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.

Playing Big Involves A Certain Kind of Relationship Towards Wrongdoing


A stone has a certain kind of being. What kind?  The being of a stone is stillness. A stone just sit there – it’s way of being has no capacity for acting in/on the world. It is indifferent to what is so and it cannot be otherwise for a stone.

The being of human being is very different.  The way of being of human beings is involvement in the world. And choice in the matter of what shape this involvement takes. Further, this involvement necessarily involves doing – taking action.

Yes, man can be indifferent to that which is but this indifference can never be the indifference of the stone.    The indifference of a human being is an active – chosen – indifference.  Man is implicated in his indifference and thus subject to moral judgement, the stone is not.

 

By nature of the being of human beings you and I are implicated in all that which is and which is not. If the world is not as you and I wish it to be then you and I are confronted with choice – how to be (including the actions we take or do not take) in the face of that which is and is not.  You and I can choose to resign ourselves to that which is, point the finger at others and leave it at that, or take responsibility for shaping the world to be more in line with which we wish it to be.

What has brought up this conversation today?  My confrontation with wrongdoing.

When faced with wrongdoing what do I do?  Do I pretend that it is not happening?  Do I join in with those doing wrong? Do I help those who are the subject of the wrongdoing?  Do I accept that wrongdoing is occurring and say it is not any of my business?  Do I merely go through the pretence of doing something whilst staying in the good books of the wrongdoer?  You get the idea.

When it comes to the matter of wrongdoing Martha C. Nussbaum has something to say:

… where the perpetrators are like General Dyer, human, the consequence of recognising wrongdoing … is clear: the witness must oppose such evil at great cost and denounce it to others...

In our contemporary world, in which it is a good assumption that most of the starvation and much of the other misery we witness is the result of culpable negligence by the powerful, metaphysical resignation would, again, be relatively good news, letting the powerful of the hook.

But the truthful new of Greek tragedy, for us, as for the Athenians, is far worse than that: for the bad news is that we are culpable as Zeus in the Trachiniai, and the Greek generals in The Trojan Women, and Odysseus in Philoctetes, and many other gods and mortals at many times and places – unless we throw off our laziness and selfish ambition and obtuseness and ask ourselves how the harms we witness might have been prevented.  

As Philoctetes knew, pity means action: intervention on behalf of the suffering, even if it is difficult and repellent. If you leave out the action, you are an ignoble coward, perhaps also a hypocrite and a liar. If you help you have done something fine. 

– Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness

If you and I turn a blind eye to the wrongdoing then let’s be clear we are playing small.  Playing BIG necessarily involves doing that which Martha says: taking action, opposing evil, helping those subjected to wrongdoing/evil.

Further, I invite you and me to consider that where we are being obtuse, lazy, and selfishly ambitious it is most likely that we are playing small.  Given this recognition you and I have the choice to stop this and play BIG.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time…

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

Play BIG: Be A Human & Call Forth Each Other’s Humanity


I have been giving a lot of thought to what it means to play big.

Imagine you are out of university, enter the world of work, and set your sights to becoming the youngest ever CEO of your organisation.  And you set out to do exactly that.  Now that could be called playing big, and it does not show up for me that way.

Imagine that you have set up a coffee shop and you dream of having a chain of coffee shops all across the country. And then expanding so that there is one of your coffee shops in every city across the world.  And then you get busy turning this feat of imagination into reality.  This could be called playing big, and it does not show up for me that way.

Imagine that you are down and out with cancer. Yet, you envisage getting back on your bike and winning the Tour De France. Unimaginable to most and you are totally determined to do so. And you do all that it takes to deal with your cancer, get healthy, get fit, race. You win the Tour De France.  Many would call that playing big, and it does not show up for me that way.

It occurs to me that, for me personally, playing BIG is transcending that which goes with ego: self-centredness and vanity at best; selfishness, greed, indifference and/or cruelty at worst.  It occurs to me that to play BIG is to put the best of my humanity, our humanity, into action. And in thus doing make a contribution to lives and life itself.  Which is why, I find myself deeply moved by the following words for one who lives-walks the path of god:

Be a human, bring out each other’s humanity.

Get rid of hunger, get rid of poverty. Don’t be materialistic, and you will have money, even to give to America.

I have a love of humanity. A love for any person.

Truthfully, I am a refugee from India, but I call myself a human being.

I have become famous for being a human being.

– Abdul Sattar Edhi, Edhi Foundation

I encourage you to watch the short film and allow yourself to be touched by that which is the best in and of us:

If you find yourself touched then I ask that you honour our shared humanity by truly being a human being and calling forth the best of our shared humanity.  Here is an idea that has just come to me, how about for one day:

  • that which you spend on yourself (say a coffee, a lunch, a restaurant meal…..) you also spend on a fellow human being with a open heart; and
  • put into the world and thus share the non-materialistic bounty of life – a smile, a kind word, deep listening, a helping hand.

