on sliding doors and finding balance…

It happened, as many near disasters do, in an instant.

One moment I enjoying a great ride on my bike, enjoying the thrill of blasting down a fire trail in the forest, minding my own business and soaking up the adrenaline. The sun was shining, the temperature about perfect for a morning on a mountain bike. Everything was as it should be in my world.

And then a wallaby shot out of the bushes in front of me.

In an instant the human brain did what I find utterly astonishing…without so much as a conscious thought I knew without shadow of doubt that I would hit that wallaby. It’s speed and trajectory, and my own would intersect perfectly a handful of metres in front of me. It would be injured, and I would crash and find myself tumbling down the track protected only by a lyrca t-shirt and plastic skid-lid. All this registered in a split second as my painful future bounded toward me and I raced toward it.

I almost fancy that we made eye contact, the wallaby and I, and we each knew that what was about to happen would be costly for both of us.

In the moment I was barely conscious of anything other than alarm, fear, slamming brakes, a skidding bike and watching the wallaby scrabble wildly for grip as it made its own internal calculations and responded to the apparently inevitable. I don’t recall thinking about braking, or steering, or balance – but it all happened. The brain and body are, no doubt, an incredible combination.

Brake pads bit on the disc, rubber grabbed dirt and I managed to slow slightly and change direction.

The wallaby found traction on the slippery surface and succeeded in making a turn of its own.

And we slipped past one another, inches apart, hearts racing, living to ride and bounce another day. The wallaby was gone, I continued on down the trail with only an even further elevated heart beat and a deeply breathed “oh my…that was close” to show for what might have been.

They’re sometimes described as ‘sliding doors’ moments – when a situation resolves in one way that could so easily have gone another.

Sometimes sliding doors moments are a conscious choice between two options that lead us in different directions (and remind us of the M Scott Peck poem “The Road Less Travelled”), while in others (like this one) it’s not so much conscious choice as circumstance.

Sometimes sliding doors moments are about big, vital, life-changing events and circumstances, while in others (like this one) they’re much less important in the grand scheme of things.

Sometimes we’re very aware of sliding doors moments as they pass by, while in others we’re completely oblivious to what might have happened, how life might have changed if one thing had been a tiny bit different.

When we’re aware of these moments, it can be a bit of a natural human tendency to get caught up in the act of imagining ‘what if’.

What if I had (or hadn’t) accepted that job offer?

What if the cyclone had turned north instead of south?

What if I’d been brave enough to lay it all on the line when opportunity knocked?

What if I hadn’t made that tiny mistake in the crucial moment of the game?

What if I hadn’t been able to avoid the wallaby?

It seems to me that there’s nothing wrong with those kind of acts of the imagination. They can help us process possibilities differently in the future, make better choices, react more quickly, be more prepared.

Maybe I’ll ride my bike just a little differently in the future, more conscious of keeping an eye out for wallabies so I can react just a little earlier than I did this time.

But there’s also the possibility of getting caught up in too much regret, too much ‘wishing’ it had been different. Maybe I won’t enjoy the freedom of riding a bike in the bush if I’m constantly in fear of things out of my control. In an extreme case, maybe I’d stop riding my bike altogether because of what might have happened (but didn’t) on that particular Monday morning.

So it seems, as is usually the case, that the right thing to do is to find a balance. A balance between learning from experience, pondering the consequences of sliding doors moments, but recognising too that changing the past is an impossibility, predicting the future is almost the same, and that all we can really do is live in each moment that is in front of us.

I have no doubt that the next time I roll down that particular trail I’ll have in mind that my wallaby friend might be about to reappear, and I’ll probably ride a tiny bit more carefully. Maybe it will make me a better rider, more aware of my circumstances.

But I won’t stop riding, and I won’t allow myself to get lost in constant fear of what might happen. I’ll find balance in processing this particular sliding doors moment.

