Saturday, December 20, 2014

Satellites

My work mug
Like any proud dad I have pictures of my family in my office. Not plastered all over the walls, but the background on my desktop (yes I still have one of those) and on my mug (I drink a lot of tea).

The thing is (to quote the cliché)  kids really do grow up so fast and so the photos I have in my office are out of date very quickly. I find myself saying to people, “of course they’re much bigger now”, or “this was when they were much younger”.

Unless you’re in the world of Harry Potter, pictures are static things, framed moments, and life moves on at speed the instant after the snapshot.
"You can make better decisions when you've got an up to date picture."
Pictures are powerful things, and our worlds are full of them. I remember that Google Streetview caused a stir when it launched because of what it caught some people doing. We’ve seen their camera cars a few times, and once we even had a chat to one of their drivers. When we were looking at moving house a few years ago we found Streetview pretty helpful, although even with something as newish as Streetview or satellite photography the images can get dated very quickly. You can't rely that the images you see still represent the present reality.

I was sent a link the other day to this brilliant TED talk by Will Marshall  all about his company sending up dozens of nano satellites into orbit, at a fraction of the cost of more typical and larger satellites. Their ambitious plan is to have a hundred satellites in orbit, taking photos of the entire earth every 24 hours. Even more amazing is that they want to make their information feely available - they talk about the "democratisation" of satellite imagery. They've already launched over 28 of their tiny 4kg units, with more in the pipeline. Check out their website, it's fascinating!

Already there's a burgeoning market in "Landscape Intelligence" or "Earth Observation", where companies are seeking to use satellite imaging in lots of interesting ways. Such as to monitor how crops are growing and when they need watering, or to track illegal logging or monitor the spread of silt in river mouths. This information is helping farmers and landowners make better decisions about the use of their land, helping enforcement agencies better target illegal activity, and helping government agencies make good decisions about the natural environment. You can make better decisions when you've got an up to date picture.
"Is the picture of myself in my mind still representative?"
In our own lives, like the Google Streetview images, it's very easy to make decisions based on what might be an "old" picture of who we are. How we see ourself impacts on the way we treat ourselves, how we treat others and the actions that we take. I've been wondering whether the picture of myself in my mind is still representative. Am I being honest with where I am and who I am right now? It's easy to be in denial about, say, our health and make poor food choices as a result! (I am very guilty of this!). 

Perhaps we prefer to think of the things we're good at, the places in our lives we're happy with and gloss over or ignore those parts of our life that aren't so great. Perhaps there are things in our lives we take for granted, we assume are a static snapshot and therefore don't give them the attention they deserve. A bit like taking a photo of your lawn just after you've cut it, when it's looking great. If you only think of the lawn in the picture then you don't need to take any action - when instead it keeps growing, needs cutting again a few weeks later or watering in the summer. We can kid ourselves that we don't need to take action if our picture is out of date.

"How are you reading your own landscape?"
As a person of faith something that's important to me is my relationship with God. I've found it's easy to dwell on the "perfect lawn" snapshot of my faith, when in reality my relationship with God gets overgrown and messy if I leave it untended. If you're a good farmer you take daily observations of your crops or livestock, and take action accordingly. So how are you reading your own landscape?

How are you reading your landscape?
It's that time of the year when we find ourselves reflecting on the year gone by and turning our minds to the year to come. This week I dug out some notes I made last January about some of the things I wanted to prioritise in 2014 and a few goals I wanted to aim for. As much as it's important to have "big picture" strategic reviews like this, it's also important to have regular check-ups and check-ins on ourselves - Regularly reading our own landscape and being honest about what we see in ourselves. 


One tool some Christians use to do this is called the Examen, which is a way of reflecting at the end of each day on the things that energised us and the things that drained us - a means of being honest with ourselves and God about where we've found ourself.

Perhaps now's a good time to refresh your perspective on where you really are in relation to the things that are important to you. Snapshots are great to remember moments, but our lives change so fast that, like the nano satellites, we need a regular refresher on what we see to make the best decisions.

