Joy-Sorrow: An Existential Meditation


It is 8 am. I am on holiday. Two of the people who matter the most – Marco, Clea – are here on holiday with me. And, I cannot help but notice that sorrow is present in the house of my being. It’s a sorrow that leaves me unavailable to listen to up tempo songs / music. It’s a sorrow in the presence of which any and all dance (that resides within me) has vanished.

Not Joy, Not Sorrow, Only Joy/Sorrow

We tend to think, indeed we are brought up to think, that there is joy and there is sorrow – as discreet entities. From an existential perspective, this is not the case. It’s better to refer to them as one unit – joy/sorrow – like two sides of a coin. For only if one experiences sorrow can one appreciate/value the presence of joy. And, only if one has experienced joy that one can truly experience/feel genuine sorrow.

When joy is present, as in you find yourself joyous, what is your response? Is it not to accept it and live: just be joyous, enjoy being joyous, and share your joy with others.

So what is the appropriate response to sorrow? It occurs to me that it is accept it when it arrives. Allow it to be there – for me to experience all that comes with sorrow. Be patient – allow sorrow to do its work. And, to learn – learn that which sorrow has to teach me about myself, about others, and about the world. Today, I am choosing to share my experience and learning with you. Why? No reason other than it’s the best use I can make of my sorrow – to dive into it and see what I can learn.

A Critical Existential Need: To Be Understood, Accepted, and Valued

I am unusual. I am odd. I am a maverick……Take your pick, it amounts to the same thing. And, the consequence has been a life long feeling of loneliness – a kind of loneliness not filled by the presence of people in my life. I made peace with this a long long time ago. Explains why it is I have over a thousand books. And, only a handful of friends – good friends.

Recently on an online course on Uncertainty and Complexity, I found that this loneliness was no longer absent. In its place joy is present – a kind that I have never known before. Why? The joy of being understood by another human being. An understanding that has allowed me to share that which I have not shared with any other – for no other was in a position to really listen to it and get it.

It occurs to me that at an existential level, the longing to be understood – truly understood – is a deep one for all of us. It is so deep, that I find the following quote resonates with me:

“Some people underestimate how erotic it is to be understood” – Mary Rakow

If one can be both understand AND valued on the basis of that understanding then that is, in a sense, the whole deal. It doesn’t get any better. Why? In a sense that is the fullest-deepest sense of being loved: seen, understood, accepted, valued.

What Brings Sorrow To The House Of My Being?

It occurs to me, that for me, there is no sorrow like that of being misunderstood by someone who truly matters. What makes it sorrow rather than mere sadness is this: the fact that my conduct arising from good intent has been seen and treated as something other than that which it is. That I am so misunderstood is especially difficult to bear when it is one or more of my children who misunderstand me.

Allow me to give an example and make this come alive. Yesterday, on the way back from Lugano to Central Switzerland, my son Marco insisted upon driving. I told him that it was a 2 hour drive – some of it tricky and that he needed to make sure that he was willing to concentrate. And, using a moderate (Swiss) driving style rather than his aggressive English driving style. He agreed – no conditions, just agreement. All was going well until we arrived at the Gotthard tunnel.

In the tunnel, I noticed he was driving too close to the car in front. So, I asked him to stick to the speed limit (80km/h) and the requisite distance 150m. And, asked gently but firmly. Marco did not take this well. The opposite – told me not to tell him how to drive. I did not take this well either. And, I shut my mouth as there is no point arguing with he who is absolutely convinced he is right. And, that you are the fool.

We arrive at Fluelen in Central Switzerland. The road is carved into the side of the mountain. It bends. And, it is not that wide. So attention to the road and to the driving conditions is required. There, right there, is Lake Luzern – so close that you can practically touch it. Suddenly I saw myself shouting “Watch out!” Why? Because the car was headed into the mountain. Why? Because Marco was looking at the lake.

How did Marco react? With a thanks? No. That is – often – asking too much of us human beings: it requires owning up to the fact that we are messing up or have messed up. Instead, I got a lecture on: how I scared him; how I over-reacted; on what a burden it is to drive my car under the conditions I impose and so on.

How To Deal With This Sorrow?

The Existential philosopher make a BIG deal of freedom. Particularly, that whilst we do not get to choose what happens to us, we ALWAYS get to choose our interpretation (the story we make about what has happened to us). And we get to choose how we show up (attitude) and travel (behaviour/actions) given that which has happened.

So, I am choosing to:

1-Just be with that which has occurred;

2-Not allow my son to drive my car. If he wishes to drive a car here he can simply rent one, he has more than enough money to do so. Further, I am even prepared to pay the rental; and

3-Not go in a car that he drives as often I do not feel safe with his way of driving.

I do not know how he will take this, and that I accept too. And, I am clear that I have made the choice. And in making this choice I find peace – even a smile on my face.

If you have followed me here, to the end, then I thank you for your listening. I wish you the best – may you live well, live beautifully. Until the next time….

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….

Playing BIG Necessarily Involves Becoming Masterful at Story


If you, or I, wish to play BIG then it is essential that one understands, deeply, the following:

  • Reality (that which is – void of language) v the Story (that which has been invented by humans);
  • Event (that which has occurred) v the Story one tells (to oneself, to others) about that which occurred; and
  • That the way out of Story (the default story) is through Story. (the story that one constructs thoughtfully).

Distinguishing Reality From Story

Let’s start with this passage from Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

‘It’s completely natural,’ I say, ‘to think of Europeans who believed in ghosts or Indians who believed in ghosts as ignorant people. The scientific point of view has wiped out every other view….It’s just all but completely impossible to imagine a world where ghosts can actually exist.’

