Today, I woke up with a heavy heart. Yesterday, I went to sleep with a heavy heart. What is going on? I find that sadness and loneliness has taken residence in this heart.
It is when this kind of heaviness arises, and I cannot shake it through ordinary means, that I turn to the gift that daughter mine gave me in late March 1999. What gift? A letter.
Today, I wish to put this letter here. Why? So that I never lose it even if I get parted from the original. Because all that I write here, I have always written for this daughter of mine. Working with these words will heal me. And, I say there is wisdom in this letter that is worth sharing.
On the envelope are written the instructions
“Instructions: open in Switzerland. Must be in a calm headspace. Must not be read while rushed. It’ll take 5-10 minutes to digest. Reread whenever you are sad or doubt yourself. If you experience continued sadness call your daughter.”
Wow, how do I even begin to say thank you.
My whole life, you’ve done nothing but love and support me. And, I am so incredibly lucky to have known nothing but love.
Whether I like it or not, you are such a big part of me. And, it makes me incredibly sad that this part of me is moving away. But, I know that distance will not break our relationship, it’ll strengthen it.
You spend your whole life caring for me and although your leaving is bittersweet, I know that in the end this will be good for you. You might be able to start a life where you can put yourself first and think about what you want. You always talk about having hopes for us kids – well this is my hope for you: let yourself come first.
It’s scary to love yourself but you need to so it to live a fulfilling life. I’ve put this self love into 3 different steps: CRY. FORGIVE. LOVE.
CRY – you’ve gone through so much pain in your life and are about to begin feeling a new pain. Let that pain exist, don’t push it away, or let reason make it extinct. Cry. Let yourself feel your pain. Pain demands to be felt.
FORGIVE – forgive yourself, don’t punish yourself for feeling pain. Whatever happened or is happening, you did the best you could and you loved unconditionally. I know you – you give everything for other people. Forgive yourself, you couldn’t have given any more. Secondly, forgive your self for loving so much, you love people so much that you no longer have enough love for yourself – you work yourself crazy for other people and demand nothing for yourself. Forgive yourself for not being able to love you.
Knowing you, you’re probably reading this and thinking, “What, of course I don’t do that, I get happiness from caring for my family.” But I dare you to think about how much you do for us and what this has done to you physically and emotionally. Forgive yourself for this.
LOVE – you are not a failure, you’re not a failure, you are not a failure, you are not a failure
1-I am not a failure.
2-I am worthy of love and happiness.
3-I can succeed in whatever I do, I simply must keep trying.
Remember this! It’ll do you good.
After you say this mentally to yourself – allow yourself small acts of love. Love yourself in your doing. Love is both mental and physical.
Cry. Forgive. Love. That’s what I want for you.
Papa, finally, I want to say thank you. I don’t mean thank you as a small passing pleasantry. I mean THANK YOU. I would not have survived without your love. You made me who I am. You have showed me what it means to love someone and care for them full heartedly. All in. That is a lesson on one else could have taught me. A valuable lesson.
Through your love, you’ve showed me that I can love myself and that there is something I can love about myself. This, to me, is evidence that you have succeeded as a dad. And, for me you will never be a failure.
I love you papa, that love is unconditional. I love the good and the bad. This love isn’t going away any time soon. You are more than just blood. You are my flesh and soul.
Be Brave. Love yourself.
From Clea – your favourite child. “
So here I am. I have cried in reading this letter – tears of gratitude for my daughter, and the love that is present between us. I have forgiven myself and the other – daughter has reminded me that I be/do the best that I can. As for love, there is now a smile in heart and on my face.
Thank you daughter mine, I am so grateful that you exist! And, that you see me – the good and the bad – and you choose to love me. So grateful that life has blessed me with you. I never forget that you are miracle – in the fullest sense of that word.
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….
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: 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!”
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….
I dedicate this conversation, as it is deeply important one, to Teresa Zelmanovits. She is a person of deep humanity and considerable insight into the human condition. And, the source of this conversation.
“Don’t Fuck Up!”
Stephen Margarito, a friend, is fond of saying “DON’T fuck up!!” Is such a stand – way of showing up and travelling in the journey of life – possible? Let’s say for the sake of argument you (or I) are perfect – we never ever fuck up. Does this mean that you (or I) will lead a perfect life – a life without hurt, a life with only happiness?
I say “No!” Get real, you (and I) are going to get hurt. Hurt is a certainty for every human that has walked, does walk, ever will walk on this Earth. Why? Because, you (and I, and every other person) is a being-in-the-world-with-others.
As a being-in-the-world-with-others my existence is intricately tied to that of this world, and to that of others. Take others, if one’s life partner fucks up then one is impacted. If those who act as teachers to one’s children fuck up then one is affected. If one’s employer fucks up then there are likely to be redundancies and one is affected. Now, let’s take the World. Covid-19 broke out and how many have been affected?
The Existentialist Perspective: Fucking Up and Hurt Are Intrinsic to Human Existence, There is No Escape
One (you, I, the other) will fuck up. There will be consequences for the one that fucked up and others. And where there are fuck-ups there is likely to be hurt – not always, but likely. Hurt, you know as in “I hurt!” When I say “hurt” I am not pointing at pain. When I sliced my thumb open, there was blood everywhere, and pain was present. Even today, some 3 weeks later pain in my thumb is present.
