Loss & Grieving: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation to Simone Ansaldi and Teresa Zelmanovits

Loss & Grieving: No Escaping Loss! Grieving is Optional

Loss is an existential fact. Which is to say no adult human being escapes loss: losing some person, losing some relationship/s, losing some pet, losing some thing/s, losing some place/s, losing some job/s, losing some future….

Given that loss is an existential fact, how can one go about dealing with loss? A good place to start is accepting the loss! Which is my way of saying: accept the loss, expect a punch (or two, or three..) so powerful that it leaves you on the floor: physically – lack of appetite, lack of energy; emotionally – sadness, melancholy, even misery; cognitively – hard to concentrate, to think straight; and even at the level of spirit – your inner core wobbles.

Acceptance of loss and the punch – physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual – is a good place to start. It is not the place to rest. From acceptance, it is necessary to grieve: to feel, actually feel, the intense sorrow and allow the tears (in the heart, in the soul) to flow outwards so that there is moisture in your eyes, and your cheeks, and perhaps some sorrowful howling too.

If this was a conversation from a psychological perspective then I would end this conversation by giving you some coping strategies like connect with your friends, go out and keep engaged in the world, plan a vacation or something nice. It’s from an existential perspective – so lets move forward on the existential path.

Being Human: The Existential Perspective

Facticity, and Transcendence lie at the very core of the Existential perspective on human existence. There is no escaping facticity – therefore one has to accept and deal with it. There is no escaping Transcendence and we do just about anything/everything to escape from it.

Facticity is simply that which is so. For example, I am a man living in Central Switzerland. The cut in my thumb is infected and not healing – so I take antibiotics. I work as a management consultant. I have three children. And I am grieving the loss of an important and beautiful relationship. That relationship had allowed me to invent an uplifting present and future. With the loss of this relationship, my present is filled with sorrow and my future is kind of empty.

Transcendence is simply that which goes with being a fully functioning adult. I am not my circumstances. I am not a rock – stuck with that which I am and no ability to change. No, I am a human being gifted with imagination, freedom/choice, and responsibility. I can imagine another uplifting new future – one without this amazing/wonderful person and this magical relationship in it. I can imagine myself as different man to that which I am today. And, I can then choose: who I wish to become, and which future I wish to live into and from. Finally, I am responsible for the choices I make. And, I am responsible for the actions I take (or do not take) to become that which I have chosen to become, and to create the future that I have chosen to live into and from.

Transcendence: Take This Powerful Stand

You will not find this anywhere in any existential literature. Why? Because I am the source of it, as in I invented this. And, I can tell you that it is one hundred percent in alignment with the Existential perspective. I invite you to show up (attitude) and travel (decisions, actions) from the following stand:

“I am a match for whatever Life brings my way – the opportunities, the obstacles, the joys, the sorrows……. I am a match for ALL of it!”

What is a stand? It is a declaration, it is a declaration that has impact – it has fundamental impact on who you are and how you live. Example, when the priest announces “I now declare you man and wife.” Another example, USA – Declaration of Independence. That which follows these declarations is so fundamentally different to that which was so before this declaration is made AND lived – the lived part is essential.

Notice, the stand/declaration creates the reality! Yes, one takes and lives the stand if it were already a reality. And in the very taking and living of this stand one creates that reality.

Transcendence: You Cannot Ask a More Powerful Question Than This One

You will not find this question in any existential literature either. Why? Because I am the source of it – as in I invented this too. Why did I invent it? Because I found myself dealing with immense sorrow and needed a way out of it – a powerful way. A way that allowed me to create an uplifting future. Ready for The Question? Here it is:

What does this OPEN UP for me – for me and my life?”

By “this” in the sentence, I refer to my loss – because when one loses something (say a furniture, or a friend, a country, a way of life) then space automatically is created for the new (furniture, new friend/s, country, way of life…).

Notice how this question moves the frame from the present in terms of loss/grief to the future – creating an uplifting future. Allow me to share an example, when my relationship/marriage of 27 years came to an end this is the question I sat with. Sitting with this question allowed me to imagine/create a future living outside of the UK – in some attractive country in Europe. Six months after the end of that relationship, I arrived in Switzerland and started a new life. Sixteen months later, I find that I love this life – everyday it occurs to me that I live in paradise.

