Thank You, And A Small Gift For You This Christmas


Without listening there is no value in speaking. Which is my way of saying that I am truly grateful for your listening of my speaking. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I wish you a great Christmas. And I know that my wishing will not make the same kind of impact that your actions will make. So I ask you to the source (cause of) a great Christmas experience – for yourself, for your loved ones, for all whose lives you touch this festive week or so.

What is it that I can offer you as a small gift this Christmas? What kind of a gift is in tune with what this blog is about? I offer you the following:

Yes, the whole conversation is about 7 hours long. If nothing else, I recommend that you listen to (and watch) the first 90 minutes.

I’d like to end this particular conversation with a quote from Werner Erhard. It occurs to me that it is worth listening – really listening to it – and then acting on it.  It occurs to me that acting on that which Werner is speaking, would be a great way to celebrate Christmas and being the New Year. Here is that quote (bolding mine):

People often don’t understand what is involved in forgiving. They think that if somebody does something wrong, and you forgive them, that is like saying that it was alright to do it that time – but don’t dare do it again. But life doesn’t work that way; and it’s stupid or hypocritical to forgive someone on that basis. If somebody does something, you can be sure that he or she will do it again.

“That is why I prefer to talk about ‘making space’ and ‘completion.’ To the extent that forgiveness is involved, it is more like self-forgiving and self-acceptance. When you forgive yourself for something, you have to create the space for that thing to exist. For whatever you resist, and fail to make space for, will indeed manifest itself in you.

“Self-forgiving, and self- accepting, is an essential part of being complete in relationships. If there is something about your past that you are ashamed of, or guilty about – if there is something in it that you are hanging on to – if there is something there that you are using to burden another person – that will prevent you from being complete in your relationships.

“In order to transcend having to be any particular type of person, you have to make it all right with yourself to be that type of person. The moment when you really experience that you have created yourself being whatever way you are, at the same moment you will never have to be that way again.

“This self-forgiving, self-acceptance, goes hand in hand with forgiving others, making space for others, completing your relationships with others. You cannot be complete in a relationship with any person whom you do not admire and respect as he or she is, and as he or she is not – rather than the way you think she is or would like her to be. Love for a person is is acceptance of him or her the way he is and the way he is not.

“So long as you do not know who you really are, this will be difficult. You may have to give up a lot of things to which you may be attached. You may have to give up your resentments, your anger, your upset, your annoyance, your desire to punish.”

– Werner Erhard

At your service | with my love

maz

 

 

The value of dropping it, all of it!


 

 

A favourite zen story

It goes something like this:

One day an elderly monk and a young monk left the monastery and headed for the village.  After buying supplies, they headed back.  As it had been raining hard a stream had become swollen.  On the edge of it stood a young women in her fine clothes; she was reluctant to cross the stream.  The elderly monk set his load on the ground and offered to carry the women across the stream.  She hopped on his back and he carried over and then came back, picked up his load and headed for the monastery. 

An hour or so later the young monk could no longer contain his his disappointment, his upset, his anger.  He told off the monk for breaking the rules by touching the young woman and carrying her across the stream.  The elderly monk listened calmly and said “I left her by the stream over an hour ago.  Are you still carrying her?”

Ordinary living: you and I are still carrying her!

It occurs to me that you and I are rather like the young monk: we are still carrying her.

What are you and I carrying from the past?  Hurt.  Grudges. Resentment. Anger.  Myths. Beliefs. Injunctions. Must. Should . Should’nt……  These make a heavy load and this load is constantly strapped to our backs.  Worse, as we get older this load gets heavier and heavier.  And we can never really be present in the present: we are worn out from carrying this load around even if we have got so used to this that we no longer notice it.

‘Extraordinary living’: drop it, leave the past in the past!

Want ease, grace, joy present in your living?  Then stop carrying her! Drop it, leave the past in the past.

Feeling like a failure as a mother/father?  Then drop the myth that there is a way to be a perfect mother/father.  Drop the myth that you should be a perfect mother/father.  Drop the baggage!  Just be a mother/father.

Carrying hurt?  Did someone hurt you?  Drop it!  You are hurting yourself today by carrying/clinging to the hurt of yesterday.  Have you never hurt anyone?  Really?  Take a good look: can you be sure, absolutely sure, that you have never intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone?  Go further and question the myth of hurt.  Who promised you that you would not be hurt or that you would not hurt?  Does life, real life, come with that guarantee?