I am taking on this game, joyfully.  And it would be great to play this game with you, play it together.

It occurs to me that you/i/we have a choice. What choice? A fundamental choice: to live as gods or to live as beggars. What is the difference? God gives.  The beggar, in whichever guise is always looking for that which he can receive/gain from others.  Please notice even a ‘beggar’ can be god. How? Simply by smiling and allowing that smile to light up the lives of those who pass by and receive the gift of that smile.

I thank you for the listening that your create. It is your listening that keeps me in this conversation and calls forth that which finds itself spoken here, at this blog.

‘Whole-Complete-Perfect’: Is This The Most Fundamental and Powerful Choice?


When you and I came forth from this world we came forth naked.  Totally naked: without any and all labels.  No name, no gender, no nationality, no religion, no politics…

So how did you and I end up with such a strong identity?  An identity that grips us.  An identity that permeates us.  More accurately, identity that is us.  It simply happened didn’t it as we travelled through the years with people, from one place to another?  Would it be correct to say that the foundations of my identity, your identity, our identity was solidly in place before you and I were in a place to choose, to discriminate, to accept or decline the garments of identity thrust upon us by our parents, family, caregivers?

I ask you to take a good look at the core of your identity?  What do you see?  Do you see ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘American’, ‘Brit’, ‘christian’, ‘muslim’, ‘atheist’, ‘painter’, ‘mom’, ‘CEO’, ‘marketer’….?  Please go and look beyond that.  What do you see?

If you look deep enough and have the courage to see, to listen, I say that you are most likely to find that the core of your identity is that of ‘being defective’.  Is that not our common humanity at the most fundamental level?  You and I see ourselves as ‘defective’, as ‘not good enough’, as ‘something is wrong about me’. Right?  I get that my version of defective may be that ‘I am not good looking’ and that ‘my body is weak’ and that ‘stupid’. Your identity might be that  you are ‘too tall’, ‘too fat’, ‘too shy’, ‘not considerate enough’, ‘poor’…  Do you notice that the details differ and the bigger game is the same between us?  I am defective: I am not whole, I am not complete, I am not perfect.

You and I were born without identity, born naked of all labels, born naked full stop. Naked! So how did you go from no identity, and the lightness and freedom that goes with that, to carrying the huge burden that goes with operating from the stance ‘I am not whole, not complete, not perfect’?  We were programmed.  Why? So that we would fit in with the existing order.  So that we would better comply with the wishes of those more powerful than us. Right?

How is it working out?  Put differently, what is the experience of my life, your life, lived from the context of ‘not whole, not complete, not perfect’?  It is that of looking for all kinds of way to be whole, be complete, be perfect.  That is what all the self-help books are about, right?  That is what all the status brands and conspicuous consumption is about, right?  That is what all the pre tense of being perfect and having a perfect life is all about, right?

I say to me, to you, to us, what fools we are!  We can simply give up the game.  We can give it up right now, just like that.  How exactly?  Notice, that we were born naked, without labels, without identity.  Notice, that identity is a choice.  You and I can choose to live from another identity, another context.  Which one?  Where I declare myself as ‘whole-complete-perfect’,  and you declare yourself as ‘whole-complete-perfect’.  Let’s not stop there.  Let’s declare all of our fellow human beings ‘whole-complete-perfect’.

Imagine how life would show up if you and I did declare ourselves as ‘whole-complete-perfect’.  Imagine how life would be if you and I declared each and every human being as ‘whole-complete-perfect’.  Not as a truth but as an identity that we give ourselves. And as a stand from which we show up and operate from this world.  When we relate to ourselves and our fellow human beings as ‘whole-complete-perfect’ a totally new dimension of conversation and action shows up for us; you, me, everyone.  We stop being small! We are free to be BIG: to give wings to our dreams, to act on the world, to co-create a world that works, a world that is wonderful for us all.

Given that we come forth naked of identity, why is it that we have not been conditioned to believe and operate from stand-identity of being at our most fundamental level ‘whole-complete-perfect’?  If we had been conditioned that way, we would operate as ‘gods’ right?  What if those that condition don’t want ‘gods’ and instead want ‘slaves’ who do not know that they are enslaved?  Then giving us the identity of being ‘defective and weak’ would make perfect sense.  So I say choose: slave or god.

Still convinced that you know yourself?  Still convinced that you are defective, small, weak, and powerless? I invite you to watch the following video:

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.