Summing Up: If You Are Dealing With Loss and Find Yourself Grieving Then I Invite You To Take This Path

Loss is that which always and necessarily comes with human existence. There is no escaping it. A good start in dealing with loss is to grieve – to feel the intense sorrow. To be ok with the intense sorrow – as in let it come, and to simply experience it – without clinging to it, without pushing it away, without wallowing in it. Just experiencing it.

And that is NOT enough. If you wish to move past it and create an uplifting future and allow that future to lift you up on to your feet and pull you forward to that future then:

1-Take the following stand: “I am a match for whatever Life brings my way – the opportunities, the obstacles, the joys, the sorrows……. I am a match for ALL of it!”

AND

2-Ask yourself as in seriously sit with this one powerful question: What does this OPEN UP for me – for me and my life?”

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for it takes something to hear my speaking. I wish you a good/great day. Until the next time….

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.

Play BIG: What Showed Up On My Recent (51st) Birthday?


Who/what really matters to you?  Who/what is the true focus of how you show up and travel in life? Who/what is the focus of your existence?  For me, it is my children.

It matters to me how well I am doing in relation to caring for my children. The voice within is highly critical of how well I am doing as a father: I find that I never live up to it’s standard of what constitutes a good father.

So how well am I doing as a father on the central project of my life: bringing up my children so that they feel accepted, loved, valued and care for/consider others not just themselves?  I share with you, and leave tracks in the sands of time, the report cards that my children issued to me on my recent birthday celebration.

Rohan: First Born

Birthday Card From Rohan“I wish you a happy birthday and I love you very much. I want to say thank you very much for helping me and supporting me with everything. And especially with my application for BP. You have done more than I could expect from anyone. I thank you for the physio treatment as this will help, hopefully, with the pain.

Thank you, Rohan”

 

Marco: Second Born

BdayCardMarco“Dear Papa,

I wish you a relaxing birthday being surrounded by all your family. I can’t believe your 51!

Thank you for all the times you have been kind to me, given me advice and support, and a huge supply of hugs. I enjoy spending time with you in the evenings after work and just sharing fruit together. With you and me, the little things like that are the big things.

I want you to know that I feel loved and accepted by you and I know that you care and worry about me a lot.

I want you to know that I love you lots and appreciate you being there for me.

You’re also one in a million and couldn’t ask for dad that’s as crazy and funny as you!!!

P.S. I have given you some money so that you can give money to people on Kiva.

Love,

Marco”

 Clea: Last Born

BdayCardClea“Dear Papa

Happy Birthday.

Firstly, I would like to take the time to tell you just how much I love you!

Honestly, you mean the world to me. I love how you are always there, even if it’s just after school and you ask me how my day was. Or just being able to sit down and watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer with you. It MAKES MY DAY!

The last year I think we have really become close with each other. The truth is that you and me are a team, a bit like the 3 musketeers – but there is only two of us. We face the world together!

Papa, you are the best advice giver, the best thinker, the best everything! But most of all the best dad. I love you to bits. No words could describe, no images could show you just much your brain continues to amaze me, your sooooooo smart, which can get annoying when you prove me wrong!

I am proud to be your daughter and to carry the Iqbal family name. When I’m older and I get married, trust me, the guy will have to change his last name because I’m keeping Iqbal.

Papa, you are my safety net, when I fall somehow you arms catch me – which is good because I fall a lot! It seems that you are always there for me. No matter how hard I might push you away, you always come fighting your way back. As I mention fighting, you should know that even when we fight and argue, I still love you. That includes all the slamming of doors, shouting and screaming, loud angry music.

When I am older I want to be just as kind and loving as you are. Your heart is so big it stretches across Africa.

I love you papa, I love you, I love you, I love you, don’t forget it.

Clea”

Sophia: One Who I Have Adopted As A Daughter

BdayCardSophia“To Maz,

Thank you for everything you have done for me in the past year. Even though we don’t always talk, I know no matter what, you’ll always be there for me & that you do love me. It tok me a while to believe it but I definitely do now.

I also want you to know, though it is hard for me to say it, I do love you.

Hope you have a really good birthday! …..