As I finish I just want to end with perspective. Sometimes we can get so caught up in life's circumstances, the daily battle to make ends meet, that we can lose all sense of perspective. Life can feel overwhelming at times, even suffocating, and it's at these times that a change of perspective can help.
"Perhaps now's a good time to refresh your perspective"
I find that taking a bigger picture and longer term view can help - for instance rather than being disappointed that my recent book isn't an instant number one bestseller I take comfort in the fact that even producing it has been a major milestone for me and that it's a waymarker on my journey and not the final destination. When I pray I often experience a change in perspective as well.. it's funny how different a situation can feel when viewed from a heavenly perspective instead of an earthly one.

So maybe now's the time to send up a few nano satellites in your own life. Things that will help you read your own life's landscape and help you make good decisions for the days, weeks and year ahead. And don't forget to enjoy the view! 



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Don't let your tea go cold..

Don't let your tea go cold..
I love a good cup of tea. I drink an awful lot of it, especially during the week when I'm in the office. Reading a topical book about the First World War the other week I learnt that British soldiers on the front line had a ration of 6 pints of tea a day - something I aspire to!
"Tea can be a force for good!"
When Kate and I were on honeymoon in Sri Lanka one of the many highlights was visiting the Labookellie Estate - a beautiful tea plantation nestled in the hills in the centre of the island. The Estate is owned by Mackwoods and produces their wonderful tea leaves - to this day the cup of tea I drunk there is the best cuppa I've ever had.

Ever since visiting Labookellie one of our indulgences is to have a plentiful stock of Mackwoods tea in the larder, and at weekends we treat ourselves to a cup on Saturday and Sunday mornings (the rest of the time we are less indulgent and drink cheaper tea). There's only one distributor of Mackwoods tea in the UK, a quirky Sri Lankan owned tea parlour in London. They're always delighted to hear that we've visited Labookellie when we visit or call to order more boxes of tea!
"The process of making tea is important, but what is more important is enjoying the tea itself."
According to Forum for the Future's recent report on the future of the tea sector, between 1993 and 2010, tea consumption across the world increased by 60%. Tea has the potential to be a "hero crop", a crop that isn't just a commodity but which delivers value to the millions of people involved in the sector, especially when it's grown sustainably, empowering the growers, acting as a carbon sink and addressing challenges associated with a changing climate. Tea can be a force for good!

I'm a little teapot..
I heard a tea-related Chinese proverb this week: "Beware of worshipping the teapot instead of drinking the tea". Tea is there to be drunk, and if you're like me then you know the pang of disappointment you feel when you realise you've left your tea to go cold and forgotten to drink it - what a waste!

The process of making tea is important, but what is more important is enjoying the tea itself. I think this is what the proverb is getting at. Too often we can get wrapped up in the "doing" and forget about the "why".

I notice this at work - we'll find ourselves applying an approach we developed for a specific project on another project, getting wrapped up in the "doing" and forgetting about why we did it that way in the first place or how we could do it differently (and better) this time around.
"Too often we can get wrapped up in the "doing" and forget about the "why". 
Activity isn't the same as productivity, and sometimes I think we're fearful of taking time to think and plan ahead before diving in and designing... I don't deny that activity can be comforting, but if we end up worshipping the teapot and leaving our proverbial tea to go cold then we've missed the point.

Are there any processes that have unwittingly become idolised teapots in your life? Perhaps patterns of behaviour, belief, comfort? Where in your life have you forgotten the "why" in the busyness of all your "doing". Approaching the end of the year it's a good time to reflect on your deeper meanings, the "whys" that underpin your life.

In all of this there is a tension - instead of worshipping the teapot we can worship the tea instead! I do
like tea, but just to clear up any confusion it's not my be-all and end-all (although a life without tea would be poorer for it!).

