….. the transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essential transitory possibilities.
Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualised? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.
Usually …. man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being.…..
The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day.
On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all life he has already lived to the fullest….
What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, than you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”
– Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Every time I write and share myself through this blog, it takes something. Why? I am clear that I am an ordinary human being and as such I face a constant struggle to show up and travel in life in a manner that embodies that which I speak-share here with you. The more mindful (attentive) I become the more I notice the gap between how I wish you to show up and travel and how I actually show up and travel.
There are times where I wonder if I am deceiving myself. I find myself asking the question: will I ever close the gap between how I wish to show and travel in the world and how I find myself showing up and travelling in the world?
The other day I came across the following passage and it has given me the access to see the situation rather differently than I had seen it. I share it with you as it may help you with your stand (in life) and your challenges. Here it is:
A student instructed to meditate upon compassion came to his teacher in despair. “This is too hard,” he complained. “I sit and try to extend compassion to the countless beings in the world, and all the time I find myself criticising how my neighbour wears her robes, how much noise my roommate makes, how much my knees hurt, and how bad the food is. How can I ever get beyond this?”
The teacher listened patiently to the long litany of complaints, then sat and pondered for a time.
Hoping for words of reassurance or a shortcut to transcendence, the student waited expectantly.
Finally, the teacher opened her eyes and said, “These difficulties are going to be with you for the rest of your life.”
– Christina Feldman, The Best Buddhist Writing 2006
It occurs to me there is wisdom in this tale. How have I interpreted it? I have taken it to mean that what matters is that I walk the path that I have committed myself to walking. On this path I will encounter all kinds of challenges and some of the most difficult will be those that I generate myself – including leaving the path. The key is to be attentive: to notice when I am no longer on the path and get myself back on the path as soon as I notice I have strayed from the path.
Getting back on the path is not enough. Why? Because when I stray from the path I usually tend to make some kind of mess. And to workability, the mess needs to be cleaned up in a manner that restores integrity and workability.
Is it enough simply to clean up the mess? Yes, and I do not advise stopping there. I have got value out of looking into the matter and learning: what happened, how did it happen, what might have contributed it to happening. The reflection has helped me notice that I stray from the path when I find myself hungry, when I find myself tired, when I find myself stressed with conflicting demands, when I take it upon myself to fix the world for others…
When I speak extraordinary you already know what it means. It means stuff that is not everyday (ordinary) kind of stuff. So an extraordinary life is one full of extraordinary events, extraordinary achievements, extraordinary possessions…. Right?
I invite you (and me) to park this way of thinking: to take of the clothes of fantasy (just for the duration of this conversation) and look at the way life is and is not.
Ponder, ask yourself, what is your living made up of? Is it made up of extraordinary (wow!) moments? Take a deep look at someone who is living an extraordinary life: an actor, a celebrity, a singer, a politician, a business superstar. What makes up the bulk of his/her life?
I say that even one who is deemed to live an extraordinary life finds that his life is filled with ordinary moments: waking up, taking a shower, brushing one’s teeth, dressing, eating breakfast, ‘travelling to the office’, working (even celebrities work!), talking with people, lunch, walking, reading, sex, loving, hating ……..
It occurs to me that one way of Playing BIG, really playing big, is getting present to the fact that life is made up, for the large part, of ordinary moments. And using this insight to live in a transformed way. How? By being present to, finding and/or generating the extraordinary in the ordinary.
What is it that I am pointing at when I speak of ‘finding-generating the extraordinary in the ordinary’? Allow me to make that real for you and me, by sharing recent lived experiences:
1. I was out in the garden enjoying the sunshine and admiring the plants. A red robin appeared and perched on the branches of a red robin shrub! I found myself delighted: just gazing with wonder at the beautiful creature. Suddenly the red robin took off and danced so beautifully in the air. This graceful movement took my breath away.
2. We had a box of fresh vegetables (direct from local farm) delivered. I washed the cherry tomatoes and bit into one. DELICIOUS! Even now, as I am present to that experience, I notice that my mouth is salivating.
3. Lying outside in the garden with the sun on my the skin of self. I notice that the sun is hot and getting hotter. Then the wind blows through the garden, the chimes sing, and I notice the kiss of the breeze on my skin. Wonderful – so soothing. And a little ticklish. What a perfect world! That is the thought that hits me.