‘My own view is that the intellect of modern man isn’t that superior….Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know…”

‘Laws of nature are human inventions, like ghosts. Laws of logic, of mathematics, are also human inventions, like ghosts. The whole blessed thing is a human invention, including the idea that it isn’t a human invention…..It’s run by ghosts. We see what we see because these ghosts show it to us, ghosts of Moses and Christ and the Buddha, and Plato, and Descartes, and Rousseau and Jefferson and Lincoln, on and on and on…..Your common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past…”

What is it that we, human beings, excel at?

  • Inventing stories, telling stories, listening/being seduced by stories (Culture, Religion, Science, Politics, Business…); and
  • Forgetting that these stories are human inventions and thus mistaking Story (our inventions) for Reality (that which is void of language).

So the way out of the cage of Story (Scientific worldview, Culture, Religion, Tribe….) starts with being aware and mindful of our automatic tendency to live in/from Story.  And then doing something about this. Doing what?  Work with you through this conversation and you will find this out.

Distinguishing Event From Story

December 2018, I am on the phone with an ex-colleague, a friend, and a person whom I admire, and to whom I am grateful.  It became clear to me that he was somewhat troubled. By what?  Ex-colleagues of his (and mine) with the same abilities/experience (or less) had gone on to bigger roles in other companies.  Whilst this colleague-friend was operating pretty much at the same level he had been operating at for many years.

Let’s take a look at this matter through the Event v Story distinction. What Event/s occurred? He learned that some of his ex-colleagues were now in senior-ish roles in other companies. What is the Story that he found himself entrapped inside of?  Something like this: “I used to be the same (or more senior) as these colleagues. Now I am less than them.  Is there something wrong with me?  Am I letting myself down by not being hungry/ambitious?  Will I regret that I did not strive for me whilst I have it in me to strive for me and get more?  Am I a failure?”

Do you see the difference between Event and Story?  Event is simply that which occurred –  in this case, colleagues had gone to other companies and landed senior-ish roles. Story is that which this ex-colleague-friend had made this Event mean about himself, others, the world.  Pure invention.

The Way Out of Story is  Always Through Story!

When it comes to Story we can invent anything! We are constrained only by our imagination.  So here’s the story I invented for my ex-colleague/friend:

“Where are you working from today? Home right. And for most of the time, you get to work from home right? So you are not wasting 2 hours+ traveling to work. And so avoiding all the hassle that goes with that. Right? Whereas many people aren’t given this choice.  So you are on to a good thing. And yet, from time to time, you get to travel to interesting places – like your work/travel to the USA this year.  So you get the best of both worlds! Right?

Let’s take a look at your financial situation. You are in your 40s yet are earning more than £100k.  And, let’s be honest, this is easy money. You know and I know that the work that you do you can do almost in your sleep.  So you are earning over £100k without breaking a sweat.  Right?  What does this mean for non-work life?  Doesn’t it mean that you have plenty of time/energy/money to do that which you love to do?

Do you need more money? No, right?  You are earning. Your partner is earning. You do not have children. And you go on expensive holidays to wherever you want, as often as you want within your holiday entitlement. Right?  How many people get to do this?  How many people would die for that which you take for granted?

So, if you say/insist that success is having the title (seniority) and possibly the money and stress that goes with that then yes you are right: you are not successful.  And so I can get why it is that you are questioning your worth.

However, if, like me, you say that success is living a balanced life where you have time, energy, money, and people who matter around you then you are a success!  An unquestionable success.  And, there is so much for you to be grateful for.

So now, it’s up to you to choose the Story that you are going to embrace and live from. The Story you have shared with me. The Story that I have just shared with you.  Or a third Story – one that you will invent for yourself as a result of this conversation between us.”

So my ‘friend’ if you have stuck with me in this conversation, I ask you to invent for yourself a Story that leaves you in a position of power to be the kind of person you wish to be, and to live the kind of life you wish to live.  You do not have to settle for the Story that has been handed down to you, and within you find yourself entrapped. You can break out of this cage.

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

Playing Big Starts With Exercising Our Agency


Let’s begin this conversation with a definition of agency so that you and I are clear about that which I am speaking:

In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure is those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions.

What’s the default? Playing small.  How does one play small?  I say it goes something like this:

  • Poor me what a difficult/helpless situation I find myself in;
  • It’s his/her/their fault that I am in this situation;
  • What I can I do? Nothing – there nothing I can do as I am insignificant/small compared to that which i am up against;
  • If only this/that, he/she, we/they, were to change;
  • I’ve just got to accept the situation and live with it as best as I can.

Notice, this way of showing up / operating in the world is to put all the power (agency) in the structure (gender, upbringing, social class, culture….) and exercise zero agency.  This is a sound way of showing up / operating if you/I are content with playing the victim: feeling sorry for oneself, and complaining about that which is so, and seeking to elicit sympathy for those willing to grant sympathy. If this is working for you as in giving you the kind of existence that you truly wish for then so be it. You can stop here.

If you truly want to play BIG then I say this: start this new year by exercising agency in whatever situation/circumstance you find yourself in.  What do I mean by exercising agency?  It’s this:

  1. Here I am in a situation that does not work for me as it is not in tune with who I say I am, and the kind of life I wish to live;
  2. If this situation is going to change for the better then I have to act – do something that will cause the change that I desire;
  3. What is it that I can do right now, no matter how small, that introduces a change (no matter how small) in the situation I find myself in?
  4. I do that which I can do, and I do this right now; and
  5. I go back to (1) above – taking a good look at the situation as it is after I have done that which I could do the last time around.

When one of my best friends found that he had terminal brain cancer he played BIG. Over the course of the 10 months, he went from being an able adult to a one that is helpless (at the mercy of others) lying in hospice bed awaiting death.  I’d catch up with him every week – by phone, and face to face on Saturdays.  No matter where he was on this journey of decline/death he focussed on the agency that was still left to him. He focussed on what he could do to effect/shape the situation he found himself in.