Lots of love,

Sophia”

What is it that I wish to say to my children?

Your existence, and my role in it, grants me a powerful sense of meaning and purpose. Your existence contributes to my existence: you enrich my existence.  I love each of you.

And Finally

It occurs to me that this year’s birthday celebration was a special one. Why? For the first time, I planned out my birthday celebration, I invited the folks around the table, I did all the cooking, and I did all the washing up.  This may not be milestone for many. It is for me. Why?  Because it is was not to long ago that my being did not include cook. Now it does. By taking on the project of cooking I have expanded by being. I have grown older, am one year closer to death, yet my sense of self (as a source of contribution/power to make a difference) has grown, not diminished.

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


tothewonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Ebert (film critic, deceased)

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

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

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

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

Damon Linker (senior correspondent at theweek.com)

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.

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.

 

Finding the inner seed: getting back to “I Am”


Who am I?  This is the fundamental question.  This the most important question that I can grapple with and get clear on.  Few of us have a powerful answer to this question. Almost all of us are trapped in delusions – delusions that imprison/constrain us in some way.  I call these ‘prison bars of our being/showing up in the world for ourselves and others’.

How do you and I build these prison bars?  Whenever you/I add anything to “I am”.  For example, I am a woman.  I am a middle class. I am extroverted. I am a manager.  I am unattractive.  I am respectable.  I am intelligent. I am reliable.  I am honest.  I am a good friend.  I am a poor mother/daughter/wife…….  Truth be told, you/I are not the ones that add all of this stuff to “I am”. No, it is done by our parents, our sibling, our relatives, our teachers, our neighbours, the media ……….. It is that without knowing any better we think that the game of life is adding stuff to “I am” and so we get busy adding stuff until the prison bars are complete and we have lost our freedom to be and instead have a fixed identity.

Does it have to be that way?  Can you/I regain our freedom?  Can you and I let go of all that we/others have added to “I am” and get back to “I am” and rejoice such that it our experience shows up for us as “I am!”?  Allow me to share with you one of the most moving passages that I have ever come across:

“I remember walking that day under the elevated tracks in a slum area, feeling the thought, “I am an illegitimate child.” I recall the sweat pouring forth in my anguish in trying to accept the fact. Then I understood what it must feel like to accept, “I am a Negro in the midst of privileged whites,” or “I am blind in the midst of people who see.” Later on that night I woke up and it came to me this way, “I accept the fact that I am an illegitimate child.” But “I am not a child anymore.” So it is, “I am illegitimate.” That is not so either: “I was born illegitimate.” Then what is left? What is left is this, “I Am.” This act of contact and acceptance with “I am,” once gotten hold of, gave me (what I think was for me the first time) the experience “Since I Am, I have a right to be.”

What is this experience like? It is a primary feeling – it feels like receiving the deeds to my house. It is the experience of my own aliveness not caring whether it turns out to be an ion or just a wave. It is like when as a very young child I once reached the core of a peach and cracked the pit, not knowing what I would find and then feeling the wonder of finding the inner seed, good to eat in its bitter sweetness…. It is like a sailboat in the harbour being given an anchor so that, being made out of earthly things, it can by means of its anchor get in touch again with the earth, the ground from which its wood grew, it can lift its anchor to sail but always at times it can cast its anchor to weather the storm or rest a little….. It is my saying to Descartes, “I Am, therefore I think, I feel, I do.”

It is like an axiom of geometry – never experiencing it would be like going through a geometry course not knowing the first axiom. It is like going to my own Garden of Eden where I am beyond good and evil and all other human concepts. It is like the experience of poets of the intuitive world, the mystics, except that instead of the pure feeling of and union with God it is the finding of and the union of my being. It is like owning Cinderella’s shoe and looking all over the world for the foot that will fit and realising all of a sudden that one’s own foot is the only one it will fit.  It is a “Matter of Fact” in the etymological sense of the expression. It is like a globe before the mountains and oceans and continents have been drawn on it. It is like a child in grammar finding the subject of the verb in a sentence – in this case the subject being one’s own life span.  It is ceasing to feel like a theory toward one’s self…..”

