What really matters?

“If only” and “Someday”

What is it you tell yourself?  Isn’t it something like “If only I had the money/food/love/sex/fame/power/status…. then I’d be happy and everything would be perfect”?  Which tends to go along with “Someday when I have the money/food/love/sex/fame/power/status/perfect partner…. everything will be just great, I will be happy”.

Are you and I chasing after the right stuff?

I have a question for me, for you: “How do you know that when you get what you are after – money, fame, love, sex, power – you will be happy?”  Put differently, before you spend your life chasing something in order to be happy might it not be useful to question if you are chasing after the right stuff?  Lets take a walk with Timothy D Wilson in his book Strangers to Ourselves:

“Imagine that you are part of a grand experiment in which you are provided with everything you need.  At regular intervals you are given gifts of money, food, love, sex, fame – whatever you want.  The only catch is that you can do nothing that increases or decreases the likelihood of obtaining these rewards.  In fact, in order to receive the rewards, you have to spend eight hours a day in a room doing nothing – no career to occupy your time, no one to talk to, no books to read, no paintings to paint, no music to compose – in short, nothing to engage you.” 

How do this show up for you?   Look you are being offered everthing that you are chasing!  Not only that, you get everything that you are chasing after with no effort on your part.  That’s right, sit back and put your feet up.  Are you raring to go, to take the plunge wholeheartedly, to take up this offer?

Even though you can get any reward you want, this would be a hellish life.  Compare it to quite different existence, in which the tangible rewards are modest.  You make only enough money to meet your basic needs and have few luxuries.  But you spend every day absorbed in activities you love.”

What do you really love doing?  What do you enjoy doing simply for the doing?  What is it that so involves you that lose your self, you lose track of time, even if you end up being ‘tired’ you are not tired, you are uplifted?

“In such extreme cases few of us would choose the first life over the second.  In everyday life, however, I think people sometimes opt for lives more like the first one.  I see undergraduates striving for careers that will pay them lots of money but doom them to mind-numbing daily routines (tax law comes to mind but that might just be me). The second kind of life is that of the struggling artist, a social worker who loves to make a difference in people’s lives, or, I suppose, tax attorneys who are really turned on by the latest changes in Roth IRAs.  Daily absorption is more important than the paycheck at the end of the month, as long as the paycheck covers our basic needs.

Which brings me back to the central questions – for me, for you, for us

How do you know that when you get what you are after – money, fame, love, sex, power – you will be happy?

Are you ok with living a life of drudgery, of meaninglessness, in order to simply fit in, be comfortable, be approved of and in the hope that someday you will have all that you need to be happy?

What do you really love doing?  What do you enjoy doing simply for the doing?  What is it that so involves you that lose your self, you lose track of time, even if you end up being ‘tired’ you are not tired, you are uplifted?

Here is my experience :  I have been profoundly happy/fulfilled – singing and smiling – cleaning toilets.  And I have been profoundly unhappy staying at a five star hotel, in a ‘beautiful’ city, driven around in fancy cars and eating in fancy restaurants!  I have been profoundly bored in ‘safe places doing safe stuff’ and on the edge of my seat, fully alive, fully immersed, totally fulfilled and joyous sitting a jeep being driven along one of the worlds most scenic and dangerous routes.   This blog is just another vehicle for access to joy, to self-expression, to be the stand I have chosen to be:  I love sharing what I have learned, I love sharing my experience, I love being of service/contributing to my fellow human beings.

Here is,perhaps, the most radical question

What if happiness is something that you bring to the table, that you put into life, rather than something that you have to search for, dig for, to beg for, to build brick by brick?   Really what if you can choose to be happy right now and bring that happiness to the game of life, to your living such that wherever you are happiness shows up? If you are open to entering into this conversation then please check out this post that I wrote some time ago:  “Happiness: a master speaks and shows the way (not for the faint hearted)”

Want to cultivate great relationships? Embrace the stand “people matter more than stuff”

How to cultivate great relationships with people and enrich your life

Relationships enrich our living.  That is simply so, if it was not so then most of us would be living the life of hermits – isolated from our fellow human beings.

If you accept that relationships enrich our existence then you would want to generate goodwill with you fellow wo/man,  With some you’d want to go further to become more entangled with one another and thus co-create intimacy.  How do you do that?  What is the insight that allows us to come up with the right practice?  The insight is that each of us wants deeply to matter!  We want/need/ strive to matter to the people with whom we interact.  That includes family, friends, work colleagues, our neighbours and our community.

Given that insight what is the core practice that builds relationships with our fellow human beings?  The core practice is encapsulated in a saying that I heard my friend Analia say to her young daughter:  “People matter more than things!”  I rephrase this “People matter more than any stuff that you are up to and any things that you want/own!”

