My original face is playfulness


I have been swimming in Zen Buddhism since my days at university over 20 years ago. One of the Zen type questions is along the line of “What is your original face?”  Up until now I have struggled to understand the question and I have also struggled to answer the question.

Yesterday I was in the kitchen with my wife.  At that moment I had no worries, no concerns, no upsets, no desires, no ambition – in fact no thoughts at all.  Being in that state I found myself clowning around.  In the clowning around I felt totally at home, totally at peace, and joyful.  My wife noticed my lightness and my good naturedness.

This morning I have an answer to the Zen question of “What is your original face?”  My original face is playfulness – lighthearted playfulness.  I suspect that it is the same for my fellow human beings.  When we are present without thoughts of the past or thoughts of the future then we are light and playful, naturally.

The thought that occurs to me is that my wife and children have have felt the most affinity to me when I have been lighthearted and playful; I also like myself the most when I am being lighthearted and playful.

This may be why I enjoy spending time with toddlers:  they tend to call my original face into being.

Resistance to Playing the Game of Three Questions & Answers


This post is related to an earlier post: The Game of Three Questions & Answers

I have had a go at playing The Game of Three Questions & Answers with a number of members of my inner circle.  Interesting.  The people who have high self-esteem are happy to play the game, if it is missed for a day they ask to play it.  Then there are people who simply refuse to play it.   Why?  Because they have low self esteem or low self confidence.  They are not proud of themselves.  They do not believe that they have contributed to a better world.  They do not believe that they have learned anything worth learning that day.  When they play the game they do not look for an opportunity to lift themselves up and play a bigger game.  Instead they use the game to beat themselves up.

This makes me think that the reason that many of us do not play a version of The Game of Three Questions & Answers is because we would rather not look ourselves in the mirror.  If we looked ourselves in the mirror then we may not be proud of what we see.  And we would see the need to change but we do not have the will to make the necessary changes.  Instead we prefer not to look so that we can pretend that we are OK whilst secretly thinking and feeling we are not OK.

I cannot help but think that what I am writing about applies to individuals, families, organisations, institutions and societies.

Our true nature is loving kindness


Two days ago I was driving on a main road going 40mph when I saw a pheasant cross the country road.  Instantly, without thinking, I braked whilst intently watching the pheasant cross the road.  When the pheasant made it across the road I noticed that my whole being relaxed – my body relaxed, my breathing eased and the whole of me smiled.

Later that day I went to see my solicitor.  When I left his office it was raining and the rain got harder as I walked to the car park.  Whilst I was walking to my car I noticed a couple of people who were arriving in the car park.  So I opened my car, retrieved the ticket – as it had several hours of parking left – and walked over to man who had just got out of his car and offered him the ticket.  He accepted the ticket, said nothing, looked puzzled.  As he accepted the ticket I felt happy – I had stepped out of my self centred world and did something for someone else.

This one act of kindness lifted my spirits.  What did it cost me?  If I had been selfish I would have paid 60p for the car park ticket.  Instead I had chosen to contribute to a fellow human being and so had paid for a £1.20 ticket knowing that I did not need car parking for several hours.  So it cost me 60p to lift my spirits – to put a smile on my face and to create a kinder world for an instant.   A bargain.

When I examine these two incidents and some of the other incidents that make me proud of myself I get that my true nature is one of loving kindness towards life.   Whilst this is so it is not obvious that it is so – not to myself and not to others.  Why?  Because the mirror gets covered with the dust of every day living until it is no longer possible to see the mirror – only the hardened dirt is evident.

How many of my fellow human beings are in the same boat as me?  I choose to believe that the true nature of almost all of my fellow human beings is loving kindness.  And when they are not exhibiting it, it is only because they are trapped in the daily life of surviving and fixing.  Just like me.

The sweetest words: “I love you papa”


Being a good father is very important to me.  I know this because when my children say or text “I love you papa” then a smile appears across my face, my body becomes relaxed and I feel totally great.  I feel proud of myself.  And nothing else matters – at least in that moment.