By “hurt” I point at emotional hurt as in when one feels hurt. Example, your loved one leaves you, or dies. Beyond the emotional there is a deeper hurt. Of what do I speak? Of the hurt in one’s soul – in one’s very being. Example, you really really wanted to be say a dancer yet you became a lawyer because that is what your father or mother did. Or you did not seize the moment to pursue the only that truly mattered to you – the one that lit up your very soul and left it dancing joyously.
What Matters Is How One Deals With Hurt
Hurt is an existential fact: everyone of us will experience hurt. It’s what we do with this hurt that matters. Put differently and more powerfully: it’s how we choose to use hurt that makes all the difference.
What are the standard (playing small) options in relation to hurt?
1-One can withdraw from life – into one’s shell so that one does not allow the other, or the world, to inflict more hurt. Some go one better, they withdraw, comfortable in that withdrawal, they stay there for a lifetime.
2-One can play victim – feel sorry for oneself, look/demand sympathy from others, one can go further and expect others to drop what they are doing and looking after me, the victim of life. By playing victim one can inflict one’s hurt onto others – almost always on those who are closest to us, those who love us. Why? Because they are the only ones willing to accept the injury and almost always the domination; the victim gets to dominate by playing weak and demanding loved one look after him/her. Failure to play this game leads the victim to ambush loved ones with guilt as in “If you loved me…..” Often the victim does not even need to do this, cultural upbringing already conditions one to feel guilty if one does not do their all for loved ones who are down.
3-One can burn with resentment, anger, even rage. These will lead to the corresponding actions For example, where one resents another, distance, blame, and critiscism of the other/s follows. I call this “inflicting death by a thousand cuts.” Anger can lead to lashing out at the other/s. Whether that is the abusive tongue or the abusive hands.
What Are The Playing BIG, useful, Options in relation to hurt?
1-One uses hurt to connect with one’s fellow human beings – recognising our mutuality, our shared human existence and condition. By connecting thus one opens the gate to compassion – for the other/s who are just like me hurting in some manner.
2-One goes into the hurt to enquire, to learn – about oneself, about the other/s, about the world. Example, one seeks to understand why it is that one’s spouse is emotionally distant or cutting. What is going on here? What burdens/scars does the spouse carry that lead to his/her behaviour? How am I being, and/or what is it that I am doing, that contributes and perhaps is even the source of my spouse being distant or cutting? At the end of the learning process one is almost always in a much more powerful place in relation to the hurt. And often the hurt is gone, at the very minimum it is diminished. Example, I see how my recent way of showing up and travelling in life (say being impatient and critical or just plain indifferent to him/her) has awakened the spouse’s scars and fears. And led to the spouse’s emotional distance or cutting remarks. S/he hurts me because I, unknowingly, hurt him/her.
3-One uses hurt constructively on the journey of becoming. As the Existential philosophers point out a human being is, alway and forever, a being and a becoming: for one always has the freedom to choose to become other than what one is today. So, having approached the hurt through the mode of enquiry / learning (option 2) one can act: to change oneself; to influence others; and/or to make a change in the world. Taking the example of the distant cutting spouse, I go up to my spouse and apologise – really apologise for my behaviour and the impact of my behaviour on him/her. And in this very act a new possibility, a new future, is created: one of connection, harmony, intimacy.
No human being, who lives a normal human life, can escape fucking-up and that which often comes with it: hurt. Playing BIG, involves choosing the path less travelled: expecting hurt, accepting hurt, looking into hurt to enquire and learn about myself, about others, about the world. And, then using this learning to take action – action that heals me, heals the other, and ideally heals the world.
If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for I know that my speaking is not easy to hear. And, I wish you the very best. Until the next time…..
If there is one statement that is the core of the existentialist philosophy it is this one from a relatively unknown and under- appreciated existential philosopher: Jose Ortega y Gasset.
Existence as Seen By Existential Philosophers
Take a moment to read it. I mean really read it. Does it not capture and thus bring one to the awareness of what it is to be human? Freedom. Choice. Responsibility. And, importantly the intermingling between the three such that they are so intricately connected that they can never be separated. Though language and our feeble minds do exactly that: trick us into thinking that they are separate entities.
Today I bleed and that bleeding is occurring at the level of the deepest Self. That is what is so. And, I must generate powerful/sound answers to two existential questions:
1-The dimension of being: Who do I chose to be in the face of this bleeding; and
2-The dimension of doing: In which manner do I chose to show up and travel in the world – the shared world of human existence?
Today, I choose to use the pain that comes with the bleeding to reflect on existence. And put something of value into the world in the hope that others may find some benefit from it. So allow me to tell a personal story.
Village on the outskirts of Mirpur city. Mother farms, father works in England. One day there is a new brood of baby chicks in the enclosure in our ‘garden’. I am around 3 to 4 year of age. So excited, I keep looking at them. I name the chicks. Mother feeds and waters the chicks. I pester mother, along the lines of let me look after them, they are my chicks! She shows me what needs to be done. And trusts me to do it. For days I do what I have been told to do.
