Review: The Element by Ken Robinson

The Element is a popular personal development book about finding your element; the intersection of your natural talent and your personal passions.  This book is often included on lists about creativity and while it features the stories of many creative people, it is not actually about creativity.

The element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. The Element draws on the stories of a wide range of people, from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons; from Meg Ryan to Gillian Lynne, who choreographed the Broadway productions of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera; and from writer Arianna Huffington to renowned physicist Richard Feynman and others, including business leaders and athletes. It explores the components of this new paradigm: The diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities.
With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier, and that once we have found our path we can help others to do so as well. The Element shows the vital need to enhance creativity and innovation by thinking differently about human resources and imagination. It is also an essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the challenges of living and succeeding in the twenty-first century.
(GoodReads)

The Element is much more about the education system; the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all system that can’t meet the needs of a varied and diverse society.  Robinson shows us this by collecting the stories of creative and successful people who despite their problems fitting into the education system managed to find success and happiness in finding their element.

The stories are quite interesting.  I especially enjoyed reading the earlier chapters.  The book is very well written and Robinson is an interesting and humorous writer.  Unfortunately, toward the end of the book I began to lose steam because I had different expectations of what this book was about.

It is an interesting and inspiring book, especially so if you’re interested in the education system and changing that system to suit an enlarged definition of intelligence.

lilolia review rating 2 stars ok

The Human Tradition of Keeping A Diary

Since time immemorial people have been recording their lives and surroundings.  As far back as the Stone Age people recorded the world around them on the walls of caves in the form of art.  They depicted the animals they shared an environment with and recorded hunting events.  They reflected on the world around them and set it to stone in the same way we set it to paper today.

This reflection on the world and our place in it is an unavoidable aspect of being human.  It’s what we do.  We observe both our internal and external worlds, and try to make sense of them.  Naturally, with the rise of literacy came the rise of the diary as daily record for the masses.

“Swiftly, swiftly, record your thoughts before they are forever lost in time.”
Trevor Wright

The earliest reference to a diary as a book in which one recorded daily life was in Ben Jonson’s 1605 comedy, Volpone.  In 17th century England diary keeping became quite popular with people recording all kinds of different aspects of life.   Like today, there were many kinds of diaries you could commit to keeping.

In John Beadle’s 1656 Diary of a Thankful Christian he wrote:

“‘We have our state diurnals, relating to national affairs. Tradesmen keep their shop books. Merchants their account books. Lawyers have their books of pre[c]edents. Physitians have their experiments. Some wary husbands have kept a diary of daily disbursements. Travellers a Journall of all that they have seen and hath befallen them in their way. A Christian that would be more exact hath more need and may reap much more good by such a journal as this. We are all but stewards, factors here, and must give a strict account in that great day to the high Lord of all our wayes, and of all his wayes towards us’.” (Source)

While Beadle was making use of the diary genre to keep a record of his life as a Christian for God, many others were using it to record other elements of life that were important to them.  Four centuries later we continue to do the same.

Continue reading The Human Tradition of Keeping A Diary

How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.

That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers.  The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.

I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list.  I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed.  The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.

Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year.  He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading.  He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.

I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.

Continue reading How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

Macaneta: Bridging The Gap

Macaneta is cut off from the mainland by the Inkomati river.  People make the trip out to this rural area to spend time on the beach.  It’s a very natural, sparsely inhabited place where cattle roam the wetland close to the river and its community have to make daily trips to the city and surrounds by ferry for everything they need.

The ferry is pretty iconic around here because if you’ve visited Macaneta you have undoubtedly spent some time waiting in line to be ferried across the river.  It isn’t a very large ferry either – it only carries 6 cars at a time and takes about 20 mins to make the crossing.

MF 5 - 20121228 - Lightroom Jul 2016

A new bridge is set to replace the ferry that wanted to die ages ago.  The community have had to make their way to the mainland by ferry or boat for a long time and this bridge will be life changing for them.

The bridge brings a lot of advantages that could not be foregone but as I looked through some photos from a few years ago I had to wonder how it will affect this little nature paradise.

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Operation Declutter Your Home: The How & Why

Two years ago I packed up my entire home into boxes for a move to a new house.  Ultimately, we didn’t move to that new house and I was stuck with all my stuff in boxes.  While it was disappointing at the time, I look back with gratitude because it enabled me to do something very important.

I didn’t have the energy to immediately unpack everything because I was still quite disappointed with how things had turned out so I just unpacked what I really needed for that week.  After that first week there were certain special items I missed having around me so I unpacked those.  Within the first month I had unpacked what I really needed and what was very important to me and nothing more.

Months passed and what I came to realise was that I had been harbouring a LOT of stuff that I thought I needed, wanted, or would one day use that was just cluttering up my space and my mind.  The really important result of not having all that extra stuff out is that I had the space both physically and mentally to re-evaluate my life a bit and see what I wanted to do next and how I wanted to live.

