I share with you a talk worth listening to again and again. If you are a Landmark graduate then this talk may show up as welcome reminder of some fundamentals. If you are not a Landmark graduate then you are in for a mind opening talk. Enjoy.
When you and I came forth from this world we came forth naked. Totally naked: without any and all labels. No name, no gender, no nationality, no religion, no politics…
So how did you and I end up with such a strong identity? An identity that grips us. An identity that permeates us. More accurately, identity that is us. It simply happened didn’t it as we travelled through the years with people, from one place to another? Would it be correct to say that the foundations of my identity, your identity, our identity was solidly in place before you and I were in a place to choose, to discriminate, to accept or decline the garments of identity thrust upon us by our parents, family, caregivers?
I ask you to take a good look at the core of your identity? What do you see? Do you see ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘American’, ‘Brit’, ‘christian’, ‘muslim’, ‘atheist’, ‘painter’, ‘mom’, ‘CEO’, ‘marketer’….? Please go and look beyond that. What do you see?
If you look deep enough and have the courage to see, to listen, I say that you are most likely to find that the core of your identity is that of ‘being defective’. Is that not our common humanity at the most fundamental level? You and I see ourselves as ‘defective’, as ‘not good enough’, as ‘something is wrong about me’. Right? I get that my version of defective may be that ‘I am not good looking’ and that ‘my body is weak’ and that ‘stupid’. Your identity might be that you are ‘too tall’, ‘too fat’, ‘too shy’, ‘not considerate enough’, ‘poor’… Do you notice that the details differ and the bigger game is the same between us? I am defective: I am not whole, I am not complete, I am not perfect.
You and I were born without identity, born naked of all labels, born naked full stop. Naked! So how did you go from no identity, and the lightness and freedom that goes with that, to carrying the huge burden that goes with operating from the stance ‘I am not whole, not complete, not perfect’? We were programmed. Why? So that we would fit in with the existing order. So that we would better comply with the wishes of those more powerful than us. Right?
How is it working out? Put differently, what is the experience of my life, your life, lived from the context of ‘not whole, not complete, not perfect’? It is that of looking for all kinds of way to be whole, be complete, be perfect. That is what all the self-help books are about, right? That is what all the status brands and conspicuous consumption is about, right? That is what all the pre tense of being perfect and having a perfect life is all about, right?
I say to me, to you, to us, what fools we are! We can simply give up the game. We can give it up right now, just like that. How exactly? Notice, that we were born naked, without labels, without identity. Notice, that identity is a choice. You and I can choose to live from another identity, another context. Which one? Where I declare myself as ‘whole-complete-perfect’, and you declare yourself as ‘whole-complete-perfect’. Let’s not stop there. Let’s declare all of our fellow human beings ‘whole-complete-perfect’.
Imagine how life would show up if you and I did declare ourselves as ‘whole-complete-perfect’. Imagine how life would be if you and I declared each and every human being as ‘whole-complete-perfect’. Not as a truth but as an identity that we give ourselves. And as a stand from which we show up and operate from this world. When we relate to ourselves and our fellow human beings as ‘whole-complete-perfect’ a totally new dimension of conversation and action shows up for us; you, me, everyone. We stop being small! We are free to be BIG: to give wings to our dreams, to act on the world, to co-create a world that works, a world that is wonderful for us all.
Given that we come forth naked of identity, why is it that we have not been conditioned to believe and operate from stand-identity of being at our most fundamental level ‘whole-complete-perfect’? If we had been conditioned that way, we would operate as ‘gods’ right? What if those that condition don’t want ‘gods’ and instead want ‘slaves’ who do not know that they are enslaved? Then giving us the identity of being ‘defective and weak’ would make perfect sense. So I say choose: slave or god.
Still convinced that you know yourself? Still convinced that you are defective, small, weak, and powerless? I invite you to watch the following video:
You and I have been conned. What have we been conned out of? We have been conned into living out of a certain story about ourselves and the world. It is story that says there is right and wrong. It is a story that there is good and bad. It is a story that say the way that it is is the way that it is. And that we are small and powerless to influence-shape-change-transform the way that it is.
It is story that educates-programs us into believing that life is about figuring out how to survive. And get ahead. It is story that tells us that there are rules to follow. And secret recipes. That the way to be is to figure out the rules and follow them. To fit into the box that is society-world. And that the way to get ahead is to access the secret recipes and use them to rise to the top of the box. So that we can dominate rather than be dominated.
There really is no space for ease-beauty-love-acceptance-joy-creative expression. There is no space in this story for putting a “dent in the universe”. And if we should share our dreams of putting a dent in the universe we are shot down quickly and aggressively.
Yes, we are small. But only if we buy into the story that we are small. Yes, we are powerless but only if we buy into the story that we are powerless. Yes, our lives are about surviving-fixing-approval-getting ahead but only if we buy into the story that our lives are about surviving-fixing-approval-getting ahead.
From time to time people have turned up to remind us that we can choose to play BIG. That showing up in the world as small or BIG is a choice. A choice that we make – every instant, every day. And as such we can choose to change our choice. These people remind is that life is ALWAYS created. It is the way that it is because we create the way that it is. They remind us of a fundamental truth our world is created by us. It has not stood still. Why? Because some of us have not bought into the myth that we are small and powerless. And have acted to influence-shape the world. To make a dent in the universe.
I leave you with this revolutionary short talk by Steve Jobs. A person who set out to make a “dent in the universe” and did so.
Here is the transcript which I recommend memorising by heart. And living every day:
When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
And the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
Do I show up for you as one who cares for you?
It is easy for me to say that I care. It is something else entirely to show up in your world as one who cares.
It is easy for me to reassure you that everything will be fine. It is something else entirely to show up in your world as one who cares.
It is easy to tell you what to do. It is something else entirely to show up in your world as one who cares.
It is easy to go out and buy stuff for you. It is something else entirely to show up in your world as one who cares.
It is easy for me to give you money. It is something else entirely to show up in your world as one who cares.
It is easy for me to fix it for you. It is something else entirely to show up in your world as one who cares.
Genuine listening is the foundation of caring and relationship
I thank you for teaching me that listening is caring. What kind of listening? When I listen to you as person of worth. When I listen to you as person who matters. When I stop everything that I am thinking-speaking-doing and sit there. Sit there doing what? Being a listening for you – wherever you are at, whatever you are thinking, whatever you are feeling, whatever you are needing, whatever you are requesting of me and the world
When through my listening I create a space for you to show up and express yourself fully. To speak that which is there to be spoken. Then you feel gotten. And when you feel gotten you feel connected with me and vice versa. When you feel connected you feel loved. When you feel loved you feel that you matter, that you are safe, that you have a safe platform to take risks.