Enjoy the journey, but not too much..
A theme I come back to again and again is the importance of enjoying the journey - not being solely destination focused - which is really important, but as with many things in life the knack is holding both the ultimate goal and the enjoyment of the journey in balance. Ben Saunders, a polar explorer, has some great insight on being journey-focused in his recent TED talk, where he comments that "Happiness isn't a finish line".

A journey needs to have a direction, otherwise you may find yourself adrift, lost at sea. As Michael Hyatt says "People lose their way when they lose their why". As much as it's important to surrender to the process, like the need to allow tea to brew, it's important to regularly look up and remind yourself of the why.. to enjoy the tea along the way.
"let's be people who savour life, savour the process and enjoy the end result."
Maybe this year's been full of busyness for you, full of activity and doing. In which case now's probably a good time for you to put the kettle on and brew yourself a nice cup of tea, and while you're enjoying it ask yourself again about your deeper "whys". Let's not be teapot-worshippers who let the tea go cold in our lives. Instead, let's be people who savour life, savour the process and enjoy the end result.

If you feel disconnected with your "why" then a good starting point is my book Life Space! Also, as Christmas is approaching why not connect with 24-7's brilliant (and short) daily Advent podcasts - I've been inspired and moved by them these past few weeks.

As always, if you've enjoyed reading this post then please share it with your friends and I'd love to hear from you about your tea experiences or how you balance your journey with your goals. Leave me a comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor..

I have a confession to make - I'm a bit of a naval history geek.

Sailing out to the high seas..
By this I mean that I've read at least two proper books about it (check out the authoritative N.A.M.Rodger), the entire Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian (on which the film Master and Commander was based), and I once did well on a "famous ships" round at a pub quiz.

I'm  a fan but probably not an expert - although I did pen a jolly banjo-driven sea shanty during my immersion songwriting day earlier this year.

Going back a few generations, both sides of my family have a strong naval heritage and family heirlooms include naval telescopes and other curios. My great-grandfather Commander Gregory Stapleton spent his life at sea and ended up in charge of all the lighthouses in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), other relative were Captains trading in the Baltic and one was involved in early naval trials of Quinine in the Bight of Benin in the 1830s.
"..rough seas are a well used metaphor for the general slog that life becomes at times"
Growing up an older relative (complete with parrot) dubbed my siblings and I "wet bobs" as we had collectively caught the water gene - we were all keen rowers and spent lots of time in boats on the River Thames at Walton.

As if to prove the point, one of my brothers has since become a very highly qualified sea kayak instructor, leading trips all round the world. (Check his company out here). One summer I joined him on a kayak expedition around the western isles of Scotland, which was amazing. On days the sea was as calm as a Millpond, but I recall that paddling back to the Isle of Mull from Staffa (famous for its spectacular basalt columns and Fingal's cave) there was a significant swell which made the paddle more "interesting". As a family I think it's fair to say we're still "wet bobs" (my other brother is still an active rower - sadly I now live about as far inland as it's possible to be on our island!).

We don't always face smooth seas
I've not done all that much sailing on the sea, but I did spent a lot of time paddling and rowing on the River Thames between the ages of 8 and 18, witnessing and engaging with the river in all its seasons and conditions.

During the autumn and winter the river was often pretty fast flowing, and it was in these conditions that your boat handling skills were tested. I learnt to read the river, watch the eddies, stick closer to the bank where the flow was slower.

The smooth conditions were great when they occurred (I particularly remember a glorious summer day and a refreshing rain shower flattening the river out whilst I was single-sculling down Desborough Cut), but it was in the faster spate conditions that the real skill was learned.

Sometimes the skill was knowing when it wasn't safe to row or paddle.. on which days we'd often be sent for a long run up the towpath to Hampton Court and back (around 8 miles.. the challenge was to do this in under an hour).

Storms and rough seas are a well used metaphor for the troubles, difficulties and general slog that life becomes at times. Illness, accident, loss, failure - these are all things that can create waves in our lives. The ripple effect can last years. We can be knocked back, our plans and dreams can feel sunk, we may even feel like we have to throw things overboard just to stay afloat.
"It's ok to be blown off course, the main thing is to do something about it"
So how do we navigate these storms with skill? I posted some thoughts on dealing with storms the other week, but more focused on being flooded on land than being lost in a stormy sea. Today's focus is more nautical.

