“People are more important than things!”


Over the last two days we have been blessed by the company of our good friend Analia and her beautiful daughter Clara. 

Analia comes from Brazil where people, relationships, family and friends really matter.  They are an ingrained part of life: non-one has to teach Brazilian social skills.  Analia is one of the most wonderful human beings that I have a good fortune to know.

When I am with Analia I feel totally comfortable.  No pretense!  None is necessary as I know that she loves me – she accepts me just as I am whilst listening to me as a  person up for being a good human being.  Straight talk flow between us.  Why?  Because all the stuff that gets in the way of straight talk is simply not there.

Over the years I have wondered why I love Analia, why I feel totally comfortable in her company and in her home with her family.  Today I got my answer.  As she was leaving she asked Clara (her daughter) to “give uncle Maz a hug and say thank you”.  Clara is only a little girl and she was understandably more concerned with finding a missing Lego piece from the set she had built.  So Analia asked her again and Clara continued to look for her missing Lego piece.  Then Analia said something that struck at the heart of my soul:

“Clara, people are more important than things!”

Yes, Analia you are absolutely right.  Yet, we, in the west, have put things first and people last.  They way we live things are more important than people.  And that is a terrible way to live.

I thank you my wonderful friend to getting me present to your philosophy, what makes you great.  You live your truth: People are more powerful than things!

My commitment is to live your truth.  Thank you for your gift.

A reverence for life and living


It strikes me that the better off we are the more we are without a reverence for life;  to treat something or someone with reverence is to treat that something or someone with a feeling or attitude of deep respect.

I am rushing, you are rushing, we are rushing from one moment to the next.  Do we really appreciate the coffee we have just bought from Starbucks?  Do you even taste it?  I mean really taste it?  I got present to the fact that whilst I drink tea, I really do not drink the tea: my mind is elsewhere and I do not taste the tea nor create any joy in drinking it.

Do you and I have a reverence for the clean water that arrives instantly via the tap?  No.  Now imagine if you are one the flood victims in Pakistan and do not have access to clean water.  Or if you have to walk an hour to the nearest source of clean water and you can only take the water that you can carry.  If you were in that situation and someone waved a magic wand and gave you unlimited clean water at your fingertips by just turning a tap.  Would you not be simply ecstatic?  You’d treat that tap, that water source, with reverence!

In the West most of us live in abundance. Because so much stuff is ready at hand – the essentials and the nice to have – we simply do not appreciate the stuff that we have.  It strikes me that we have reverence only for the stuff that is rare, hard to obtain. And of course we surrounded by messages that are designed to create dissatisfaction in us so that we buy the latest mobile phone, handbag, shoes, computer, car…..

I have found it is possible to recreate reverence for life and living by simply being present in the moment.  And focusing on what is there as opposed to what is not.  That is to say to feeling the sunshine on my face as the sun shines.  By appreciating the wind kissing my feet as I lay on the bench.  Or tasting each and every sip of tea that I take.  It is not easy as the temptation is to multi-task, to be either in the future or in the past.

We can increase our joy simply by being present to every moment, every experience and every bit of stuff that we have.  I have found that treating each as if it is my last really helps.  My last meal, my last walk, my last cup of tea, my last hug.

Behind our indifference lies deep caring


Yesterday my young daughter and I cooked a meal together; she is keen to learn cooking by doing cooking.  Then we all sat down at the table to eat together – something we do every meal.  As we were eating my sons said they liked the food and thanked us for cooking it.  Then I made the mistake of saying “As you eat this meal think of the millions of people like you, like us, who are starving”.

My youngest son said that he didn’t like me mentioning the poor, the starving, when we are eating as it makes him upset.  And he cannot then enjoy his food.  My wife said pretty much the same thing.  Whilst I was at first very upset about this as I considered their viewpoint I selfish one, I am now grateful to them as they have opened my eyes.

There is tremendous violence, oppression, destruction, poverty and suffering going on around the world.  Even here in the UK there are people who do not have enough money to feed themselves and their children, so some of them go without to feed their children; there are young women tricked into coming over to the UK and then forced to work as prostitutes and the list goes on….And most of us, for most of the time, close our eyes.  Why?

Not because we do not care.  It is precisely because we care AND we believe ourselves to be helpless to make any impact on this ocean of suffering that we close our eyes, we close our ears, we close our hearts.  Some of us go as far as being hostile to / critical of those that suffer: if they are suffering then they must be responsible.  Why do we do this?  By living into this view we can distance ourselves from the pain – our pain.