One day, I don’t do what I am supposed to do. Why? Because I am keen to go play in the fields with friends. I am out all day in the fields. It is a hot day. I come home and go immediately to the enclosure housing the baby chicks. Almost all are dead. I am distraught. I cannot understand why they are dead, I left them food before I went to play.
Eventually, Mother comes home after her day of farming. I race up to her and drag her to the enclosure. I show her the baby chicks. And, ask her why they died? Mother says because you didn’t leave them any water for the whole day. And, they need water especially on these hot days.
That is what happened in the real world, the world on the outside – the one that we co-create and abide in/from. A handful of baby chicks died of thirst in a nowhere place. This whole event in itself having zero significance to the world in which we live.
What Did I Do With What Happened?
There is another world, right? It’s the inner domain – and this personal and unique for each and every one of us. What went on here, in my inner domain? In this domain, what matters is the stories we tell ourselves. And, the decisions we make. So what did I tell myself:
So and so (I cannot remember the names of the chicks, and I do remember naming each of the dead baby chicks) died because I failed to take care of them properly.
I knew that I had to give them feed and water every day before I did anything else. And, I have been doing that. Today, I didn’t because I didn’t want to miss out on playing with my friends.
Because of this – my behaviour – so and so died.
This will never happen again. Never! I will take care of those that I am responsible for. Always!
Decision: The Past I Put Into The Future
In making this decision – “This will never happen again. Never! I will take care of those that I am responsible for. Always!” – I put the past into the future. What do I mean by that?
I mean that I made an existential choice. A choice to BE responsible. And, a choice to show up and operate as a person who on taking on a responsibility does that which needs to be done to honor that responsibility. And, this choice was made on the basis of some pain/decision coming from the past.
Existential choices are non-trivial, they shape our lives. Why? Whilst the choice is made by one individual (in this case me) it impacted and continues to impact anyone that shares the local (work, social, personal) world with me.
How Has This Existential Choice Shaped My Life?
1-I think long and hard before becoming responsible for someone, or something. Example, when my girlfriend told me that she was pregnant. I didn’t give her any answer immediately – which is what she was looking for. Instead, I sat with that for the whole evening and night. By morning time, I had made my choice: to BE a father, a good father, to the unborn child. And, secondary to support both the mother and the child. Specifically, the family would always come first, and then if there was something left then I would use that for me: time, energy, money etc.
2-If those who I care and am responsible for are not prospering (happy, healthy) then automatically I assume that I am the source of that: I did something I shouldn’t have done, or I failed to do something that I should have. See the link with the past? Whilst this can have negative effects, it also has its positive side: the fact that I do not just assume that it is has nothing to do with me and carry on regardless of the suffering of the other that matters to me. I care enough to find out if I am the cause. And, even if I am not, then in the enquiring I am likely to learn what is the real cause. Thus putting myself in a better position to help a loved one.
How Has This Existential Choice Impacted Others?
Each of my three children know (mind, heart, soul) that I have done everything humanly possible for them – for their well-being (health) and their flourishing (dreams, self-expression etc). Further, they know they are loved by me – totally and unconditionally. And, that I am proud of who they are and who they are becoming. Finally, they know that I am here for them, totally, to the end of my days.
How did it work out for the mother of these children? Not that well in some domains. Why? One reason is if something was not working in her life and/or she was unhappy. I jumped to conclusion – it’s my fault – and got busy doing. Usually the wrong thing. To the extent that she learned to tell me something like “It’s not your fault, and I don’t need you to do anything. I need you to let me deal with this on my own. And/or just to listen to me.” On the other hand, it worked out rather well in a bunch of other domains. She was allowed total freedom. She has never been without money. She was supported in pursuing her dream of becoming a Counsellor and that is who she is and does….
I Bleed. Why Am I Bleeding?
I created myself through a number of existential choices. The first, and arguably the most important, in terms of determining my being and doing is that choice I have described and explained here.
One of the aspects that I am most proud of myself, and as such a source of inner power and self-esteem, is this aspect: accepting responsibility and being the person who is necessary to discharge that responsibility! Put differently:
1-My word is my bond. Ergo, you can accept my word and so no need to draw up and sign a contract.
2-Honouring my word as myself. Ergo, in honouring my word I honour myself (irrespective of what the world says about it). And in honouring myself I preserve or elevate my self-esteem: the esteem I have for myself. And, with a full tank of self-esteem there is nothing that I do not see myself as a match for. Everything that I am arises from my esteem for myself.
Now imagine, if someone truly important comes along and says words to the effect: “You are damaged goods. You made that choice as a child….It no longer serves you. I really think you should go and see a good therapist.”
At the level at which most of us operate – that which Heidegger referred to as the “they life”- this is perfectly understandable. Perfectly understandable. In that world this statement is a statement of care even love.
Trouble is I don’t operate at that level. I operate at an existential level. At that level this choice (and it’s consequences) is who I freely chose to be. I LIKE that I am a person who goes full out to care for those who matter to me, and those I find myself responsible for. I VALUE and RESPECT myself for being the person you can count on to play full out to honour his word: to himself, to you, to others, to the world.
I do not see this as a defect. Nor do I see myself as one who is defective. And, my deepest self bleeds because someone who truly matters to me, see me as defective. Defective enough to warrant therapy so he can be fixed. To see me this way is NOT to see me. That is the cut that bleeds my deep Self.
