Between what is said and not meant
and what is meant but not said
most love is lost
Why do we have legs?
Think about the metaphors we use which are enabled by legs.
We can walk away. We can run away. We can stand our ground. We can stand on our own two feet. We can make strides. We can walk in someone else’s shoes. We can put our foot down. We can leg it. We can cool our heels. We can have an Achilles’ heel. We can stamp our foot. We can drag our feet. We can be fleet of foot. We can stand down. We can have the world at our feet. We can start off on the right foot. We can have itchy feet. We can stand firm. We can land on our own two feet. We can put our foot in our mouth. We can be on our last legs. We can put our feet up. We can step on someone’s toes. We can pull someone’s leg. We can stand out. We can have two left feet. We can shoot ourselves in the foot. We can set foot somewhere. We can have a foot in both camps. We can trip ourselves up. We can be legs akimbo. We can stand tall. We can get a leg up. We can get fresh legs. We can be encouraged to break a leg, for luck. We can do the legwork. We can leave with our tail between our legs. We can stand back. We can get our sea legs. We can talk the hind legs off a donkey. We can step out. We can stand around. We can get a foot in the door. We can put our best foot forward. We can stand tall. We can stand on the shoulders of giants. We can find ourselves without a leg to stand on. We can even get our leg over… and that can cost an arm and a leg!
All could be metaphors for our approach to life. How we come to living.
Maybe legs are a distraction to our stance to life?
What stance do you choose?
Are there patterns?
Might you choose a different stance?
At first it seemed normal. Nothing untoward.
He was one of many making their way along the busy London station platform.
He walked a few paces ahead, a little to the side. The left.
Like many of us today, he walked one hand held aloft. Not at eye level, but held in front of his lower face. Face and hand locked at a fixed distance apart, hand leading face, almost as if invisibly tied together.
It seemed like he was following the scent of a delicate flower, cupped within his hand.
Instead, his hand held his mobile phone.
His eyes flicked down, then up, down, then up. The time spent down seemed to dominate. Maybe two thirds down, one third up?
My pace was slightly quicker and I began to draw almost level.
I glanced across. Then lingered.
His screen contained the calculator. A familiar sight. There were no numbers entered. Just a blank calculator screen.
We walked on. I adjusted my pace to match his. Half a yard behind, just to the right.
We walked in synch. No buttons were pressed. No numbers entered. No calculations computed. His eyes flicked down, then up, down, then up.
He was one of the gang. He was a phone walker.
Like me, maybe others who walked past this phone walker, or those who approached from the front, we might assume he was checking the latest news, scanning his social media timeline, reading a text or an email.
He was staring at a blank calculator app. Content in the knowledge that he belonged. Belonged to the morning throng of commuters who held their phones aloft. Scenting their technology like pungent hyacinths. He was no longer alone. He was accepted. He was a phone walker.
I have been reflecting on the nature of a question.
You’re in a conversation with another human being. They are telling you something about their experience; you respond with a question. It’s what we do in conversations.
The question forms, it gets uttered. It’s out there shaping the conversation.
But where does that question come from? What prompts the thought? What forms the thinking? What shapes the words? And what is the question’s true intent?
We might think our questions are for the recipient; the person we throw them at. Convinced we are adding value, we toss the question in front of their thinking stream, interrupting whatever is processing inside their head or body. The question itself instantly demands attention. Diverting the thinker to attend to it like a noisy impatient child. The recipient ponders, then responds. In that moment, we, the questioner, feel good. Our question has proved useful. The recipient has shown their gratitude by affording our question due attention. Clearly they have benefited. Our question has undoubtedly furthered their thinking, developed their awareness, offered them an alternative or made it clear what the way forward is. The question has elicited an answer and we all want answers … don’t we?
We have helped. We feel good.
But is that true? True that we have helped?
We, the questioner, now know more, that is true. But does the responder?
Maybe our question’s true intent was simply that? To help us to understand? To help us make meaning from the stream of consciousness our fellow human being was imparting. Maybe that is where it came from? Its purpose to fill in our knowledge gaps so that we might better comprehend this complex, story-ridden, alien world of another human being? A veiled attempt to make sense of their situation. An unconsciously selfish intent?