I care, you care, we care: if we did not then it would make no difference if we invited in the suffering into our lives.  And yet we feel helpless so what can we do?  This reminds me of the story about a fellow walking along the beach littered with thousands of starfish.  He notices a young woman on the beach who is doing some kind of yoga exercise.  As he draws near he realises that she bends down, picks up a starfish and then throws the starfish into the ocean. And again, and again…

The man laughs.  He walks up to the young woman and tells her that the whole beach is covered with starfish.  She cannot possibly save them all: she is not in a position to make any difference at all.  The young woman picks up another starfish and whilst throwing “it” (a horrible world for any living creature) into the ocean says: “I made a difference to that starfish.”

The lesson is clear for those of us who are ready to step into the lesson.  We can act according to our ability.  We can simply be aware of and present to the violence, destruction, suffering that is going on all around us.  It may not help others and it certainly will help us: we can become more grateful for our circumstances – our life of plenty.

Mother


Mother, you gave birth to me – you gave me life and all that come with it,

Mother, you carried me when I was too weak to walk,

Mother, you put your life at risk many times to save mine,

Mother, your courage, your determination, your love is what brought me from Kashmir to the UK,

Mother, in that act alone you changed my life, my destiny,

Mother, you believed in me and encouraged me to do well at school.

Mother, when I was in hospital you told me “Son your body is not strong, your mind is strong – use your mind to make your life”,

Mother,with that instruction you changed my life a second time,

Mother, I remember you would either bring me a cup or tea or  tell me to go to sleep when I was studying late for my O and A levels,

Mother, you nursed me and brought me back to health when I damaged my knee at University,

Mother, this week you welcomed me to your home and even though you are not able to look after yourself you still looked after me,

Mother, I struggle to find a way to look after you and at the same time take care of my responsibilities to my wife and children,

Mother, when I think of you and your situation I feel helpless, I feel ashamed – no matter what I do, it is not right, it is not enough,

Mother, being helpless is what I struggle with the most and that is why I keep you out of mind,

Mother, I love you, I hope that you can forgive me for not doing for you what you have always done for me,

Mother, my heart tears and my eyes swim with tears.

On gentleness, precision and letting go: delivers results on the tennis court


Whilst reading Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape I came across the concepts of Gentleness, Precision and Letting Go.  And I have sought to absorb these concepts into daily living.

When I normally play tennis I automatically hit or strive to hit the ball as hard as I can and still get it into the court.  Also I strive to win every single shot.  The result – whether I win or lose – is that I tend to be critical of myself during the game and exhausted at the end of it.

Today on the court I focussed on the tennis ball.  In particular playing the ball with Gentleness and Precision.  And Letting Go of any ambition to have the ball move at a certain speed or the desire to win the point.  I noticed that I was not at all tired, that I enjoyed the game, that the shots that I would typically find difficult simply played themselves.  And I was totally relaxed all through the game and at the end of it. The whole game had been ‘effortless effort’.

So that got me thinking what would be possible for me, for you, for all of us if we lived our lives with Gentleness (towards ourselves and others), Precision and Letting Go of the need to have life work out exactly the way that we want and need to have it work out.  Is it possibly that we could then allow ease and joy enter our lives?

As you travel through life leave behind you the footsteps of kindness


Last week one of my sons was dealing with a friendship issue.  I found myself telling him that there are all kinds of friends: friends you play sports with, friends you hang around with,  friends you invite home, friends you go on holidays with, friends you share your stuff with and friends that you’d die for.

My son asked me a questioned that I had never thought about: “Papa which friend would you die for?”  Without any effort the answer came: my friend Tim.  Now why is that?

Over 20 years ago Tim learnt that my young brother and sister were coming down to London to spend a week with me – holiday.  Tim not only offered me his prized possession – his Saab – he got me insured on it, he drove it down to my place, showed me how to drive it and left me the keys.  Not once did I think about asking for his Saab, nor did I ask for it.  It all came from him – an act of pure kindness.

This incident got me thinking of another incident some years ago.  At my aunt’s funeral I was astonished to find my young brother as one of the pole bearers.  This is a young man who has kept himself aloof from his aunts, uncles and cousins for many many years.  So I asked him why he was present at the funeral and why he had insisted on carrying her coffin and seeing it put into the ground.

