Joy-Sorrow: An Existential Meditation


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

Not Joy, Not Sorrow, Only Joy/Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Brings Sorrow To The House Of My Being?

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

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

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

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

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

How To Deal With This Sorrow?

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

So, I am choosing to:

1-Just be with that which has occurred;

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

This should not sound little…”

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

Let’s listen to Primo again:

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

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

Lets find out by listening to Primo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Play BIG: Invite a ‘Stranger’ to Lunch


stone tiger man y gasset quote

The story

Four weeks ago we were strangers – he representing the client and I leading the vendors consulting team. Since then our communicating/relating has been strictly professional. There has even been tension on several occasions due to difference on what is and isn’t in the scope of the work. And on the timing of when certain pieces of work will occur.

Two weeks ago, he told me that he was leaving that week. Without hesitation, I ask if he wishes to go out for lunch with me on his last day – as long as he is not busy, of course!  He accepts my invitation.

A week or so ago, it’s raining and I am holding his umbrella so that both of us can shelter under it. We are looking for a restaurant.  It’s his last day of work at this company and I have invited him to share a meal with me before he departs.

We’re sitting in a Pizza Express. I ask him how is wife is doing. He tells me that his wife is better now that she is back at work, with her colleagues, working.  This going back to work has helped take her mind off her miscarriage.  I listen. I empathise. I open up and say a little about what it was like for my wife, and me, when she miscarried.

We continue the dancing of communing with one another. He tells me of how it that he ended up coming over to the UK, working here, and ultimately becoming a UK citizen.  I disclose how it is that I ended up in the UK at the age of 5.  We move onto other matters like how we met our wives. And how we see our futures unfolding.

He is clearly a religious person as in tune with the philosophy of his religion, and importantly in the faith he has in the Godhead – whatever that may be.  He tells me that he has been working as freelance project manager for many years and has never been without a contract for more than a week.  And he absolutely trust that things will work out again this time. If they don’t then they don’t – the Godhead gives blessings or burdens and his job is to be grateful for and work with whatever comes his way.

It’s time to end lunch as I have a meeting to get to.  I can tell that we both enjoyed each other’s company. And that some barrier has been crossed.  We are no longer strangers to one another. We may not be friends and there is no doubt that the first (essential) step towards cultivating friendship has been taken. I do not leave things to chance. I say that I wish create a friendship between us and ask if it is ok to keep in touch. He gives me his phone number, and links up with on LinkedIn.

This week, I texted him. And to my surprise, he texted me to wish me well – he remembered that I was going into hospital for cancer treatment/scan!

The Story About This Story

What did it take from me to leave this chap with a good memory of his last day?  Not much. Not much at all. Simply a willingness to step beyond my narrow self-concern, and treat him as I would like to be treated.  If it was my last day, I’d like at least one of my colleagues to take me out to lunch – to leave me with the feeling/experience that I am seen / accepted / valued.

What did I have to step over to make this happen?  Give me the concerns that were present. Which concerns?  We don’t know one another.  Our relating to date has been patchy.  Will we have anything to talk about for an hour?

What helped me to get over these concerns?  Simple,  I asked myself  two questions: First, what course of action constitutes playing BIG in this situation?  Second, what is the right thing to do – as in how would I like to be treated if our situation were reversed?

I am so glad that I played BIG. Why?

When it came for him to leave he went to say goodbye to the folks he had been working with – his boss, his colleagues.  It was clear to anyone with any human sensitivity that the folks were going through the parting ritual without any enthusiasm. The words were there. The feeling (of care, of respect) that is essential to human relating wasn’t there.

When it came to my turn I gave him a hug. Thanked him for lunch. Wished him the best. And told him that I would be in touch.  Further, I kept that promise – I texted him the following week.

I invite you to play BIG: Which of your colleagues are strangers? Step over your concerns: invite one of these colleagues to lunch.  Like all invitations you are free to accept or decline.  If you accept you create the opportunity to open up / expand your existence.  If you decline – you get to stay closed in.  Your choice.

I thank you for your listening. It is your listening – especially those of you who either like these conversations, or comment- that keeps me speaking.  Until the next time….

 

 

Playing BIG Requires A Certain Kind of Orientation to Self-Importance


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.

 

 

Play BIG by Showing Up & Travelling Regally


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

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

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

— The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián

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

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

Seize The Initiative & Create Your Own Circumstances


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….