It occurs to me that if each of us provided empathic listening to the people closest to us, at home, at work, in the local community, then our experience of living would be transformed and collectively we would end up transforming the world.
I invite you to join me in being a source of empathic listening. Being a stand for empathic listening. Just listening: not reassuring, not advising, not telling, not fixing…. just empathic listening of one heart to another heart.
Oh and I get that it is hard. And is it not that way for the baby that struggles to walk. Does the baby give up each time s/he falls? Does the baby stay content with just crawling just because s/he falls down and hurts herself? Just about everything shows up as hard until it becomes us and then it is easy even automatic.
If you are wondering what I am making such a big fuss about then I leave you with this quote from Dorothy Moore:
When you ask someone when was the last time a person listened to you, they often can’t even give you an answer. Listening, really listening, is the key to caring!
We spent a large part of last weekend at the home of our friends: Gisela, James, and Jasper. As Gisela says, it is our home in the countryside. It strikes me that coming from someone else this would strike me as mere words, intentions, or simply being nice, being polite. Yet, Gisela’s words do not show up that way for me: they show up for me as truth – my home in the countryside.
What is it about Gisela, James, and Jasper that leaves me feeling loved and loving them as I do?
1. I notice that there is genuine joy in their being when I show up in their home. And vice versa.
2. It never occurs to me that I am being judged: right-wrong, good-bad… And I do not judge them. What is presence is acceptance and the space that creates for us: to simply be.
3. One-upmanship is absent: nobody is out to show that they are better, or not, than anyone else. Yes, we rejoice in each others gifts. And we leave it at that: there is no judgement about those gifts. We take delight in each other, not judgement/evaluation.
4. I am not being advised nor educated about life. Nor am I being questioned or interrogated. There simple is no space in our being for that kind of conversation to show up.
5. Nothing shows up as being forced. It does not occur to me that anyone is doing their best to please others against their own feelings-needs. It occurs to me that there is an absence of pretence. And as a result there is a certain ease and gracefulness.
6. There no faking, no bullshitting, no preening, no grandstanding, no falseness going on – none that I pick up or have picked up yet. What there is, is, even if it is deemed to be “bad” or “inappropriate” by conventional wisdom and morality
7. We share. We share the shopping if there is shopping to be done. We share the cooking if there is cooking to be done. We share our speaking and listening. We share our joy in being present with one another. We share smiles. We share hugs. We share what we have found on TED, or elsewhere, that speaks to us. We share the joys, challenges, disappointments and heartaches of life: that which works and that which does not work in our lives.
8. Smiles, hugs, laughter and even play is present. And what an amazing difference that makes. To get up in the morning and be greeted with genuine warmth/affection made visible through smiles and hugs.
I am left asking myself, “What if I showed up for all the people in my life, the way that I show up with Gisela-James-Jasper?” And the thought occurs that it would be “Awesome”. What a way to show up in the world!
It occurs to me that if you and I treat everyone that we meet the way we treat our very best friends then together we would transform our lives and the world. What do you say?
Laurence Platt over at Conversations For Transformation (Inspired by the Ideas of Werner Erhard) has written a fabulous piece: The Illusion of I. Here I simply wish to share with you the two paragraphs which occur as being particularly enlightening about life:
Try this on for size: the world doesn’t work when run as a “you or me” world. It’s not designed to be run that way. And if we unknowingly try to run it as a “you or me” world when it clearly doesn’t work as a “you or me” world, there’s no use claiming we didn’t know it doesn’t work as a “you or me” world. That doesn’t fix it. That doesn’t make it work any better. For the world to work, a shift is required in what we don’t know about making it work.
At the heart of what we don’t know about making the world work, is an error akin to unknowingly trying to run a diesel powered Mercedes-Benz with gasoline. Running the “you and me” world unknowingly as if it’s a “you or me” world, is this error. This error is based on an illusion. Yes an illusion. It’s the illusion of I. I is an illusion. And it’s the illusion of I which leads to individual territoriality instead of individual co-operation – which leads to political parties’ territoriality instead of political parties’ co-operation, which leads to nations’ territoriality instead of nations’ co-operation.
This is what I make Laurence’s essay mean:
We are given birth, embedded in, and living in a ‘you AND me’ world. A world where relationship-interdependence-unity is built into the very fabric/structure/working of the world. In such a world cooperation and collaboration is the way.
Yet our language, our training, our way of being-doing in the world is to operate from a ‘you OR me’ context. We divide the world into you and me. And spend the rest of our lives competing with each other - ’you OR me’ – and feeling disconnected from one another, and sometimes life itself.
The major issues that show up in our world – personal life, family, work, community, the world – arise from operating from a ‘you OR me’ context when we live in ‘you AND me’ world.
Shifting from the ‘you OR me’ way of being-in-the-world to a ‘you AND me’ way of being-in-the-world gives us access for transforming the quality of life, for all, on this planet that gives us life. And making this shift personally and inspring-empowering others to do so is the ultimate act of leadership.
While God waits for his church
to be built of love,
men bring stones.
- Rabindranath Tagore
Let me share a story with you
Allow me to start the conversation through a story especially as daughter loves stories:
A long time ago in India, a group of disciples (monks) were watching their master make chapatis. The master would take a small portion of dough and roll it out using a rolling pin. Then he would place it on a hot griddle (pan) and proceed to cook both sides of the chapati. As it cooked he would smile and say, “Perfect.”
The disciples were puzzled. Each of the chapatis was a different shape, some of them were burnt around the edges, and none were perfectly round. Finally, one of the disciples said, “Master, how can these chapatis be perfect? Chapatis are supposed to be round, and they are not supposed to be burned!”
The master took the last chapati of the griddle and handed it to the young disciple. The chapati was more oval than round, and it was burned around the edges. “Perfect,” he repeated.
Is the world perfect or imperfect?
It occurs to me that you and I hold an idealised picture of how things are supposed to be. In our everyday lives, you and I constantly attempt to fix reality. We want it to fit into our concept of “perfection”. How does this leave us? If you are like me then it tends to leave you disappointed, frustrated, annoyed , ungrateful, joyless and exhausted.
Is it possible that the world is neither perfect nor imperfect? Is it possible that the world simply is and as such it is beyond any labels we choose to apply to it – including the label “it”?
It occurs to me that the world, the universe, works the way that it works. It unfolds as it unfolds. It dances to the tune that it dances to. It occurs to me that the world is indifferent to our ideals, conceptions, and preferences as regards what should be and what should not be. Just consider the weather!
Which begs the question, “Which stand is more powerful: the world is perfect just as it is and as it is not, or that the world is imperfect?” That is to say, is the stand of the master more powerful than the disciples or vice versa?
It occurs to me that, perhaps, the more profound question is this one, “What would be our experience of living if we dropped all labels and simply worked with reality just as it is and just as it is not?” Is it possible that our experience of living would be transformed?