Getting present to the ‘awe/wonder’of Existence


“Existence is infinite, not to be defined: and though it seem a bit of wood in your hand, to carve as you please, it is not to be lightly played with and laid down.”  Lao Tzu

I say that if you and I dive into this, really dive into it, our experience of our living is transformed.  To be present to the awe and the wonder of Existence is to move from ‘ordinary living’ to ‘extraordinary living’. Sometimes, when I am present to that which exists between my daughter and I, I am profoundly shaken.  She is my world. And she exists only because my wife had a miscarriage.  It could so easily have been otherwise.

In the West, Existence is no big thing.  Existence slipped into the background centuries ago and most of us are never present to the ‘awe’ of existence.   That the mountains are.  That oceans and rivers are.  That waterfalls are.  That rain is. That snows is.  That the wind is. That trees are.  That grass is.  That deserts are. That lions are.  That birds are.  That fish are……….That I am.  That you are.  That we are together as beings-in-the-world.  That feelings are.  That love is. That sadness is.  That laughter is.  That language is…….

How magnificent Existence is!

“Existence is infinite, not to be defined: and though it seem a bit of wood in your hand, to carve as you please, it is not to be lightly played with and laid down.”  Lao Tzu

If you need some help in getting present to the awe/wonder of Existence I recommend reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Suffering: pathway to compassion, relationship and a ‘world the works’?


Suffering is intrinsic to life and living

Suffering has been present in my experience of living for the last few weeks.  Is there anything special about this?  No, to be a human being is to be a being-in-the-world that is indifferent to my existence, his/her existence, your existence:  the world does not deliver my existential needs and/or does not fit into the model of the world should be (according to me, to my culture) and wherever either of these two conditions are present, suffering shows up.

Given that suffering is present in my house-of-being what is a useful way to be with it, to handle it, to work it?  Do I run from this suffering?  Do I embrace it, grasp on to tightly, suffer in silence and thus relate to myself as a martyr and give some meaning to my suffering?  Or do I embrace it, make a joke of it, display it to the world in order to get sympathy or admiration?  Do I lash out to those who I hold to be responsible for the causes of my suffering?  Do I inflict suffering because I am suffering?

Does suffering beget suffering in the ordinary way-of-being in the world?

I found that I was pretending to be OK with suffering when I was not OK with suffering.  And standing in that place I was not at peace and not available to any person who came into contact with me.  Worse, I was ready to blow up at the slightest annoyance.  How do I know this?  I became present to this when I blew up with several people including my mother. Did anyone deserve my behaviour?  No.  These people were doing what they do pretty much always.  Usually, I deal with that as their way-of-being in the world and let it go, swim with it.

What did this suffering my mine allow me to get present to?  Suffering begets suffering unless one is present to one’s suffering, becomes intimate with it, and thus uses it to allow compassion to flourish.   And yet, I really do not wish to be with my suffering.  I wish to run from it, minimise it, rationalise it……  And when I do this then I hurt the people who are around me.  Is it possible that the people in our lives who show up as least deserving of our kindness, our time/attention, of our generosity are those who occur as being selfish, inconsiderate, aggressive?  Yes, it occurs to me that the people who are in most need of our kindness, our generosity, our patience, our benevolence, are the ones that, in the ordinary way of being, we are least likely to be kind towards.  And so I, you, we contribute to the endless cycle of suffering.

Can suffering open a doorway to compassion, relationship and a ‘world that works’?

What else did I get present to as I was suffering?  It occurred to me that my experience of my suffering was similar to that of Ivan Ilych.  I was in a state of suffering and the people around me where busy with their lives.  Were they indifferent to my suffering?  I don’t know.  Did they even know/get my suffering?  I don’t know and I am confident that I hid it well.  Am I blaming anyone?  No.  I have done and probably am doing exactly the same: being not present to or simply indifferent to the suffering of those who live.

