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.

 

Play BIG: Befriend One Who Can Do With a Friend


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playing BIG Can Be As Simple As Making A Telephone Call


Making-Phone-CallHello! I’ve been absent for much of 2016 and 2017. It’s possible that some of you have noticed. If you are interested in learning more about this absence then I invite you to read the second half (“My Story Told As Briefly As I Can Tell It”) of a conversation I posted on The Customer & Leadership Blog.

I say it feels great to be back in communication with you. Being away has allowed me to realise that I created a trap for myself and for you. What trap?  THE trap. The trap of calling this series of conversations: Playing BIG.  The issue. You and I find ourselves arising from and living amidst a specific time/place.  Where I live, we take playing BIG to point out at things like:  becoming a captain of industry, writing a best-selling novel, becoming a superstar/celebrity, making millions, ending world hunger …… You get the idea.

You may be saying to yourself “What’s the problem with that?”.  There is no problem with that if that is what playing BIG means to you and right now you are in action acting in/on the world to cause that to happen. Whilst there is no problem, there is a trap. The trap is that almost all of us feel inadequate, and/or show up for ourselves as small/insignificant is such complex world. For almost all of us playing BIG (as I have described above) is wishful thinking at best.  For others it likely occurs as the latest claptrap.

Today, I am committed to cutting through that. I say that when I step outside of my self-centred concerns, put aside my fears, and act – help others – I am playing BIG.  Allow me to share with you the actions that I have taken that show up for me as playing BIG in the way I show up & travel:

  • I make it my business to call my friend Richard once a week to say “Hello! How are things?  How are you doing? How’s your wife doing?  When/what are the latest results of your chemo treatment?” And I listen – really listen.
  • I make it my business to go see my friend Richard. We go for a walk. I walk by his left hand side so that he can bump into me not the lamppost etc,  the brain tumour has knocked out his left vision in both eyes. We have lunch together. We talk about our history working together at Peppers & Rogers, we talk about what we are dealing with today, we talk about the future that cancer holds for us.  Last week, we happened to talk about our childhoods and I learned that we are both Lancastrians – he grew up in Ormskirk and I grew up in Preston. Small world!
  • The other week, I got a call from my neighbour (Charles) whilst I was in the midst of doing business work whilst working from home.  He urgently needed a lift to get somewhere important. I dropped what I was doing even though the business-ey part of me objected as that work had a deadline. Instead I said “Give me five minutes”. Then I drove him to where he needed to go, waited in my car, then drove him back.
  • Yesterday, my oldest son (22 years old) was telling me off for not taking up shirts that my wife had ironed and left hanging on the chairs in the dining room. I said “Please don’t tell me how to live in my home. I pay for it, you are a guest!” He expressed his frustration (not so politely) with me. So I took the shirts and hung them up in my bedroom. A little later in the kitchen I mentioned how he and I used to watch the Lion King together when he was young. His response was something to experience: angry, telling me off, swearing, walking away in a huff.  What I noticed was hurt – deep hurt arising in me. Then I noticed the anger/rage rising up. Noticing it, I decided to play BIG and let it go.  He’s still a kid, and maybe (just maybe) he’s having a bad day.  Or maybe he got hurt earlier, got angry with me…. Like I was in the process of doing with him.
  • At work, I called it as I saw it.  I knew that calling it as I say it would upset some powerful people. And that I would pay a price. Fully aware of the consequences I chose to play BIG – calling it as I saw it despite the pressure (from the powerful) to be a ‘team player’, to not ‘rock the boat’… Whilst some of the powerful did not appreciate me ‘rocking the boat’ several members of the client did value the course of action I took as it is the one that puts the interests / wellbeing of the client at the centre.
  • This one took the most from me. I allowed my wife to accompany me to the visits to cancer specialists. This may not be a big deal for you, it is a huge deal for me. I grew up under a tyrannical father. And I made it through my childhood by not disclosing weakness – any weakness, and doing that which needed to be done on my own without counting on others. So to arrive at a place where I could be ok with my wife accompanying me really took something. Ask my wife!

I hope you get that which I am pointing at.  None of these actions have made a dent in the universe – the universe is oblivious to my existence.  Having said this, I am clear that the way I showed up & travelled has made some kind of dent in the lives of my friend, my neighbour, my son, members of my client.  That’s good enough for me.

Lets part company today with this question:  “What are the little actions that you/i can take now/today that make a difference in the lives of others – your family members, your neighbours, your friends, the folks you work with at work?

I invite you/me/us to play BIG. It’s not the only way to live and I do not claim that it is the best way to live.  I do say that it is a GREAT way to live – I talk from my own experience.

Thank you for your listening.

As my French family say: A la prochaine!

How To Play Big In Our Dealings With Our Fellows


Our automatic/default way of being with regards to our dealing with our fellows is one of being controlling is it not?  I have a view on who you are / what you are / how you should show up and travel and given my attachment to this view I seek/strive to control you: control you as my child, my spouse, my sibling, my colleague, my friend… Right?

What shows up when we relate to our fellows in this habitual way?  If we succeed in our efforts we do so by cutting limbs of the other to fit the Procrustean bed we have created for them.  If we do not succeed then we blame / criticise them. Either way there is something amiss in this way of relating to others.

Is there another way of relating to our fellows?  Is there a way of being-in-the-world that frees our fellows to be  – to simply be – without having to fit into a particular mould we have created for them?

