Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lust for Life

I thought the lyrics for Brian Eno's song Lust for Life has some relevance to flow-wolves everywhere.
I actually think it is one of the great songs of that era with the drugged out Eno's singing kept tight by the skills of David Bowie as producer. Eno utters the strange lyrics but they make for poetic sense somehow.

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And the flesh machine
He's gonna do another strip tease
Hey man, where'd ya get that lotion?
Ive been hurting since Ive bought the gimmick
About something called love
Yeah, something called love.
Well, thats like hypnotizing chickens.

Exactly how clever was Eno anyway?
And who is Johnny Yen?
Perhaps it is "yen" as in "yearn" ......
Don't know - you decide!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Having Presence

What makes someone have a presence has always interested me. By presence I mean the ability to get (maybe even command) people's attention without going out of one's way to attract it.
As I write this I recognize that there is a superficial element to this and without doubt a tall, attractive individual of either sex is going to be able to turn-heads. But what I mean here is something deeper, a sense of an individuals aura and their power to influence a group.
The best example I have seen of this is at a high-school I taught at a long time ago. The principal, who was a nun, had a quiet calm about her which was most evident when she ran the school assembly. Getting the attention of over a thousand young and excitable students required the skills and poise of a seasoned lion-tamer (strange analogy but one that came to mind). Yet this lady would walk up to the microphone to signal the start of the assembly, and wait for the noise to dissipate as she got the students' attention. It did not take long, and if the response was not quick enough some students would take it upon themselves to shush the rowdier members of the student body. At worst, a few gestures and calming words from the principal would bring the assembly to order - all very orderly.
To understand the lady's presence one had to witness other assemblies being run by lesser individuals, where threats had to be made, individuals singled out and eventually, the speakers simply had to talk above the hub-bub.
How does one achieve that? Command the respect and attention of a mass of excitable school girls? It is of course not simply the individual, a carefully crafted but subtle ceremony helps achieve the desired order. However the individual is an integral part of that ceremony and creates the group dynamic and calming the individual students so that they can listen
It is about what is said; verbal cues. How it is said; the cadence of the voice, the stillness of the speaker asserting his or her authority, confidence and experience.
It may be a power play after all ..... but some individuals have the grace to make it appear natural.
Born leaders? Perhaps. Or possible great performers. Either way, when it works it is most impressive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bullies and Extreme Alienation

I just read an interesting article by Blake Fleetwood providing some background as to why Cho Seung-Hui might have started on the path that led him to the Virginia Tech shootings. Yes, I know - nothing can excuse Cho of the random killing of innocents ... but if we don't look into the mind of the shooter in order to gain some understanding, then we could miss some patterns and root-causes, making these shooting incidents appear random - and hence unavoidable.
Besides having undiagnosed psychological problems, Cho was apparently also subjected to subtle forms of bullying and racial intolerance at high-school. But one doesn't have to be ethically different to feel alienated. The two young shooters at Columbine were all-American but still felt outsiders in a world of "preps" and "jocks."
The issue of our extremely alienated youth is not simply evident in a small minority of violent individuals. Fleetwood reports that teen-suicides in America have more than doubled since 1960 and that while 2,000 teens kill themselves each year, 250,000 attempt suicide.
Here is a terrible fact quoted in the article:

In a recent survey by Bolt Media of more than 4,000 teenagers, 47% answered, "Yes" to the question "Could one of your classmates be a killer?" This large number indicates that teens themselves are aware of their peers' inability to cope. But educators are not recognizing the cancer that is crippling and killing so many of our youth. The American Medical Association found that 1 in 10 boys have been kicked in the groin by age 16. Twenty-five percent of these kicks resulted in an injury and, most tellingly, a quarter of the injured boys exhibited signs of depression a year after the injury.

If we seek happiness and flow through relationships with others then their rejection is a tremendous personal pain. As individuals, teachers and responsible members of society , we have a responsibility to support and nuture our youth - and sometimes protect them from each other.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tokyo Nights

So the family go to this little hole in the wall Japanese restaurant for my birthday .... providing a case study in flow-busting events.
It starts with getting there. The city is crazy on a Thursday night - yes, it's late-night-shopping ... didn't think of that, did we.
I make a spontaneous decision to try Tokyo Nights (not its real name) - a restaurant I have always passed but never eaten at. It is in the basement of an old building and the enterance is down a few steps. It is dark, with seating booths - I immediately like the place, even though I nearly kill myself tripping on an unseen step, but not everyone is impressed.
The first thing my wife does is use the restroom (it's a cold night) and that proves to be a mistake. Dark and dingy may be ok, but unclean restrooms are not easily forgiven.
The food is adequate, but not really enough. Japanese food is not exactly filling at the best of times but the serves are minuscule so we're not completely satisfied. I don't worry because I'm thinking we can get some ice cream as we walk around.
Finally, the bill comes ... now that's a real flow-buster! I guess we ordered quite a few dishes to fill up. Still, it was definitely not worth the price.
The family are all pretty grumpy now and my suggestion of going for a stroll around the waterfront is not welcome. Apparently it is a really cold night, and my troop are not impressed with the idea of a walk. I persist and lead the way .... it really is blowing a gale out. I decide not to suggest ice cream, after all. Instead, we do a Chevy Chase at the really spectacular view - you know, stop, look, and then go turn to go home - pity, but it really is a cold night.
All together an interesting evening .... strangely, I still had a grand time with my family, just because they were all around me. Yes, they could not escape it on this occasion, so I guess even a series of minor flow-busters cannot always change our mood.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Contradictions in Still and Flow?

