Hurt: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation, as it is deeply important one, to Teresa Zelmanovits. She is a person of deep humanity and considerable insight into the human condition. And, the source of this conversation.

“Don’t Fuck Up!”

Stephen Margarito, a friend, is fond of saying “DON’T fuck up!!” Is such a stand – way of showing up and travelling in the journey of life – possible? Let’s say for the sake of argument you (or I) are perfect – we never ever fuck up. Does this mean that you (or I) will lead a perfect life – a life without hurt, a life with only happiness?

I say “No!” Get real, you (and I) are going to get hurt. Hurt is a certainty for every human that has walked, does walk, ever will walk on this Earth. Why? Because, you (and I, and every other person) is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

As a being-in-the-world-with-others my existence is intricately tied to that of this world, and to that of others. Take others, if one’s life partner fucks up then one is impacted. If those who act as teachers to one’s children fuck up then one is affected. If one’s employer fucks up then there are likely to be redundancies and one is affected. Now, let’s take the World. Covid-19 broke out and how many have been affected?

The Existentialist Perspective: Fucking Up and Hurt Are Intrinsic to Human Existence, There is No Escape

One (you, I, the other) will fuck up. There will be consequences for the one that fucked up and others. And where there are fuck-ups there is likely to be hurt – not always, but likely. Hurt, you know as in “I hurt!” When I say “hurt” I am not pointing at pain. When I sliced my thumb open, there was blood everywhere, and pain was present. Even today, some 3 weeks later pain in my thumb is present.

By “hurt” I point at emotional hurt as in when one feels hurt. Example, your loved one leaves you, or dies. Beyond the emotional there is a deeper hurt. Of what do I speak? Of the hurt in one’s soul – in one’s very being. Example, you really really wanted to be say a dancer yet you became a lawyer because that is what your father or mother did. Or you did not seize the moment to pursue the only that truly mattered to you – the one that lit up your very soul and left it dancing joyously.

What Matters Is How One Deals With Hurt

Hurt is an existential fact: everyone of us will experience hurt. It’s what we do with this hurt that matters. Put differently and more powerfully: it’s how we choose to use hurt that makes all the difference.

What are the standard (playing small) options in relation to hurt?

1-One can withdraw from life – into one’s shell so that one does not allow the other, or the world, to inflict more hurt. Some go one better, they withdraw, comfortable in that withdrawal, they stay there for a lifetime.

2-One can play victim – feel sorry for oneself, look/demand sympathy from others, one can go further and expect others to drop what they are doing and looking after me, the victim of life. By playing victim one can inflict one’s hurt onto others – almost always on those who are closest to us, those who love us. Why? Because they are the only ones willing to accept the injury and almost always the domination; the victim gets to dominate by playing weak and demanding loved one look after him/her. Failure to play this game leads the victim to ambush loved ones with guilt as in “If you loved me…..” Often the victim does not even need to do this, cultural upbringing already conditions one to feel guilty if one does not do their all for loved ones who are down.

3-One can burn with resentment, anger, even rage. These will lead to the corresponding actions For example, where one resents another, distance, blame, and critiscism of the other/s follows. I call this “inflicting death by a thousand cuts.” Anger can lead to lashing out at the other/s. Whether that is the abusive tongue or the abusive hands.

What Are The Playing BIG, useful, Options in relation to hurt?

1-One uses hurt to connect with one’s fellow human beings – recognising our mutuality, our shared human existence and condition. By connecting thus one opens the gate to compassion – for the other/s who are just like me hurting in some manner.

2-One goes into the hurt to enquire, to learn – about oneself, about the other/s, about the world. Example, one seeks to understand why it is that one’s spouse is emotionally distant or cutting. What is going on here? What burdens/scars does the spouse carry that lead to his/her behaviour? How am I being, and/or what is it that I am doing, that contributes and perhaps is even the source of my spouse being distant or cutting? At the end of the learning process one is almost always in a much more powerful place in relation to the hurt. And often the hurt is gone, at the very minimum it is diminished. Example, I see how my recent way of showing up and travelling in life (say being impatient and critical or just plain indifferent to him/her) has awakened the spouse’s scars and fears. And led to the spouse’s emotional distance or cutting remarks. S/he hurts me because I, unknowingly, hurt him/her.

