Growth Involves Dealing With Monsters


Playing BIG (and one’s growth as a being-in-the-world) necessarily involves boldly going where one has not gone before. To go where one has not gone before always involves coming across and dealing with monsters that appear. It is this dealing with monsters that is the access to and source of one’s growth as a human being.  Interestingly enough once you have dealt with a monster the monster no longer looks as scary as it did when you first came across it. Further, the dealing with the first monster on your path often leaves you in a stronger position to deal with the next monster that comes along.

Allow me to bring this to life for you and me by sharing the following story:

“Gondar is the target, the point where i rejoin the main highway system……. All of my thoughts are still dominated by the physical battering that I and the machine are taking on this road. Before leaving today I have to clean up a terrible mess in one of the boxes…..

The fourth day of the ride from Kassala begins. The road here is like a cart track on a mountainside, not bad on the level sections, but treacherous on the inclines…. What new monster must I wrestle with today?

Here it comes. A river I stop to look at it, and my heart sinks to my boots. How can I ever get across it? There is a ford about thirty feet wide. The water is not deep, a foot or two at most, though fast running, but the river bed looks impossible for two wheels. It is littered with black boulders the size of football fields. How can I possibly expect the bike to stay upright, even if the tyres can grip the stone, which looks slippery.

I am very frightened of what will happen, almost certain of disaster. Only the thought of those thousands of miles behind me forces me to confront the problem. I have never forded a river before. For five or ten minutes I walk up and down, looking for a better way, trying to stifle the panic in my breast and find some calm and resolution. It comes. The fear is somehow anaesthetised. I know that if I am going to do it, it must be now. 

‘There is a first and last time for everything,’ I tell myself and launch into it, trying to guess the right speed. There is nothing for me to do but hold on tight and pray. The bike leaps about like a mad thing. To my complete astonishment, I find myself riding up the other side. I stop quivering with relief. All the strength has left me and my leg will hardly hold up the bike while I fiddle with the stand.

What a wonderful place this world is.  It really does look as though I am meant to get through.

My boots are full of water, and I go back to the stream and wash my feet, wring out my socks and take a drink. The ford looks more manageable now that I’ve crossed it, but there will be others. For sure.

There are four more that day, and the last one is the most monstrous of all. The bike stalls just before the other side, but I am able to keep it upright in the water. This ford is doubly unlike the others though because there a people here. Some men come to help me drag the bike out of the river….”

– Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

On Self and World: “They Could Never Be There What They Are Here”


What is your understanding of self? What is your understanding of the strength of relatedness between self and the world that the self finds itself dwelling in?  Can we easily separate self and the world – are they two distinct entities that bear little intimacy with one another?  Or is Heidegger correct in asserting that self and world are one: being-in-the-world.

What about freedom?  Is human freedom unlimited – one can make of oneself whatever one wishes irrespective of the world that one finds himself dwelling in?  Or human freedom always a finite freedom?  Which is to say a human being, any human being, every human being, is only every granted finite freedom: freedom within certain boundaries – boundaries set by the world that one finds oneself dwelling in?  Here the word ‘world’ speaks more than the physical universe.  It refers also and especially to the social world – the world created by man including the world of people (including their God / gods) and the people’s way of showing up and travelling in the world?

I invite you to read and be present to the following words:

“There are four Bescharyin here at the tea house with me, exotic figures, splendidly robed, and armed, their hair teased out and glued into strands……. The contact between us is instantaneous and overwhelming. There is a spirit in this tea, a magic solvent to wash away our differences. This is another reason why I am here: to experience (nothing less) the brotherhood of man. Imagine meeting these men in a London pub or an American Diner. Impossible. They could never be there what they are here. They would be made small by the complexities, the paraphernalia that we have added to our lives..…. I had to come here to realise the full stature of man: here outside a grass hut, on a rough wooden bench, with no noise, no crowds, no appointments, no axe to grind, no secret to conceal, all the space and time in the world, and my heart as translucent as the glass of tea in my hand.

The sense of affinity with these men is so strong that I would tear down every building in the West if I thought it would bring us together like this. I understand why the Arab idea seems so perverse, so fanatical, untrustworthy and self destructive to the Western mind. It must be because the Arab puts an ultimate value on something we no longer even know exists. Integrity, in its real sense of being at one with oneself and one’s God, whoever and wherever that God may be. Without it he feels crippled.”

– Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

I say that wo/man and world are in the most intimate of relationship. No other relationship comes close. And this is so beautifully expressed by Ted Simon when he says “They could never be there what they are here.”  Yet this most intimate of relationship (wo/man, world) is hidden from you, me, us. We are not present to it. Being not present to the intimacy of this relatedness you/i/we pay little or no attention to the world.  And thus no attention to the way that the world influences, moves, shapes us.  Put differently, an enduring  transformation of self necessitates a transformation in world.  For self and world are a unity each flowing into and shaping the other.  Even more radically, the self is not closed, it is open. When you get the level of openness that is the case you see the self for what it is: a fiction. And you see that human freedom can never be selfish – genuine freedom necessarily consideration of the world in which one dwells. The freedom to rape, plunder, pollute the world rebounds on self.

Play BIG: Every Moment Is Precious!


You and I, if we live in the western world, are so embedded-immersed in doing (in order to have ‘stuff’) that we do not pay attention to our way of being. What do I mean by being. For the purpose of this conversation, I mean the way that one shows up and travels in life. Another way of making sense of being is to think what walks into the room when you / i walk into the room? Is it a mood of lightness or seriousness, of care/concern or indifference, of being meticulous or sloppy, of generosity or meanness, of calm or stress….

There is a default way of being that is dominant. What kind of being is that? It is one of taking stuff (that include people, relationships) for granted. It is one of not really paying attention to the present or one’s experience of the present. It is one of going through the day on automatic pilot. It has a certain kind of shallowness / hollowness to it. It is a way of being where one is engaged in fixing, manipulating, controlling, surviving – getting through life through any means that work. It is a way of being devoid of reverence for people, for animals, for plants, for tools, for life itself. It is a way of being that does not marvel that there is a world rather than nothing.

What might be other more powerful ways of being: of showing up and traveling through the process of living with one another? I share with you these wise words from Mark Epstein’s book, The Trauma of Everyday Life:

Ajahn Chah met with us after we share the monastery lunch. We asked him to explain the Buddhist view. What he had learned ….. What could we bring back and share with the West?

Before saying a word, he motioned to glass by his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.” 

What was he referring to exactly? The glass, the body, this life, the self? …

Ajahn Chah was modelling a different way of relating.  We could use, appreciate, value, and respect the glass without expecting it to last. In fact, we could use it more freely, with more abandon, with more care ….

Since coming across this story, I have found myself appreciating that which is: the blessings of sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, feeling, reason, emotions, reading, writing, moving, playing chess…. The blessings include my family members; I give an ask for hugs from each family member, every day, as I am present to the glass already broken. I have stopped myself rushing on a sunny day, and found myself a place out in the sun at one of my favourite restaurants, enjoyed the food and simply watched the world go by. I have been in touch with folks that I have not been in touch with for many years.

I invite you to play BIG by keeping in awareness that the glass is already broken. And then showing up and traveling accordingly: being present to the preciousness of your life, the people in your life, the world you dwell in and is your home, the stuff that makes life workable, lovable, even joyous.