Ordinary question generate ordinary living: an ordinary way of being and showing up in life.
Extraordinary questions stop us in our tracks, bring us out of our hypnotic state of everydayness, and provide a window to possibility and transformation. The access to possibility and transformation is always questions: questions that rock us, shake us, tremble us.
If you are up for living a transformed life here are the questions to be with – totally and wholeheartedly:
1. Who am I?
2. Who am I for myself?
3. Who would I be if I lost my memory and had no past?
4. If I had no memory, who would I chose to be?
5. What calls to me when I am silent and courageous?
6. Who would I chose to be if I knew with absolute certainty that I am whole-complete-perfect?
What is our default way of being in the world?
Listen to the mystics and it is being ‘not awake’ – not awake to the reality of existence. Listen to Martin Heidegger and it is ‘fallenness’ – fallenness into they ‘they’, the ‘anyone’, the crowd. Listen to psychology and it is habit.
I say our normal way of being in the world is to be on automatic pilot. A great illustration is driving a car. How many times have you driven from A to B and when you get there you cannot remember the journey?
I say our normal way of being in the world is to go about life as one (anyone) goes about life. That is to say we have fallen into/with the crowd. Which crowd? Our society. Our social class. Our tribe. So you/I go about life as one goes about life: you/I dress like one dresses; you/I eat like one eats; you/I walk like one walks; you/I hang out where one hangs out; you/I talk the way that one talks; you/I work they way one works; you/I entertain ourselves the way that one entertains himself; you/I form the relationships that one forms….
Put differently, our normal way of being is for our habits to have us, to be us. And where do these habits come from? From our society, tribe, social class. So in our normal way of being you/I are simply being/showing up as our society-tribe-social class. At one level this works great. It allows us to fit in with the rest, smooths social relationships, and allows us all to work together and accomplish more than we could accomplish on our own.
And there is price. The price is at two levels. At the society-tribe-social class level we are blind to that which we are blind. Put differently, we have no access to what we don’t know that we don’t know. At a personal level we do not own our lives. And by not owning our lives we do not get the sense of aliveness, of joy, of meaning/fulfilment that comes with being creators of our lives – being, pursuing, creating, bringing about that which matters to us. We settle instead for a life of drudgery.
So we are asleep. Habit owns us. We are the crowd – they anyone, the ‘average’. Which begs the question, for those of us interested in waking up, what is the access to waking up and owning our lives, to living as creators?
Breakdowns are a great access to waking up and making breakthroughs in our living
Breakdowns are those events and moments in our lives when our ordinary way of being in life – not awake, fallenness, habit having us – breaks down even if that is for a minute or two. In our ordinary way of being – being comfortable with habit, being on automatic pilot – you/I do not welcome breakdowns. No, we get upset, frustrated, annoyed, angry and even violent. My son and I experienced a mild breakdown when in the midst of watching a movie the electricity was cut-off. Another example of a breakdown could be the loss of our jobs, or a relationship with a loved one.
If you/I are up for playing BIG, living ‘extraordinary’ lives then we need to welcome and make the best use of breakdowns. Why? Because breakdowns provide an access to breakthroughs. When breakdowns occur we are given sight – without our wishes – to our state of being, our habits, our fallenness. And if we generate the courage and make the time to get present to the sight that shows up for us then we enable ourselves to make breakthroughs in our living. Put differently, breakdowns if embraced in the right manner enable us to transform our lives.
Want an example of what I am talking about? Let me share with you the story that has made many tears flow from my eyes and still bleeds my heart. Which story? India and the horrific gang rape by six men of a 23 year old physiotherapy student in Delhi. From what I read it occurs to me that this is not the only young woman that has been raped. It occurs to me that many women are raped. Just yesterday I was reading of a young woman, mother of two, who threw herself of a train to escape rape and is critically injured. Put differently, to be a woman in India is to be ‘one who is subjected to oppression, abuse and even rape’. That is and has been the default state of existence for a long time. And this default state has been in the background, invisible, not talked about.
For whatever reason the horrific rape of the 23 year old young woman, Jyoti, and her subsequent death has brought about a breakdown – at least for now – in the taken for granted way of ‘the way the world is in India’. This breakdown has allowed people in India and outside India sight of the ‘darker side of modern India’ – that side which is not at all modern nor civilised (in the western sense of the word). And for some, this has brought both shame and disgust. So that is the breakdown that has occurred in India, at least Delhi.
I am saddened at the rape and death of Jyoti. I am saddened with learning that a young mother of two is critically injured because she threw herself of the train to escape rape. And yet I see possibility/transformation amidst this sadness. What am I talking about? This breakdown in India – a suspension of the ordinary way of being and going about in the world – represents an opportunity to make a breakthrough. What breakthrough? A breakthrough in the lives of ordinary women in India – young or old. I can see a world where Indian women are not oppressed, not abused, not raped. Put differently, I see a world where it is not ok for one to oppress, abuse, rape.
What will it take for people in India to use this breakdown to create a breakthrough and thus transform the lives of the women in India? For enough people to be / show up / operate from the possibility that the women folk are free, are respected, are not abused, not oppressed, not raped. Put differently, for enough people to climb out of their state of falseness and own/live the possibility of ‘freedom, safety and respect for the women of India’.
To sum up: yes breakdowns are painful, few of us welcome them, and yet if embraced breakdowns offer us the ladder via which we can climb out of our state of fallenness and make breakthroughs in our lives and transform the experience of our living. Isn’t that true leadership – leading our own lives, owning our lives, being a stand for that which matters to us, being a source of contribution to our fellow human beings and life itself?
What is the access to transformation? Specifically, what is the access – for you and me – to transform the quality of our living? Put simply, it is shifting our being-in-the-world, and thus our showing up in the world, from impotent to potent. What do I mean? Let’s take a look at the definitions:
Adjective: unable to take effective action; helpless or powerless
Adjective: having a great power, influence or effect.
Synonyms: powerful – strong – forceful – intense
Let’s assume that you and I are up for transformation, up for shifting our being-in-the-world from impotent (the default) to potent. What is the access to making this shift? Willpower? No, this rarely works as many New Years resolutions show. Is it setting goals? No, this rarely works because goals tend to rely on the exercise of willpower. And willpower tends to fade. So what is a suitable access?
The access to making the shift is inventing and living from one or more possibilities that move-touch-inspire us. Which begs the question “What is a possibility?” A possibility is not a wish. Nor is it an intention. A possibility is not a goal, an outcome, an achievement. Nor is possibility a belief in that which is possible for a human being.
