Play BIG: Welcome Difficulty and Cultivate Hardiness


I have been fasting for 10 days. Given that it is the summer and I live in the UK, this fasting means eating once a day.  This Sunday the family (including me) went for a country walk and picnic. For some of the day it was hot. When we stopped for lunch, after walking up a hill, my fellow family members drank and ate. I did not. Later on, upon returning to the car park, the family ordered drinks and ice cream. I did not.

Why do you do this to yourself? This is the question that has been posed to me more than once. I can see why this question is asked: I am not religious so am not obligated to fast; It is not like I am fat and so some fasting might be beneficial to me; It is not like fasting will elevate my status or earn me riches.  So why fast?  Why bring on this difficulty on myself?  Why welcome this difficulty? Why rejoice in this difficulty? The following passage provides a pointer:

Hardihood is a quality supposedly created by difficulty, and I have always felt it to be stimulating virtue. I like people who have it, and that must mean I like people who have been disciplined by hardship, which is true. I find them realistic, not easily daunted, and that make few childish claims. This also means that the hardness of life …. creates the qualities I admire.

Suddenly I wonder – is all hardness justified because we are so slow in realising that life was meant to be heroic? Greatness is required of us. That is life’s aim and justification, and we poor fools have for centuries been trying to make it convenient, manageable, pliant to our will. 

What I cling to like a tool or weapon in the hand of a man who knows how to use it, is the belief that difficulties are what makes it honourable and interesting to be alive.” 

– Florida Scott Maxwell, The Measure of My Days

My experience shows that one’s being and one’s skills grow in embracing and taking on difficulties and hardship. It occurs to e that I have been left diminished wherever I have taken the easy path.  Allow me to share two examples from my life:

1. When I was young I was a whiz at doing maths (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) in my head. This fluency was acquired through persistent disciplined practice. Then the calculator arrived and my teachers instructed us to buy-use calculators in secondary school (age 11+). One day I realised I was no longer fluent in doing even simple maths in my head. I found myself both sad and disappointed.

2. My wife is an excellent cook and she used to do the cooking. My role and contribution was limited to setting the table and clearing up afterwards. Then I invented and lived from the possibility of being a good cook. Now my Sunday mornings, usually between 9:00 and 13:00, are spent cooking Sunday lunch. I now show up for myself and others as a capable cook. I have traded ease for a difficulty and in the process enlarged my sense of myself as a capable person who can learn new skills when he goes about it the right way. And the listening of me by my family as altered: they now listen to me as a good cook.

I invite you to play BIG by inviting-welcoming more difficulty/hardship into your life. And using this difficulty-hardship as a scaffolding that enables you to climb and in the climbing learn new skills, bring forth dormant capabilities, and elevate-enlarge your sense of sell and your experience of living.

Play BIG By Appreciating & Enhancing The Beauty Of This World


At one level the world works. It is beautiful, wondrous, and inspires awe.  This I experienced this morning. Awake at sunrise I found myself present to the blueness of the blue sky. I found myself in awe of the vastness of the sky. The decorating (of the sky) being performed by the white clouds.  I found this body, this skin, delighted at the warming touch.  How soothing-refreshing the gentle breeze. How fragrant-delicious the smell of the strawberries ripening in the garden. How beautiful the flowers are: red roses, white roses… How soothing the sound of the chimes and chirping of the birds. How beautiful the world is!

At another level the world does not work and in particular it does not work for all.  I see this on my travels into London where I see people sleeping out in the open, begging for pennies.  I see this in the way that the UK government is making the poorest members of this nation pay for the mistakes-excesses of the richest. I see it in the way that interacting with the smartphone is more rewarding for folks than the person across the dining table.  I see it in the way that our obsession with a never ending stream of cheap clothes is delivered through the slavery-oppression of many in the ‘third world’. I see it in the way that animals that end up on our plates and in our stomachs are housed-reared-treated-killed.  It is endless and when I am present to it, I find tears running down my cheeks.

How to be about this? It occurs to me that you and I can play small. We can simply go along with the default which is combination of closing our eyes to what is so, pleading innocence, pointing at the ‘guilty’ parties, complaining and/or resisting.

