Come to the Edge.
Five Intriguing Ideas to Pollinate Your Mind 🐝
|Jonny Miller 🐢||Jun 5, 2018|
Ahoy Curious Friends 👋
Wait it's June already?! This belated newsie is slightly (read: WAAY) longer than usual, so for those of you time-strapped inbox-zero hunting readers who are less intrigued by my personal pre-amble of podcast experiments and introspective adventures
(approx 8 minutes read time) I shan't be offended, so feel free to scroll all the way down to the nutritious brainfood below.
Some of you kind readers have also requested that I share this 'read in browser' link for ease of forwarding or viewing outside of an inbox. Please do let me know your thoughts and as always I appreciate you choosing to spend some of those finite attentional hit points here and I do hope there's something vaguely thought-provoking in this month's extended edition.
Okay, so onto those edges. Where did they come from? Well let's rewind two weeks, it was pre-breakfast and not-yet-awake-mind was foraging for a caffeine fix at the packed-out Creative Mornings talk, with the entrepreneurial poet William Sieghart, a man whose formidable reputation was unbeknownst to me, yet judging from his unhurried disposition and unmistakably mischievous grin, I was excited to hear his story.
He turned out to be quite the modern day renaissance man, but his current mission was convincing people to 'drop their fear of poetry'. And with this in mind, he'd recently published a pocket-sized red book titled: 'The Poetry Pharmacy' – an inspired project emerging from a simple concept: in libraries or literary festivals he would invite strangers to sit with him, they would share a worry or struggle and he would listen thoughtfully to their story, pause and then before scribble down on a piece of paper a prescribed poem for them.
His favourite 'prescription', so he told us, was for a young woman who felt afraid to take a leap of faith, fearful of putting her ego on the line. For her, he read these words by Christopher Logue:
"Come to the edge // We might fall // Come to the edge. // It's too high! // COME TO THE EDGE! // And they came, // And he pushed, // And they flew."
These words resonated. Sitting there, I realised that May had been a month of edges. Mostly peering over them and occasionally summoning the spinal fortitude to leap over them, into the unknown.
They have ranged from low-hanging playful edges (busking ukulele on a hot Sunday afternoon in Bermondsey), to ridges requiring a little more emotional nerve – writing a 'letter from my persistence' during a creativity workshop or giving a half hour presentation on freediving at the 'Earth Summit' held at a Welsh farm. And then there were the Edges that felt more like vertigo-inducing mile high cliffs with jagged rocks below.
EDGE #1: Banishing that Podcast Procrastination Monkey 🐒
Some of you will know that I had been flirting with starting a podcast. The more time that passed, the more this idea expanded into an intimidating venture with lofty goals and weighty expectations. I had been (I realised in retrospect) aiming for perfection before crossing the start line.
There are times when the best thing friends can do is to help is to poke fun at you. That is exactly what happened and it was the nudge I needed to actually BEGIN! An overdue middle finger to the procrastination monkey. As an experiment in beginning before I felt 'ready' I invited Karina Guthrie, a philosopher queen of the yogi world, to be my conversational guinea pig and she gracious agreed.
Trusting that the unknown variables will fall into place. I realised that it was the first time that I even SWITCHED ON the microphone and had it been placed any closer, you might have heard the racing of my heartbeat as I pressed record.
Fortunately, those initial butterflies settled down and the conversation flowed. We covered a lot of ground: touching on why her parents would confiscate abridged books from her as a child, the story of how she left a career in academia to follow her curiosity in the yoga world, the difference between knowledge and lived wisdom and her thoughts on yoga as a spiritual technology for reconnecting us with what she described as 'bigness of the universe’. You can listen to the conversation with Karina here on Soundcloud.
Keeping that momentum up, episode #002 emerged shortly afterwards (yes I've audaciously added two zeros implying that there will one day be hundreds of episodes almost as a dare to my future self and a final nail in that pesky monkey's coffin) is with the self-described 'Captain of Spaceship Earth', Mr. Dan Burgess.
Dan has built a career around helping creative leaders rediscover their mojo through immersing them in nature. He's worked with some of the most innovative and inspiring brands, kickstarted a global movement to reconnect kids with nature, founded and built a global creative generosity network and guest lectures on Co-Creating the Emerging Future. Oh and he’s also a former club DJ, as well as a trail running surf-loving dad! I was so grateful for the long walks and meandering conversations we shared in Portugal, Dan’s enthusiasm for life is contagious and he’s someone who believes in the extraordinary possibilities for the future 🌎 >> Listen to the wide-ranging conversation with Dan here.
EDGE #2: A Guided Psychedelic Tea Ceremony 🍵
There was an ongoing debate in my mind as to whether to include this particular 'Edge' (hello fear of judgement). But in the spirit of embracing those frontiers, here it is...