 

Wisdom for Good Times and Challenging Times


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 destiny by 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.

 

 

 

Playing Big Involves A Certain Kind of Relationship Towards Wrongdoing


A stone has a certain kind of being. What kind?  The being of a stone is stillness. A stone just sit there – it’s way of being has no capacity for acting in/on the world. It is indifferent to what is so and it cannot be otherwise for a stone.

The being of human being is very different.  The way of being of human beings is involvement in the world. And choice in the matter of what shape this involvement takes. Further, this involvement necessarily involves doing – taking action.

Yes, man can be indifferent to that which is but this indifference can never be the indifference of the stone.    The indifference of a human being is an active – chosen – indifference.  Man is implicated in his indifference and thus subject to moral judgement, the stone is not.

 

By nature of the being of human beings you and I are implicated in all that which is and which is not. If the world is not as you and I wish it to be then you and I are confronted with choice – how to be (including the actions we take or do not take) in the face of that which is and is not.  You and I can choose to resign ourselves to that which is, point the finger at others and leave it at that, or take responsibility for shaping the world to be more in line with which we wish it to be.

What has brought up this conversation today?  My confrontation with wrongdoing.

When faced with wrongdoing what do I do?  Do I pretend that it is not happening?  Do I join in with those doing wrong? Do I help those who are the subject of the wrongdoing?  Do I accept that wrongdoing is occurring and say it is not any of my business?  Do I merely go through the pretence of doing something whilst staying in the good books of the wrongdoer?  You get the idea.

When it comes to the matter of wrongdoing Martha C. Nussbaum has something to say:

… where the perpetrators are like General Dyer, human, the consequence of recognising wrongdoing … is clear: the witness must oppose such evil at great cost and denounce it to others...

In our contemporary world, in which it is a good assumption that most of the starvation and much of the other misery we witness is the result of culpable negligence by the powerful, metaphysical resignation would, again, be relatively good news, letting the powerful of the hook.

But the truthful new of Greek tragedy, for us, as for the Athenians, is far worse than that: for the bad news is that we are culpable as Zeus in the Trachiniai, and the Greek generals in The Trojan Women, and Odysseus in Philoctetes, and many other gods and mortals at many times and places – unless we throw off our laziness and selfish ambition and obtuseness and ask ourselves how the harms we witness might have been prevented.  

As Philoctetes knew, pity means action: intervention on behalf of the suffering, even if it is difficult and repellent. If you leave out the action, you are an ignoble coward, perhaps also a hypocrite and a liar. If you help you have done something fine. 

– Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness

If you and I turn a blind eye to the wrongdoing then let’s be clear we are playing small.  Playing BIG necessarily involves doing that which Martha says: taking action, opposing evil, helping those subjected to wrongdoing/evil.

Further, I invite you and me to consider that where we are being obtuse, lazy, and selfishly ambitious it is most likely that we are playing small.  Given this recognition you and I have the choice to stop this and play BIG.

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

Playing BIG With-Towards Imperfection


Imperfection, imperfection, imperfection!

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

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

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

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

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

…..We are all imperfect. 

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

The Spirituality of Imperfection

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

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

The following story provides a great answer to this question:

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

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

The Spirituality of Imperfection

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

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

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

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

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

You’re ok, get it?

-Werner Erhard

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

-Werner Erhard

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

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

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

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

 

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

-Abdul Sattar Edhi

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

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

Play Big: Embrace The Truth of Human Existence


I have been reading the book Man for Himself by Erich Fromm.  There is one passage which resonates with me. And this is the passage I wish to share with you as it occurs to me that it gets to the heart of playing BIG in my/your living.

Man can react to historical contradictions by annulling them through his own action; but he cannot annual existential dichotomies, although he can react to them in different ways. He can appease his mind by soothing and harmonising ideologies. He can try to escape from his inner restlessness by ceaseless activity in pleasure or business. He can try to abrogate his freedom and turn himself into an instrument of powers outside of himself, submerging himself in them.  But he remains dissatisfied, anxious, and restless.

There is only one solution to his problem: to face the truth, to acknowledge is fundamental aloneness and solitude in a universe indifferent to his fate, to recognise that there is no power transcending him which can solve his problem for him.Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life.  

