Play BIG: Speak The Language Of Fellowship


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

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

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

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

At The Bank

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

At The Swisscom Shop

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

At The Train Station

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

At The Restaurant

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

At The Tyre Repair Shop

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

At IKEA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Play BIG: Befriend One Who Can Do With a Friend


What is it to befriend?  In this case you/i don’t need a dictionary as the word speaks that which it is pointing towards: be a friend unto another.

Why be/do that which it takes to befriend?  A good question given that so many of us lead busy lives – rushing (as in the experience of rushing) from one place/activity to another. If you read the media you will come across those who speak of a loneliness epidemic in the UK.  If you look to your own experience, it may be that you can access the experience of being without friends (at a certain place/time) or being befriended by another when you found yourself in a new place/situation/phase of life.

Late 2017, I get a text from my sister asking if I am willing to befriend her friend’s father who happens to have cancer, not that long to live, is lonely/depressed, and can do with company/friendship of someone like me – someone who himself has cancer including a friend that is dying of a brain tumour.  She thinks we will get along.

I sit with this.  I ask myself if I wish to give cancer a bigger role in my life than it already has – I already have one dear friend who has been told he has 6 months to live, I strive to spend every second Saturday with him.  I ask myself if I am willing to take on that which comes with befriending one who is depressed – I have experienced the helplessness in facing a loved one who is depressed.

I act.  I send my sister a text saying I am up for meeting her friend’s father and telling her to pass on my mobile phone number.

Later it hits me that I have almost certainly acted in bad faith. I have been playing the good guy on the surface – one not wanting to disappoint/displease his only sister.  And hidden from view (even from myself to some extent) is the thought/hope that this chap (her friend’s father) will not call me – he’s old school English and we, the English, are known for keeping ourselves to ourselves – not intruding upon others.

Later it hits me that I know better, am better, and most certainly can choose to be better. It occurs to me that  I must make a fundamental choice without knowing the other: am I willing to befriend this person, who is suffering, without knowing anything about him?

Then I ask myself what would be the logical course of action (for me) if I chose to Play BIG in relation to the ask of the situation.  The answer is clear: I’d show up & travel with conviction – owning the game as in leading, shaping the game, and dealing with that which shows up. I wouldn’t wait for the other to make the first move – I’d make the first move and I’d own that move – really own it.

I call my sister. I ask her for the name of this chap and I ask her for his contact details: email, and mobile phone.  She’s surprised. She hadn’t been expecting me to own this matter, to lead it, to be the one reaching out to this chap and asking him to meet up with me.  She asks for time to speak with her friend.  A couple of days later, I get a text with the contact details.

Being British ( English) I know that the least intrusive, most socially acceptable way, of making contact is to email.  So I send that email – introducing myself, and asking this chap when he’s open to meeting up with me, and what he likes to do.  In doing this I am perfectly calm – my whole being is relaxed operating out of the possibility of friendship, of contribution, of making a positive difference in the life of a fellow human being.

We text one another several times. We meet – we talk, I drive us to a pub for lunch, we eat, we talk, I drive him back home.  I text him to say my thanks for his company. He texts back. I text again during the week – to ask where he’s at. He texts back…. We meet again. We text one another…. We have co-created a friendship between us!

Now here’s the thing I wish to get across.  I often find myself starved of the kind of conversation that I look for – intelligent, broad range, human existence centred conversation.  And this is exactly what I get when I am in the company of this older man who has lived a full life.  It so happens, that he also enjoys my company, he considers me to be a worthy conversation partner.  It turns out that standing in & operating from the possibility of friendship I have gifted myself with a friend, and a meaningful/enlivening friendship.

Here’s my invitation: Play BIG – be a friend unto another who can do with a friend.  If you are wondering who can do with a friend. I say you do not have to look far – most of us are lonely, some are deeply lonely, and can do with a genuine friend. If you are still looking then I say: look for older people; look for those who happen to be in the minority; look for those who happen to be awkward, shy; look for those who are always smiling and telling jokes…

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

 

Playing BIG: Picking Up Autumn’s Leaves


“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.