What I got from watching The Book of Eli


The other day I watched ‘The Book of Eli’ which is described as a post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.  Whilst the story is engaging enough, I was mostly touched by three life insight / lessons.

Lesson 1. The main character (Eli) had been on a mission to take the book (the Bible) westwards to a home.  This mission had given Eli a reason to live (purpose) and a basis to orient his life (make choices, make decisions, what to do, what not to do). Do I have a clear purpose?  And do I use that purpose to fashion (organise) my living so that it is in harmony, in alignment, with that purpose?

Towards the latter part of the film Eli is presented with a choice to give up the book or to die.  He chooses not to give up the book.  The villain then presents Eli with another choice: to give up the book or let Eli’s companion die.  Eli gives up the book and his companions life is spared.  Later the companion joins up with Eli and asks him why he did what he did.  And Eli’s answers give rise to the next two lessons.

Lesson 2. Eli states that after carrying the book for thirty years and memorising it by heart, he got that the key thing was to live by the principles in it.  To practice what the book preaches.  And in Eli’s case the lesson of the book was ‘to do more for others than you do for yourself’.   What kind of a world would be possible if enough of us were willing to do more for others than we do for ourselves?  Am I willing to be one of these people?  In which areas can I start doing more for others than I do for myself?

Lesson 3. I was struck by Eli’s insight that he had got so gripped by the mission (protecting the book) that he had failed to live by its central principles – the core values such as a respect for life, tolerance, do unto others as you would wish them to do unto to you……  How many of  religious folks get so wrapped up in their religion that they fail to practice the central principles?  How many of our institutions fail this test?  How many of us fail this test?  And of course how I fail this test – especially when I am stressed.

How I transformed my mood in an instant and other learnings


Yesterday my wife and I sat down to talk.  She called the meeting as she was upset with me. As we sat down to talk my wife shared her frustrations:

a) I had made a decision – to cancel paytv – that impacted the family without consulting her;

b) I had been impatient with her in front of my mother and that had caused her pain as it had ruined a special occasion;

c) I had not done enough to win her back – to let her know that I got her pain and that I was doing everything in my power to make amends.

Well we talked.  More accurately my wife talked about her upset and my insensitivity to her needs.  When I mentioned that I rarely made any decisions without consulting her.  It did not count.  What mattered was that I had said that I was not going to renew the paytv subscription.  When I said that I had been floating a kite to see her reaction.  I was told that I should not play games.  So I gave up and just listened to her frustration.  Whilst I was listening to her criticism of me I got that when you want something from someone criticism is not the path to takeA better, much better, path is to share your pain in a way that leaves the listener touched and inspired to take action. I got that whilst I know the route to take, I rarely take it when I am focussed on myself and my concerns.

Then we got on the the major upset: my being a jerk – once – at my mothers house when my wife wanted my help in presenting her gifts to my mother.  I listened to the upset and I explained that once I had realised I had been a jerk I had apologised.  First I had apologised on the phone as we were in different locations. And when I came home, I apologised and given her a hug.   In my wife’s world that just did not count.  I had not done enough for her to get that I had gotten her pain. And importantly I had not humbled myself enough – to show that I was truly sorry. I did not react well to this initially – I mentioned all the actions I had taken since being a jerk to make up for being a jerk.  In my wife’s book that simply did not count.

The more I put forward my point of view the more my wife resisted my point of view.  I got that when someone wants to talk he/she wants the listener to listen.  Yet the natural reaction of most listeners is to defend.  By defending they invite more attack.

At this point there were two forks on the road. Continue to defend and my wife would continue to resist.  Or give up my point of view and accept my wife’s point of view.  I choose the second.  As I started listening to my wife go over the matter again I started to feel down, really down.  I was feeling down as I was feeling sorry for myself: trapped, unappreciated, misunderstood…. And the more my wife talked the more down I became.  I even wondered if it was worth living – and convinced myself it was not.