I interpret the quote: "Be still like a mountain, flow like a river" as keeping calm and centred even as a whirlwind of activities and other mental distractions, rage around us. Apparently contradictory, it somehow seems to make perfect sense.
I think the sentiment is best understood by example.
It reminds me of scenes in movies like Mission Impossible where super-slow-motion effects show our hero's mental stillness and concentration - come to think of it, Kung-Fu movies have long used this technique. Even as our hero is working double-time to untangle himself from some improbable situation, or fight off impossible odds, these special-effects "show" his brain still working calmly for some resolution. Our hero's concentration slows the external world down and time virtually stands still as he calmly plots his next move, seemingly uneffected by the mayhem around him.
Our hero is in flow ..... performing amazing acts even as his mind is still and focused.
How cool is that!

Friday, September 12, 2008

If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it

Someone at the American Dialect Society (Goggle's web version does not give a name but I'll try and post the details some other time) gave the origins of the saying which seems to go back to the late 1800's at least.
And how true it is .... definitely appropriate for me.
I think the reason that a busy person can take on more has something to do with flow .... when we have the momentum and energy associated with action then we can easily accomodate more.
When we do less than is optimal we have to put in the effort needed to "prime the pump" and that can consume greater energy than the activity itself.
It is like the activation energy for a chemical reaction - once started, the reaction will continue .... but it make take some "heat" to get things going.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Thouroughly Modern Education

How difficult it is for students today.
I remember going through my graduate studies, struggling to keep up with the latest research on a teeny, tiny aspect of mathematics related to soliton equations, and wondering how future generations would be able to reach the cutting edge of knowledge. Something would have to change in our education system to allow us to accelerate our learning - we could not possibly keep teaching the same material at high school maths for example, not with a tsunami of new knowledge being added.
I am beginning to now see that the question must indeed be tricky, because without directly addressing the issue, we are proceeding to simple force-feed students with information and coupling that with a constant barrage of assessments designed to select only the brightest. But are the results what we really want? Without giving them the time to digest or synthesize the facts - let alone enjoy the gaining of knowledge - we simply create highly educated zombies.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Eating an Orange Over the Sink

It was before lunch the other day and I was tempted to have a snack. But I thought better of eating junk and decided to have a good healthy orange - they were in season and looked lucious in the fruit bowl.
Time is a precious thing, so I found myself standing over the sink, peeling the organge and letting the rind fall into the sink. Once peeled, I began eating the orange segments, also over the sink.
The problem is that I got distracted as I was eating the orange and my thoughts wondered. By the time I was in the moment again, I'd finished eating the orange and had almost no recollection of its taste. I had mechanically consumed this beautiful fruit.
My next thought was that perhaps I should have another orange - and concentrate on the flavours this time - but I really did not feel hungry any more.
What a wasted experience .... next time I'm going to eat from a plate at a table and savour the moment.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lucky Yellow Elastic Band

Back a long time there was this game we used to play with elastic (rubber) bands.
The objective of the game is simple - acquire as many elastic bands (of the multi-coloured variety) as you can and show others of your success in this nobel objective by placing your collection on your wrist.
The rules of the game required that you don't just buy the elastic bands (although you had to start somewhere of course and buying the initial collection was necessary) but instead won them of your opponents through a show of skills. I need to describe the rules in full someday .... or find them elsewhere on the internet but suffice to say that you "won" based upon your accuracy in shooting down elastic bands placed on a stand which holds the "pot" of bands contributed (equally) by each player. To make it fair, the shooting order was determined by each player positioning themselves a distance away from the target stand, with the farthest player away having the first shot.
Now the whole reason for all this set-up is that there was always a special elastic band designated the "shooter" .... similar to marbles, eh? ..... and I wanted here to recollect my all-time favourite yellow elastic band.
It was the best shooter ever ... and when I had it in my hands I just knew I would win .... and I usually did. The confidence it gave me was tremendous .... sure it was a nice stretchy band but I performed so well with that lucky-shooter that it exceeded any physical perfection of the band itself.
It was a totally mental edge I had when I used that yellow elastic band .... I was unassailable and my wealth in elastic bands leapt.
Until, that is, the inevitable happended and the band eventually broke!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Waiting Tables

The quote in the previous post captures the essence of flow.
Striving for happiness as an end in itself is flawed logic .... flow delivers happiness as a by-product and is like something in our periferal vision that disappears when we focus on it.
To achieve flow is the trick .... and that can be though any activity.
I remember my short time as a waiter at a friend's restaurant. At the end of the night I felt absolutely exhausted but it was such a great feeling of accomplishment ..... doing a good job (mostly), interacting with folk, working with friends, earning some extra money ..... a good days work, as they say.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What is Happiness?

Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you willl sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What is (not) Happiness?


What I "discovered" was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.

Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chinese Quotation

“Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.”

Such a beautiful quote attributed to Lao Tzu. Deserving of more thinking than the simple sentence might suggest. Found at Ancient Eastern Philosophy: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Beautiful Introduction ......

Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression: Sawu bona. It literally means, “I see you.” If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying Sikhona, “I am here.” The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence.

The passage goes on to quote the Zulu saying that literally translates as: “A person is a person because of other people.”

The authors then go on to acknowledge the contributions of those working to build learning organizations” and offers the reader this welcome:
We see you. We are glad you are here.

Quoted from the introduction to The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook,
by Peter M. Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard B. Ross and Bryan J. Smith.
Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 1995 edition.

Buy the book, they seem really nice folk!