I invite you and me to listen to these wise words:

Last summer I noticed a strange plant in our pasture. I did not know what it was, I had no picture in my mind of what flower or fruit it would bear, but I freed it. That is, I dug around it and opened the soil that the rain might fall on its roots, I cleared out the thistles with which it was entangled so that it might have room to spread, I cut down the undergrowth of small maples near so that it could get the sun. In other words, I simply freed it.  Every friendship which is not treated in this way will surely suffer; no human relation should serve an anticipatory purpose. Every relation should be a freeing relation with the ‘purpose’ evolving.”

– Mary Parker Follett, Creative Experience (1924)

This may be a BIG ask for you.  It is a HUGE ask for me.  Which is why it is game fit only for those of us committed to playing BIG in our dealings with others.

Finally, I invite you/me to play BIG in our dealings with ourselves. I’m inviting you and me to free ourselves in the way that Mary Parker Follett describes.

Now, I get what the folks at Landmark were saying when they counselled us to “Listen coming from nothing”- listen / relate to others without any preconceptions.  In the space of nothing, anything has the ‘space’ to show up.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

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.

Friendship and Love


We spent a large part of last weekend at the home of our friends: Gisela, James, and Jasper.  As Gisela says, it is our home in the countryside. It strikes me that coming from someone else this would strike me as mere words, intentions, or simply being nice, being polite.  Yet, Gisela’s words do not show up that way for me: they show up for me as truth – my home in the countryside.

What is it about Gisela, James, and Jasper that leaves me feeling loved and loving them as I do?

1.  I notice that there is genuine joy in their being when I show up in their home. And vice versa.

2. It never occurs to me that I am being judged: right-wrong, good-bad… And I do not judge them. What is presence is acceptance and the space that creates for us: to simply be.

3. One-upmanship is absent: nobody is out to show that they are better, or not, than anyone else.  Yes, we rejoice in each others gifts. And we leave it at that: there is no judgement about those gifts. We take delight in each other, not judgement/evaluation.

4. I am not being advised nor educated about life.  Nor am I being questioned or interrogated.  There simple is no space in our being for that kind of conversation to show up.

5. Nothing shows up as being forced.  It does not occur to me that anyone is doing their best to please others against their own feelings-needs. It occurs to me that there is an absence of pretence. And as a result there is a certain ease and gracefulness.

6. There no faking, no bullshitting, no preening, no grandstanding, no falseness going on – none that I pick up or have picked up yet.  What there is, is, even if it is deemed to be “bad” or “inappropriate” by conventional wisdom and morality

7. We share. We share the shopping if there is shopping to be done. We share the cooking if there is cooking to be done.  We share our speaking and listening.  We share our joy in being present with one another. We share smiles. We share hugs.  We share what we have found on TED, or elsewhere, that speaks to us.  We share the joys, challenges, disappointments and heartaches of life: that which works and that which does not work in our lives.

8. Smiles, hugs, laughter and even play is present.  And what an amazing difference that makes.  To get up in the morning and be greeted with genuine warmth/affection made visible through smiles and hugs.

I am left asking myself, “What if I showed up for all the people in my life, the way that I show up with Gisela-James-Jasper?” And the thought occurs that it would be “Awesome”. What a way to show up in the world!

It occurs to me that if you and I treat everyone that we meet the way we treat our very best friends then together we would transform our lives and the world. What do you say?

In the context of relatedness/affinity it really takes something to say “No”


An insight into the machinery of being human

There is a certain joy that is present when I encounter someone who occurs as being a “fruit of the same tree”. There are only a handful of people that I know who show up that way in my world. As you can imagine these people occur as special and so the inclination (off the automatic machinery of being human) is to say yes to the invitations and their requests. Put bluntly, the automatic machinery (of being human) does not wish to put the relatedness/affinity at stake by saying “no”.

A person whom I like/admire/respect makes a request of me

This week such a person, a person who I like/admire/respect, reached out to me and requested an endorsement. Upon receiving this request I noticed surprise and delight: “Wow, this person considers me worthy of endorsing him.” As as I grappled with this request I found myself in a bind.

I felt torn between competing values and commitments. How do I honour the distinction “endorsement” (not devalue it) and at the same time take on the request made of me by friend? The issue was not an issue of the competence of my friend: I am confident that he is competent, highly competent. Rather, the issue is that I have never worked with my friend and as such I am not in a position to provide an endorsement without devaluing the endorsements that i have already given to people with whom I have worked.

The bigger issue underlying this issue was the fact that I did not wish to say “no” to the request and thus hurt the feelings of my friend. And I did not want to put our relationship at risk. I noticed the temptation to pretend that I had not received this request for an endorsement. So I did nothing for a couple of days.

Eventually, I chose to be authentic, to act in accordance with my stand. So I wrote back to my friend thanking him for his invitation to endorse him. I explained how I found myself in a difficult position. And I told him that I was choosing not to accept his invitation/request. Once I hit the send button I was at peace knowing that it will work out the way that it will work out. And, that both of us are big enough to be with what there is to be with.

Is there an insight here?

It takes courage to be true to our stand especially when it occurs to us that we are at risk in some way. And it is very deep caring and commitment to our stand which provides the courage to be and to do that which is in authentic alignment with our stand when our automatic machinery is yelling/screaming at us to take the short cut, to give in, to please, to not put self at risk.
I notice that self-respect and a sense of being powerful shows up when I am being in accordance with my stand. The opposite is also true for me: when I fail to be my stand then I notice a loss of power (in my being / showing up in the world) and self-esteem.

Is it possible that when I stand for that which I have chosen to stand for, and do that in a manner that honors the dignity of my fellow human beings, I am creating an opening, an invitation, for my fellow human beings to express their voice and stand for that which matters to them?