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.