Does this mean that he was blind to his loss? No!  He was aware of his loss – the loss that he had already incurred, and the loss that was awaiting him.  Sure, he grieved for his losses like losing his independence – he could no longer drive, nor ride a bicycle, nor even go shopping as his left visual field had been knocked out so he simply did not see things.  No, he did not wallow in his helplessness.  He grieved – even cried now and then.  Then he got back to showing up and operating as the author of his life – exercising whatever agency remained to him in the here and now.

As always the choice lies with you and me.  Does one play small (play victim as in “Poor me…”) or does one choose to show up and operate as the author of one’s life – to exercise agency, to do something about that which matters?  Remember this:  you and I can have either the results that we desire, or settle for excuses and complaints.

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

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: Listen To / Embrace The Wisdom Of Viktor Frankl (Part 1)


If you/i are to play BIG and experience ourselves living a vital-vibrant existence then I say you/i can help ourselves by listening to, embracing-embodying the wisdom of Viktor Frankl.  In today’s conversation I share some of this wisdom with you.  I urge you to make the time to watch and truly listen to the following.

Heed The Most Fundamental and Basic Concern of Man

“What is the most fundamental and basic concern of man? Neither pleasure nor happiness. Neither power nor prestige. But, originally, and basically, his wish, his desire to find and fulfil a meaning in his life, or for that matter, in each single life situation confronting him.

And if there is a meaning to fulfil, if he is aware, if he becomes cognizant of such a meaning then he is ready to suffer, he’s ready to offer sacrifices, he’s ready to undergo tension, stress and so forth without any harm being done to his health. But if there is no meaning available, no meaning in his visual field then he takes his life.

Meaning can be found everywhere, in the smallest hut, on the other you can find people who are millionaires .. and billionaires, they have no meaning, they kill themselves….”

Bypassing The Snare Of Self Actualisation, Embracing Self Transcendence

“.. what a individual, a human being needs, is … self-transcendence. That is to say, being concerned with one’s self or one’s one prestige or one’s own happiness is self defeating.….. I deem that ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a contradiction in terms. Because happiness can never really be pursued. Happiness must ensue. Happiness is a side effect, happiness is a byproduct and must remain a byproduct of meaning fulfilment. Of your dedication to a task, a cause greater than yourself, or a person other than yourself…..

The more you give yourself, the more you forget yourself, in love or in work, for the sake of a cause to serve or a person to love, to the very extent you will become happy precisely by not caring for happiness. Precisely by overlooking and forgetting you are happy or not.

It is the same as with the boomerang ….. I had the insight that this is the very symbol of human existence, and the self transcendent quality of the human reality. Because usually … we assume that it is the job of the boomerang to fulfil is to return to the hunter. “That’s not true” the Australian’s told me. Because only that boomerang returns to the hunter, that boomerang that in the first place had failed the target .. the prey. It is the same with man. Only the type of people so intent on themselves and so eager to contemplate to observe themselves, to actualise themselves, to interpret themselves, who in the first place had missed, not a target, but a mission in their life. Who had not found a meaning outward of them. Or a human being other than themselves.

This is self-transcendence. Not being primarily concerned with oneself but something other than oneself. Or, still better, someone other than oneself. Man becomes himself, man is actualising himself, man is human, precisely to the extent man is not concerned with himself or anything to do with himself. But living out his self-transcendence.”

Playing BIG: Largely A Matter Of Giving Up, Not Of Self-Development


Many of us stop ourselves from playing BIG in life because we have bought into misleading stories about what it is, and what it takes, to play BIG in life.  Most of us take the stand that to play BIG (in life) one needs to develop oneself – this stand (which is at the same time a limitation) suits the personal development industry.  Is it a truth that in order to play BIG one needs to develop oneself? At best it is a half-truth; any half-truth is a misleading one.

I say that playing BIG is NOT a matter of personal-development. I say that playing BIG is almost exclusively a matter of GIVING UP. Giving up what?  Giving up that which you/i put in the way of you/i playing BIG in life.  How best to brings this to life?  Allow me to tell you a story – a real story.

Allow me to start with the context first.  Yesterday, wife and the two ‘boys’ left for France in the early hours of the morning. My teenage daughter’s plan was to spend the weekend with her cousin. As there was a fire that broke out at her cousin’s on Friday evening, my daughter found herself with me.  So on Friday evening I asked my daughter (Clea) what she wanted to do on Saturday. Her answer “Go shopping!”.  I didn’t want to go shopping – spend Saturday in shopping malls with lots of people. And if I was going to do it then I was determined to make it the least hassle possible. So Clea and I agreed that we would leave at 8:30am so that we could be at the town centre for 9:00 – hopefully when many people might still be asleep.

Saturday morning came: half past eight in the morning and daughter is still sleeping. So I got busy doing my stuff saying to myself that I had honoured my side of the bargain. At 10:15 my daughter came down. I was reading. She asked to go shopping. I was confronted with choice: to be right, to make her wrong for not keeping her promise, to refuse to take her shopping, or to accept her request.  I gave up my sense of righteousness. I gave up my desire to teach her a lesson on what happens when one does not honour one’s word. I gave up my desire to complete that which I was doing. And in giving up, I told my daughter I was ready to go shopping with her whenever she was ready.

What allowed me to give these things up and accept Clea’s request? I was committed to co-creating a wonderful day together – a day where she experienced the love of her father (me).  What kind of commitment: no matter what kind of commitment – whatever I have to put into the game I am committed to putting in the game, whatever sacrifice is necessary I am committed to making that sacrifice.