4. It is towards the end of the afternoon and the back garden is now in the shade. I get out the lawn mower and mow the lawn. It is hard work, I find myself sweating. I take off my t-shirt and continue mowing the lawn. Thirty minutes later I finish. I find myself so pleased with myself. Why? The garden looks beautiful and this sense of order, of beauty, leaves me feeling peaceful and provokes joy.
5. I find myself listening-watching a course on Coursera. I find myself thinking what an amazing world: all this knowledge available on my phone, my tablet, my laptop. And it is totally free!
6. Reading Philip Gould’s book When I Die, I find myself deeply touched about that which he shares about his battle-experience of cancer. I find myself laughing, I find myself crying. I find myself grateful that this man used his dying days to share his experience of cancer and provide hope for those of us battling cancer or other ‘diseases’.
7. I join the family in the kitchen. I am listening to my niece speaking about interviews and interviewing. Whilst listening I am doing my stretch exercises (‘bad’ back). Suddenly, I cannot stop myself laughing all the way from my stomach; Marco (son) is just made an insightful-witty remark as to what it would be like for someone to be in an interview with me. I am laughing so much that I have to stop my stretching exercise…..
It occurs to me that you/I can play BIG right now simply by being present the ordinary moment. And in so doing finding and/or generating the extraordinary within the ordinary.
I get that the voice in your head may be doubtful. Asking how it is that one finds-creates the extraordinary in the most ordinary of moments. This evening, I cleaned the sinks and toilets in my home. I experienced joy-delight. How so? I listened to beautiful music whilst cleaning. I danced whilst cleaning. And all the time I was present to this: I was in the process of bringing beauty into the world – for me and my family; and I was keeping my word to myself and my family which left me relating to myself as a person whose word counts.
I thank you for your listening. Live well. Experiment with being present to, finding and/or creating the extraordinary in the ordinary. I say you a life (a transformed living) to gain. And nothing to lose.
I leave you with this quote from Dan Millman’s The Peaceful Warrior:
There are no ordinary moments!
“My knowledge of the self-healing qualities of misfortune with a shocking injury to my spine that left me lying helplessly…… I would never again do any sustained carpentry or turn clover under in the garden … I would never backpack ….. I would never nail another ceiling…….
The life I had lived all those years was impossible now and I had no option but to let it go. And in that yielding I saw more clearly than ever before what ceilings and walls I had been building all these years.
I saw that I had tried to construct my life as I had built this house, with some fixed and lasting sense of myself nailed securely in place. I saw that no life so constructed could be held secure against the exigencies of time and circumstance, that I must inevitably exhaust myself in futile maintenance of such a structure.A lifetime of certainties fell about me in disrepair. I could no longer conceptualize who I was, and in that very loss the healing was found.
….. I found myself on a prominence that lay an unobstructed horizon about me on all sides. I turned slowly, 360 degrees. In all that space there was nothing, not even a trace of the very steps that had bought me there, to suggest where one might go next. I understood that I could, at that moment, walk in any of all possible directions.
We invent ourselves that we might know who we are and what we are to be. But the consistency we seek in these inventions can’t be maintained against the fabulous inconsistency of actuality. Sensing this, we clutch at cherished constants ever more urgently. The builder of the house of ego can never rest, for he is ever at work to control outcomes and limit alternatives. His structure makes its appeal to our longing for the familiar and the safe, but in the end, he delivers only diminishment. I am weary of maintenance.”
– Lin Jensen (The Best Buddhist Writing 2006)
How do I go about determining the answer to this question?
It occurs to me that a starting point is to list that which is commonly associated with success: wealth (money), fame, power, status…..
Wealth. Without hesitation I can say that I am not wealthy. Therefore, I am not a success in this dimension.
Fame. I am perfectly safe walking amongst a throng of humanity: none of my fellow humans would single me out of the crowd. I am one of seven billion. So I am not a success in this dimension either.
Power. I do not possess the power to act on others, shape their behaviour and direct the course of the future. More precisely, I have no more power than the ordinary man. And we all know that the ordinary man is ordinary precisely because he lacks power. Clearly, I am not a success in the domain of power.
Status. What goes with being ordinary? Lack of status. There is nothing about me that calls forth status. Neither do I hold a rank of fill a role that carries status. I am clear that I am not a success in this domain either.
Given that which I share do you consider me to be a success? I am clear that by the standards of the society I am not a success. Some in my social circle see me as a person who has not lived up to his potential, others see me as a failure.
How Is It That I Experience Myself As A Success?
Unannounced and uninvited I find myself seized by the conviction of success. Put differently, in my lived experience I show up for myself as a success. What is going on here?
