It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do With What Happens To You


If there is one statement that is the core of the existentialist philosophy it is this one from a relatively unknown and under- appreciated existential philosopher: Jose Ortega y Gasset.

Existence as Seen By Existential Philosophers

Take a moment to read it. I mean really read it. Does it not capture and thus bring one to the awareness of what it is to be human? Freedom. Choice. Responsibility. And, importantly the intermingling between the three such that they are so intricately connected that they can never be separated. Though language and our feeble minds do exactly that: trick us into thinking that they are separate entities.

Today I bleed and that bleeding is occurring at the level of the deepest Self. That is what is so. And, I must generate powerful/sound answers to two existential questions:

1-The dimension of being: Who do I chose to be in the face of this bleeding; and

2-The dimension of doing: In which manner do I chose to show up and travel in the world – the shared world of human existence?

Today, I choose to use the pain that comes with the bleeding to reflect on existence. And put something of value into the world in the hope that others may find some benefit from it. So allow me to tell a personal story.

What Happened?

Village on the outskirts of Mirpur city. Mother farms, father works in England. One day there is a new brood of baby chicks in the enclosure in our ‘garden’. I am around 3 to 4 year of age. So excited, I keep looking at them. I name the chicks. Mother feeds and waters the chicks. I pester mother, along the lines of let me look after them, they are my chicks! She shows me what needs to be done. And trusts me to do it. For days I do what I have been told to do.

One day, I don’t do what I am supposed to do. Why? Because I am keen to go play in the fields with friends. I am out all day in the fields. It is a hot day. I come home and go immediately to the enclosure housing the baby chicks. Almost all are dead. I am distraught. I cannot understand why they are dead, I left them food before I went to play.

Eventually, Mother comes home after her day of farming. I race up to her and drag her to the enclosure. I show her the baby chicks. And, ask her why they died? Mother says because you didn’t leave them any water for the whole day. And, they need water especially on these hot days.

That is what happened in the real world, the world on the outside – the one that we co-create and abide in/from. A handful of baby chicks died of thirst in a nowhere place. This whole event in itself having zero significance to the world in which we live.

What Did I Do With What Happened?

There is another world, right? It’s the inner domain – and this personal and unique for each and every one of us. What went on here, in my inner domain? In this domain, what matters is the stories we tell ourselves. And, the decisions we make. So what did I tell myself:

So and so (I cannot remember the names of the chicks, and I do remember naming each of the dead baby chicks) died because I failed to take care of them properly.

I knew that I had to give them feed and water every day before I did anything else. And, I have been doing that. Today, I didn’t because I didn’t want to miss out on playing with my friends.

Because of this – my behaviour – so and so died.

This will never happen again. Never! I will take care of those that I am responsible for. Always!

Decision: The Past I Put Into The Future

In making this decision – “This will never happen again. Never! I will take care of those that I am responsible for. Always!” – I put the past into the future. What do I mean by that?

I mean that I made an existential choice. A choice to BE responsible. And, a choice to show up and operate as a person who on taking on a responsibility does that which needs to be done to honor that responsibility. And, this choice was made on the basis of some pain/decision coming from the past.

Existential choices are non-trivial, they shape our lives. Why? Whilst the choice is made by one individual (in this case me) it impacted and continues to impact anyone that shares the local (work, social, personal) world with me.

How Has This Existential Choice Shaped My Life?

1-I think long and hard before becoming responsible for someone, or something. Example, when my girlfriend told me that she was pregnant. I didn’t give her any answer immediately – which is what she was looking for. Instead, I sat with that for the whole evening and night. By morning time, I had made my choice: to BE a father, a good father, to the unborn child. And, secondary to support both the mother and the child. Specifically, the family would always come first, and then if there was something left then I would use that for me: time, energy, money etc.

2-If those who I care and am responsible for are not prospering (happy, healthy) then automatically I assume that I am the source of that: I did something I shouldn’t have done, or I failed to do something that I should have. See the link with the past? Whilst this can have negative effects, it also has its positive side: the fact that I do not just assume that it is has nothing to do with me and carry on regardless of the suffering of the other that matters to me. I care enough to find out if I am the cause. And, even if I am not, then in the enquiring I am likely to learn what is the real cause. Thus putting myself in a better position to help a loved one.

How Has This Existential Choice Impacted Others?

Each of my three children know (mind, heart, soul) that I have done everything humanly possible for them – for their well-being (health) and their flourishing (dreams, self-expression etc). Further, they know they are loved by me – totally and unconditionally. And, that I am proud of who they are and who they are becoming. Finally, they know that I am here for them, totally, to the end of my days.

