Transcending Domination: An Existential Meditation


The Will to Power: Seeking to Dominate and to Avoid Domination

Someone far wiser than me stated that one of the key factors explaining how we – human beings – show up is this one: the strong desire to dominate (others, circumstances) AND to avoid domination (by others, by circumstances).

This is just a different way of seeing/spelling out that which was central to the philosophy of living articulated by Nietzsche: The Will To Power exercised by all living organisms.

I say that this makes perfect sense given that we have been shaped – through the process of evolution – to survive and thrive under a broad range of contexts / circumstances.

Why Then Do We Allow Loved Ones – Playing Victim – To Dominate Us?

Given this Will to Power – seeking to dominate and avoid domination – how is it that we allow our loved ones to dominate us? Look, I get that when you and I were children we could not avoid being dominated by our parents, by our teachers, by anyone older/stronger than us. It is adults, us, that I do not understand.

I find it fascinating how easily we – adults -walk into the trap of being dominated by a loved one: friend, child, husband, mother/father… Further, I say there is no domination like being dominated by a loved one playing victim. Why? Because we do NOT see that we are being dominated by the one playing victim. AND, because we do NOT see that the other is playing victim. We are conditioned – mostly as a relic of Judeo-Christian religion – to treat weakness as virtue. And, crawl on our hands and knees serving those playing victim.

What is it that I am pointing at? Allow me to illustrate through a few examples.

Example 1: A friend who never turns up on the agreed upon time

A lifelong friend is one that always turned up late – no matter what was agreed, and how much forewarning he was given. So what did we do at university? We catered for him – all of us waiting for him to turn up so that we could go ahead with what we planned. He might be 5 minutes late. Equally he might be 50 minutes late. This behaviour continued past university, by when we all had responsible jobs that required us to be punctual.

One day I got it. By doing that which he was doing and getting us to buy into his game, he got to dominate us – play the game by his rules. It also happened to be the case that a group of us were leaving that Friday evening at 20:00 to go to Wales for a camping / walking weekend. So, I picked up the phone and said something like this, “We will leave exactly at 20:00. Exactly. Not one minute before, and not one minute later. So you are responsible for ensuring you turn up by 20:00 if you want a lift in the car. If you choose not to turn up on time then you are responsible for making your way to …” Then on the day itself, I sent him a reminder.

At 20:00 our friend had not turned up. One friend – Dave – did not want to do that which we all had agreed. He insisted on waiting till our friend turned up. As it was my car, I simply said, “I am a man of my word. So we are leaving now – right now. So you have a choice to come along. Or to wait for …. and then the both of you can make your way to …”. He came along. Our friend – the one who is always late – did make his way to our agreed destination. It took him pretty much the whole of the night to get there.

Here’s the lesson: since then he has never been late because he knows I mean what I say. And that I refuse to treat him as a child, or as some victim of life who is not capable of turning up on time.

Example 2: My Parents And Their Guilt Tripping

So my parents are from Azad Kashmir, a region administered by Pakistan. They, like all others from their culture / background, are masters of emotionally blackmailing their children.

Here is the situation. I have refused to have an arranged marriage. I have refused to arrange a marriage myself from the tribe they have chosen – their tribe. Actually, more like a social caste and tribe. They are not at all happy with this and do all manner of things to get me to do as they wish.

One day, I turn up to their home and announce, “I am getting married to French woman. She is white. She is not religious – and certainly not muslim…..The wedding is in France on….. and you are invited to come to the wedding.” Silence. Then, the emotional blackmail started.

“You have killed us. When the community finds out that you – our eldest- have married a white woman, and a non-muslim, a mountain of shame will fall upon us. We will die of shame. How can you do this to us after all we have done for you!!”

I had been down this road many times. And so I was prepared for it given that I had been studying existential philosophy as a hobby. So here is how I responded, “We all die. All of us – that is what we have in common If it is that shameful to you then go ahead and take your own lives now – right now. As for me, I have chosen to marry this woman on this date at this place. And that is exactly what I will be doing.”

After this event, I was never subjected to emotional blackmail from my parents. They never played victim with me and thus put me in the role of either persecutor or rescuer. I taught them that I had seen through and transcended their game of emotional blackmail.

Example 3: My Son Who Experiences Anxiety & Depression

To cut a long story short, my son turned up to Switzerland. And after ten minutes started complaining about this or that. This I am used to and have learnt to accommodate. Then he went several steps beyond that to be critical of me, and my life choices. And beyond that to be truly bitter and put me down. That was all within the first 3 hours of his arrival. This attitude and behaviour continued to the next day, and the next day.

Then it hit me. I have brought this upon myself by accepting his story about himself: I am a victim of life – particularly of anxiety and depression so I cannot be/do/have this and that. And, you – my father or mother – must do x, y, z for me because you love me. Not doing x, y,z is proof that you are bad parents! Loving parents do whatever it takes to make their children happy.

So, I found the right time and place to say this: “You are faced with 2 choices: continue on the path you have chosen – this one of bitterness and condemnation – and then I must ask you to leave my home and go back to the UK on your due date.. Or you can give this sh*t up, be responsible adult that you can be, and treat me respectfully. In which case you can extend your stay – as you want to do – and I will pay for the costs of changing your ticket. Choose.”

Yesterday, we had a fantastic day together. I am clear that was because my son gave up playing victim. Instead, he showed up as responsible and fun loving adult. He helped guide me in driving my car on certain sections of road the were simply too tight to get it wrong. He helped his sister – words and actions – when he noticed that she was struggling. When we got back he cooked chicken without being asked.

In Conclusion: Avoid Domination by Not Being a Willing Participant in the Drama Created by The One Playing Victim

If our loved ones are to grow – including our children – then it is essential that our conduct towards them is that of, “You are whole complete and perfect as you are and are not. Now go live and create yourself and the life that you yearn for or which calls you.”

What do I mean by “You are whole complete perfect”? I mean that if children are born normally, have normal cognitive functioning, and healthy emotional upbringing, then they have the capacities to deal with life – to make the most of opportunities, and to navigate the challenges that come up – by the time they are adults.

Given this, our stance toward them should be one that says “You have what it takes including becoming that which you need to become, and learning that which you need to learn – to deal with life effectively.”

I wish to conclude by saying something some will find contentious. Having studied anxiety and depression from various perspectives including the Existentialist perspective, I choose to see/act from the following interpretation:

1-Some – relatively – few people who are depressed are so primarily because of some impairment in the machinery itself. Therefore, they need medical intervention e.g. mood dampening / killing drugs.

2-Most are choosing or have chosen to depress themselves – even if this has been done without conscious forethought. How so? By envisaging and living into either a dark or hopeless future. And, have learnt that by playing the victim (of life, of depression etc) they can get away with less being asked of them and more (time, attention, love ..) given to them than say their siblings.

3-Each normal adult has the capacity to own his life and to deal with whatever life brings him/her. And, my job as a parent, as a spouse, as a friend, as a team leader or work colleague, is to relate to each and every adult from this stand. That includes demanding that each of us confronts our freedom, our death, and our responsibility to make our choices and deal with the consequences.

Yes, I will help you. And, I will help you to the extent that you own your life – including your challenges. What I will not do is to allow you to put the burden of ownership on to my back! For to do that is to steal the very core of what makes us human – our freedom: to own / shape our lives as we see fit.

If you have made it this far then I thank you for the listening it takes to listen to my speaking. For I do not speak of the trivial, nor do I speak in every day terms. Wishing you the very best. Until the next time……

Loss & Grieving: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation to Simone Ansaldi and Teresa Zelmanovits

Loss & Grieving: No Escaping Loss! Grieving is Optional

Loss is an existential fact. Which is to say no adult human being escapes loss: losing some person, losing some relationship/s, losing some pet, losing some thing/s, losing some place/s, losing some job/s, losing some future….

