Hurt: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation, as it is deeply important one, to Teresa Zelmanovits. She is a person of deep humanity and considerable insight into the human condition. And, the source of this conversation.

“Don’t Fuck Up!”

Stephen Margarito, a friend, is fond of saying “DON’T fuck up!!” Is such a stand – way of showing up and travelling in the journey of life – possible? Let’s say for the sake of argument you (or I) are perfect – we never ever fuck up. Does this mean that you (or I) will lead a perfect life – a life without hurt, a life with only happiness?

I say “No!” Get real, you (and I) are going to get hurt. Hurt is a certainty for every human that has walked, does walk, ever will walk on this Earth. Why? Because, you (and I, and every other person) is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

As a being-in-the-world-with-others my existence is intricately tied to that of this world, and to that of others. Take others, if one’s life partner fucks up then one is impacted. If those who act as teachers to one’s children fuck up then one is affected. If one’s employer fucks up then there are likely to be redundancies and one is affected. Now, let’s take the World. Covid-19 broke out and how many have been affected?

The Existentialist Perspective: Fucking Up and Hurt Are Intrinsic to Human Existence, There is No Escape

One (you, I, the other) will fuck up. There will be consequences for the one that fucked up and others. And where there are fuck-ups there is likely to be hurt – not always, but likely. Hurt, you know as in “I hurt!” When I say “hurt” I am not pointing at pain. When I sliced my thumb open, there was blood everywhere, and pain was present. Even today, some 3 weeks later pain in my thumb is present.

By “hurt” I point at emotional hurt as in when one feels hurt. Example, your loved one leaves you, or dies. Beyond the emotional there is a deeper hurt. Of what do I speak? Of the hurt in one’s soul – in one’s very being. Example, you really really wanted to be say a dancer yet you became a lawyer because that is what your father or mother did. Or you did not seize the moment to pursue the only that truly mattered to you – the one that lit up your very soul and left it dancing joyously.

What Matters Is How One Deals With Hurt

Hurt is an existential fact: everyone of us will experience hurt. It’s what we do with this hurt that matters. Put differently and more powerfully: it’s how we choose to use hurt that makes all the difference.

What are the standard (playing small) options in relation to hurt?

1-One can withdraw from life – into one’s shell so that one does not allow the other, or the world, to inflict more hurt. Some go one better, they withdraw, comfortable in that withdrawal, they stay there for a lifetime.

2-One can play victim – feel sorry for oneself, look/demand sympathy from others, one can go further and expect others to drop what they are doing and looking after me, the victim of life. By playing victim one can inflict one’s hurt onto others – almost always on those who are closest to us, those who love us. Why? Because they are the only ones willing to accept the injury and almost always the domination; the victim gets to dominate by playing weak and demanding loved one look after him/her. Failure to play this game leads the victim to ambush loved ones with guilt as in “If you loved me…..” Often the victim does not even need to do this, cultural upbringing already conditions one to feel guilty if one does not do their all for loved ones who are down.

3-One can burn with resentment, anger, even rage. These will lead to the corresponding actions For example, where one resents another, distance, blame, and critiscism of the other/s follows. I call this “inflicting death by a thousand cuts.” Anger can lead to lashing out at the other/s. Whether that is the abusive tongue or the abusive hands.

What Are The Playing BIG, useful, Options in relation to hurt?

1-One uses hurt to connect with one’s fellow human beings – recognising our mutuality, our shared human existence and condition. By connecting thus one opens the gate to compassion – for the other/s who are just like me hurting in some manner.

