Daily Verse – Three Things on Your To-Do List.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 12:12 NIVUK

We are used to productivity gurus and time-management geniuses giving us the number one rule – have one main thing on your list, have five things, have as many as you can think of but only to the top two, etc. etc.

In this verse, the Apostle Paul puts three things on our to-do list.

Hope. Patience. Prayer.

The same three things every day.

Hope – elpis – to anticipate, to be expectant, to have confidence.

Patience – hupomenó (this is the only occurence) – to endure, to remain, to have fortitude, to persevere.

Prayer – proseuché – to pray, to worship, to be earnest in prayer.

Paul is always quite clever in the way he gives us the ‘big focus’ of our faith but also adds in qualifiers almost without notice.

Not only are we to have Hope, Patience, and Prayer, as central to our days, but we also have rejoicing, affliction, and constancy.

We are to rejoice in our hope – chairó – be glad, cheerful, calmly happy.

We are to be patient in affliction – thlipsis – trouble, burden, under pressure.

We are to be faithful in prayer – proskartereó – to continue, be diligent, to adhere to.

Paul’s to-do list isn’t one to be ticked off and consigned to the ‘completed’ archive or filing cabinet of diaries, it remains our priority everyday. We may not tick the items off everyday, but we still have the chance to do it the following day.

So rejoice in the hope of our lives with God.

Be patient in difficult and troublesome times.

Be faithful in our Prayers to God and he will lead us in both hope and difficulty.

The ‘Chicken and the Egg’ Guide for Creatives?

It is a common catchphrase – which came first, the chicken or the egg? – which appears to have a simple answer, either way, until you come to justify it.

Apparently, it was Plutarch which first posed the question in the 1st Century AD, addressing the problems of origin and first cause. Aristotle, writing four centturies earlier wouldn’t even have considered the question as he believed there was no true origin.

By the close of the Sixteenth Century the Christian world didn’t even consider the dilema as God made, or created, everything. By the Twentieth Century Evolutionary Biologists decided the answer had to be the ‘Egg’ as they calculated that the first hard shelled egg – not laid in water – couldn’t have happened until about 312 Million years ago.

So what has 2000-312,000,000 year old debate have to do with creativity?

To answer the much more pressing question of whether I am procrastinating or not!

If the egg = researching for searching for the creative impulse and chicken = actually doing the creative thing, then you are looking at the problem as I am.

I am new to art and, although I have always loved looking at art and watched lots of documentaries on art movements and artists, I am acutely aware of the lack of reference points and natural triggers I possess when I come to do the creative action.

So I research. A lot.

The it struck me, this morning as I glanced at my still empty sketchbook pages for the day, that most of the time I had for the action of creativity was in fact being taken up by the research to obtain the creative triggers, to then be creative.

So which comes first?

Creative Action?

Or Creative Thought?

Ironically, as a writer I would definitely tick the box of Creative Action. I usually start with the thinnest sliver of a starting point – maybe a few words or a person walking or entering a building – then I write. As I write the Creative Thought occurs and I get the next scene or chapter developing in my head.

As an artist the process is definitely the reverse.

Perhaps it is because there are more elements to taking action? What type of surface, what type of meduim, brushes or palette knives, sketch an outline or simply apply the paint?

In general though, how does your creativity arrive?

If you are a person of faith, or an evolutionary biologist, then you maybe decisively fall on one side or the other of the debate. Or perhaps you give the answer of certitude ‘well, it depends . . . ‘

I appear to have a foot in both camps.

My faith make me certain that the chicken came first, and if it turns out the egg was created before the chicken, then the whole creation thing happened anyway, so the principle is still proven.

I beleive that creativity comes from the Creator.

So my creative thinking process is, as I have begun to suspect, an elaborate means of procrastination.

But taking time to think and research has definitely furnished me with many creative ideas and actions!