Given that loss is an existential fact, how can one go about dealing with loss? A good place to start is accepting the loss! Which is my way of saying: accept the loss, expect a punch (or two, or three..) so powerful that it leaves you on the floor: physically – lack of appetite, lack of energy; emotionally – sadness, melancholy, even misery; cognitively – hard to concentrate, to think straight; and even at the level of spirit – your inner core wobbles.

Acceptance of loss and the punch – physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual – is a good place to start. It is not the place to rest. From acceptance, it is necessary to grieve: to feel, actually feel, the intense sorrow and allow the tears (in the heart, in the soul) to flow outwards so that there is moisture in your eyes, and your cheeks, and perhaps some sorrowful howling too.

If this was a conversation from a psychological perspective then I would end this conversation by giving you some coping strategies like connect with your friends, go out and keep engaged in the world, plan a vacation or something nice. It’s from an existential perspective – so lets move forward on the existential path.

Being Human: The Existential Perspective

Facticity, and Transcendence lie at the very core of the Existential perspective on human existence. There is no escaping facticity – therefore one has to accept and deal with it. There is no escaping Transcendence and we do just about anything/everything to escape from it.

Facticity is simply that which is so. For example, I am a man living in Central Switzerland. The cut in my thumb is infected and not healing – so I take antibiotics. I work as a management consultant. I have three children. And I am grieving the loss of an important and beautiful relationship. That relationship had allowed me to invent an uplifting present and future. With the loss of this relationship, my present is filled with sorrow and my future is kind of empty.

Transcendence is simply that which goes with being a fully functioning adult. I am not my circumstances. I am not a rock – stuck with that which I am and no ability to change. No, I am a human being gifted with imagination, freedom/choice, and responsibility. I can imagine another uplifting new future – one without this amazing/wonderful person and this magical relationship in it. I can imagine myself as different man to that which I am today. And, I can then choose: who I wish to become, and which future I wish to live into and from. Finally, I am responsible for the choices I make. And, I am responsible for the actions I take (or do not take) to become that which I have chosen to become, and to create the future that I have chosen to live into and from.

Transcendence: Take This Powerful Stand

You will not find this anywhere in any existential literature. Why? Because I am the source of it, as in I invented this. And, I can tell you that it is one hundred percent in alignment with the Existential perspective. I invite you to show up (attitude) and travel (decisions, actions) from the following stand:

“I am a match for whatever Life brings my way – the opportunities, the obstacles, the joys, the sorrows……. I am a match for ALL of it!”

What is a stand? It is a declaration, it is a declaration that has impact – it has fundamental impact on who you are and how you live. Example, when the priest announces “I now declare you man and wife.” Another example, USA – Declaration of Independence. That which follows these declarations is so fundamentally different to that which was so before this declaration is made AND lived – the lived part is essential.

Notice, the stand/declaration creates the reality! Yes, one takes and lives the stand if it were already a reality. And in the very taking and living of this stand one creates that reality.

Transcendence: You Cannot Ask a More Powerful Question Than This One

You will not find this question in any existential literature either. Why? Because I am the source of it – as in I invented this too. Why did I invent it? Because I found myself dealing with immense sorrow and needed a way out of it – a powerful way. A way that allowed me to create an uplifting future. Ready for The Question? Here it is:

What does this OPEN UP for me – for me and my life?”

By “this” in the sentence, I refer to my loss – because when one loses something (say a furniture, or a friend, a country, a way of life) then space automatically is created for the new (furniture, new friend/s, country, way of life…).

Notice how this question moves the frame from the present in terms of loss/grief to the future – creating an uplifting future. Allow me to share an example, when my relationship/marriage of 27 years came to an end this is the question I sat with. Sitting with this question allowed me to imagine/create a future living outside of the UK – in some attractive country in Europe. Six months after the end of that relationship, I arrived in Switzerland and started a new life. Sixteen months later, I find that I love this life – everyday it occurs to me that I live in paradise.

Summing Up: If You Are Dealing With Loss and Find Yourself Grieving Then I Invite You To Take This Path

Loss is that which always and necessarily comes with human existence. There is no escaping it. A good start in dealing with loss is to grieve – to feel the intense sorrow. To be ok with the intense sorrow – as in let it come, and to simply experience it – without clinging to it, without pushing it away, without wallowing in it. Just experiencing it.

And that is NOT enough. If you wish to move past it and create an uplifting future and allow that future to lift you up on to your feet and pull you forward to that future then:

1-Take the following stand: “I am a match for whatever Life brings my way – the opportunities, the obstacles, the joys, the sorrows……. I am a match for ALL of it!”

AND

2-Ask yourself as in seriously sit with this one powerful question: What does this OPEN UP for me – for me and my life?”

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for it takes something to hear my speaking. I wish you a good/great day. Until the next time….

Hurt: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation, as it is deeply important one, to Teresa Zelmanovits. She is a person of deep humanity and considerable insight into the human condition. And, the source of this conversation.

“Don’t Fuck Up!”

Stephen Margarito, a friend, is fond of saying “DON’T fuck up!!” Is such a stand – way of showing up and travelling in the journey of life – possible? Let’s say for the sake of argument you (or I) are perfect – we never ever fuck up. Does this mean that you (or I) will lead a perfect life – a life without hurt, a life with only happiness?

I say “No!” Get real, you (and I) are going to get hurt. Hurt is a certainty for every human that has walked, does walk, ever will walk on this Earth. Why? Because, you (and I, and every other person) is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

As a being-in-the-world-with-others my existence is intricately tied to that of this world, and to that of others. Take others, if one’s life partner fucks up then one is impacted. If those who act as teachers to one’s children fuck up then one is affected. If one’s employer fucks up then there are likely to be redundancies and one is affected. Now, let’s take the World. Covid-19 broke out and how many have been affected?

The Existentialist Perspective: Fucking Up and Hurt Are Intrinsic to Human Existence, There is No Escape

One (you, I, the other) will fuck up. There will be consequences for the one that fucked up and others. And where there are fuck-ups there is likely to be hurt – not always, but likely. Hurt, you know as in “I hurt!” When I say “hurt” I am not pointing at pain. When I sliced my thumb open, there was blood everywhere, and pain was present. Even today, some 3 weeks later pain in my thumb is present.

By “hurt” I point at emotional hurt as in when one feels hurt. Example, your loved one leaves you, or dies. Beyond the emotional there is a deeper hurt. Of what do I speak? Of the hurt in one’s soul – in one’s very being. Example, you really really wanted to be say a dancer yet you became a lawyer because that is what your father or mother did. Or you did not seize the moment to pursue the only that truly mattered to you – the one that lit up your very soul and left it dancing joyously.

What Matters Is How One Deals With Hurt

Hurt is an existential fact: everyone of us will experience hurt. It’s what we do with this hurt that matters. Put differently and more powerfully: it’s how we choose to use hurt that makes all the difference.

What are the standard (playing small) options in relation to hurt?

1-One can withdraw from life – into one’s shell so that one does not allow the other, or the world, to inflict more hurt. Some go one better, they withdraw, comfortable in that withdrawal, they stay there for a lifetime.

2-One can play victim – feel sorry for oneself, look/demand sympathy from others, one can go further and expect others to drop what they are doing and looking after me, the victim of life. By playing victim one can inflict one’s hurt onto others – almost always on those who are closest to us, those who love us. Why? Because they are the only ones willing to accept the injury and almost always the domination; the victim gets to dominate by playing weak and demanding loved one look after him/her. Failure to play this game leads the victim to ambush loved ones with guilt as in “If you loved me…..” Often the victim does not even need to do this, cultural upbringing already conditions one to feel guilty if one does not do their all for loved ones who are down.

3-One can burn with resentment, anger, even rage. These will lead to the corresponding actions For example, where one resents another, distance, blame, and critiscism of the other/s follows. I call this “inflicting death by a thousand cuts.” Anger can lead to lashing out at the other/s. Whether that is the abusive tongue or the abusive hands.

What Are The Playing BIG, useful, Options in relation to hurt?