 

The Bus Driver’s Gift


Our default way of being-in-the-world is to deny our freedom. Which freedom?  The freedom to choose.  Whilst I can talk about this philosophically, I prefer to point this out using a story.

The Bus Driver’s Gift

One afternoon a bus driver was taking 40 children home from school. As the bus made its way down a steep grade, the brakes failed. The driver was unable to steer the bus to the left because of a high embankment or to the right because of a steep cliff.

As the bus hurtled down the hill, the driver recalled that there was a narrow gate at the bottom which led into a field. He decided to try to steer the bus through the gate and into the field, figuring it would eventually come to a safe stop.  He hoped that no cars or other obstacles would get in his way before he got to the gate.

When the bus reached the bottom of the hill, the driver saw the gate approaching fast. But to his horror, he noticed a small child sitting on the gate, waiving at the bus.

It was too late to change plans now. If the driver tried to avoid the gate, 40 children would die. He cried out in anguish as the bus slammed directly into the game. The innocent child died instantly in the collision, but that bus and all of its passengers were saved.

Emergency vehicles were the first to arrive on the scene, followed shortly by relieved parents and grandparents. Many of them wanted to show their appreciation and gratitude to the driver who had kept the bus under control long enough to save their children. But the driver was nowhere to be found. They asked the police officer where he had gone.

“They’ve taken him to the hospital,” the officer said. “He’s suffering from severe shock.”

“Well that’s understandable, ” they replied.

“No, you don’t understand, ” said the officer. “You see, that little boy on the fence was his own son.”

To be human is to be be free, condemned to choose

We play little, we find excuses, we pretend that we are merely ‘victims’ or ‘passengers’ in the game of life. What this story does is to remind us of a truth that we’d rather not see nor face up to. Why?

Because with this truth, comes responsibility: responsibility for the way our life is, responsibility for the way our community is, responsibility for the way our organisations are, responsibility with the way life is.

Stuff happens, that is simply the way the universe works.  Sometimes, even often, we don’t get to choose what happens.  And always we get to choose how we will respond to that which the universe puts our way.  This is the essential truth that this story brings alive for me.

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?”

All life is an experiment: it always turns out the way it turns out


Right now I am confronted with choice and the choice concerns work.  It is not an easy choice.  Why?  I am confronted with what is so: to live is always to live at risk.  And the machinery that goes with being human goes all out to eliminate risk.  It wants to live forever, safely.

Getting past that, I find another challenge confronts me.  To go forward as a single person – as opposed to a team – I must focus.  What is it that I can do well by myself which creates value for my fellow human beings and will enable me to earn a living?  That means giving stuff up.  And what I notice is that the human machinery that runs me does not like that one little bit.  It wants to be able to do this and that as it enjoys doing lots of things. Put differently, it does not want to sacrifice: it wants to keep all options open, to have its fingers in all the pies.

Yet, as a strategist I know that I must focus. And to focus, I must choose. And to choose is to choose one possibility and thus simultaneously given up the other possibilities that are on the table.

In the course of my struggle, I came across this quote wish has given me a helping hand.  And I wish to share it with you.

12080“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

On freedom, choice and responsibility


A conversation with a young woman

I was in communication with a young woman recently and the conversation went something like this (this is the best I can do from memory):

Me: “Is the light on inside?   Is joy present on the inside?”

Her: “No.  It hasn’t been present for a long time.”

Me:  Why not? What is getting in the way?”

Her: “I feel trapped – living this life, here with my parents, my family. Sometimes, I think about running away and starting a new life, my life.”

Me: “What is preventing you from taking that step, moving out, living your own life?”

Her: “The impact it will have on my parents, what it will do to them.  Sometimes, I get so angry with them that I hate them for keeping me here, living this life.”

Me: “I see, you get that you have choice and you have made the choice to live with your parents and the life that goes with that.  I don’t get why you are blaming your parents.  Your parents are not responsible and do not deserve your blame/bitterness/anger. You are free to leave any time you wish.  Yet, you choose to stay.  So you are the person who is responsible for the life that you live and your experience of living.  You are responsible for your unhappiness, you bring this on to your self.”

Her: “Don’t say that.  If  believed that then I’d want to kill myself!”

Freedom, choice and responsibility

Yes, we are thrown into this world and we don’t get a say in where we are born, whether we are born male or female, healthy or unhealthy, who are parents are, what kind of circumstances we are born into, what culture we are born into, what schools we go to (if we go to school) etc.   Yet at some point we grow up and are no longer children, no longer dependent and at the mercy of others.  Like this young woman we leave home, we go to university, we get an education, we dabble/experience the bigger world, we get to stand on our own two feet….

