At the end of last year I had the chance to confront my belief that returning to my former place and style of working was a viable option for contributing to my income. I left my steady job in April 2012, and in the back of my mind there was always the possibility of returning on a more flexible basis in order to earn some money at a high hourly rate.

Late last year I accepted the offer to return to deliver some training. I was missing being part of the team, working with a computer system, and a reliable source of income. It seemed like it should be possible to pull off a brief return appearance if I didn’t make any major long term commitments.

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What happened? I enjoyed it for a few days, then got sick for two weeks. I returned for a day and got sick for another two weeks. I had been afraid to confront the truth that it was time to truly say goodbye to my old way of life, so sickness did it for me.

By telling myself a story about what “should be possible” I was trying to bypass my gut feeling that it wasn’t the right thing for me. It seemed logical that spending fewer days or hours at work would have made it easier to be there, but it didn’t turn out like that. Every minute spent in a hierarchical bureaucracy is a microcosm of all that working in such an environment implies. The imbalance of power, the lack of control, the little inefficiencies and frustrations were all present.

I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the people around me who were excited about the challenge of the work, even as I re-experienced the intensity of the mental effort required to carry out complex computer projects. I also heard the familiar stories of anxiety and frustration that had been my own story. Indeed, some of them were the same issues, moved forward by 18 months.

After a four weeks of illness I had to admit to myself that I didn’t want to do this type of work, even briefly. It was pulling me back into old ways of thinking and feeling that I had worked hard to relinquish. Embarassing as it was to go through that process, it served an important purpose. It was very clear that I needed to move fully into the new way of living that I have been creating for myself. Having experienced a life of creativity and autonomy since I left my secure job, I was a different person. I didn’t want to make the adjustments and compromises that would be required to operate in the old environment. Trying to do so was dragging down my health and my ability to move forward into a new way of living.

When I left work in 2012 to travel overseas I took with me a small stone from the building as a momento. A little bit of the tower building went with me around the world, and sat in a box beside my computer at home. Having realised that this experience was  about letting go fully and completely, I decided to perform a symbolic act. On my last day, I returned the stone where I had found it, on the balcony beside the office, with a request that it look after the friends and colleagues who I was leaving behind. Of course you don’t really leave people behind. The dear friends that I made all those years are still with me, and always will be, no matter where we are or how often we see each other.

Since that last day, I feel that I really have let go. I can walk through the foyer of the tower without the nagging fear that a large hand will come down from the sky and pull me back into my old life. Over the Australian summer I have been exploring some new ideas that are going to be very helpful in moving forward into new ways of working and earning an income.

Its been a while since the last post as I’ve been sick with a virus and I am just getting back into a normal routine. It wasn’t very serious, but I felt exhausted and my stress tolerance plummeted so that I couldn’t afford to do anything that was mentally of physically challenging. This heightened sensitivity highlighted a few of the causes of stress in my life. Even things like reading the Facebook feed, which throws up all kinds of ideas and issues from a diverse range of people, got me quite uptight. In order to recover I had to be very disciplined about saying No to things that were going drain my energy. This experience got me thinking about the difference between saying Yes and saying No. Why is saying No is just so difficult?

Saying Yes has a lot going for it, because its active. Things that we can say Yes to are tangible. Invitations, opportunities, offers. Say Yes and you have something to show for it. We also say Yes to things that we are already doing, simply by keeping on doing them. Yes has a strong momentum behind it based on our own and other peoples imaginings of what Yes has to offer.

Saying No is tough, because at face value what you get seems intangible. You get “nothing”. You get not to go somewhere, not to get something, not to do something. What saying No does is preserve time and space for other things and experiences, but you have to look a bit harder to define those benefits.

I have pretty good instincts, and I am learning to trust them more and more. Yet sometimes I still hesitate to back myself fully and just say No to things at the outset. This results in wasted energy getting into, and out of, things that didn’t feel right in the first place.