1-One uses hurt to connect with one’s fellow human beings – recognising our mutuality, our shared human existence and condition. By connecting thus one opens the gate to compassion – for the other/s who are just like me hurting in some manner.

2-One goes into the hurt to enquire, to learn – about oneself, about the other/s, about the world. Example, one seeks to understand why it is that one’s spouse is emotionally distant or cutting. What is going on here? What burdens/scars does the spouse carry that lead to his/her behaviour? How am I being, and/or what is it that I am doing, that contributes and perhaps is even the source of my spouse being distant or cutting? At the end of the learning process one is almost always in a much more powerful place in relation to the hurt. And often the hurt is gone, at the very minimum it is diminished. Example, I see how my recent way of showing up and travelling in life (say being impatient and critical or just plain indifferent to him/her) has awakened the spouse’s scars and fears. And led to the spouse’s emotional distance or cutting remarks. S/he hurts me because I, unknowingly, hurt him/her.

3-One uses hurt constructively on the journey of becoming. As the Existential philosophers point out a human being is, alway and forever, a being and a becoming: for one always has the freedom to choose to become other than what one is today. So, having approached the hurt through the mode of enquiry / learning (option 2) one can act: to change oneself; to influence others; and/or to make a change in the world. Taking the example of the distant cutting spouse, I go up to my spouse and apologise – really apologise for my behaviour and the impact of my behaviour on him/her. And in this very act a new possibility, a new future, is created: one of connection, harmony, intimacy.

Summing Up

No human being, who lives a normal human life, can escape fucking-up and that which often comes with it: hurt. Playing BIG, involves choosing the path less travelled: expecting hurt, accepting hurt, looking into hurt to enquire and learn about myself, about others, about the world. And, then using this learning to take action – action that heals me, heals the other, and ideally heals the world.

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for I know that my speaking is not easy to hear. And, I wish you the very best. Until the next time…..

Play BIG: Speak The Language Of Fellowship


It’s been a while since the last conversation took place here. In that while I left behind the life I have known/lived, in England, for some 25 years. And, started a new life in Switzerland – from a blank slate.  No home, no friends, no acquaintances, no understanding of the culture, no familiarity with administrative / legal aspects, and no skill with German.

Do you have lived experience of leaving one world behind and entering a new one – one in which you are a stranger who lacks the ‘currency’ (language/culture/friends) to be effective in the new world?  

My experience summed up in one sentence: I went from being masterful in England to being/feeling incompetent and at the mercy of my fellows (strangers) in Switzerland. 

It’s here in Switzerland that I have gotten present to this fact:  a great way to play BIG is to speak the language of fellowship.  What is it that I am pointing at?  Allow me to illustrate by sharing a few examples.

At The Bank

I arrived in Switzerland late on Sunday afternoon. Monday morning I am at the UBS offices to open a bank account. I don’t speak German. And, I do not have all of the required paperwork. Yet, I am treated with care/respect by each/every person I encounter.  I could have been sent away and told to come back when I have all the paperwork. Instead, Desiree, an Account Manager works with me. The end result I have one of the essentials in place: a bank account. I am so grateful!

At The Swisscom Shop

One of the other essentials is to get a Swiss mobile phone number. I enter the Swisscom shop. It feels strange as German is everywhere – written, spoken – and I don’t understand a word.  I notice a kiosk. I look at it. I get that I have to use it most likely to get a ticket number.  However, I cannot make sense of it. I feel helpless. Right then a fellow customer, a lady, speaks to me in fluent English and says something like this: “I notice that you are struggling. Allow me to help you…”  And she does exactly that.  I am so grateful!

At The Train Station

I am facing the ticket machine. It’s all in German and I don’t understand a word.  I feel helpless whilst staring at the machine.  Right then an employee of SBB (train operator) comes over and asks if he can be of help. In my broken German I say “I don’t understand you. Do you speak English?” He does.  I explain my challenge.  This young man then takes me through the entire process of buying a ticket – explaining the various options/obstacles that one encounters.  I ask if he is ok with me doing this on my own whilst he observes – just in case I get things wrong. He is more than happy to do this.  I get it right. He is pleased. And then he suggests downloading the SBB app – and helps me to do just that, including setting it up into English.  I am so grateful! 

At The Restaurant

At work we often eat lunch at the on-site restaurant.  I look forward to the experience.  Why?  One of the cashiers – a middle aged woman with a smile.  She switched to English the first time I encountered her and she realised that I didn’t understand what she was saying.  Since then she greets me warmly, with a smile, every time I go to pay at her till. She complimented me on my German when I asked her “Wie geht es Ihnen?”  More than once I have left my credit card in the machine. And she has found me in the restaurant and returned it to me.  Just this week, I showed her my palms and said “Look at my hands. They lost their colour as Switzerland is so cold.” This made her laugh out loud.  We bring a smile to one another. I am grateful!

At The Tyre Repair Shop

The valve on my front car tyre was leaking air. I hesitated in dealing with it as I had figured out that nobody at the tyre repair shop was likely to speak English.  Then I faced up to the situation and made my way to the nearest tyre shop. Sure enough nobody spoke English.  Yet, the combination of DeepL (language translator) and my broken German was good enough.  Almost immediately the chap came to look at my tyre. Seeing the issue, he called one of the others (who was working on another car).  This chap came over and fixed the valve there and then.  When I reached for my wallet to pay  he just nodded his head.  I asked again. He was firm – no payment needed.  I am grateful 

At IKEA

I am going to be getting the keys to my ‘permanent’ apartment on Monday. With this in mind, I went to IKEA to buy the basics.  Those basics included getting a set of tools with which to put the furniture together. The issue?  I just couldn’t find them.  So, with some hesitation, I approached one of the staff members with “Entschuldigung. Sprechen Sie English?”  He responded with a smile and fluent English. He listened, and told me where I needed to go.  I am present to his manner: he treated me like a fellow human being (just like all the other examples I have described her) and helped me out.  I am grateful. 

In the process of checking out / paying I had my second conversation with an IKEA staff member.  She, a young lady, was talking to me.  Noticing my broken German, she switched to English.  In the process, she asked me “Do you have the IKEA family card?”  I responded, “No, I have left my family behind in England!”  She smiled/laughed… I complimented on her English.  A very human exchange took place as in I felt warmed from the inside out by  this interaction with this young lady. I am grateful! 

Here is what I am getting at: When you/I encounter a stranger, especially one who does not speak our language, you/I can speak the language of criticism. Or, you/I can speak the language of fellowship.  

Speaking the language of criticism, even if it is spoken in silence, is one where you/I judge the other person and belittle/criticise. Here’s how it goes “Bloody foreigner.  Over here, in my country, and cannot even speak the language!  Why doesn’t he bother to learn the language?”  This is what is going on in the inside. 

I say that speaking the language of fellowship, as in the examples I have shared, is playing BIG.  It is way of playing BIG that lights up the world.  Whose world?  Certainly, the world of the Other.  For when this language is spoken the Other no longer experiences himself as Other. No, he experiences himself in the presence of friends/family.  

It is because I have been the recipient/beneficiary of this language of fellowship that I find myself grateful to the Swiss. And, why it is that I am no longer homesick.  

Finally, I point this out:  Do not assume that because the other does not speak your language s/he is stupid or lazy.  I spend between 45 and 90 minutes a day learning German.  My vocabulary is improving.  And, this learning process takes time.  

I thank you for your listening, and wish you the very best. Until the next time…

 

 

Play BIG: Let’s Show Up & Travel Like Lorenzo


Its been a little while friends. I have been busy making good use of my health and the weather: to go walking in the countryside, to cycle along the Thames… To read books that touch the heart, and some that require study rather than mere reading.

One of the books that I have read, and read again is If This Is A Man by Primo Levi. Take a moment to click on the Primo Levi link:  learn a little about Primo Levi – one of the handful of Italian Jews (from tens of thousands) who made it out of Auschwitz alive.  Ready?