I say that the process of ‘growing up’ is coming face to face with freedom, choice and responsibility. As beings-in-the-world we are faced with choice.  You could say being confronted with choices and making a choice is the evidence of our freedom. Even in the most difficult of circumstances where what we can and cannot do is severely limited we still get to choose: we get to choose our attitude towards ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we are embedded.  Put differently, sometimes we get to choose between two flavours of ice cream say chocolate or vanilla.  And sometimes life presents us with only chocolate and even though we get only chocolate we are free to choose  our attitude, our stance towards chocolate being present in our lives.

With choice comes responsibility.  Put differently, we are responsible for our lives and our experience of living – just as it is and just as it is not. Look, sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I look at how my children behave.  And when I look at the situation honestly/courageously I see that I am totally responsible for what is so.  When my children were younger, many people – wife, parents, parents-in-law, friends – pointed out that I was allowing my children too much freedom, not setting strong boundaries, not being controlling enough.  And I ignored all of them. Why?  I was committed to allowing my children the widest degree of freedom. And I reasoned that as they got older I could talk with them, reason with them and they would regulate their behaviour so as to get on/along with the people around them.  My theory did not work out as I had anticipated that it would work out.

What is the ultimate choice that confronts us?

I say that the ultimate choice that confronts us is the choice of owning our lives or not.  Owning my life is owning freedom, choice and responsibility.  I am free to make choices and I am responsible for the choices that I make and that which flows from and shows up from the choices that I make.  So, ultimately, each of us takes, is taking a stand towards freedom, choice and responsibility – whether we are present to making this choice or not.

You and I can look honestly at lives and face up to/get that we are the authors of our lives:  that we get a say in how we live our lives, how our lives turn out, our experience of living.  As such we can invent/project/live from and live into possibilities that move-touch-inspire us.

Or we can pretend that we are victims (like this young lady) and when we are confronted with ownership/authorship of our lives, our experience of living, we can strive to shut out this conversation  that confronts us with our freedom, choice and responsibility.

What choice are you making?  Are you owning your life and your experience of living?   If you are owning and being responsible for your life just as it is and just as it is not then who is owning / being responsible for your life?  

I know where I stand: the most powerful place to stand for me, is to own my life and my experience of living just as it is and just as it is not.  And being the owner, the author, of my life I am free to imagine and take different paths through it. This matters because it puts hope, possibility, new worlds into my life, my living. It is this stance that opens up a transformation in our living, in our world.

You are the cause of your suffering / are you running a ‘racket’? (Part III)


This post continues the conversation that commenced earlier and which you can find below:

How can you be about/deal with ‘tiredness’ and ‘hopelessness’? (part I)

You are neither the thoughts nor the feelings that show up (part II)

Let’s get present to where your are at (or were at)

“I tend to always fall for men that are dominant and players. It is difficult for me to be attracted to someone who is less witty and dominant, as I have a strong character. Although I know that it will always lead to hurt and abandonment, am like a moth to a flame.

This is one aspect of your life that you shared with me. You also shared the following with me:

  • “I guess I am feeling the loss of physical intimacy, someone to just be there to hold me when I’m feeling lost and alone.”
  • “Tired of searching for ‘the one’ to be my life companion – whilst desperately longing for one.”

You are the cause of your suffering and you can give it up this instant

There is what you want to be so. There is what is so. There is a difference between what you ‘want to be so’ and ‘what is so’. This difference shows up as ‘painful’ – an issue to be dealt with / a problem to be solved. And you are probably telling yourself that once you have solved this one, met the ‘one’ your life will work out and you will live happily ever after.

Do you notice something interesting? There is no ‘issue’ no ‘problem’ in the world as it is. You are generating this ‘issue’, this ‘problem’, this ‘upset’ and the suffering that goes with it. Let me be plain: YOU are the cause of your own suffering! And you can choose to not suffer – you can do that right now. Let’s take a look at this in more detail:

You have bought into and are living out of a myth. Here is how it goes: I can only be happy if/when I find the ‘one’; the ‘one’ is out there; once I find the ‘one’ or he finds me then all will be great and I will live happily ever after. I know many people who have found the ‘one’ and then found out, later, that life has not worked out and bliss is not ever present. I know of people who have found the ‘one’ only to lose the ‘one’ through death – and they are left grappling with that. I know of people who have found the ‘one’ and then the ‘one’ has cheated and/or left them for another – and these people are left grappling with that. What if you let go of this myth? What if you let go of putting conditions on happiness? What if you choose to be with the fact that right now the ‘one’ is not in your life and you choose to put happiness into your life? Notice that when you put these conditions onto life you are constructing your own prison.