However, if I fill in the time sheet of thought versus action, then the beginning of the Bible would go like this:

In the beginning, God took five and a half days to do research then realised it was almost the Day of Rest, so he decided to do a final bit of research and then wrote in his planner to definitely create something first thing on Sunday!

(Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath – just in case you were wondering.)

So, maybe you are like me and you are certain you’re pretty sure you know which comes first?!

Then again both options are creative, so what does it matter?

Or maybe this brings us onto another age old debate?

If a tree falls in a wood with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Or, are you only being creative if there is an end product to prove it?

Go and be creatively thoughtful or creatively creative, and I will join you.

Daily Verse – Walking with the Wise.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20 NIVUK

In this recent technological era we can gain unparralleled access to the very best people in our field of interest.

Most of them even do Masterclasses to teach you everything they have learnt on their journey.

We are often told in the marketing blurb ‘they have made the mistakes so now you don’t need to’.

According to Proverbs, however, this will not make us wise.

We are instructed to walk with the wise – hō·w·lêḵ – to go along with, keep pace with, to be conversant with.

Rabbi’s like Jesus did not just ‘teach’ in the synagogues, as we might here a preacher in a pulpit, but every footstep, every conversation, every gesture, even the way he ate his meals, would be observed by his disciples and imitated.

A teacher’s wisdom was the sum of every part of them, physical, spiritual, and thought.

Literally, walking in the footsteps of those wiser than ourselves in our field of interest, creativity, spiritually, or our work, will help us to become yeḥ·kām – to be wise in word, action, or thoughts. This word only occurs three times in the Old Testament, with all of them occuring in Proverbs.

I am not suggesting that we ignore every bit of wisdom which isn’t given to us in person – as much as I might like it, I cannot take a walk with Claude Monet if I want to paint ponds – but we should perhaps make more of an effort to form relationships/friendships – mentors – where we can experience their gifts in proximity.

Find a mentor/teacher and howlek them!

Discard.

Having expectations and an overall aim are widely believed to be useful for success.

Some suggest that to be truly successful you have to break everything down into stages and specific blocks of thought and action.

Many people do achieve what they set out to using this style of methodology.

Sometimes, however, we are not clear or honest enough in our criteria.

I want to paint a cathedral is perhaps only part of our thinking, and maybe it should read I want to paint a cathedral just like Monet did.

When the image doesn’t look like we wanted it to, then we feel a sense of disappointment and doubt our abilities as a creative.

This type of thinking can affect every creative no matter what the medium.

So what can we do?

Discard.

Search through those drawers and cupboards of expectations, find them out hidden at the very back, and recycle them, or if they are plain broken then take a trip to the skip.

Discard what is not useful or helpful, no matter how long we have held onto it.

When we approach any creative endeavour we need to know the direction of our journey, but let go of the way markers we think we must count before arriving at the destination.

Like a pilgrimage, the Way should alter us.

The experience, spiritual and physical, of the journey will effect and influence us, and this will be seen in our creativity.

Monet was changed by the light. He realised that it couldn’t be captured in one painting, so he chased it. across a number of canvases, switching from one to another as the light moved.

Monet started out painting a cathedral. He finished painting light, which happened to have a cathedral in it.

Imagine if the French painter had only produced one canvas of the building in the way he thought it should look originally?

Discard your assumptions and expectations, and learn from the process, tools, and the materials you are using, how the image should finally look.

Like home and business experts advise us, take time each month to declutter and discard (or recycle) our things and our environment.

As a creative person, a major part of this should be our expectations in the realising of our final pieces.

Line Up Your Shoes.

It is traditional when entering a Japanese home to take off your shoes and place them together, neatly, inside the hallway. These shoes should also be pointing out of the building, prepared and ready for your outward journey.

Creative types come in all shapes and sizes – like people really,

There is a romantic notion of creative genius being messy and chaotic but creating beauty out of it.

For some of us that might be true – messy and chaotic at the very least.

Others may be ordered and organised.

