Life Works If You Work With It


The story: what do you do when workability is compromised?

I was at my parents home – in the kitchen, cooking.  Just as I had finished cooking one of my brothers came into the kitchen to get some ice cream for his daughter. He opened up the freezer and struggled to take out the tray in which the ice cream rested. After pulling at it, this way and that, he managed to pull the tray out. That is when I noticed that something was ‘wrong’.  The tray was full of water that had turned to ice.  The ice was in the tray, on the sides of the tray, and underneath the tray.

After serving ice cream to his daughter, brother started to put the tray back into the freezer. I protested that the tray needed to be emptied of the ice. So I took out the frozen stuff, washed the tray with water thus unfreezing the ice, cleaned and dried the tray. Then I refilled it with the frozen food and gave it back to my brother.

He struggled to insert the tray back into the freezer. That was not surprising as the freezer compartment was all iced up.  Clearly a defrosting process had occurred in the freezer, water had formed, and then the water had turned to ice.  And this was jamming up all of the trays.  I noticed that one of the freezer trays was broken at the front, near the handle. I assumed that this had happened when someone had tried to get the tray out, was not able to (because of the ice), and had forced the tray out.

Standing there looking at the situation, it was clear to me that the integrity and workability of the freezer had been compromised. And what needed to be done was to defrost the freezer and thus restore the integrity-workability of the freezer.

What did my brother do?  He did what we human beings do when faced with a situation that requires work-effort and we are not up for putting in that work-effort. He found an instrument and start scraping off the softer ice from the freezer so that he could slide the tray back into the freezer.  Once he had done enough to slide the tray back into the freezer he stopped.

What is the lesson, the learning here?

It occurs to me that for many of us there is at least one significant aspect of our living that does not work well. That aspect of our living is stuck-jammed-unworkable in some important manner.  Just at the freezer is at my parents house.

Given that this is the case.  You and I can choose to do what it required to restore workability to that part of our living. The equivalent of defrosting the freezer, throwing away the food that defrosted and got frozen again, clean up the mess, and restoring the integrity and thus the workability of the freezer.

Or we can do what my brother did, do the minimum: deal with the symptoms and ignore the cause – the unworkability that gives rise to the symptoms. It occurs to me that if you and I choose to take the latter course, the short cut, and shirk that which needs to be done to restore workability to our lives then we can expect continued struggle in our lives.

It occurs to me that my life works when I work with it – when I work with the grain of life. It occurs to me that where I continue to struggle with life, it is highly likely that I am creating my struggle (my suffering) by working against the grain of life.

What Does It Take For Me To Understand You?


Let’s explore understanding. Let’s make this specific and explore what it takes for me to understand you.

The default: I understand you conceptually and instrumentally

It occurs to me that the default way of understanding is cognitive-conceptual-detached. Put more plainly, it is head stuff.  This is the kind of understanding that I am after when I ask, “Why did you do that?” This is the kind of understanding that leaves me feeling safe-satisfied when I have placed you into an existing category. A great example of this is Myers-Briggs typologies. This is the kind of understanding that shows up when I stand facing you, observing you. You and I are distant standing in different places. It is akin to the understanding that the scientist generates in the laboratory: the observer and the observed.

Having gone about understanding you in this manner, in what sense have I understood you?  Perhaps, a more insightful-pentrating question is this one, have I understood you at all? I assert that I have not understood you.  Now this would not be an issue (in the workability of my life, your life, our relationship) if I got (and you got) that this default mode of understanding you, leaves me not understanding you.  Yet, in life as lived, it does show up as an issue because I do NOT get that I can never understand you if I use this default mode of understanding you.

At best I understand you instrumentally.  Which is to say that I understand you like understanding a car – good enough to drive it. Understanding you instrumentally allows me to get along with you. And make use of you.

What does it take for me to really understand you?

Does understanding you require me to ‘walk in your shoes’? No, because I am not you and you are not me. Even if I walk in your shoes it is highly unlikely that that the world will show up for me as it shows up for you, and that I will experience that which you experience.