Until the next time….

Playing BIG Can Be As Simple As Making A Telephone Call


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your listening.

As my French family say: A la prochaine!

Why We Love You


 

I did not grow up with the experience of feeling loved.  Valued for the opportunity I represented for my parents, yes. Loved for my human being ness (as it was and was not), definitely not.

It is hard to shake off this baggage.  I am now a middle aged man and I still experience great difficulty in accepting-feeling loved.  Which is why the following gift from family touched the deepest part of me and I found myself with tears raining down my cheeks:

why-we-love-you

I got plenty of presents bought from the shops. Some of them even turned out to be useful.  Yet, these words are the present that cannot be bought and show up as priceless.

Play BIG. I invite you to play BIG by doing something similar.  Search inside for the words that express why you love those you love. I find that the simplest words are the best.  Write these words down, so that your words leave footprints in the sand, and hand them over to your loved ones.

Go further, make it a daily practice to reach out and touch a life by sending an SMS that expresses your appreciation for a fellow human being that is part of your life. Words cost so little yet make such an enormous impact. Why? I am not alone, I suspect most of us are just like me – feeling unappreciated, feeling unloved, or finding it hard to love ourselves.

I thank you for your listening, and I ask you to play BIG in your daily living.  Until the next time….

 

How To Play Big In Our Dealings With Our Fellows


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

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

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

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

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

– Mary Parker Follett, Creative Experience (1924)

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

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

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

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

Play Big: Embrace A Stranger The Nicula Way


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Calling Forth Beauty Requires A Willingness To Be OK With Ugliness?


During the course of my life I have played many games and many games have played me. The game of fame no longer calls to me. The game of success / wealth no longer calls. The game of competition (beating others) no longer calls…

The game that calls me today is a two-sided game. One side of the game is for my existence to add to the beauty of this world in which I dwell. The other side of the game is to show up and travel as blessing to others. It occurs to me that when I play the game of being a blessing unto others I add to the beauty of this world. And that when I play the game of adding beauty to the world I am creating an opening for me to occur as blessing to folks.

Every game has a price.  When I played the game of going from being called a ‘Paki’ (being spat at and looked down upon..) to being somebody, the price was hard work – years of it. When I played the game of being a husband and father, the price was to put myself second always….. When I started playing the game of self-expression (like writing blogs) the price was a willingness to stand, be seen, be subject of criticism/ridicule…

So what is the price that comes along with playing the game that I have chosen to play – the game of adding to the beauty of the world and showing up as a blessing to others?  It occurs to me that the price is accepting even embracing the ugliness of the world. And not letting this ugliness to cause me to lose heart and thus give up on the game that calls to me.

What is it that I am getting at? Allow me to illustrate by sharing lived experiences.  On a recent assignment to a new place, new organisation, and new people, I found myself deliberately choosing to notice something noteworthy about folks and complimenting them on that which showed up as noteworthy for me.  For example;

  • On a cold day I came across a woman in her 40s dressed as if it was summer whilst I had suit, overcoat, scarf and gloves!  So I remarked on the difference and complimented her on her ability to deal with the cold so well. This brought a smile to her face and allowed her to share her optimistic take on life. This exchange took less than a minute or two.
  • Walking down the stairs I noticed a fellow glide down the stairs whilst I kind of hobbled. I called out to him and complimented him on his agility, his swiftness, his grace of movement. He laughed and told me that it was easier to go down swiftly (which was what he was doing) than go up swiftly (which is what I was doing). This exchange took less than a minute.
  • In the open plan office, I came across a young lady dressed well – really well. I thought I noticed a style: the French style. So I complimented her on her style. Said it reminded me of the French; told her I was married into the French. Then I asked if she had any French parents. She didn’t. But she did have a Czech mother. I wished a great day and carried on. The exchange took about a minute.
  • Watched what occurred to me as remarkable demonstration of the concept of integration/APIs/enterprise bus: the most abstract showcased in the most human / concrete of ways. I came across the guy who led that demonstration. I acknowledged the brilliance of his demonstration. He smiled. He opened up and shared something of his background like going to Cambridge University to do his PhD…
  • Came across a young man in his 20s. Noticed that he dressed differently to all the other folks in the area that we sat in. He was wearing a suit. So I acknowledged him for how good he looked in his suit. He smiled and we got talking – I learned he is Danish.. One day he came up to my desk (we sat at desks that were nearby) and asked me what I thought of his clothes. I told him that it was the most colourful shirt I had seen. That I loved it – it went well with his suit. And I’d only change one thing. The tie – I’d go for a plain blue tie rather than blue tie with colours…. We had a chat about that….

