Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost Rivers

Not my cake!
I've never done much cake baking, although I enjoy following recipes and particularly measuring out just the right amount of ingredients (brewing beer is more fun and also provides the same measuring satisfaction). 

However, the last few weeks we've been having a baking competition every Friday in our office, requiring me to brush up my baking skills and produce a winning cake. Each cake has been judged by the rest of the office on a number of categories such as aesthetic appeal, level of difficulty and compatibility with tea. 

I have to say that the quality of the cakes before it was my turn was very high, so I felt under a degree of pressure to come up with the goods. 

Mulling over cake ideas with my family my first suggestion of Weetabix cake was quickly ruled out as too plain (although very compatible with tea). Finally I decided on a Rocky Road cake, which involved minimal baking but would be delicious. The measuring of ingredients, melting of chocolate and syrup, and mixing in of raisins and marshmallows all went really well, and as a final flourish I added minty aero chocolate balls on top before chilling the mixture in the fridge.

"It was with a little trepidation that I hesitantly dished up my Rocky Road slices to my colleagues"
It was with a little trepidation that I hesitantly dished up my Rocky Road slices to my colleagues, however the general consensus seemed to be that they were surprisingly tasty, which was a relief! I was hoping for high scores, so imagine my disappointment to discover that some people had not only marked me down on difficulty (a fair cop) but on aesthetic appeal, and someone scoring me very low even on taste! Despite my dreams of topping the table, I found myself near the bottom, my baking confidence shattered. Well, perhaps just a reality check - I might stick to brewing beer instead. 

It doesn't feel great to be criticised.
When was the last time you were criticised for something you did or said? Perhaps it was recently at work, or at home. A small thing maybe, like not putting something away or not meeting someone’s expectations. Maybe you carry memories of criticism at school for your academic or sporting performance. Maybe you deserved it, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you thought you were a great baker, but no one liked your cake. 

Whatever it is, criticism can really hurt, even when it’s justified. If you want to be a top athlete, if you want to be on the top of your game, you need coaches to critique your technique so you can improve. The problem is how we hear it!

Aristotle hit the nail on the head when he said "The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing and be nothing".
"Whatever it is, criticism can really hurt, even when it’s justified."
I wonder how much of our life is lived in fear of what others may say or think? This can be especially true when it comes to creativity in some form or another, right down to cooking a meal for friends or family or baking a cake for your colleagues!

There's no doubt that Aristotle was a bright chap and a deep thinker. The thing is, I’m not sure he was entirely right when he said the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. Jesus told a parable about a man who entrusted his servants with various talents of money before going away on a long journey. When he returned, one with five talents had made five more, one with two talents had made two more, but the one entrusted with a single talent had buried it out of fear and only returned to his master what he had been given. Needless to say, his master is unimpressed and gives his talent to others. Notwithstanding Aristotle's advice, sometimes even doing nothing can lead to criticism.

Much as we want to be like the servants who increase their talents, too often I've felt like the servant who hides his talent. The one who buries it for fear of being criticised. Unlike the servant in the parable though, there is always opportunity for us to unearth what we've buried.

In London, Birmingham, Manchester and many of our cities here in the UK, over the past few hundred years as they have urbanised, many of the original watercourses, rivers and streams have been diverted, buried and lost. In London in particular there are maps available showing the former routes of these "lost" rivers, such as the River Fleet or Tyburn. In my work I've regularly had clients or building contractors ring to query whether they've got a "lost" river passing beneath their site and if that will affect their foundations - sadly the truth is that they haven't. By and large all these watercourses have gradually been absorbed into the public sewer network. There generally aren't dramatic underground rivers beneath our cities.
"too often I've felt like the servant who hides his talent"
What is flowing deep within you that you need to bring to the surface? Are there "lost rivers" in your heart? Passions and dreams long suppressed and paved over perhaps?

What do you need to resurface?
The good news for our cities is that some of these watercourses are gradually being brought back to the surface through ambitious restoration projects. Yes some have been completely lost, but others were just put into big culverts, and planning policy is to "daylight" these watercourses when new development allows.

It's not always possible to daylight them all in one go, so this sometimes happens in sections, but even opening up a small section has benefits to water quality, habitat and amenity. Funnily enough, once people can see that there's a river there then there is often more motivation from the community to open up more of it. You don't have to resurface your lost rivers all in one go.

As much as we can be wary of criticism from others, often it's the inner critic that is the worst critic of all. The loudest voice telling us we can't do it is often also deep inside, floating on our lost rivers. Vincent Van Gogh was no stranger to this, for all his creative genius. He said this: "If you hear a voice within you saying 'you cannot paint' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."

Following Van Gogh's advice, sometimes we just need to take action. To begin, to surprise ourself with what we can achieve. Whether it's baking a cake, painting a picture, writing a story, assembling some flat pack furniture, it doesn't matter. What matters is making the best of what we've been given. Courageously using our talents rather than burying them. Let's not stay like the servant who buried his gift -  it might just be time for you to daylight your lost rivers.
"You don't have to resurface your lost rivers all in one go."

Thanks for taking the time to read Lost Rivers! If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here).

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Luke
I finally found time to read this post after you mentioned it when you visited 'The Source' in Malvern a few weeks back. What you spoke about that night has helped me to make some big decisions about buried rivers in my life; namely applying for a teaching position after a 3 year break from teaching following redundancy. It has been a difficult decision to make especially as I also felt that my teaching was the equivalent of the loaves and fishes- stale and smelly. Subconsciously I have thought about my teaching career as stale (having been out of school/college for a while) and smelly (tainted by my last experience). There was so much more that you said that has helped to influence my choice such as the multi faceted diamond and the verse for Gideon 'Go in the Strength that you have'. So a big thankyou for sharing with us a few weeks ago and for the musings. I have subscribed to and look forward to reading more of your blog (or listening)