Summing It Up
The World does it best to cripple us: to strip us of our self-confidence, self-esteem, self–worth. That is just so – you will see this if you look deeply enough. And, falling in the concept “The World” fall those who are closest to us: our fathers, our mothers, teachers, those in the workplace etc.
I refuse to collude in diminishing myself. I have chosen myself and I continue to choose/own the existential choices I have made. If “authentic” means anything important, then authenticity is exactly this:
1-Creating oneself through one’s existential choices; and
2-Showing up and operating in accordance with who one has chosen to be in the face of the ‘resistance’ the world presents to this choice.
And, I urge you not to collude with anyone that seeks to diminish you: who you chose to be, your dreams, your tastes, your priorities, your natural self-expression….
If you are still here then I thank you for the generosity it takes to listen to my speaking. Wishing you the best. Until the next conversation.
I live in Central Switzerland amidst mountains and lakes. Some weeks ago, when Winter had turned into Spring, I put on my walking shoes started walking up a nearby mountain. I found it hard going for the path was steep, and my fitness was just not good enough for that walk to be my first walk of the year. There is a difference between walking 20+km around a flat lake, and doing the same when it’s a 2000m tall mountain.
Whilst I was walking up, up, and up, I failed to keep pace with those ahead of me. And, those behind me caught up and overtook me effortlessly. Left behind, I found myself listening to a bruised ego telling me to speed up, and catch-up with others. Thankfully, I didn’t listen. Instead, I simply kept walking up that mountain at my own pace. I got there in my own time and my own way – and importantly I enjoyed the walk and the day.
In human existence there are all kinds of mountains, not just the physical ones. How to approach them?
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you are no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. There are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the side of the mountains which sustains life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.
But of course, without the top you can’t have any sides. It’s the top that defines the sides. So on we go…..we have a long way…..no hurry…..just one step after the next.
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
I hope that you get what Robert Pirsig is getting at. Why? Because he is getting at something fundamental. A way of showing up and travelling through life that is rare in the western world especially with city dwellers.
There was time, not that long ago, when I did not look forward to Monday mornings and that which comes with it: 3.5 hour drive to my current place of work. Now, I look forward to Monday mornings, and that drive.
There was a time, not that long ago, when I did not look forward to the work week evenings and that which came with them: making my way to a restaurant only to find myself eating alone. Now, I look forward to many of these evenings.
There was time, not that long ago, when I found myself alone and lonely in a new country. Now, I am certainly alone, for I choose to live alone, yet I do not find myself lonely.
Who or what is the cause of this shift?
This is the time to introduce Justine. I can describe her in many ways: authentic, humble/grounded, linguist, spontaneous, adventurous, intelligent, beautiful.. Yet none of that captures who she is for me.
For me, Justine is the person who brings sunshine into my existence. She does that when we commute together to/from work. She does that when she shows up for breakfast (almost always at the last moment). She does that on the work week evenings that we dine together. She does that when we ‘chat’ via WhatsApp. I refer to Justine simply as “my buddy” – for that is who she is for/to me.
Now here is the thing that I want to bring your attention to. If I had played small, just gone along with ‘my’ thoughts and feelings, then Justine would still be sunshine (for that is who she is)- just not sunshine in my existence. How so?
Month or so back I got an email from a colleague whom I barely knew. This colleague asked for a lift. Saying yes to this request meant saying yes to being in a car together for some 3 to 4 hours. And, it extended my driving time by an hour – turning a 3.5 hour drive potentially into a 4.5 hour drive.
The default setting for my machinery (thoughts, feelings, disposition) is playing small. So guess what arose? Concerns about whether this colleague and I would get along. Concerns about what we would have to talk about over 3 hours. Concerns about the extra hour in travel time for me. At this point in time it would have been so easy to find reasons for not giving this colleague a lift.
Fortunately I was saved from myself. How so? That little bit of practice I have in playing BIG. How so? A voice inside my head asked this question: “Is turning down this colleague playing Big or playing small?” The same voice responded “It’s playing small!” So, I chose to do that which is in line with playing BIG – to go outside of my comfort zone, to accept/embrace uncertainty, and to get-up an hour earlier and drive that extra hour.
Now here is the second thing I want to share with you. Once I had made and communicated that decision I found myself at peace. Why? Because the choice I had made was in line with the kind of person I am committed to being. Interestingly, in this space of peace I found a solution that works well for my colleague and which only adds 10 to 20 minutes extra time to my drive.
I wish to conclude by saying that as/when my children visit me, here in Switzerland, I look forward to introducing them to my buddy Justine – the person who brings sunshine into my existence!
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….
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:
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;
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;
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?
I do that which I can do, and I do this right now; and
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….
Its been a while since I had something which occurred as worth sharing. Today, is different. Today I came across something that occurs as well worth sharing. I hope this story touches you as it has touched me:
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire.
He told his employer of his decision to leave the house-building business: to live a more leisurely life with his wife and enjoy his extended family. He would miss the paycheck. And he was committed to retiring. They would get by.
The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go. He asked the carpenter to build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter agreed. Over time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work: he resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
When the carpenter finished his work, his employer came and inspected the house. Then he handed the front-door key to the carpenter saying, “This is your house… my gift to you.”