I could go on and on. I came across so many people and every time an opportunity for a genuine acknowledgement / compliment came up I took it. Why? For me there is a certain beauty that occurs in the world when the folks that I come across smile – genuinely smile. Further, it occurs to me that in England, and English culture, folks are starved of genuine compliments.

So where is the ugliness in this?  I initiated conversations which resulted in many folks smiling. I called forth conversation. I learned something about folks, they learned something about me. Some folks searched me out on LinkedIn and invited me into their network. Other folks I invited to connect up with me on LinkedIn and they accepted. A few of these folks, having worked with me, provided me with endorsements of my skills. All positive. So where is the ugliness in this?

After the assignment was over I had a post engagement review with my manager.  What was his feedback. Folks at the client were really happy with my work: clearly knew my subject area, worked hard, professional, helped them on their problems, and delivered on the scope of the Statement of Work. But one problem. One of the key people – a female manager – had made a complaint. What complaint?  A young lady had come to her and told her that I stopped her in a public area (open plan office) and made remarks about her dress style.  This made her uncomfortable.  Luckily for me, that was the extent of it. No formal complaint had been made of inappropriate behaviour.

How to take this? Allow me to be straight with you: I did not take this well. I found myself in shock. I kind of felt betrayed by my fellow wo/man. I felt like saying “I quit. F**k them. Let the English be a bunch of miserable b*****ds.”  I found myself asking myself what kind of world am I living in. How does it make sense that in an open plan office I can compliment Stefan (the young Danish) guy on his dress sense and build up a ‘buddy’ type relating. And in the same open plan office compliment a young lady (same age range as Stefan) and find myself faced with a complaint. “How the f**k does this world make sense?”

Once I stopped playing the game of victim I a few things hit me:

  • If the game that I am playing was an easy one in the English culture then most folks would be playing it and the English would not be the English.
  • That every game has a price. And the price of the game I am playing (calling forth, adding to the beauty of this world) involves being OK with the ugliness of the world – including the ugliness of folks not being able to take compliments or misinterpreting them.
  • That I have a say in the matter of how I am going to show up and travel given the way that it is and the way it is not.  I can choose to focus on the one complaint or I can focus on the tens of smiles and conversations that I generated over the course of four weeks.
  • That I can choose to ignore this complaint. Or I can learn from it and be more sharply attuned to the person I am acknowledging / complimenting – maybe some folks are simply not ready to be with that which comes with being complimented. Maybe some folks prefer compliments / acknowledgements in a private setting. That I can use that which occurred to be wiser.

I found myself ‘comforted’ by these words of wisdom:

 

stone tiger man y gasset quote

Is there anything more to say? Yes, I continue to play the game of adding to / calling forth the beauty of this world including my fellow wo/man. And I get in the process all kinds of obstacles will show up. That it is up to me as to how to face them. Further, at any time, I can choose to play this game differently. Or choose to play an entirely different game.

I thank you for your listening. I wish you great living. Live beautifully and as the French say “a la procaine”.

 

 

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

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


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

We Like Life To Be Neat And Tidy

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

This Year Has Been An Interesting (Full) Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


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

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

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

Rohan: First Born

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

Thank you, Rohan”

 

Marco: Second Born

BdayCardMarco“Dear Papa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Marco”

 Clea: Last Born

BdayCardClea“Dear Papa

Happy Birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clea”

Sophia: One Who I Have Adopted As A Daughter

BdayCardSophia“To Maz,

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

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

Hope you have a really good birthday! …..