But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.  Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

If he faces the truth without panic he will recognise that there is no meaning to life except the meaning  man gives his life by unfolding  of his powers, by living productively; and that only constant vigilance, activity, and effort can keep us from failing in the one task that matters – the full development of our powers within the limitations  set  by the laws of our existence.

Man will never cease to be perplexed, to wonder, to raise new questions. Only if he recognises the human situation, the dichotomies inherent in his existence and his capacity to unfold his powers, will he be able to succeed in his task: to be himself and for himself and to achieve happiness by the full realisation of those faculties which are peculiarly his – of reason, love, and productive work.

I invite you to grapple with the speaking of Erich Fromm. I invite you (and me) to take responsibility – right this moment – for our living and our lives.  It is a BIG ask which is why it is only for those up for playing BIG.

Until the next time….

What Does Ralph Waldo Emerson Say On Playing Big?


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

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

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

-Emerson, 1838

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

How To Show Up & Travel Powerfully


What is power? What is to live – as in show up and travel – powerfully? Is it a matter of holding unshakeable convictions?  Is it about being right and never being wrong or admitting you were wrong?  Is it about being able to dominate folks and get them to do what you want them to do?  Is about being able to bend nature/life to your will?  Is it about belonging to the biggest nation, religion, corporation, club, tribe?

Have you come to a conclusion?  Yes? Great. No? Think further and come to a conclusion. Now that you have come to a conclusion I invite you to read and grapple with the following perspective on power and living powerfully:

When all is said and done there is only one definition of power that has any authentic meaning for man. We have seen …. that man is the animal in evolution who lives a series of paradoxes on which is distinctive humanity is based. So much so that we can say that his fate is to live in the teeth of paradoxes. For an animal with such fate, what would his distinctive strength be? 

It would have to be the ability to support contradictions, ambiguities, since his own distinctive nature is based on them and is rife with them. Power for man …… is the ability to support contradictions, nothing less. 

It is amazing how we misread reality, how we see power in all the wrong places, all the wrong forms, forms which have nothing to do with our distinctive problems. We think we see power in the people with sure beliefs, unshakeable convictions, smug self-confidence. Yet these are psychological weaknesses on a planet which is fluid and full of surprises.  We think we see power in the ability to dominate and coerce others. Yet history has taught us that power inevitably makes a slave of and destroys the manipulator whether it be a man or a nation. We think we see power in numbers, in the deafening chorus of mass enthusiasms and the solid wall of shared opinions. Yet history daily teaches us that nature has no respect for even unanimous misperception of reality, and she has the coldest equanimity for the enthusiasms that carry whole populations into rapture…..

Such power for man must be, of course, an ideal, and an unattainable one – yet the whole sense of human life is a struggle in that direction.”

– Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning

 

If you truly get what Ernest Becker is getting at then you will find a new space of freedom opening up for you.  How so? You can accept the messiness of life: the contradictions, the ambiguities, the reversals…  You can accept these in yourself, in others, in nature, in human living.

What is there left to say?  To say thanks – thanks to each and everyone that continues to subscribe to this blog. And to wish each of you the very best living – living powerfully – in 2016, and beyond.

 

 

 

Growth Involves Dealing With Monsters


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

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


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

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

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

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

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

– Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

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

Play BIG: Choose Being Over Having


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

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

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

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

– Karl Marx

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

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

 

Play BIG: Give Your Life Meaning By Inventing And Struggling For Your Ithaca


Have you read Homer’s The Odyssey? If you have you will know that the hero, Odysseus, undergoes ten years of struggle/hardship to return to Ithaca – his kingdom, his home, where his family awaits him.  His ten years are not years of ease, pleasure and happiness. The ten years are full of everything that life offers. Even in his darkest hours, Odysseus does not give up hope. Why?  He lives to return to Ithaca: to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus.

In an age where most people, when they allow themselves to get present to it, find that their living (and the society they live in) lacks meaning, it occurs to me that it is up to you/i to create our own Ithaca.  And strive for it.  In the process turning a meaningless existence into one that is meaningful.  Does it matter what this Ithaca is?  No. You/i can choose and indeed have to choose.  Yes, it is great if it is an Ithaca that really calls to you/me. And yet, one invented for the sake of invention, can also provide meaning. What do I mean by that?  Allow me to give you an example – a real example from my own life.