How does this work in the real world? A personal story

Yesterday I was watching a movie with my wife and my youngest son.  We were really immersed in the story that was being told.  Then my eldest son came into the room and asked me for a hug.  What was my first reaction?  It was to say no! ” No, I am right in the middle of watching a really interesting movie.  I cannot just stop it and give you a hug upstairs in your room – your mother and brother are watching it with me.” And that is the approach that I took though I put it more politely than that.  After a couple of minutes I got present to “People matter more than stuff!”.  So I told my wife and youngest son to continue watching the film without me and headed upstairs to find my eldest son.

He was delighted!  He got that he matters to me, that I love him, that he is more important to me than stuff.  And here is the truly beautiful piece of this story:  I got that I matter to my son – his whole face lit up when I lay down on the bed and put my arms around him.  It is when we put aside our “stuff” and give ourselves to our fellow human beings that they get that they matter.  I was only upstairs with my son for 5 minutes – just 5 minutes out of “stuff” and those 5 minutes make all the difference to our relationship.  We both know that we matter to each other.

Why is it important to put people before stuff?

The being of human being is a social one.  What am I pointing at?  I am saying that human beings are ‘herd animals’ – we are truly ourselves when we are in relationship with one another: speaking, listening, sharing, giving, taking, offering help, receiving help…  Put differently, we exist in relationship.  Even our ‘individuality’, our ‘self’, flowers and exists in relationship.  There is no-one alive who is alive without the help of another human being.  There is no-one alive, no matter how ‘individualistic’ he sees himself, who has not been shaped by other living beings – usually parents, siblings, school students, school teachers, neighbours…..  Individuality is response to and flowers out of relationship and connectedness!

Yet, in the West, we ‘throw into and life from’ a worldview that does not recognise nor value our relatedness – mutually interacting and influencing one another.  It does not recognise the impact we make on another.  And whilst it speaks about individual rights it does not speak of our responsibilities to one another.  The dominant idea is to allow everyone to do his own thing provided he/she does not interfere (actively) with other people and what they are up to.   What we are not present to is that we matter to our fellow human beings: what we do or do not do matters –  it affects the health, the well being, the happiness of our fellow human beings.  Think about the rampant loneliness, the existential angst of leading ‘meaningless’ lives, the boredom that youngsters increasingly experience.  How does this show up?  Look around you the signs of social decay (ruptured human bonds) are all around us: excessive drinking, drugs, crime, corruption, gated communities, inner cities falling apart……

Are you ready to live from the stand “people matter more than stuff!”?

Is it time to hold a correct view of the world and our being as human beings?  Is it time to embrace and live the stand “People matter more that stuff – whatever form that stuff takes and no matter how seductive it is!” ?  Whatever you chose, notice that my choice affects you and your choice affects me – we are interdependent.

Health is everything: it is the ultimate wealth and most of us are simply oblivious to it!

For most of my life I have taken my health for granted.  I simply assumed that everything would work and work fine till the end of days despite the fact that my father has suffered two strokes and is partly paralysed and cannot take care of himself.  I rested in this assumption simply because I have been eating the right foods and in moderation.

Recently I have been caught completely by surprise.  First there was the shock of learning that I have to take a thyroid replacement every day because my thyroid gland is under-active.  Then there was the shock of learning that all my good eating had been to no avail.  Despite being vegetarian and staying away from fatty foods I find that I am genetically predisposed to a high cholesterol level.  Apparently the liver is responsible for some 80% of the cholesterol.  And now I find myself on statins.

Then back in June 2009 I found that my neck was in considerable pain and once all the pills had been taken, the physiotherapy tried and the MRI scan I found that I had a prolapsed disc in my neck and frankly there is nothing that can be done about it that does not risk me being paralysed if things go wrong.  After nine months I had made all the life changes to deal with that so that I lessen the chance of aggravating my neck.

Funny though it may sound, I can cope with that.  How do you cope with the fact that your lower back can seize up such that you cannot even sit?  That is the situation I find myself in: if I sit for more than half an hour I end up experience intense pain and cannot even lift my legs to put my socks on.  What do you do when you cannot sit?  When you can only walk very slowly or simply lie down?  What do you do when you have such an active and curious mind like mine – one that loves to learn?  What do you do when you cannot write – something you have wanted to do for such a long time, have started finally and now enjoy doing it?

I do not have the answers.  I know that is the situation that I find myself in and I am doing my best to live with it.  Sometimes that is simply the situation that you find yourself in and there are no magical answers.  You just have to do the best that you can do.  And still be grateful that things are not worse.  I am grateful that my friends, my family, my loved ones, my home, my business, my community, my neighbourhood has not been washed away in an instant.  And I am grateful that I am not sitting outside in the freezing cold or a large sports stadium – cold, hungry, uncomfortable and wondering if I am being bombarded by radiation.  Can you imagine the Japanese mothers who are, right now, wondering how their babies, their children, will be impacted by the radiation leaking out of the damaged nuclear plant.

My friends, our health is our wealth.  And we should cherish it, be grateful and make the most of it.  I am suffering and my quality of life has deteriorated simply because I cannot sit!  And how many of us take sitting for granted.  Or being able to tie our own shoelaces?