How did it work out for the mother of these children? Not that well in some domains. Why? One reason is if something was not working in her life and/or she was unhappy. I jumped to conclusion – it’s my fault – and got busy doing. Usually the wrong thing. To the extent that she learned to tell me something like “It’s not your fault, and I don’t need you to do anything. I need you to let me deal with this on my own. And/or just to listen to me.” On the other hand, it worked out rather well in a bunch of other domains. She was allowed total freedom. She has never been without money. She was supported in pursuing her dream of becoming a Counsellor and that is who she is and does….

I Bleed. Why Am I Bleeding?

I created myself through a number of existential choices. The first, and arguably the most important, in terms of determining my being and doing is that choice I have described and explained here.

One of the aspects that I am most proud of myself, and as such a source of inner power and self-esteem, is this aspect: accepting responsibility and being the person who is necessary to discharge that responsibility! Put differently:

1-My word is my bond. Ergo, you can accept my word and so no need to draw up and sign a contract.

2-Honouring my word as myself. Ergo, in honouring my word I honour myself (irrespective of what the world says about it). And in honouring myself I preserve or elevate my self-esteem: the esteem I have for myself. And, with a full tank of self-esteem there is nothing that I do not see myself as a match for. Everything that I am arises from my esteem for myself.

Now imagine, if someone truly important comes along and says words to the effect: “You are damaged goods. You made that choice as a child….It no longer serves you. I really think you should go and see a good therapist.”

At the level at which most of us operate – that which Heidegger referred to as the “they life”- this is perfectly understandable. Perfectly understandable. In that world this statement is a statement of care even love.

Trouble is I don’t operate at that level. I operate at an existential level. At that level this choice (and it’s consequences) is who I freely chose to be. I LIKE that I am a person who goes full out to care for those who matter to me, and those I find myself responsible for. I VALUE and RESPECT myself for being the person you can count on to play full out to honour his word: to himself, to you, to others, to the world.

I do not see this as a defect. Nor do I see myself as one who is defective. And, my deepest self bleeds because someone who truly matters to me, see me as defective. Defective enough to warrant therapy so he can be fixed. To see me this way is NOT to see me. That is the cut that bleeds my deep Self.

Summing It Up

The World does it best to cripple us: to strip us of our self-confidence, self-esteem, self–worth. That is just so – you will see this if you look deeply enough. And, falling in the concept “The World” fall those who are closest to us: our fathers, our mothers, teachers, those in the workplace etc.

I refuse to collude in diminishing myself. I have chosen myself and I continue to choose/own the existential choices I have made. If “authentic” means anything important, then authenticity is exactly this:

1-Creating oneself through one’s existential choices; and

2-Showing up and operating in accordance with who one has chosen to be in the face of the ‘resistance’ the world presents to this choice.

And, I urge you not to collude with anyone that seeks to diminish you: who you chose to be, your dreams, your tastes, your priorities, your natural self-expression….

If you are still here then I thank you for the generosity it takes to listen to my speaking. Wishing you the best. Until the next conversation.

Awaken: It’s Never Too Soon!


Stop bullshitting!

Kathleen Taylor finishes here TEDx talk with the following exhortation:

Discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world. Stop bullshitting

Why does Kathleen say this? Because she has learned from spending time working with-counselling the dying.

What can we learn from Kathleen?

Dying people teach us that it is never too late to shed what’s false and to become who we truly are.

Do you and I have to wait until our last days to live authentically?

But I’d like to hope that it is never too soon… So here is the challenge …. let’s don’t wait until we are at the end of our lives to find out who we really are.

Have your ever found yourself thinking about the purpose of your life? Wrong Question!

Have you every been confronted with this question: “What is my life about? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” This question is one that I continue to grapple with. And this is what Kathleen has good news for me:

I think that is the wrong question.

I actually think the better question is “Who am I being with my life?”

What is the relationship between being and doing?

There is an intersect between doing and being. But, I’m pretty sure that being comes first.

And what you are supposed to be doing with your life will flow from who you truly are. You really can’t screw that up if you do it that way.

Why bother with living authentically? Why not just fit in and go with the flow?

Action, and creativity, and innovation that comes from true authenticity is what moves the world forward. And it has the lovely side effect …. of creating joy.

Awaken to the preciousness of time! be authentic, stop bullshitting

Living is the process of dying. Please read that again: living is the process of dying. This is what you and I are almost never present to. Yet, this is not true for those who are dying:

It ends up that some of the purpose of facing your mortality is to look back on the body of work of your life and develop a deep sense of self. And really, to finally awaken to the preciousness of time.

This brings us back to Kathleen’s exhortation:

Discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world. Stop bullshitting

Here is Kathleen’s TEDx talk

By now you may be in a place where you actually want to see-hear-experience Kathleen’s TEDx talk. Here it is, enjoy!