I think its this intangible quality of the outcome of No that leads me to say sometimes say Yes, even when a little voice is telling me not to. If I think something isn’t going to work out, saying Yes offers some tempting payoffs. Lets say I am invited out to dinner but my gut feeling is that I am not going to enjoy it. If I say Yes, I might be wrong and have a good time. But if I have a bad time, I can fall back on the satisfaction of telling myself I was right.

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I must admit that there is a strong temptation to say Yes to things that I don’t think will work out to avoid the responsibility of making a judgement call up front and dealing with the uncomfortable feelings of loss and uncertainty that brings up. No means letting go of the possibility being offered. It means giving up on the potential experience, fun, money, work, or relationship without ever knowing how it would have turned out if I had said Yes.

To just say No and move on feels brave and ruthless. But I wonder what my life would feel like if I was more vigilant about staying true to my own instincts and avoided uncomfortable meanders down sidetracks that lead nowhere. I suspect I would have more energy for the things that were important to me, and life would have a smoother flow.

From my experience so far, there is a subtle sense of relief that comes with making a good call. I can feel a part of myself is smiling and relaxing, as if to say “thank you for listening”. I can relax and trust myself, because I am no longer living out little experiments to test my intuitions, I am just getting on with my life.

I’ve been thinking about what my bloggers motto might be and I’ve come up with this:

Read what you need to learn; Write what you need to say.

These words reflects how I like to operate as a blog reader and writer. I will read voraciously whatever it is that speaks to me. It might be something informative and educational, or nourishing and encouraging. What it will be depends on where I am in my life, and what’s grabbing my attention. Educational programs and reading lists are all very well, but the end of the day the reading that means the most to me is what I go and seek out for myself because its a hot topic for me.

When it comes to writing, I operate in a similar way, but in reverse. I talk about what’s going on in me, or around me. That’s the writing that seems to have the most ‘juice’. Writing thats planned ahead feels forced compared to the paragraphs that fly off the top of my head when I am working through an idea that has grabbed my attention.

Although what I am reading and what I am writing are often related, the isn’t a one to one connection. My reading and thinking will tend to be ahead of my writing, as ideas germinate and slowly take shape behind the scenes. I read a lot of blogs but don’t expect those bloggers to read mine unless I am writing something thats useful to them. I usually check out the blogs of my readers, but don’t always subscribe because there’s only so much I can keep track of. It seems more important to stay true to my own direction so that I am learning what I need to learn, and writing what I need to write.

This brings me to the internet writing phenomenon which is Bubblews. If you haven’t heard of it, Bubblews is an online writing site where the contributors of articles are paid for what they write, based on their popularity. I signed on yesterday to take a look, wrote a trial post, and got about connecting with other writers. Deja vu. I feel like I am staring down a rabbit hole…Am I about to be engulfed in something all encompassing that I didn’t see coming?

From what I have seen so far, Bubblews operates like a writers community, where contributors have two roles, firstly to write articles, and secondly to read, like and comment on other people’s articles. Advertisers pay for what seems to be user-specific  online advertising which is where the money comes from.

The best strategy for earning on Bubblews, apart from brilliant writing, is to build up a network of reciprocal relationships where you read and comment on each others work, thereby earning each other money. It reminds me of similar networks which exist within Etsy, where sellers are encouraged to connect with and market to each other. In both cases, a lot of time can be spend searching out people for the purpose of connecting with a view to selling or earning, rather than for the inherent value of their offerings.

So here I am with $1.16 of potential earnings racked up in Bubblews after only 3 hours of participation. If I can get that up to $25 I can actually redeem it for real cash. Its tempting. But it worries me. The kind of writing I feel tempted to produce to get my earnings up is fluff. Although there is some good writing on the site, a lot of the content it is not of a quality that I would seek out if it weren’t for the possibility of earning money myself. With regard to my daily reading time, I would get much better value from selected blogs or eBooks or goodness gracious, actual physical books. When it comes to writing time, I think the quality would be better if I stayed true to my own inner compass which seems to be better tuned here on my own blog.