Lots of love,

Sophia”

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

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

And Finally

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

Play BIG: 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.”

Thank You, And A Small Gift For You This Christmas


Without listening there is no value in speaking. Which is my way of saying that I am truly grateful for your listening of my speaking. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I wish you a great Christmas. And I know that my wishing will not make the same kind of impact that your actions will make. So I ask you to the source (cause of) a great Christmas experience – for yourself, for your loved ones, for all whose lives you touch this festive week or so.

What is it that I can offer you as a small gift this Christmas? What kind of a gift is in tune with what this blog is about? I offer you the following:

Yes, the whole conversation is about 7 hours long. If nothing else, I recommend that you listen to (and watch) the first 90 minutes.

I’d like to end this particular conversation with a quote from Werner Erhard. It occurs to me that it is worth listening – really listening to it – and then acting on it.  It occurs to me that acting on that which Werner is speaking, would be a great way to celebrate Christmas and being the New Year. Here is that quote (bolding mine):

People often don’t understand what is involved in forgiving. They think that if somebody does something wrong, and you forgive them, that is like saying that it was alright to do it that time – but don’t dare do it again. But life doesn’t work that way; and it’s stupid or hypocritical to forgive someone on that basis. If somebody does something, you can be sure that he or she will do it again.

“That is why I prefer to talk about ‘making space’ and ‘completion.’ To the extent that forgiveness is involved, it is more like self-forgiving and self-acceptance. When you forgive yourself for something, you have to create the space for that thing to exist. For whatever you resist, and fail to make space for, will indeed manifest itself in you.

“Self-forgiving, and self- accepting, is an essential part of being complete in relationships. If there is something about your past that you are ashamed of, or guilty about – if there is something in it that you are hanging on to – if there is something there that you are using to burden another person – that will prevent you from being complete in your relationships.

“In order to transcend having to be any particular type of person, you have to make it all right with yourself to be that type of person. The moment when you really experience that you have created yourself being whatever way you are, at the same moment you will never have to be that way again.

“This self-forgiving, self-acceptance, goes hand in hand with forgiving others, making space for others, completing your relationships with others. You cannot be complete in a relationship with any person whom you do not admire and respect as he or she is, and as he or she is not – rather than the way you think she is or would like her to be. Love for a person is is acceptance of him or her the way he is and the way he is not.

“So long as you do not know who you really are, this will be difficult. You may have to give up a lot of things to which you may be attached. You may have to give up your resentments, your anger, your upset, your annoyance, your desire to punish.”

– Werner Erhard

At your service | with my love

maz

 

 

What Is The Foundational Practice Of Love?


What Is The Foundational Practice of Love?

In his book, ‘True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart’, Thich Nhat Hanh says that the foundational practice of love is to be there:

“To love, in the context of Buddhism, is above all to be there….. If you are not there how can you love? Being there is very much an art …… bringing your true presence to the here and now. The question that arises is: Do you have the time to love?

What Is The Foundational Practice Of ‘Playing BIG’?

It occurs to me that many of us (including me) misunderstand what it it to ‘Play BIG’ in life. We confuse ‘Playing BIG’ to taking on big projects, going for big outcomes, achieving big wealth/status.

It occurs to me that you/i can ‘Play BIG’ simply by being there. Why do I say this constitutes ‘Playing BIG’?  Here is what Thich Nhat Hanh says: “But being there is not an easy thing.” It takes practice: ongoing practice.

Is being there that important?  Is being there for the people who you/i profess to love that important?  Is being there for those who count on you that important?  I share with you the card I received from my son in relation to Father’s Day:

“Dear Papa,

I am sorry this card is late but now, I feel ready to give it to you. The truth is you’re not a perfect dad by any means but overall you do a good job. You love your family to bits, you do so much for us all, and I for one love you to bits…….. having you at my side when I need you most is a blessing. You are so kind and you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. Thank you for all your hugs, warmth and affection that you have given me. These mean so much to me and make me feel really loved. You help me feel at ease and at peace with myself and your presence is calming.