I have no judgement on either type, but I will confess that I can easily slip into one but prefer being the other – you can decide which.

One of the traditional ways of craftspeople and artists in Japan I admire the most is their focus on their tools and the process of creating.

For them, their tools are an extention of their movements and the process is part of the creativity.

Preparation and tool placement is very much like the chef’s mise en place.

Every thought and movement you make in the process of your creativity, helps to form the final piece.

Wasted movements take away from the creativity.

Searching for a brush you know is somewhere in a drawer, running out of a tube of paint in the process of application, trying to find the piece of paper you wrote that chord progression on in the footwell of your car, all interrupt and divert.

Organisation my not be a ‘creative’ word, but preparation and making the process as smooth as possible will have a fantastic impact upon your creativity.

Like lining up your shoes for the next journey, line up your tools for the process of creating.

Creative Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the new mantra covering a lot of areas from simple meditation to a mental health checklist.

Some meditation and mindfulness techniques exhort you to think of ‘nothing’.

Hit the eco-setting, dim the screen, go to a blank screen rather than screensaver.

If you are a creative then this is probably impossible.

If you have managed it, I would argue that it may not benefit you.

Being creative is who you are and not a menu-setting.

Imagine asking a dancer not to move their body whilst you play a piece of music – they would probably cause you of being cruel.

Whether you are a writer, musician, or artist, you are tuned to be creative.

It is how you respond to your environment. It is how you communicate. It is you.

So, rather than emptying your mind, sit for a short period and reflect upon your creativity.

What are you happy about in your output? What are you finding difficult? What are you being drawn to which is new?

Afterwards, write down the strongest thought which came to you.

Pursue it.

Be creative with it.

Create.

I’ve Been Kondo’d!

Studying martial arts from a young age taught me not underestimate the small person – for most of the time I was that small person. 

Lifestyle, tidying, de-cluttering guru, Marie Kondo is definitely one of those opponents you should be wary of. I was gentlemanly and didn’t look up her personal information but from watching just one of her tv episodes she seems tiny!

I will confess that I had read one of her books before – and that I acted upon none of it.

I read and understood the principles, I could visualise the end result, but the anxiety of being in the process left everything the way it was with just the occasional ‘putting away’ more effectively of too much stuff.

Switching study’s with my wife brought me back around to tackling clothes and other paraphernalia which needed sifting. 

Surprisingly, after the main furniture move between the two rooms, I was taking a break and looking for something to mindlessly watch for half an hour with a cup of coffee, and a well known online tv supplier highlighted Kondo’s tv series to me.

I watched. The methods detailed in her book were refreshed in my mind. I was convinced sufficiently this time to give it a go.

What did I have to lose, I already had more stuff out of the wardrobe than in it now, so I couldn’t close the doors and pretend everything was fine.

I’m not sure that I selected clothes on whether they gave me joy – except all of my rugby jerseys, of course! – but I was far more realistic, or ruthless, in getting rid of items I really hadn’t worn for a good length of time.

Then came the folding!

If it was a competition I wouldn’t have won on either speed or consistency, but the satisfaction of being able to see all of my clothes and, therefore, not just pulling out what ever was on the top was greater than I expected. Shirts on hangers, suits and dress coats in one half of the wardrobe, general outdoor jackets and gillets on the other side. I even had space left to put hats, scarves, and gloves inside, instead of in another storage unit.

Books I had already sorted, but there are items I will thin out further, just from glancing across the shelves.

Pens, pencils, cables, notebooks, paperwork, all sifted and thinned.

The numerous ‘miscellaneous’ drawers and boxes quickly became the throwaway/recycle drawers and boxes.

The final result?

The admission that I should have done all of this when I read Marie Kondo’s book to begin with!

Once the trauma of dealing with everything you have drawn into your home has been overcome, the product of less but more effective ‘stuff’ in your life is like a weight being lifted.

