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.