“I know that it will always lead to hurt and abandonment”. Is this so? Let’s take a look at hurt, specifically how you (and I) create hurt. Notice that hurt arises in relation to people and pets. How does it come about? We create and live out of expectations around people – especially those who we are close to / those close to us. We may or may not share these expectations with them. They may or may not agree to our expectations. When the expectations are not met what shows up? Hurt. The bigger the gap between the demands we place on people (whether communicated or not) and what we get/do not get from these people the bigger the hurt. If you and I genuinely want to be free from hurt then we can do that right now: give up any and all expectations of people. You can even go further and ‘expect’ that every single person will act to get what he/she wants out of life – to act ‘selfishly’. Don’t you do the same? So what is the big deal when others do the same as you, same as me? If you practice this you will notice that there is no space for ‘abandonment’ in your life. ‘Abandonment’ is a function of making demands on people, on life, that life does not fulfil. Put differently, it is label for a specific kind of hurt.

Are your running a “racket”?

During my participation in Landmark Education I was exposed to the distinction “racket”. What is a racket? I say a racket is made of the following:

  • Fixed way of being e.g. being demanding, being critical, being helpful, being miserable…
  • Fixed set of behaviour – doing the same things over and over again
  • Recurrent complaint – about someone, something, about yourself
  • Payoff – usually hidden, not acknowledged – what you get out of being/doing what you are being/doing

Let’s get clear on this: you find a certain type of man attractive; you go for this type; you get what you get and you take it; at some point the ‘hurt’ and ‘abandonment’ shows up in your life’; you ‘beat yourself up’ in some way or form; you do the same again and again; and then you plead that you are simply a ‘moth to a flame’.

Well you are not a ‘moth’! You are human being who can envisage future, see possibilities, be other than that which you are being, pursue possibilities/paths other than what you are on today, do stuf that you are not doing today, stop doing stuff that you are doing…. you can even choose to give up your life. To be a human being is to be ‘the one that is always the chooser, always, not that which is chosen nor that which shows up or is imposed’. You can play at being ‘small’, ‘helpless’ even ‘pathetic’, that might work with you friends/family – it does not work with me. I relate to you as a ‘force of nature’ who can at any and all times invent and live into futures that leave your experience of living transformed. You are ‘BIG’, you really are. The question is, when will you choose to ‘play BIG’?

So now that we have distinguished the upper most level of racket – playing ‘small’ and asking for ‘leniency’ or ‘help’ let’s move on to the second level of your racket as I see it. Notice, I am not making truth claims. I am simply sharing my perspective with you, you might not like it and I say that is fine, try it out and see if it works. If it works then keep it, if it does not then you can drop it – I am not attached to it, you won’t hurt my feelings. Back to racket.

I say that you ‘ok’ with what is so including the ‘hurt’ and ‘abandonment’. Why? Because whatever it is that you are getting is of more value to you then the cost that you are paying. Put differently, the ‘payoff’ exceeds the ‘cost’ and so you continue doing what you are doing. Do you want to create the space in which you can choose to give up this game? Then look ruthlessly at the payoff – this will taking brutal honesty with yourself and we, human beings, are poor at that. What might that ‘payoff’ be?

  • You get to be right about men – they cannot be trusted, they are selfish;
  • You get to be right about yourself – you are small, helpless, cannot help yourself, cannot control yourself, you are passionate-different-trusting…..
  • You get sympathy – you can tell the story of how life is not working out and get attention, get sympathy………..
  • You get out of demands that you or others would otherwise place on you – after all if you are ‘hurt’ and ‘abandoned’ then you can give yourself a ‘get out of jail for free’ card and others typically do the same for you
  • By playing this ‘game’ you keep yourself occupied rather than being bored – it is better than ‘nothing’
  • Your belief in the myth of the ‘one’ continues intact and your dreams are not shattered……

The list is endless yet the buckets are not. What do I mean? Some wise folks have pointed out that human behaviour is driven by:

  • Looking good avoiding looking bad – which is why walk around with masks and are almost never truly ourselves
  • Being right and making others wrong – even if that means going to war and millions get killed
  • Dominating others and avoiding being dominated – in a family there is no-one as dominant as the one that gets the others to believe that he/she is helpless, ‘small’ and needs to be given special exemptions and be looked after!
  • Validating yourself (everything including your beliefs and points of view) and invalidating others – I experienced a great example of this morning when Matthew, Jehovah’s witness came to my door to show me the error of my ways and convert me.