Can you and I use suffering powerfully – to generate compassion, build relationship and contribute to a ‘world that works’ with none excluded?   I came across these words of wisdom from Krishnamurti which helped me get a more useful relationship to suffering (mine, yours, his, hers) and they may do the same for you:

Why am I or why are you callous to another man’s suffering?  Why are we indifferent to the coolie who is carrying a heavy load, to the woman is carrying a baby?  Why are we so callous?  To understand that, we must understand why suffering makes us dull.  Surely, it is suffering that makes us callous; because we don’t understand suffering, we become indifferent to it.  If I understand suffering, then I become sensitive to suffering, awake to everything, not only to myself, but to the people about me, to my wife, to my children, to an animal, to a beggar.  But we don’t want to understand suffering, and the escape from suffering makes us dull, and therefore callous….. the point is that suffering, when not understood, dulls the mind and heart; from it, through the guru, through a savior, through mantras, through reincarnation, through ideas, through drink and every other kind of addiction – anything to escape what is…..

Now, the understanding of suffering does not lie in finding out what the cause is. Any man can know the cause of suffering; his own thoughtlessness, his stupidity, his narrowness, his brutality, and so on.  But if I look at the suffering itself without wanting an answer, then what happens?  Then, as I am not escaping, I begin to understand suffering; my mind is watchfully alert, keen, which means I become sensitive, and being sensitive, I am aware of other people’s suffering.”

And finally

1. Let’s own our suffering.  When you and I own our suffering then we stand in a powerful place to be with our suffering correctly and take the appropriate actions.   We move from being helpless / being victims and step into being the authors of our lives.  And as authors we are in a position to invent new possibilities that leave our experience of living transformed.  Even when we cannot escape our suffering we may be able to transcend our suffering by giving meaning to our suffering that leaves us with self-esteem.  Viktor Frankl, who spent two years or so in WWII concentration camps, has much to say on how to be with / transcend circumstances when one cannot escape from them.

2.  Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering that is all around us.  And with these open eyes and hearts lets be compassionate and act with kindness so as to show up as being caring/considerate human beings in the lives of others.  It occurs to me that the people that most need our compassion are the ones that show up as the least deserving of our compassion.

Are you ready to face the scariest truth of all? You matter


Intentionally blind to the truth of our existence?

I am blind to something and if you are like me then you are likely to be blind to something.  Why am I blind to this particular truth?  Because, to get present to this truth leaves me no excuses.  When I, you, we get present to this truth there are no escape routes.  I, you, we become responsible for a ‘world that does not work’ and then the usual avenues of excuses and complaining are closed to us.   For most of us that burden is so heavy to bear that we go about absolutely convinced of the opposite of what is so.  Before I share this truth with myself and with you let me share with you what is so in the taken for granted, ordinary, mode of being.

The ordinary mode of existence: I am puny, I do not matter, I am not responsible

In our day to day existence we tell ourselves that we do not make a difference.  That’s right we feel small, we occurs to ourselves as being insignificant in comparison to the powers that matter, that shape the world.  We are puny in comparison to; the nation states; the institutions of the nation state including government, judiciary, the police; the global corporations that often wield more power than many nation states; and the media which decides that which gets attention and what gets ignored.

Take a look at the picture.  Do you not see yourselves as one of those small dots – one amongst an ocean of small dots surrounded by, subservient to the powers that be?  And do you not just give up – go with the flow, accepted practice, doing you best to fit into the way that the world is.  If you have more gumption, more intelligence, you may make the effort to carve out a place for yourself in the world where you can simple be – rather like a hermit or a warlord, depending on your disposition.

Seeing ourselves so puny do we (you and I) not comfort ourselves with the notion that we ‘victims’ of the way that the world is?  Do we not say that the way it is has nothing to do with us?  Do we not escape any and all responsibility to do with the way that it is and the way it is not?  And as such we can comfort ourselves saying the world may be ‘bad’ but we are ‘good’?

A funny thing happened in the office recently

I turned up at the office recently and talking with a member of leadership team I was confronted with what is so and I do not wish to face. What exactly am I talking about?  I was told that my presence in the office was missed!  He was telling me that it matters (to him, to the leadership team, to the company) whether I am present in and work out of the office.  My automatic reaction?  What are you talking about?  I don’t matter to you, to the leadership team, to the company!  I do matter to my clients and I take care of my clients – I make sure that I take care of my clients.