Still looking for a pointer as to what constitutes a ‘possibility’? Then let me share this quote from Nikos Kazantzakis (author of Zorba The Greek):
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.” Nikos Kazantzakis
And when he speaks of believing he is talking about the following kind of believing:
“A belief is not merely an idea that is thought, it is an idea in which one believes. And believing is not an operation of the intellectual mechanism, but a function of the living being as such, the function of guiding his conduct, his performance of his task.” Jose Ortega Y Gasset
A possibility gives meaning to one’s life and power to one’s being-in-the-world. As such it does more than provide one with a reason to get up in the morning. It provides one the access to transcend one’s psychology and push the limits of one’s biology as and when this is necessary. It calls forth one to be unreasonable when unreasonable is what it takes. In short, it the access to living a life that shows up as fulfilling. A life worth living.
Why do I write this blog as opposed to put my feet up, watch a move, hang out in a bar? Because I invented a possibility. What possibility? The possibility of playing BIG, living an ‘extraordinary’ life, of being a source of contribution to a ‘world that works, none excluded’. How about you? What possibility leaves you moved-touched-inspired to be and create that which does not exist today? What possibility are you up for inventing/living this year?
Please note, that all acts of leadership start with inventing a possibility that leaves one moved-touched-inspired to disclose and create that which does not exist today.
What is this phenomenon called love? Investigate this phenomenon and you will find that it is not just one experience (phenomenon). No, it is manifold, many different experiences (phenomena) hidden under one label – love.
What are these manifold experiences housed and mingled together under this umbrella called love? There is the experience of desire which is more accurately labelled lust. And as lust is not acceptable, given our cultural practices, it is called love. There is plain sex and that is called ‘love’ or ‘making love’. There is ownership – in the sense of I have exclusive rights to you, your body, your sexuality, your resources, your time – and that is also called love …. and there is love as in care and caring.
It occurs to me that we would help love to flourish if we reserved love only for authentic care for another. What kind of care? Care for their wellbeing – in the physical, emotional and spiritual domains of life and living. Whilst I can talk about this it is better to get there more concretely. Allow me to give you an example.
In the morning as I was headed out to spend a few days away from home I was got a surprise. What kind of surprise? On one of the doors leading to the outside, a door I have to go through, I found a note for me. What kind of note? This note:
My wellbeing requires me to start the day by taking the Levothyroxine tablet. And to end the day by taking a statin tablet. That is just so. And more than once I have left my tablets at home. So my son, late at night, after I had gone to bed had written this reminder for me and left it where he knew I would see it. Why did he do that? Because he cares for me – he loves me.
Now, here is the thing to get. It is quite possible that my son felt strong feelings of love for me that night. And those feelings would not have shown up in my living nor made any difference. Why? Because I do not have access to his feelings. I do have access to his actions: I got present to the depth of his love when I saw this post it note and it moved me to tears of gratitude and joy!
I say that contrary to what the songs say love is not a feeling. No, love is verb – it is doing. Doing what? Doing that which contributes to the wellbeing of those we claim to love. And not doing that which gets in the way of the wellbeing of those we claim to love.
So you and I are confronted with choice: to live from the default context where love is a hodge podge of phenomena or to create and live from an ‘extraordinary’ context where we use the label love to mean love – love as in compassionate caring for the wellbeing of those we claim to love.
What choice will I make? What choice will you make? In making our choices we should be mindful that love – as in caring for the wellbeing of another – is the access to transformation: of my live, your life, our lives, of life as a whole.
Mitt Romney‘s wealth is estimated to be between US$190-250m. He was the CEO of Bain & Co (renowned management consultancy). He co-founded Bain Capital one of the largest private equity firms in the USA. He was the the Governor of Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006. He then got busy on his ambition to become president of the USA. Just keep this in mind, I will come back to Mitt Romney later in this post.
I notice that a lot of people are hurting. I notice that some of the people that are hurting, are hurting so badly that they are on their knees. Thankfully, I am not one of these people. You might be one of them. What am I talking about? I am talking about the tough economic times in the western world (Greece, Spain, UK, USA..) where many people have lost their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods. This is new for us – not new for many others that live in this world that peoples us and is our home.
In many parts of the world life is difficult and has been difficult for a long time. It is not only difficult it is oftentimes harsh/brutal/unforgiving. Because this applies to just about everyone (except the elite) people in these parts of the world do not say “I am in this position because of me. If I am in this position then that means there is something wrong with me. I have failed. I am defective….” Nor do they go about saying that about others.
This is not a luxury that is available to those of us who live in protestant countries especially the UK and the USA. Why? Because the dominant narrative and thus listening that one person has for another is as follows: how your life turns out depends on you; look everyone, EVERYONE, can make it; if you have not made it then you must be responsible; you are at fault – you are the source of the hardship that you are experiencing. With this narrative comes a lack of compassion, kindness and generosity towards one another.
What is astounding is that so many people in the USA/UK have bought into this myth that they are hard on themselves. That is to say that you/I find ourselves on our knees and we blame ourselves. We are ashamed of ourselves. We berate ourselves. We think that we have failed and that there is something wrong with us. ”Look, I live in a country where ANYONE can make it. I have not made it so there must be something wrong with me!” Put differently, we lack compassion towards ourselves because we have a FAULTY map of the world.
I say get real. I say get that you/I are not Gods – we are mortals and as mortals our circumstances and our destiny is to some extent ‘shaped by the Gods’. The Greeks got this beautifully. The Greeks got that at the end of the day man is subject to the ‘whim of the Gods’ and the best that s/he can do is to ‘fight the good fight’. This is what makes the human situation a tragic one; we are not like the stone, the plant nor the tiger – we can do so much; and yet we are mere mortals, not Gods. This might not be concrete enough for you so allow me to make it real by going back to Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney lost! He spent six years of his life and a spent something in the region of US$750m and he lost. The richest person to run for the presidency lost. One of the most influential people in the USA did not get to realise his ambition. Many thought he was going to win. He, himself, thought he was going to win and so had a massive celebration including fireworks planned. And how did it work out? He lost! All his wealth, his fame, his track record, his influence, the $750m he spent .. did not get him the presidency. In Greek terms ‘the Gods’ were not on his side, they favoured Obama.
I say get real! I say be compassionate towards those who are hurting right now – whether that is your fellow man or yourself. We are not masters of our fate. Whilst we can do a lot, we cannot shape, entirely, how our lives turn out or how the world turns out.
Werner Erhard, found this out in 1991. Many thousands of people flocked to take part in his seminars (est, and later the forum). Werner created ‘transformation’ and he touched many lives – indirectly he has touched mine through my participation in the courses delivered by Landmark Education. Werner preached ‘responsibility’. He urged the est participants to take responsibility for their lives – just they are and are not – rather than play ‘victim’ and blame others. Werner was soaring at the heights – both in terms of the impact he was making and his fame/fortune. Then in early 1991 he found out that CBS News were going to show a programme that was going to ruin his reputation. Despite his best, including his offer of taking a lie detector test, he could not persuade CBS News not to run the programme. And he left the USA and found himself in exile – reputation ruined. Many years later the allegations in the CBS News were retracted. And the impact on his life had been made – there was no ‘going back’.
