in two days’ time. If I could ask a stranger any question, I would ask: “What brings you joy?

Update: Here are a couple of questions posted on Twitter that made me laugh…

  • I will ask:what do u know about entropy and Boltzmann Paradox?
  • Avocado – a force for good, or the devil’s work?

Living the Questions: How’s it going?

Appreciative Inquiry is usually used in organisational development, but I think it can also help individuals think about their careers, goals, and so on.

It focuses on building on what works well rather than on eliminating what works badly, based on the assumption that the questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction.

Imagine what happens to the inside of your head when you always assess situations by asking “What are the problems?” or “What’s wrong?” Focusing on dysfunction can make things worse, or at least fail to makes things better.

Instead, Appreciative Inquiry starts with the belief that every organisation and every person has positive aspects that can be built upon. So it asks questions like “What’s working well?” and “What’s good about what you are currently doing?”

It looks for strengths, experience, assets, motivations, potential. This discovery is the first of a cycle of four processes, which are in organisation-speak, but can be interpreted for individuals:

    DISCOVER: The identification of processes that work well.
    DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
    DESIGN: Planning and prioritising processes that would work well.
    DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.

As for the detail, there is a lot on the web about AI. If anyone reading this knows of any resources particularly targeted at individuals, please let us know in the comments. But I suspect doing just the discovery phase will help a lot of people clarify things, and you could make up the rest as you go along. Just don’t let me hear you saying “oh but I didn’t think that was anything special”.

Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t ― you’re right.”


LtQ: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Last week’s question was about place, about being where you are. This week’s is about time, and you probably won’t be surprised that it’s about being when you are.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I wish I knew. It’s good to have goals, and to know what you want to be or do. I envy those people who do know, whether they want to research climate change or be ordained or practice medicine or write or play rugby for the Chiefs or learn to walk again, and therefore have a reasonable shot at achieving that being or doing.

What is less good, however, is to live in the future.  When we’re at work, we dream about our next holiday. When we’re on holiday, we worry about the work piling up. Instead of thinking about the steps we need to take to reach our goal, and focusing on the first one, we look at the goal in the distance and worry that we aren’t nearly there yet.

For that matter, it’s not good to live in the past, either. We might dwell on memories, where we’ve failed or been hurt, memories that are intrusive. And nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. There never was a golden age when everybody enjoyed all their rights and were healthy, happy and successful.

Which leaves us with the present. It’s become a bit of a cliché, but it really is all we have. Life unfolds in the present.

Yet, as Anthony de Mello maintained, most people are asleep. We need to wake up, open up our eyes, see what is real, both inside and outside of ourselves. The greatest human gift is to be aware, to be in touch with oneself, one’s body, mind, feelings, thoughts, sensations. He wrote in his book Awareness (pdf): “So begin to be aware of your present condition whatever that condition is. Stop being a dictator. Stop trying to push yourself somewhere. Then someday you will understand that simply by awareness you have already attained what you were pushing yourself toward.”

We human beings have this great gift of being able to step back from ourselves, to undertake our thoughts rather than let our thoughts control us. De Mello called this awareness. Others call it mindfulness. When you become aware, you become an observer of your thoughts from moment to moment, without judging your them, without grasping at them or suppressing them, and without all those shoulds and oughts. Moreover, you realize that you are not your thoughts and that you don’t have to react to them.

The problem is how to become aware in order to live more in the present, because if you are not aware, you are not aware that you are not aware. But I presume that if you are reading this, there is a chance that you have at least become aware that you are not aware.

After that, it takes practice. And if you want to be aware in crisis situations, practise awareness when you are not under stress. So here are a couple of exercises, and there is plenty more guidance in de Mello and online.

  • Breathe. Try it a few times right now… breathe in… breathe out. Don’t try and change your breathing, but just become aware of it… in… out…
  • Be present to your surroundings. What can you see, hear, smell, touch, taste? Appreciate that cloud for its cloud-ness, instead of looking at it with foreboding of rain. Don’t let that road drill jar on your nerves. Just acknowledge that it is there.