Then in an instant I switched to a completely different state. A state where I felt powerful, in control, in a position to grant a request.  How did I do this?   I remembered a passage that I had read earlier that day.  The passage had drawn my attention to the fact that one can either be a master or a slave.  A master (of self) chooses his/her mood irrespective of the circumstances he/she faces.  The slave is the slave because he/she reacts to circumstances – his response, his state of mind depends on external circumstances.  If the circumstances are favourable then he is happy.  If they are not then he is unhappy, negative, feeling oppressed and so forth.

On remembering the passage I chose to be the master of myself.  I chose to be in a good mood.  I chose to grant my wife her views without any resentment.  I chose to give my wife a hug.

That choice brought the upset and the conversation to an end.  We  both walked away from the conversation content.  We walked to the bedroom and I gave her a hug until she fell asleep.  It turned out that all she wanted as me to listen to her powerfully and gracefully.  To get her perspective – as a master not as a victim.  And above all she wanted a hug – to know that I still love her.  I went to sleep amazed that I had changed my state in an instant – really in a second or two.

Who I Am (Being) Makes A Difference


I was dropping my daughter at school the other day and noticed a hand made sign just outside the classroom. It read ‘Who I Am Makes A Difference’. And it got me thinking.

The sign has been put there because the default setting is the opposite: I am insignificant, I am powerless, I do not make a difference.  Does everyone operate on the default setting?  No.  Does it mean that many many people, probably the majority, operate on the default setting? Yes.

Given that you and I do not come into this world thinking one thing or another how is it that the default within us becomes ‘I am insignificant, I am powerless, who I am does not make a difference’?  Clearly this default gets set in the home and in the school.

If we wake up in the morning and boot up with the operating system called ‘Who I am does NOT make a difference’ then how are we likely to behave?  First and most important as sheep, as followers: we search for and follow authority figures.  Second, we be slot into games and parts that others have created and assigned to us rather than creating the games and parts we want to play. Third, we think, act and feel like victims – at the mercy of other people and circumstances. Fourth, we are unlikely to be generous, caring, inspiring towards any non-authority figures – they are insignificant as well.  Finally, we will not take good care of ourselves.

If on the other hand I woke up and played the game of ‘Who I am makes a difference’ I would strive to be someone – to be an authority figure.  Because I have learnt that authority figures get to create the games, make the rules and get the best parts for themselves.  Clearly, a small minority of us will – through determination or luck – get into authority. Once there we will strive to keep that authority and grow it.  Knocking on our inner door will be the hand of fear – fear of losing our authority and the privileges that go with it.

Personally, I advocate playing the game of ‘Who I am (being) makes a difference’.  The key to this game is being.  At all times and under all circumstances my being is entirely in my hands.  Furthermore, it is impossible to not be. I am being bold or not. I am being inspiring or not.  I am being generous or not.  I am being helpful or not.  I am being active or not.  I am being resourceful or not.  I am being passionate or not.  I am being relaxed or not.

If I played the game of ‘Who I am (being) makes a difference’ I would be mindful of:

  1. Eating – what I eat, how much I eat, how I eat, who I eat with;
  2. Thoughts: what thoughts arise and keep arising
  3. Story Telling – the stories I tell myself (and others) about myself, about others, reality, life;
  4. Resource Allocation – where I spend my time, my attention, my resources – self, family, tribe, humanity, life;
  5. Health – state of my health and particularly the role and extent of physical exercising;
  6. Being – who I am being and how I deal with the high’s and low’s
  7. Posture – how I physically carry myself during the day;
  8. Voice – the tone of my voice;
  9. Feeling – what feelings arise, which I covet and which I ignore;
  10. Mindfulness – being present, being aware, being mindful of the game I am playing, the results that are showing up.

The challenge with playing the game of ‘Who I am (being) makes a great difference’ is to keep being and doing in the foreground – together, simultaneously. In ordinarily living – at least in the West – doing is in the foreground and being is lost in the background.