Play BIG: Choose Being Over Having


When do you find yourself alive – truly alive as in bursting with enthusiasm, joy, vitality?  Is it when you have donned on the costume of the successful Vice President? Or the up and coming Manager? Or the good corporate employee?  Is it when you are playing the perfect wife/husband?  Are you bursting with joy when you look at all that you own: the house, the car/s, the clothes, the children, your partner…?  Is it when you are sitting on the right committees?

When do you find yourself alive – truly alive?  Is it when you are cooking, composing a musical score, climbing a mountain, dancing, give a helping hand to those less fortunate than you, learning-speaking a new language, sharing-teaching that which you are passionate about, nursing plants out in the garden, out walking, painting, writing…?

I invite you to listen to listen, really listen, to the following words of profound wisdom. They do not make for easy listening. Which is why they are particularly worth listening to with an inquisitive-open mind:

The less you are and the less you express of your life – the more you have and the greater is your alienated life.

– Karl Marx

Don’t simply accept this! Take a zen approach: look into it and test it out for yourself. How much of you – your authenticity, your self-expression – do you sacrifice-suppress to play the roles that you play in order to have that you have? Do you even remember the last time that you experienced joy? I invite you to consider that you have been asked and have consented to sacrifice you – be less you – in order to be accepted and approved of by your parents, your siblings, your friends, your school teachers, your work colleagues, your employers…

Your life, your choice: being (as your natural self-expression) or having (titles, status, money, holidays..).

 

Who Am I? Who Are You?


What Kind Of A Being Is A Human Being?

There are so many lenses through which you/i can look at this question and answer it:

– We can look at it through the Judeo-Christian lens: a human being is fashioned in the likeness of God and is here to create something like a paradise on earth.

– We can look at it through the enlightenment lens: man is the rational being who defines himself through his ability to exercise reason and act on the basis of reason as opposed to dogma/superstition.

– We can look at this question through the psychoanalytic lens: man is never ending interplay of dynamic forces arising from the ‘id’, the ‘superego’, and the ‘ego’.

– We can look at it through the sociological lens: man is a social being who always exist in a social context and whose way of showing up in the world is fashioned by the social context – particularly the culture in which he grew up.

For my part, I find myself drawn to the following way of defining a human being: Man is the being who cannot escape the question of being and as such necessarily takes a stand on his being. 

Who Am I? 

I can define-view myself in many ways. And if I look into this deeply I get there is no limit to the many ways that I can define myself. If there is a limit then it is the limit of my imagination.

Every tribe/society privileges certain definitions-categories above others. In the world in which I find myself, these definitions centre primarily on what one has-holds-occupies: wealth, social class, profession, status….

So who am I?  I am my stand. At any point in time, I am that which I am committed to. These commitments show up in the form of  possibilities that I invent, ‘projects’ that I take on and give myself to, and the way that I show up and travel in this world. 

Let’s make this concrete:

Many years ago I found myself confronted with a choice. Which choice? Career: doing that which it takes to move from Senior Manager to Director/Partner in a major consulting firm or doing that which it takes to be a good father. I chose the latter.

Some years ago I was confronted with the choice of doing that which the CEO asked-dictated and relating to myself as ‘thief-liar-cheat’ or risk losing my job. I found myself saying that I was not willing to do that which was being asked-dictated.

Every week I clean the toilets and bathrooms, voluntarily and willingly. Why? To ground myself, to experience humility, to lead by example: to do the kind of work that I ask of my family.

I do not accept presents. When Christmas or my birthday comes, I ask those who would give me presents to give me money instead. Why? So that I can give that money to those less fortunate than me.

Recently I invented the possibility of being a good cook and cooking curry for my parents as that is what they love to eat. I took on that which, by default, is hardest for me: asking for help. I asked my wife for help as she is a great cook. Now, some months later, I relate to myself as a cook. I have cooked for my parents – I did it a week ago. And, I insist on cooking Sunday lunch. This Sunday my family members told me that this was the best curry I had cooked.

I hope you get the idea.

Who are you?

I invite you to step outside of the existing categories-definitions. Instead take a good look, at who/what you give yourself to in terms of your time, your energy, your deepest self, your self-expression, your resources..

I invite you to notice the following:

– if you define yourself through the standard categories – your sex (male, female), nationality, occupation, social class etc – you find your room for manoeuvre limited.

– if you accept my invitation and define yourself through your stand, the possibilities you invent, the projects you take on, your room for manoeuvre is so much wider-bigger-spacious.