At the same time though, I’m processing some big life decisions. Choices about career, and directions, and values and priorities. And these have been long, hard things to think about. And truth be told, despite months, years of effort, I’m not there yet. There are sliding doors moments in this part of my story too – opportunities accepted or rejected, courage displayed or not. Some I’m aware of, and some probably not. And finding balance in this set of sliding doors seems so much harder than when it comes to bike riding and wallabies. I’m probably stuck in my own imagination, cursed by the possibilities and the sense of ‘what if’ when I’m thinking about about past, present and future choices.

And so, in a strange way and potentially at a crucial time, a near miss with a wallaby is helping me find a little perspective. I’m reminded of the importance of balance in learning from but not being captive to my own imagination in the wake of sliding doors moments.

I’m hopeful that soon enough the brake pads will bite, the tyres will find purchase and there will be a direction change on a slippery surface. And I’ll look this particular wallaby in the eyes and think “oh my, that was close”.

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ideas

A little while back I was in a workshop. It’s an occupational hazard.

On this particular day the facilitator invited us to peruse a collection of prayers from Australian writer Michael Leunig. Perhaps better known for his cartoons (and those are not without controversy), Leunig also writes a series of whimsical, fascinating prayers (or reflections…by another name) ideal for the purposes of the workshop I was in.

I wandered along the table, reading prayers, smiling to myself, enjoying Leunig’s way with words and interesting take on the world – but really just skimming the surface of each of them. And then this:

God help us with ideas, those thoughts which inform the way we live and the things we do. Let us not seize upon ideas, neither shall we hunt them down nor steal them away. Rather let us wait faithfully for them to approach, slowly and gently like creatures from the wild. And let them enter willingly into our hearts and come and go freely within the sanctuary of our contemplation, informing our souls as they arrive and being enlivened by the inspiration of our hearts as they leave.

These shall be our truest thoughts. Our willing and effective ideas. Let us treasure their humble originality. Let us follow them gently back into the world with faith that they shall lead us to lives of harmony and integrity.

Amen

Michael Leunig

There’s so much about this prayer that captured me, that I was honestly not quite sure where to start. As I sat with it, read it, prayed it, I gradually fixed on the line “Let us not seize upon ideas, neither shall we hunt them down nor steal them away. Rather let us wait faithfully for them to approach, slowly and gently like creatures from the wild…”

There’s so much going on in our world, and in our own individual lives, that it’s easy to feel rushed, overwhelmed, overloaded with stimulus. At least in my own life it’s mostly self-inflicted. I’m not prepared to confess the number (for the sheer shame of it), but each week when my phone tells me how many hours a day I’m averaging addicted to just that one device….well….it’s not pretty. Where could an idea approach slowly, and gently like a creature from the wild when I’m constantly cramming my own mind full of data, input, other people’s ideas?

Leunig isn’t necessarily writing about devices, or attention, or busyness and their impact on space for ideas to surface…but those are the things that come to mind for me from this prayer.

Make space. Sit quietly. Walk gently. Meander aimlessly. Allow room to breathe, and think, and simply be. And when that idea approaches like a creature from the wild, look at it with curiosity, with wonder. And see what happens next.

That’s what I’m thinking about today.

workshop description: the art gallery

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with ministers and leaders of Uniting Churches in a Queensland city in recent months as they work together to try and figure out what the future looks like.

It’s been enjoyable to be a small part of what is a gentle process of sharing stories, getting to know one another, and slowly activating an imagination about a shared future.

Last night was the next step in the process, and a fun way of encouraging imagination, creativity and building something together.  We had about 35 present for an evening event we dubbed “The Art Gallery”. Read on for a description of what was a fun, creative and imaginative night of resourcing leadership. Continue reading

workshop description: create-a-cafe

Last week we ran the first of a series of “Hobart 2020 Cafe Forum” gatherings.  Designed to provide opportunity for people to explore the themes of the report “How then shall we live?” for the Uniting Church in Hobart, we tried to take a creative approach to this gathering.

The key themes of the report that formed the basis for this gathering are collaboration, creativity, innovation, imagination and community.

This post records the shape of the event, some of the thinking behind it, and a simple recording of what happened. If it’s an idea that has use for you, please feel free to run your own create-a-cafe gathering….either along similar lines to what happened in Hobart, or better still, shaped to fit your own context.

Hit the link to read all the details:

Continue reading