Finally, I say that if you/I find ourselves on the receiving end of the ‘whims of the Gods’ like Werner did then we can put ourselves in a powerful position to be with and deal with what is so. First we can be compassionate towards ourselves. Second, we can in the context of this compassion take responsibility for our lives – including getting ourselves off the floor. Werner Erhard did just that. He left the USA and he invented a new life for himself outside of the USA and he has been making an impact all over the world.
And finally, if you find one of our fellow human beings hurting and/or on the floor (emotionally, financially, physically) then I ask you to give that person a helping hand. If you are finding that difficult because you are under the myth of ‘man as God’ that is so dominant in the USA (and to some extent in the UK) then I remind you of Mitt Romney, six years, $750m spent, and no presidency!
Who am I? This is the fundamental question. This the most important question that I can grapple with and get clear on. Few of us have a powerful answer to this question. Almost all of us are trapped in delusions – delusions that imprison/constrain us in some way. I call these ‘prison bars of our being/showing up in the world for ourselves and others’.
How do you and I build these prison bars? Whenever you/I add anything to “I am”. For example, I am a woman. I am a middle class. I am extroverted. I am a manager. I am unattractive. I am respectable. I am intelligent. I am reliable. I am honest. I am a good friend. I am a poor mother/daughter/wife……. Truth be told, you/I are not the ones that add all of this stuff to “I am”. No, it is done by our parents, our sibling, our relatives, our teachers, our neighbours, the media ……….. It is that without knowing any better we think that the game of life is adding stuff to “I am” and so we get busy adding stuff until the prison bars are complete and we have lost our freedom to be and instead have a fixed identity.
Does it have to be that way? Can you/I regain our freedom? Can you and I let go of all that we/others have added to “I am” and get back to “I am” and rejoice such that it our experience shows up for us as “I am!”? Allow me to share with you one of the most moving passages that I have ever come across:
“I remember walking that day under the elevated tracks in a slum area, feeling the thought, “I am an illegitimate child.” I recall the sweat pouring forth in my anguish in trying to accept the fact. Then I understood what it must feel like to accept, “I am a Negro in the midst of privileged whites,” or “I am blind in the midst of people who see.” Later on that night I woke up and it came to me this way, “I accept the fact that I am an illegitimate child.” But “I am not a child anymore.” So it is, “I am illegitimate.” That is not so either: “I was born illegitimate.” Then what is left? What is left is this, “I Am.” This act of contact and acceptance with “I am,” once gotten hold of, gave me (what I think was for me the first time) the experience “Since I Am, I have a right to be.”
What is this experience like? It is a primary feeling – it feels like receiving the deeds to my house. It is the experience of my own aliveness not caring whether it turns out to be an ion or just a wave. It is like when as a very young child I once reached the core of a peach and cracked the pit, not knowing what I would find and then feeling the wonder of finding the inner seed, good to eat in its bitter sweetness…. It is like a sailboat in the harbour being given an anchor so that, being made out of earthly things, it can by means of its anchor get in touch again with the earth, the ground from which its wood grew, it can lift its anchor to sail but always at times it can cast its anchor to weather the storm or rest a little….. It is my saying to Descartes, “I Am, therefore I think, I feel, I do.”
It is like an axiom of geometry – never experiencing it would be like going through a geometry course not knowing the first axiom. It is like going to my own Garden of Eden where I am beyond good and evil and all other human concepts. It is like the experience of poets of the intuitive world, the mystics, except that instead of the pure feeling of and union with God it is the finding of and the union of my being. It is like owning Cinderella’s shoe and looking all over the world for the foot that will fit and realising all of a sudden that one’s own foot is the only one it will fit. It is a “Matter of Fact” in the etymological sense of the expression. It is like a globe before the mountains and oceans and continents have been drawn on it. It is like a child in grammar finding the subject of the verb in a sentence – in this case the subject being one’s own life span. It is ceasing to feel like a theory toward one’s self…..”
When I speak, I speak. When you listen, you listen to me speaking. Yet, I live in my world – a unique world. And you live in your world – a unique world. Given that is the case how can I be sure that I have generated the understanding, the experience, that I intend with my speaking? And how can you be sure that what you have heard me say is what I actually spoke?
This speaking and the listening brought to the speaking is particularly troublesome when it comes to ideas like extraordinary. So it is likely that some of you upon hearing me speak of an ‘extra-ordinary’ life or ‘extra-ordinary’ living will have collapsed this with extraordinary life and extraordinary living. They are not the same, they are distinct. Allow me to bring the distinction to life through a personal story.
When I was a child, before the age of 5, my life showed up as ‘extra-ordinary’ and there was nothing extraordinary about me or my life. I grew up in a farming community in a poor part of Pakistani controlled Kashmir. My mother was poor and we lived in a mud house. We had just enough to eat. I remember pleading with my mother for some milk which she would not give me because she sold it to buy stuff that she did not grow. The outward appearance was distinctly ordinary for that part of the world: one boy among many boys; one farmer’s dwelling just like many of the other dwellings in the area.
Yet, when I travel back in time and re-experience my life, at that age and in that place, it shows up as an ‘extra-ordinary’ life. I flowed with life and life flowed through me. In this ‘extra-ordinary’ living I don’t remember ever saying to myself “I am better or worse than someone else”. And I don’t remember saying to myself “I am good/bad”. I don’t remember saying to myself “There is something great/defective about me.” And I don’t remember thinking “I need to improve this/that about me.” I don’t remember saying “Something is missing.” Nor do I remember saying “This is hard work”. And I don’t remember saying to myself “I am bored, I need to find something to do”. I don’t remember saying “This is a good person, this is a bad person.” Nor do I remember saying to myself “I am poor or we are poor.” I am sure that I never said to myself “There is something wrong with my life.”
I do remember that some of the baby chicks that I loved and was responsible for feeding (water and food) died. I don’t remember saying “It is my fault. I am bad.” Nor do I remember saying “It is his/her fault for not giving me the water/food I needed to feed my baby chicks!”
I do remember being absorbed in living. I remember getting up early and being occupied for the entire day and going to sleep exhausted. I remember liking some people and not liking others – yet just getting on with them, with living. I remember liking being with my dog and not liking my mother chaining my dog up and not letting me play with him. I do remember joy in playing out all day. And I do remember great sadness when some of my baby chicks died. I remember laughter (lots of it) especially when I was playing with my dog and my friends. And I remember a waterfall of tears when I woke up to find my dog (my best friend) missing and not finding him day after day. I remember that one day the tears dried up and I got busy being absorbed in life and living.