Didn’t live up to expectations?  Drop the expectations!  Notice that expectations are not an inherent feature of the world.  You can drop the expectation that you will live up to expectations!  Yes, you can drop it!  Just live.

Carrying guilt?  What good is that?  Who benefits?  What difference does it make?  Drop the guilt. Act!  Pick up the phone and apologise.  Write a letter and apologise.  Meet up face to face and apologise.    Are you experience existential guilt in the sense of not living an authentic life?  Then act: live that authentic life!

If I / you choose to stop carrying her, to put the past in the past, then I say that our experience of our lives, our living, will be transformed.  Life will show up as being light, lighter.  And you and I will show up light, lighter.  Lightness comes with being at peace with ourselves and the world.  When we stop carrying her we can be present: just walk back to the monastery!

 

A remarkable experience on the way to college


This post is related to the following post:  Getting, owning and letting my disappointment be sets me free!

Usually my wife drives my daughter to school (along with two young girls from next door)  and my eldest son takes the bus to college.  Something came up, my wife asked for my help and yesterday I committed to taking the three girls to school.

This morning I was completely at peace after finishing my morning meditation.  Being in that space the thought came to me: “I can be of service to my eldest son – drive him to college”.  So I called in my son and told him that I would be leaving at 8:30 to drop the girls off at school and if he came with me then I’d drop him off college (after we dropped the girls at school).  He was pleased: he had overslept, would not have been able to do what he needed to do, get the bus and get to college by 9:00am.

After we dropped the girls off school and there was just the two of us my son apologised.  He said he was sorry for the way that he had behaved the previous day during our time playing table-tennis together at the sports centre.  How did this occur to me?  A genuine sharing of what was so for my son: he simply said what there was to say.  He did not occur as ‘making amends’ because that was something expected of him nor of  ‘sweet talking me’ to get something out of me.  He went on to share that he did not know why he had behaved the way that he had behaved.  I listened – just listened.

How was I left feeling?  I was touched – nothing more, nothing less.  I felt no sense of satisfaction like I would have done previously.  Nor did I feel proud of my son (as he had done the right thing) as I would have done previously.  I did not feel or think any thoughts of forgiveness because it did not occur that I had anything to forgive: I had seen into the nature of my disappointment and accepted it totally on Sunday and through that processes I had set myself free.

I was more than simply touched, I was touched deeply.  I got that my son had been living with the disappointment of Sunday’s table-tennis session.  His disappointment was worse:  he had no-one else to blame and was left with only himself to blame.  He also felt guilty at letting me, his dad, down and he had been carrying around this pain for the better part of a day.

How did I respond?  I thanked him for getting my disappointment and sharing his disappointment.  I also told him I loved him – that was simply what was so and I felt it deeply.  I was experiencing compassion and love for my son.  And I told him that I was looking forward to playing table-tennis with him.  I noticed that some of the heaviness that he was carrying about his being lifted.

What is the insight?

I am not the only one who experiences disappointment.  So do others.  I am not the only one that experiences suffering.  So do others.  I am not the only one that is puzzled and asks himself “Why did I do that?”. So do others.

If I can own and be with my experience without getting wrapped up in my ‘story’ then I can be free – at peace – to be compassionate towards my fellow human beings.  And I can put that compassion into the game of life and so take some of the burden off the hearts of my fellow human beings.

6 practices for cultivating (getting present to) happiness and contentment


Let’s assume that we, human beings, want to be happy and contented.  If that is indeed the case then what should we do to cultivate and/or get present to happiness in our experience of living.  That is to say what can we do to experience happiness rather than think and make a statement along the lines of “I am happy” without feeling happy.  Each of us has his or own ideas about what drives, causes, gives rise to the state of happiness.

What do research studies on happiness suggest?  Are the practices that have been scientifically proven to cultivate and/or get us present to happiness and contentment in our lives?  Yes.  If you have the time then read “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt and “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky – I find the first a cracking read and inspiring, I find the latter a handy and practical reference book.  If you do not have the time then I simply wish to point you (and me) in the right direction by spelling out 6 happiness practices that have a scientifically sound basis.

