What Is Our Fundamental Nature? Is It All Made Up?


What is our essence, our nature, human nature?

If there is one question that truly matters and thus pervades our existence it is the question concerning human nature: what is our essence, our nature, human nature?

essence
ˈɛs(ə)ns/
noun
  1. 1.
    the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.
    “conflict is the essence of drama”

There are no shortage of answers. It occurs to me every speaker who speaks on the essence of human nature is convinced that there is a such a thing as human nature. And that he/she has the right answer:

  • Some say that human nature is selfish and competitive. In this school of thought even altruistic acts are recast and explained as selfish.  Others say that human nature is fundamental kind, altruistic, cooperative.
  • Look underneath western management and you will find the taken for granted truth that human beings are fundamentally lazy and will do the least work they can get away with: theory X.  Then there are others who say that human beings are eager to learn, to improve their condition, to contribute and do work – as long as the works shows up as meaningful, worth doing.
  • There are those who say that essence of human beings is reason and rationality.  And others who say with equal conviction that the essence of human beings is emotion/affect.
  • Some say that our essence is to pair bond and live in monogamous relationships. Others say that the polygamous relations are more in tune with nature and the imposition of monogamous relationships has come about through the white man’s domination of the world.

Who has generated the right answer to the essence of human nature?

I don’t know and I have little interest in debating right-wrong.

What I can share with you is the insight that hit me when I was around 8 years of age. To make sense of this insight it is worth pointing out that I was born in the East into a muslim culture. And at the age of 5 I arrived in the UK with my mother and younger brother. So by the age of 8, I had been living a dual existence: one way of thinking-living at school (the English way) and other way of thinking-living at home (the Pakistani Muslim way).  What was this insight?

The insight that struck me forcefully, which blew away my confusion-bewilderment, which set me free was this: “It’s all made up!”  

Once I got this, I got that I was free to choose the practices, from each culture, that worked best for me. As a result I chose not to have an arranged marriage.  I also choose not to drink for the sake of drinking – just to show that I am a man and be one of the boys ……

What is a great place to stand in relation to the question of human nature?

Back to the question of human nature: what is our human nature?  What is natural to us, our essence?  What is not natural to us, not in line with our essence? Heidegger, the 20th century philosopher and some say one of the two most important philosophers of the 20th century, says:

“The ‘essence’ of Dasein lies in its existence.”

– Heidegger

If you do not have background in philosophy then what Heidegger is getting at may not be clear. So allow me to share, what shows up for me as, the most pithy insight into the human condition:

“Custom is our nature”

– Blaise Pascal (1632 – 1662)

Put simply, human beings don’t have a fixed nature, we do not have an essence. We are shaped by the cultural practices (customs) into which we are born. This shaping starts from the moment of our birth (possibly earlier) and happens without our consent.  By the time we are in a position to think for ourselves our nature has already been shaped-moulded towards a certain style of being-living, and away from other styles of being-living.

I say that this is a great place to stand in relation to my nature, your nature, human nature. Why? By taking this stand we liberate ourselves and our fellow human beings.  If you/i stand and operate from this stance then we get that you/i can shape our nature (no matter what we say it is today) by who we live amongst and what we do and do not do. Put differently, if i/you want to change our natures we simply have to change our customs. Furthermore, in this stand you get that a powerful access to influencing others is to effect changes in customs.

Summing Up

Please remember: Its all made up! If you stand in “It’s all made up!” then you are in a place to remake it – all of it. When you get this, really get this, then I say your experience of yourself, and of life, is transformed. 

Transforming Life Through ‘Direct Action In Love’


Is action the only access to impacting life?

Let’s start the conversation with a quote. Not any quote, quote that contains the seeds for transforming the quality of life (my life, your life, our lives, life itself):

“It is important that you get clear for yourself that your only access to impacting life is action. The world does not care what you intend, how committed you are, how you feel or what you think, and certainly it has no interest in what you want and don’t want. Take a look at life as it is lived and see for yourself that the world only moves for you when you act.

Hold this quote in mind, allow it to be the grounds of our conversation. And let’s turn the conversation to love.

What is love as action?

Catherine Cadden has grappled with this question. And in so grappling she provides the following answer:

“I defined Love as listening, observing, validating and empathizing. All action.” 

Listening for what?  Observing what? Validating what? Empathizing with what? The answer is to that which he have in common with our fellow human beings: our universal human needs.