What does playing BIG look like in this regard, this way of looking at the world?  It occurs to me that to play BIG is to:

a) Slow down and be present to the wonder-beauty-awesomeness of this world that is our home and of which we are an intrinsic part like the thread is to the tapestry; and

b) See the ‘non-workability of the world’ as a great opportunity, a personal invitation, to show up and make a difference. To bring our (you, me, us) fullest creative self expression into play. Perhaps even see it as a challenge to see how much difference you can make. Not by complaining or criticising or rebelling. But by taking a stand to exercise our creative abilities in the context of possibility and transformation.

So I invite you and me to play BIG by choosing to appreciate and enhance the beauty of this world; it occurs to me that enhancing beauty means enhancing the workability of the world so that it works for all, none excluded.

What can you do today to live this possibility, to walk this path? What difference are you up for making? How fully are you up for living this day? This week? This month? This year? This life however long or short it is?

Who Am I? Who Are You?


What Kind Of A Being Is A Human Being?

There are so many lenses through which you/i can look at this question and answer it:

– We can look at it through the Judeo-Christian lens: a human being is fashioned in the likeness of God and is here to create something like a paradise on earth.

– We can look at it through the enlightenment lens: man is the rational being who defines himself through his ability to exercise reason and act on the basis of reason as opposed to dogma/superstition.

– We can look at this question through the psychoanalytic lens: man is never ending interplay of dynamic forces arising from the ‘id’, the ‘superego’, and the ‘ego’.

– We can look at it through the sociological lens: man is a social being who always exist in a social context and whose way of showing up in the world is fashioned by the social context – particularly the culture in which he grew up.

For my part, I find myself drawn to the following way of defining a human being: Man is the being who cannot escape the question of being and as such necessarily takes a stand on his being. 

Who Am I? 

I can define-view myself in many ways. And if I look into this deeply I get there is no limit to the many ways that I can define myself. If there is a limit then it is the limit of my imagination.

Every tribe/society privileges certain definitions-categories above others. In the world in which I find myself, these definitions centre primarily on what one has-holds-occupies: wealth, social class, profession, status….

So who am I?  I am my stand. At any point in time, I am that which I am committed to. These commitments show up in the form of  possibilities that I invent, ‘projects’ that I take on and give myself to, and the way that I show up and travel in this world. 

Let’s make this concrete:

Many years ago I found myself confronted with a choice. Which choice? Career: doing that which it takes to move from Senior Manager to Director/Partner in a major consulting firm or doing that which it takes to be a good father. I chose the latter.

Some years ago I was confronted with the choice of doing that which the CEO asked-dictated and relating to myself as ‘thief-liar-cheat’ or risk losing my job. I found myself saying that I was not willing to do that which was being asked-dictated.

Every week I clean the toilets and bathrooms, voluntarily and willingly. Why? To ground myself, to experience humility, to lead by example: to do the kind of work that I ask of my family.

I do not accept presents. When Christmas or my birthday comes, I ask those who would give me presents to give me money instead. Why? So that I can give that money to those less fortunate than me.

Recently I invented the possibility of being a good cook and cooking curry for my parents as that is what they love to eat. I took on that which, by default, is hardest for me: asking for help. I asked my wife for help as she is a great cook. Now, some months later, I relate to myself as a cook. I have cooked for my parents – I did it a week ago. And, I insist on cooking Sunday lunch. This Sunday my family members told me that this was the best curry I had cooked.

I hope you get the idea.

Who are you?

I invite you to step outside of the existing categories-definitions. Instead take a good look, at who/what you give yourself to in terms of your time, your energy, your deepest self, your self-expression, your resources..

I invite you to notice the following:

– if you define yourself through the standard categories – your sex (male, female), nationality, occupation, social class etc – you find your room for manoeuvre limited.

– if you accept my invitation and define yourself through your stand, the possibilities you invent, the projects you take on, your room for manoeuvre is so much wider-bigger-spacious.

I leave you with this quote from Lynne Twist:

“Taking a stand is a way of living and being that draws on a place within yourself that is at the very heart of who you are. When you take a stand, you find your place in the universe, and you have the capacity to move the world.”