Stop and listen – to Self and city


There is great momentum in being busy, being distracted from who we really are and the possibilities we offer the world.  The result is that each of us, and the city habitats we create for ourselves, are not reaching our full potential.

Yesterday’s post, performance with purpose, articulated the phenomenon of performance momentum, were we find ourselves caught in a drive to perform.  In this state, we lose track of who we are and the inner passion that drives our work.  We lose track of the purpose of our work and dismiss the feedback loops that ensure our work is responsive to the needs around us.  The result is work that does not move the self, the organization, or the city forward.  There is no improvement; which is itself a fundamentally driver to our work.

In the work we do creates our cities, I concluded with two questions:

  1. To what extent is our work, even new work, blind to our changing habitat?
  2. How would we change how we organize ourselves to consciously choose to create habitats for ourselves that serve our present and evolving needs and desires?
The answers to these questions, or rather the exploration of these questions, are part of the city’s learning journey.  How each of us approaches our work has an impact on our cities.  How we collectively approach our work has an impact on our cities.  The cities we create, in return, have an impact on us.  If we are ‘busy’, missing the clues around us, then our cities will also miss the clues and not serve us well.  If we need healthy cities, and they are made by us, then we need to be well for cities to be well.  The development of our cities is a survival skill.

From time to time, it is essential to stop, to pause and have a look at the deeper inner self, the one that wants to be let out, free in the world.  As we each allow our hidden self to emerge, our cities will change to serve us better.  As our cities improve, they are creating the conditions for us to be better again.

It is hard to stop and listen – and we need to learn how to do this, for self and the city.  David Whyte, in The Three Marriages, has this to say:

… anyone who has spent any time in silence trying to let this deeper hidden self emerge, soon finds it does not seem to respond to the language of coercion or strategy.  It cannot be worried into existence.  Anxiety actually seems to keep an experience of the deeper self at bay.  This hidden self seems reluctant to be listed, categorized, threatened or coerced.  It lives beneath our surface tiredness, waiting, it seems, for us to stop.
Stopping can be very difficult.  It can take exhaustion, extreme circumstances on a wet, snowy mountain ridge or an intimate sense of loss for it to happen   Even then we can soon neutralize and isolate the experience, dismissing it as illogical, pretending it didn’t count, then turning back to our surface strengths and chattering away in a false language we have built around our successes. 
Success can be the greatest barrier to stopping, to quiet, to opening up the radically different form of conversation that is necessary for understanding this larger sense of the self.  Our very success can be the cause of greater anxiety for further preservation of our success (p, 154-155).
It seems the opposite of busy, performance momentum is to pause, to stop.  The lure of momentum, particularly if it is full of what we perceive as success, makes it difficult to slow down enough to give ourselves an opportunity to notice the purpose of our work, the meaning in our work and our innermost qualities of who we are individually and collectively.
How do you pause and stop to listen to your Self and city habitats?  

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This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.

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