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
Marie Kondō

It seems that when you have all the stuff from your past still cluttering your home it becomes difficult to see the changes you actually want to make.  Your stuff holds you back.  I highly recommend clearing out the clutter to make space for the new to come in.  Once I had everything out of the way I began to see how I could make my home’s style a better reflection of who I am now and what I’m aiming for.

“The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”
Marie Kondō

I don’t expect you to go and pack up your whole house as I did to figure out what is worth your space and what is not (although if you can it works well) but I do have a strategy that I think can help you reach the same results in increments.  Instead, pack up room by room.

  • Go into a room of your house and pack everything up.  Take this opportunity to clean the room top to bottom.
  • Leave this room over night or as long as it takes for you to go into the room to do something.
  • Then unpack only what you need for the task or for a week.
  • After a week unpack the things you really miss having around you but be strict about this.  Only the stuff that truly means something to you like photos, special gifts or ornaments, etc.  Do not riffle through boxes and pull out stuff just because it has a memory attached to it because that’s all your stuff.  Just those things that can’t be replaced.
  • Throughout the first month only unpack those things that you need, those special things that you enjoy having around you and which are in line with your current mindset and home style.  Leave everything else in the boxes.
  • After that first month anything that remains in those boxes you should consider donating, selling, or throwing away.

Move from room to room in this way and if you are honest and strict with yourself you should have cleared out plenty of clutter and maybe even made a bit of money from it.  When it comes to clothes the one month rule won’t apply to seasonal clothes so you may have to revisit your wardrobe each season and cull those pieces that don’t get worn within one month.   Give it a try and see how you do.  Do it every year if you want to.  Like everything the more often you do it the better at it you’ll get.

If you find yourself needing a real push to help you declutter you might want to read famous Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  It is jam packed with quote-worthy motivation and revelations.

What’s your take on clutter, love it or hate it?

 

 

Review: The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely read of the Buddhist scriptures and the most essential.  There are many translations but I chose Easwaran’s because of a recommendation – the source of which I can’t for the life of me remember.

“As irrigators guide water to their fields,
as archers aim arrows, as carpenters carve
wood, the wise shape their lives.”
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The Dhammapada is an easy and enjoyable read.  It is full of simple wisdom some of which may seem likeThe Dhammapada Eknath Easwaran common sense but is lovely to be reminded of from the Buddha’s unique perspective.  He has a very simple and down to earth way of delivering essential truths which is the essence of his teachings.

“…the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide. This is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.”
Eknath Easwaran, The Foreword

The Dhammapada is described as a handbook to the teachings of the Buddha but it is Easwaran’s informative introduction on Buddhism and the text that give an extra insight to the seemingly simple words of the Buddha.  I enjoyed reading his introduction and it serves as a great starting point not only for this text but for Buddhism on a whole.

If, like me, you’ve never read any Buddhist texts (or much about Buddhist teachings) this short book of verse is a great place to start, particularly Easwaran’s translation.  The opening verse of the Dhammapada is a profound reminder that our lives are shaped by our minds and we become what we think:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts
give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows
them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
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It happened that earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, then some weeks later Easwaran’s Dhammapada, followed by The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which in retrospect could not have been better planned.  I didn’t read them back to back but each prepared me for the next and I think I was able to take a great deal more from each one’s message for having read them in this order.  Obviously you don’t need to read them like this but if you’re interested I enjoyed this reading order.

I enjoyed and recommend reading The Dhammapada.  A wide variety of translations exist but I found Eknath Easwaran’s Introduction a highlight of reading this book.  He has also done translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita which I hope to get to at some point also.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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Review: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I have found that I’ve read many books at just the time I needed them, no matter whether they were fiction or non fiction, and on occasion the order in which I’ve read some books has been just right that it helped me fully digest or appreciate the books that came later.

This is true of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for me.  I’m sure by now everyone has heard of this book.  It has been translated into over 30 languages and even Oprah sings its praises.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but honestly if I’d read it before now (no pun intended) I’m not sure I would have got the message.  Earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse which led me on internet travels of Buddhist thought and I’m currently reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Dhammapada whose introduction was very interesting reading.  Both those books got me into the right frame of mind for The Power of Now.

It’s not the easiest self help book to get through.  At first I wasn’t really comfortable with the question answer style of certain parts as I prefer a narrative style but you do get used to it.  You may or may not be familiar with some of the ideas that form the basis for Tolle’s message.  Your familiarity with or exposure to some of the concepts in the book could potentially affect how you feel about it.  Stick with it, read slowly, let it percolate.

I do think it is an important book for us all to read at some point.  It’s a short book but best read slowly.  There is a lot to take away from The Power of Now but the most basic message as you may have guessed is related to time.  There is no time but Now.  The past is but memories and the future is imagination, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is now.  This is quite liberating if, like me, you often find yourself worrying about a future that doesn’t exist yet and a set of problems that may never exist.

