On loss and being with loss


Loss finds us all

There is no escaping loss, given time it finds us – each and every one of us.  Some lose their favourite toys. Some lose pets. Some lose hopes and dreams. Some lose lovers.  Some lose siblings. Some lose parents. Some lose friends. Some lose jobs. Some lose homes. Some lose all of their wealth. Some lose their reputation and status. Some lose their limbs. And then there are those of us who lose their ‘world’.

Recently, pregnant sister-in-law lost her baby.  A miscarriage after three months. Complete surprise. Covered in blood. Dream shattered.  Pain. Tears.  Brother’s delight turns to sorrow.  How to be with his sorrow and be there for his wife?  It is hard – never faced this loss before.

How to be with this loss when it shows up?

When loss shows up in our house of being it is easier to bear if our family and friends are there for us: there by our sides, providing a listening for our sorrow, and sharing our grief. Thankfully, family and friends showed up for sister-in-law.

When loss shows up in our house of being you/I are confronted with choice.  What choice?  The choice about story: the story you/I make about the loss.  This is a choice that matters.  The story that you/I make determines our being: how you/I show up in the world.

Sister-in-law chooses a story that sets her free

Sister-in-law made a wise choice.  She chose a story that allows her to make sense of her loss, be with her loss, and be free of her loss.  Put differently, she choose a story that leaves her being powerful in life and not showing up as a ‘victim’.  What story did she make?  The story goes like this.

a) The human body, my body, is wise.  If it chose to ‘miscarry’ then this was the right course of action for the baby and for me.  Most likely there was something wrong with the baby and its development.  And if the baby had been born then there would have been suffering for the baby. And for me. And her father.

b) I am blessed in that I already have a young daughter.  She is healthy. She is beautiful. She is growing up nicely.  We have a great relationship.

c) If I can make one baby successfully then I can make another.  So I look into the future and I live into the possibility that there will be another healthy baby – sooner or later.  When the time is right the baby will show up.  Now let’s be with life just as it is and just as it is not.  Let me count my blessings.

I find myself inspired by the wisdom of sister-in-law.  I find myself inspired by the wisdom of brother who has adopted the same story. And this story can be a source of inspiration to me when I am faced with loss.

All life is an experiment: it always turns out the way it turns out


Right now I am confronted with choice and the choice concerns work.  It is not an easy choice.  Why?  I am confronted with what is so: to live is always to live at risk.  And the machinery that goes with being human goes all out to eliminate risk.  It wants to live forever, safely.

Getting past that, I find another challenge confronts me.  To go forward as a single person – as opposed to a team – I must focus.  What is it that I can do well by myself which creates value for my fellow human beings and will enable me to earn a living?  That means giving stuff up.  And what I notice is that the human machinery that runs me does not like that one little bit.  It wants to be able to do this and that as it enjoys doing lots of things. Put differently, it does not want to sacrifice: it wants to keep all options open, to have its fingers in all the pies.

Yet, as a strategist I know that I must focus. And to focus, I must choose. And to choose is to choose one possibility and thus simultaneously given up the other possibilities that are on the table.

In the course of my struggle, I came across this quote wish has given me a helping hand.  And I wish to share it with you.

12080“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It snowed, there is snow, is that all there is to it?


The folks at the weather station predicted snow.  And then it snowed. And there was snow.

Upon seeing the snow the youngest two members of the family ran to the windows.  They became smiles and excitement.  They lived into a future that gave them joyous being: schools would be shut, no school, stay home, play with friends in the snow!

Upon being alerted to the snow, I reluctantly put on my shoes, headed outside and drove my car off the drive and towards the top of the hill.  I lived into a future of risk/struggle/fear.  The risk associated with getting my car off the drive.  Last time it snowed heavily and did that I couldn’t. And when I persisted the car skid into a wall and required costly repairs.  Struggle because every time it snows heavily it is a struggle to get anywhere without considerable effort. Why fear? Because twice in the past my car skidded in the snow/ice, I lost control, felt helpless, felt fear, and the car hit something.

Upon being alerted to the snow, my wife said and did nothing.  She just got on with what she was getting on with or needed to get on with.

The next day, we had to go out.  My wife drove and I was happy for her to drive.  Later we are told that the schools have closed and have to go and pick our son up.  There is a lot of snow on the ground. And it is snowing hard.  We are not at home.  There are long queues of cars.  The sat-nav does not work, I am fretting.  My wife, she is calm. It takes us over an hour to do a fifteen minute journey.  I am uneasy, I am cursing the snow, I am fretting about not being able to get through to my son – he is not answering his mobile phone. My wife? She is calm, she is patient, she drives, she finds her way.