Also, I hope you know that I look up to you in so many ways. I love the fact you appreciate the simple things in life and are always prepared to count your blessings rather than looking at what you don’t have or what you could have……

Finally, I hope you can believe that you are worthy dad. In my opinion, you are a background person, and so it can be easy to forget that you are there, but this doesn’t mean that people don’t love you or care about you. For me, just you being yourself makes a big difference. Also, remember to inject that random sense of craziness and fun of yours into life!

I guess all I can say is thanks for everything you do for me and just being there for me when I need you the most…… believe in yourself and believe you are a worthy dad.

Love, Marco.”

All I can say is that when times have been the most difficult for my son, and I have not jumped into the ‘fix it’ mode of being-travelling in the world, I have simply been there for my son. To my utter astonishment that has made more of a contribution than if I had turned up and fixed it.

A Priceless Gift On Father’s Day


Today, I wish to ‘record’ and share with you the song that my daughter sang for me yesterday. A song that shows up as priceless for me. And which left me deeply moved, tears rolling down my eyes. Why?

Put simply, over the last couple of years I have experienced a deep sadness and loss. Why? Due to a certain distance with my daughter where once there was simply love and laughter, hugs and connection.

Perhaps, you are experiencing that which I have experienced. Perhaps this song will touch you as it touches me. Perhaps, this song will awaken possibility. What possibility? The possibility of connection with all who matter to you, and to whom you matter.

Father’s Day Song

You would hold me when I was crying

and rock me back to sleep.

Now trust me I ain’t lying

you were the world to me

and you always knew

one day I would grow up and get older.

And, I wanted to be just like my dollies

and be smarter.

I love you, I love you

don’t let anyone tell you different

yes, I need you

daddy, I need you

even though it don’t look like I do.

You would tell me I’m smart

even though I didn’t think it was true,

You would tell me I’m loved

even if you thought I didn’t love you!

And I look at myself in the mirror

just waiting to get older.

But daddy I love you,

I love you

don’t let anyone tell you different.

Yes, I love you,

daddy, I love you

even though it don’t look like I do.

I need you, you need me

I remember all this rubbish you taught me

“For mash get smash”,

‘One Cornetto give it to me,

one Cornetto fresh from Italy!”

It’s rubbish and it’s funny

so I remember it from you.

I love you, I love you

don’t let anyone tell you different.

Yes, I need you

daddy, I need you

even though it don’t look like I do!

– Clea 

For my daughter, I wish simply to say that I am deeply grateful that our lives touched. And I am committed to being around as long as possible. I love you deeply and find you to be amazing.

Am I A Success?


How do I go about determining the answer to this question?

It occurs to me that a starting point is to list that which is commonly associated with success: wealth (money), fame, power, status…..

Wealth. Without hesitation I can say that I am not wealthy. Therefore, I am not a success in this dimension.

Fame. I am perfectly safe walking amongst a throng of humanity: none of my fellow humans would single me out of the crowd.  I am one of seven billion. So I am not a success in this dimension either.

Power. I do not possess the power to act on others, shape their behaviour and direct the course of the future. More precisely, I have no more power than the ordinary man. And we all know that the ordinary man is ordinary precisely because he lacks power.   Clearly, I am not a success in the domain of power.

Status. What goes with being ordinary? Lack of status.  There is nothing about me that calls forth status. Neither do I hold a rank of fill a role that carries status.  I am clear that I am not a success in this domain either.

Given that which I share do you consider me to be a success?  I am clear that by the standards of the society I am not a success. Some in my social circle see me as a person who has not lived up to his potential, others see me as a failure.

How Is It That I Experience Myself As A Success? 

Unannounced and uninvited I find myself seized by the conviction of success. Put differently, in my lived experience I show up for myself as a success.  What is going on here?

What has hit me with considerable force is that the existential projects in which I have invested in myself have turned out along the lines that I worked for them to turn out.  What am I talking about? Let’s look at each.

