The Curiosity Countdown 🚀

If Work Dominated Your Every Moment, Would Life Be Worth Living?

Dear Curious Comrades,

This year begun with the intention of disconnecting in an attempt to reconnect. Re-orientating. Re-building. Quality time with friends, family and myself.

Navigating the grieving process has parallels with surfing. Every so often an unexpected monster wave will appear on the horizon, taking you out and holding you underwater in the chaotic whitewash. Other times, it feels possible to ride those waves of tenderness into a sensation of exquisite gratitude, reminiscent perhaps of Leonard Cohen's light, shining through the broken cracks.

Those weeks of relative solitude led to making a small but-not-insignificant dent in my stack of unread books, hiking through the Welsh hills, journaling the satisfyingly old-fashioned way and a challenging but deeply rewarding 10-Day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Herefordshire.

I also picked up a dusty, dog-eared copy Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way'. I cannot recommend this workbook enough for anyone looking to rekindle their relationship with creativity. Her 12 week process reminds me of some words from the American poet William Stafford, that may resonate with any of you also navigating a period of transition:


"There’s a thread you follow. It goes among // things that change. But it doesn’t change. // People wonder about what you are pursuing. // You have to explain about the thread. // But it is hard for others to see. // While you hold it you can’t get lost. // Tragedies happen; people get hurt // or die; and you suffer and get old. // Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. // You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
 

Post-retreat, for a while the world shimmered. However, being pulled back into the internet's gravitational field was inevitable. I could feel the my attention being diffused and refracting, as if being passed through a prism. The upside was that there was a lot to catch up on and much of this reading was fascinating, like feasting on a great meal after a 10 day fast.

I'm still experimenting with formats for sharing the nuggets that emerged from this online foraging in a useful but not overwhelming manner. For now, there is a curiosity countdown to celebrate Elon's Falcon Heavy rocket launch. Hopefully there will be some morsels of interest amongst the sea of links.

 

FIVE THOUGHT-PROVOKING LONG READS 🤔

1/ If Work Dominated Your Every Moment, Would Life Be Worth Living? via Aeon // for me this essay was painfully close to the bone. I often fall into the trap of measuring my self-worth by my capacity to be productive. But as this article makes clear our 'existential restlessness' comes at the expense of playful contemplation, "...for what is lost in the world of total work is art’s revelation of the beautiful, religion’s glimpse of eternity, love’s unalloyed joy, and philosophy’s sense of wonderment. All of these require silence, stillness, a wholehearted willingness to simply apprehend."

2/ Keep Your Identity Small via Paul Graham // Do you ever wonder why some humans have such a hard time changing their views in the face of rational evidence? The godfather of YCombinator has a compelling explanation: "What makes politics and religion such minefields is that they engage so many people's identities. If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible."

3/ Eager to be Wrong via Farnham St. // Following on from Paul Graham's thoughts above, can you remember the last time you publicly changed your mind about something important? It's depressingly rare. This post explores how uncomfortable it feels to genuinely consider both sides of an argument (related: when you are right in an debate, remember to be kind).

4/ Fingerspitzengefühl via Taylor Pearson // The subtitle of this post is 'What Elite Tank Commanders, Chess Grandmasters, and Entrepreneurs Have in Common' – spoiler, it's a German word that translates literally to “finger-tips feeling” and reminded me of the great line: "Knowledge is only a rumour until it lives in the muscle."

5/ The Leaning Tower of Morality via Ribbon Farm // this is a longish read that sheds light on some painfully uncomfortable but profound moral truths (three 'bitter pills') about the nature of altruism in our society and the need to dive deeper into the systematic conditions under which good behavior flourishes.


FOUR BOOKS TO ADD TO YOUR PILE 📚

1/ Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth //  Wow. Whenever someone asked me what I studied at university I was embarrassed to say that half of it was Economics. Kate's book flips Economics on it's head and re-examines everything from first principles. She has redrawn the economic map to more accurately reflect the territory. I want to re-read it again already and cannot recommend this book highly enough.

2/ Mythos by Stephen Fry // I chose this because, well I could listen to his comforting voice for hours on end. It's also fascinating to learn how many of our everyday words originate from these Greek Myths. Peppered with his trademark British charm and wit I consider this an Audible credit very well spent.

3/ You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future by Jonathan Keats // Bucky is in my view, one of the most underappreciated geniuses of the 20th century. He described his own life as a 56-year experiment and his lessons in being unable to change things by fighting the existing reality couldn't be more relevant to the present. In Bucky's words: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only co-pilots” 

4/ Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright // The Vipassana retreat left me with So. Many. Questions. What on earth actually happens to our minds during meditation? Have any of these fairly radical Buddhist insights been backed up by evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience? What might a relatively secular path to spirituality look like? This book provided a good survey of the landscape and hinted at some answers and re-iterated how little we truly understand about the nature of consciousness in the Western world.



THREE EVENTS I'M STOKED ABOUT 📆

1/ Fixing the Future: Adventures in a Better Tomorrow [Barcelona / March 13] // if you are interested in the future of our planet and don't already subscribe to Atlas of the Future's newsletter, you really should. Watching Kate Raworth speak (her book is above) would be worth the flight & ticket price alone.

2/ Wavemaker Collective [Portugal / May 10-14] // If you love the ocean and are engaged in trying to leave this world a little better than you found it, definitely do grab one of the last few remaining places.

3/ Liz Gilbert's Big Magic Masterclass [London / May 19] // her book Big Magic changed how I view my relationship with creativity. It's filled with wonderful examples of metaphorical truths, ideas that need not be taken literally, but are valuable heuristics if we pretend them into existence.


TWO MINI CHALLENGES 📝

1/ Random Packages of Kindness //  I recently received an unexpected package from an old friend filled with chocolate coated coffee beans (my kryptonite) with a handwritten note. I remember hearing someone talk about how in order to be kind, you must swerve regularly from your path. So consider this a nudge to swerve from the path of productivity and send something to a friend for no specific reason. You might just make their day. 

2/ Online Marginalia //  thanks to Tiago Forte, I've started using the Liner Chrome extensions to highlight online articles as I read, archiving everything into an Evernote folder. I've found it forces me to read more consciously, and has the added benefit of creating a living archive of interestingness (in due course I hope this will evolve into something like a /canon page).


ONE FINAL PARTING THOUGHT 💬

"I don’t want to get to the top of the mountain, look around, and realise that it’s just me by myself up there, taking a selfie with The Void because there’s nobody else around. I want to structure my life in such a way as to have a long list of acknowledgments for every achievement, regardless of how big or small it is." – Jana Marie


LIFT OFF 🚀🚀🚀// Wherever in the world you are and whatever you're working on, don't feel too bad that you're not likely to beat Elon in getting to Mars, Planet Earth has plenty of interesting stuff going on these days.

Pura vida,

J.M.

p.s. If you know of a fellow curious human who might appreciate these shockingly infrequent missives, do feel free to forward them "this subscribe link”. Alternatively, if you have any thoughts to share or questions to send my way I'd love to hear fromyou 🙏