Primo Levi makes it clear that their German captors were ruthless/disciplined/systematic in their drive/practices to reduce their captors from men (human beings) to mere animals/beasts. Those who stood up to this ultimate in human degradation were killed – publicly and violently.  Now lets listen to Primo (bolding is my work):

“In this world shaken every day more deeply by the omens of its nearing end, amidst new terrors and hopes, with intervals of exasperated slavery, I happened to meet Lorenzo….

In concrete terms it amounts to little: an Italian civilian worker bought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for reward.

This should not sound little…”

Why shouldn’t this sound little?  Because of the context in which it occurred. What is noteworthy of this context? The Jews were deliberately given filthy rags to wear – not fit for the cold/hostile environment in which they were made to work outdoor, and starved – given something like a litre of soup a day such that they soon became mere skin and bones. Those who did not wish to turn out this way had to ‘hustle’ to make bargains, to barter something of worth. It was not the kind of context which called forth goodness. The reverse: each for himself.

Let’s listen to Primo again:

“However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today;”

Let’s stop here.  Ask yourself what is it that Primo is pointing at when he talks of “due to Lorenzo that I am alive today”?  Is Primo talking about the bread – given that Primo was starving (a kind of starving you and I do not know)?  Is Primo talking about the vest – given that Primo like others wore only flimsy rags? Or perhaps Primo is talking about the postcard to his family?

Lets find out by listening to Primo:

“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.

The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves buried it, under an offence received or inflicted on someone else….

But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”

Just sit with this, I mean really sit with this.  What is the profound truth that Primo is pointing at?

  • Man’s deepest need may be for the Lorenzo’s of this world – those who embody in the very being / showing up the goodness/nobility of man. 
  • One person can/does make a difference! How you show up matters! How I show up matters!
  • Man is the being whose need for nourishment extends way beyond the material necessities;
  • Each of us embodies a certain vision of what it is to be human – to be a man / woman, and this necessarily impacts those with whom we interact and co-creates the kind of work that we end up living in;
  • Man to be and thrive as a man necessarily needs to be regularly nourished on a noble vision of what it is to be man. 

To get this is to get the awesome opportunity and responsibility that necessarily resides with each of us.  The question is are you, am I, willing to show up and travel like Lorenzo?  Or will we continue to play small in the myriad of ways that are open and attractive?

It is my hope that you, and I, choose right now to show up and travel like Lorenzo. I say the ultimate in playing BIG is to provide hope and inspire playing BIG in our fellow human beings. How? By being a humble/gracious exemplar of playing BIG.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…

 

 

Playing BIG In The Presence of Death – Death of a Good Friend


Richard HornbyI last saw my friend Richard Hornby on Sunday 4th March 18 when we shared three hours of our lives with one another. He was in bed, in a room by himself, in a hospice for the terminally ill. I woke him up with “Hello Richard!” He was pleased to see me, and I was pleased to see him. We talked. We brought to life shared memories of times gone by. We laughed with one another.

And I helped him with the little things that had become huge things: getting fresh/cold water and helping him to drink it; helping him eat his fruit salad  – the only thing he wanted to eat from his lunch; intervening on his behalf with the doctor to get his pain addressed; and getting the nurses to give him the morphine that the doctor prescribed.

After taking his morphine and as he was about to go to sleep I took my leave with “I’ll be coming over to see you next weekend.”  I did not get to keep that promise. The next day, in the evening, I was told that my friend had died: He had died peacefully – spared physical pain, and the indignity of being at the mercy of others.

Even today, two weeks later, tears flow when I allow myself to be present to that which is so: my friend is no longer – there will never be another occasion when we walk together, eat together, talk together, laugh together.  I get that he died at the right time – and I am delighted by that. This, intellectual view of the matter, does not do away with the grief/sadness that is present in me right now.

What has helped me to work with the death of my friend and the loss of our friendship is me asking myself this question: “What does playing BIG look like in the presence of loss – the loss of dear friend?” Being with this inquiry I found an abode of peace. And this inquiry helped turn my attention toward Richard himself: what is it that I so admired/liked about him?

What is it that my friend Richard embodied?  What way of being-in-the-world showed up when Richard showed up?  A certain humbleness / lightness that tends to be present in those who do not see themselves as more important than others. A disposition towards looking at life in the manner of the glass is half-full.  His being there for me whenever I needed and asked for his help. And, his unflappability:

What does playing BIG look like in the face of Richard’s death? My answer  for myself is manifold:

  • To accept the sadness and allow the tears to flow down my cheeks without embarrassment;
  • To allow myself to feel the full strength of grief as in the kind of grief where one cries from the stomach with the whole of one’s being;
  • To remember our times together and the contribution he made to my existence – the times that I needed his help and he was there for me; and
  • To keep in existence, as in embody, that which I value/admire about Richard – his humility, his genuineness, his helpfulness, and his unflappability.

I realise that what has allowed me to Play BIG with his death is that I played BIG before he died. When he told me 10 months ago he had terminal brain cancer I cried. And then I  made and lived this commitment – to walk by his side, to make a positive difference to his existence in the face of his impending death.

How am I doing in keeping in existence that which Richard embodied? Badly as in failing more than succeeding. Is that bringing me down? No. Why not? This is a conversation about Playing BIG and that necessarily involves stretching – taking on that which lies to some extent beyond that which one is today.  If I already embodied all the qualities of Richard that I admire/value then I probably would not have valued/admired Richard as much as I do.  Put differently, sometimes Playing BIG is a marathon rather than a dash for the finishing line.

I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby. A human being that called forth both affection and respect from many if not all.

 

Playing BIG Can Be As Simple As Making A Telephone Call


Making-Phone-CallHello! I’ve been absent for much of 2016 and 2017. It’s possible that some of you have noticed. If you are interested in learning more about this absence then I invite you to read the second half (“My Story Told As Briefly As I Can Tell It”) of a conversation I posted on The Customer & Leadership Blog.

I say it feels great to be back in communication with you. Being away has allowed me to realise that I created a trap for myself and for you. What trap?  THE trap. The trap of calling this series of conversations: Playing BIG.  The issue. You and I find ourselves arising from and living amidst a specific time/place.  Where I live, we take playing BIG to point out at things like:  becoming a captain of industry, writing a best-selling novel, becoming a superstar/celebrity, making millions, ending world hunger …… You get the idea.

You may be saying to yourself “What’s the problem with that?”.  There is no problem with that if that is what playing BIG means to you and right now you are in action acting in/on the world to cause that to happen. Whilst there is no problem, there is a trap. The trap is that almost all of us feel inadequate, and/or show up for ourselves as small/insignificant is such complex world. For almost all of us playing BIG (as I have described above) is wishful thinking at best.  For others it likely occurs as the latest claptrap.

