Playing BIG In The Presence of Death – Death of a Good Friend


Richard HornbyI last saw my friend Richard Hornby on Sunday 4th March 18 when we shared three hours of our lives with one another. He was in bed, in a room by himself, in a hospice for the terminally ill. I woke him up with “Hello Richard!” He was pleased to see me, and I was pleased to see him. We talked. We brought to life shared memories of times gone by. We laughed with one another.

And I helped him with the little things that had become huge things: getting fresh/cold water and helping him to drink it; helping him eat his fruit salad  – the only thing he wanted to eat from his lunch; intervening on his behalf with the doctor to get his pain addressed; and getting the nurses to give him the morphine that the doctor prescribed.

After taking his morphine and as he was about to go to sleep I took my leave with “I’ll be coming over to see you next weekend.”  I did not get to keep that promise. The next day, in the evening, I was told that my friend had died: He had died peacefully – spared physical pain, and the indignity of being at the mercy of others.

Even today, two weeks later, tears flow when I allow myself to be present to that which is so: my friend is no longer – there will never be another occasion when we walk together, eat together, talk together, laugh together.  I get that he died at the right time – and I am delighted by that. This, intellectual view of the matter, does not do away with the grief/sadness that is present in me right now.

What has helped me to work with the death of my friend and the loss of our friendship is me asking myself this question: “What does playing BIG look like in the presence of loss – the loss of dear friend?” Being with this inquiry I found an abode of peace. And this inquiry helped turn my attention toward Richard himself: what is it that I so admired/liked about him?

What is it that my friend Richard embodied?  What way of being-in-the-world showed up when Richard showed up?  A certain humbleness / lightness that tends to be present in those who do not see themselves as more important than others. A disposition towards looking at life in the manner of the glass is half-full.  His being there for me whenever I needed and asked for his help. And, his unflappability:

What does playing BIG look like in the face of Richard’s death? My answer  for myself is manifold:

  • To accept the sadness and allow the tears to flow down my cheeks without embarrassment;
  • To allow myself to feel the full strength of grief as in the kind of grief where one cries from the stomach with the whole of one’s being;
  • To remember our times together and the contribution he made to my existence – the times that I needed his help and he was there for me; and
  • To keep in existence, as in embody, that which I value/admire about Richard – his humility, his genuineness, his helpfulness, and his unflappability.

I realise that what has allowed me to Play BIG with his death is that I played BIG before he died. When he told me 10 months ago he had terminal brain cancer I cried. And then I  made and lived this commitment – to walk by his side, to make a positive difference to his existence in the face of his impending death.

How am I doing in keeping in existence that which Richard embodied? Badly as in failing more than succeeding. Is that bringing me down? No. Why not? This is a conversation about Playing BIG and that necessarily involves stretching – taking on that which lies to some extent beyond that which one is today.  If I already embodied all the qualities of Richard that I admire/value then I probably would not have valued/admired Richard as much as I do.  Put differently, sometimes Playing BIG is a marathon rather than a dash for the finishing line.

I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby. A human being that called forth both affection and respect from many if not all.

 

Death As Access to Zestful-Intelligent-Compassionate Living


Death has been with me, a companion, since the day that I came out of this world and into it – the day of my birth.  Since then many years have gone by and friend Death is getting closer – catching up with me. One day, perhaps even today, he will catch up with me, and embrace me.  No second chances, no re-runs, no repeats, no encores. Just this one life – this one opportunity to participate in the melody-play called Life.

Can Death Be An Ally in Mindful-Zestful Living?

Is death necessarily negative?  Or can you/i relate to Death as a friend/ally who can provide access to zestful-intelligent-compassionate-meaningful living?  Let’s listen to Don Juan’s wisdom as shared some time ago by Carlos Castenada:

Without the awareness of death everything is ordinary, trivial. It is only because death is stalking us that the world is an unfathomable mystery……

Death is a wise adviser that we have… One… has to ask death’s advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them!

You have little time and no time for crap. A wonderful state! The best of us always comes out when we are against the wall, when we feel the sword dangling overhead. … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

(The warrior) knows that death is stalking him or her and won’t give time to cling to anything… And thus with an awareness of death,… and with the power of own decisions, the warrior sets life in a strategic manner… and what the warrior chooses is always strategically the best; and thus the warrior performs everything with gusto and lusty efficiency!

What shows up, if i/you are not present to Death and thus do not live strategically? The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

I say it is worth listening to what Bronnie Ware says on the matter:

“For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die…….

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed.…….. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others…. they settled for a mediocre existence …….. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years……. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.……Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

And Finally

Early Friday morning. I did not sleep well; tiredness is present. After sitting in the train for over an hour, the train arrives into London and I get off. It is another ten minutes to the office.  Outside. It is cold, it is blustery, it is darkish, it is raining. Yet I find at peace and joyous. How/why?  I leave you with this quote from Martin Heidegger:

If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life — and only then will I be free to become myself.

The challenge that remains is to keep this existence. This challenge is made easier every time I look in the mirror and see the face that faces me: the long thick jet black hair is surrendering to the continued advance of the grey.

Death: the awareness of the possibility of death as the access to owning one’s life and living powerfully


“The life of riches, ambition, pleasure, is in reality an intolerable servitude in which one “lives for what is always out of reach,” thirsting “for survival in the future” and “incapable of living in the present.””  Thomas Merton

This week I came across TED talk, titled “Before I die I want to….”

Watching/listening to this talk I was struck by the fact that someone had written “Before I die I want to live.”