The carpenter was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.
So it is with us.
We build our lives, a day at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then, with a shock, we realize we have to live in the house we have built. If we could do it over, we would do it much differently.
But, you cannot go back.
You are the carpenter, and every day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Someone once said, “Life is a do-it-yourself project.” Your attitude, and the choices you make today, help build the “house” you will live in tomorrow.
Therefore, Build wisely!
I thank you for your listening. I hope that you will build wisely. Until the next time…
Its been a little while friends. I have been busy making good use of my health and the weather: to go walking in the countryside, to cycle along the Thames… To read books that touch the heart, and some that require study rather than mere reading.
One of the books that I have read, and read again is If This Is A Man by Primo Levi. Take a moment to click on the Primo Levi link: learn a little about Primo Levi – one of the handful of Italian Jews (from tens of thousands) who made it out of Auschwitz alive. Ready?
Primo Levi makes it clear that their German captors were ruthless/disciplined/systematic in their drive/practices to reduce their captors from men (human beings) to mere animals/beasts. Those who stood up to this ultimate in human degradation were killed – publicly and violently. Now lets listen to Primo (bolding is my work):
“In this world shaken every day more deeply by the omens of its nearing end, amidst new terrors and hopes, with intervals of exasperated slavery, I happened to meet Lorenzo….
In concrete terms it amounts to little: an Italian civilian worker bought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for reward.
This should not sound little…”
Why shouldn’t this sound little? Because of the context in which it occurred. What is noteworthy of this context? The Jews were deliberately given filthy rags to wear – not fit for the cold/hostile environment in which they were made to work outdoor, and starved – given something like a litre of soup a day such that they soon became mere skin and bones. Those who did not wish to turn out this way had to ‘hustle’ to make bargains, to barter something of worth. It was not the kind of context which called forth goodness. The reverse: each for himself.
Let’s listen to Primo again:
“However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today;”
Let’s stop here. Ask yourself what is it that Primo is pointing at when he talks of “due to Lorenzo that I am alive today”? Is Primo talking about the bread – given that Primo was starving (a kind of starving you and I do not know)? Is Primo talking about the vest – given that Primo like others wore only flimsy rags? Or perhaps Primo is talking about the postcard to his family?
Lets find out by listening to Primo:
“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.
The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves buried it, under an offence received or inflicted on someone else….
But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”
Just sit with this, I mean really sit with this. What is the profound truth that Primo is pointing at?
Man’s deepest need may be for the Lorenzo’s of this world – those who embody in the very being / showing up the goodness/nobility of man.
One person can/does make a difference! How you show up matters! How I show up matters!
Man is the being whose need for nourishment extends way beyond the material necessities;
Each of us embodies a certain vision of what it is to be human – to be a man / woman, and this necessarily impacts those with whom we interact and co-creates the kind of work that we end up living in;
Man to be and thrive as a man necessarily needs to be regularly nourished on a noble vision of what it is to be man.
To get this is to get the awesome opportunity and responsibility that necessarily resides with each of us. The question is are you, am I, willing to show up and travel like Lorenzo? Or will we continue to play small in the myriad of ways that are open and attractive?
It is my hope that you, and I, choose right now to show up and travel like Lorenzo. I say the ultimate in playing BIG is to provide hope and inspire playing BIG in our fellow human beings. How? By being a humble/gracious exemplar of playing BIG.
I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…
This is simply so no matter where one finds one’s self, and with whatever it is that one is facing and/or grappling with: It is the way it is and the way it is not.
If one can be ok with the way it is and is not then one can simply go about one’s business – living – harmoniously. Conversation over.
Playing small with regards to the way it is and the way it is not
Rare, is the person (in the West) who can be ok with the way it is and is not. The conversing starts here: that which is wrong with the world, wrong with this government, wrong with state of leadership, wrong with the media, wrong with the business world, wrong with capitalism/socialism/communism, wrong with the folks I work with, wrong with the folks I live with…..
When I am in this place, the place of its not ok the way it is and is not, what is it that I am doing? I am in the stands looking at that which is occurring over there in the arena. Not liking that which I see, I complain about him/her/them/this/that.
This showing up and operating from the stands complaining about what is and is not happening in the arena is playing small. Playing small is ubiquitous – I do it, you do it, we all do it. Playing small is the dominant mode of being-in-the-world.
Playing BIG with regards to the way it is and the way it is not
There is an alternative to complaining about that which is and is not. Or about becoming resigned to the way that it is and is not. What’s the alternative?
Playing BIG as in moving from the stands into the arena, taking ownership as in owning it heart-body-soul, shaping that which is occurring, effecting change. Realise this: the switch from playing small to playing BIG with regards to that which matters is the biggest change you can make to your experience of your existence in this world!
Allow me to share a small example and thus bring this conversation to life. It’s Thursday morning for me, it’s Thursday afternoon for my five colleagues in India. I ask them what they have accomplished over the last 3.5 days. Silence. I ask them who is leading them / managing the work that has to be accomplished. Silence. I ask them if they know what they have to work on tomorrow. Silence. What is clear is that no work has been assigned, no work has been done, and no work will be done if things continue this way.