Earlier in May, I took part in a 'tea-drinking' healing ceremony using a plant medicine known as 'Ayahuasca', (an entheogenic brew made out of 'Banisteriopsis caapi' vine) adopted from indigenous tribes of the Peruvian Amazon, a ceremony that commonly induces a non-ordinary state of consciousness (*ahem* a psychedelic experience.)
The intentions of the others attending the retreat varied from feeling at a transition point in their work or relationships, breaking through creative blocks or seeking to take on grief-related or depression-inducing gremlins (mine were a combo of all three).
Much has been made of the 'ineffability' of psychedelic trips and words do feel like inadequate tools, or at best signposts, for describing these phenomenological experiences (think trying to explain colour to a blind person). With that in mind, my experiences during this three-day ceremony ranged from nightmarishly intense (picture Joseph Campbell's 'Belly of the whale') to profoundly revelatory – feeling a sense of exquisite presence, untethered joy and deep cosmic interconnectedness. Here's an excerpt from my journal entry:
"A little while later, I wrapped up in my jacket and a blanket and made my way out to the embers of the fire beside the yurt under the cosmic blanket of stars and a full moon rising over the tree line. This was what I wanted to remember the most. That feeling of infinite smallness and wonder standing under the vast expanse of the universe. Gasping up in sheer rapture, I'm struggling to articulate the exquisite sense of presence that I felt in the crisp silence; the distant hooting of owls and the crackling of the flames dancing before me and warming my toes..."
"...mentally replaying the nights adventure and humming the melody of 'Wakantanka' (one of the soundtracks to the evening), the sound that came out caught me by surprise, it was a resonate diaphragm hum, echoing from somewhere deep down. I hummed louder and louder, smiling as I did. This turned into a chuckle and eventually erupted into a full blown belly laugh, eyes wide and taking in the dancing flames and the full moon. I sat there watching the fire until the hint of first light appeared in the distance and to the dawn on the horizon I whispered, ‘Welcome Home. Welcome Home.’"
(Side note: with the help of a talented friend, I'm hoping to translate some of experiences into a short illustrated children's story with the working title of 'The Boy Who Lost his Laugh' who journeys into his belly in search of it.)
As with my prior experiences on the Vipassana meditation retreat, learning to freedive as well navigating an ongoing and navigating the ever-changing landscape of grief, the challenge seems to be to first get curious about what is really going on and then to let go and sink down into those feelings or physical sensations that arose. And then repeating the process ad infinitum.
Whilst I'm certainly mindful of the potential risks and would argue that any hallucinogenics shouldn't ever be taken lightly, my sense is that with appropriate cultural containers and setting, they can be used as 'spiritual technologies', with vast potential for facilitating not only healing and trauma release but radical self-enquiry and the feeling of being profoundly connected to the world around us. To quote Czech psychiatrist Stan Grof: “Psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy."
If you are at all curious to learn more, I would highly highly recommend investing in a copy of reluctant psychonaut and NYT bestselling author Michael Pollan's new book: 'How to Change Your Mind' in which he manages to both articulate some of his own psychedelic experiences as well as outline the immense promise of these guided experiences, both therapeutically and as he puts it for the 'betterment of well people'.
Michael Pollan has also collaborated with the publishing platform Medium to curate stories from readers of their 'Trips worth Telling'. For a primer on the themes explored and his case for the current research being undertaken, I'd absolutely recommend listening to one of his recent conversations with either Ezra Klein, Tim Ferriss or Sam Harris (pick your interviewer of choice).*** // \\ ***So there we go, as I said it was an intense month! I'm conscious of the need to recharge and to retreat back to centre, so I'm looking forward to a two week trip along the rugged west coast of Ireland... which may also lead to an adventure or two worth sharing in a few weeks ☘️
In the meantime, my invitation to you is this: 'What do your edges look like?' How might you map the contours of these uncertain frontiers? What projects are you procrastinating on? And if you had the courage to jump and fly what might that look like? I'd love to hear from you!
Waving from a keyboard from somewhere in the Shire 👋
p.s. here are the four books on my reading list for June (I have an inability to just read one at a time) I'd love to hear which ones are on your to-read pile.
Five Intriguing Ideas to Pollinate Your Mind 🐝
1 // THE METEORIC RISE OF A RENEGADE ECONOMIST 🚀
Kate Raworth's TED talk rethinking an economic theory that's fit for the future, has racked up nearly 700k views since it went live two weeks back. I tweeted that it might be one of the most important TED Talks of the decade, to which London's friendly futurist Mark Stevenson replied: "She rocks harder than a teutonic rock band heading into a hurricane while soloing. In leather."