He told me that when he was young (age five or less) his foot hurt.  He had told our mother and father and they had paid no attention to his pain.  Yet when he happened to go with our mother to visit this aunt she noticed that there was something wrong with his leg.  She took a look at it and figured out that his ankle was sprained.  So she took him – right away – to see someone who specialised in putting that kind of thing right.  To cut a long story short: my aunt had removed his pain, his suffering and he remembered that for some 30  years!

When I die all that will remain is the footsteps that I have left in the memories of my fellow human beings.  Let those footsteps be the footsteps of generosity, kindness and compassion illustrated by my friend Tim and by my aunt.

Son, you are my role model


When I was growing up I did not have a role model.

Many times I wished to have access to a living – flesh and bones – role model to guide me to make the right choices and do the right things.

Marco, son, I have finally found my role model: you are my role model.

When I am present to you, I see a young man who:

  1. knows what he stands for in this life;
  2. stands up for what he believes in – taking the road that is less travelled, facing the consequences;
  3. does what he needs to do, endures what he needs to endure to get the outcome he has set for himself;
  4. stays calm even when faced with criticism, anger, put-downs and intimidation;
  5. is courageous – does what he wants / is committed to even when faced with ridicule;
  6. is lighthearted, forgiving, kind, caring and loving.

Son, you amaze me.

Son, you inspire me to be a better human being.

Son, you are a living example of the kind of human being that I wish to be.

Son, I consider it a privilege to be your father.

I thank you for being in my life.  I love you.

How to deal with upset


I am a member of family that is made up of five people; I am a father and a husband; my wife and children look to me to help them deal with their upset; to-date my contribution has been hit and miss.  I also enjoy coaching and thus get an opportunity to help people deal more effectively with their stuff.

In the past I listened for and about the situation and then went on to have a ‘lets think about this differently’ and ‘what are your options’ conversation.  It is the kind of conversation that happens in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).  It is the kind of conversation that appeals to the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex – the reasoning part of the brain.

The other day, I was listening to someone sharing their upset with me.  I was able to help this person deal with the upset and move forward.  Afterwards I took a look at why this encounter had been so positive.  I got that I had approached it very differently to other times.  Specifically:

  1. I was in a good state of mind-body – I was relaxed, calm, present and actually wanted to listen and be of service;
  2. I listened, allowed and focussed on the upset itself, specifically the emotions – “If I understand you correctly then you are feeling this way and this is having this impact on your body…..” – and thus enabled the upset person to get to grips with the emotions and the impact they were having;
  3. I validated the upset persons emotions and the story that he/she was telling – “I get that you feel this way and it is ok to feel that way” – and by doing this the upset person became visibly less emotional and more rational;
  4. When I sensed that the tide of emotions had passed through I moved the conversation to talking about the ‘real world situation’ that was the ’cause’ of the upset – “Is now a good time to have a look at the situation that has led you to this upset?”;
  5. I then worked with the upset person to explore the ‘real world situation’ that they were finding difficult: what is so, how can you look at this differently, what are your options, which option appeals to you and is likely to make a big enough difference?

What I distinguished is that it is impossible for a person to put their thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) into action when that person has been hijacked by their emotional (limbic) brain. And that is as true for me (the listener, the coach) as it is by the person who is upset.

The approach that I have outlined is effective and not quick – it takes time, around forty-five minutes.

Criticism doesn’t work, NVC can work


I am perplexed.  Why is it that when we want to get a change of behaviour from a fellow human being we condemn, criticise and blame?  What makes us think that these behaviours will create affinity with our fellow human beings and get them to give us what we want?

As a human being I want to get along with my fellow human beings- especially those that are in my inner circle.  Not only do I want to get along I want people to like me.   I want to be included not excluded. I want people to think highly of me.  Even that is not enough I want affinity even intimacy with a select few. That means I want to close the emotional and the physical gap between me and the people that matter to me.

If I am a normal human being what do I do – automatically?  I judge. I criticise.  I condemn.  Who do I criticise?  The people closest to me – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc. What does that get me?  Distance – the one that is criticised withdraws, sulks, becomes aggressive or waits for the day that he can pay back in kind.  Why does that happen?  Most human beings are fragile: even without being aware of it we are constantly looking for approval, we detest being put down and we strive to avoid or punish those that put us down.