We arrived in the town centre and my daughter led me forward into her shopping trip. Normally, when I am dragged shopping, wife-daughter-‘boys’ enter the shop and I stand outside.  This time, Clea wanted me inside the shops with her, so I entered the shop and stood beside her. And importantly took an interest (got involved) in what she was doing: choosing presents for others.  To do this I found myself having to give up this thought “I am no good at choosing presents. Choosing presents is a waste of time as at least 50% of the time we get it wrong. And then the other person has to fake liking the present.”

I am looking at the sales assistants in the store – all female – as they serve customers at the counter.  One of them is alive – really alive – and she is serving Clea.  She smiles, she has a song in her voice she is warm, she is animated… When she finishes serving Clea (with a smile), I find myself saying “You are an original. Thank you for being an original. You have made my day. I wish you a great Christmas and the very best for 2015.”  She beams; it occurs to me that I might just have made her day simply by acknowledging her greatness.

What did it take for me to do that  – to speak up, to acknowledge in the midst of many people?  I gave up my fear that Clea would think I was flirting with this young lady. I gave up my fear that I would embarrass this young lady. I gave up my fear that this young lady would think I was hitting on her …. I gave up my concerns and fears.

It is the evening. Clea and I are at home and she tells me that she would like to eat pizza. She wants to sit with me, eat pizza, drink coke, and watch X Factor.  So I go onto the internet, find the phone number for Papa John’s (as she likes Papa John’s pizza) and I order two large pizzas and a bottle of coke for 8:30 when X Factor starts.  Thereafter, we spent a delightful evening in each others company: sitting on the sofa, eating pizza, drinking coke, and watching the X Factor. It showed up as one of the best evenings I have ever spent with Clea.

What was the access to the evening turning out as it turned out – great? A large part of it involved me giving stuff up. What kind of stuff? I gave up my fixed view that pizza is junk food. I gave up my view that coke rots your teeth. I gave up my insistence that one does not eat food sitting on the sofa – one eats food sitting at the dining table with no television!

Was this giving my stuff worth it?  Yesterday was the best day I have spent with my daughter for a long long time. It is day that I will cherish to the end of my days. As for Clea she hugged me and told me that it had been a wonderful day. I think she said something like “I love you daddy, I’ve really enjoyed by day with you”.

Summing up:

The access to playing BIG in life right now – today – is giving up that you/i lack anything to play BIG.  It is giving up the dominant myth that you/i have to do some personal development before we are ready to play BIG.  No! All it takes to play big is to step into future possibility with absolute commitment and give up all that stands in the way of walking the path: fixed ways of being (personality, habits), cherished beliefs, and fears.

When you step into playing BIG you will find that all the learning and development that is necessary, will simply occur.  Put differently, you do not develop-learn first then play BIG. No! You play BIG and with that playing BIG you develop and learn all that is necessary. Phil Crosby, the quality guru, in advocating a particular way of being in the organisational world used to say that if you took on that way of being in the world then “Quality is free.”  I say that if you play BIG in life then “Learning and self-development is free.”

I suggest that you play BIG in life from the stand that you are ‘whole-complete-perfect’. What do I mean? That you are – just as you are and are not – all that is necessary to play BIG in life. You are an awesome ‘learning and creating machine’ that learns and often creates all that is necessary when there is a fierce will to accomplish something worth causing: a possibility that leaves you touched-moved-inspired-elevated.

I invite you to consider that playing BIG in life is both transformation (as in one’s lived experience of oneself and life is transformed) and leadership (as in one shows the way for others to follow in one’s way of being).

 

Play BIG: Go Beyond Wealth And Fame, Fulfil The Purpose Of Your Life


During the course of a birthday celebration party I found myself talking with a young lady: Justine. Turns out that Justine is in her final year of her degree in politics. She has spent one year of her studies in Australia. She loves to ‘party’. She loves travel. She loves nature. And wants to save the environment….

After a little time, when I say her conscious guard was down, I heard the following words: “rich and famous”. Deep down what Justine wants, what really matters, is to be rich and famous.  This got me thinking.

It occurs to me that there are myriad ways of playing small. Of these three occur to me as dominant in the time-place in which I find myself living. The first is the life of ‘das man’ – the anyone: fitting in, going along, steadily-persistently climbing the corporate ladder, and doing that which one does for the everyday life that one has.  The second, is kind of like dropping out of the so called ‘rat race’: ‘finding oneself’, travelling, volunteering, doing drugs, crime…. The third is wanting wealth and fame: rich and famous.

I get that the third one does not look like playing small in life. So why is it that I say it is playing small?  Because it occurs to me to be a small-shallow conception of what it is to be human-being.  Is there no grander vision-stand for being human, and the fullness of human living, then “rich and famous”?

I invite you to listen to the following words. Listen to these words not as a truth, or the truth. Listen to these words as a place to stand, a place to operate from, a place to live into and from. Listen to these words as opening for a grander-nobler possibility for being human and living fully. Listen:

Man is born to fulfil the purpose of his life; he is made to prove he is a human being: a person who can be relied upon, a person whose word carries authority, who uses thought and consideration, whom one can trust with one’s secret; a person who will not humiliate himself under any conditions, who will lose his life rather than humble himself, who will not deceive or cheat anybody, who will never go back on his word; a person who will carry through what he has once undertaken. All these qualities make a human being.”

– Hazrat Inayat Khan

Do you find yourself ennobled by this conception of what it is to be a human-being? Do you find yourself inspired-uplifted by this conception of wo/man?  If you still have doubts, then I leave you with the following words:

Today our condition is such that we cannot believe in one another’s word. We have to stamp on a contract. Why are we in such a condition? Because we are not evolving towards the ideal ancient people had….. Human beings live only from day to day, striving and working for a loaf of bread. that is all. But is that all there is in life, to earn a loaf of bread. In that case we are no better than the animals in the forest, and even they appear better than we. Rich and poor, all are wretched in every walk of life, whether it be business, a profession, or politics, because there is nothing but competition between individuals, nations, parties and communities. We have made our lives wretched.

