Joy-Sorrow: An Existential Meditation


It is 8 am. I am on holiday. Two of the people who matter the most – Marco, Clea – are here on holiday with me. And, I cannot help but notice that sorrow is present in the house of my being. It’s a sorrow that leaves me unavailable to listen to up tempo songs / music. It’s a sorrow in the presence of which any and all dance (that resides within me) has vanished.

Not Joy, Not Sorrow, Only Joy/Sorrow

We tend to think, indeed we are brought up to think, that there is joy and there is sorrow – as discreet entities. From an existential perspective, this is not the case. It’s better to refer to them as one unit – joy/sorrow – like two sides of a coin. For only if one experiences sorrow can one appreciate/value the presence of joy. And, only if one has experienced joy that one can truly experience/feel genuine sorrow.

When joy is present, as in you find yourself joyous, what is your response? Is it not to accept it and live: just be joyous, enjoy being joyous, and share your joy with others.

So what is the appropriate response to sorrow? It occurs to me that it is accept it when it arrives. Allow it to be there – for me to experience all that comes with sorrow. Be patient – allow sorrow to do its work. And, to learn – learn that which sorrow has to teach me about myself, about others, and about the world. Today, I am choosing to share my experience and learning with you. Why? No reason other than it’s the best use I can make of my sorrow – to dive into it and see what I can learn.

A Critical Existential Need: To Be Understood, Accepted, and Valued

I am unusual. I am odd. I am a maverick……Take your pick, it amounts to the same thing. And, the consequence has been a life long feeling of loneliness – a kind of loneliness not filled by the presence of people in my life. I made peace with this a long long time ago. Explains why it is I have over a thousand books. And, only a handful of friends – good friends.

Recently on an online course on Uncertainty and Complexity, I found that this loneliness was no longer absent. In its place joy is present – a kind that I have never known before. Why? The joy of being understood by another human being. An understanding that has allowed me to share that which I have not shared with any other – for no other was in a position to really listen to it and get it.

It occurs to me that at an existential level, the longing to be understood – truly understood – is a deep one for all of us. It is so deep, that I find the following quote resonates with me:

“Some people underestimate how erotic it is to be understood” – Mary Rakow

If one can be both understand AND valued on the basis of that understanding then that is, in a sense, the whole deal. It doesn’t get any better. Why? In a sense that is the fullest-deepest sense of being loved: seen, understood, accepted, valued.

What Brings Sorrow To The House Of My Being?

It occurs to me, that for me, there is no sorrow like that of being misunderstood by someone who truly matters. What makes it sorrow rather than mere sadness is this: the fact that my conduct arising from good intent has been seen and treated as something other than that which it is. That I am so misunderstood is especially difficult to bear when it is one or more of my children who misunderstand me.

Allow me to give an example and make this come alive. Yesterday, on the way back from Lugano to Central Switzerland, my son Marco insisted upon driving. I told him that it was a 2 hour drive – some of it tricky and that he needed to make sure that he was willing to concentrate. And, using a moderate (Swiss) driving style rather than his aggressive English driving style. He agreed – no conditions, just agreement. All was going well until we arrived at the Gotthard tunnel.

In the tunnel, I noticed he was driving too close to the car in front. So, I asked him to stick to the speed limit (80km/h) and the requisite distance 150m. And, asked gently but firmly. Marco did not take this well. The opposite – told me not to tell him how to drive. I did not take this well either. And, I shut my mouth as there is no point arguing with he who is absolutely convinced he is right. And, that you are the fool.

We arrive at Fluelen in Central Switzerland. The road is carved into the side of the mountain. It bends. And, it is not that wide. So attention to the road and to the driving conditions is required. There, right there, is Lake Luzern – so close that you can practically touch it. Suddenly I saw myself shouting “Watch out!” Why? Because the car was headed into the mountain. Why? Because Marco was looking at the lake.

How did Marco react? With a thanks? No. That is – often – asking too much of us human beings: it requires owning up to the fact that we are messing up or have messed up. Instead, I got a lecture on: how I scared him; how I over-reacted; on what a burden it is to drive my car under the conditions I impose and so on.

How To Deal With This Sorrow?

The Existential philosopher make a BIG deal of freedom. Particularly, that whilst we do not get to choose what happens to us, we ALWAYS get to choose our interpretation (the story we make about what has happened to us). And we get to choose how we show up (attitude) and travel (behaviour/actions) given that which has happened.

So, I am choosing to:

1-Just be with that which has occurred;

2-Not allow my son to drive my car. If he wishes to drive a car here he can simply rent one, he has more than enough money to do so. Further, I am even prepared to pay the rental; and

3-Not go in a car that he drives as often I do not feel safe with his way of driving.