Notice:

– listening is an action and i/you can choose, at any-every moment, to listen for the human needs that are giving rise to my behaviour, your behaviour, his behaviour, her behaviour, our behaviour, their behaviour;

– observing is an action and as such you/i can choose to observe human behaviour (as it is and as it is not)  and use that as an access to the human needs that lie at the source of the behaviour;

– validating is an action and as such i/you can choose, at any-every moment, to validate the human needs that lie at the source of my behaviour, your behaviour, his behaviour, her behaviour, our behaviour, their behaviour;

– empathising is an action and you/i can choose to empathise with ourselves and our fellow human beings at the level our universal human needs.

What is love as ‘direct action in love’?

It occurs to me that Catherine Cadden has not stopped at ‘love as an action’ like so many of us have done.  She has gone further. She calls it ‘direct action in love’.  What kind of love is ‘direct action in love’?  It occurs to me that this is conveyed by her, in her TEDx talk, through the following quote which she shares in her talk:

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it sees that the edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring. ”

– Martin Luther King Jr, “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence”, delivered 4 April 1967

At this point, I share with you Catherine’s TEDx talk and ask that you offer yourself the gift of listening, truly listening, to her speak:

Given that I find that myself so easily sucked into a criticising mode of being (even if I do not verbalise and act it out) I leave myself (and you) with the following quote.

“Boy, I sure hope whoever threw this tantrum gets heard so they won’t think they need to do it again.”

– Eva, 9 years old

To get the transformational quality of this utterance, this mode of being-in-the-world, it is necessary to listen, truly listen, to Catherine’s talk.

Listening As A Source of Radical Kindness and Access to Great Joy


It is some two weeks since I created the possibility of being a source of and clearing for kindness-gentleness-harmony-aliveness.  What is it that which I have become present to over the last two weeks?  I have become present to the power of listening.  And I have noticed that I do not listen – not listening, really listening, is my default way of showing up in the world.  

The seed flowers into a plant when the soil and climate provides a suitable listening for the speaking of that particular seed. It occurs to me that is exactly so for the relating that shows up between myself and my fellows when I create a listening for their speaking. 

Over the last two weeks there have been moments where I have chosen to listen. To truly listen. To be a source of listening for whatever is being spoken or is awaiting a suitable listen in order to speak.  Those, in many ways, show up as the most meaningful-uplifting-gratifying moments of my existence.  It occurs to me that real listening is a small yet radical act of kindness.  Why?

“All humans want to be narrators, but many have difficulties finding listeners.”

– Jalees Rehman

What is it that a human being wishes to narrate?  My experience is that as human beings you/i  wish to narrate (tell the story of) our existence: our hopes and dreams; how the projects that matter to us are going; our joys and sorrows; our ambitions; our triumphs and struggles; our confusion-pain-suffering; and sometimes  just our day as it unfolded for us.  Let’s listen some more to Jalees Rehman:

“Illness is often a time of vulnerability and loneliness. Narrating stories during this time of vulnerability is a way to connect to fellow human beings, which helps overcome the loneliness. The listeners can be family members, friends or even strangers. Unfortunately, many people who are ill do not have access to family members or friends who are willing to listen.”

It occurs to me that illness is not the only time that many of us feel vulnerable and experience loneliness. I say that the existential condition of the ordinary person (that I encounter) is that of vulnerability and loneliness.

I feel vulnerable, you feel vulnerable, we feel vulnerable. And we hide it as best as we can, putting on a brave front and dealing with what needs to be dealt with as best as we can.  Even amidst many I experience loneliness. My experience suggest that many of my fellows experience loneliness when they allow themselves to be present to it.

Our existence does not need to be experienced this way.  I can make a difference. You can make a difference. We can make a difference.  I can choose to be a listening for you. You can choose to be a listening for me.  We can choose to be a listening for one another and all.  I leave you to with the wisdom of Jalees’ grandfather:

“He told me that the opportunity to listen to others was a mutual blessing, both for the narrator as well as the listener.” 

If you wish to read the full story of Jalees and his grandfather then you can do so here.

Giftivism: Transforming Life Through Small Acts of Radical Kindness


I start by gifting you that which shows up for me as a profound truth:

“What we will do for love will always be far more powerful than what we will do for money. What we can do together will always be far greater than what we can do alone.”

– Pavithra Mehta

This wisdom, this truth, this gift found itself to me through coming across and listening to what shows up for me as the most radical-inspiring talk of recent times.