What are we here for? If we were born only to meditate and to be spiritual, than we had better go into the forests and into the caves of the mountains: it would not be necessary to be in the world. If we had only to live as the animals do, we could do as the worldly person is mostly doing today …..

How strange it is that there is such a large population in this world and that there are so few personalities! Think of that greek philosopher who went about with a lighted lantern in daytime. People asked, “What are you looking for?” He said, ” For a human being.”

– Hazrat Inayat Khan

Play BIG: Give Up Cynicism, Embrace Possibility & Greatness


For the purposes of this conversation when I speak ‘big’ I am pointing at a combination of the following: standing for a possibility and/or set of values; and how one shows up and travels in life – one’s being.

Let’s being the conversation.

What kind of a being is human-being? Wiser folk than I have pointed out that man is being-in-the-world-with-others. How is this relevant to the game of playing big in life?

It occurs to me that there is only so much that you/i can do on our own.  There is a limit to how much work I can do just by myself. There is a limit to the impact I can make if the only person that I can count on is myself.  Which is my way of saying that any game, no matter how big I say it is, is small if the only person involved in playing that game is myself.

Put differently, truly playing BIG, and in standing for possibility that in some way-form creates a ‘better world’, involves one’s fellow human beings in playing BIG.  So how I relate to and stand in relation to my fellow human being matters.

What are the choices?  Is the default, the choice that is in play – in me, in the culture I find myself in – one of cynicism?

“Cynicism is perhaps a rational response to despair, but it is one of the most corrosive of human states.….. The cynic will sigh knowingly and say “That’s just the way the world works. Humans are essentially corrupt and selfish – pretending otherwise is just naive.” In that way they justify constraints and rationalise limits.”

– Dr Jeff Sutherland, SCRUM

What is the alternative? What stance can I live from that opens up a world of possibility and unites me with my fellow human beings in playing for BIG possibilities?

“Over the last two decades I have delved deeply into the literature of what makes greatness. The surprising answer is that, fundamentally, humans want to be great. People want to do something purposeful – to make the world, even if just in a small way, a better place.”

– Dr Jeff Sutherland, SCRUM

If I choose to show up and travel in life from this stance towards my fellow human beings then what it there for me to do to call forth this greatness that typically lies dormant in many of us?

“The key is getting rid of what stands in their way, removing the impediments to their becoming who they are capable of becoming.”

– Dr Jeff Sutherland, SCRUM

Personally, I’d rewrite this. How so?  I would rewrite it as:

“The key is getting rid of what stands in their way, removing the impediments to their becoming who they already are at the core of their being.”

It occurs to me that the world gives the label ‘leader’ to s/he who calls forth the greatness of others in the service of possibilities that create-leave the world a better place for us.

Who Am I? Who Are You?


What Kind Of A Being Is A Human Being?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Am I? 

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

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

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

Let’s make this concrete:

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you get the idea.

Who are you?

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

I invite you to notice the following:

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

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

I leave you with this quote from Lynne Twist:

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

If You Wish To Play Big Then Show Up And Travel In This Manner


It occurs to me that almost all of us, for almost all the time, live as slaves and/or victims.  What are we slaves of? Of reward and punishment. Of praise and blame.

We are slaves of  appreciation, of validation, of praise, of inclusion, of reward.  These leave us feeling good (and BIG) about ourselves and our place-role the world.  They can and often do elevate us from the ‘hell to heaven’.

We are also slaves of blame, criticism, ridicule, exclusion and punishment. These leaves us feeling bad (and SMALL) about ourselves and our place-role in the world. They can and usually do ‘snatch us from heaven and leave us in hell’ sometimes for long periods of time.

As I said you/i/we live as victims. Victims of whom/what? Victims of the people who around us whose opinions matter. Victims of the prevailing conventions and standards around what constitutes a normal-good-successful person.  Let me be clear, the ‘gate-less gate’ (to use a Buddhist expression) will never open for you/i if you/i continue to choose to live like slaves and victims.

It occurs to me that those of who choose to play BIG in life are asked to show up and travel in life in a particular manner. What kind of manner?  I leave you with a quote that points at that which I speak of:

I remember days of difficult labour in a spiritual school where we were encouraged to keep a balanced attention through all kinds of situations. I was given the task of grooming a horse.

From mane to tail, from hooves right up, I worked for hours.

Then the teacher came and after a brief inspection said, “Very poor job, superficial and sloppy.” He and I watched as my heart sank.

But then something rebounded: I knew I had done my best; I knew that I could not be a slave to reward or blame. In that moment, I saw the twinkle in his eye as he turned and left. 

– Kabir Edmund Helminski, Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness & The Essential Self

I say that you/i grant ourselves the space to play BIG in life as soon as (and for as long as) you/i show up and travel in this world in a manner that calls to us, walk on the paths that calls us, travel towards destinations/outcomes that call us. And irrespective of what others say and how they treat us, we ask ourselves the following question: “Am I showing up and travelling in life in a manner where in my being-doing I am giving it my all? “

If the honest answer is “Yes!” then I say you/i can be at peace with whatever shows up: reward, punishment, praise, blame, inclusion, exclusion..

If the honest answer is “No” then I say this answer is an opportunity to look into what is missing the presence of which would allow you/i to say “Yes!”.  Is it that the path no longer calls you/me?  Is it that you/i are simply in need of some rest, some time out, to energise?  Is it that you/i need to get creative about generating a different way of travelling the path?

I ask you to play BIG!  I ask you to show and travel in a manner that calls to you. I ask you to be OK with doing your best. I ask the same of myself.