Wife

My wife and I have been together since 1992 and married since 1995.  She is white and French. I am not white and not French. Despite the misgivings of our parents (and some friends) we are still together. It has not been easy going, we have faced many challenges. I am particularly proud of the way I stood for and helped make happen that which was my wife’s dream and is, today, her passion:

You have always been the king of my heart, even with all that has gone on between us at times……  I also want to thank you for supporting me with my counselling, while this can be a demanding job at times. I cannot wish for any other job … While I don’t always take the time to say, I know who does the washing up, empty the dishwasher ……. when I am not here or just too tired…..

Eldest Son

I have been concerned with the wellbeing of my eldest son since he was about eight years old. Why? That is when it became clear that he was dyslexic. Whilst being smart he struggled in the classroom and this dented his confidence and wellbeing.

I put a lot of myself into my son’s wellbeing including taking the fight all the way (jumping over several hurdles over the course of year or so) to get him the specialist tuition he needed. Today, at the age of nineteen he is well known-liked in the community. Has managed a retail shop for over a year. And has earned-saved enough money to pay for his driving lessons, buy a car and insure it with his earned-saved money.  This is what he writes:

Thank you so much for all the time you have put into looking for a car and to help me drive. I do really appreciate it. I thank you for supporting me through changing jobs. I love you lots even though we have our differences.

The Younger Son

I had great hopes for my younger son when he was around eight years old.  He was so full of life. And where his older brother struggled to put a sentence together, the younger would confidently walk on to the stage and hold everyone’s attention and make us laugh.

Things changed when he moved passed the age of eleven and moved into a new school. It has taken a lot to be with all his struggles especially when he has been in considerable pain and I have found myself experiencing myself totally helpless to fix things.  Sometimes, all I have been able to give is a hug. Here is what he wrote for my birthday:

I love you more than words can describe and thank you for making my days feel happier, easier and more relaxing. I ……… take this opportunity to let you know  how much your calming hugs & massages make a positive contribution in making me feel happier, more at ease with myself, and more positive about life……. No one can make me feel like that through their affection… I couldn’t imagine my life without you.

 Daughter

With the boys I was comfortable looking after them right from birth. That was not the case for my daughter. Why? Because she is female!  With the help-guidance I overcame my fears and was comfortable doing all that needs to be done with a baby.

Somewhere along the way my daughter and I developed an especially strong relationship.  I am into wisdom and tales of wisdom. Most people find them boring. My daughter didn’t, she could not get enough. She loved to hear a different tale every night – just before she went to sleep.

The Buddhists say that life flows, change is what is so, nothing lasts. And it is our attachment/clinging that ultimately generates our sense of dissatisfaction with life.  I didn’t pay enough attention: as my daughter moved towards her teenage years we drifted apart. For a while I was left with a great sense of loss. And I worried for her and wondered what it was that I had done wrong.

Where had I failed as a father?  This is what my daughter told me recently:

To start off I want to thank you for everything that you do for me and everything you have taught me. I want you to know that I LOVE YOU LOTS! You mean the world to me! I wouldn’t be able to live without you!

I want you to know that I will never stop loving you even if we don’t talk as mud or spend time together like we used to. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU!

Niece

I had a decision to make about a year ago. My niece wanted to come and look for a job in London and wanted somewhere to stay for six weeks.  The question that I asked myself was a deeper one: “Am I willing to have my niece stay with us and treat her as my daughter? To treat her with the same consideration-love that I show for my daughter?”

My niece has now been living with us, and as an integral member of the family, for about a year.  This is what she told me recently:

I want to thank you for everything. I am a very lucky girl to have an uncle like you. I am also very proud of you for everything that you have achieved this year, all the challenges and setbacks and you still pulled through. I love your very much!

Why Have I Shared This With You?

I have shared this with you in order to communicate the following:

1. Whether you show up for yourself as a success or a failure depends on how you look at your life and at the point in time that you do the looking. If you are up for a deeper appreciation of that which I am pointing at then read the following post: I Have Failed, Am I A Failure?