It occurs to me that the being of the speaker and that which the speaker shares is in complete alignment with that which I share in my speaking through this blog. As such I am paying it forward by sharing this profound-radical-inspiring talk with you.

http://youtu.be/p_QLGvp_stI

Here are some words that have caught my attention, may they speak to you and resonate with you. May they act as an opening for you to enter into and lift ‘giftivism’: small acts of radical kindness 

“So in a world where everything has a price — what happens to the priceless?

We live in a time where we have mastered the art of “liking” each other on Facebook but have forgotten the art of loving each other in real life.

Our purpose doesn’t lie in our commodities it lies in our sense of communion …. Compassion. Empathy. Generosity. Trust….

What practices, systems and designs emerge when we believe people WANT to behave selflessly?

Generosity is generative. Everybody wins because generosity is NOT a zero sum game.”

And I leave you with the speakers invitation:

“We begin to move from being a market economy to being part of a gift ecology.

 It begins with small steps. I invite each one of you to think about what your small step will be. What is YOUR giftivist resolution?

May we each take that step. May we change ourselves, may we change the world.”

At your service and with my love

maz

 

To The Wonder: A Beautiful Meditation On Life, Love, And The Wonder Of Existence?


tothewonder

Yesterday, I found myself watching Terence Malik‘s latest film: To The Wonder.  Terence Malik is not a conventional director, he is a philosopher in the disguise of a film director.  To The Wonder is not a film, it shows up for me as philosophical meditation on life, on love, on God, and on existence itself.  It just so happens that this meditation is communicated through film.

If you find that that which I speak finds a listening in you then I recommend that you make the time  to ‘read’ To The Wonder. And as for any philosophical reading it is necessary to do so when one either creates for finds oneself in the right mood and with the right listening – a listening that allows the speaking to show up as meaningful.

What more is there to say on To The Wonder?  Allow me to share with you snippets of the sayings (on To The Wonder) that speak to me and shed some light.

Every one of us, no matter how damaged or abnormal or shut down, we’re all looking for love. Every person needs love in this world, but our views on what love is vary enormously. Which is the joy and the problem.”

Olga Kurylenko (one of the main characters in the film)

“Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?”

Roger Ebert (film critic, deceased)

“On a deeper level, the film is Malick’s meditation on the Christian vision of loveand the obstacles that we perversely place in the way of satisfying our irrepressible longing for it. Anyone who’s fallen in love is familiar with the feeling: The world appears transfigured. In the first words of the film, Marina describes it as being “newborn,” called “out of the shadows……..

Ultimately, for Malick, the experience of falling in love grants us a glimpse of the divine — of a “Love that loves us”…… But love is not only rapture. In Malick’s Christian view, it also calls on us to sacrifice, to give ourselves over fully to the one we love…… Father Quintana says it is: “Love is not only a feeling. Love is a duty. You shall love… You feel your love has died? It is perhaps waiting to be transformed into something higher.” 

Father Quintana achieves a spiritual epiphany during a sequence toward the end of the movie that is unlike any I have ever encountered in film……As the priest comforts a succession of suffering people — the old, the anguished, the crippled, the sick, and the dying — he recites a devotion of St. Patrick: “Christ be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ on my right. Christ on my left. Christ in the heart.”

Humanity was made for God. And he is present all around us — in the transfiguring, wondrous joy of romantic love, in self-giving sacrifice, in our suffering and the suffering of others, in the charity we offer to those in pain, in the resplendent beauty of the natural world — if only we open our eyes to see him. That, it seems, is Terrence Malick’s scandalous message.”

Damon Linker (senior correspondent at theweek.com)

On Kindness And The Transformative Power Of Praise


“Adults are starved for a kind word. “

– Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Kindness. The possibility of kindness and being both a source of and an opening for kindness speaks to me, calls me, moves-touches-uplifts me.  Standing in and living from this possibility I notice that you/i/we are kind at a deeper level.  And at the deeper level we long to express this kindness to put into the world and to receive it.  So why is it that kindness has yet to blossom?

It occurs to me that fear is the biggest obstacle to the blossoming of kindness. What fear?  To get this fear it is essential to get that you and I are ‘thrown’ into this world and in this world one does not show kindness. There is no agreement for kindness to show up.  It takes something to allow kindness to come forth and flower. What does it take? Courage.  Not being ‘naturally courageous’ I find that I must generate this courage.