Breaking free from your “racket”

‘Sister’ be ruthless with yourself and get clear on the ‘payoff’ and the ‘cost’ of playing this game. When it comes to ‘cost’ look at both the cost that you pay now, that you are paying longer term, and the cost that the people in your life pay. When you have written that out then get present to it – step into it, experience it. Once you have done that – are clear on the ‘payoff’ and ‘cost’ as experienced – then choose. Choose to play this game of falling for/going for the dominant men, the players, and if you do this then you give up complaining. Or choose to give this game up. If you choose to give it up then you create space to invent a more inspiring-moving-touching-uplifting game.

Finally, remember what I said earlier – you are creating your own suffering and you can give that up right now. How? Be with life as it is and as it is not. I wish you well and it will not make a difference. You, only you, are the difference that can make a difference to your experience of your living. Your destiny lies in you.

You are neither the thoughts nor the feelings that show up (part II)


This post continues the conversation that I started in the previous post where a ‘sister’ reached out to me for help, for advice, for my point of view as she was and may still be suffering.

Let’s set the ground for this conversation

Look into the matter deeply and you might just find that we human beings do not have access to the truth.  If you are scientifically minded then study what has been taken for knowledge and ‘truth’ and you might just find that ‘truth’ is always provisional and ‘truths’ have come and gone.  Once ‘truth’ was that the heavens revolved around the Earth and women were held to be inferior to men – some men, tribes and religions still cling to the belief that women are inferior to men and are the property/playthings of men. I remember standing up to my parents so that my sister could go to University and create her own life rather than have a forced marriage thrust upon her.

How best to illustrate, provide your for a feeling for what I am pointing at?  Allow me to share a sufi tale with you.  A sufi master is said to have told the following story: 

‘Finding I could speak the language of ants, I approached one and enquired, “What is God like? Does he resemble the ant?”  He answered, “God? No, indeed – we have only a single sting but God, he has two!”‘

Which is not to say that all viewpoints, all the places we choose to stand are equal in value.  If you are driving in the UK it makes huge difference as to whether you drive on the left (the UK viewpoint) or the left (USA/Continental Europe).  The same applies to Life: some vantage points are simply more useful for tilting the table towards the ‘workability’ of life.  So the point of view that I share is not the truth.  I make no such claim yet I do assert that living from the vantage point that I am sharing can increase the ‘workability’ of your life.  Now that we are clear on this lets move on to the conversation itself.

All kinds of unhelpful/disempowering feelings & thoughts can show up in our lives

Sister I notice that all kinds of thoughts and feelings are showing up in your life: feeling lost; feeling the loss of physical intimacy; feeling lost and alone; feeling the burden of uncertainty/insecurity; feeling unwanted; feeling you don’t belong; longing for the one; thinking and believing there is something wrong with you…….

It might occur to you that you are all alone, that this is only showing up in your life.  You are not alone. Many, many of us have experienced these thoughts, these feelings at some point in our lives.  How many thousands are thinking/feeling this way right now?  Allow me to share a story with you.

“One day a mother turned up to the abode of a holy man clutching the body of her dead baby.  She was in so much pain and she pleaded, again and again, with the holy man to bring her baby back to life.  The holy man listened patiently and then told the mother that indeed he could help her.  And in order for him to help her he needed her to go back to her village and bring back a glass of water – but only from a household which had never experienced death.

The mother went back to her village and started knocking on doors. Each household was more than willing to give her a glass of water.  Yet the water was of no use as every household had lost someone – grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, friend……

After knocking on all the doors and finding no household, no person, left untouched by loss of someone dear the mother returned to the holy man.  This time she was lighter because she had gotten that loss, sorrow and death touch us all – an intrinsic part of human life.”

How about living from this stand: whole-complete-perfect?

So ‘sister’ you are no less than anyone else on this planet.  Suffering is not a sign that there is something wrong with you, that you are defective. Loss, pain, sorrow, suffering come as intrinsic to human existence on this planet of ours. You are whole-complete-perfect just as you are and just as you are not.  How about standing in that space?  The space of “I declare myself to be whole-complete-perfect just as I am and am not!”

You (and I) are neither our thoughts nor our feelings

Sister, being a woman, it is quite possible that you may find the following a struggle.  And I say there is value in listening to what I am about to say.  I say that you and I are neither our thoughts nor our feelings!  That’s right I get that thoughts and feelings are present and I say that you are not these thoughts nor these feelings.  Do you disagree?  Does this upset you?  Bear with me and let’s explore.

Do you choose the thoughts that pop up into your mind?  Just sit and meditate even for five minutes, keep a blank mind, think no thoughts.  What happened? Did a stream of thoughts simply show up?  Did you choose to think these thoughts? If you are honest you know that you did not choose these thoughts, they simply pop up in your house of being without your bidding.  Look deeper and you will find that some of these thoughts hook you and others don’t – they show up, they disappear.