Playing small, the default, would have been to complain: complain about the chap who is supposed to be leading this team and managing their work; complain about the onshore-offshore model of getting IT development done; complain about the situation that I find myself in; and finally to complain about myself to myself for allowing myself to be in this position once again – different project, same old s**t!
This time I chose to play BIG: to own it! What do I mean by that? I mean to own the way it is and is not AND accept responsibility for shaping the way that it is and is not. What did this involve? It involved:
Asking for help from a person who has the requisite knowledge of the development work to be done by this team;
Working with this person to think through how long it is likely to take to configure/code the user stories, and which development skills are needed for each user story;
With the help of this person assigning the right work to each person – day by day for the next two weeks;
Spending half a day copying information from one system into an Excel spreadsheet;
Communicating the assignment of work along with all the information they need (Excel sheet) to do their work; and
Accepting that owning this would necessarily mean trespassing on the territory of the chap who is officially leading/managing this team and working with the trouble this person can be counted on to make.
I invite you to consider that the ultimate in playing BIG is owning (the state of) that which matters to you: the state of your health, the state of your relationships with family/friends, the state of your community, the state of your workplace, the state of the environment, the state of the word….
If I have not been clear then let me say this: Owning some state of affairs (as it is and is not) is to take FULL responsibility for the way it is and is not. That necessarily includes taking FULL responsibility to shaping the game, effecting the changes that one wishes to see in this state of affairs. If there is to any complaining then it is complaining to oneself about oneself as a form of reflection to call forth more effective ways of being-doing.
Now it is up to you to choose whether, for that which matters to you, you wish to play small – in the stands complaining and/or resigned to that which is happening or not in the arena – or BIG -in the arena, taking action, effecting change / shaping the play.y
Since I wrote this one of best friends died. Brain cancer. So I say to you and me: We are mortal, our days are limited, so if you and I are up for owning it then let’s start owning it right now! I can assure you that it has been that much easier to deal with the loss of my friend knowing I had owned my part/contribution in his existence since I found out he had terminal cancer back in May17. He died on Monday, and I spent three hours by his bedside on Sunday – talking, helping, making him laugh. In this time of sadness this makes a big difference – no regrets!
I thank you for your listening, and wish you the very best. Until the next time….
One of the qualities that I noticed about Richard is the ease with which he gets along with others. He shows up as being comfortable with others – all kinds of others Arguably, he is his best when he is the company of others. It is this quality of his that I find attractive. And have sought to emulate.
Imagine my surprise when Richard told us that he is innately shy: “What! You shy. I find this the most surprising thing that you have told me. You are so affable, so outgoing, so easy to speak with. And you have an ease with which you strike up conversations with others. Lastly, you seem to be your best when you are with people – you come alive.”
Here’s Richard’s response: “I grew up on a farm in Lancashire. There were few people around, and no other children….. During the holidays my parents would send me to my uncle who lived in a town in Merseyside.”
“Who am I?” occurs as an innocent/superficial question until I grapple with it. I experience the same experience when I contemplate this question “What constitute playing BIG?” It’s the looking into the BIG part that has led me down a difficult path from time to time – a path where I end up thinking/feeling that I am not playing BIG. Therefore, to talk BIG is to show up / travel as a hypocrite. Hence, I fall silent: no longer a source of inspiration to myself nor to others.
This Autumn my neighbour opened the cage within which I had placed myself. He disclosed to me the meaning of playing BIG as in the experiencing of playing BIG. How did he do this, and of what do I speak here? Allow me to share story/experience with you.
On an Autumn day, my neighbour Irfan knocked on my door. After customary greetings and little catching up, he told me that he was in the process of cleaning up his garden and had used up his brown bin. And asked if he could use my brown bin (for recycling grass, leaves and such like) if it was empty and if I was not using it.
I showed enthusiasm for what he was doing because I was genuinely enthusiastic. I told him that my brown bin was empty and he was welcome to use it – especially as it was going to get picked up / emptied the next day. I also mentioned that I had been lazy myself – pointing to the mass of leaves lying around on the left hand side of my front drive. And that he’d now given me the motivation to pick up the leaves on my front drive. But not today – today I didn’t feel up to it. Then I rolled the brown bin to where he was standing and gave it to him…
Not long after, I happened to be in the kitchen. Looking out towards the front of the house. What did I see? I saw Irfan picking up the mass of leaves on my front drive and putting them into the brown bin that I had handed to him. I can see him, right now in my minds eye, picking up those leaves. Simply picking them up. What was present? Surprise. Shock. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. Sense of wonder – how such a small act of kindness can make such a BIG emotional/spiritual impact.
This experience disclosed the following to me:
It’s not the scale nor the difficult of the task/project that makes it BIG;
It’s the difference/impact of that which one does in the lives of our family members, friends, neighbours, community, strangers etc; and
That which is given / done without it being asked for, and done without imposition or expectation, that often makes such a big impact.
There is something more. Irfan picking up his garden leaves is Irfan picking up his garden leaves – ordinary. Irfan popping over and picking up my garden leaves, without being asked, Irfan showing up as extraordinary – making a positive difference in the world.
I wish to end this conversation with this thought: playing BIG as simple/easy as popping over to your neighbours front drive and picking up the garden leaves, or cutting your neighbours lawn, or inviting your neighbour over for a tea and a chat.