I hope that you have gotten the difference between ‘extra-ordinary’ living and extraordinary living. You and I have the power to transform our experience of living from ‘ordinary’ to ‘extra-ordinary’ whilst living an ordinary life or an extraordinary life.
It occurs to me that so many of us are chasing that extraordinary life (of being the best, of being rich, of being looked up to, of pleasure….) and in the process we sacrifice the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living – the kind of living that I experienced in the first five years of my life. And I say it is never too late to transform the quality of our lives – to shift from the chase of the extraordinary life to generating the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living.
A commitment to standards or possibilities? Choose wisely
“Is it possible to be committed to a set of standards that have nothing to do with being fully alive? You’ve got standards rather than possibilities, and the standards are more important than life itself.” Werner Erhard
You and I bottle up, hide, forget and even kill our true self-expression. What is the impact? You/I do not experience the joy of being alive, truly alive, instead our life occurs (when we are honest with ourselves) as going through the motions. That is the impact on you and I. What about the impact on others – the people who come into contact with us?
To be a human being is to be in relationship – always. So our impact is that our lack of joy is experienced by those around us. And us going through the motions makes, even encourages, our fellow human beings to go through the motions. We encourage them to say to themselves “That is the way it is. Look everyone is going through the motions. Life is going through the motions. So I might as well settle for going through the motions.”
Why do we suppress/hide/kill our true self-expression. Because we have been born and raised in a set of standards, a set of practices. As a result, we have become and are committed to a set of standards. A key part of these standards is that those of us who speak in terms of possibilities are called dreamers and looked down upon. The dreamer is seen/spoken of as a child and childish. In short, we are committed to a set of standards that allow us to ‘look good, avoid looking bad’ rather than being a stand for possibilities that move-touch-inspire-uplift us.
Recent conversation that brings this “theory to life”
With that context in mind, I share with you a recent email conversation that took place between myself and a fellow human being. My fellow human being reached out to me as follows (I have deleted anything that can identify my fellow human being):
I hope all is well – our paths never seem to cross…I have a question for you I hope you don’t mind me asking…
I follow your twitter and blogs, and for a new venture I am doing, I am supposed to be generating material (on IT subjects). The problem is I don’t ever start! Any tips on how to organise myself to produce material?
I’m probably not a natural marketeer, but I don’t think this is beyond me.
Here is what I wrote back. Please note that I have put some sections in bold to highlight/illustrate the key points around standard, possibilities and self-expression:
Great to hear from you and thank you for the trust you have placed in me.
The honest answer is that both of the blogs that I write are forms of self-expression. For the majority of the time they show up like the opportunity to play tennis – something that I love to do. And they are now a core part of who I say I am in the world and what I am about - putting something into the world and being a source of contribution. As such they just flow.
So the key for me is to:
- write about something that I care about and share my honest voice;
- write from the context of being of service – of educating, of making a contribution to the lives of my fellow human beings; and
- challenge the taken for granted narrative/accepted practice.
And on top of that I have set myself a target of writing a certain number of posts a week. As I have conditioned myself to keep my agreements over the years, this target setting encourages me to write even when it is hard going as it has been recently due to work and personal health issues.
I have found that I cannot write when the writing occurs as work. When I am being asked to push a point of view that is not mine, authentically. When I am being asked to write in a style that is not mine. Again, it comes to the fact that the writing flows.
Finally, it helps that I am interested in the world, use my experience, have and continue to read/explore widely. And I pay no attention to the rules of writing. And do not care if only one person reads what I write. The key is that I get value out of it and that at least one of my fellow human beings gets value out of that which I share through my writing.
Put differently when writing occurs as play it flows. When it occurs as work it does not flow, it takes ages, I don’t like what I have written!
I do hope that helps.
If you are ok to provide honest – brutally honest – feedback on my blogging then I ask that you help me out by doing so. Always want to know how my writing is landing for those who make the time to read it.
I thank for your the opportunity of this conversation.
At your service and with my love
I leave you with wise words, revolutionary words of wisdom
“Is it possible to be committed to a set of standards that have nothing to do with being fully alive? You’ve got standards rather than possibilities, and the standards are more important than life itself.” Werner Erhard
“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch
This week I had a difficult conversation with a young man that is struggling. This young man experiences little or no joy in his experience of living. He finds his work boring/hard and his experience is that he is always behind. It occurs to him that he is so far behind where he needs to be that his ‘ship is sunk’ and cannot be recovered. He says he has no friends. When he looks towards the next day he experiences sadness. And when this man looks towards the future he sees doom – he is doomed to be at the mercy of the world, to live an unhappy/hard life, one without friends, one without joy…
That is not the way that this young man shows up for me. That is not the way that his life, his circumstances, his future shows up for me. I see a strong willed young man who stands up for the values he stands for. I see a young man who is tenacious/determined to do well and who has done well by working hard. I see a young man that can be light and bring magic/laughter/joy into the lives of others when he is not being so serious. I see a young man who has so much potential. And that which limits him, is himself and in particular the story that he tells himself about himself, about others, about the world, about the future and how is life will turn out.
Which brings me back to the Jack Welch quote at the beginning of this post. Why did Jack Welch utter such an obvious statement? Because when he took over the reins at GE he found that time after time he was presented with briefings that had no sound relationship with the ‘facts on the ground’. Put differently, everyone seemed to think that the world ran to his view of the world, his agenda, his preferences, his wishes.
Why is it that each of us has such a poor relationship with reality as it is? Let’s listen to someone who shows up for me as having an insightful grasp of the human condition:
“Man keeps looking for a truth that fits his reality. Given our reality, the truth doesn’t fit.” Werner Erhard
Let’s unpack the profound insight here. What is man’s reality? The first point is that man’s reality has no relationship to reality as it is and as it is not. Man’s reality is always personal and unique – it is how the world (including self) shows up for him. That is to say man authors his reality through the story that he tells himself about himself, about others, about the world at large. Man’s story has such a grip on him that man is hostile to truth that does not fit with / disturbs his story. Why? Because man is his story. And any threat to the story is a threat to man himself – his identity, his self.
Back to my conversation with this young man. After some time the young man uttered with frustration “The reality is too painful to face!” After further discussion he asserted “It is easier to make myself believe that there is something wrong with me, the way that I am made, the way that my brain works, then to take responsibility for my life as it is.”
As we continued the conversation the really story came out. “If I accepted that I have a say in the way that my life turns out then I have to accept responsibility for the way that my life has turned out. And the way that I am experiencing my life. And I would have to do something about it. Whereas it is easier to believe that I am simply made this way. That I am unlucky and that is simply the way the world works.”