I find the following ‘story’ a source of courage and a call to stand firm in the possibility of being an opening for kindness to show up in this world. And as such I share it with you.

“One young lady …… was so frightened that she literally couldn’t form words. In the cool, air conditioned room, beads of sweat ran from her forehead down to her chin and dropped on the carpet….. A few words came out, just barely, she returned to her seat defeated, humiliated, broken.

Then an interesting thing happened. I rank it as one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed. The instructor went to the front of the class and looked at the broken student. The room was dead silent. I’ll always remember his words. He said, “Wow. That was brave.”

My brain spun in my head. Twenty-some students had been thinking this woman had just crashed and burned in the most dramatically humiliating way. She had clearly thought the same thing. In four words, the instructor had completely reinterpreted the situation. Every one of us knew the instructor was right. We had just witnessed an extraordinary act of personal bravery, the likes of which one rarely sees.

I looked at the student’s face as she reacted to the instructors comment. She had been alone in her misery, fighting a losing fight. But somehow the instructor understood what has happening inside her and he respected it. I swear I saw a light come on in her eyes. She looked up from the floor….  The next week she volunteered to speak again…

There are several things to learn from the story. The most important is the transformative power of praise versus the corrosive impact of criticism. I’ve had a number of occasions since then to test the power of praise, and I find it an amazing force, especially for adults……. adults can go weeks without a compliment while enduring criticism both at work and at home. Adults are starved for a kind word. When you understand the power of honest praise (as opposed to bullshitting, flattery and sucking up), you realise withholding it border on the immoral….”

“Wow. That was brave,” is the best and cleanest example I’ve seen in which looking at something in a different way changes everything. ….”

– Scott Adams, How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big

It occurs to me that if you-i-we reframe how we look at kindness then it changes everything.  We can choose to see kindness as an opportunity to turn on the light inside ourselves and our fellow human beings, to bring joy into our daily existence,  and contribute to creating a world that works for all, none excluded.

As I write the closing words, I find myself totally present to the kindness that has shown up in my existence this week. The kindness of my wife, the kindness of my daughter, the kindness of my sons, the kinds of my niece, the kindness of my colleagues, the kindness of those of you who have reached out to me to let me know that my speaking here on this blog makes a contribution.  Thank you.  I am truly grateful that you existence and deeply moved by the contribution to make my existence.

Death As Access to Zestful-Intelligent-Compassionate Living


Death has been with me, a companion, since the day that I came out of this world and into it – the day of my birth.  Since then many years have gone by and friend Death is getting closer – catching up with me. One day, perhaps even today, he will catch up with me, and embrace me.  No second chances, no re-runs, no repeats, no encores. Just this one life – this one opportunity to participate in the melody-play called Life.

Can Death Be An Ally in Mindful-Zestful Living?

Is death necessarily negative?  Or can you/i relate to Death as a friend/ally who can provide access to zestful-intelligent-compassionate-meaningful living?  Let’s listen to Don Juan’s wisdom as shared some time ago by Carlos Castenada:

Without the awareness of death everything is ordinary, trivial. It is only because death is stalking us that the world is an unfathomable mystery……

Death is a wise adviser that we have… One… has to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them!

You have little time and no time for crap. A wonderful state! The best of us always comes out when we are against the wall, when we feel the sword dangling overhead. … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

(The warrior) knows that death is stalking him or her and won’t give time to cling to anything… And thus with an awareness of death,… and with the power of own decisions, the warrior sets life in a strategic manner… and what the warrior chooses is always strategically the best; and thus the warrior performs everything with gusto and lusty efficiency!

What shows up, if i/you are not present to Death and thus do not live strategically? The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

I say it is worth listening to what Bronnie Ware says on the matter:

“For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die…….

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed.…….. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others…. they settled for a mediocre existence …….. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years……. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.……Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

And Finally

Early Friday morning. I did not sleep well; tiredness is present. After sitting in the train for over an hour, the train arrives into London and I get off. It is another ten minutes to the office.  Outside. It is cold, it is blustery, it is darkish, it is raining. Yet I find at peace and joyous. How/why?  I leave you with this quote from Martin Heidegger:

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life — and only then will I be free to become myself.

The challenge that remains is to keep this existence. This challenge is made easier every time I look in the mirror and see the face that faces me: the long thick jet black hair is surrendering to the continued advance of the grey.