3-One uses hurt constructively on the journey of becoming. As the Existential philosophers point out a human being is, alway and forever, a being and a becoming: for one always has the freedom to choose to become other than what one is today. So, having approached the hurt through the mode of enquiry / learning (option 2) one can act: to change oneself; to influence others; and/or to make a change in the world. Taking the example of the distant cutting spouse, I go up to my spouse and apologise – really apologise for my behaviour and the impact of my behaviour on him/her. And in this very act a new possibility, a new future, is created: one of connection, harmony, intimacy.

Summing Up

No human being, who lives a normal human life, can escape fucking-up and that which often comes with it: hurt. Playing BIG, involves choosing the path less travelled: expecting hurt, accepting hurt, looking into hurt to enquire and learn about myself, about others, about the world. And, then using this learning to take action – action that heals me, heals the other, and ideally heals the world.

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for I know that my speaking is not easy to hear. And, I wish you the very best. Until the next time…..

On Self and World: “They Could Never Be There What They Are Here”


What is your understanding of self? What is your understanding of the strength of relatedness between self and the world that the self finds itself dwelling in?  Can we easily separate self and the world – are they two distinct entities that bear little intimacy with one another?  Or is Heidegger correct in asserting that self and world are one: being-in-the-world.

What about freedom?  Is human freedom unlimited – one can make of oneself whatever one wishes irrespective of the world that one finds himself dwelling in?  Or human freedom always a finite freedom?  Which is to say a human being, any human being, every human being, is only every granted finite freedom: freedom within certain boundaries – boundaries set by the world that one finds oneself dwelling in?  Here the word ‘world’ speaks more than the physical universe.  It refers also and especially to the social world – the world created by man including the world of people (including their God / gods) and the people’s way of showing up and travelling in the world?

I invite you to read and be present to the following words:

“There are four Bescharyin here at the tea house with me, exotic figures, splendidly robed, and armed, their hair teased out and glued into strands……. The contact between us is instantaneous and overwhelming. There is a spirit in this tea, a magic solvent to wash away our differences. This is another reason why I am here: to experience (nothing less) the brotherhood of man. Imagine meeting these men in a London pub or an American Diner. Impossible. They could never be there what they are here. They would be made small by the complexities, the paraphernalia that we have added to our lives..…. I had to come here to realise the full stature of man: here outside a grass hut, on a rough wooden bench, with no noise, no crowds, no appointments, no axe to grind, no secret to conceal, all the space and time in the world, and my heart as translucent as the glass of tea in my hand.

The sense of affinity with these men is so strong that I would tear down every building in the West if I thought it would bring us together like this. I understand why the Arab idea seems so perverse, so fanatical, untrustworthy and self destructive to the Western mind. It must be because the Arab puts an ultimate value on something we no longer even know exists. Integrity, in its real sense of being at one with oneself and one’s God, whoever and wherever that God may be. Without it he feels crippled.”

– Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

I say that wo/man and world are in the most intimate of relationship. No other relationship comes close. And this is so beautifully expressed by Ted Simon when he says “They could never be there what they are here.”  Yet this most intimate of relationship (wo/man, world) is hidden from you, me, us. We are not present to it. Being not present to the intimacy of this relatedness you/i/we pay little or no attention to the world.  And thus no attention to the way that the world influences, moves, shapes us.  Put differently, an enduring  transformation of self necessitates a transformation in world.  For self and world are a unity each flowing into and shaping the other.  Even more radically, the self is not closed, it is open. When you get the level of openness that is the case you see the self for what it is: a fiction. And you see that human freedom can never be selfish – genuine freedom necessarily consideration of the world in which one dwells. The freedom to rape, plunder, pollute the world rebounds on self.

Everything That Shows Up Shows Up In Relationship; Everything Said is Said by Someone


In our default way of being in the world, in the West, we ascribe properties to objects. So without any conscious-deliberative thought, we say:

  • This rose is red;
  • This bag is heavy;
  • My husband-wife-partner is selfish;
  • My boss is harsh-selfish-demanding-stupid;
  • My work is boring;
  • The English are cold-unfriendly people;
  • The Americans are arrogant;
  • This food is delicious;
  • She has such an irritating voice ……

Let’s stop and ask ourselves the question, “Is what I take for granted really what is so?”  Let’s just consider the last assertion “She has such an irritating voice!”, as assertion made by a family member when she heard me listening to a podcast.

When I/you say “She has such an irritating voice!” what is it that I am sharing?  Am I pointing out an objective truth? Am I pointing out to the intrinsic ‘suchness’ of her voice?  It looks that way doesn’t it given that is our cultural practice: we stand aside from the world, looking at it as a scientist does, and describe the properties of the world – including the properties of people, of objects, of groups of people and objects. And in so doing we forget that it is i/you/we who are doing the describing!