The aspect of the Bubblews model that I would struggle with the most is the expectation within the community that connections are reciprocal. There seems to be an obligation to put in a lot of time to read and comment on the work of people you have connected with. While I enjoy a degree of mutual appreciation in the blogging community, its voluntary, and I think it needs to be that way. There seems to be a loss of freedom and spontaneity if you feel that you have to read my blog, so that I will read your blog, so that we both get paid.

My inner compass can be a real nuisance, but what its telling me is that the kind of writer I want to be is one that people read because I have something of value to say to them. I want readers to come and go freely; because thats what I want for myself. If my readers feed compelled to return to the blog, I’d like it to be because they can’t wait to see what I am going to say next. I don’t know if I can operate that way within a “paid per like” writing community.

If a writer’s work really hits the mark, then readers will choose to come. At the end of the day, its the quality and relevance of the writing that matters. The question is whether its possible to earn money from writing, while staying true to my own voice.

I am beginning to understand what happened to young Alice in Wonderland. She poked her nose in where it didn’t belong, and before she knew it she had left the known world and was falling, falling, falling into a whole other territory. Curiosity is a fine thing, but Alice needed some work on her balance and her boundaries. Perhaps you are thinking I am a kill joy. Afterall, if Alice had kept her balance there would have been no story for us to enjoy. Of course you are right. The fall into the unknown is the device to begin her journey. But I can’t help thinking that Alice may have had other things she wanted to do that day. Other adventures of her own choosing.

Recently I accepted an invitation to provide some training, on a casual basis, at the place where I used to work. “Where’s the harm?” I thought. I was missing being part of a team and the feeling of being an expert. Having allowed my creative self plenty of room for expression my analytical mind was ready for a wander around the magical land of databases. And of course I was glad of some casual work to provide income to support me while I build up my own business.

It was a good feeling to be welcomed and to have my knowledge appreciated. I had returned to familiar territory, which was also unfamiliar after 18 months absence. I began to remember what I used to know and sharing what I thought would be helpful. When I looked up from the training task I found myself at the edge of a large project in its early stages. Like Alice, I got curious and poked my nose in. “That looks interesting”, says I. Once I had stuck my head in a small distance, I could see a whole lot of potential directions. Questions to be Asked. Issues to be Investigated. Gaps to be Filled. So I started asking, and investigating and hurling my body into gaps. “What a good consultant I am,” thinks I.

And then, like Alice, I realised I had lost my balance and I was falling. Instead of being a visiting trainer sharing knowledge of the old system, I was plummeting headlong into the new and offering to do things that weren’t in the original brief. I saw the magnitude of the project in front of everyone, and toppled into it, until it surrounded me like an enveloping fog. Soon I was thinking about work 24/7 and feeling like I didn’t have time or energy for my own projects. My part time hours seemed too short in the face of everything that could be done. I had started to feel responsible and my whole being was organising itself to get to work sorting out this project that seemed to have no boundaries to it.  Wait a minute. Isn’t this why I left?

Learning Experiences. Gotta love ‘em.

Fortunately for me, I have access to equipment that Alice lacked. I have insight into what’s happening, and a jet pack with an eject cord.  I can pull that cord and fly back to where I need to be – a visiting trainer sharing knowledge to help other people with their major project. I don’t have to fall to the end of the tunnel and spend a whole lot of time wandering around another universe.

This is my first time in this consultant role, where I am brought in for a specific task. Its a whole different mindset than being a permanent employee. Its about being focussed on the agreed project, and delivering well on that piece of work. Being a consultant means staying on the edge and maintaining perspective, even if it means missing out on some of the things that are going on around you. The training aspect of my role suffered because I got caught up in the bright lights of a big shiny project that others were working on. I need to reboot and regroup and get back onto the path that I originally agreed to, the adventure of my own choosing.