I say that it takes a certain kind of context for me to understand you.  What kind of context?  A context where you feel safe opening up and sharing yourself with me.  How do I generate that context? By showing up and relating-listening to you as a fellow human being who is whole-complete-perfect. It occurs to me that Carl Rogers called this ‘unconditional positive regard‘.  Whilst this is necessary, it is not enough.  Generous listening, deep curiosity, sufficient time, and patience are also required.

What kind of questions open up a space for me to understand you?  

It occurs to me that the following questions are pointers towards the right kind of questions:

  • How does this person-event-situation-world show up for you?  And how would you like it to show up for you?
  • How do you show up for yourself? And how would you like to show up for yourself?
  • What exactly is your experience (bodily sensations, moods, feelings, thoughts …..) of your life, your living? And what would you like your experience to be?
  • What kind of a future are you living into? How does the future show up for you?
  • What kind of future would you like to be living into?  What will it take for you to generate this future?
  • What are your dreams? What would you take on if money was no object, if you had absolute confidence in yourself?  Who would travel this path, take on this challenge with you?
  • What are you struggling with right now? How are you experiencing this struggle? Who is helping you face these struggles?
  • Which events-activities-persons in your life leave you most satisfied-fulfilled?
  • What message would you like your living to speak?
  • What legacy would you like to leave? For who?
  • What/who are you grateful for?

And finally

In being present to these questions, I get, vividly-experientially, that I do NOT understand you.  Being thus present, not deluded, I can choose to walk the path of genuine understanding or not.

So what does it take for me to understand you?  It takes genuine caring. It takes genuine-deep curiosity. It takes time and it takes effort. It takes giving me the notion that I already understand you. It takes giving me the notion that you are a static object – once understood, always understood. It takes a certain kind of generosity of being.

Why should I make the effort to generate this kind of understanding?  Connection. The access to genuine connection to you, is through this latter type of understanding.

“It is so because you consider it to be so”


Here in the UK, what we collectively agree as constituting “summer” has passed away. And what we agree upon and call “autumn” has arrived and is present. That is simply what is so. And this what is so can be measured in a number of way: the time of sunrise and sunset, the temperature, the amount of rain, the leaves on some trees turning from green to a yellow-red colour ….

The more interesting question, for me, is this one: what does autumn mean? Let me put the same question differently: how should I show up in relation to the arrival of autumn and the passing away of summer? Is it an occasion for rejoicing-dancing or is it an occasion for sadness and a longing for what has been lost?  Put more simply, is it good or bad, an opportunity or a setback, a blessing or a curse?

“It is so because you consider it to be so”

– Werner Erhard

I am clear that what is so is that autumn is present – nothing more and nothing less. Everything in relation to autumn being present it open to consideration – my consideration, your consideration.  Put more simply:

  • autumn is a time of opportunity and an occasion for rejoicing if I consider it to be so;
  • autumn is the time of loss and an occasion for lamenting all that has been lost with the passing away of summer if I consider this to be so;
  • autumn is ‘no big deal’ if that is what I consider it to be so.

How do I consider autumn to be ‘this and not that’?  I make autumn ‘this and not that’ by the story that I tell myself, and tell others. I can tell the story to myself in many ways. I can tell it through the thoughts I focus on, through the words that I speak to myself, and through what I do or do not do.

Let’s leave aside autumn and ask, what is it that I am pointing at here?  I am pointing out the following:

  • My life is as it is (great, wonderful, good, ok, awful) because I consider it to be so (great, wonderful, good, ok, awful);
  • The work that I do is as it is (good, an opportunity, bad, a dead end) because I consider to be so (good, bad, opportunity, dead end);
  • My wife is as she is (kind, beautiful, intelligent, selfish, ugly, stupid) because i consider her to be so (kind, selfish, beautiful, mean, intelligent, stupid);
  • Life is that which it is (an opportunity to take the road less travelled, or follow the path travelled by my kind) because I consider it to be so;
  • The Earth is that which it is (beautiful, to be taken care of, lived in harmony with, dominated, harvested, plundered, exploited) because I consider it to be so;
  • I am who I am because I consider myself to be ‘this who I am’.

When I get this, when I really get this, I get that I am the magician. With my consideration I get to shape my world. And at any moment I can reshape by world simply be reconsidering it.  How do I reconsider it? By choosing the stories I tell myself and others.  This telling (to be truly powerful) has to be in the living of my life.