We get home. The children in the street are playing in the snow. They are laughing, they are clearly making it a great time for themselves, playing in the snow. Someone is rolling in the snow.  It is our daughter, the youngest member of the family.  Her face is red. Her clothes are soaking wet. And she is experiencing pure joy – out rolling in the snow.  I look at her in astonishment and head inside where I can be warm.

What shows up for me?  I am present to several distinctions, that I first came across in Landmark Education, that are in operation in each of us:

Event/Story: The event is simply that there is some 15m of snow.  And then each of us, me,  wife, son, daughter, made a different story of the snow.

It is the future that you are living into that gives you your being-in-the-world right now.  My children were living into a future of no school, playing with friends, snowball fights. And their being was joyous.  My wife was living into a future of ‘no big deal and it snow can be pretty. So her being was undisturbed, she got on with what she needed to get on with.  Me, I was living into a future of fear/risk/struggle – of losing control of the car. And so my being-in-the-present was annoyance with the snow.

What am I present to? All that happened was that it snowed.  All there was was snow, ice, slush, more snow.  Yet, none of us left it at that. All of us made it mean something. And our being-in-the-world was a function of the meaning that our human machinery gave to the snow.

Which means that my being-in-the-world, your being-in-the-world, is a function of the story that runs me, runs you.  And our freedom lies in our ability/freedom to create better stories – stories that move-touch-inspire us.  Our ability to change reality – whether it snows or not – can be limited.  Our ability invent stories, invent possibilities, is unlimited.  So, ultimately, our freedom lies in the domain of possibility and of story.

The way it shows up for us is not the way that it is!


What gets in the way of relatedness and relationship?

Judgement is an automatic way of being in the world.  When we judge we carve up ‘that which is’, into ready-made buckets given to us by language, cultural practices, and our particular stand/situation.  And when we do this we are no longer face to face with ‘that which is’.

Actually, you/I are NEVER face to face with reality – that which is just as it is. Why?  Because the carving up of reality takes place without us being present to doing the carving up!  So you/I are firmly planted in the conviction that what is before us is that which is – reality pure and naked.

Given that is our already always taken for granted stand in the world it is easy to see how relatedness and relationship suffers.  I make you wrong when you do not see.  You make me wrong when I do not see what you see.  And from that place we withdraw from one another creating distance.  Or we attack one another, bent on being right and proving the other wrong.  If that cannot be done through word then we resort to fighting.

The way out of this trap: ‘look out of the other’s window’

I say the access to relatedness and relationship is to get that life/reality cannot ever be grasped accurately.  At the very best you/I are travelling through the ‘woods of life’ and how life, how the world, shows up depends on where you/I are in those woods and in which direction we are looking.

Or as Irvin Yalom says ‘Look out the other’s window.’ What does he mean?  Here is what he says in his book The Gift of Therapy:

“Decades ago I saw a patient with breast cancer ….. been locked in a long, bitter struggle with her naysaying father.  Yearning for some form of reconciliation …. she looked forward to her father’s driving her to college – a time when she would be alone with him for several hours. 

But the long-anticipated trip proved to be a disaster: her father behaved true to form by grousing at length about the ugly, garbage littered creek by the side of the road. She, on the other hand, saw no litter whatsoever in the beautiful, rustic, unspoilt stream. She could find no way to respond and eventually, lapsing into silence, they spent the remainder of the trip looking away from each other.

Later, she made the same trip alone and was astounded to note that there were two streams – one on each side of the road. ‘This time I was the driver’, she said sadly, ‘and the stream I saw through my window on the driver’s side was just as ugly and polluted as my father had described it’.

But by the time she learned to look out of her father’s window, it was too late – her father was dead and buried.’

Last words

Please get that we NEVER have access to that which is.  That kind of access is NOT available to us.  What shows up for us is determined by our biology.  What shows up for us is shaped by our the assumptions and categories build into our language.  What shows up for us is determined by our culture – the cultural practices. What shows up for us is a function of where we are standing at a particular point in our journey of life.

If you/I are present to this then we have access to WOW.  What am I pointing out? WOW, how extraordinary that the world, that which is, shows up differently and uniquely to each and every human being.  Let’s find out how the world shows up for my mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, colleagues, boss…… Let me see what you see through your window.  How extraordinary!  When you/I stand in that place we stand in the place of wonder, relatedness and relationship.

Be humble. How you see it is NOT ‘the way it is’!  You NEVER see it ‘the way that it is’!  Be humble, listen to the other, respect the other: strive to look through the other’s window.  Do that and you will never be alone, never walk alone.

 

 

Would you pursue that which calls to you if money was no object?