What about your feelings?  Do you choose them?  Do you choose to feel sad, miserable, joyful?  If you look deeply you will find that feelings show up in your house of being uninvited just like your thoughts.  And you will find that some feelings show up more often than others.  You are also likely that some feelings hook you more than others – they stay longer, you connect with them more deeply.  And all feelings fade away whether you want them to or not.

Do you still find what I say difficult to accept?  Imagine that you are throwing a party and a you get a village load of people turning up at this party – some invited and some ‘gatecrashers’.  Does your Self expand to include these people?  Do you ever say to yourself I am all – me, the people that I have invited and the ‘gatecrashers’?  No, you do not.  What is more once you noticed the ‘gatecrashers’ you would ask them to leave and if they did not you would  call the police so as to eject these unwelcome ‘gatecrashers’, right?

How are the thoughts and feelings that show up in your house of being any different to the ‘gatecrashers’?  And why do you collapse them with yourself and call them your feelings, your thoughts?  I say that you do that because you have been born into a culture that says and teaches you that the thoughts and feelings that show up for you are yours – they constitute an integral part of yourself.  And that is why you latch onto them and confuse them with yourself. Yet you are not the thoughts and feelings that show up and then disappear!

Do you want access to freedom?

If you want access to freedom then I invite you to live from this sand: “I am the context and not the content.  I am the house of being not the furniture that turns up, stays around, wears it, is thrown out.  I am the chooser not the chosen (content) nor the ‘gatecrashers’ (thoughts/feelings/moods) that show up in my house of being uninvited .  I choose and declare myself to be the possibilities that I project and the stand/s that I take in life!”

You might be wondering how that gives you freedom.  Allow me to illustrate with a personal example. Last week I was in considerable pain – some days I spent curled up in bed, some nights I did not sleep at all.  Then Friday morning arrived and it was the first morning that I felt OK.  Months ago I had agreed to meet a ‘friend that I had not yet met face to face’ and his guests for an informal chat in London. That informal gathering was due to start at 4pm.  What to do?  Do I take a chance and drive into London – an hour drive?  Or do I play it safe and rest given that I have already let my friend know that I am ill and might not make it? The day showed up as being miserable: dark clouds and heavy rain.

What thoughts and feelings showed up? Thoughts: don’t go, stay at home, it is safer (more accidents on the roads in this kind of weather), it is the right thing to do as I need to rest, and if I do go and am unwell then my wife/family will criticise me.  Feelings: confused, worried, scared – about doing the wrong things, making my health situation worse.

What did I do?  I chose to be my stand: to honour my word as myself.  I got into the car at 14:45 and headed into London in the pouring rain.  Half and hour later the noticeboard showed speed restriction and a blocked lane, long delays – an accident had indeed occurred on the motorway.  This was a great excuse to turn the car around and head back home. Those thoughts did pop up in my mind: look you have done your best, you have kept your word, no disgrace in heading home.  What did I do? I chose to play full-out to honour my word.  I diverted onto minor roads and found myself a different route into London.  I arrived 15 minutes late and yet I did turn up and I am proud of myself: I choose not to allow the uninvited thoughts and feelings to deflect me from my stand in life.

Summing up

You, I , we can choose to relate to ourselves as the possibilities that we invent live from/live into and the stand/s that we take in life.  You, I, we can get and live from the stand that we are not the thoughts and the feelings that pop up, stay a while, disappear, reappear in our minds/bodies/lives.

Living from this context we can let go of “I am feel insecure or helpless” and replace it with “How interesting I notice insecurity and helplessness are present, I wonder how they ended up in my house of being.”  And living from this context you can let the thoughts and feelings that show up, simply be, whilst you continue to be ruthless in living from/into the possibilities that you have invented and the stands you have taken.

I guarantee that if you live from the context that I have outlined above your experience of living will be transformed.  You will relate to yourself as a powerful human being.  If you do that then you can drop the need to take more courses to fix yourself.  How/why?  Because you are already whole-complete-perfect and as such there really is nothing to fix and no course will fix it! 

Ultimately it comes down to choice.  Whether you choose to live from the context of whole-complete-perfect, living from/into the possibilities that you invent and the stands you take.  Are you up for that ‘sister’?

Reflections for a life of Possibility, of Transformation and of Leadership- only for the courageous! (Part I)


I say that the most philosophically profound and politically revolutionary movie that I have ever watched is The Matrix series.  Yes, you can take it as a sci-fi yarn or you can get present to the hidden, profound and revolutionary, messages.  Today, I simply wish to share some with you.  Before you read further, I warn you that these deeply uncomfortable ‘truth’s for the mass of humanity that is in a state of “fallenness” – fallenness of “victim”, of “conformity”, of “idle chatter”, of “mass culture” – and so you may want to do what you do by default, not look at anything that disturbs your sleep.  The choice is yours – it has always been thus.