And if our question’s intent is indeed to further our understanding, does that shape and inform further questions? Are we ultimately steering the conversation towards our greater understanding of the other person’s world? Does each question take the other person further from their own path and move them on to our thinking path? Are we building a reality for them? Is our question and those that follow merely wresting control? Shaping the collective thinking to serve our meaning making needs? Is that the intent hiding in our question?
But is that true? Is it really just about us? A selfish need to understand and relate this person’s story to our world of meaning and sense making?
Well, every question does have a presupposition embedded within it. Every question.
Our question may have suggested we were listening. Maybe that was its intent? Maybe the question attempts to impart a sense of caring, an ability to attend to our fellow human being’s world, their toils and struggles. Maybe the question is grown from a desire to connect? A desire to help? A desire to rescue even?
But is that true? Are we really that selfless?
Our question may outwardly seem to expand the speaker’s awareness, or offer them a new perspective or a fresh choice? But where does that come from? Is it really something we are asking ourselves, inside? A question that has meaning for us in the same situation, so given its significance for us and our thinking, we offer it up. Because if it’s of use to us, it must surely be of use to them…?
But is that true? Maybe, or maybe that too is in service of our own needs? Maybe its true purpose was to help us compare – compare ourselves to the other person? To judge. To compare how we might respond in that situation, or compare our ability to think about it with their ability? Maybe its intent is to make a judgement, good or bad? A judgement of ourselves, or of them?
Maybe the unwittingly selfish foundation goes deeper? Maybe this question dressed as concerned listening and helping is really about affirming our own value? Our value in this relationship, our value in society, maybe also our very value as a human being?
Is our question masquerading as a help to our responder when in truth it is about affirmation of who we are, of our very existence? In some way the question might seem to be saying “here I am”, “I am listening”, “I hear you”, “I can help”…
But is that true? Or could it be that our question really means “notice me”, “I am of value”, “validate me by answering my question”, “honour me as a human being.”
Meanwhile, whatever our hidden intention, our speaker’s train of thought is interrupted.
So, what lies in the foundations of our questions? What building blocks form their true shape?
Our own need to know?
Our own need to be OK?
Our inner need to compare and judge ourselves?
Our own need for validation?
Our own need for acceptance?
What if we just kept them? They are after all ‘our questions’.
What if we kept them to ourselves?
Or… what if we stopped searching for them at all?
What if we just listened? Without intent?
The other evening I was walking. Walking purposefully.
Sometimes I do that, walk stridently and with intent. Other times it is more of a stroll.
Walking purposefully, I find, often means looking down. Down at your feet and the ground a few paces ahead. Possibly to avoid tripping or stepping in something untoward? Or maybe it is just the stance of purposefulness?
Anyway, I was looking down as I strode purposefully back to my car. It was late in the evening and I was walking back to my car, keen to drive home. My car was about ten minutes away from the train station. I had parked there because the station car park had been full earlier in the day … in case you’re wondering (you’re probably not)?
As I walked, I was transported back to my childhood.
On the ground, emerging from beneath my striding feet appeared a dark grey, shoulder width shape, with a slight bump in the middle. Within moments the bump raced ahead of my feet, stretching out, growing at pace, and the shape it pulled from behind grew with it. As it grew it faded. Still visible, but more muted. The dark grey on the pavement of the stocky protrusion by my feet had become a barely visible pale silhouette of all of me, laid out on the pavement ahead of me. And then, within only seconds, it was gone.
Moments later the process began again. The dark puddle emerged from my feet. Grew like an accelerated version of me growing up into the adult I had become. Then it faded away again.
As a child I remembered playing a game with this shadow. Trying to chase it as it protruded. Never succeeding of course, but my lack of success never deterred me from trying to stamp on it as it emerged from under my feet, or from chasing it vainly down the road until it faded away again.
I was of course walking under streetlights.
Once again the childhood game was with me. Stomp stomp, stomp. Now of course I am wise in years and understand the science, but the fun remained.
It seemed in the moment that the shadow might be representing my growth as a human being. A small bump emerging, growing from stocky little child into a tall adult, then fading again as my years advanced. In spite of my feeble but concerted efforts, I couldn’t stop the growth of this shadow me as I strode through life. I couldn’t catch it up. I couldn’t prevent it from fading away. Nor could I stop it repeating, again and again, until the light goes out.