What has hit me with considerable force is that the existential projects in which I have invested in myself have turned out along the lines that I worked for them to turn out. What am I talking about? Let’s look at each.
My wife and I have been together since 1992 and married since 1995. She is white and French. I am not white and not French. Despite the misgivings of our parents (and some friends) we are still together. It has not been easy going, we have faced many challenges. I am particularly proud of the way I stood for and helped make happen that which was my wife’s dream and is, today, her passion:
You have always been the king of my heart, even with all that has gone on between us at times…… I also want to thank you for supporting me with my counselling, while this can be a demanding job at times. I cannot wish for any other job … While I don’t always take the time to say, I know who does the washing up, empty the dishwasher ……. when I am not here or just too tired…..
I have been concerned with the wellbeing of my eldest son since he was about eight years old. Why? That is when it became clear that he was dyslexic. Whilst being smart he struggled in the classroom and this dented his confidence and wellbeing.
I put a lot of myself into my son’s wellbeing including taking the fight all the way (jumping over several hurdles over the course of year or so) to get him the specialist tuition he needed. Today, at the age of nineteen he is well known-liked in the community. Has managed a retail shop for over a year. And has earned-saved enough money to pay for his driving lessons, buy a car and insure it with his earned-saved money. This is what he writes:
Thank you so much for all the time you have put into looking for a car and to help me drive. I do really appreciate it. I thank you for supporting me through changing jobs. I love you lots even though we have our differences.
The Younger Son
I had great hopes for my younger son when he was around eight years old. He was so full of life. And where his older brother struggled to put a sentence together, the younger would confidently walk on to the stage and hold everyone’s attention and make us laugh.
Things changed when he moved passed the age of eleven and moved into a new school. It has taken a lot to be with all his struggles especially when he has been in considerable pain and I have found myself experiencing myself totally helpless to fix things. Sometimes, all I have been able to give is a hug. Here is what he wrote for my birthday:
I love you more than words can describe and thank you for making my days feel happier, easier and more relaxing. I ……… take this opportunity to let you know how much your calming hugs & massages make a positive contribution in making me feel happier, more at ease with myself, and more positive about life……. No one can make me feel like that through their affection… I couldn’t imagine my life without you.
With the boys I was comfortable looking after them right from birth. That was not the case for my daughter. Why? Because she is female! With the help-guidance I overcame my fears and was comfortable doing all that needs to be done with a baby.
Somewhere along the way my daughter and I developed an especially strong relationship. I am into wisdom and tales of wisdom. Most people find them boring. My daughter didn’t, she could not get enough. She loved to hear a different tale every night – just before she went to sleep.
The Buddhists say that life flows, change is what is so, nothing lasts. And it is our attachment/clinging that ultimately generates our sense of dissatisfaction with life. I didn’t pay enough attention: as my daughter moved towards her teenage years we drifted apart. For a while I was left with a great sense of loss. And I worried for her and wondered what it was that I had done wrong.
Where had I failed as a father? This is what my daughter told me recently:
To start off I want to thank you for everything that you do for me and everything you have taught me. I want you to know that I LOVE YOU LOTS! You mean the world to me! I wouldn’t be able to live without you!
I want you to know that I will never stop loving you even if we don’t talk as mud or spend time together like we used to. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU!
I had a decision to make about a year ago. My niece wanted to come and look for a job in London and wanted somewhere to stay for six weeks. The question that I asked myself was a deeper one: “Am I willing to have my niece stay with us and treat her as my daughter? To treat her with the same consideration-love that I show for my daughter?”
My niece has now been living with us, and as an integral member of the family, for about a year. This is what she told me recently:
I want to thank you for everything. I am a very lucky girl to have an uncle like you. I am also very proud of you for everything that you have achieved this year, all the challenges and setbacks and you still pulled through. I love your very much!
Why Have I Shared This With You?
I have shared this with you in order to communicate the following:
1. Whether you show up for yourself as a success or a failure depends on how you look at your life and at the point in time that you do the looking. If you are up for a deeper appreciation of that which I am pointing at then read the following post: I Have Failed, Am I A Failure?
2. The staring point of playing BIG is not being ensnared by that which society deems to be success. And choosing your existential projects – that which truly matters to you, authentically! And then putting your all into these projects.
3. Playing BIG can be as simple and as difficult as making a meaningful contribution in the lives of our fellow human beings starting with those nearest-dearest to us.
4. No amount of success is likely to be experienced as success until and unless you/i invite love into our living: loving other/s and inviting/receiving the love of other/s.