Who Do You Want To Be?


We are given to search for recipes, formulas, instructions, and methods. And there is a place for recipes and formulas. If I am new to baking a cake then having a recipe at hand makes a difference.  If I need to get from A to B then the GPS will provide me with the step by step instructions to get from A to B, most of the time.

When it comes to life itself recipes, formulas, instructions and methods don’t work that well.  At best they are hit and miss.  I am not you, you are not me. And neither you nor I can step into the same river twice: we are not the same, the river is not the same.  What works for me may not work for you. What occurs as being a good fit for me may not be a good fit for you.  What leaves me inspired may not leave you inspired.

When it comes to living an authentic life, or living powerfully, or living an ‘extraordinary’ life questions are the access.  With the context set, I invite you to listen to Arnold Schwarznegger.  Why?  Because, he puts forth one of the most powerful questions for inventing a life, an authentic life, a life that matters, a transformed life. This video is only 3-4 minutes and is packed with wisdom.

To be me or my reflection?


CleaIqbalMBrook

I am the being of a father. I choose to be the being of a father. As such concerns show up when it comes to all of the children.  And I notice, in particular as regards daughter, Clea. Why?

She is at that age, 12 years old, where there is the change in biology occurring. And at the same time she is acted upon by strong social forces.  The kind of social forces that make, bend, break us.

So it was with delight that I read the following piece. A piece written by daughter where she asks a powerful question – perhaps the most powerful question of all.

Reflections

A chair small. I guess it’s how others interpret it cause in the reflection of the chair it’s tall and big.  A bit like humans.

Humans. There is what we are. And there is our reflection, how other people see us.

But let me ask you this, which one is more important? In our days everyone cares about their reflection: how other people see them.

But is it useful just having/being a reflection? I mean is it useful having a reflection of a chair? I think it is more useful just having the chair, the real chair.

Humans, it is more useful to have/be the real you than your reflection because your reflection is worth nothing to you.

So today ask yourself this question “To be me or to be my reflection?”

Conversation with a ‘condemned’ man: life is precious gift


On holiday in the l’isle de Re I came across many people.  Only one, Jean, grabbed my attention with the way of his being in the world.   It occurred to me that Jean was simply in the world making the most of being in the world.  He showed up as being ‘natural’ – just flowing like water flows without any need to make a statement nor to seek any approval/admiration from himself or others.  He occurred to me as  a person at peace with himself and the world.   Jean is retired/elderly (those are the facts) and yet he did not show up that way for me.  He showed up as being physically fit and youthful: his physique, his clothes, the way he carried himself, the car he drove…

What is Jean’s secret?

Was Jean always this way?  No.  He tells me that he was like everyone else going through the motions of living without being alive. He did not focus on what mattered, what called to him, what generated joy within him.  He would procrastinate.  He would let opportunities slip by.  He would let days idly slip by…..  He was immersed in ‘ordinary’ living and not even aware of it.

Then one day 20+ years ago he found he had cancer and that he was a condemned man – the cancer was going to kill him.  It was this death sentenced that freed him from his ‘ordinary’ life and opened the gate to his ‘extraordinary’ living.  This death sentence transformed his view of himself, of his relationships, of his life and his living.

What makes Jean show up as ‘extraordinary’?

Jean does not take life for granted like many/most of us do.  Jean does not complain/whine about life like many/most of us do.  To Jean, being alive is a privilege: life and living show up as precious gift that is not to be squandered. He is clear about who he is and who he is not. He is clear about what matters and what does not matter. He is clear what he likes to do/spend his time.  And being clear he acts on this clarity.  Jean is committed to living fully into and making the most of each day.  Today he thinks through how he wishes to spend tomorrow and when tomorrow comes he throws himself fully into it. Jean does not waste time on ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’, ‘looking good, avoiding looking bad’………… He is too busy living an authentic life and thus has no time, no space, for the rubbish that goes with everyday, ordinary, inauthentic living. 

You and I cannot escape death; we are all condemned to die from the moment that we are born.  You and I can continue to ‘forget’ this inconvenient fact and go about ‘ordinary living’ with our addictions to ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’ and ‘looking good avoiding looking bad’. Or we can live the way that Jean live where every day is a gift and what matters is to simply be one’s authentic self and put oneself fully into the game of life.

How about inventing and living from/living into the possibility of living ‘a life worth living’? 

What kind of a life shows up for you as being a ‘life worth living’ for you? Given that death is sitting on our shoulders ready to tap us and take us away, how long are you and I going to wait to live a ‘life worth living’?

9 practices for ‘playing BIG’ and living an ‘extraordinary life’


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