A high wall on my righthand side offered me another perspective. My shadow self marched past me. As it encroached from behind it was pale and barely perceptible. As it strode alongside me it was stronger, accompanying me for a moment on my journey. Then it raced ahead into my future and once again faded, just as another reappeared from my past. For a split second I could just make out my past and my future, together in the moment.
The streetlights on the opposite side of the road were giving me another viewpoint.
Unlike my childhood experiences, where this was simply a game, my adult shadow chasing offered me a metaphor for life, my life. Arriving in the world, small and weak. Growing stronger in myself and who I am, growing taller with personal learning, then gradually fading away in my future, as we all must eventually.
For now though – because all there is is now – I enjoyed my childhood memory and my shadow stomping.
image: A shadow on the wall by nneiole
A friend of mine, recently reminded me…
Silence isn’t empty;
If it were, we wouldn’t hear it so loudly
I went walking at the weekend. Walking around a country park near us. Walking with my wife.
We played ‘the morning game’.
The one where as people approach along the same path, you say, “Morning.”
Usually they respond. Sometimes not. Usually they return the same “Morning” phrase. Sometimes they nod or smile instead of the verbal exchange. Seldom do they return another phrase. It’s as if we have to be equal – one “Morning” fairly exchanged with a reciprocal “Morning”.
The game is afoot though. One or two of the walkers beat us to it. they “Morning” us before we can “Morning” them. So we have to respond. We have to give back.
My wife and I share responsibility. Sometimes, she imparts the “Morning”, sometimes I do. We play with who is more successful in earning the payback of a returned “Morning”. She wins.
“The morning game” seems safe in the countryside. It’s riskier in the commuter world though. Speaking to strangers on a crowded train. Or in the street.
Maybe it’s the solitude? Just one couple “Morning” another. No onlookers or observers to judge the “Morning”. To gauge its appropriateness; the response it elicits, or to laugh in the face of a failed “Morning” – a “Morning” that falls on fallow earth and remains unreciprocated.
But what is at play here? When we “Morning” an approaching party of walkers, they are usually in their own world. Either chatting themselves, or simply enjoying their surroundings. Suddenly we have interjected into their world. They seem shocked. Maybe it’s surprise that forces the reciprocal utterance? Maybe it’s relief? Relief that they are indeed seen, recognised, noticed? Maybe this simply confirms our existence, and theirs? Maybe we offer a gift, so that we can receive a gift? Or maybe it’s merely a pre-programmed unconscious response? One learned earlier in life? Perhaps it’s an avoidance of guilt? Not wanting to be judged for not responding? Not wanting the shame?
Or maybe it is just as described? A game? Maybe the people we meet are also alive to the “morning game” and are luring us in, so that they can in fact justify their humanity. A stroke for us, and a stroke for them?
Maybe you’ve “Morninged” others? Maybe you have been “Morninged”? What was going on for you?
If not. Now you know, you too can play the “morning game”.
I’ve lost my job.
I’ve looked in all the usual places … gone through my trouser pockets, scanned the mantelpiece, looked under the car seat, been through the ‘man drawer’, checked the bedside table, looked on the kitchen shelf where the important stuff resides. I’ve methodically been through my jackets, looked down the back of the sofa, searched behind the fridge where things have a habit of falling. I’ve shaken some boxes at the back of the garage. I’ve asked my wife to go through her handbag, I’ve re-traced my steps around the house, drive and garden, I’ve looked on the table in the hall and felt the lining of my coat.
Strange we say we’ve ‘lost a job’. Like we’ve lost a pen, or our car keys or our favourite sunglasses.
Actually I haven’t lost my job at all. It wasn’t ever mine really. Not mine to lose.
The reality is that my employer decided to reorganise the work which constituted the role I was paid to do. Some work was stopped, some new work added and the way in which my former employer set out to carry out that work no longer included a package of work previously called ‘my job’. I haven’t lost it, the organisation has removed it.
Time to find another path, another ‘thing’ to occupy my time, feed my interests and my family.
So where do I look? Not under the car seat seemingly. Not in my coat lining. More a case of looking inside? Under my skin, in my gut or in my heart perhaps? Searching there is not as straightforward though as looking behind the fridge or in the loft.
A search more rewarding perhaps?