2. The staring point of playing BIG is not being ensnared by that which society deems to be success. And choosing your existential projects – that which truly matters to you, authentically! And then putting your all into these projects.

3. Playing BIG can be as simple and as difficult as making a meaningful contribution in the lives of our fellow human beings starting with those nearest-dearest to us.

4. No amount of success is likely to be experienced as success until and unless you/i  invite love into our living: loving other/s and inviting/receiving the love of other/s.

Distinguishing Between ‘Being With’ And ‘Understanding’


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

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

A Brief Exploration Of Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A Brief Exploration of ‘Being With’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Happens When We Mix Up These Modes of Being? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cause Miracles Wherever You Are, Whoever You Are With


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Choosing Audacity Over Indifference And Cruelty


What is it that I notice about the being of the human beings that I find myself in amidst?  Love? No: rare it is that I see loving happening. Hate? No: rare it is that I find hating occurring. Self-expression? No. Rare it is that I see self-expression, in a culture of individuality rare it is to see anything other than ‘Das Man’ – the anybody/everybody. 

It occurs to me that loving, hating, self-expression are signs of aliveness. S/he who loves, hates, expresses oneself in how one shows up in the world, is alive! And aliveness is the quality that I find most absent in my every day dealings with my fellow human beings.  Our way of being-in-the-world (in the West, for the middle classes) is what I call the ‘walking dead’.

What is it that I notice about the being of the human beings with which I find myself?  I notice indifference as the common mode of being-in-the-world. The mode of being-in-the-world is expressed in one pithy word: “Whatever.”  And then there are those who take a stand:

“I choose to bigger than the cruelty and the indifference.”

– Chrisann Brennan

It occurs to me that in the world that I find myself constituting, indifference is in and of itself cruel. And you/i can choose to give up playing small, being indifferent – to the quality of our lives, the lives of our fellow human being, and the quality of life itself    I leave you with the following quote:

We can choose to be audacious enough to take responsibility for the entire human family. 

We can choose to make our love for the world what our lives are really about.

Each of us has the opportunity, the privilege, to make a difference in creating a world that works for all of us.  It will require courage, audacity and heart. 

It is much more radical than a revolution – it is the beginning of a transformation in the quality of life on our planet. 

What we create together is a relationship in which our work can show up as making a difference in people’s lives.

I welcome the unprecedented opportunity for us to work globally on that which concerns us all as human beings.

If not you, who?
If not now, when?
If not here, where?”

Werner Erhard

What Constitutes Giving? And Can Giving Be An Access To Transformation?


Transformation always start with our way of being-in-the-world. And our way of being-in-the-world is a function of cultural practices and what we do or do not do, regularly and how we do what we do.

One route to transforming the quality of our lives and of life itself is to consciously adopt new ways of being and doing. And keep at these until they became habitual and we do not even notice our way of being-in-the-world: how we show up, what we do and how we do it.

If like me you find yourself called to the possibility of kindness, gentleness, harmony, aliveness, and a world that works for all then I leave you with the following:

The essence of human revolution is overcoming our lack of compassion.

Giving yourself wholly to the person in front of you – everything begins with this; it is the fundamental path of humanist philosophy.

Philosophy comes down to standing up for the principles you believe in no matter what.

– Daisaku Ikeda

It occurs to me that the most profound, truest giving, that one can give is to ‘give oneself wholly to the person in front of oneself’.  And that usually is the people we find ourselves living with, working with, interacting with on a daily basis: wives, husband, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousin, nephews, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, colleagues, customers, suppliers, neighbours …..

What would show up in my life if I gave myself wholly to the person in front of me?  What would show up in your life if you gave yourself wholly to the person in front of you?  What kind of world would be find ourselves in if enough of us gave ourselves wholly to the person in front of me?  It occurs to me that ‘giving yourself wholly to the person in front of you’ is transformation: it transforms our experience of our living.

So easy to write, to say. So hard to do – at least for me. And I know that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. And the journey of giving starts with the next person I encounter. And is never ended, never a failure, for as long as I continue to ‘walk the path’.  It occurs to me that ‘walking the path’ is transformation.