When we're facing rough seas it's important to know where you're headed and try to maintain that direction. Your heading might be something directed by your faith, it could a health goal, a work objective or something else. You may have been knocked off-course, so be honest with where you are right now, then take action to make progress from there. It may not be where you want to be, or once were. You may feel like you've slipped back in behaviour, mindset or action. It's ok to be blown off course, the main thing is to do something about it.

Secondly, it's important to maintain balance. Ships carry ballast low down in their hull to keep them stable in rough seas. Many ships also have a keel which extends down into the water and provides resistance. Our lives are like icebergs, there's always much more below the surface than meets the eye.

What are the things in your life that provide ballast or a deep keel? Ballast could be activities that energise you, perhaps sport or hobbies. Maybe it's spending time with people, or for the more introverted maybe it's making enough time to be on your own! Your keel might be your core beliefs about yourself, your faith, your close friends and family. However you need to provide stability and balance, this is important to weather the rough seas life throws at us.

Admiral Nelson - a skilled sailor!
Finally, take confidence that rough seas eventually smooth out, and you'll be a more skilled sailor as a
result. I don't mean this to sound trite, and you may be facing long term and tough conditions which I in no way mean to belittle. Within my own Christian faith, a hope to hold on to is an eternal place where there are no more tears and no more suffering (interestingly there is a fairly obscure Bible verse which states that there will be no more sea, however my understanding is that this is a figurative reference to death rather than no actual sea, since elsewhere a new earth is also promised).
"Our lives are like icebergs, there's always much more below the surface"
In rough conditions it's wise to consult skilled sailors for advice, as they may have experienced similar conditions in the past. When you're through the other side you may even be in a position to provide advice and support for others - in fact you are uniquely positioned to do this, having been through the same rough seas yourself.

I write more about fear and disappointment in my book Life Space which is available to download on Amazon. Please check it out, there is plenty in there to encourage and inspire you.

Wherever you're sailing to at the moment, whatever conditions you're facing, take courage - stay focused on your destination and stay balanced, smoother seas will come along. If you've been through rough seas before, is there a way you can use your experience to help others?

Safe sailing everyone!


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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Be more connected

Hi everyone, just wanted to reach out to readers new and old with various ways to stay in touch with my writing.

Firstly, a huge thank-you for visiting my blog - I hope you come away inspired, encouraged and maybe even mildly amused!

Add caption
Secondly, I love hearing from you, so if you've been touched in some way by anything that I've shared please let me know, you can email me directly at stricklandmusings@gmail.com or leave me a comment on any one of my posts. I promise to reply!

My book Life Space is now available for download on Amazon, so please check it out. It's a great read (if I do say so myself) so grab hold of it today!

Finally, please follow me on Twitter @lukestrickland, like my page on Facebook, and add me to your circles on Google +

You guys are all amazing - thanks for sharing my writing, musing, blogging and dreaming journey with me, and keep dreaming big in your own lives!

Every blessing,

Luke

Friday, November 28, 2014

Silly Season

Silly season..
‘Tis the season to be jolly..’ or it nearly is. It feels like the marketing hype around Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. In our shops Halloween was a big retail event, and no sooner was the glut of orange and black merchandise off the shelves than it was replaced with tinsel, Santa and a lurid glut of Christmas merchandise instead: silly season has begun!

As if to prove the point that our biggest calendar events have been hijacked by retail sales, the eruption of fighting in supermarkets on Black Friday was all over the news this week, as people fought over HD TVs and other high-end goods. Our first world obsession with “stuff” is a whole other topic! 

"The feeling that life’s accelerating can be disorientating and stressful"
Silly Season isn't about taking ourselves less seriously, although for the record I do think we should be more playful in our approach to life (see my recent post on this here). Instead, the phrase has become an apt description of the acceleration we can feel in many parts of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and the New Year.

