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.

What Is The Cost of Being Right About Being Right?


I like to be right about being right

I say:

I like to be right,

I like to be right about being right,

I like to be right about being right about being right….

Am I addicted to being right about being right?

It occurs to me that I have just told a lie, so let me put it more accurately.

I am addicted to being right,

I am addicted to being right about being right,

I am addicted to being right about being right about being right …

Are we addicted to being right about being right?

I say that you are addicted to being right. Why am I confident that what shows up as being true for me is also true for you?  Because you and are both human beings; the same human machinery runs us.  Standing in this place it occurs to me that I still haven’t told the ‘truth’. So let me see if I can get nearer to the truth. I say:

It is in the nature of the human machinery that runs us,

to be addicted to being right,

And being right about being right,

And being right about being right about being right ….

What is the cost of being right about being right?

Yet, you and I are not merely human machinery.  We have the capacity to transcend the human machinery.  How? By seeing the human machinery. By being present, at the level of feeling, with the cost of the human machinery.  Right now I am present to the cost of being right about being right …..

What is the cost?  The cost is the lack of affinity between myself and me wife.  The cost is a certain melancholy that is present right now in my house of being.  The cost is a wasted evening yesterday. And a day without intimacy-friendship-laughter-joy today.

The choice facing me, facing you

I have a question for me, for you, for us.  What is the cost each of us have paid for being right?  What is the cost each of us have paid for being right about being right?  How many relationships have we sacrificed?  How much affinity have we given up?  How much joy have we given up?

And what is the cost am I, are you, are we, paying right now for being right about being right?

All of which reminds me of something I heard in Landmark Education some 10 years ago:

You can be right, 

Or you can be in relationship,

Choose. 

What do I do when I have not lived up to my own expectations?


Here I am sitting in a hotel room in Ireland.  It has been a busy day and we got a lot accomplished.  Now that I am not busy designing and facilitating meetings & workshops – one after the other for the day – I am present to a certain sadness.  What am I sad about?

I did not manage my emotions.  My emotions played me and in that play my eldest son was hurt both by my words (of criticism) and by my actions (shouting at him).  As a result the affinity, the kindness, the love that was present between me and my son is missing.  This evening I did not even have the courage to ask to speak to him.  I got that was me being ashamed of myself and not wanting to  deal with the situation.  So I asked to speak to him and he refused to speak to him.  I totally get that and that is perfectly ok.  And it is also not ‘perfectly ok’ – not if I am ‘Playing BIG’ as cultivating relationships that work is a key part of that game (as I have created it).  So is managing my frustrations and emotions.

Now I can attach various meanings around me and what has happened.  I can make myself wrong, criticise myself, label myself as ‘bad’, can count that as another ‘failure’. And then I can withdraw, quit the game, beat myself up and just say ‘that is the way I am and that is the way I will always be’.  Yes, I can do that.  If I do that then what does that do for my son?  How does that address is hurt?  How does that rebuild our fractured relationship?

I am choosing to give a different meaning to what is occurred and what is present.  I am up for creating a meaning that leaves me in a powerful position to handle the rift with my son, to learn and to deal with the situations that ‘press my buttons’.  Specifically:

a) When I am under time pressure and I have multiple demands (simultaneously) on my time then I do not deal with that situation well at all.  I get into a state of distress.  Why?  Because I want to please all the people who are depending on me – asking something of me.  So I chicken out and try to do everything putting myself under more pressure.  And then someone pays the price of my ‘cowardice’ – failing to be straight with people and handling their disappointment when I say that I cannot do something they are asking of me.

b)  When people ask me for something at the last minute (and I already have a lot on my plate) I get annoyed and angry with that person. And that is simply because I do not say clearly and firmly “Sorry, this is last minute and I cannot help you now” and when they insist I fail to say convincingly “No is no!”

c) What there is for me to do is to talk with my son and ask him what I need to do to make things right and do those things such that they work for him and work for me;

d) Be mindful that these situation press my buttons and take the action to make sure that they do not arise and if they do then be straight with people and myself – what I cannot do I cannot do – and deal calmly with any disappointment.

