The Maker's Dilemma, TEDx Ubud & An Antidote to ‘Total Work’

PLUS: Do You Even Meditate, Bro? The Fed-Ex Letter Hack and a Conversation with a Remarkable Afghan Refugee

Ahoy Curious Friends 👋

🤔 The Maker’s Dilemma // A couple of weeks back, I received an unexpected call from a friend back in London. The unexpected catch-up call ended with an even more unexpected job offer. This is the story of how I navigated that decision making process between heading back to London for a dreamy full time role or keep hacking through the unknown wilderness of side-projects here in Bali?

🌴 TEDxUbud: Why Talk about Grief to 500 People? // Over the last two years since Sophie passed, I’ve experienced powerful, embodied moments of joy and aliveness, felt deeper connections forged with friends and family and received truly immense gifts from leaning into the grieving process. Here are some short reflections on my TEDx talk.

👨‍🎓 If [This] Then [Breathe] // Over thirty of you curious humans have signed up to be guinea pigs for the online course that I’m building, thank you! That's enough of a signal for me to begin making it! (psst… reply to this email with ‘I’m Curious’ to learn more and potentially join the first cohort)

📝 Journal Prompt // There are exactly eighty days left of 2019, and with that in mind, I’ll leave you with the question that my wise housemate Danielle asked me as I was navigating the job decision mentioned above and invite you to take a moment to close down your eyes and feel into whatever arises:

“Imagine feeling into a space of abundance, you have all of the time, resources and credibility that you need, forget all scarcity: where do you see yourself and what would you be working on?”

Stay Curious Out There,


p.s. Please forward this link (or tweet) to a friend who might appreciate these musings. You can also support my enthusiastic flailing and future creations by casting a vote of confidence in my direction and becoming a Curious Humans subscriber.

Left: preparing to talk at TEDxUbud to an audience of 500 + twice as many mosquitoes // Right: Plotting dreams for 2020 in Yoshino, Japan during a StudioD FOCUS retreat (Photo Credit: Craig Mod)

🙋‍♂️ Eight Ideas Worth Sharing…

🌎 1 // My Conversation with an Afghan Refugee

One of the TEDx Ubud speakers was a remarkable 20 year old called Abdullah Sarwari. Four and a half years ago his family came to Indonesia to seek refuge, where he then realised that they weren’t allowed to work or study here (there are 14,000 refugees in Indonesia alone).

After the talk he told me the story of how there were professional ‘smugglers’, officials open to bribes and how at every point in their journey they were both relying on the kindness of strangers but also liable to being exploited, not having any rights recognised in Indonesia. Along with his sister he also started a school that provided free education to over 300 refugee children.

It was a shot of perspective about both how fortunate most of us are to have the passports we do in the west and how much important work there is to be done to create universal basic human rights, regardless of where people are born.

☕ 2 // How to Get Coffee Meetings with 50 Fortune 500 CEOs

One of the most interesting humans I met in Japan was an enigmatic Harvard Business Professor who wrote a book about White Collar Crime, interviewing 50 corporate execs (from the Enron fraudsters to McKinsey inside traders and the likes of Bernie Madoff).

I cheekily asked if I could be his ‘research assistant’ so that I might get an email address as well, enabling me to also get in touch with famous people. He laughed and said that that wasn’t his approach…

Instead for each exec, he printed out a short letter requesting a call at their earliest convenience, which he sent by the most expensive urgent $200 Fed-Ex delivery so that when it landed on their assistant’s desk the following morning at 7am, they would immediately hand it on to the busy CEO thinking it to be of extreme importance.


🧘‍♂️ 3 // Do You Even Meditate, Bro?

On of my favourite online writers Oshan Jarow, wrote this thoughtful and poetic post titled: ‘Why I Meditate’, exploring his relationship with cultivating stillness.

Whilst coaching friends and family in meditation, the question of ‘why do it’ and motivation inevitably comes up over and over again, albeit in different forms.

Of course, there are the numerous scientific studies revealing health benefits—high achievers pointing to meditation as giving them a mental edge, talented creatives surfacing deep insights through sitting practice and many more who have healed and processed trauma from getting to know their own minds.

But I love the non-instrumental perspective that Oshan takes; framing attention as art:

"I meditate because attention is my art form. I’d even wager that much of what we call art — paintings, novels, poetry — are secondary, byproducts of rarefied attention. Attention, then is the primary art form."

🏢 4 // Antidotes to ‘Total Work’: The Way of Wonderment (WW) & the Way of Loss (WL)

I have been diving into the thoughtful essays of the practical philosopher Andrew Taggart and recently asked him how he thinks about conveying the essentiality of stillness and silence to those who are deep in the ‘Total Work’ mindset.