It occurs to me that there is more to say. So I invite you to consider the following as a place to show up and operate from:

  • Only the imperfect demand perfection of themselves in order to feel perfect; and
  • The access to perfection is being OK with your imperfection AND giving your living all the you have to give AND being OK with knowing that you did and are doing your best.

The Opening Of Possibility In The Presence Of Misfortune


“My knowledge of the self-healing qualities of misfortune with a shocking injury to my spine that left me lying helplessly…… I would never again do any sustained carpentry or turn clover under in the garden … I would never backpack ….. I would never nail another ceiling…….

The life I had lived all those years was impossible now and I had no option but to let it go. And in that yielding I saw more clearly than ever before what ceilings and walls I had been building all these years.

I saw that I had tried to construct my life as I had built this house, with some fixed and lasting sense of myself nailed securely in place.  I saw that no life so constructed could be held secure against the exigencies of time and circumstance, that I must inevitably exhaust myself in futile maintenance of such a structure.A lifetime of certainties fell about me in disrepair. I could no longer conceptualize who I was, and in that very loss the healing was found.

….. I found myself on a prominence that lay an unobstructed horizon about me on all sides. I turned slowly, 360 degrees. In all that space there was nothing, not even a trace of the very steps that had bought me there, to suggest where one might go next. I understood that I could, at that moment, walk in any of all possible directions. 

We invent ourselves that we might know who we are and what we are to be. But the consistency we seek in these inventions can’t be maintained against the fabulous inconsistency of actuality. Sensing this, we clutch at cherished constants ever more urgently. The builder of the house of ego can never rest, for he is ever at work to control outcomes and limit alternatives. His structure makes its appeal to our longing for the familiar and the safe, but in the end, he delivers only diminishment. I am weary of maintenance.”

– Lin Jensen (The Best Buddhist Writing 2006)

 

 

 

Distinguishing Between An ‘Easy’ Life And A Rich One


It occurs to me that if you/i are to play BIG then we need to become skilful at distinguishing. Today I want to distinguish between an easy-comfortable life and a rich one.

The Default: The Lure Of The Easy-Comfortable Life

To a large degree the promise and lure of technology is that it will rid our lives of hassle, save us time, and free us up to focus on what really matters.  So it is not surprising that we lap up every new technology even though, on the whole, we do not find ourselves living/experiencing richer lives.

What is going on here? Let’s take a look at the phenomena. What do we do with the emptiness-space created by new technology?  We fill it up!  What is it that we fill it up with?  We fill it up with some form of junk: browsing the internet, reading trashy magazines/novels, hanging out on social media sites, watching tv, hanging out in the pub with the same crowd doing the same stuff, eating more food then we need just to entertain ourselves…..

Why do we free up time only to fill it up with junk?  Take a good look at the context.  We have been conditioned and have become comfortable to living from the context of ease-comfort. Being addicted to the easy-lazy life, we embrace technology to take out more of the challenges-problems-effort from our lives. When that does happen we are too lazy to use the freed up time-space to do anything other than that which is easy/comfortable for us.

What does this all amount to? I say the lure of an easy-comfortable life is addictive especially in our cultural context. And it is vicious trap.  The easier-comfortable we make our living, the more we invite banality and boredom into the experience of living.

Allow me to put it bluntly: a life without challenges/problems ends up being experienced as a problem!  

What Does A Rich Life Look Like?

It occurs to me that a rich life is full of challenges-problems that call forth the best in us: our ingenuity in grappling with, learning from, and overcoming challenges-problems.

This was brought home to me recently when I was discussing consulting engagements.  I found myself saying that I like the difficult consulting engagements, the more complex/difficult the better. When I looked into this I found the following: the easy-comfortable consulting engagement show up as boring-dull. They lack that which calls me forth, keeps me on my toes, brings out the best in me, leaves me with a sense of satisfaction.

What’s missing from easy-comfortable consulting engagements?  Meaningful-worthy challenges-problems. And the sense of discovery, engagement, learning, mastery and satisfaction that goes with grappling with and overcoming challenges-problems.  Furthermore, I notice that when I am immersed in the challenging engagements, self disappears, the sense of time disappears….

Will any kind of challenge-problem do? Yes and no.

Yes, in that a life that lacks challenges-problems will inevitably be experienced as dull-boring-empty – you/i just need to give it enough time for the ‘honeymoon’ period to be over.

No, in that the challenges-problems that show up as relevant-meaningful are those that we encounter when we travel the path that we find our innermost selves called to travel.  So if you find yourself called to travel the path of turning conflict into peace then it is the challenges-problems that get in the way of you travelling your path are the ones that matter. Why? Because if these challenges-problems did not exist then you would simply-quickly reach your objective. Game over. Then you are left with a sense of emptiness in your experience of living.

Summing Up

It occurs to me that you/i are mistaken in striving for the easy-comfortable life if by taking this path we expect to experience aliveness-joy-fulfillment.  This path can only leave you/me experiencing a sense of boredom-dissatisfaction-emptiness in the longer term when the glamour of ease-comfort has fallen from our eyes.

It occurs to me that the access to the experience of aliveness-joy-fulfillment-freedom is going for and living a rich life: a life lived on the path of possibility where plenty of challenges-problems (small and big) show up and which call us to be BIG in grappling with them and overcoming them. And even if we do not overcome them, we have experienced  a meaningful existence, a rich life.

Is it possible to mix up a rich life with an easy-comfortable one? It occurs to that the answer is yes. Here I am reminded of my trekking days when it would take time, awareness, attention to detail and considerable effort to trek up a mountain. And upon arriving at the peak, usually tired-exhausted, I’d take time out to simply enjoy the scenery, eat-drink-sleep. And then get ready for the next trek.