Today, I am committed to cutting through that. I say that when I step outside of my self-centred concerns, put aside my fears, and act – help others – I am playing BIG.  Allow me to share with you the actions that I have taken that show up for me as playing BIG in the way I show up & travel:

  • I make it my business to call my friend Richard once a week to say “Hello! How are things?  How are you doing? How’s your wife doing?  When/what are the latest results of your chemo treatment?” And I listen – really listen.
  • I make it my business to go see my friend Richard. We go for a walk. I walk by his left hand side so that he can bump into me not the lamppost etc,  the brain tumour has knocked out his left vision in both eyes. We have lunch together. We talk about our history working together at Peppers & Rogers, we talk about what we are dealing with today, we talk about the future that cancer holds for us.  Last week, we happened to talk about our childhoods and I learned that we are both Lancastrians – he grew up in Ormskirk and I grew up in Preston. Small world!
  • The other week, I got a call from my neighbour (Charles) whilst I was in the midst of doing business work whilst working from home.  He urgently needed a lift to get somewhere important. I dropped what I was doing even though the business-ey part of me objected as that work had a deadline. Instead I said “Give me five minutes”. Then I drove him to where he needed to go, waited in my car, then drove him back.
  • Yesterday, my oldest son (22 years old) was telling me off for not taking up shirts that my wife had ironed and left hanging on the chairs in the dining room. I said “Please don’t tell me how to live in my home. I pay for it, you are a guest!” He expressed his frustration (not so politely) with me. So I took the shirts and hung them up in my bedroom. A little later in the kitchen I mentioned how he and I used to watch the Lion King together when he was young. His response was something to experience: angry, telling me off, swearing, walking away in a huff.  What I noticed was hurt – deep hurt arising in me. Then I noticed the anger/rage rising up. Noticing it, I decided to play BIG and let it go.  He’s still a kid, and maybe (just maybe) he’s having a bad day.  Or maybe he got hurt earlier, got angry with me…. Like I was in the process of doing with him.
  • At work, I called it as I saw it.  I knew that calling it as I say it would upset some powerful people. And that I would pay a price. Fully aware of the consequences I chose to play BIG – calling it as I saw it despite the pressure (from the powerful) to be a ‘team player’, to not ‘rock the boat’… Whilst some of the powerful did not appreciate me ‘rocking the boat’ several members of the client did value the course of action I took as it is the one that puts the interests / wellbeing of the client at the centre.
  • This one took the most from me. I allowed my wife to accompany me to the visits to cancer specialists. This may not be a big deal for you, it is a huge deal for me. I grew up under a tyrannical father. And I made it through my childhood by not disclosing weakness – any weakness, and doing that which needed to be done on my own without counting on others. So to arrive at a place where I could be ok with my wife accompanying me really took something. Ask my wife!

I hope you get that which I am pointing at.  None of these actions have made a dent in the universe – the universe is oblivious to my existence.  Having said this, I am clear that the way I showed up & travelled has made some kind of dent in the lives of my friend, my neighbour, my son, members of my client.  That’s good enough for me.

Lets part company today with this question:  “What are the little actions that you/i can take now/today that make a difference in the lives of others – your family members, your neighbours, your friends, the folks you work with at work?

I invite you/me/us to play BIG. It’s not the only way to live and I do not claim that it is the best way to live.  I do say that it is a GREAT way to live – I talk from my own experience.

Thank you for your listening.

As my French family say: A la prochaine!

Play BIG by Showing Up & Travelling Regally


When I talk of playing BIG in life the tendency is to think that I am talk about  doing-achieving.  You know the kind of doing-achieving of say Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.  Put differently, playing BIG can be, often is, interpreted in terms of achievement.  Why?  Simply because this what matters in the Anglo-Saxon world.

There is an alternative way to think about playing BIG. What alternative?  Being-doing. What am I pointing at here?  I mean the way you/i show up and travel in life.  Is this still vague?  Sure it is as we are not used to thinking this way.  So I invite you to listen to the following:

To each, the dignity that befits him. Not everyone is a king, but your deeds should be worthy of one, within the limits of your class and condition. A regal way of doing things. Sublimity of action, a lofty mind. You should resemble a king in merit, if not in reality, for true sovereignty lies in integrity. You won’t envy greatness if you yourself can be a norm of greatness. Especially those who are near the throne should acquire something of true superiority. They should share the moral gifts of majesty rather than pomp, and aspire to things lofty and substantial rather than imperfect vanity.

— The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián

I dedicate this conversation to my friend Richard Hornby.  For me he is and continues to be living example of human dignity embodied and in action.

I thank you for listening to my speaking. And invite you to play BIG in how you show up and travel in this life: resemble a king in merit, aspire to things lofty and substantial, be a norm of greatness in you way of being…

How To Play Big In Our Dealings With Our Fellows


Our automatic/default way of being with regards to our dealing with our fellows is one of being controlling is it not?  I have a view on who you are / what you are / how you should show up and travel and given my attachment to this view I seek/strive to control you: control you as my child, my spouse, my sibling, my colleague, my friend… Right?

What shows up when we relate to our fellows in this habitual way?  If we succeed in our efforts we do so by cutting limbs of the other to fit the Procrustean bed we have created for them.  If we do not succeed then we blame / criticise them. Either way there is something amiss in this way of relating to others.

Is there another way of relating to our fellows?  Is there a way of being-in-the-world that frees our fellows to be  – to simply be – without having to fit into a particular mould we have created for them?

I invite you and me to listen to these wise words:

Last summer I noticed a strange plant in our pasture. I did not know what it was, I had no picture in my mind of what flower or fruit it would bear, but I freed it. That is, I dug around it and opened the soil that the rain might fall on its roots, I cleared out the thistles with which it was entangled so that it might have room to spread, I cut down the undergrowth of small maples near so that it could get the sun. In other words, I simply freed it.  Every friendship which is not treated in this way will surely suffer; no human relation should serve an anticipatory purpose. Every relation should be a freeing relation with the ‘purpose’ evolving.”

– Mary Parker Follett, Creative Experience (1924)

This may be a BIG ask for you.  It is a HUGE ask for me.  Which is why it is game fit only for those of us committed to playing BIG in our dealings with others.

Finally, I invite you/me to play BIG in our dealings with ourselves. I’m inviting you and me to free ourselves in the way that Mary Parker Follett describes.

Now, I get what the folks at Landmark were saying when they counselled us to “Listen coming from nothing”- listen / relate to others without any preconceptions.  In the space of nothing, anything has the ‘space’ to show up.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

Playing BIG With-Towards Imperfection


Imperfection, imperfection, imperfection!

I disappoint myself. Not always but certainly from time to time. I particularly disappoint myself when my relating with others is not working out as I want it to work out.  I am so imperfect!  It really takes something to be with this. Mostly, I am not being with it as I am so busy lashing at myself.

What happens when you disappoint me?  Your imperfections, where you fall short, are lit up and I see them – all of them.  How do I treat you? I lash out at  you – sometimes the lashing makes a sound, other times it is silent.

Thats the way to be if one is committed or merely resigned to playing small.  My default setting is to play small when it comes to imperfection. It may be yours.

What’s the starting point for playing BIG in relation to imperfection?

Lets start with an insight – perhaps the insight when it comes to human beings and human worlds:

…..We are all imperfect. 

Such a vision not only invites but requires Tolerance: active appreciation of the richness and variety of human beings on this earth, along with the understanding that we all struggle with the same demons, we all share the same fears and sorrows, we all do the best we can with what we have.

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Please get that imperfection is not a bug it is a feature.  Imperfection is a feature of human existence. Wherever you find a human being or human beings you will find yourself, sooner or later, face to face with imperfection. There is no escape from imperfection – it is intrinsic to human existence and pervasive.

Given this insight what is it to play BIG in relation to this feature of human existence?

The following story provides a great answer to this question:

A man who took great pride in his lawn found himself with large and recurring crops of dandelions. Although he tried every method he knew to get rid of them, they continued to plague him. Finally, in desperation, he wrote the Extension Service of the Agriculture Department of the State University, enumerating all the things he had tried and concluding with the question: “What shall I do now?”

After a somewhat prolonged time even for such correspondence, the reply finally came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Damn! I have been ‘on it ‘with several members of my family: My mother, brother, and uncle for selling my father’s land despite his express request to not sell the land; My wife; and my eldest son.  Playing BIG necessitates getting ‘off-it’. Am I ready to do that?  I suspect this conversation provides a pointer.

Now what is the stance I take toward myself?  Do I start lashing out at myself for getting ‘on-it’ and staying ‘on-it’ for most of this week?  That would be falling into the same trap – lashing out at myself for not being OK, for being imperfect.  So what is it to play BIG here with regards to myself and my inherent imperfection?

If you could really accept that you weren’t ok you could stop proving you were ok.

If you could stop proving that you were ok you could get that it was ok not to be ok.

If you could get that it was ok not to be ok you could get that you were ok the way you are.

You’re ok, get it?

-Werner Erhard

Yes, it’s ok to accept my imperfection – all the areas in which I fall short. Yes, it’s ok for you to accept your imperfection.