A conversation occurs with my son

One of my sons recently returned from Christmas in France. During Christmas he saw a beggar, he was touched by the plight of the beggar, stooped down and gave him money.  His friends told him not to do that.  They told him that the beggar was merely lazy and should get a job. This is not how the situation showed up for my son. How did it show up for him?  Life can be hard sometimes. Nobody chooses to be dirty, out in the cold, homeless and begging. And the obligation of one human being to another is for the standing up to help the one that is on the floor.

Reflecting on this it occurred to him that whilst he likes the subjects he is studying for his A levels they do not call to him. What calls to him?  To help the homeless: to provide them with a home, to clothe them, to feed them, to provide education and training, to rebuild their self-esteem and confidence, to provide the foundation with which to rebuild their lives.  Listening to his speaking I was touched-moved-inspired and in large part that was because I got that this really called to him, the he himself is touched-moved-inspired.

Then my son shared his worry.  What is the worry?  Money.  “How am I going to do this?  Where am I going to get the money from to help the homeless?  Where am I going to get the money to look after myself?”

Is this how we become wage slaves?

I got how it is that so many of us become wage slaves.  It occurs to me that when you and I were young we had dreams like my son has right now.  Some of us wanted to invent, others wanted to explore/adventure, others wanted to create/make stuff, others wanted to be of service to help others….. Confronted with the money question we put away these dreams and got busy with the practicalities of life.  And little by little, one sacrifice at a team, we became wage slaves.  Trapped: lifestyle, mortgage, school fees…..

What is a wage slave for me?  For me a wage slave is a person who has no affinity for the work that he does.  Importantly,  he notices that the work is ‘killing him/her’ in some significant way and yet continues because of the money/rewards that go along with the job/work. Put differently, the work that the wage slave does and/or the environment in which he does that work does not nourish.  On the contrary it is slow poison that kills that which is most human – the capacity to imagine possibilities, to pursue possibilities, to be a creator, an author of one’s life!

Is the point of living merely living?  

Is our project here on here on Earth simply do feed oneself, clothe oneself, shelter oneself? And when these needs have been secured to entertain oneself and/or drown our sorrows with the drug of our choice?  If that is the case then the meaning/purpose I give to myself is merely to survive, to exist.

And if that is the case then a question presents itself “What for?”  Put differently, why toil away as wage slaves merely to survive?  To feed, clothe, shelter and encourage our children to be wage slaves?  So that they can do they same for their children and so on?  Isn’t this madness?  It occurs as madness to me.

My message to my son and all who are young or young at heart

So what did I say to my son?  I encouraged him to pursue this possibility the one that calls to him.  I told him that to be human – uniquely human – is to step into, live from and pursue that which calls to us.  I told him that he is fortunate that he is present to that which calls to him.  I told him that this is gift, a gift that provides access to walking the path that gives meaning to one’s life. Yes, there will be difficulties. Yes, there will be pain.  Yes, it involves sacrifice. And what kind of life do you want to live, one that is difficult yet meaningful or one that leaves you showing up as a wage slave?

I reminded him of the film that we had watched some time ago.  Which film?  Into the Wild.  And I posed the question, “What is better for you, a long life of drudgery, of being a wage slave or the kind of life that Christopher McCandless (the subject of Into the Wild) lived?”

What if money was no object?

Finally, I asked the question that Alan Watts asks: “What if money was no object?”  I encourage you, especially if you are young, to listen to the words/wisdom of Alan Watts.  I encourage you not only to listen but to let this conversation be you.  Here is the YouTube video:

And if you prefer reading then here is the transcript:

“What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?

Let’s suppose, I do this often in vocational guidance of students, they come to me and say, well, we’re getting out of college and we have the faintest idea what we want to do. So I always ask the question, what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?

Well, it’s so amazing as a result of our kind of educational system, crowds of students say well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers, but as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way. Or another person says well, I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses. I said you want to teach in a riding school? Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do?

When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.

And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much. That’s everybody is – somebody is interested in everything, anything you can be interested in, you will find others will. But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like, in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach our children to follow in the same track.

See what we are doing, is we’re bringing up children and educating to live the same sort of lives we are living. In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch, and no vomit it never gets there. And so, therefore, it’s so important to consider this question, What do I desire?”

Breakdowns as an access to breakthroughs


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?

On possibility as an access to transformation


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:

impotent

Adjective: unable to take effective action; helpless or powerless

Synonyms: powerless – weak – feeble – helpless – infirm

potent

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.

A possibility is like a context from which one shows up and gives life to one’s life.  A possibility is like a stand that one takes upon oneself.  A possibility is like a path that one chooses to walk of one’s own accord and thus gives up the multitude of other paths that are open to oneself.  A possibility is like a declaration one makes on what constitutes one’s life.  A possibility is always a choice one voluntarily takes upon oneself that gives shapes to one’s life and how one shows up in life.

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.