In my day job, December is always full of deadlines – so many of our clients want reports and designs completed by Christmas, often for no particular reason than it’s a convenient date! This year the rush and unreasonable deadlines began early!

The definition from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable..
Silly Season can place demands on us in our home lives too, the pressure to buy the perfect gifts for our loved ones, perhaps a heightened tension between our shopping habits and our bank balance.

Maybe during silly season we’re tempted make decisions we wouldn't make at other times of the year? With so much going on, the “fear of missing out” can become a powerful motivator to buy, consume, party and rush.

The feeling that life’s accelerating can be disorientating and stressful, and Christmas can be a time when we feel the loss of loved ones more poignantly or we can be full of regrets for the things that have or haven’t happened over the year. Silly season can put pressure on our families leading to arguments and even break up. I've heard it’s the busiest time of the year for helplines such as the Samaritans.

As much as Silly Season conveys a sense of haste, in journalistic terms Silly Season can refer to a period of slow news – leading to "all sorts of silly stuff" according to my trusty copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (Weirdly, according to the entirely reliable Wikipedia, many countries call Silly Season “Cucumber Time”.. go figure).
"Whether you’re facing feast or famine... it’s important to keep a level head"
Perhaps instead of too much going on you feel like there’s not enough going on in your life – you’re waiting for something to happen. Maybe you've been waiting all year or longer.

In the Christian tradition, the period in the lead up to Christmas is called Advent. It’s a time of anticipation, of positive waiting, celebrating that the Saviour has come and anticipating his return.

If you’re anything like me, waiting for something can be a difficult and impatient thing! Often we can be negative about waiting, bemoaning the fact, when instead Advent reminds us of the value of positive waiting, a pregnant pause.
Advent - anticipatory waiting
Pregnancy is a good example of positive, anticipatory waiting – it’s important to wait until full term to give the baby time to grow. Babies born prematurely can have a difficult start to life if they’re not sufficiently developed when they arrive.

Whether you’re facing feast or famine, whether Silly Season is a time where life is too fast or too slow, it’s important to keep a level head. I’m reminded of lines from Kipling’s famous poem “If”: 



“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs… 
...if you can wait and not be tired by waiting..”

Perhaps it’s time to trade your Silly Season for Advent. To trade activity or impatient waiting for positive anticipation, if you’re able to, in the midst of the business of this time of year. If you're looking for help to do this, try checking out Occupy Advent on Facebook or Twitter, or Pray as you Go for some daily audio reflections.

"Perhaps it’s time to trade your Silly Season for Advent"


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Friday, November 21, 2014

Stormy Weather

Winter is fast approaching, and with it the usual spate of news headlines about storms and flooding. Parts of the UK have suffered flooding in various forms over the past few winters, whether from burst river banks, tidal storm surges, high groundwater levels, or overland flow - whatever the source, storms are guaranteed to cause headlines again this winter.
"In one sense, there is a predictability about storms.."
Are you in the right place?
I've ended up spending a fair chunk of my working life assessing the severity of storms, and advising clients of all shapes and sizes how best they can future-proof their development to take due account of a changing climate.

In one sense, there is a predictability about storms - we have rainfall records going back to 1766 from which we can assess what "size" storm statistically occurs every say, 10 years or 100 years. Based on this we can make sure that new developments have drainage systems which are sized to accommodate a suitable amount of rainfall, allowing for increased rainfall intensity in future due to the predicted effects of climate change over the lifetime of the development.

We have complex river models and flood maps showing the historic and theoretical floodplain, which help developers and planners avoid locating more vulnerable development in high risk areas. We know from experience that winter is often (but not exclusively) the time when the most severe storms are experienced. In areas protected by flood defences, we know that residual risks remain if the defences should fail, and can therefore plan for emergency procedures to protect property and life from harm.
"..but most of the time storms are unpredictable."
So yes, in one sense storms are predictable and there are things we can do in advance to prepare - like residents of Caribbean islands boarding up their houses in advance of a hurricane.