 

Distinguishing Between ‘Being With’ And ‘Understanding’


When is it appropriate to simply ‘be with’ (experience) the phenomena and when is it appropriate to dive into that which shows up and strive to understand it?

Let’s start with exploring ‘Understanding’ as a mode of being (showing up) and operating (travelling) in the world. Why? Because it occurs to me that is the dominant mode of being in the Western world where I find myself living.

A Brief Exploration Of Understanding

Something occurs and we strive to understand.  What exactly does that mean? As I look into my lived experience it occurs to me that when we are involved in ‘understanding’ we are involved in:

– seeking to figure out why something occurred and specifically we are looking for the cause of that which occurred;

– seeking to figure out the mechanics (the machinery behind) that which occurred – how the various elements interacted to generate that which occurred; and/or

– seeking to figure out (predict) how some event is likely to play out, the path that will be travelled and the outcomes that will generated.

Whilst all three of these are possible, in everyday practice, when we are seeking to understand, we are seeking only to figure out cause and/or mechanics.

This mode of being (showing up) and operating (travelling) in the world has become dominant since the Enlightenment. And has been the means for us, the human race, to attain mastery over nature. Arguably, the mode of being is responsible for the length of our lives,  the quality of our health, the sexual liberation of women, our capacity to fly, to put men on the moon etc.

 A Brief Exploration of ‘Being With’

When you and I are ‘being with’ that which shows up, we are being present, to that which shows up and we experience as experiencing beings amidst the hurly-burly of life.  And not as ‘scientists’, standing apart from that which is occurring, and engaged in the task of figuring out that which lies behind that which has occurred or is occurring.

I get this may sound strange given that this is the not the normal way of talking. So, allow me to give life to this by sharing a lived experience.

A long time ago, that is how it occurs to me, I found myself managing a motor dealership that had gone into ‘receivership’ (Chapter 11 in the USA).  There I am sitting in the office dealing with paperwork. There is a knock on the door and the lady who plays the role of Receptionist, shows in a well built tall (very tall) man. Instantly, I found myself experiencing fear. Why?

At some level, I had picked up that the man in front of me was both strong and angry – very angry. His upset, his anger, was written all over his body. And I picked up that the Receptionist had ‘saved her skin’ by passing this man over to me.

Finding my wellbeing at stake, I found myself totally present. Being totally present, I talked to the man politely, invited him to sit down. Then I told him that I could see that he was really upset and invited him to tell me his story. Then I listened. And I empathised – with his experience of loss, of betrayal, of confusion and suffering. After about an hours conversation, I shook hands with the giant who was now gentle. And helped him as best as I could to file a claim against the business for the losses he had incurred.

At no time in this encounter-conversation did I find myself in the role of ‘scientist’ standing at a distance, looking at what was occurring, and attempting to figure out what had occurred.

That is how I would define ‘being with’: being attuned to the situation; dancing with that which occurs as it occurs; operating at the level of lived-felt experience; living it not figuring it out!

What Happens When We Mix Up These Modes of Being? 

Recently, it was my birthday. At the appointed time of celebration I was so excited. Why? I was looking forward to giving out the ‘gifts that I had brought’ for each person around the table.

With great delight I announced that I wanted to enter this phase of my life as I wish to live it: giving that which I could/had to give. Then I told everyone that I had a gift for them. And handed each person an envelope with his/her name on it. Once they got over their surprise, each opened his/her envelope, and found money in there.

What I was hoping to see-experience was joy: joy in the faces of these people. What I got was questions along the lines of is this some kind of joke? I assured all that it was not a joke, that the money they had in their hands was genuine gift from me to them on my birthday. Then the why questions started: why are doing this?

I found myself puzzled, distressed and mildly annoyed with questioning. Why? It occurred to me that in showing up and operating from the ‘Understanding’ mode of being-operating in the world, the people around the table had stripped the beauty from the act-experience of giving and receiving.

Furthermore, and most importantly, there was no adequate answer that I could provide that satisfied them. Why? Because there was no cause – nothing and nobody was causing me to do that which I was doing.  And there were no set of circumstance (the mechanics) that had come together to cause me to give people gifts on my birthday.

It was only when we gave up the ‘understanding’ mode of being, along with its questions, that the people around the table were able to experience the joy of receiving a gift that day. Only when they embraced the ‘being with’ receiving a gift was I able to experience the joy of giving that which I had given and had been looking forward to giving.

Why Distinguish between ‘Being With’ and ‘Understanding’?

If you have lost a loved one and  are in pain, suffering, grieving, crying. Then it is totally inappropriate for me to show up and operate from the mode of ‘Understanding’: to figure you out. What is appropriate is for me to ‘be with’ you being the way that you are being. And ‘dancing’ with you.  This may mean simply listening or it may mean touching you, hugging you, holding you and allowing you to hold me.  Arguably, that is the appropriate response to all those who are grieving over the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner.

There are also situations where the most appropriate mode of showing up and operating is that of ‘understanding’.  In the case of the disappeared Malaysian airliner, all who search for the black box do so from the context of ‘understanding’. The commitment is to figure out what happened. And importantly, to figure out what caused what happened.

When you and I use the right mode of being – such that it fits the context at hand – we increase the workability of our lives, the lives of our fellow human beings, and life itself.

What I see again and again is the inappropriate intrusion (or use) of the ‘understanding’ mode in the area of human relationships and relating. Too often we seek to ‘understand’ others when the most appropriate-fitting way of showing up is ‘being with’ the other person and the relationship as it is and is not.  Too often we strip nature-humanity-life of its beauty by using the the ‘understanding’ mode to explain that which it is most fitting to experience.