It would be too simple, too Western, to leave this conversation here. So let’s introduce paradox (through Zen) for life is paradoxical through and through:

Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.
―Shunryu Suzuki

Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.
―Shunryu Suzuki

I thank you for your listening. And I ask you to play BIG even if you find that like me you are finding your playing BIG imperfect.

Abdul Sattar Edhi: An Inspiration For Those Who Are Up For Playing Big


You and I want our lives to matter. We want our lives to make a real difference — to be of genuine consequence in the world. We know that there is no satisfaction in merely going through the motions in life, even if those motions make us successful or even if we have arranged to make those motions pleasant. We want to know we have had some impact on the world. In fact, you and I want to contribute to the quality of life. We want to make the world work

-Werner Erhard

Yesterday I learnt that Abdul Sattar Edhi is no longer. You’ve probably not heard of him. Yet, in my eyes, he sit there alongside Gandhi as one of the world greatest examples of humanity: a peaceful warrior for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcasts…. A living example of what is possible when one makes one’s life a stand for something noble – something that calls to the deeply human in us, no matter how deeply it is buried.

Sadness. Tears, Sadness. Tears, Sadness. Tears….. A profound sense of loss. Yet, I have never met the man, merely donated money to the organisation he founded. So from where does this deep sense of grief arise?

What is it that i find my deepest self (that which is beyond my conscious control) mourns for?  The loss of a saint, the humanity he embodied, and the humanity he called forth in many people. I suspect that he left heft many of us feeling better about ourselves and the world that we find ourselves.

For as long as there is one Edhi there is hope. More, an Edhi is an opening, a clearing, for our humanity to show up and make difference: to contribute to the quality of life – for all.

 

People have become educated, but have yet to become human.

-Abdul Sattar Edhi

So this is my invitation to you, to me, to us: Let’s play BIG, starting right now, by putting our humanity, the kind of humanity that Abdul Sattar Edhi,  into action.

I thank you for you listening. And I ask that you show up and travel in manner that makes a positive difference to the quality of your life, our life, life itself.

Play Big: Embrace A Stranger The Nicula Way


I’ve been working in Belgium this year. Typically I take flight out to Brussels every Sunday night or Monday morning. And take the flight back to London late afternoon every Friday.

I work with a great bunch of people: Jeroen, Martijn, Patrick, Rupert, Arun, Prashanth, Alexandra……. They show up and travel in a manner that leaves me feeling welcome, respected, part of the team.

There is something special about Alexandra. She kind of ’embraced’ me without ever having met me. How by ringing me whilst I was recovering from back surgery.

Upon my return to work/Brussels Alexandra made me feel welcome by seeking me out and taking me out to lunch.  Not just once but several times. Now and then when she takes a break and goes out for a cigarette she invites me along. Sometimes I take up her invitation.

This week Alexandra invited me to her home. I found myself both surprised and delighted. Why surprised? “She hardly knows me!”  Why delighted? She trusts me enough to invite me to her home; and she finds me sufficiently interesting to invite me to her home.

The result? I spent a lovely evening at her place. I met her son: a beautiful young fellow, alive, curious, playful and intelligent; he enjoys chocolates; and loves his mother. I got to learn a little about her partner.  Alexandra also shared some of her life with me. Being English I tend to be somewhat reserved yet I found myself telling Alexandra about some aspects of my life.

What is there between myself and Alexandra? Gratitude! Gratitude for what? For being the first and only Belgian person who has invited me into her home, her family, her life.  For  puncturing my sense of being a stranger in this land.

I invite you and I to play big by embracing a stranger the Nicula way!  Who can you invite into your life and by so doing touch his/her life for one lunchtime, for one evening, or for a lifetime?

And finally, I dedicate this conversation to Alexandra Nicula – a remarkable woman. And someone who now shows up for me as a friend.  Thank you Alexandra for your kindness, your generosity, and your way of being – which I find refreshing and inspiring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Ralph Waldo Emerson Say On Playing Big?


A little while ago I read Robyn Davidson’s book, Tracks. If you haven’t read it and enjoy reading about real people -about the human spirit and it’s thirst for something beyond the know and the accepted – then I encourage you to read it.  Please don’t play small and settle for watching the movie – the movie is such a shallow version of the book.

Today, I came across a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson which is in line with the 1700 mile journey Robyn Davidson took across Australia – against all advice – just because the journey was calling her. I share this passage with you in the possibility that it will inspire you and me to play BIG (bolding mine):

“You will hear everyday the maxims of low prudence. You will hear that the first duty is to get land and money, place and name. “What is the Truth you seek? What is this Beauty?” men will ask, with derision. If, nevertheless, God has called any of you to explore truth and beauty, be bold, be firm, be true. When you shall say, “As others do, so will I. I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season;” – then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand men”

-Emerson, 1838

I thank you for your listening. And I wish you the very best – I hope you will listen and respond to that which calls forth the best, the bigness, in you.  Until the next time..

Looking Back Over 2015: The Highs, The Lows, The Lessons

What I have experienced. And What I have learned over 2015.


If you subscribe to this blog then you may have noticed that I have shared little or nothing for most of this year.  What’s been going on? What game have I been playing?  What demands has life been making upon me?  What opportunities have presented themselves? What insights do I have to share with you?

We Like Life To Be Neat And Tidy

It is our tendency to put stuff into neat-tidy boxes. To distinguish, to classify, to categorise, to label stuff.  Once we have given something a label we feel safer, we can go about ‘investigating’ it, and then coming up with ways of dealing with stuff.  It is also our tendency to think in contrasts: long/short, good/bad, right/wrong, blessing/curse, success/failure, rich/poor, kind/mean, playing BIG/playing small… You get the idea. Yet life has a certain fullness, boundlessness, messiness, that means it cannot be easily categorised. And any / every categorisation is incomplete.

This Year Has Been An Interesting (Full) Year

It occurs this year has been like the seasons – especially the kind of seasons we have been experiencing lately in the Southern part of England – where multiple seasons present themselves in what should be a single season.

January. Everything was great: health, family, work… The future looked bright and I had plans – plans for playing BIG in life and inspiring others to play BIG in their lives. I even turned out an incredibly well paid (six figures) consulting role with a well known large consultancy. Why? Because, I was happy doing what I was doing.

February. I found that if I sat down I could not get up. I could not get up! I found that I could not put on my shorts, trousers, socks, shoes or take them off. I found that I could not turn from one side to another when in bed. Ordinary living came to a halt. And with this lack of power (self-sufficiency) the demons came out and played: feelings of helplessness, feeling of being a burden, feelings of fear… If you have lived you know what I am talking about.

Yet in the midst of this I sought to turn lemons into lemonade. So I studied often lying down or standing up. By the end of the month I became a Salesforce certified Pardot Consultant.  Wasn’t easy but brought me both distraction and great satisfaction.

March. By the middle of March I was well enough to get back to normal living. And just as I had gotten off my knees, I found myself floored. My source of income dried up – no more work. Folks whom I considered colleagues even friends treated me in ways that left me confused, puzzled, and deeply hurt.  Illness happens, I can deal with that and in fact have been dealing with it since I was a child. The kind of stuff that I experienced by friends and colleagues – that I had not experienced. And struggled to find my ground, my footing. I was in a kind of a daze for some weeks.

April, May, June. Busy, busy, busy. Busy looking for opportunities for consulting work, for Salesforce work, for project and programme management work. Plenty of conversations with all kinds of people. Even got three verbal offers of employment. None of them worked out.

Also experienced what occurred to me as the second largest (most important) betrayal of my life. That is too personal to go into. But I can tell you it hurt – really hurt.  It brought forth genuine sorrow – of the deepest kind.  The first person who showed up as betraying me was my mother when I was a child. That had a deep impact on me – I made it a rule never to trust what people say for I had seen the dramatic difference between words and deeds. It took some being to accept and deal with this betrayal.  Yet, it was easier to deal with because this time around I was an adult able to step into the shoes of the other, rather than a child of six or seven. Time does make a difference.