I leave you with this quote from Lynne Twist:

“Taking a stand is a way of living and being that draws on a place within yourself that is at the very heart of who you are. When you take a stand, you find your place in the universe, and you have the capacity to move the world.”

On Responsibility, Possibility, Reality And The Transitoriness Of Life


….. the transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essential transitory possibilities. 

Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualised? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.  

Usually …. man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being.…..

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. 

On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all life he has already lived to the fullest….

What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, than you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

– Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Put Aside ‘Story’, Be Present To The Phenomenon


In our default way of being something occurs in the world and instantly we find ourselves in the domain of explanation; we are almost never present to the phenomenon itself: that which occurred.  Does this matter?  Let’s explore through an example.

Yesterday evening, wife was talking to sons and one in particular. She floated the idea of him putting his brother on his insurance policy, driving his new (to be) car. Instantly, I intervened, dominated the conversation, and made my wife wrong about bringing up the subject.  She was not at all happy. How did I respond to the situation?  Not well: I did not listen to her objections instead I made her wrong for objecting to my insistence on having the conversation go my way.  Where was I whilst this ‘conversation’ was occurring?

I was in the land of ‘story’: explanation, reasoning and excuse.  What kind of ‘story’?  This one: “The boys don’t get along at the best times. What is my wife thinking? Has she forgotten the animosity between the boys?  Is she deliberately stirring up conflict?  Surely she can’t be that stupid! I have to put an end to this right here, before this plan gets any wind behind it. It is the right thing to do.”

What was the ‘story’ that I found myself entangled in when my wife objected to my attempted domination of the conversation?  This one: “Is she stupid?  Doesn’t she get that I am doing what I am doing for the benefit of all?  That my way is the best way: it will avoid conflict further down the road. If this thing gets ‘wind in the sails’  we (wife and I) will find ourselves involved in sorting things out. And whatever we do we will end up disappointing one of the boys!. No, I have to stick to my guns and stop this stupid idea!”

As you can imagine the situation did not turn out well. My wife and I ended up going to sleep upset with one another.  What showed up when I slept on the matter? In sleeping on the matter, I focussed on the phenomenon itself: that which occurred and not my interpretation-explanation (‘story’) of that which occurred.  And this is what showed up for me:

When my wife brought up the idea of one son putting the other son on his car insurance for his new car, I became alarmed. My body sat upright as if an alarm bell had gone off. What was the cause of this alarm? I saw in my minds eye, tension-conflict-fighting between the boys over who did what. And I saw myself being sucked into the situation – at the very minimum listening to, seeing, experiencing this conflict.  I hate conflict!

How might the evening have turned out if I had been present to the phenomena – that which was occurring for me – as it was occurring?

1. I would have realised one of my ‘hot’ buttons had just been pressed. That I was alarmed, I was fearful, I saw myself being sucked into a pit that would be hard to climb out of.

2. I would have said to wife: “Listening to your suggestion, I find myself fearful. I am afraid that this idea will not turn out well. The boys will argue-fight. You and I will be blamed for coming up with his idea – even forcing this idea on to our eldest son. And whilst you can tolerate conflict between the boys and see it as a learning opportunity for them, I find in unbearable. Finding it unbearable I will find myself sucked into sorting it out. And that will be a thankless task. So I finding myself vulnerable, alarmed, fearful about what you are suggesting to our eldest son. What can you do to help me out here?”

3. Wife, I, and the boys would have been given an opening to a honest conversation. It is even possible that the boys would have found an opening to share how the situation showed up for them and how they were feeling about my wife’s suggestion.

4. Wife and I might have gone to sleep within the context of mutual understanding and affection.  We might even have gone to sleep understanding each other better  – at a more intimate-deeper level.

So next time, you find yourself enmeshed in story feeling what you are feeling, telling yourself what you are telling yourself, put aside the ‘story that you are spinning and which is spinning you’ and get present to the phenomena. Being with the phenomena, without the ‘story’, may just give you the opening that you need to take an alternative (more effective) course of action.

What did I do? Having gotten present to the phenomena during the night, I apologised to my wife for my conduct the previous evening, and shared the phenomena (that which I had experienced). I am confident that this allowed her to forgive me, and put the previous evening behind us.