Even if you have zero interest in economics or our collective future, watch it anyway for a masterclass in how to deliver big ideas. I've have bought 2 spare copies of her book "Doughnut Economics" which I'm giving away to the first two people to reply to this email with a sentence or two about why you'd be interested to read it along with your postal address (UK only please) and I'll pop one copy in the post. (NB. If you've already read the book, check out the thriving community forum here).
2 // USEFUL TOOLS TO RECLAIM YOUR ATTENTION 📱
Like many of us, I've been giving more thought to how scattered and fragmented my attention is becoming through constantly being pulled into my phone. The average smartphone owner checks it over 80 times daily (29,000 per year!). To their credit, Google seem to have paid attention to Tristan Harris' 'Time Well Spent' research and are now taking steps to give their users more autonomy through their 'wellbeing project'. Apple are trailing behind, but iPhones do have a little known feature (h/t Kevin Rose) which enables you to create an auto-responder for sms messages. Email auto-responders are also an under-appreciated opportunity for comedy 🤣
If you want to step up your attention-reclaiming game, check out the Sabbath Manifesto (via Casper T.K.) and implement screen-free Saturdays. I'm trying it for June and going to use the days to get through my June reading list, but you might spend your attention re-allocation going for a swim in a pond, organise a supper club, a hike in the woods... basically something fun in the *real world*!
3 // TIMELESS WISDOM FROM GRADUATION SPEECHES 👨🎓
This highly readable blog post featuring curated wisdom from 25 TED speakers speaking to the millions of soon-to-graduate gown-clad students around the world. Here are some quotes: "Don’t get fooled by shiny things — that shine fades over time, while the gold of strong relationships never tarnishes...But once we gain competence in our jobs, too many of us stop learning and growing. The most successful people — in work and in life — never stop deliberately continuing to learn and improve...Remember: your best academic counsellor and career advisor is your heart.”
Since my own student days I've held a mild obsession with watching these podium-perched alchemists of well-lived-lives deliver their secular sermons. I've found them to be clarity-inducing antidotes to adult cynicism (David Foster Wallace's 'This is Water'), practical wisdom punctuated with British-wit (Neil Gaiman advising to 'Make Good Art') and powerful espresso shots of clarity on what really matters in the end (Steve Jobs' legendary three stories).
4 // DO NO EVIL? GOOGLE CONCERNING AI FAIL 🤖
Google's latest AI demo has caused waves of controversy. The demo video of their AI assistant making a table reservation is scarily human, to the point that many have suggested it passes the Turing Test. And whilst it would be fun to say "Ok Google, Pick up call from Telemarketers and waste as much of their time as possible," several commentators have pointed out that their demo shows a remarkable lack of ethics in fooling the humans on the other end of the line.
I think I agree with Kevin Kelly that in the near-future all AI bots will legally be required to declare themselves as so (related: The majority of code written Google is coded by a neural network by factor of 10x 😲 via Steve Jurvetson).
5 // WE ARE ALL HOGWARTS CHILDREN: WE YEARN TO BE SORTED 🧙♂️
Last year 8 of the 10 most shared articles online were quizzes. Most of them are best left untaken but this one, courtesy of IBM's Watson, is worth your time. In their words: "[this] service applies linguistic analytics and personality theory to infer attributes from a person's unstructured text." Which translates to: they run some clever deep-learning wizardry to generate surprisingly accurate personality insights based on your Twitter history and rooted in the latest 'Big-5' personality trait research.
From my own 13,000+ tweet-words it inferred that, "You don't find tradition to be particularly motivating for you: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done." My full results are visualised here (related note, McSweeney's have compiled a hilarious piece on what your Myers Briggs type says about whether you'll take the Myers Briggs test 🤣).
Just for fun: 6 Truths + 1 Lie 🎲
You actually made it to the end of these 2,656 words? Well as a reward, here's a fun game. Six of these factoids are true. One I made up. Your challenge is to guess which is which 🤔
👣 >> 'Twitter' was a 19th-century word for an abscess on a horse’s foot. [True /False]
🐦 >> Crows organise their own 'funerals (but not to mourn) [True / False]
🐄 >> Adding 2% seaweed to a cow’s diet reduces methane emissions by 99% [True / False]
🦁 >> Dinosaur tail feathers have been found trapped in fossilised amber [True /False]
☕ >> For $50 you can buy 'Astronaut Coffee' extracted mid-flight by a weather balloon [True / False]
✏️ >> Research shows students learn best when teaching styles match their learning styles [True / False]
💩 >> Fish poop can make leafy greens taste more delicious [True / False]
“Therefore, at any time of life, follow your own questions; don’t mistake other people’s questions for your own.” ― David Whyte,