At the same time, I learnt to code in HTML and CSS. I even learnt to write some Javascript.  Some wondered why a strategy guy like me was doing this deep tech stuff. I was clear: in troubled times it is necessary to give myself challenges – so that misery and self-pity has no space to show up. Further, one of the ‘dark arts’ of digital was no longer dark. And, I enjoyed the achievement of building a replica of the BBC home page. Further, it became clear that whilst I could do this work, it was not work for me. I need work that provides interaction with people.  With ideas. With helping folks effect change with a view to causing a better world in some dimension.

July and August. I was busy with various ‘projects’. Some of these projects were great in that they allowed me to do what I do well: help folks think through and grapple with challenges.  Other projects were not great: dealing with difficult folks- folks who lacked knowledge/expertise, folks who talked big but did not keep their promises. These were also months of uncertainty as the work wasn’t generating the kind of income that I needed to generate. And I was keenly aware that I was burning through the family’s safety net.

Whilst the family was holidaying in various parts of France, I was busy studying for a Salesforce certification. When I got my Salesforce Sales Cloud certification – well it is day I remember well. I had taken that same exam a year ago and failed. It was the first exam I had failed in my life. But this time around I learned from the past, did the work (over and over), and I passed!  Further, I used up some of the time to dive deeper into the whole User Experience Design thing. I found that I enjoyed learning about it. And that I already knew quite a bit – but by no means all of it or anywhere near.  Further, I learned that I enjoyed the UX design thing given that it is a useful tool for creating better digital interactions and interfaces.

Oh and I made my decision. I Gave up freelance project management type of work that I had been doing (because it was so easy to do). And accepted an offer of employment with a large consultancy / systems integrator.

September. I found myself back to the kind of lifestyle that I had chosen to leave behind five or so years ago.  Why go back?  Despite the ‘new age’ stuff my life has not always worked out the way I have wanted it to work out. It has just worked out the way it worked out.  And given my experiences between March and September – including working with folks that showed up as ‘idiots’ – I was grateful to be back to proper consulting work with folks that had showed up as pleasant, helpful, interesting during the interview process.

Yet, this month was a kind of shock to the system. New organisation, new people, new ways of doing things, regular travel, waking up at four in the morning, catching the 6:30 aeroplane to a foreign country, working away from home – from several days at a time, to the whole week. Yet, amidst that I got to re-experience Copenhagen – a city that I had lived in for three months some 10+years ago. The city still showed up as beautiful. And the Danish people seemed to be the same kind of people. Only this time, I realised how fortunate I had been 10+years ago. The last time I stayed-worked in Copenhagen I had stayed in one of the very best (most expensive, beautiful) parts of the city. Sometimes you can only appreciate what you had long after you had it.

October and November. I find myself in the hell I had experienced back in February. I felt my back go on a return flight from Copenhagen to London. This time I did not behave as foolishly as I did back in February. I learnt from that experience and started taking measures immediately – like standing up to work, like taking medicines, like going for walks….  Yet, that did not make it easy. My lower back and legs were in constant pain. I got through the days with the maximum dose of painkillers.

Just when it looked like things could not get worse they did. My neck, shoulders and left arm started playing up – might have had something to do with the fall that I took on the stairs due to being drugged up!  Despite expensive visits to the Chiropractor, the neck, shoulders, and arm did not improve. It got worse. I had constant pain in my left arm, I lost fine motor control (could not button up my shirt or insert cufflinks into my shirt sleeves), and I lost power in that arm. Due to all this I didn’t sleep much – an hour here, two hours there. Yet, despite all of this I kept working full or pretty full days.

I worked from home. I worked at a client site. One day I was walking just outside the client site in November, my right lower leg lost power, and I found myself flat on the pavement.  Luckily my hands broke the fall.  Because my left arm/hand was inoperative (could not type for example, or hold a flip-chart market), I ended up doing almost all of my writing up on flip charts.  I illustrated, I explained, I recorded decisions, next steps, strategies… on the flipchart. And then gave these charts to helpful folks at the client to write-up.

December. Finally got round to seeing the neurosurgeon. My chiropractor and the emergency doctor (that I had to see at the weekend after a very difficult Friday) brought home to me the serious of the situation toward the middle to end of November.  After that it took a while to get the necessary appointments: my predicament occurred as urgent to me, the world of insurance companies, secretaries, consultants, and hospitals was rather indifferent to the needs of one single being.  Life kind of works like that: we want so much to be given special treatment, all seven billion of us….

This week, finally got the MRI scans done. One shows that I have a pretty impressive bulging disc pressing into my spinal cord in my lower back. Hence the sore lower back, inability to sit for long, pain down my legs, loss of power in my right lower leg. The other MRI scans show I have a bulging disc in my lower neck which is also pressing against my spinal cord. Hence the loss of function in my left arm…

What to do?  Do I take the surgery knowing that there is two out of hundred people who have that surgery end up paralysed: two out of 100 for the back, two out of hundred for the neck.  Or do, I cling to the possibility that my body will heal itself (enough to live a normal life) given time and the right type of activity?  The neurosurgeon advised the latter and I find myself in agreement with him.  Surgery as a last resort.

So What Is It That I Have Taken Away From This Year And All That Has Come With It?

It occurs to me that sometimes playing BIG is simply handling life as best as one can. There have been periods in this year that I was in so much pain that when I noticed I was about to go to sleep, a part of my wished that I would never wake up. Yet, I did wake up, and with that waking up life made its demands on me.  Further, when I did wake up I felt bad that I wished the night before that I would not wake up. Why? Because of my wife and children – they count on me in so many ways.  They want me around – for a long time. To leave them just to avoid some physical pain (even a lot of physical pain) occurs as selfish.  As weak.

If I have played BIG this year then what I acknowledge myself for is modelling the way I hope that my children will deal with the demands (unexpected surprises, difficulties) that life will throw at them:

  • My children have seen/heard me cry, shout with pain, walk across the kitchen in the middle of the night – night after night, drugged out at the end of the day, fallen-helpless-bleeding at the bottom of the stairs yet unbeaten, ask for help in putting on my socks and shoes….
  • They have seen me work every day – every day as best as I can, as creatively as I can, to meet my obligations to my clients, my colleagues, my employer, and my family.
  • They have seen me accept the pain, accept the demands of life, and deal with them with stoicism. Sometimes even with laughter.
  • Most of all, I hope that I have shown my wife and children how important they are to me, and how much I love them.

And finally, the blessing amidst all the difficulties? I know that I will die. And yet the most important part of me (that which I value, how I aspire to conduct myself) lives in my children. I experienced the most amazing kindness, generosity, love, helpfulness, encouragement emerge from my children.  They have left me feeling loved in a way that is beyond words.  And I have witnessed and experienced the same from my wife.  

How extraordinarily fortunate I have been this year!  How often does one get to really experience the beauty of ordinary everyday living?  How often does one get to experience how much one matters in the lives of others? How often does one get to feel so grateful, so proud of one’s children, of one’s partner/wife?  How often does one get to experience the triumph of the human will over the difficulties and surprises that come intrinsically with life and living?  I got to experience ALL of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Play BIG: What Showed Up On My Recent (51st) Birthday?


Who/what really matters to you?  Who/what is the true focus of how you show up and travel in life? Who/what is the focus of your existence?  For me, it is my children.

It matters to me how well I am doing in relation to caring for my children. The voice within is highly critical of how well I am doing as a father: I find that I never live up to it’s standard of what constitutes a good father.

So how well am I doing as a father on the central project of my life: bringing up my children so that they feel accepted, loved, valued and care for/consider others not just themselves?  I share with you, and leave tracks in the sands of time, the report cards that my children issued to me on my recent birthday celebration.