Two final quotes from Awareness. “The neurotic is a person who worries about something that did not happen in the past. He’s not like us normal people who worry about things that will not happen in the future.” Um, yes, but… “There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have. Otherwise you would be experiencing bliss. You’re focusing on what you don’t have. But, right now you have everything you need to be in bliss.”


Living the Questions: Where am I?

I often look at the world through Google Maps and Satellite. The satellite imagery can reveal some extraordinary sights. The maps are not just useful for finding my way around town. They can help me read Les Misérables, showing how the various locations such as Toulon, Montfermeil and Paris fit together. Or, for example, show me where are the Carteret Islands that are being overwhelmed by the rise in sea-level associated with climate change. Using these electronic tools and taking the bird’s eye view can trigger our imagination and sympathy. But they can also dissociate ourselves from where we are.

How often do we read stories of cabbies sent by satnavs into rivers or lorries down inappropriate roads? I’ve seen a Bluewater pantechnicon stranded between Holne Bridge and New Bridge on Dartmoor. GPS and satnav seem to have replaced our senses – our eyes, and any innate sense of direction – and our common sense. Everything has all got very task-oriented, too. I know I need to learn how to have more fun getting lost, and how it can help in our daily lives living with uncertainty, whether we like it or not.

I suppose that’s one of the things we are running from, when we move around so much, or distract ourselves with drink, TV or other narcotic of choice. “Wherever you go, there you are” is one of those sorts of proverbs that have been attributed to Confucius and Buddha. But whoever said it, it’s true. You cannot run from your problems indefinitely. Much better to place yourself somewhere and make some connections, and then you can uncover and face your problems and uncertainties with others’ help. Anthony the Great, one of the Desert Fathers, put it this way: “wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of Holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guide-lines, you will be saved.”

In 1978, Walter Brueggemann wrote: “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture”. Maybe that’s why we find it difficult to experiment with deliberate lostness. One step at a time. Although still largely counter-cultural, many people are now seeking to reconnect with their locality and with the rest of nature. Spring is springing, days are lengthening. Why not have a wander around where you live? Notice things – the birds singing, that funny-looking chimney, patterns, the warmth of the sun (hopefully!). Say hello to people you meet – smile at those funny looks, or enjoy those surprising conversations. And take the road less-travelled – the snicket you pass every day and wonder where it leads, or the drang you hadn’t even noticed before. There you are!


Living the Questions: What makes us happy?

TED has a playlist of nine talks on the question What makes us happy?

We all want to be happy. But how, exactly, do you go about it? More stuff or less? More choice or less? The answers — from psychologists, journalists, Buddhist monks — may surprise you.

I haven’t watched them all yet, but Malcolm Gladwell on “Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce” is very entertaining and has great hair.

Also, Wednesday 20th March sees the first UN Day of Happiness. Take the pledge to try and create more happiness around you, and cheer your Happy Heroes. I have a sneaking suspicion that trying to create more happiness is quite likely to be one of the things that actually makes us happy.

LtQ: What if the Hokey Cokey really IS what it’s all about?

Here’s the Hokey Cokey guide to self-actualisation, winning soup for the soul and influencing chickens.


You put your right arm in
Whatever you do, put your whole self into it. Commit commit commit. Except crime, obv.

Your right arm out
Reach out to others. Embrace the world. You may need your left arm as well for this.

You shake it all about
It’s good to shake things up sometimes – Etch A Sketch, snow globes. But please go easy with the champagne.

And you turn around
And it’s OK to change your life direction. Why not plan a mid-life crisis every five years?

Stop! Just… stop! Spend the second before six o’clock in silence and give yourself time to think.

Knees bent arms stretch
Exercise is good, and Brits are especially good at rowing or cycling. Give yourself a gold medal whenever you achieve your targets.

Rah rah rah
Get yourself some cheerleaders. Pompoms are optional.


All together now!

You put your right leg in,
Your right leg out:
In, out, in, out.
You shake it all about.
You do the hokey cokey,
And you turn around.
That’s what it’s all about!


Whoa, the hokey cokey,
Whoa, the hokey cokey,
Whoa, the hokey cokey,
Knees bent arms stretch,
Rah rah rah!