This week I watched the DVD of the BBC One documentary The Young Ones. It follows an experiment in which six famous British seniors live in an environment which simulates 1975 to see whether re-living your youth can make you young again. The theory is  that being reminded of what they used to be like would increase their physical and mental well-being.

It was fascinating to watch the transformation of the participants, many of whom struggled with limited mobility and a reduced capacity to perform everyday tasks. In the beginning they had a lot of beliefs about what they couldn’t do because they were too old or frail. However as the week progressed each of them developed a renewed vitality and confidence.

Profession Ellen Langer who was the consultant for the study, which also she ran for the first time 30 years earlier, contends that the way that we age isn’t inevitable. It seems that we risk limiting our possibilities in later life by living up to social expectations of what ageing means. One area where this was evident was in rehabilitation from illness and injury. A number of the participants who’d had strokes or falls were tentative in walking and performing household tasks. However with encouragement, they were able to achieve a much better recovery and take on activities and hobbies they thought were behind them in a very short space of time.

Although living in a 70s house and wearing 70s clothes may have had an impact, it seemed like one of the biggest benefits of the study came from being in a stimulating environment. The participants had great fun joking with each other which lifted everyone’s spirits. They played a big part in the success of the experiment by encouraging one another to achieve their goals for the week. Many of them had been missing the stimulation of their working lives and it was clear that the free time and solitude we crave when we work full time can become a pitfall later in life if it translates to lack of purpose and isolation.

I am glad I saw this documentary in my early 50’s because it challenged me to rethink my attitude to what I am capable of. It made me aware that I need to get more serious about maintaining my fitness and flexibility while I am still able to do so, and nip the “I’m to old for that” talk in the bud. The participants in the study improved very quickly, which means that they were capable of more than they thought they were all along.

Putting what I have learned from this documentary into practice requires finding a balance so that I respect my genuine limitations, without holding myself back unnecessarily. This also applies in my dealings with others, particularly the seniors in my life. While its true that we may be more capable than we think we are, people who are not used to being challenged to extend themselves find it very confronting if they pushed to do things for themselves. They can feel that they are being bullied, disrepected, or abandoned which can be very discouraging. Hopefully I can fulfill the role of encourager and motivator, without turning into commando boot camp trainer.

Yesterday was unusually hot for a Spring day. I had good intentions for the afternoon, but gave in to drowsiness while trying to read, and had an afternoon nap. I was more than a nap. I was asleep for three hours and  kept busy with dreams.

In the last dream we were on holidays at a campsite in the country. The kind with old timber dormitories out in the Australian bushland. We were walking on a track in the bush when we noticed smoke in the air. We came upon a crew of firefighters. They were backburning in an attempt to cut off a fire nearby. They told us to get back to the campsite and pack, as the fire was coming close. We were being evacuated.

When I woke up my first thought was to check out the back windows. I expected to see smoke. The scent of burning bush was hanging in the air. This is what I saw:

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The low cloud in the distance is not cloud, but smoke coming from a fire in the southern highlands to the south of Sydney. I turned on the news, and heard that there were fires to the north, west and south of the city. Smoke from the west was blanketing much of Sydney. The line between dream and reality had blurred.

A quick look out the front revealed an ugly black carpet of smoke to the north. This explains the number of planes taking off over our part of the city – it was the only gap of clear sky between the smoke clouds.

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Its amazing the havoc created by one hot, dry, windy Spring day. There were 100 fires burning in the state, many of them out of control. Commuters who work in the city and live in the outlying areas were having difficulty getting home with roads and train lines cut.

I feel for the students finishing high school are who are in the middle of their final exams. They were being warned not to take risks to get to school, or to go to a different school. Thats pressure you don’t need!

From our high position the smoky sky created a dramatic sunset. Eerie to think that out there volunteer fire fighters are battling the blazes close up.