I do not know how he will take this, and that I accept too. And, I am clear that I have made the choice. And in making this choice I find peace – even a smile on my face.

If you have followed me here, to the end, then I thank you for your listening. I wish you the best – may you live well, live beautifully. Until the next time….

Play BIG: Befriend One Who Can Do With a Friend


What is it to befriend?  In this case you/i don’t need a dictionary as the word speaks that which it is pointing towards: be a friend unto another.

Why be/do that which it takes to befriend?  A good question given that so many of us lead busy lives – rushing (as in the experience of rushing) from one place/activity to another. If you read the media you will come across those who speak of a loneliness epidemic in the UK.  If you look to your own experience, it may be that you can access the experience of being without friends (at a certain place/time) or being befriended by another when you found yourself in a new place/situation/phase of life.

Late 2017, I get a text from my sister asking if I am willing to befriend her friend’s father who happens to have cancer, not that long to live, is lonely/depressed, and can do with company/friendship of someone like me – someone who himself has cancer including a friend that is dying of a brain tumour.  She thinks we will get along.

I sit with this.  I ask myself if I wish to give cancer a bigger role in my life than it already has – I already have one dear friend who has been told he has 6 months to live, I strive to spend every second Saturday with him.  I ask myself if I am willing to take on that which comes with befriending one who is depressed – I have experienced the helplessness in facing a loved one who is depressed.

I act.  I send my sister a text saying I am up for meeting her friend’s father and telling her to pass on my mobile phone number.

Later it hits me that I have almost certainly acted in bad faith. I have been playing the good guy on the surface – one not wanting to disappoint/displease his only sister.  And hidden from view (even from myself to some extent) is the thought/hope that this chap (her friend’s father) will not call me – he’s old school English and we, the English, are known for keeping ourselves to ourselves – not intruding upon others.

Later it hits me that I know better, am better, and most certainly can choose to be better. It occurs to me that  I must make a fundamental choice without knowing the other: am I willing to befriend this person, who is suffering, without knowing anything about him?

Then I ask myself what would be the logical course of action (for me) if I chose to Play BIG in relation to the ask of the situation.  The answer is clear: I’d show up & travel with conviction – owning the game as in leading, shaping the game, and dealing with that which shows up. I wouldn’t wait for the other to make the first move – I’d make the first move and I’d own that move – really own it.

I call my sister. I ask her for the name of this chap and I ask her for his contact details: email, and mobile phone.  She’s surprised. She hadn’t been expecting me to own this matter, to lead it, to be the one reaching out to this chap and asking him to meet up with me.  She asks for time to speak with her friend.  A couple of days later, I get a text with the contact details.

Being British ( English) I know that the least intrusive, most socially acceptable way, of making contact is to email.  So I send that email – introducing myself, and asking this chap when he’s open to meeting up with me, and what he likes to do.  In doing this I am perfectly calm – my whole being is relaxed operating out of the possibility of friendship, of contribution, of making a positive difference in the life of a fellow human being.

We text one another several times. We meet – we talk, I drive us to a pub for lunch, we eat, we talk, I drive him back home.  I text him to say my thanks for his company. He texts back. I text again during the week – to ask where he’s at. He texts back…. We meet again. We text one another…. We have co-created a friendship between us!

Now here’s the thing I wish to get across.  I often find myself starved of the kind of conversation that I look for – intelligent, broad range, human existence centred conversation.  And this is exactly what I get when I am in the company of this older man who has lived a full life.  It so happens, that he also enjoys my company, he considers me to be a worthy conversation partner.  It turns out that standing in & operating from the possibility of friendship I have gifted myself with a friend, and a meaningful/enlivening friendship.

Here’s my invitation: Play BIG – be a friend unto another who can do with a friend.  If you are wondering who can do with a friend. I say you do not have to look far – most of us are lonely, some are deeply lonely, and can do with a genuine friend. If you are still looking then I say: look for older people; look for those who happen to be in the minority; look for those who happen to be awkward, shy; look for those who are always smiling and telling jokes…

I thank you for listening. I wish you the very best. Until the next time…

 

Freedom and Self-Expression


“Most of us think that freedom means to keep our options open, stay loose and available, and often that strategy does give you a little space temporarily. Eventually, though, keeping your options endlessly open becomes its own prison. You can never choose…..You can never really discover you destiny because you are afraid to commit fully.

If you look back on the experience of freedom in your life chances are that it wasn’t when you were measuring the options against one another, or making sure you weren’t getting stuck with a decision. It was when you were fully expressed, playing full out. It was when you chose fully and completely, when you knew you were in the place you were meant to be in, when perhaps you felt a sense of destiny. That’s when we’re free and self-expressed, and joyful or at peace with circumstances – when we choose them. ”

Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money

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