Play BIG: Exercise Choice And Control – No Matter The Circumstances


Recently, I have experienced life as difficult and troublesome. The temptation is to feel sorry for myself, to sink into apathy, to make excuses. So this conversation as much for me as it is for you.  Let’s begin.

I have in mind a man whose accomplishments include:

  1. becoming a respected ornithologist;
  2. making important contributions to avian pathology;
  3. running a successful business;
  4. publishing a successful book (Diseases of Canaries), ten years later publishing an updated edition (Stroud’s Digest On The Diseases of Birds);
  5. gaining respect and some level of sympathy among ornithologists and farmers;
  6. writing two manuscriptsBobbie, an autobiography, and Looking Outward: A History of the U.S. Prison System from Colonial Times to the Formation of the Bureau of Prisons; and
  7. studying French near the end of his life.

Now, here is my request: please paint me a picture of this man – what kind of education did he have, where did he live, who did he live with, what were his circumstances, what was the style of his life?

Let’s listen to Ellen J. Langer, Professor of psychology (bolding mine):

Even the most apparently fixed and certain situations can become subject to control if viewed mindfully. The Birdman of Alcatraz was sentenced to life in prison with no hope of reprieve. All the world was cut off from him; one empty, grim day followed the next, as he stared at the flock of birds flying outside his window. One morning a crippled sparrow happened into his cell, and he nursed it back to health. The bird was no longer just a bird; for him it was a particular sparrow. Other prisoners, guards, visitors started giving him birds and he learned more and more about them. Soon he had a veritable aviary in his cell. He became a distinguished authority on bird diseases, noticing more and more about these creatures, and developing more and more expertise. Everything he did was self-taught and original.

Instead of living a dull, stale existence in a cell for forty odd years, the Birdman of Alcatraz found that boredom can be just another construct of the mind, no more certain than freedom. There is always something new to notice. And he turned what might have been an absolute hell into, at least, a fascinating mindful purgatory.

– Mindfulness (choice and control in every day life), Ellen J. Langer

It occurs to me that when I am feeling sorry for myself, it behoves me to get present to that which is so for every human being: existential freedom. Freedom to chose how I show up and travel in life – no matter the circumstances.  Talking about circumstances, the Birdman of Alcatraz spent the last 54 years (of 73 years) of his life in prison. And of these 54 years he spent 42 of them in solitary confinement! Compared to him, I find my life to veritable heaven – and there are no excuses for not exercising choice and control over the course of my life. Including and importantly, the attitude/stand that I take in life.

And finally, it is worth getting present to the circumstance, being, and accomplishments of Jean-Dominique Bauby.

What can we learn from the happiest man in the world and Jessie Rees?


A lot of pain has been present in my living over this last week.  So much physical pain that I have done little even though I had plans to do a lot.  Truthfully, I have been much less than I aspire to be.  I found myself distant from my family. I have found myself being snappy with one of my son’s.  I found myself just wanting to be left alone to deal with my pain. And when it got too hard I took the easy way out: I took muscle relaxants which eased the pain and knocked me out.

And in this very week, what shows up in my world?  Inspiration.  Heart touching-moving inspiration from two sources.  The first is from “the happiest man in the world”.  And the second is from 12 year old Jessie Joy Rees.

The happiest man in the world

I find myself watching this man, listening to him and being captivated. Captivated by what?  His stance in life. The way he shows up in life.  The way he counts his blessing.  His philosophy of life. His wisdom. I am clear that he gets it. And as such I am delighted that I have come across him.

Jessie Joy Rees and the Joy Jars

What can I say? I find myself watching this video and there are tears running down my cheeks. I am inspired to ask this question:

How can I help them?

 

I have a question for you: how can I help you?  Please think about it and let me know.

 

You can resurrect yourself, your life, any time you choose: why not do it right now?


As it is Easter the time when Christians acknowledge and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus I simply wish to acknowledge that I / You can resurrect ourselves, our lives at any moment.  And any such resurrection is a choice (that you and I make) and that always occurs righ”t now.  With that in mind I want to share with you (and get present to) a profound truth uttered by a master who travelled the ‘low path’ and thus had a masterful insight into the human condition:

“At all times, under all circumstance, we have the power to transform the quality of our lives.”  Werner Erhard

Now that is an insight worth memorising and getting present to each and every day perhaps when you start the day by meditating.  Before we move on simply want us to notice the following aspects of the quote:

  • ALL times and under ALL circumstances – not sometimes and under special circumstances;
  • Werner is speaking about our inner experience – how we experience our living, our life, how it shows up for us.

If you are embedded in ‘ordinary living’ then you will not relate to what Werner is saying – the fundamental truth that he is pointing out.  No, you are going to think that he is deluded – he simply does not get the real world that you live in.   Well lets listen to someone who has an intimate connection with the real world.  His name is Viktor Frankl, he is a Jew, during WWII he spent a couple of years in the infamous concentration camps, he lost everyone that was near and dear to him, he saw many die in the concentration camps and he experience horrors that few of us will have every experience.  Here is what Viktor has to say on the matter:

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.

Are you still missing the connection between the truth that Werner Erhard is point at?  Then let me share and leave with you two quotes from Viktor that show what Werner is getting at:

“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment – he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Before you reach for your conditions, your circumstances as an excuse to escape from the responsibility to shape / live your life as the author of your life rather than a victim, I want to remind you that it was no picnic living in a concentration camp for two years!  And living from those conditions, this is what Frankl writes / says:

“It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.”

Which brings me back, neatly, to what we started with:

“At ALL times, under ALL circumstances, we have the power to transform the quality of our lives.”

The question is are you going to choose and live your stand or are you going to get busy creating excuses and concocting reasons for continuing to ‘play small’, play ‘victim’ and hand over your freedom to conditions / circumstances?  Your life, your choice.