To The Wonder: A Beautiful Meditation On Life, Love, And The Wonder Of Existence?


tothewonder

Yesterday, I found myself watching Terence Malik‘s latest film: To The Wonder.  Terence Malik is not a conventional director, he is a philosopher in the disguise of a film director.  To The Wonder is not a film, it shows up for me as philosophical meditation on life, on love, on God, and on existence itself.  It just so happens that this meditation is communicated through film.

If you find that that which I speak finds a listening in you then I recommend that you make the time  to ‘read’ To The Wonder. And as for any philosophical reading it is necessary to do so when one either creates for finds oneself in the right mood and with the right listening – a listening that allows the speaking to show up as meaningful.

What more is there to say on To The Wonder?  Allow me to share with you snippets of the sayings (on To The Wonder) that speak to me and shed some light.

Every one of us, no matter how damaged or abnormal or shut down, we’re all looking for love. Every person needs love in this world, but our views on what love is vary enormously. Which is the joy and the problem.”

Olga Kurylenko (one of the main characters in the film)

“Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?”

Roger Ebert (film critic, deceased)

“On a deeper level, the film is Malick’s meditation on the Christian vision of loveand the obstacles that we perversely place in the way of satisfying our irrepressible longing for it. Anyone who’s fallen in love is familiar with the feeling: The world appears transfigured. In the first words of the film, Marina describes it as being “newborn,” called “out of the shadows……..

Ultimately, for Malick, the experience of falling in love grants us a glimpse of the divine — of a “Love that loves us”…… But love is not only rapture. In Malick’s Christian view, it also calls on us to sacrifice, to give ourselves over fully to the one we love…… Father Quintana says it is: “Love is not only a feeling. Love is a duty. You shall love… You feel your love has died? It is perhaps waiting to be transformed into something higher.” 

Father Quintana achieves a spiritual epiphany during a sequence toward the end of the movie that is unlike any I have ever encountered in film……As the priest comforts a succession of suffering people — the old, the anguished, the crippled, the sick, and the dying — he recites a devotion of St. Patrick: “Christ be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ on my right. Christ on my left. Christ in the heart.”

Humanity was made for God. And he is present all around us — in the transfiguring, wondrous joy of romantic love, in self-giving sacrifice, in our suffering and the suffering of others, in the charity we offer to those in pain, in the resplendent beauty of the natural world — if only we open our eyes to see him. That, it seems, is Terrence Malick’s scandalous message.”

Damon Linker (senior correspondent at theweek.com)

Life Is A Miracle, Speak Yet Again: Bring New Light To What Life Might Be


“Thy life is a miracle. Speak yet again.”

– Edgar speaking to the Earl of Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Lear

Looking Back On 2013

On this the last day of 2013 what is it that I am present to?  Gratitude. What is it that I am grateful for?

How wondrous it is that I can see!  I got to see blue sky, white clouds, yellow sunshine, pinkish sunset….

How magical it is that I can hear!  Today, I found myself listening to my daughter call me “Papa”; I love the sound of “Papa” and have done so ever since my first child called me “Papa”.  Music, I found myself listening and moving to, and being moved by, the music coming through on the tablet.

How wondrous that I can speak! Yes, speak – communicate with my fellow human beings, express myself, ask for help, offer help, co-ordinate my actions with all whom I find myself in a dance with.

How miraculous that I can smell! One of the joys of starting the morning is smelling the various fragrances that go with the various soaps which I use when I shower in the morning.

How wonderful it is to find that everything works – that the fingers work, the arms work, the feet work, the legs work, the back works, the lungs work, the heart works ……….! What a gift is is to find myself fully able to take care of myself such that I do not rely on nor wait for anyone to take care of me?  What a gift it is to dance.

Looking Ahead to 2014

Yes, life is a miracle.  Let’s assume that the miracle continues and I am gifted an entrance into 2014. What is there to “Speak yet again”?  It occurs to me that what there is to speak is to speak a possibility.

“Bring new light to what life might be.” 

This is why you were born; that’s why you are here. To bring some new angle to the human condition – if not to the broader world in general, then at least to your family and the people around you…….

– Hugh MacLeod, Gaping Void

As I sit with “Bring new light to what life might be.” what shows up?  Kindness-Gentleness-Aliveness-Harmony.  It occurs to me that I moved by the possibility of being an opening for kindness-gentleness-harmony to show up in the world. It occurs to me that if I am gifted life in 2014 then I am up for speaking kindness, generosity, aliveness, and harmony in my way of being (showing up) in the world.

What is it that you are moved to speak in 2014? How can you bring new light to what life might be?

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.