Take the love between a mother and her child. Can this ever be ‘understood’ and explained?  And even if it is ‘understood’ and explained, what does this understanding-explanation add to the experience of love?  Now think what shows up in your living if you simply show up and simply witness, be with, experience a mother’s love for her child: perhaps your mother’s love for you or your love for your child.

I dedicate this post to my friend Lonnie Mayne. Lonnie does not seek to understand me. He simply creates the space where he and I can simple ‘be with’ that which shows up in our conversation. What a privilege this is: to be granted a space to simple be. Thank you Lonnie, your existence makes a massive contribution to my existence.

 

Opening Ourselves To The Impossible And Living A Life Of Possibility


There is one scene, one dialogue, from the movie 12 Years A Slave that is etched in me.  Solomon Northup is an educated, free black man, who finds himself sold into slavery. He is being advised, to hide his education and play the dumb black man in order to survive. Solomon replies with great conviction “I don’t want to survive. I want to live!” 

It occurs to me that the difference between surviving and living is possibility: living into-from-out of possibility.  What is the difference?  I share with you some powerful, even life transforming passages, from Ellen Langer’s book Counter Clockwise:

In most of psychology, researchers describe what is. Often they do this with great acumen and creativity. But knowing what is and knowing what can be are not the same thing. My interest ….. is in what can be …… Small changes can make large differences, so we should open ourselves to the impossible …..

The psychology of possibility first requires that we begin with the assumption that we do not know what we can do or become. Rather than starting from the status quo, it argues for a starting point of what we would like to be. From that beginning, we can ask how we might reach that goal or make progress towards it. It’s a subtle change in thinking, although not difficult to make once we realise how stuck we are in culture, language, and modes of thought that limit our potential. I maintain that we don’t know even if we try, because when we try and fail, all we know is that the way we tried was not successful. We still do not know that it can’t be. 

The second step toward embracing a psychology of possibility …. is to try out different things without evaluating ourselves as we go along….. We would simply note whether or not the attempt was successful. Pursuing possibility regarding our health may result in the desired end, but in addition, pursuing the psychology of possibility is itself empowering. It feels good to have a personal mission, it contributes to a more positive outlook in general... As we actualise the possible we may find out other interesting things about ourselves and the world…

Too many of us believe that the world is to be discovered, rather than a product of our own construction and thus to be invented. We often respond as if we and/or the world around us are fixed, even when we agree in theory that we are not. We might sit uncomfortably in the bathroom each day without realising that we would feel better if we changed the height of the toilet….. We don’t go to the opera because of our glaucoma, when the experience of merely listening to the music could be extremely rich. There are many changes we would know how to make …. if it only occurred to us to ask.….. We imagine the stability of our mindsets to be the stability of the underlying phenomena, and so we don’t think to consider the alternatives.If we open up our minds, a world of possibility presents itself…..

If I had never wondered about what is possible, I never would have conducted the counterclockwise study and never witnessed the transformative power of our minds.

Do you want merely to survive or do you want to live!? If you want to live! then listen to Ellen Langer and open yourself up to the impossible – embrace, step into, and live from a life of possibility.

If listening to Ellen Langer is not enough for you then I leave you with the following two ‘laws’ from the prolific science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

 

Birthday Gift: Quotes To Savour?


Officially, it is my birthday.  And I have chosen freely to show up and operate from a stance of giving: giving of myself to others, to make a positive contribution, and bring life to the possibility of a world that works for all.

What can I give to you today, the people, the friends, who make the time to listen to my speaking?  Perhaps, a few quotes to be with.

Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.

― Joseph Campbell

I do not know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought AND found how to serve.

– Albert Schweitzer

I had always thought that we used language to describe the world — now I was seeing that this is not the case. To the contrary, it is through language that we create the world, because it’s nothing until we describe it. And when we describe it, we create distinctions that govern our actions. To put it another way, we do not describe the world we see, but we see the world we describe.

— Joseph Jaworski

All things are subject to interpretation, whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.

– Hannah Arendt

As you meet your limits your limits will expand.

– Robin Sharma

Heroes are ordinary men and women who dare to see and meet the call of a possibility bigger than themselves. Breakthroughs are created by such heroes, by men and women who will stand for the result while it is only a possibility – people who will act to make possibility real.

– Werner Erhard

I thank each and everyone of you for listening to my speaking. And of your sharing.  Please know that your existence makes a contribution to my existence.

At your service and with love,

maz

 

Cause Miracles Wherever You Are, Whoever You Are With


I enjoying ‘listening’ to Laurence Platt and his speaking on Conversations for Transformation. In his most recent post, I found myself wide awake when reading the following line:“a miracle is something that validates who you are rather than diminishes who you are”.

It occurs to me that a great way, a powerful way, a life affirming generative way of playing BIG is to be the source of the kind of miracle that Laurence is pointing at.

I invite me-you-us to play BIG: to be the source of miracles in all of our relationships – at home with the family, with our friends, with colleagues at work, with ‘strangers’ with whom we cross paths.

I leave you-me-us with a slightly modified definition of a miracle:

A miracle is that which validates who you are rather than diminishes who you are.

Yesterday, showed up for me as a delightful day.  Why?  I caused a miracle in my relating with-towards my wife.  And I find myself inspired to cause at least one miracle a day. Are you up for doing the same?  Are you up for sharing (with me) the miracles that you are causing or up for causing?

 

Why Heed The Call & Live The Unlived Life?


The English word ‘devil’ is very beautiful. If you read it backwards it becomes ‘lived’. That which is lived becomes divine, and that which is not lived becomes the devil. 

Only the lived is transformed into godliness; the unlived turns poisonous.

And today you postpone, and whatever remains unlived in you will hang around you like a weight. If you had lived it you would have been free of it. It would not have haunted you, it would not have tortured you.

– Osho