At this point I did become vocal, I thundered “YOU are the ONLY person who can change your life, to the kind of life that you want to live. Nobody else is going to do it for you. I know that you are secretly hoping that someone will do it for you. And that is not going to happen. Your future lies in your hands, in the story that you tell yourself: about yourself, about your future, about the world. Choose: choose to live a life of joy or a life of misery. It is your life!”
Today, I met up with this young man and he told me that he had experienced a great day. The best day for some time. He had found his work easy and had got a lot done. He had been invited to play sports and liked two of the three people he had played with. He said that he had enjoyed his day.
I say that the deepest truth of reality when it comes to me and you is this one:
“At all times, under all circumstances, we have the power to transform the quality of our lives.” Werner Erhard
Are your ready to face reality as it is, as spelled out by Werner Erhard? Your life, your choice!
Inventing possibilities is not sufficient
It is not enough to invent possibilities; inventing possibilities does not lead to a transformation in the experience of my/your living. If you/I are to experience a transformation in our experience of our living then the access to that transformation is inventing possibilities that leave us moved-touch-inspired. Why?
It takes something say “activation energy’” to get us to be/act differently to the default that you/I have become accustomed and addicted to. To use the analogy of the rocket, it takes a certain amount of energy to overcome gravity and get the rocket those two inches off the ground. If that “activation energy” is not there then the rocket will continue resting on the ground. Put differently, our habits run us – they run us without us even being aware that they run us. Like the rocket, it takes a certain amount of mindfulness/effort/energy (“activation energy”) for you/I to break loose from these habits. And you/I are most likely to put in the required effort when we are moved/touched (emotionally) and inspired to act.
I am inspired by the possibility of communication & relatedness with my children
A couple of months ago I invented the possibility of being intimately related to my children and vice versa such that we spent more time together and enjoyed the time that we spent together. I was so moved-touched-inspired that I told my children that I would be available and present for them every day between 7pm and 9pm – to do whatever they wanted to do. And that is exactly what I did.
How did it turn out? Not as I had expected. In the main the children were looking for me to play entertainer – to come up with ideas that appealed to them and then put on the show. I soon ran out of ideas! Truthfully, disappointment was present. And I was struggling with how to generate that interaction and thus relatedness between us.
The hidden power of the context/situation/environment to call forth and shape behaviour
Then one evening I came home and noticed that the dining table had been converted into a table-tennis table. It just so happens that we can all play table-tennis and most of us do enjoy playing it. What showed up? We showed up at the table-tennis table playing table-tennis. Not only between 7pm and 9pm but also at other times. The ‘table-tennis’ was calling us to play table-tennis and in the process relatedness was showing up – indirectly!
One day, I came home and noticed that the dining table was once more the dining table. Then what showed up? For sure no table-tennis showed up because there was no table-tennis table in the house. I notice that the interaction that had been called forth by the table-tennis was no longer present – the children were in their rooms doing their own stuff. And I was left missing the interaction with my children. Now here is the puzzling thing. I left the dining table as the dining table rather than make the effort to convert it a table-tennis table. And over the course of a week or so I got used to the ‘lack of interaction’.
A week or so later I came home and the table-tennis table was there again. Delighted, I invited one of my children to play table-tennis. He agreed and the interaction was there once more: noticed that in the course of playing table-tennis we talked and laughed with one another – the relatedness was present once more.
Shape the context/environment/situation to call forth that which you wish to call forth in yourself and others
If you/I wish to transform our lives and our experience of our living then we have to act. The default way of acting is to rely on willpower – to will ourselves to do what is necessary. And over the longer term it does not work. Experience and research studies show that willpower depletes itself and once depleted we find ourselves enmeshed in our defaults – our habits. Yet there is another way, smarter way, to call forth the behaviours we desire. What way?
I say the most powerful way is to shape the context/situation/environment to call forth the mode of being/acting that we wish to generate. So if you wish to generate conversation, interaction and relatedness, for example, then stop that subscription to pay-tv, unplug that tv, put in a table-tennis table, make it a custom for everyone to sit around a table and eat together, introduce and play the game of three questions three answers……… If you want to exercise your ethical values then work for a enterprise that shares/exhibits/calls forth those ethical values. If you want to be more laid back then live in a culture/people who are laid back…
When Martin Heidegger (‘the philosopher of being’) was offered a prestigious post in Berlin (the capital of Germany) he refused even though it was his dream job. Why? Because he knew that the cosmopolitan/sophisticated/urban environment would shape him in ways that he was not up for being shaped. He also knew that the provincial and agricultural context/environment in which he lived/worked was the environment that nourished him as a person and as philosopher of being.
Through the news I am aware of the destruction being reaped by Hurricane Sandy. Where there is destruction there tends to be hurt – people who are hurt and hurting.
We hurt. We hurt in the sense of experiencing physical pain like that of a twisted ankle. We hurt as in the sense of experiencing emotional pain when it occurs to us that we are looked down upon, excluded, lost a loved one…… We hurt, that is simply what is so and goes along with being human.
What is our default setting towards hurt?
We do not like to hurt. I say our idea of the perfect life is life without hurt. So we go to great lengths to avoid being hurt: we want to survive AND not be hurt. We want to insulate ourselves from hurt. Furthermore, we do not see any value in being hurt – hurt shows up for us as purely negative.
Is hurt purely negative?
Is hurt purely negative? Is that the way it has to be? Do we have any choice in the matter of how we act towards and use hurt? I say that we do. I say that there is another way to be with, and stand in relation to hurt.
I say that hurt can be the access to the possibility of humanity, of connection to our fellow human beings, and of contributing to a world that works. I got present to this possibility yesterday, let me recount what happened.
Yesterday, reluctantly, I told my eldest son that I would not be able to go with him (today) to see the latest Bond film that he was eagerly waiting to see with me. He got that I am ill and not in a position to go.
Later, my wife told me that this son of ours (17 years old) had agreed to accompany our youngest (daughter) on her ‘trick and treating’ rounds on Halloween (today). That showed up as shock for me as the two of them do not get along well. And my oldest does not show up as someone who is into ‘trick and treating’. Why did my eldest agree?
Hurt. My wife told me that when she told him that our daughter had no-one else then my eldest agreed to accompany his sister. Why? Because he knows the experience of being alone. He knows the experience of being excluded. His experience of his later school years was that of being alone, being excluded, being without reliable friends. Given being present to that experience he could empathise with his sister (humanity), seek her out and tell her that he will take her ‘trick/treating’ (connection and contribution).