The practice that I am taking on is the practice of saying “No” when the appropriate action is to say “No” and importantly BE “No”.  It is a challenge for me and I up for the challenge.  Now, what will it take to build that bridge with my son?  I believe I have an idea that will work for my son – take some of his pain away.  I rang just now and it is late and the family is asleep – I will call him tomorrow.

 

On how I avoided the warm embrace of conflict


This morning I wanted to study and I chose the kitchen as it was the most suitable place.  I would have preferred to do it in the lounge and yet that was taken by daughter who was watching television and my wife who was doing some ironing.

Just to mentally move from my favourite place, the lounge, to the kitchen I had to give something up.  Specifically, I had to give up the idea that as I pay the bills then I should get to call the shots.  That I am entitled to have the lounge irrespective of the wishes of ‘others’.

About twenty minutes into my studying my youngest son came into the kitchen – he had slept in – and joined me at the breakfast bar.  I did not mind this as there is more than enough space.  Then he did, what he always does: he started singing.  I noticed that his singing distracted me and I did not like it.  Yet, I did nothing.  My son continued singing and I started to get emotional.   The thought that entered my head was along the lines of how inconsiderate my son is: does he not get that I am studying?

I tried to put the distractions aside and focus on my studying hoping that my son would soon finish his breakfast and leave.  Well, this son is never in a hurry to get anywhere.  So the point arrived when I had reached my breaking point.  Thankfully I was still in a rational and relatively calm place and saw that I had options.  I could scold my son for being insensitive and disrespectful.  I could just get angry and tell him to leave the kitchen.  I could continue to sit it out in the kitchen.  Or I could simply leave the kitchen – without resentment – and find another room to study in. I chose the last option.

What I took away from this encounter was the following:

  • I had to give up the thinking that said I should get my way because I am the one that pays the mortgage;
  • I had to give the thought that said I am entitled to special treatment in the kitchen because I got here first;
  • I had to give up the thought that I was owed special treatment – silence – by my son;
  • The thought that my son is simply having breakfast where we normally have breakfast came in handy;
  • The thought that my son is simply doing what he loves to do and is often not aware that he is doing – singing;
  • I was attuned to my emotional state and how it was becoming hotter  and took action before it went past the point of no return;
  • I chose to live and let live – to relinquish my ‘claim to the kitchen’ – as that struck me as the most workable solution that would not put a dent in the relationship between myself and my son.

Put differently, the situation itself was not the issue at any time.  The cause of conflict was primarily my thinking about how things should be and how I should be treated by reasonable family members.  When I gave up that thinking and embraced better thinking I solved the issue with no conflict, no damage to anyone or any relationship!

On exercising the best of our humanity: hospitality toward strangers


I am a ‘softy’ and I am proud to be a ‘softy’ nowadays – this was not always the case!  I cry (sometimes buckets) when I watch a movie (e.g. Gandhi, Schindlers List) that shows the best of our humanity in action.  I cry when I read a story where someone has put their humanity into action (e.g. Three Cups of Tea).  I cry when I listen to someone who shares an inspiring story with passion.

Just now I found my humanity touched.  I found myself inspired and I found myself with tears of joy running down my face.  What brought that on?  I invite you to experience it for yourself.  Watch this TED talk by William Ury: The walk from Yes to No

I believe that most of us are good people – loving and caring human beings.  Most of us really do not want to create conflict or be immersed in conflict.  Yet it happens we find ourselves in the midst of conflict before we know it.  This talk provides a simple but not simplistic path  that we can all follow.  It may even inspire many of us to be hospitable to strangers and not just our close friends and family.

I love the bit about walking together – side by side.  How true it is that when I walk with a fellow human being I do not feel threatened, I even look forward to the experience.