It strikes me that if I want to create affinity with another human being then the tools to use are acknowledgement, praise and saying ‘thank you’.  These tools are particularly important if there is any distance in the relationship and I want to reduce that distance. Only when the distance is closed is the time right to ask for what I want in a way that works.   Marshall Rosenberg has developed such a method: NVC – Non Violent Communication; he has written a book called Non Voilent Communication.

So why is it that whilst excellent communication methods exist to bridge the gap between me and you, you and I continue to use the tried and tested methods that create greater distance and greater enmity?

I forgive you as I get that I do not often / always practice what I preach.  Can you grant me what you grant yourself often – forgiveness and acceptance?

Why can’t ‘I’ see and act on what is so obvious to others


Despite being ill – we think it is the flu – my wife made her way to the nearest John Lewis store yesterday.  After parking she had to carry a large, heavy cardboard box containing a Dyson vacuum cleaner through the John Lewis store, make her case and get a refund.  The task was not yet finished. She then drove over to Costco and bought her chosen replacement and drove back home.  All in all she spent some four hours doing this – whilst being quite ill.

That is not all the effort that went into it.  She had spent several hours on Friday evening working out what Dyson vacuum cleaner would make a suitable replacement.  This task was tedious and done whilst she was ill – she did not enjoy doing it.

To summarise: my wife has spent some six hours replacing her recently purchased Dyson and the new one is sitting in our hallway (unpacked).  And she has done all this whilst she is ill with the flu.

Let me provide you with some context to make sense of the story that I telling.  We have on old Dyson that worked well for several years.  Our decision to replace it was not because it did not work, it was because it had become difficult to use and store as a bit of it – a plastic bit – had broken.  That prompted by wife to take action and buy a new one from John Lewis in the first week of September.  When she unpacked it my eldest son pointed out a glaring weakness of this new model:  the plastic bit that had made the old model difficult to use was looking even more flimsy on the new model.  So he shared his view with his mother and advised her to take it back and get a different model – one that can better take the knocks of life. My wife dismissed his concerns.  On that day or several days later, I made the same observation and advised my wife to take it back: “It is going to break that is clear.  What is uncertain is when.  I suspect that it will be earlier rather than later so I suggest you take it back.”  Or words to that effect. My wife acknowledged that the plastic clip on part did indeed look weak.  And she did nothing.

Now this is what I find interesting.  At least three of us told my wife that the product had a design flaw; she acknowledged that the clip on part that had failed in the old Dyson looked even weaker on the new Dyson; and she did nothing.  In the end she was forced to act because the part we expected to fail broke in less than four weeks; the dyson is normally used once or twice a week.  Why did she ignore what was visible, predictable and had been predicted?

At a broader level why is it that ‘I’ fail to see and act on what is so blindingly obvious?  I suspect that the answer is along the lines of:

I would have to take action – expend energy in dealing with the situation at hand and I may not want to do that right now; and

The story I make about the action that is needed – how much effort it will take, how difficult / unpleasant it will be etc; and

I’d have to acknowledge that I had made a mistake and that causes me emotional upset as I question my judgement, I question my fitness, I am diminished in my own eyes – the story I make about myself.

In my experience it is stories that I make – story about what needs to be done  AND the stories that I make about myself – that stop me doing what we know needs to be done.  So the access to doing what needs to be done is simple – give up the stories or better still make up stories that inspire me to take action.

If you want family then remove the tv


The tv broke down some days ago.  I was delighted as I had been hoping that it would break down and I could access to using the living room – my favourite room for reading, talking and just relaxing.  For one of my children – the oldest – the world had suddenly caved in – he is addicted to watching tv.  For the youngest – it is a survivable pain.  And the middle one – who is used to entertaining himself – is not that bothered.

Here is what I have noticed:

  • we talk a lot more with each other and we laugh a lot more;
  • we play games with each other;
  • the children help with household chores – like cooking meals;
  • the children spend more time in their bedrooms doing private activities like reading or drawing;
  • the children go outside more – like taking walks;
  • there is a lot less fighting in the house as there is less to fight about; and
  • I feel at home again.

I am quite clear that introducing or removing television from the home is a revolutionary act.  With it in the house, it becomes the most important thing and the people in the house become slaves to it.  By removing it, our family – all of us – have became creators, authors of our lives.  And we work much better as a family.