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We are fine here in the city, but thinking of friends with homes near fire outbreaks. Many homes were lost, and at least one man has died.

Bushfires are part and parcel of living in Australia, although they are not normally so early in the summer. So early in the summer that its still the middle of spring. Australian people are resiliant, and I have a feeling that this summer we will need to be.

Strange that I should dream about being evacuated from a bushfire, when around me other people  were being evacuated for real.

I just finished reading The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David C Korten. It was recommended reading in Active Hope, and explores the concept of The Great Turning in much greater depth. This is an over-the-counter book, but I feel like it should come with some kind of warning – READ WITH CAUTION: This book could change your life. I am still absorbing the ideas and their implications, but I am going to attempt to share some of it with you.

The central idea is that we are at a critical time in human history which may be described by future generations as “The Great Unraveling” when out-of-control consumption overwhelmed the world’s resources and threatened the survival of the human population. However David Korten suggests that this time also has the potential to become “The Great Turning” if we can learn to live in partnership with each other and the earth. The main argument is

It is within our means, ..to shape a positive outcome if we choose to embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to lift ourselves to a new level of species maturity and potential.

The concept of Empire features strongly as representing a dominator model for human interaction which is  based on power and control for the benefit of a few, in contrast to a partnership model which nurtures cooperation and expression for the benefit of all. The idea is to more away from Empire towards an Earth Community which is more inclusive and life sustaining.

The idea which stood out most to me was the map of the developmental pathway from the least mature to the most mature orders of human consciousness which is a basis for understanding how to build Earth Community and to understand what is going wrong now. This has five stages:

First Order: Magical Consciousness – like a yound child who experiences the world as subject to the whims of magical beings. The lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

Second Order: Imperial Consciousness – like an older child who can distinguish between real and imagined events, and understands that actions have consequences. Influences the behaviour of others for self interested purposes, but with little concept of loyalty, gratitude or justice.

Third Order: Socialized Consciousness: influenced by the norms of the group and able to feel empathy with others in their group, and act for the good of others within their reference group.

Fourth Order: Cultural Consciousness – The ability to recognise culture as a social construct and that there are many cultures outside of our own. There is a concern with justice for all people, not just ones own group.

Fifth Order: Spiritual Consciousness – an awakening to all creation as a complex multi-dimensional, interconnected whole.  It transcends the exclusiveness of group loyalties to embrace the whole.

The significance of this analysis is the premise that the past 5000 years or so of human history have been dominated by views and behaviours with reflect the Second Order, which Korten calls the Imperial Consciousness. He sees human history with is large scale wars, invasions and exploitation of people and resources as the acting out of an immature and selfish mentality.

The exercise before us then is to awaken to a broader appreciations of what it means to be human, which involves looking outside our own personal self interest, and the interests of our own family or social group, to appreciate the diversity of the peoples of the world, and the interconnectedness of life itself.

The construct of Empire as the dominant ideology is applied in detail to many of our human endeavours, turning conventional understandings of history, politics and religion on their heads in the search for a more humane and sustainable way of living. Although many of the ideas were not new to me, and many of the observations were similar to my own, I found the process of reading through the interpretation quite confronting. I am still thinking it through, integrating what makes sense to me.

My main hesitation about this analysis is the presentation of the levels of consciousness as a ladder on which we can place ourselves and others. Although the five types of consciousness described make a lot of sense to me, I feel reluctant to engage in labelling other people as being of an inferior consciousness. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that we all have the potential to act from each of the five levels of consciousness. It may be a slippery slope to label greed and ignorance as being wholly outside ourselves. It seems more helpful to identify the value systems influencing particular ideas and actions, rather than to brand people as the opposition in a ideological war of the enlightened against the ignorant.

Suffice it to say, if you are looking for something challenging to read that extends your thinking and challenges your world view, you will certainly find it here.

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