Choice

Neo: “Choice.  The problem is choice.”

Yes, you have been thrown into this world – you did not get a say in the matter.  Yes, stuff happens that happens and you did not get a say in that matter – call that ‘fate’.  And you have ‘free will’.  How?  You are present to possibilities and you can project possibilities – you can envisage ‘that which is not and could be’ as well as being present to ‘that which is’.  Being present to possibilities, as yet unborn, and ready to be born you are confronted with choice.  Choosing not to choose – accepting the default (what is and is not) – is a choice.  You make it, every instant, even if you are not aware of making that choice.  There is no escaping choice.  Choice – being confronted with choice – is the sign that you are ‘free’.   With choice comes the ‘problem of choice’.

Death

Morpheus: “Then tomorrow we may all be dead, but how would that be different from any other day? This is a war, and we are soldiers. Death can come for us at any time, in any place.”

You are not going to live forever. Death is not a tragedy, it is the gift that allows us to get present to the privilege of being alive and presses us to live fully, to give fruit to our gifts, our dreams, you self-expression. And even if death shows up in your world as a ‘tragedy’ as a ‘horror’ then get present to the fact that you will never escape death. NEVER.  Death is sitting on your shoulder ready to tap you anytime. That is what is so.

The real tragedy of your life is that you are tiptoeing ever so delicately through life (in order to avoid death) only to find that you arrive safely at death!  And when you arrive there (at deaths door) you are confronted with the question: “Why did I not live fully?  Why did I not create inspiring possibilities and seize them fiercely? And your are left with the awareness and feeling that “You could have chosen otherwise.  You could have lived more courageously.  You could have put your natural self-expression into the world. You could have chased your dreams.”  At death, your are once again confronted with choice – you had say in the matter of your life, always.

The Past

Morpheus: “What happened, happened and could not have happened any other way.”

Do you get it?  Do you get that your past is past, whatever happened, happened and could not have happened any other way?   By all means ‘learn’ from the past.  But there really is no value in getting stuck in the past, of beating yourself up, or beating others up.  Get present to the profound, liberating, truth of Morpheus’ words.  If you take this vantage point on your past then all the chains that keep you stuck in the past break apart instantly and you are totally free from the past, present to the present and in the clearing to create/project possibilities (that move-touch-inspire you) into the future.

Which is the more powerful way to live?  Spend your day living in the past most likely complaining about how things turned out and/or beating yourself up?  Or is it more powerful to let the past be in the past and so be present and live fully in the present with a total commitment to inventing and living possibilities that make it a joy to be alive?  Once again you are confronted with choice.  And in making that choice remember that Death is sitting on your shoulder ready to tap you anytime: you don’t get a second go, a second life!

Knowing v Acting (Doing)

Morpheus: There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Look, get real!  Knowing, knowledge really does not make a difference – not a tiny jot of difference.  You can know all there is to know and if you do not act on that knowledge then what difference does it make in the real world?   What is the value of knowing if you do not act on that knowledge so as to transform the quality of your life, your living?  Get real, in the real world it is action (doing), ONLY ACTION, that impacts/influences/transforms the quality of your life and the world that is ready at hand. Let me put this differently, if you do not walk the path then of what value is ‘knowing the path’?

I know that you are hoping for miracles even if you are not aware that you are hoping for miracles.  Buying more dieting books / attending more dieting courses are not going to make you slimmer or fitter.  Being mindful, eating the right foods in the right quantity at the right times and exercising – action – that is what it will take for you to turn out slimmer and fitter.  Hoping for better relationship with your spouse?  How long have you been doing that?  How has that turned out?  What good has knowing done without the doing?  Look your relationship with your spouse will only be different when you be/act differently, consistently!

Please get that we are living in an age addicted to the most useless artifact there is:  information and knowledge.  In the real world information/knowledge/knowing makes no difference.  What makes the difference?  How you are being and what you are doing (and not doing) every day of your life.  You can continue to be the fool chasing information and knowing or you can be the ‘warrior’ that acts decisively to create/project/bring about possibilities that move-touch-inspire you – possibilities that manifest themselves as joy right now in your living.  Once again you are confronted with choice  – what choice will you make?

Enough for today.  I will continue with this theme in a later post.  Before I go, I want to leave you with a final quote, a final message, a final provocation to stir you out of your slumber of ‘fallenness’:

Morpheus: “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.