1. Give Thanks (Gratitude)

There is enormous power in the simple habit of counting our blessings.  Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health and greater satisfaction in living our lives.  How often should you sit down and get present to all the stuff that you can be grateful for?  You might think daily and yet the science suggests that this does not work.  It is more effective to do make this a weekly exercise – make it a habit to take time out once a week to get present (make a list) of all that you can be grateful for and who you are grateful to.  Do this rigorously and we have the opportunity to get present to the huge contribution so many people (many of them strangers) make to our lives and how much we have grateful for.  For example, this morning I gave thanks for the hot shower simply by turning a tap and the gorgeous smell of coconut soap!

The Amish practice this everyday – they give thanks before they eat (“Living With the Amish”).

2.  Pay Attention (Mindfulness)

Studies show that mindfulness (being present in and to the present moment including self, others, the environment) matters.  Mindful people have stronger immune systems and are less likely to be hostile and/or anxious.  If you practice mindfulness you will be amazed at how disconnected you are from your body (living in the mind) and the present moment (living in the past and or the future continuously).  With practice we become more and more present and thus make the most of the present.

3.  Keep Friends Close

Make time for those closest to you.  I am particularly present to this as I have been immersed in a web of rich conversation with people that matter to me over the Christmas period.  Research shows that social connections are the key to happiness (the Amish totally get this).  And the quality of the social connections matter more than the quantity.

I find it interesting that the Amish practice this as well – they live with and work with their family members every day and they live within a community and within each community they know the people (their lives, live histories, the key people in their lives) – not just names of the people.

4. Drop Grudges (Forgiveness)

Research shows convincingly that when we forgive those who have wronged us, we feel better about ourselves, experience more positive emotions and feel closer to others.  In the course of watching “Living With The Amish” I got present to how wise the Amish are – they actively practice forgiveness.  An example was given of a gunman that shot dead 10 young Amish children whilst they were at school: despite the incredible loss the parents publicly forgave the gunman!  That is a hard ask and yet think about whose lives would have been the most damaged if they had not forgiven:  the lives of the Amish parents, their children and the people in their community.

There is a zen tale related to this.  One day a renowned and fierce samurai turns up to see a zen master.  Face to face the samurai asks “I am tormented.  I have travelled far and wide and asked many yet I have not attained the answer I am looking for.  What is the difference between Heaven and Hell.”  The zen master ignores him.  The samurai asks again and is ignored again.  The samurai asks again – this time more forcefully.  The master responds “Get out of here you worthless dog!”.   No-one has ever talked this way to the samurai nor treated him this way.  Rage grips the samurai and he takes out his long sword and is about to bringing it down on the zen master and end his life.  Right there the zen master says “That is Hell”.  The samurai gets it – right there – the sword falls from his hand.  Then tears flow from the face of the samurai – he gets that the zen master had put his own life at stake to be of service to him (the samurai).  When the zen master says that change of state in the samurai he says “That is heaven”.   I hope you get what this tale is getting at.

5.  Move (Exercise)

Regular exercise increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.  Again, it is interesting to note that the physical work plays such a large role in their lived lives – from dawn to dusk the Amish families work together making stuff and taking care of the necessities of life.

6.  Practice Kindness

Being kind to others makes us feel good.  Altruistic acts light up the same pleasure centres in the brain as food and sex!  Again I find it interesting that the Amish practice kindness vigorously when it comes to their community, their Church.  The make a point of sharing each other’s sorrows, they help each other out e.g. barnraising, they celebrate together…… Kind of explains why sex, fancy food and material goods (and riches) do not have the same hold on the Amish that they have on many of us.

A Handy Reminder

You can download a handy reminder of these practices by clicking on the following link:  Six Habits of Happiness

I thank you for listening and taking part in this conversation.

On Christmas


When I was young, living with my parents, Christmas was simply not being at school and being able to watch lots of interesting / entertaining stuff on the television.  I particularly enjoyed watching action moves. We did not celebrate Christmas as my parents are Muslims.

When I was at university, Christmas was an opportunity to be with my parents, my brothers and my sister.  I remember taking them out to Pizza restaurants and just eating and laughing together.  Occasionally, it was an opportunity to go to a friend’s house and celebrate Christmas with his family.  The friend that comes to mind is James Harvey.  And I thank him and his family to introducing me to an English Christmas.  I enjoyed meeting James’ mother, father, sisters, nephews etc.