Our twitter exchange led to this post of his ‘Coming To The Other Side Of Total Work’ which I thoroughly recommend reading. Here’s a teaser:

“Yet it is life that, through some event, is the best teacher, life that may split one open, life that can provide the aptest pointer… It is necessary for him to experience an opening, a rupture. If he does, he shall soon discover that the opening is only the beginning. Through the portal lies the Mystery.”

🖥️ 5 // Email Apnea & Why ‘Take a Deep Breath’ is Bad Advice

As you’re reading (or perhaps skimming) this newsletter, ask yourself: how is your breath? Is it shallow and in your chest?

If you are like the vast majority of smartphone tapping humans then the answer is yes, and you might even be holding your breath—a phenomenon known as ‘email apnea’ defined as:

Holding one’s breath unconsciously while reading an email.

So many of us do it and it keeps our bodies in a state of low-level stress or anxiety as opposed to slower diaphragmatic (belly) breathing which is a cue to calm and relax. I have been devouring everything breath-related in recent weeks—from peer-reviewed journal papers to several thousand year old yogic literature—and I have learnt so so much that has real practical value (hence why I feel compelled to create an online course).

For the TEDx talk I gave last weekend, had I followed the traditional advice of ‘taking deep breaths’ to calm down, this actually would have activated my sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and would have led to my feeling even more nervous before the talk.

(related: CO2 isn't a waste gas. It's responsible for red blood cells releasing 02 into our cells... when we soften our breathing more 02 gets to the cells)

Instead, I practiced 10 minutes of alternate nostril breathing (I call this ‘Dim Hof’), in through the left for a count of 5, then out through the right for a count of 10 and a short pause after the exhale.

I could literally feel my heart rate slowing down in my chest and a wave of calm washed over me, conveniently moments before I was called to step out into the big red dot on-stage.

❣️ 6 // Our Cuckoo Clock Hearts

There is a quirky animated film that I watched many years ago called Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart. I watched it several times, but I don’t think I fully understood the message until recently.

Jack the protagonist was born on the coldest day ever. Due to the extreme cold he is born with a frozen heart which will not beat. But the attendant midwife saves his life by replacing his heart with a fragile yet functioning cuckoo clock.

But she tells him three rules to prevent his untimely death: he must never play with the hands of the clock, lose his temper or fall in love.

The final scene (sorry, spoiler) has Jack throw away his key, choosing to feel love even though he risks death doing so.

I think I realised that we're all Jack—when we love what death can touch, it will explode our heart, but that’s the point.

Maybe, that’s why we’re here.

🍂 7 // If Trees Acted Like Humans

You would see them reaching down with their branches and raking up all the leaves to hold onto them for security. Wouldn’t you feel bad if you saw the trees doing this, holding all their leaves to themselves as if they were in an existential crisis?

This is our tendency as humans, to pick up the pieces of our fallen identities, beliefs and theories—holding on for dear life. What if instead we let it all go, trusting that Spring will arrive in due course.

📝 8 // Advice For Starting Out on Creative Projects

Whilst trying to find a suitable starting point for the How to Human project, I reached out to a wise mentor, who generously replied with this wisdom that I wanted to share—as a reminder to both myself and any of you who may find yourselves at the beginning of a new creative endeavour:

“What I can say to you is that I started with one idea and everything else emerged. And perhaps you can work with your fear by realizing you don't have to start with a complete complex vision. You need to know where and how you want to begin, or what comes next out of what you're doing now, and make THAT happen. It's worked for me/us to let the project be emergent as a matter of principle."

🧠 Et Cetera

🦇 Bats argue (a lot)

😂 A million nameless joys

😺 Real life Schrödinger's cat

🐘 Elephant-assisted backflip

🐝 Wasps are mind-controllers

🐙 Watch an octopus dreaming

🌳 How and why to do nothing

📝 Good advice from storytellers

🏄‍♂️ The surfer’s secret to happiness

👨‍🎓 Rise of The Intellectual Deep Web

🎻 A midsummer morning adventure (video)

🎵 Canon in D performed on rubber chicken

🍄 How psychedelics create the Overview Effect

📚 Curiosity depends on what you already know

🕷️ Spiders fly hundreds of miles using electricity!

🧠 Our brains use attention filters, not a spotlight

📛 Why 'taking a deep breath' is bad advice (podcast)

💬 Gaining perspective through untranslatable words

🤝 50 ways to be stupendously generous (more ideas here)

🎨 Would you make your art if you were the last person on earth?

📝 Parting Poem

The Shadow

What is the question,

you are scared to ask?


Tell me of the shape

That your shadow casts.


You must turn around,

Seek your seeker.


Find the courage

To meet it's gaze,

And speak its true name.