PS. In a more serious vein, the Hokey Cokey is a good example of total physical response, a language-teaching method based on the coordination of language and physical movement.


Living the Questions: What if?

In 2013, the BBC is looking into the buygenericvaltrexonline future in key areas of science, politics, education and our personal life, asking What if?

Today, to mark International Women’s Day, Dee Dee Myers asks What if women ruled the world?

As a huge and growing body of research and experience makes clear, empowering women makes things better. Not perfect. But better.

Business is more profitable. Governments are more representative. Families are stronger, and communities are healthier. There is buy ventolin online nz less violence – and more peace, stability and sustainability.


Some more questions from the Beeb:

  • What if you could design a city?
  • What if we could stay young forever?
  • What if chicken conquers the world?


Living the Questions: Fancy a pint?

This week, from 4-10 March, is Climate Week, and Climate South West are running a climate-themed pub quiz in Exeter. There may well be a pub quiz in your area.

It seems that many people have forgotten about the climate since the Great Recession bit, and it’s not helped that the Coalition has had its head firmly in the sand. I find it hard not to let rip at this point. So instead I’ll hand over to a good friend of mine, Eve Edwards, writing in the History Girls blog at the dawn of the new year:

I would put my money on us missing the really significant events of last year.  Dohar anyone?  Did you pay attention to what was called the ‘useful housekeeping’ on the UN climate change at the end of the year.  By this they meant, they got an agreed statement out at the end.  They are housekeeping, changing the sheets, but unfortunately the bed is in a cabin on the Titanic.  Historians are going to be looking back and wondering why we didn’t notice the socking great iceberg we are chugging towards full steam ahead.  America looked out the porthole briefly thanks to the terrible storm in the autumn, but they can’t seem to drag themselves away from the boring party of Democrats versus Republicans long enough to do anything.  To change my metaphor, we are in a dangerous round of ‘who will bell the cat?’ – no one stepping forward to do the job.

So let’s have a look at the Met Office submissions to “The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 8th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol” (i.e. Copenhagen+3), which met at Doha in November 2012. Here are three of the Met Office’s key findings, edited a bit:

  • Human influence has already shortened the odds of some types of extreme events. The type of extreme heatwave occurring in Texas in 2011, a La Niña year, has changed from a 1 in 100 year event in the 1960s to a 1 in 5/6 year event in the present day. The odds of a cold winter in the UK, like 2010/11, have roughly halved.
  • On 16 September 2012, Arctic sea-ice extent reached its lowest recorded level of 3.4 million km2, some 20% less than the previous record in 2007, and the rate of decline in extent in summer sea-ice has increased.
  • A more sophisticated computer model confirms earlier climate projections: that ‘business as usual’ greenhouse gas emissions could lead to global temperature increases by 2100 of more than 5 °C, and in some parts of the world of over 10 °C. Rainfall patterns and water availability will also change. Temperature increases may also cause large reductions in permafrost, which could further increase warming.

What are the likely impacts in the UK? Well, here are the projections with the highest scientific confidence:

  • The south and south-east of the UK are currently vulnerable to water shortages. These pressures are likely to grow as more droughts take place here.
  • Projected increases in rainfall are likely to increase the risk of flooding from heavy rainfall, particularly in winter. Rivers are also more likely to flood across the UK as a whole.
  • As sea levels rise, coastal flooding is likely to have a major impact on the UK, which is one of the most vulnerable countries in Europe.

Yes, more severe winters like 2010/11, more drought like the first quarter of 2012, and more floods like the rest of 2012 and what feels like living memory. Thanks for that, Met Office.

But here is a fourth key finding:

  • The scale of climate change is greatly reduced with rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions beginning in the near future. However, even in the case of the lowest emissions considered here, some further climate warming and impacts are expected.

Right, so we can do something about it. In the best Gandhi tradition, “be the change that you wish to see in the world”, go to a pub quiz, find out more, read the Met Office’s Climate guide (which is a bit more accessible than the Doha stuff). And then think about what you can do and should do, and tell your MP and the rest of the government what you want them to do too. Cheers!