News

The following are announcements and commentary from the institute regarding issues in the news and new developments at the institute. The commentary represents the opinions of individuals in the institute and this is identified in the by line.

Taking normal for granted? A Mindful Story

By Simon Bell

NEW NORMAL

New Normal illustration

It had been blowing for days on end. The wind had been raging for so long now no one could remember quite when it began. Unusual? Certainly. An emergency? What would an emergency for lengthy periods of wind mean? What would it mean in terms of the reasons for it and what would it mean in terms of the lives impacted? These are braided questions.
“Just the new normal”, Ken at the corner shop had suggested in his deep, jovial voice. “No need to worry, we still get the dog-food delivery!”
Trying to reassure her, he added with a wink:
“We’re not going to run out of bread and milk in the near future Jenny”.
He did not say anything about the regular shortages in fresh veg, paper, cooking oil, potatoes. Fruit. The list went on. She did not think it wise to spoil his optimistic mood. She had smiled uncertainly as he helped her with her bag and then took time to open and close the shop door for her, lest it whip from her hand as she angled her body out into the wind-blown street. Some-how his easy kindness and smiling assurances were not convincing.
As she laboured up the hill towards her small semi, she realised just how tired she was of the wind. It was constant and inescapable. Moaning around her house, slamming the doors, making it impossible to open windows, it was a constant presence but a symptom of what?
The dog was not keen either. Walks were short and sometimes plain dangerous. Falling branches had claimed many lives and falling trees a lot more. Not that there were too many trees around her bit of town anymore. Even so, getting from A to B was a nightmare. Recreational walking was a hazard. Her dog was not happy and nor was she. Who was?
It had been months ago that the TV news had noted the dip in the jet-stream. She had not even known what the jet-stream was until then. In conversations with her neighbours it appeared that there was to be a threat of a prolonged period of gales. Of course people had begun talking about the windy autumn and some said it was the windiest on record. But, the older members of the community poo poo’d the idea. It had been much windier in 1987 they said. But surely that was not right?
It had begun innocently enough. Certainly, the leaves had come down early and in great abundance causing all kinds of issues on road and rail but, you expected winds in the autumn. But then, there had been no let up. Days of high winds had turned into weeks. Autumn came and went; winter began and now the winds howled with a new ferocity. Snow and sleet made all kinds of event impossible. Winter fairs and sports events were cancelled or indefinitely postponed. Visits from friends and family were scratched from the calendar and still the wind keened and wailed.
Now it was Spring and ‘new normal’ just about summed it up. Winter receded but as the warmth began to build a new threat emerged in the form of a protracted heat wave. The inverse of an Indian Summer. Summer before summer. And the wind showed no sign of abatement. The gales continued and this brought to the public mind a new challenge. Tempests and heat. An evil combination. New words and phrases were appearing on the news. Gone were “flood” and “tree-loss”. The new vocabulary included; “desertification”, “massive soil-erosion”, “dust-bowl”. Was this new normal too?
Turning on her television and clicking the volume up to combat the never-ceasing racket from outside, Jenny settled down to try to take her mind of things. Outside the wind continued to howl and moan, a mindless cypher of the change inherent and emergent from the human achievement. A kind of marker of a unique inflection point. The moment had come and gone five months earlier without fanfare or even much notice, other than comments from a few worried looking scientists whose dire prognoses did not make it onto the prime-time news.
But the die was cast and ‘he who sows the wind’… as they say.
A consequence emergent from complex interactions, each of them as unremarkable as the fluttering of a butterfly wing but the outcome scaled and geared on a spring of titanic, possibly civilisation-breaking inevitability.

Let the story sink in. When you are ready, here are the questions for you to consider:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one.
When you feel clear on this, hold it in your mind and read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?
Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story.

What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier?
Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

Don’t expect instant results from considering a mindful story. The whole point is that the story can act as a gateway to another level. Give yourself time to let the ideas which come from the story settle down. Each time you reconsider you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in new ideas.

Artwork © Rachel Furze

Seek – A Mindful Story

By Simon Bell

Most of the time we are looking for something. From a lost key to a new career. Seeking. I know I am often seeking. To seek: a verb meaning to attempt to find something.

Seek illustration

Here are some definitions. To start with an example of seeking: “they came to seek shelter from biting winter winds”. To seek includes the idea of looking to find. Or seeking might be articulated as an: attempt or desire to obtain or achieve something. For example: “the new regime sought his extradition”. We might go further, seeking means to ask for something from someone, e.g. “he sought help from the police”.

The seeking process implies two things. A seeker and the sought. Subject and object. But, there is more to it than that. Between the seeker and the sought, in the gap inbetween, is the seeking, the finding, the obtaining, the asking. The quality of the seeking.