Next time I will share with you the larger impact of Irfan’s action – the avenue that it opened up for me to make a difference in a fellow human being’s life.
Look deeply and you are likely to find that almost all of us are self-important. The default is for me to think first and foremost of myself. To expect events-people-situations to turn out such that they meet my expectations/needs. To make myself more important than others. Even to show up and travel as if I am the only one that is important.
At one level self-importance is necessary and vital. Without adequate self-importance we create the space/opportunities for being overlooked, not having our interests/needs adequately considered/met, and even being treated as doormats.
However, it occurs to me that for most of us our self-importance is excessive. Our self-importance is such that it is a formidable obstacle to playing BIG in life. How so? Is it not our self-importance that prevents us from stepping out of that which we are comfortable with? Is it not our self-importance that fears the ridicule that comes with failing? Is it not our self-importance the hinders us from taking on challenges that disrupt our comfort – physical, emotional, social?
I invite you to listen to the following:
‘You take yourself too seriously,’ he said slowly. ‘You are too damn important in your own mind. That must be changed! You are so goddam important that you feel justified to be annoyed with everything. You’re so goddamn important that you can afford to leave if things don’t go your way. I suppose you think that shows you have character. That’s nonsense! You’re weak, and conceited.’
………. ‘As long as you feel that you are the most important thing in the world you cannot really appreciate the world around you. You are like a horse with blinkers, all you see is yourself part from everything else.’
– Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan – The Lessons of Don Juan
Yesterday, I made a difference in the lives of a couple of human beings who were struggling. This only came about because I had loosened the grip that self-importance has on me – at least over the last couple of days. This loosening allowed me to see-hear the suffering of my fellow human being. More: to be touched-moved by that suffering. And so offer my help in a manner that made it clear that the offer was a genuine offer. This genuine desire to help made it possible for the other person, a proud person, to accept my offer.
The result? An ordinary Saturday turned into an extra-ordinary one. The father, the person who accepted my offer, gave me a hug and was almost in tears. And I found myself engaged in a enlivening conversation with his daughter, a remarkably wise 21 year old. It is even possible that we planted the seeds of friendship. All because I put away my self-importance and made myself, and my MPV, available for a day to help these folks move home.
I thank you for your listening and invite you/me to loosen the grip of self-importance so that you/i can play BIG in this one life.
It occurs to me that the dominant model of showing up and traveling in life, at least in developed economies, is make something (important) of yourself through acquiring stuff: acquire an education, acquire a car, acquire a house, acquire titles (professor, lawyer, accountant, banker….), acquire a partner, acquire power-position-prestige, and, for women, acquire the look/trappings of youth/beauty.
That is one way to live. I say it is not a great way to live. You don’t have to believe me – look at your own experience, look at others: do you feel alive, are others you come across alive – full of zest / joy? In the pursuit of making something of themselves / acquiring stuff we become serious – almost always abandoning that which generates joy / zest for living.
What if the essence of freedom is not more? What if playing BIG involves less – the less that creates the space for freedom and aliveness? Interested? If you are then here is sage advice culled by Stefan Zweig from The Essays by Montaigne:
1 – Be free of vanity and pride.
2 – Be free from belief, disbelief, convictions and parties.
3 – Be free from habit.
4 – Be free from ambition and greed.
5 – Be free from family and surroundings.
6 – Be free from fanaticism.
7 – Be free from fate: be the master of your life.
8 – Be free from death: life depends on the will of others, but death on our own free will.
Consider that if vanity/pride have you then you will dance like a puppet at the hands of the people/situations/contexts that activate vanity/pride. Likewise for ambition, greed and fanaticism.
Consider that habits are drugs that send you to sleep and deaden you making you a member of the walking dead. Consider that family/surroundings can have the same tranquillising / domesticating effect.
Consider that beliefs, disbeliefs, convictions and parties can never incorporate the multi-facetedness and contradictions inherent in human existence. They strip your ability to meet each challenge / opportunity / context afresh – to think anew, to think originally, to do that which is appropriate to the person / situation / context at hand.
If acquisition hasn’t worked for you and you are up for playing BIG in life then give these eight freedoms the best you have got to give. Yet give of this best lightly. Do not approach these eight freedoms through your ingrained, habitual, habit of acquisition. Tread lightly.
If you are in the process of acquiring stuff to live your dream life then it is highly likely that you will have to walk this path and experience its limitations before you can cultivate/embrace the eight freedoms. These freedoms rarely appeal to youth and those stuck in youth. And that is OK.
Whichever path you chose I wish you the very best. Until the next time.
Today I happened across a point of view that resonates with me. It occurs to me that this is a point of view that anyone and everyone who is up for anything other than a small life should ponder / read – every day. Here it is (bolding mine):
“Everything in this world conspires to put you on the defensive. At work, your supervisors may want the glory for themselves and will discourage you from taking the initiative. People are constantly pushing and attacking you, keeping you in a react mode. You are continually reminded of your limitations and what you cannot hope to accomplish. You are made to feel guilty for this and that. Such defensiveness on your part can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Before anything, you need to liberate yourself from this feeling. By acting boldly, before others are ready, by moving to seize the initiative, you create your own circumstances rather than simply waiting for what life brings you.”
– Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War
I have heard many points of view on Donald Trump success in the presidential race. It occurs to me that Robert Greene’s point of view may be a better explanation than any I have come across. Trump seized the initiative, he set the terms, he was willing to go where other professional politicians were not because it was not professional – not the way that the game was played, he made folks play to his strengths on his terms. The least qualified candidate won because he was not willing to be put on the defensive.
Thank you for your listening; I wish you the very best. Until the next time….
First and foremost I thank each and everyone of you that continues to listen to the speaking that occurs, from time to time, on this blog. I wish each of you the very best for this year. You might have noticed that my wishes, your wishes, his/her wishes, make no difference. It is my actions, your actions, his/her actions that will shape our lives and the lives of others.
Action. I have chosen to take more action this year. To play sports more often. To go walking in nature more often. To do that which I have not done more often. To visit places that I have not visited. To speak (through blogging) more often and make that sharing more personal.
What gets in the way of you taking action and playing BIG in life? I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that I stop myself by failing to accept imperfection and complicating stuff. I know someone who is so perfectionist that this person does not attempt anything significant. Why attempt anything if you have persuaded yourself that what you have to offer the world is not good enough. Or that you are not ok with good enough, it has to be perfect – nothing less than perfect will do.
Allow me to bring this to life through some examples.
When I first starting speaking (through blogging) I simply spoke: speaking as a form of self-expression, speaking as way of sharing that which I had to share, speaking as a source of contribution to others…. To keep this speaking simple, I simply wrote and published in one go – no spell checking, no editing, just speaking.
Somewhere along the line I start complicating it! How so? I complicate it by asking myself if my speaking was worthy of your listening? I asked myself whether speaking is just a way of feeding my ego? I asked myself whether I was wasting my time? You may have noticed that I didn’t speak much last year.
Second example, perhaps a better example. This morning I found present within myself an eagerness to speak on my other blog. Usually, I just open up my MacBook and write. Today, I complicated it. How so? I persuaded myself that I needed to use my laptop riser/stand. Then it occurred to me that I needed to get hold of the external keyboard. Once I had gotten hold of these I realised that I needed a mouse. By the time I got these piece of equipment together I found that my inner desire to speak had vanished. That desire had been replaced with a feeling of this is too much effort and I will do it another time.
If you are not taking action / playing BIG then look and see where you may be complicating stuff that really is not complicated. Simplify to the core, do away with embellishments. AND give up your insistence on perfection first time: accept imperfection, act, learn, refuel, iterate and get to excellence or just plain “Good enough!” You’d be surprised how much impact you can make by going wholeheartedly for “Good enough!”
I thank you for your listening. Until the next time or as the French say “A la prochaine.”
It occurs to me that we in the West are living in the midst of interesting times. Some see opportunity, others are enveloped in fear. If you and I are up to playing BIG then what kind of stance to take? How to show up and travel in the midst of such times?
These were the questions that I was dealing with and my eyes happened to land on book that I read a long time ago: Love by Leo Buscaglia. I opened it and found myself to the following words of wisdom from Joseph Zinker in his paper called On Public Knowledge and Personal Revelation(bolding is mine):
If a man in the street were to pursue his self, what kind of guiding thoughts would he come up with about changing his existence? He would perhaps discover that his brain is not yet dead, that his body is not dried up, and that no matter where he is right now, he is still the creator of his destiny.
He can change this destinyby taking his one decision to change seriously, by fighting his petty resistance against change and fear, by learning more about his mind, by trying out behavior which fills his real need,by carrying out concrete acts rather than conceptualizing about them, by practicing to see and hear and touch and feel as he has never before used these senses, by creating something with his own hands without demanding perfection, by thinking out ways in which he behaves in a self-defeating manner, by listening to the words that he utters to his wife, his kids, and his friends, by listening to himself, by listening to the words and looking into the eyes of those who speak to him, by learning to respect the process of his own creative encounters and by having faith that they will get him somewhere soon.
We must remind ourselves, however, that no change takes place without working hard and without getting your hands dirty.There are no formulae and no books to memorize on becoming. I only know this: I exist. I am. I am here. I am becoming. I make my life and no one else makes it for me. I must face my own shortcomings, mistakes, and transgressions. No one can suffer my non-being as I do, but tomorrow is another day, and I must decide to leave by bed and live again. And if I fail, I don’t have the comfort of blaming you or life or God.”
Yes, we live in interesting times. Brexit has happened. Trump has happened. Hate has been unleashed and hating the other is now clothed in patriotism. Yet, the future is NOT determined. Destiny has not already been set in stone. You, I, we can shape the future by the stance we take: our attitude, our way of showing up and travelling in the world.
You and I are like strands in a rope. The rope does that which no strand can do by itself, on its own. By coming together, working together, the strands bring into being the power of the rope.
Coming together means more than coming together with the folks we like – those who are just like us. Playing BIG necessarily involves showing up and travelling from a specific context: a world that works for all, none excluded. Which necessarily means involving oneself with the other with compassion. Consider that if we, individually and collectively, had not excluded and then ignored those who are excluded there would have been no Brexit, no election of Trump as president of the USA.
I thank you for listening, wish you the very best, and invite you to play BIG in these challenging times.