2-One goes into the hurt to enquire, to learn – about oneself, about the other/s, about the world. Example, one seeks to understand why it is that one’s spouse is emotionally distant or cutting. What is going on here? What burdens/scars does the spouse carry that lead to his/her behaviour? How am I being, and/or what is it that I am doing, that contributes and perhaps is even the source of my spouse being distant or cutting? At the end of the learning process one is almost always in a much more powerful place in relation to the hurt. And often the hurt is gone, at the very minimum it is diminished. Example, I see how my recent way of showing up and travelling in life (say being impatient and critical or just plain indifferent to him/her) has awakened the spouse’s scars and fears. And led to the spouse’s emotional distance or cutting remarks. S/he hurts me because I, unknowingly, hurt him/her.

3-One uses hurt constructively on the journey of becoming. As the Existential philosophers point out a human being is, alway and forever, a being and a becoming: for one always has the freedom to choose to become other than what one is today. So, having approached the hurt through the mode of enquiry / learning (option 2) one can act: to change oneself; to influence others; and/or to make a change in the world. Taking the example of the distant cutting spouse, I go up to my spouse and apologise – really apologise for my behaviour and the impact of my behaviour on him/her. And in this very act a new possibility, a new future, is created: one of connection, harmony, intimacy.

Summing Up

No human being, who lives a normal human life, can escape fucking-up and that which often comes with it: hurt. Playing BIG, involves choosing the path less travelled: expecting hurt, accepting hurt, looking into hurt to enquire and learn about myself, about others, about the world. And, then using this learning to take action – action that heals me, heals the other, and ideally heals the world.

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for I know that my speaking is not easy to hear. And, I wish you the very best. Until the next time…..

Playing BIG Necessarily Involves Becoming Masterful at Story


If you, or I, wish to play BIG then it is essential that one understands, deeply, the following:

  • Reality (that which is – void of language) v the Story (that which has been invented by humans);
  • Event (that which has occurred) v the Story one tells (to oneself, to others) about that which occurred; and
  • That the way out of Story (the default story) is through Story. (the story that one constructs thoughtfully).

Distinguishing Reality From Story

Let’s start with this passage from Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

‘It’s completely natural,’ I say, ‘to think of Europeans who believed in ghosts or Indians who believed in ghosts as ignorant people. The scientific point of view has wiped out every other view….It’s just all but completely impossible to imagine a world where ghosts can actually exist.’

‘My own view is that the intellect of modern man isn’t that superior….Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know…”

‘Laws of nature are human inventions, like ghosts. Laws of logic, of mathematics, are also human inventions, like ghosts. The whole blessed thing is a human invention, including the idea that it isn’t a human invention…..It’s run by ghosts. We see what we see because these ghosts show it to us, ghosts of Moses and Christ and the Buddha, and Plato, and Descartes, and Rousseau and Jefferson and Lincoln, on and on and on…..Your common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past…”

What is it that we, human beings, excel at?

  • Inventing stories, telling stories, listening/being seduced by stories (Culture, Religion, Science, Politics, Business…); and
  • Forgetting that these stories are human inventions and thus mistaking Story (our inventions) for Reality (that which is void of language).

So the way out of the cage of Story (Scientific worldview, Culture, Religion, Tribe….) starts with being aware and mindful of our automatic tendency to live in/from Story.  And then doing something about this. Doing what?  Work with you through this conversation and you will find this out.

Distinguishing Event From Story

December 2018, I am on the phone with an ex-colleague, a friend, and a person whom I admire, and to whom I am grateful.  It became clear to me that he was somewhat troubled. By what?  Ex-colleagues of his (and mine) with the same abilities/experience (or less) had gone on to bigger roles in other companies.  Whilst this colleague-friend was operating pretty much at the same level he had been operating at for many years.

Let’s take a look at this matter through the Event v Story distinction. What Event/s occurred? He learned that some of his ex-colleagues were now in senior-ish roles in other companies. What is the Story that he found himself entrapped inside of?  Something like this: “I used to be the same (or more senior) as these colleagues. Now I am less than them.  Is there something wrong with me?  Am I letting myself down by not being hungry/ambitious?  Will I regret that I did not strive for me whilst I have it in me to strive for me and get more?  Am I a failure?”