It occurs to me that when I say “She has such an irritating voice!” I am not speaking an objective truth. Rather, I am pointing at and sharing my lived experience. If I were to describe this lived experience it would be something like this:

“In my state of being right now and the listening that automatically flows from my state of being, I find that her voice shows up as irritating. “

Do you notice the different between these two statements:

“She has such an irritating voice!” and

“In my state of being right now and the listening that automatically flows from my state of being, I find her voice shows up as irritating.”

Do you notice that the label ‘irritating voice’ points towards and highlights the flavour-tone-touch of  my relationship with her?  ‘Irritating voice’ is not a property of her. Her voice is simply her voice: it is neither melodious nor irritating.  Any irritation that shows me in me arises out of my relating with her voice. 

Summing up:

– man is being-in-the-world-with-others and as such always exist in relationship. Everything that shows up shows up in the space of relationship. There are no objects with intrinsic properties independent of others.  

– all descriptions, all labeling, all asserting is done by someone. Humberto Maturna is reported to have said “Everything said is said by someone”.  By this he meant that all acts of cognition-experience occur, are distinguished by, and spoken by someone.  This also means that “All that is heard is heard by someone.” 

– when you and I get that, really get that, then the space of transformation (in our relating to ourself, to others, to the world in which we dwell) opens up and is available for reinterpretation. Whether you and I step into that space is a choice that we can accept or decline.  

 

 

 

It snowed, there is snow, is that all there is to it?


The folks at the weather station predicted snow.  And then it snowed. And there was snow.

Upon seeing the snow the youngest two members of the family ran to the windows.  They became smiles and excitement.  They lived into a future that gave them joyous being: schools would be shut, no school, stay home, play with friends in the snow!

Upon being alerted to the snow, I reluctantly put on my shoes, headed outside and drove my car off the drive and towards the top of the hill.  I lived into a future of risk/struggle/fear.  The risk associated with getting my car off the drive.  Last time it snowed heavily and did that I couldn’t. And when I persisted the car skid into a wall and required costly repairs.  Struggle because every time it snows heavily it is a struggle to get anywhere without considerable effort. Why fear? Because twice in the past my car skidded in the snow/ice, I lost control, felt helpless, felt fear, and the car hit something.

Upon being alerted to the snow, my wife said and did nothing.  She just got on with what she was getting on with or needed to get on with.

The next day, we had to go out.  My wife drove and I was happy for her to drive.  Later we are told that the schools have closed and have to go and pick our son up.  There is a lot of snow on the ground. And it is snowing hard.  We are not at home.  There are long queues of cars.  The sat-nav does not work, I am fretting.  My wife, she is calm. It takes us over an hour to do a fifteen minute journey.  I am uneasy, I am cursing the snow, I am fretting about not being able to get through to my son – he is not answering his mobile phone. My wife? She is calm, she is patient, she drives, she finds her way.

We get home. The children in the street are playing in the snow. They are laughing, they are clearly making it a great time for themselves, playing in the snow. Someone is rolling in the snow.  It is our daughter, the youngest member of the family.  Her face is red. Her clothes are soaking wet. And she is experiencing pure joy – out rolling in the snow.  I look at her in astonishment and head inside where I can be warm.

What shows up for me?  I am present to several distinctions, that I first came across in Landmark Education, that are in operation in each of us:

Event/Story: The event is simply that there is some 15m of snow.  And then each of us, me,  wife, son, daughter, made a different story of the snow.

It is the future that you are living into that gives you your being-in-the-world right now.  My children were living into a future of no school, playing with friends, snowball fights. And their being was joyous.  My wife was living into a future of ‘no big deal and it snow can be pretty. So her being was undisturbed, she got on with what she needed to get on with.  Me, I was living into a future of fear/risk/struggle – of losing control of the car. And so my being-in-the-present was annoyance with the snow.

What am I present to? All that happened was that it snowed.  All there was was snow, ice, slush, more snow.  Yet, none of us left it at that. All of us made it mean something. And our being-in-the-world was a function of the meaning that our human machinery gave to the snow.

Which means that my being-in-the-world, your being-in-the-world, is a function of the story that runs me, runs you.  And our freedom lies in our ability/freedom to create better stories – stories that move-touch-inspire us.  Our ability to change reality – whether it snows or not – can be limited.  Our ability invent stories, invent possibilities, is unlimited.  So, ultimately, our freedom lies in the domain of possibility and of story.