For more than three weeks my back has been playing up. And I have been in pretty much constant pain. At the start I could not sit at my desk at all. Somewhere along week 2 I could sit for some 15 minutes. Now I can sit for as much as 30 minutes.  There were nights where I was in so much pain that I could not sleep.  Amidst this pain, I chose to create-invent an Ithaca: learn more about marketing automation and take/pass the exam to become a Certified Pardot Consultant.  So I found myself lying on back, MacBook open, watching videos. I found myself sitting at my desk for 15 minutes at a time, making notes. I found myself printing stuff off so that I could walk around read stuff. learn it, memorise it.  I found myself with a sense of mission, engaged, and in the process the bad back was merely an obstacle.  The first time I took the exam, I failed. Did I lose heart? No!

The mission was still intact – in fact stronger than before.  Now, I found myself wiser: I knew what I had not learned. So that very day, the day I failed the exam, I started studying again. A week later, still in pain, I drove to the test centre (despite my wife’s concern-protests) in pain, and sat the exam again: I passed, I attained my Ithaca.  Is it a big deal that I passed the exam and find myself a Certified Pardot Consultant. No, not really: it has not transformed my life. Yet, the journey over the three weeks did give me meaning. And allowed me to show up as an author of my life rather than the victim: the poor victim of incapacitating back pain. That is what matters to me – the experience of living whilst walking the path.

Why did I share that with you? To provide the context that will allow you to make sense of and hopefully resonate with the following poem:

Ithaca

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

– C.P. Cavafy

Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank my dear “old” friend: James Harvey.  James, I thank you for reaching out to me after my last conversation here. I have been working with my Chiropractor (Sandra) to get my back fit for a normal life. As Sandra and I have been working together for 5+years, she was able to make a big difference quickly. And I will treasure the care/love that I experienced as a result of you reaching out to me. I want you to know that I am truly grateful that you exist; i find this world to be a richer place as a result of your existence.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Heed The Most Fundamental and Basic Concern of Man

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

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

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

Bypassing The Snare Of Self Actualisation, Embracing Self Transcendence

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

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

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

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

Play BIG: Show Up And Operate From The Stand “It Is ALL invented!”


If you wish to play BIG: live a life of freedom, a life of possibility, of creativity and self-expression then Invite you to really listen to the following words of wisdom:

“Since the birth of humanity, people have created many phantom worlds in which to live. In fact, our most powerful inventions are technological at all; they are conceptual.  Every culture needs structure and values in order to function as a cooperative effort, and commonly held beliefs and assumptions provide a central unifying force. In response to the questions of existence, such as “Who are we, and why are we here?” a staggering number of belief systems, values, religions, cosmologies, and worldviews have been invented, lived, and taken very, very, seriously. For the most part these “inventions” occurred organically or collectively over a period of time, but despite their unpremeditated beginnings, they are inventions nevertheless…..

Every subculture with a set of beliefs clamours to have the last word on the subject, claiming themselves guardians of the Truth. Many of the different factions are willing to war over their inventions, but no one is willing to confess that they simply don’t know what the truth is

Everything we invent in this way and live as if it were real or true will have repercussions.  While we might understand and accept that there are consequences to the actions we take, it’s difficult to grasp that our beliefs and assumptions also have a cost. To recognise this, one would first have to forego attachment to his or her own personal opinions and admit that the ideas at issue are beliefs rather than the truth. Acknowledging this point is scary for anyone. It opens the door to doubts, and few people can tolerate the possibility of their whole belief system unraveling before their eyes…..

We’ll shoulder all the woes of the world as long as they fit in with our way of holding reality. But what if a great deal of our suffering is based on assumptions that are false?”

– Peter Ralston, The Book of Not Knowing

I invite you to consider that if it is invented then there is nothing sacred about it, it is man made.  That which is man made, can be remade – study history and you will find that this has happened countless times.  How is this relevant to me/you/us?

  1. When you/i/we get that it is ALL invented, then the space is wide open for you/i/us to invent the kind of life/world that we wish to see, live in, live from.
  2. You/i can let go of assumptions, beliefs, values, practices, structures, standards, ideals that cause us to play small, to suffer, to live lives of quiet desperation. Yes, this involves loss – of the familiar, the comfortable. In return we grant ourselves freedom; the price of ‘growth’ is loss.