Finding, obtaining and asking are the quality requirements for the seeker to find the sought.

Now, generally speaking, we do not think about all of this. When I am looking for something I do not consciously hold in my head: “I am the seeker wishing to find, obtain or ask for the sought”. I just go and seek. Maybe that is why I often don’t find what I am looking for? Maybe I could be more precise in my seeking? Maybe it would help?

Problems abound in any seeking process. Here are a few questions which regularly arise.

  • Who is the seeker? Is this clear?
  • What is being sought? Is there one thing or many?
  • Do all the seekers agree on what is being sought?
  • How is the process of finding, obtaining and asking being organised?
  • What is the process?

Here are two short examples which may help to make a case for some qualities of seeking.

Example 1. They had set out but had no idea of what the destination looked like. All of them were fearful of what they might find but they had not talked about their fears. There was an iron leader, and his direction of travel had emerged as a consequence of past failures.

Example 2. They had all agreed on the destination, means and route and how they would know when they arrived. The various tasks which the journey suggested had been allocated to members of the team and there had been debate over who was prepared to do what. 

Who found the South Pole?

When you have finished the story give the following questions a little thought:

  • How is the story meaningful to you?
  • How is this meaning relevant to your life?
  • What value does this relevance have in terms of how you may change?
  • What Insight follows from the sense of value to change?
  • How will you change?

Of course, it is good to think, how will you know if your change has worked?

Artwork © Rachel Furze

Point – A Mindful Story

By Simon Bell

Often there is a discrete moment or point when things change and future events tip over into a new circumstance. Sometimes we can see this coming and sometimes it is a surprise.

Here is a story.

Point illustration

There is a point to things. A point. Notice the focus on the singular.

The four children were making their way home from school in group-security.

“Never walk home alone”, Nathan’s mother had emphasised weeks ago. And continued to emphasise on a near daily basis. FFS, he was 14! Not a kid anymore. Not so small as to be easily swiped by some paedo.

Nevertheless, the four were four and were in a certain unspoken agreement that walking together was the way to go.

The school was in a leafy borough, post-war lime trees lined the streets, making the pavement sticky with resin at certain times of the year. The slight resistance of the sole of the shoe lifting from the paving slab was an early sign that unintended or wickedly planned stumbles would be rewarded with unsightly, gummy blemishes on hands, elbows and any other extremity which made contact with the ground. The walk had other perils, more usual than the vague challenges provided by trees. Traffic at times was crazy. Some kids seemed to have lifts who took the challenges of gaming to the streets, psychopathically trying to bury the noses of their pimped-up Peugeot’s into the passing throng of students tramping home. Road crossings could be crowded as the change in the lights was impatiently awaited. These were choke points. Convergence zones where masses were penned in ranks, waiting to be released on the green light, like a broken pack of pool balls, to the variable directions, speeds and clusters people adopt as they disperse. There was one particular such point.

Nathan did not like this point. It was on his mind each day on the journey in. “The point” he called it. The Point was what all his small gang called it. Parents referred to is as: ‘an accident waiting to happen’.

It had probably emerged by chance or accident. A desire on the part of the local council not to demolish a line of good, low-cost terraced housing in an area where house prices were beginning to make home ownership impossible for those of modest means.

In one section of Nathan’s commute was a hundred metres of steep descent. Shortly after a pizza and kebab outlet, the main road did an acute turn to the left, a snake curve, the road bending round the line of terraced houses. To allow pedestrians to avoid following the loop in the road, at the ‘elbow’ in the road was a crossing point with the pavement on the far side buffing up to a metal fence. The pavement was narrow, the fence marking the edge of the steep fall. The road curved around the line of houses to continue on its way ten metres below. The metal fence and row of housing was punctured by a narrow stairway which took the pedestrians directly down to the lower road as it swept back. The stairway was steep and descended to another narrow pavement. This was “The Point”. Steep descent, choke point crossing, narrow, steep stairway, narrow pavement, busy road.

Trudging home in the evening was never a problem. The line of children straggled out on the rising slope and the stairway and fence were wearily and slowly navigated. No, ‘The Point’ was at its worrying worst on the helter skelter morning tumble down the falling slope and the exuberant challenge of ‘getting down the stairs first’. This was when ‘The Point’ would prove to be singular indeed.

Let the story sink in. When you are ready, here are the questions for you to consider:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one.

When you feel clear on this, hold it in your mind and read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?

Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier?

Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

Don’t expect instant results from considering a mindful story. The whole point is that the story can act as a gateway to another level. Give yourself time to let the ideas which come from the story settle down. Each time you reconsider you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in new ideas.

Artwork © Rachel Furze