I took a look at my life. The hurt of being called a “Paki” and being spat upon (at school) left me with a lived understanding of the impact of intolerance. And it allowed me to be a stand for tolerance towards my fellow human beings. To this day, I am proud of the fact that a fellow student and friend chose me as the first person to share his secret – that of being gay. When I asked him why he chose me? He told me that he knew I would continue to be his friend and accept him. I remember the hurt that goes along with being small/powerless and being made to do whatever the authority figures (especially my father) wanted me to do irrespective of my needs, my feeling, me desires for my life. And this experience of hurt enabled me to experience the hurt of my fellow human beings and thus be a stand for human dignity and freedom. Which kind of explains why I chose not to have an arranged marriage. Why I am a life member of Anti-Slavery. Why I placed my children in Montessori education and have encouraged them to speak their minds from the time they were born….. And why I strive to treat my fellow human beings as equals. Do I always ‘get it right’? No. Am I a stand for tolerance-freedom-fairness-equality? Yes.
Hurt as access to possibility and transformation
Hurt is hurt. And to be in the world it to live at risk and that includes the risk of being hurt. That is simply what is so. What is also so is that our stance towards hurt – how we interpret it, how we use it – is not given. We have a say in the matter of how we stand in relation to hurt. You and I can use our hurt and the hurt of our fellow human beings to reach out and connect with one another and be a source of contribution to one another.
Which brings me back to Hurricane Sandy. I hope that we as human beings will reach out and connect with those of us who are hurting right now in the USA. And I hope that those who are experiencing hurt in the USA will reach out, connect and be a source of contribution who live outside of the USA and are hurting. You can say that I am a dreamer!
And finally when we use our hurt to put our humanity into the game of life, to connect to our fellow human beings and to be a source of contribution we transform our relationship / orientation / experience towards our own hurt. Put differently, We can recontextualise our hurt: give it a new meaning, see it in a new light, even see it as a positive. Perhaps, even something that we would not choose to change even if we were given the opportunity to change it.
One of the most important insights that I got out of my participation in the courses offered by Landmark Education is this one: the default mode of being-in-the-world is one where you/i walk into a future that is already given, already bound, already constrained. And as such the domain of freedom, the freedom to invent a future that moves-touches-inspires-uplifts us, is small and sometimes non-existent. Therefore, if you/i want to increase our zone of freedom / open up our future we have to put the past in the past. Put simply, putting the past in the past is the access to opening up new realms of freedom, of possibility. How to make this real/concrete? Let me tell you a story.
I notice that I am fearful about going to the USA
One of the roles I have chosen to play in life is that of management consultant – it requires a willingness to travel. Towards the end of September it became obvious that I had to travel to Texas, USA. I noticed that something was up, I did not want to travel. Why? I had it that it was going to be an ordeal and fear/worry was present. Why?
It was July 2008 and I was on my way to Detroit to meet my new boss. On the way through security I was singled out and made to wait for some 45 minutes. Why? To be given the approval to fly to the USA by the US authorities. I got it and boarded the aeroplane. After a long journey, I was delighted to get off the aeroplane and looking forward to making my way through passport control and onwards to the hotel. It didn’t work out that way.
I was asked the same questions (as I had been in London, UK) and I provided the same answers. The ‘immigration officer’ asked me to follow him and lead me to large rectangular room. It was full of people who did not look white Anglo-Saxons, all waiting, all looking at the ‘immigration officers’ who sat on an elevated platform to make them look bigger/stronger/more powerful than the rest of us.
The rational part of me told me that it was all a game and I had nothing to worry about as I was no threat to anyone and never had been. Yet, another part of me did worry and was fearful wondering if I would be shipped off to Guantanamo. So it took something for me to be calm and read a book for two hours or so. Eventually, I was called up, asked questions, answered the questions, which they verified with my boss and let through.
What did I do with that experience?
What did I say to myself as I made my way out of the airport and to the taxi stand? I told myself that I could so easily have ended up in Guantanamo. And that if I had ended up there I would not have survived (not having anything in common with the inmates or the guards) and as such would have let my wife and children down. Did I stop there? No.
I made the decision that I would avoid travelling to the USA. I told myself it was unwise and selfish to travel to a country whose default position is to assume that people like me are terrorists and have to be locked up without evidence, without trial. And I acted in accordance with that decision including turning down invitations to visit friends in the USA.
I draw your attention to what happened and what I did. I experienced what I experience and what happened happened at Detroit airport. Yet, I did not leave it there. I took that experience and made a decision out of it. And where did I put the decision? In the future: going forward, in the future, I am going to / I have to avoid travelling to the USA!
What was the impact of that decision? It closed down the zone of freedom, of possibility, in the future. Put bluntly, in my future a visit to the USA was out of the question. So even when I got invites to visit the US, from friends or business organisations, I turned them down.
How did I put the past into the past and open up my future
First, it is worth pointing out that circumstances played their part. I had to go. There was nobody who could go and do what I do. And I was not prepared to let my client and colleagues down. It occurs to me that sometimes unwelcome circumstances are exactly what we need to get us present to and out of the rut that we have fallen into.
Second, I put the past in the past. How? I examined the Detroit incident by looking at what actually happened and gave it a liberating interpretation. After some questioning, the US immigration handed me my documents and sent me on my way. Throughout the encounter he was professional – neither kind nor mean. And I left my drivers licence with him, by mistake, and he forwarded it to my boss! The new interpretation that I gave this experience is this one: the immigration officer did his job and everything worked out just fine. All that really happened is that I was delayed by two hours which could easily have happened on the flight itself and if it had happened it would not have put me off travelling on an aeroplane!
Third, I found out that to get into the USA you have to go and apply online. Which I did and within a few minutes I got a written confirmation that I was authorised to enter the USA. This strengthened my confidence, my resolve, my interpretation that it was ok/safe to travel to the USA.
Fourth, I remembered the ‘kindness of strangers’ the last time I had travelled through Texas and so I invented a future that was full of the possibility of kindness/generosity and a great experience.
How did I turn out?
It turned out delightfully. Texas was warm and the people that I encountered were warm. And during my time there I was bathed in fellowship. I got to experience the ‘big heartedness’ of the folks that I encountered. And when the time came to come back I was a sad to leave and looking forward to my next visit to the USA.
What can you/I take away from this?
You/I might think/act as if our past is in the past. And that is not the way it is for us human beings because we put the past into the future. We do that by making decisions on/about the future. This in turn constrains our options around being/doing and thus limits our freedom, our self-expression, the possibilities that we can invent and live from/into. And it does not have to be this way!
You and I can chose, as a deliberate act, to take the past that is sitting in the future and put it in the past. And we can incorporate this practice into our way of being-in-the-world: on the look out for the past that has got misfiled in the future and keep putting it in the past. Thus we end up with future that is wide open to invention and we experience a freedom to be/do that we may have not experienced for a long time.
You could sum up the work of Werner Erhard and the work of Landmark Education (“Transformation”) as being exactly this: enabling the human being to take his/her past out of his/her future and put it into the past thus leaving absolutely nothing in the future – a future wide open to being invented unconstrained by the past.