But as we all know, most of the time storms are unpredictable. We don't know exactly when or where they will occur. In our own lives we can get engulfed in unexpected storms at the drop of a hat - a sudden illness, an accident, issues at work, issues at home.

When a storm hits our lives, we usually can't continue with "business as usual". How can we prepare for these? How can we react? I'd like to offer three suggestions of how we can think ahead, borrowing from the flood risk advice I give in my day-job. I don't mean to belittle anyone's difficult circumstances, or suggest that there is a solve-all solution for the numerous storms of life that we go through - big or small. However, I hope that my thoughts will provide a helpful alternative perspective for us to reflect on.
"Are you in the right place?"
Firstly, are you in the right place? Or should I say, have you ended up dwelling (not literally) in a risky place? Whether intentionally or not, we can find ourselves in situations, commitments, or relationships that are the equivalent of the shifting sands than the foolish man built on.

Perhaps it's worth reflecting on the different parts of your life and, if you're able, re-positioning to somewhere safer. If that's not possible, at least think about possible escape routes if the unthinkable happened, such as losing your job suddenly (like the flood defences failing).

I was reminded this week about the story of King Canute, who's flattering advisors (if I remember the story correctly) had claimed he was powerful enough to turn back the waves of the sea - something he was aware he couldn't do, and rebuked them accordingly. On the Canute Hotel in Southampton is an inscription marking this event "Near this spot in AD1028, Canute reproved his courtiers". Like Canute, we can't command the waves to stop - but maybe we can choose where we locate ourselves to stay as dry as we can!

Do you have people around you?
Secondly, do you have the right materials to hand to provide protection? In real life this could be sand bags (actually an inefficient flood barrier, but that's beside the point), but in the context of the storms of life, do you have people around you who can provide support?

Do you know where to turn to for advice? It's good to be part of a community that cares for you - personally I have been amazingly supported over the years through our local church. Who are the human sand bags in your life you could turn to?

Finally, are there ways you can help others through their storms? It's common for redevelopment projects these days to be required to reduce the amount of peak rainfall runoff they discharge compared to the existing situation. This is called "betterment", and the idea is that flood risk is reduced to others as a result. Are there ways that you can reduce "storm damage" for those around you? Perhaps by being a listening ear, providing a meal, giving some good advice - could you be a "sand bag" for someone in need?
"Stormy weather may be on the horizon, but you don't have to face it alone."
Storms can be severe - in the news this week there has been record snow in parts of America. In our lives we can suffer traumatic storms which leave us feeling cut-off, displaced, even lost. We can't prevent storms from happening, but we may be able to reposition ourselves to reduce the risk. We can gather human sand bags around us, to provide support - and most importantly we can be that support for others around us.

Stormy weather may be on the horizon, but you don't have to face it alone.



Hey there, thanks for reading this post! 
If you liked it why not share it with your friends, or leave me a comment below about how you have prepared for or dealt with storms in your own life? 
I've got a Kindle book coming out soon about making space in our lives for our dreams, so please sign up here to hear more about that and I'll keep you up to date. 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Toilet Day

Please twin your toilet!
I think we take for granted
The humble WC.
And flush, flush, flush away all day
Whenever we've the need.

Your loo might be a place to read,
Or maybe think or pray!
Perhaps it's nothing of the sort
Just a passing place each day.

But celebrate our loos we should,
And praise this great invention!
Be grateful for our drains and pipes
Which go without a mention.

Our drainage systems beat disease,
They help us all stay healthy.
For many folk they're but a dream,
And only for the wealthy.

So next time you pay a visit
Please take a reverent pause,
And celebrate the humble loo..

..Two billion people round the world
Would be grateful for one too.

We've twinned our loo through toilettwinning.org and I'd encourage you to as well, to help the 2.5 billion people who don't have somewhere safe, clean and hygienic to go to the loo - please would you consider it? 

To read about my recent trip to South Africa with the charity Ten Thousand Homes click here.