So, it turns out, the removal of my job isn’t a loss, it’s a gift. An opportunity. A chance to reconnect with what matters to me. A chance to get closer to myself. A chance to be more me.
Maybe having a job all this time has been masking the true loss – the (temporary) loss of my connection to self? A temporary blindness to what drives me and why I am here.
Well I’ve found that again now, so all is good.
Fences between our houses. Fences delineating our gardens. Fences alongside railway lines. Fences around yards, car parks and compounds. Fences to keep the animals in, fences to keep them out. Fences around parks and ponds. Fences marking out the route the country pathway takes. Fences shaping fields and grazing land. High fences around prisons. Low fences around vegetable plots. Fences between thrusting motorway carriageways and their speeding contents. Fences on bridges. Fences at the stadium. Fences at the racetrack. Fences at the top, or bottom, of the stairs.
Some keep us out, some keep us in. Some are to indicate the way. Some to stop us meandering off the way. Some show possession. Some deny access. Some deny exit. Some are aesthetic, some very functional.
Which side are you on?
And what about the fences of your mind?
The fences that determine choice. The fences that set out appropriate or inappropriate behaviour. The fences that inform us we can’t or we shouldn’t. The fences that motivate and drive action or tell us inappropriate or unachievable action. The internal fences that keep us safe. The internal fences that restrict our growth and learning. The fences that allow us to see potential, the fences that blind us to reality.
Invisible fences, but often just as effective.
Which side are you on?
As human beings we live in two worlds.
There is the external physical world. The world where we can touch a tree, watch a wren dart from shrub to shrub, scratch our elbow when it itches.
Then, there is the world of our mind and imagination. The world where we can feel hurt by what that person said and imagine what they meant. We can dream about our tomorrow and recall distorted truths of our past. A world where we believe the stories and myths of our mind. Our own fake news generator, if you will.
This second world is a virtual reality that can appear and feel just as real as the external physical world. The shoulds and musts are powerful, motivating, compelling. Indeed, when it comes to your emotions and your imagination, the virtual world of your mind can be more real than the real world.
Our mind seems to muddle these two worlds. What is true? What is real? What is imagined? What is story? What is fake?
It seems too that our society is slowly shifting to value this second virtual world more than the first real, physical world.
For now it seems, in our modern media enabled world, we not only create our own virtual stories and myths, not only listen to those of our family and friends – those we might meet within the real world – now, we are bombarded by the stories, myths and imaginations of billions of others from around the globe. Real people we will never meet, with all their distorted stories of self and associated experience. And we believe them. Or respond to them. Or worry about them. Or take them on as ours.
Recently, I read that more than 15% of Twitter’s 319 million users were not human. So not only are we engaging with the thoughts of other people, people we don’t know; we are listening to robotic programmed outputs from 48 million unknown devices. All adding to the melting pot of real and unreal, true and imagined, solid and distorted.
Yet each interaction is enhancing our own virtual sense of the truth. Augmenting our own thoughts and emotions. Building a more complex, layered perception of self, our place in the world and all its global dangers and intents. Causing us to be more curious, more mentally stretched, yes. Enticing us to respond, to debate. Yet also to worry, to feel pressurised, scared even. It drives a need to know. A need to be part of. Inclusion not exclusion. Powerful emotional draws deep within our ancient animal brain.
I wonder if this contributes to the rise in mental health and well-being issues? I wonder what this holds for our future as a species?
The internet increasingly drives our lives. You’re using it now to read this. We read reviews of products from unknown people and trust them. We read tweets from unknown people and respond to them, emotionally, cognitively. We scan page after page of Facebook posts, skipping across our timeline like a never ending movie.
You are reading this blog. In one sense it’s not real.
I am of course.
But these thoughts are the creations from within my mind, my virtual world. True, you can choose to ignore them. You might see reason in them. You might concur. You might though, above all else, wonder what else you interact with in the world that isn’t real?
Challenge yourself to be curious; to question what you hold in your head and how that in turn impacts your thinking and how you feel. Is it real? Is it your imagination? Or is it a distortion of someone, or something, that doesn’t serve you well in maintaining your mental and emotional well-being? Maybe anything that does that, whether true or not, is the real fake news?
Maybe take time to stand with your hand on a tree. Ground yourself. The tree is real.
Go well people.