Once you engage with the process the ease with which you can maintain the system makes you wonder why you didn’t do this years ago.

One of the biggest lessons is the realisation that you are actually creating a system which then needs maintaining. 

It’s a flow-system like any other.

Maintain the system and enjoy the flow.

It has been a couple of months now but all is ‘flow’ still.

Plus, I am discovering the mindset is seeping in to other areas of my life.

My phone now has less apps – a lot less. I am even looking at it less. Use, as well as functionality, is a key driver now.

If there was a sticker out there declaring ‘I’ve been Kondo’d’ I would gladly display it!

The Way After – Day #3

 Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

In Sando’s copy of ‘John Brierley – A Pilgrim’s Gude to the Camino de Santiago’ there is a quick 5-point reference page.

It lists the following points: Travel – a quick guide; Preparation – Outer; Language; Pilgrim Passport, Protocol & Prayer; Preparation – Inner.

Under travel it refers to when and how long. Life questions in themselves.

Both Sando and I grew up in the Cold War, and much has changed in the world within the scope of our lives. We would often joke about when ‘we were lads . . . ‘ knowing full well that when we did so those around us had only a vague notion of what we were referring to. Life moves on quickly.

I used to wonder in amazement, when I was a young boy, at my Great-Grandmother who had been born in 1901. Her life had begun when only birds could fly and encompassed men travelling to the moon.

Sando and I had grown up under the shadow of nuclear weapons and MAD (mutually assured destruction) and was now overshadowed by a virus pandemic. We definitely hadn’t considered that after he first collapsed.

The Camino journey is normally estimated at 33 days of walking and a couple extra added in for rest days when needed.

Sando had the blessing of six years extra than cautioned once he was diagnosed.

In sport and many outdoor adventures we were both mindful of the necessity of preparing well. Despite the advice to travel as light as possible, we both would carry ‘extra’ to help out others.

Travelling light is a concept underpinning many business and personal life coaching.

Jesus was probably the first recorded teacher sharing this message as the disciples were sent out into the surrounding countryside, being told to take nothing but their cloaks and sandals.

Medieval pilgrims were exhorted similarly, teaching them to seek nothing but dependence upon God.

Memories weigh nothing – expect perhaps the emotions they conjure up – so carry as many of those with you as you can.

Plenty of other things can be left behind, or dispensed with when you realise on the Way that they are unnecessary.

Friends often help you out spotting these things ahead of you doing so. Listen to them.

Language. Sando was well accomplished in this department and his mastery of Spanish a definite advantage in the Basque north of Spain.

Learn other languages and try and find ways to practice them. 

The more people and cultures you come into contact with will broaden your horizons dramatically.  

I am good at reading and listening but my speaking of other languages wouldn’t even get me onto the bottom of the grade chart.

If you are the same – get yourself a Sando!

Pilgrim Passport, Protocol and Prayer.

The credencial is a document which you carry with you and show at the various albergues along the Way. In return you will receive a stamp which is conformation in Santiago de Compestella that you have indeed walked el Camino.

Be grateful to your hosts and respect your fellow peregrinos. They will not always look or sound like you.

Maybe we should be given a credencial at birth and collect stamps as we go through our years? It might alter our sense of accomplishment and remind us of events easily forgotten.

Pray always. We always need to be reminded of this.

Preparation. Once you reach Santiago you show your credencial and receive your compostella – your certificate for completing the Way of St. James.

If you state your reason for walking as religious, you will receive a certificate written in Latin. If you state your reason for walking as personal, you receive a certificate in Spanish.

Note how you declare this at the end and not the beginning?

Your answer may have changed in the course of El Camino.

Remember everyone of us is on the ‘Way’ and the ‘Way’ changes us.

Despite our best efforts to ‘carry on’ as we always did, Sando and I both knew things had and would change. 

We made adjustments without mentioning them.

I can’t say with any certainty, however, that I was prepared for the end as it came.