Do you see the difference between Event and Story?  Event is simply that which occurred –  in this case, colleagues had gone to other companies and landed senior-ish roles. Story is that which this ex-colleague-friend had made this Event mean about himself, others, the world.  Pure invention.

The Way Out of Story is  Always Through Story!

When it comes to Story we can invent anything! We are constrained only by our imagination.  So here’s the story I invented for my ex-colleague/friend:

“Where are you working from today? Home right. And for most of the time, you get to work from home right? So you are not wasting 2 hours+ traveling to work. And so avoiding all the hassle that goes with that. Right? Whereas many people aren’t given this choice.  So you are on to a good thing. And yet, from time to time, you get to travel to interesting places – like your work/travel to the USA this year.  So you get the best of both worlds! Right?

Let’s take a look at your financial situation. You are in your 40s yet are earning more than £100k.  And, let’s be honest, this is easy money. You know and I know that the work that you do you can do almost in your sleep.  So you are earning over £100k without breaking a sweat.  Right?  What does this mean for non-work life?  Doesn’t it mean that you have plenty of time/energy/money to do that which you love to do?

Do you need more money? No, right?  You are earning. Your partner is earning. You do not have children. And you go on expensive holidays to wherever you want, as often as you want within your holiday entitlement. Right?  How many people get to do this?  How many people would die for that which you take for granted?

So, if you say/insist that success is having the title (seniority) and possibly the money and stress that goes with that then yes you are right: you are not successful.  And so I can get why it is that you are questioning your worth.

However, if, like me, you say that success is living a balanced life where you have time, energy, money, and people who matter around you then you are a success!  An unquestionable success.  And, there is so much for you to be grateful for.

So now, it’s up to you to choose the Story that you are going to embrace and live from. The Story you have shared with me. The Story that I have just shared with you.  Or a third Story – one that you will invent for yourself as a result of this conversation between us.”

So my ‘friend’ if you have stuck with me in this conversation, I ask you to invent for yourself a Story that leaves you in a position of power to be the kind of person you wish to be, and to live the kind of life you wish to live.  You do not have to settle for the Story that has been handed down to you, and within you find yourself entrapped. You can break out of this cage.

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

A powerful access ‘extraordinary living’: whole, complete and perfect


Before I share with you a powerful access to ‘extraordinary’ living  I want to share with you what is so about ordinary living: the point of view that keeps is embedded in ordinary living and the price we pay.

Ordinary living: I am flawed, you are flawed

Dig into your experience, dive deep, and you will find that the culture tells you that you should be whole, complete, perfect.  Yes, you should!  Yet, the message that you (and I) have been getting from our parents, our school teachers, our colleagues, our media, our places of work, even our religions is that we are not whole, we are incomplete and we are imperfect.  Christianity is the dominant religion in the Western world and what does it say?  You are born a sinner and you have to seek redemption!  That is exactly what most of us buy into and do yet we fail to find that redemption because we are no a fool’s errand, we have a mistaken view of us, of life (more later in the post).

When you look at yourself, relate to yourself, experience yourself, you (and I) see ourself as something like this:

What is the price that I pay, you pay, he pays, she pays?  What is to like to know/feel/experience being not whole, not complete, imperfect when the culture around you spins the myth of perfection?  I know what that is like. You know what that is like!  He knows what it is like and she know what it is like.  We keep that shame of imperfection hidden.  We strive and strive and strive to be complete, to be perfect, to be whole.  Yet, the way that we go about is guaranteed to keep us rooted to being incomplete, broken, faulty, worthless, inferior, imperfect.  If you sense of wholeness / perfection is tied to your partner then what happens when your partner becomes unhappy with you, starts an affair, or leaves you?  If your sense of wholeness / perfection is tied to your job then what happens when you lose your job?  If it is tied to your wealth then what happens when you lose your wealth or are in danger of losing it?