When I started my professional career and was single, Christmas was an opportunity to simply be.  To take time out and reflect on the year that had come to an end.  And to think of the year to come.  It was also a time to read books, watch movies and go spend time with friends and family.  I do not remember ever being focussed on buying stuff or receiving stuff.

When I got married into the French and started family, Christmas became a day spent driving to the centre of France.  And once there is became an opportunity to eat fine food and drink fine wine.  Sit at the table, for what seemed like an eternity, and now and then catch flakes of conversation.  And of course about giving and receiving gifts.  Firstly, this  occurred as strange and then it became normal.  Yet somehow it did not seem that Christmas belonged to me: it no longer occurred as an opportunity to be me, to reflect, to be thankful, to choose – it occurred as a duty.

How does Christmas occur to you?  Is it something that you have simply fallen into?  Like I have?

I have been rethinking Christmas.  How about making Christmas a time where I/we:

  • think about each and every person that has made a contribution to our life and experience that contribution and write to and/or call each of these people and thank them for their contribution – what they did, what difference it made in practical terms and how it made / makes you feel;
  • remember and acknowledge all the people  we have criticised, we have excluded, we have trespassed against and then say sorry – by writing or by picking up the phone – and asking what it will take to put the past in the past, to get forgiveness;
  • get present to all the grudges we hold against specific people and then get off our high horse and forgive the imagined or real trespass ideally by calling the other person sharing the grudge and having chosen to forgive – to put the past in the past;
  • take the time to get present to all the millions of people around the world that are not as fortunate as we are and then taking some action even if that is to be grateful for all that we have, that we take for granted;
  • to make a dent – even a small one – in the life of even one human being that we know is suffering, who can do with being seen through kind eyes, listened to with kind ears, lifted up with kind words of worth and validation, and touched by soothing hands; and
  • where we acknowledge ourselves as human beings who strive to do good, to make a contribution, to create a good world for ourselves and our children (whether born, or unborn) and accept that despite our best intentions we fail from time to time and yet what counts is that we pick ourselves off the floor and continue to make good on our commitment to be good and do good.

To put is simply, in the rich western world.  Most people need acceptance and validation – just as they are and are not – then they need presents.   Most people need good honest conversations where they can speak freely without judgement then they do presents. Most people need a heartfelt hug more than they need presents.  And yes, some need a helping heart who will give some of the necessities of life.  If you are looking for inspiration then I recommend watching The Blind Side (the movie starring Sandra Bullock).

 

Forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself


Until recently I had not thought that much about forgiveness.  Firstly because I have been fortunate in that very few of my human beings have hurt me that much.  Secondly, I have been a master at distancing myself from those – a few that – have caused me pain. Thirdly, I have always thought that forgiveness lets the bad guys off and so gives them an incentive to go and do that again – to me or to others.

For a week or so this month anger, frustration, despair and confusion gripped me tightly.  The working day was not so bad as I was absorbed in tasks that consumed me mentally.  Yet, these feelings, these states of mind would grasp me in the evenings.  And all because I had created a story called Betrayal: I played the part of the wronged person and some of the people who are closest to me were the betrayers.

Being versed in existential philosophy I recognised I had a choice.  Continue with the Betrayal story and thus keep creating anger, frustration, confusion and despair.  Or to create a new story.  And whilst I was in this search I happened to read Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The book is subtitled “Buddhist Wisdom for cooling the flames”. The book gave me access to stories that inspired me to step into the ‘shoes of the other’ and to get that if I was feeling hurt, they were feeling hurt.  If I was wrapped up in a story of Betrayal then they were wrapped up in their own story.

So the question arose: who goes first?  Who says I am folding up my story and putting it on the fire?

So I chose forgiveness: I forgave everyone including myself.   Did that make the lives of the people I was angry with easier?  Yes.  Were they the  only people to benefit?  No.  Were they the main beneficiaries?  No.

What I found is that the main beneficiary of this act of forgiveness is me. Yes, me.  Anger, frustration, confusion and despair have flown leaving only peace of mind.  I am at peace with the world and the world is at peace with me: no need to ready the sword to cut others nor the shield to defend myself from others.

So I can honestly say that forgiveness is a gift that I gave myself.

As I human like you I can confidently state that forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself. Even when you choose to break from someone – you can do it in a way that bears no grudges of the past.  In a way that leaves you overflowing with a peaceful mind.