Then it hit me.  How many times have I been told that I matter?  How many people have told me that I matter?  How many people have told me that I have changed their lives simply by being me and doing what I naturally do? What is my response – what goes on in my mind?  Sometimes I discount what I am told, other times I am simply embarrassed and most of the time it is both.  My reaction? “You cannot be talking about me.  I am ordinary.  I make no difference.  You are just being nice.  No, you cannot be serious, I’m just an ordinary fellow getting through life as best as I can.”  Outwardly, I simply say “Thank you”.  The conversation finishes, I am glad it is over and so I can forget about it.

‘Extra-ordinary’ living:  I matter and I take the stand that I am responsible for EVERYTHING as it is and as it is not

I matter, you matter, they matter, we matter!  Through our speaking and our acting – including that which we do not speak of and that which we do not do – we influence, shape and create the world we live in.  Why is that?  Because, our existence is like a wave that ripples and touches many others.  We are waving all the time and so we are touching others all the time Contrary, to our beliefs and our cultural worldview, we are NOT particles.  No, we are waves: we are constantly touching others and being touched by others; we influence others and they influence us – all the time.  This influence extends to our death – we touch others through our dying.  And even beyond the grave we touch others with the legacy that we have left – either through action or inaction.   Allow me to share a quote with you:

“We cannot be deceived.  Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  We are not self contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  Each of us is the other to the other.  Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.”  RD Laing, The Politics of Experience

It matters:

  • whether I work here at home, with my clients at their offices or at the offices of the company I work for;
  • whether I look my fellow human beings in their eyes and smile;
  • whether I choose to let one of my fellow human beings cut into the main road from a side road given that I have the priority;
  • whether I cycle to work or drive a gas guzzling car to work;
  • whether I help the old man in the start that has fallen over and is lying on the pavement;
  • whether and how I speak to you when we encounter each other in the office;
  • where and how I spend my money..

EVERYTHING I, you, we speak or do not speak matters;  EVERYTHING I, you, we do or do not do matters; EVERYTHING we focus or do not focus our time-money-effort on matters.  I, you, we matter, ALL THE TIME.  That is simply what goes with existing – being a part of the pattern called life.

EVERY action or inaction, no matter how small matters: we live in a non-linear world where small changes can have a huge impact.   The ‘Butterfly’ principle shows that in the world as it is EVERYTHING is interconnected, interdependent AND a miniscule change, action, like a butterfly flapping its wings can change the weather half way across this planet. 

Now more than ever I, you, we are enormously important and powerful.  It is easier than ever for each SINGLE one of us to change the world. The internet, mobile telephony and social media allow us to come together and effect change in the world. 

Two great examples of the impact we can make if we choose to make it

The first is our fellow human beings, in Brazil, putting their humanity into action and saving 30 stranded, in pain, dying dolphins.   Their actions matter – notice that it started with one person moving from the beach into the sea and this set the cue for others to follow, to join in.  And that video has been viewed over 2 million times.

People in Brazil save 30 beached dolphins:

The second video is part of the most talked about social campaign in existence today.  It has been viewed over 69 million times and as a result Joseph Kony is now a well known name.

Kony2012:

Final question: am I, are you willing to give up the delusion and live as ‘gods’ and shoulder the responsibility that comes with that?

I matter, you matter, they matter, we matter – that is simply what is so and it is even more so now, today, than any other time in our history.  Our delusion is that we think, we believe and we go about our living from the context that “I am insignificant, I am puny, I do not matter.  So I can do whatever I want as it has no impact on anyone else.”  We do not leave it there.  We add a fool’s errand on top of this delusion, actually it is only possible if this delusion is there as the foundation.  What is this fool’s errand?

Fools errand: being deluded that I am puny, I am in signficant, I do not matter, I set about doing all manner of stuff to prove to myself, to you, to my work colleagues, to the world that I do matter.  Hey look I matter, I am important, I am significant.  Look at my job title.  Look at my big, new house.  Look at my latest, expensive car.  Look at my clothes.  Let me tell you where I went on holiday this year……

I can give up the fool’s errand and so can you.  You and I can face up to the scariest (and most powerful) truth of all: you matter, I matter, we matter all the time.  Everything that we do or do not do has an impact (especially now in the days of the internet and social media) and because of that you and I are 100% responsible for EVERYTHING that is so and is not so in this world.   What an awesome responsibility that is.  What an awesome opportunity that is.  What an awesome context to operate from!  And this context provides the access to live a transformed life.