The more time that passes since finishing it the more I realise about its implications for my life.  I’m sure that no matter what you’re going through; good, bad, or meh, there’s something for you in this book that will help you.  If you’ve already read this book I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

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Mapping Your Self Education in 5 Steps

Self education is a vital part of life. It’s learning on your own terms. You decide what you’ll spend time on and which resources to use. This is important if we hope to be innovative and creative in our lives and endeavours. Many start on a self education journey with a clear goal in mind; to learn a specific skill for their career, but we should also do it for ourselves – for personal expansion. Whatever you’re interested in or always wanted to learn — don’t wait — make yourself a map for your own self education journey. Here, you’ll find some guidelines to help you do that.

Autodidactism or self education is any self-directed learning on a subject in which you have no formal education. Malcolm Knowles in his 1975 book Self Directed Learning explains the process of self education:

“In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

So if you want to teach yourself writing, coding, photography, Photoshop, or [insert any topic here], these are the steps to follow based on Knowles’ definition of self directed learning:

Define what you need or want to learn.

Is there something specific you are interested in learning? Is there a particular skill that you need to improve your skill set for your career? Are you looking to make a career change and now need to learn a completely new set of skills? Define exactly what it is you will be teaching yourself.

Define your learning goals.

You know what you will be learning but now you need to set goals. What level of learning do you need to achieve and, if necessary, by when? What tasks within your chosen area do you need to be able to complete to feel satisfied or to meet certain professional requirements? Do you want to be able to pass a proficiency exam? Define what you want to achieve.

Identify who or what resources can help you.

See if there is anyone in the area you are interested in who would be willing to help with your learning; someone who you could talk to, email with questions, or intern for. Seek out people who are learning the same subjects as you and exchange information and experience. Join a community if there is one or create one if there isn’t. Identify all the resources you will use to self educate. There are lot of resources available to you. One of the most important is books. List the books you will read. Go to the library, seek out the relevant literature, and have a look at university reading lists. Be sure to check for Further Reading lists at the back of books. The internet is also a rich resource but always check the veracity of your learning sources online. Find out what other people learning the same thing are reading and using.

Define your learning strategy.

What will your learning process be? How will you approach your learning? How will you combine theory and practical? What will your daily/weekly learning plan be? How much time will you dedicate to each resource? How do you plan to test your knowledge or skills?

Evaluate.

Evaluate the outcome of your learning. Were you successful, and why? Were you unsuccessful, and why? What could you improve on? What would you change about your process? What will you need to revisit?

No matter whether you are learning for your own interests or working toward a particular goal, like an exam or an improved CV, following these steps not only helps you define your learning and narrow your goals. It immerses you in the topic, connects you with others, and gets you up to speed on all the on goings in the field.

Abraham Lincoln is one famous autodidact who said, “All I have learned, I learned from books”. Read as much as you can. Read as widely as you can. Read from varied opinions of a subject.

There are a great number of other notable autodidacts too, like’ Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, William Blake, Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, and Frida Kahlo to mention just a few. No one is as finely attuned to your interests and needs as you are. This undoubtedly makes you the best guide for your own learning.

“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” — George Whitman

Further reading: Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything by Kio Stark

Why Your Next Holiday Should Be A Roadtrip

Going on holiday is always exciting.  I love holidays and while flying to your next destination often means you can travel to more distant places much more quickly there is something special about loading up the car and hitting the road.

Here’s why making your next holiday a roadtrip will be good for the soul:

  • You have complete control over your journey.  You decide when to leave without imposed delays and you get to avoid the chaos that is airports.  Come rain, come shine, you can get in your vehicle and head off on your holiday.
  • Solitude or together time.  Whether you’re heading out on your own, with your partner, or your family you get the solitude you need to recharge, think, and enjoy me-time or you get to spend some quality time together without the interference of distracting everyday stuff.  There’s no TV or wifi and while you might have to put up with a few cell phones or tabs (depending on what rules you choose to impose) it’s still a chance to be together where no one can just get up and leave.
  • Seeing the country is a great benefit of roadtripping.  Seeing the land shift and change along the way is beautiful and gives you perspective on where you live and what’s around you.  It feels like you really are seeing the world when you cross country that you don’t normally see.
  • You can stop whenever and wherever you want.  You can plan a trip hour by hour but I guarantee that if you travel by car you’ll find something interesting that you hadn’t planned for or didn’t know was there.  This is one of the absolute draws of roadtripping because you get to discover and enjoy new things, places, and people.  This is especially nice for nature lovers because every now and then you’ll find a particularly special spot in nature which often isn’t on the map.  Pull over, grab some snacks, and spend an hour in a new spot.
  • Once you get to your destination you have a car to explore the area even further.  Obviously you can rent a car in other situations but that can be an extra hassle that you might not want to take on.  With your own car you’ll be much more inclined to spend a few hours away from your accommodation or resort to see what else the area has going on and like I mentioned above you may discover some amazing stuff that you hadn’t planned for – you just never know.
  • It inspires the adventurer in you.  With the freedom of hitting the road in your own car and an open itinerary you may feel yourself open up to the spirit of adventure.  Invigorating and fun, this is exactly what you need to relax and come home refreshed and inspired.

Get out your map book and plan a trip somewhere new.  Get your car ready.  Hit the road.  Simple as that.  Don’t forget to leave some time open to explore, discover, be a bit spontaneous.  I guarantee you’ll have a great time.