The price that we pay is the cost of wearing a mask.  We can never put ourselves in the world as we are – we give up self-expression.  We can never build genuine human bonds – the cost is genuine relatedness with our fellow human beings.  We can never relax into the world – the cost is shows up as alcoholism, drug taking, stress, disease and an early death.  Right?

Access to ‘extraordinary’ living: “I am whole, complete, perfect – just as I am and I am not.  You are whole, complete, perfect – just as you are and just as you are not”

Look into Buddhism and you get a central insight into the human condition: we cause our suffering by living from/into an incorrect/false view of ourselves and the world.  The false view is that I, you, he, she, they, we are broken, incomplete, imperfect!

The correct, the right, view is that I am whole, complete and perfect, just as I am and just as I am not.  There is nothing to add and nothing to take away!  And that applies to everyone of us.  Sound philosophical to you?  It is.  Let me make it more concrete to you – take a look at the diagram below:

Do you see it?  Do you see / get the beauty of what is so?   Look at the diagram again.  If you look at each shape in isolation you can easily say that it is incomplete, imperfect, something missing – none of the shape are a square or a circle!  Now look at the picture as a whole – how the shapes connect to make a beautiful figure.   And the figure is never completed!  No matter how big it grows the design allows more and more piece to connect.  The design of the design is connection!  You only get this when you stop looking at one individual piece and start looking at the whole show.  Sound abstract?  Think about an orchestra – you can zoom into only one member of the orchestra or you can use a wide angle lens and see the whole orchestra.  Both are there!  Each individual member of the orchestra and the orchestra itself. 

Here is the truth of our design, of our situation, our existence on this planet:  we are social beings: you, me, they, we, have been designed for connection – we are perfectly designed for connection.  We have whole, complete and perfect for connecting with our fellow human beings.  Think about language and the connection it enables: I see you, you matter, you make a difference, your existence matters to me, you contribute, I love you.  Neuroscience tells us that we have mirror neurons:  I see you crying and seeing you crying, my mirror neurons enable me to feel/get your experience and thus I have the access to connect with you.

Look around you, look around you, wherever you want in the world.  What do you see?  People live with one another, people live next to one another, people work together, people trade with another.  Now think about this, you are invited to party you are told how amazing it will be – the food, the drinks, the place (say Hawaii or whatever your favourite place), the music will be just so, exactly they way you want it.  Can you imagine yourself at this party?  How delightful does it feel?  There is catch to this party.  No other human being will be present. The drinks and the food will be served by robots.  The dj taking care of the music will also be a robot.  How excited are you now?  Are you going to that party? No, right?  That is the truth of our being, our design, that we do not see and we are not encouraged to see.  Hell for us is solitary confinement: have you ever wondered why this is the harshest punishment meted out in prison?  Because the prison guards gets what is so – the truth of our design as human beings.  People matter to us. People contribute to us.  We are only human when we are connected to, contributing to, one another.

A movie recommendation: The Way

Are you up to getting present to what I am speaking about?  I recommend that you watch “The Way”: Michael Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to France to collect the remains of his dead son, killed in the Pyrenees while walking The Camino de Santiago.  Driven by profound sadness, and desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on this historical pilgrimage.  Tom navigates this 800km journey and soon meets others around the world, all looking for greater meaning in their lives.   This is a moving, inspiring movie that provides a powerful access to the human condition and our greatness.

And Finally

If you are still wondering about your greatness then let me repeat:  our greatness is that we are whole, complete and perfectly designed for reaching out, connecting, uplifting, healing, completing one another and generating a beautiful pattern called life on Earth.  I leave you with this picture to ponder – it is visual metaphor for our lives:

I thank you for your listening.   The context from which I am living my life is “I matter, you matter, they matter, we matter, let’s live extraordinary lives and co-create a world that works, none excluded”.  Are you up for joining me?  You Matter, your answer matters and shapes our world that we share!  I love you. I hope you will join me.