Rohan: First Born

Birthday Card From Rohan“I wish you a happy birthday and I love you very much. I want to say thank you very much for helping me and supporting me with everything. And especially with my application for BP. You have done more than I could expect from anyone. I thank you for the physio treatment as this will help, hopefully, with the pain.

Thank you, Rohan”

 

Marco: Second Born

BdayCardMarco“Dear Papa,

I wish you a relaxing birthday being surrounded by all your family. I can’t believe your 51!

Thank you for all the times you have been kind to me, given me advice and support, and a huge supply of hugs. I enjoy spending time with you in the evenings after work and just sharing fruit together. With you and me, the little things like that are the big things.

I want you to know that I feel loved and accepted by you and I know that you care and worry about me a lot.

I want you to know that I love you lots and appreciate you being there for me.

You’re also one in a million and couldn’t ask for dad that’s as crazy and funny as you!!!

P.S. I have given you some money so that you can give money to people on Kiva.

Love,

Marco”

 Clea: Last Born

BdayCardClea“Dear Papa

Happy Birthday.

Firstly, I would like to take the time to tell you just how much I love you!

Honestly, you mean the world to me. I love how you are always there, even if it’s just after school and you ask me how my day was. Or just being able to sit down and watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer with you. It MAKES MY DAY!

The last year I think we have really become close with each other. The truth is that you and me are a team, a bit like the 3 musketeers – but there is only two of us. We face the world together!

Papa, you are the best advice giver, the best thinker, the best everything! But most of all the best dad. I love you to bits. No words could describe, no images could show you just much your brain continues to amaze me, your sooooooo smart, which can get annoying when you prove me wrong!

I am proud to be your daughter and to carry the Iqbal family name. When I’m older and I get married, trust me, the guy will have to change his last name because I’m keeping Iqbal.

Papa, you are my safety net, when I fall somehow you arms catch me – which is good because I fall a lot! It seems that you are always there for me. No matter how hard I might push you away, you always come fighting your way back. As I mention fighting, you should know that even when we fight and argue, I still love you. That includes all the slamming of doors, shouting and screaming, loud angry music.

When I am older I want to be just as kind and loving as you are. Your heart is so big it stretches across Africa.

I love you papa, I love you, I love you, I love you, don’t forget it.

Clea”

Sophia: One Who I Have Adopted As A Daughter

BdayCardSophia“To Maz,

Thank you for everything you have done for me in the past year. Even though we don’t always talk, I know no matter what, you’ll always be there for me & that you do love me. It tok me a while to believe it but I definitely do now.

I also want you to know, though it is hard for me to say it, I do love you.

Hope you have a really good birthday! …..

Lots of love,

Sophia”

What is it that I wish to say to my children?

Your existence, and my role in it, grants me a powerful sense of meaning and purpose. Your existence contributes to my existence: you enrich my existence.  I love each of you.

And Finally

It occurs to me that this year’s birthday celebration was a special one. Why? For the first time, I planned out my birthday celebration, I invited the folks around the table, I did all the cooking, and I did all the washing up.  This may not be milestone for many. It is for me. Why?  Because it is was not to long ago that my being did not include cook. Now it does. By taking on the project of cooking I have expanded by being. I have grown older, am one year closer to death, yet my sense of self (as a source of contribution/power to make a difference) has grown, not diminished.

Play BIG: Distinguishing Between Having Money & Being Rich


The ‘gods’ are smiling upon me once more. I find that my back is almost back to normal. Once again, I can sit for more than five minutes without pain. Rich!  After sitting I can get up on my own without searing pain. Rich! Laying on the bed, I can turn from one side to another without any pain nor effort. Rich! In the mornings, I can get up from the bed without having to slide gently on to the floor, use my palms to lift myself up a little, then the bookcase to raise myself to a standing position. Rich!

Most of use confuse making/having money / wealth as in assets that can be sold-turned into money and being rich.  This confusion leaves us livings as ‘beggars’ rather than ‘gods’.  Even the wealthiest man shows up as a ‘beggar’ in his being if he yearns to make more money. The poorest man is rich in his being if he is satisfied with the money he makes, the money/wealth he has.  Wondering what it is that I am talking about / getting at?

I invite you to allow your eyes/heart/soul to be opened-touched by watching this short video – please watch it to the very end:

I invite you to consider that those of us who show up as ‘rich in our being’ are a source of inspiration to our fellow human beings. Through the richness of our being we leave our fellow human beings deeply touched such that they are moved to ask “A hug brother?”.  What is it that they wish to hug?  The very best of us – each of us – our common humanity:  our universal brother/sisterhood with our fellow human beings, with life itself’.  This is beautifully expressed in the words of the samosa seller in this video:

“Sir, I don’t need Rs1000. What I make with my efforts is enough for me. Give this [Rs1000] to someone more needy than me.”

I ask that you/i play BIG. I ask that you/i choose to refashion our being to be as rich as the being of this samosa seller. As with everything, this is an invitation you/i can choose to take up or not.

At your service | with my love

maz

Play BIG: Choose Being Over Having


When do you find yourself alive – truly alive as in bursting with enthusiasm, joy, vitality?  Is it when you have donned on the costume of the successful Vice President? Or the up and coming Manager? Or the good corporate employee?  Is it when you are playing the perfect wife/husband?  Are you bursting with joy when you look at all that you own: the house, the car/s, the clothes, the children, your partner…?  Is it when you are sitting on the right committees?

When do you find yourself alive – truly alive?  Is it when you are cooking, composing a musical score, climbing a mountain, dancing, give a helping hand to those less fortunate than you, learning-speaking a new language, sharing-teaching that which you are passionate about, nursing plants out in the garden, out walking, painting, writing…?

I invite you to listen to listen, really listen, to the following words of profound wisdom. They do not make for easy listening. Which is why they are particularly worth listening to with an inquisitive-open mind:

The less you are and the less you express of your life – the more you have and the greater is your alienated life.

– Karl Marx

Don’t simply accept this! Take a zen approach: look into it and test it out for yourself. How much of you – your authenticity, your self-expression – do you sacrifice-suppress to play the roles that you play in order to have that you have? Do you even remember the last time that you experienced joy? I invite you to consider that you have been asked and have consented to sacrifice you – be less you – in order to be accepted and approved of by your parents, your siblings, your friends, your school teachers, your work colleagues, your employers…

Your life, your choice: being (as your natural self-expression) or having (titles, status, money, holidays..).

 

Play BIG: Be Strong, Give Into Life, Give Into Love, Give Into Hope, Give Into Trust..


Back has been troublesome for two weeks now. Pain. Pain. Pain. Difficulty sleeping. Difficulty sitting. Difficulty moving. Quality of living lacking that quality that goes with good health. Took action to loosen back and cheer myself up: listened to long forgotten dance music.

Came across Lysa Stansfield singing People Hold On. Find the lyrics soulful: meaningful-moving-inspiring.  I share them with you standing in the possibility of being a source of contribution to you on this beautiful day:

Everybody’s looking for a meaning
Everybody’s doing their own thing
And nobody’s solving the problem
Ain’t nobody helping each other

Some people give into fear
Some people give into hunger
Some of us live for the future
And some of us wonder

Givin’ into life, givin’ into love
Maybe there’s enough for everyone
Givin’ into hope, and into trust
Maybe there’s enough for everyone

People hold on
Don’t do yourself wrong
People hold on
We’ve got to be strong
People hold on

Everybody’s getting frustrated
Why should we live with this hatered
We’ve all dancin’ on a thin line
They’re makin’ out we’re having a good time
So who’s gonna give us the answer
Sister and brother

Givin’ into life, givin’ into love
Maybe there’s enough for everyone

People hold on
Don’t do yourself wrong
People hold on
We’ve got to be strong
People hold on

People hold on, people hold on to it
you know you gotta do it

Givin’ into life, givin’ into love
Maybe there’s enough for everyone
Givin’ into hope, and into trust
Maybe there’s enough for everyone

People hold on
Don’t do yourself wrong
People hold on
We’ve got to be strong
People hold on