When I saw this, sadness gripped me.  It occurred to me that you and I are given a tiny window of opportunity to partake in the glorious drama called existence.   As far as I know we are on the only planet that supports/generates life as we know it.  Just compare the images of Mars to those of Earth: ours is a breath taking world!   Yet, so many of us are totally not present to this.  We do not experience this beauty.  We do not experience this gratitude. And our living does not reflect any urgency in living well.   And for the most part we do not live well.  If we are honest, brutally honest, for most of us, our lives do not show up, in experience, as lives worth living.  Why because we are chasing those riches and/or engrossed in surviving/fixing.

Is there a way out of the trap?  Yes, the possibility of death offers us the door out of the trap into a vivid experience of living.   I have experienced this vividness, this wonder, this gratitude, this week.  How/why?  Two people who I know/like/care about are close to dying.  Being told that they are dying resulted in sadness and tears showing up in my house of being.  And along with sadness, Death brought with it, into my house of being, a vivid appreciation of the wonders of being alive.

We dread death, individually and as a culture.  We dread death so much that we don’t talk about it, we don’t acknowledge it, we don’t allow people whose quality of life is so poor to get help to end their lives.  We keep death hidden behind the curtain.  Yet, is this the wisest course of action for living well?

It occurs to me, and I am not the first one that this has occurred to, that the possibility of death is like no other possibility.  Possibilities other than ‘no possibility’ (which is the all to common default way of being in the world for many/most of us) have to be invented by us.  If I want to lead a life full of life I actively need to invent possibilities that I can live from/into that lift me up, inspire me to be, to put myself fully into the world and take a hand in shaping it.  When it comes to death, you and I do not have to invent the possibility of death.

The possibility of death is there, always there, right from the moment we are being pushed out / thrust into this world.  The challenge is to create/generate the right relationship to it.  The challenge is to invite the possibility of death into our house of being so that it influences/shapes our way of being in the world.  And to keep doing: keep being present to it.  Why?  Because when we are present to, really present to and experience the possibility of death then it shapes our living, our way of being in this world.  The presence of the possibility of death pushes us to live, really live, to appreciate the beauty of this world.

What I have noticed this week is that with death being present, vividly,  I have lived vividly.  I have really tasted the tomato salad.  I have really tasted the delicious ice cream made by my wife.  I have really listed to the music and got joy out of it.  I have delighted in holding the table tennis bat and playing tennis with my children.  I have enjoyed the wind and the sun stroking/brushing against my naked body and so forth.  I have even enjoyed the sweat pouring off my face as I work the exercise bike.

The real sadness of life is not death.  It is to live in such a way that when you are presented with the question “Before I die I want to..” you answer “LIVE”.  It does not have to be that way.  Just getting present, authentically present, to the possibility of death can/does make all the difference.  Put differently, authentic presence to the possibility of death, has the potential to transform our lives.

Are you up for that?  Or do you prefer to continue chasing the horizon, living for someday?  If so you might want to remember the wise words of Thomas Merton, the words that I opened this post with:

“The life of riches, ambition, pleasure, is in reality an intolerable servitude in which one “lives for what is always out of reach,” thirsting “for survival in the future” and “incapable of living in the present.””

Conversation with a ‘condemned’ man: life is precious gift


On holiday in the l’isle de Re I came across many people.  Only one, Jean, grabbed my attention with the way of his being in the world.   It occurred to me that Jean was simply in the world making the most of being in the world.  He showed up as being ‘natural’ – just flowing like water flows without any need to make a statement nor to seek any approval/admiration from himself or others.  He occurred to me as  a person at peace with himself and the world.   Jean is retired/elderly (those are the facts) and yet he did not show up that way for me.  He showed up as being physically fit and youthful: his physique, his clothes, the way he carried himself, the car he drove…

What is Jean’s secret?

Was Jean always this way?  No.  He tells me that he was like everyone else going through the motions of living without being alive. He did not focus on what mattered, what called to him, what generated joy within him.  He would procrastinate.  He would let opportunities slip by.  He would let days idly slip by…..  He was immersed in ‘ordinary’ living and not even aware of it.

Then one day 20+ years ago he found he had cancer and that he was a condemned man – the cancer was going to kill him.  It was this death sentenced that freed him from his ‘ordinary’ life and opened the gate to his ‘extraordinary’ living.  This death sentence transformed his view of himself, of his relationships, of his life and his living.

What makes Jean show up as ‘extraordinary’?

Jean does not take life for granted like many/most of us do.  Jean does not complain/whine about life like many/most of us do.  To Jean, being alive is a privilege: life and living show up as precious gift that is not to be squandered. He is clear about who he is and who he is not. He is clear about what matters and what does not matter. He is clear what he likes to do/spend his time.  And being clear he acts on this clarity.  Jean is committed to living fully into and making the most of each day.  Today he thinks through how he wishes to spend tomorrow and when tomorrow comes he throws himself fully into it. Jean does not waste time on ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’, ‘looking good, avoiding looking bad’………… He is too busy living an authentic life and thus has no time, no space, for the rubbish that goes with everyday, ordinary, inauthentic living. 

You and I cannot escape death; we are all condemned to die from the moment that we are born.  You and I can continue to ‘forget’ this inconvenient fact and go about ‘ordinary living’ with our addictions to ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’ and ‘looking good avoiding looking bad’. Or we can live the way that Jean live where every day is a gift and what matters is to simply be one’s authentic self and put oneself fully into the game of life.

How about inventing and living from/living into the possibility of living ‘a life worth living’? 

What kind of a life shows up for you as being a ‘life worth living’ for you? Given that death is sitting on our shoulders ready to tap us and take us away, how long are you and I going to wait to live a ‘life worth living’?

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.