Today my wife and I made our way to the tennis court. After warming up we found that the tennis played us. Yes, the tennis played us and we both loved it. There were lots of rallies, lots of smiling, laughter and in my case joy.
Here are the insights that came to me:
a) By simply focussing on the tennis ball, the tennis just happened effortlessly;
b) Whilst I was focussing on the ball my internal chatter stopped and I lost myself = therefore, “I” = internal chatter;
c) A big part of my energy, enthusiasm for life and self expression is playing racket sports and tennis is the sport that leaves me nourished;
d) I simply have not been giving me – the player – the opportunity to play and the cost has been giving up access to joy;
e) On the court I felt at least 10 years younger, put differently the tennis took ten years off my age!
So I am counting on myself to play tennis, badminton and/or table-tennis every week. And it is a great opportunity to get closer to my children and wife!
I was playing the game of Three Questions & Three Answers with my daughter Clea. When I asked the first question, Clea said something interesting: “Daddy can you ask me a different type of question? Like what three things did you enjoy about your day today?”. Fantastic!
What I got from this is that a key part of living well is to enjoy life. To enjoy walking, to enjoy talking, to enjoy being with our friends, to enjoy seeing the beauty around us, to enjoy listening to friends, to enjoy touching, to enjoy feeling and so forth.
So whilst it is important to be grateful for what we have, to contribute to a better world for all, to learn about ourselves and our world, to consciously focus on what we can be proud of about ourselves, it is also important to approach life with an attitude of enjoying life and living.
Thank you Clea for enabling me to get present to the wonders of living and the importance of enjoying life. You have shown me a blind spot that is very much a part of Eastern upbringing: the foregrounding of duty and the backgrounding of enjoying life.
And I will be expanding the game of Three Questions & Answers to include the question: What Three Things Did You Enjoy About Your Day Today?
I have been swimming in Zen Buddhism since my days at university over 20 years ago. One of the Zen type questions is along the line of “What is your original face?” Up until now I have struggled to understand the question and I have also struggled to answer the question.
Yesterday I was in the kitchen with my wife. At that moment I had no worries, no concerns, no upsets, no desires, no ambition – in fact no thoughts at all. Being in that state I found myself clowning around. In the clowning around I felt totally at home, totally at peace, and joyful. My wife noticed my lightness and my good naturedness.
This morning I have an answer to the Zen question of “What is your original face?” My original face is playfulness – lighthearted playfulness. I suspect that it is the same for my fellow human beings. When we are present without thoughts of the past or thoughts of the future then we are light and playful, naturally.
The thought that occurs to me is that my wife and children have have felt the most affinity to me when I have been lighthearted and playful; I also like myself the most when I am being lighthearted and playful.
This may be why I enjoy spending time with toddlers: they tend to call my original face into being.
I have had a go at playing The Game of Three Questions & Answers with a number of members of my inner circle. Interesting. The people who have high self-esteem are happy to play the game, if it is missed for a day they ask to play it. Then there are people who simply refuse to play it. Why? Because they have low self esteem or low self confidence. They are not proud of themselves. They do not believe that they have contributed to a better world. They do not believe that they have learned anything worth learning that day. When they play the game they do not look for an opportunity to lift themselves up and play a bigger game. Instead they use the game to beat themselves up.
This makes me think that the reason that many of us do not play a version of The Game of Three Questions & Answers is because we would rather not look ourselves in the mirror. If we looked ourselves in the mirror then we may not be proud of what we see. And we would see the need to change but we do not have the will to make the necessary changes. Instead we prefer not to look so that we can pretend that we are OK whilst secretly thinking and feeling we are not OK.
I cannot help but think that what I am writing about applies to individuals, families, organisations, institutions and societies.
Two days ago I was driving on a main road going 40mph when I saw a pheasant cross the country road. Instantly, without thinking, I braked whilst intently watching the pheasant cross the road. When the pheasant made it across the road I noticed that my whole being relaxed – my body relaxed, my breathing eased and the whole of me smiled.
Later that day I went to see my solicitor. When I left his office it was raining and the rain got harder as I walked to the car park. Whilst I was walking to my car I noticed a couple of people who were arriving in the car park. So I opened my car, retrieved the ticket – as it had several hours of parking left – and walked over to man who had just got out of his car and offered him the ticket. He accepted the ticket, said nothing, looked puzzled. As he accepted the ticket I felt happy – I had stepped out of my self centred world and did something for someone else.
This one act of kindness lifted my spirits. What did it cost me? If I had been selfish I would have paid 60p for the car park ticket. Instead I had chosen to contribute to a fellow human being and so had paid for a £1.20 ticket knowing that I did not need car parking for several hours. So it cost me 60p to lift my spirits – to put a smile on my face and to create a kinder world for an instant. A bargain.
When I examine these two incidents and some of the other incidents that make me proud of myself I get that my true nature is one of loving kindness towards life. Whilst this is so it is not obvious that it is so – not to myself and not to others. Why? Because the mirror gets covered with the dust of every day living until it is no longer possible to see the mirror – only the hardened dirt is evident.
How many of my fellow human beings are in the same boat as me? I choose to believe that the true nature of almost all of my fellow human beings is loving kindness. And when they are not exhibiting it, it is only because they are trapped in the daily life of surviving and fixing. Just like me.
Being a good father is very important to me. I know this because when my children say or text “I love you papa” then a smile appears across my face, my body becomes relaxed and I feel totally great. I feel proud of myself. And nothing else matters – at least in that moment.
The other day I watched ‘The Book of Eli’ which is described as a post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind. Whilst the story is engaging enough, I was mostly touched by three life insight / lessons.
Lesson 1. The main character (Eli) had been on a mission to take the book (the Bible) westwards to a home. This mission had given Eli a reason to live (purpose) and a basis to orient his life (make choices, make decisions, what to do, what not to do). Do I have a clear purpose? And do I use that purpose to fashion (organise) my living so that it is in harmony, in alignment, with that purpose?
Towards the latter part of the film Eli is presented with a choice to give up the book or to die. He chooses not to give up the book. The villain then presents Eli with another choice: to give up the book or let Eli’s companion die. Eli gives up the book and his companions life is spared. Later the companion joins up with Eli and asks him why he did what he did. And Eli’s answers give rise to the next two lessons.
Lesson 2. Eli states that after carrying the book for thirty years and memorising it by heart, he got that the key thing was to live by the principles in it. To practice what the book preaches. And in Eli’s case the lesson of the book was ‘to do more for others than you do for yourself’. What kind of a world would be possible if enough of us were willing to do more for others than we do for ourselves? Am I willing to be one of these people? In which areas can I start doing more for others than I do for myself?
Lesson 3. I was struck by Eli’s insight that he had got so gripped by the mission (protecting the book) that he had failed to live by its central principles – the core values such as a respect for life, tolerance, do unto others as you would wish them to do unto to you…… How many of religious folks get so wrapped up in their religion that they fail to practice the central principles? How many of our institutions fail this test? How many of us fail this test? And of course how I fail this test – especially when I am stressed.