Play Big: Embrace A Stranger The Nicula Way


I’ve been working in Belgium this year. Typically I take flight out to Brussels every Sunday night or Monday morning. And take the flight back to London late afternoon every Friday.

I work with a great bunch of people: Jeroen, Martijn, Patrick, Rupert, Arun, Prashanth, Alexandra……. They show up and travel in a manner that leaves me feeling welcome, respected, part of the team.

There is something special about Alexandra. She kind of ’embraced’ me without ever having met me. How by ringing me whilst I was recovering from back surgery.

Upon my return to work/Brussels Alexandra made me feel welcome by seeking me out and taking me out to lunch.  Not just once but several times. Now and then when she takes a break and goes out for a cigarette she invites me along. Sometimes I take up her invitation.

This week Alexandra invited me to her home. I found myself both surprised and delighted. Why surprised? “She hardly knows me!”  Why delighted? She trusts me enough to invite me to her home; and she finds me sufficiently interesting to invite me to her home.

The result? I spent a lovely evening at her place. I met her son: a beautiful young fellow, alive, curious, playful and intelligent; he enjoys chocolates; and loves his mother. I got to learn a little about her partner.  Alexandra also shared some of her life with me. Being English I tend to be somewhat reserved yet I found myself telling Alexandra about some aspects of my life.

What is there between myself and Alexandra? Gratitude! Gratitude for what? For being the first and only Belgian person who has invited me into her home, her family, her life.  For  puncturing my sense of being a stranger in this land.

I invite you and I to play big by embracing a stranger the Nicula way!  Who can you invite into your life and by so doing touch his/her life for one lunchtime, for one evening, or for a lifetime?

And finally, I dedicate this conversation to Alexandra Nicula – a remarkable woman. And someone who now shows up for me as a friend.  Thank you Alexandra for your kindness, your generosity, and your way of being – which I find refreshing and inspiring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giftivism: Transforming Life Through Small Acts of Radical Kindness


I start by gifting you that which shows up for me as a profound truth:

“What we will do for love will always be far more powerful than what we will do for money. What we can do together will always be far greater than what we can do alone.”

– Pavithra Mehta

This wisdom, this truth, this gift found itself to me through coming across and listening to what shows up for me as the most radical-inspiring talk of recent times.

It occurs to me that the being of the speaker and that which the speaker shares is in complete alignment with that which I share in my speaking through this blog. As such I am paying it forward by sharing this profound-radical-inspiring talk with you.

http://youtu.be/p_QLGvp_stI

Here are some words that have caught my attention, may they speak to you and resonate with you. May they act as an opening for you to enter into and lift ‘giftivism’: small acts of radical kindness 

“So in a world where everything has a price — what happens to the priceless?

We live in a time where we have mastered the art of “liking” each other on Facebook but have forgotten the art of loving each other in real life.

Our purpose doesn’t lie in our commodities it lies in our sense of communion …. Compassion. Empathy. Generosity. Trust….

What practices, systems and designs emerge when we believe people WANT to behave selflessly?

Generosity is generative. Everybody wins because generosity is NOT a zero sum game.”

And I leave you with the speakers invitation:

“We begin to move from being a market economy to being part of a gift ecology.

 It begins with small steps. I invite each one of you to think about what your small step will be. What is YOUR giftivist resolution?

May we each take that step. May we change ourselves, may we change the world.”

At your service and with my love

maz

 

What Lies Forgotten Behind Language, Ideology and Religion?


“Deliver us, O Allah, from the Sea of Names.”

– Ibn al-Arabi

How to be grateful for being gifted an entrance into 2014?  How to create-live the possibility of being a clearing for kindness, generosity, harmony and aliveness?  Perhaps through some passages that speak to me and get me present to that which lies forgotten behind language, behind ideology, behind my taken for granted way of living.  I share these with you – may one of them will call to you and provide you access to living a ‘richer’ life this year.

Rumi:

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.”

Wendell Berry:

“Thy life’s a miracle. Speak yet again

This is the line that calls Gloucester back – out of hubris, and the damage and despair that invariably follow – into the properly subordinated life of grief and joy, where change and redemption are possible……

One immediately recognises that suicide is not the only way to give up on life …….we can give up on life also by presuming to “understand” it – that is by reducing it to the terms of our understanding and treating it as predictable or mechanical. The most radical influence of reductive science has been virtually the universal adoption of the idea that the world, its creatures, and all the parts of its creatures are machines…..

This may have begun as a metaphor, but in the language as it is used (and as it affects industrial practice) it has evolved from metaphor through equation to identification. And this usage institutionalises the human wish, or sin of wishing, that life might be, or might be made to be, predictable. 

….. whenever one treats living organisms as machines they must necessarily be perceived to behave as such……. Whenever one perceives living organisms as machines they must necessarily treated as such.

…. to reduce life to the scope of our understanding (whatever “model” we use) is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it, and put it up for sale. This is to give up on life, to carry it beyond change and redemption, and to increase the proximity of despair…..”

Ibn al-Arabi: 

“Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for he says, ‘Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah’ (Koran 2:109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently, he blames the disbelief of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.”

It occurs to me that to walk-live the path pointed out by these speakers is to live a transformed life.

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.

It takes inner strength to be yourself; being yourself is the greatest accomplishment


The illusion of individuality

Those of us who are thrown into Anglo-Saxon cultures (at birth) live under the tight grip of the illusion of individuality.  We buy into the following myth: I am an individual and you are individual and as such you and I are free to be just ourselves – no constraints.  People thrown into Easter cultures have a much deeper appreciation of how much it takes to really be an individual – to really stand for who you are, what you believe in.

The being of human beings is that we are beings-in-the-world.  What is a prominent feature of this being-in-the-world?  From the moment we are born we are in an intimate relationship with fellow human beings.  Our life is in their hands and we become masters are doing what it takes to please people – at least those that have a strong influence on our lives.  Furthermore, every culture ensures that playing the game of ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’ becomes our nature, our default setting.  Let’s be precise – we do just about anything to ‘look good and avoid looking bad’.  It takes inner strength to go against this default, to be who you are (naturally) and to stand up for what you believe.  This was brought home to me this week by my son.

It takes real inner strength to be kind when there is no permission, no agreement, for kindness

My son was sitting next to me and I must have said or did something that made him a little unhappy with me – I honestly cannot remember how it started.  So he starts tapping me softly on my legs.  I blurted out something like “Don’t be a p****y, if you are going to hit me then hit me hard.”  Then my son said something and the way he said it opened my eyes and my heart:

“I know you think I am a p****y.  What you don’t understand is that it takes real strength to be kind, to be gentle,  when all the boys in school are the opposite and pushing me to be the same as them.  Yes, I am kind and I don’t like to hurt people or be hurt by people.  If that means that people call me a p****y then so be it.”

It will be one of those moments that will be with me for the rest of my life.  I was (and still am) in complete awe at his inner strength as I never got what it takes for him to be gentle and kind in his world where ‘criticism, ridicule, indifference or cruelty’ is the norm.  I also got why there is so little genuine kindness and gentleness in the world that I live in: we live in a male dominated world and in this world there is no permission for kindness and gentleness.  It takes something, real inner strength, to against the prevailing wind.

To simply be yourself is the greatest accomplishment

Are leaders – big or small, recognised or not – people who have found the inner strength to simply be who they naturally are and stand up for what matters to them?  Is the biggest transformation of all that which occurs when we give up ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’ and simply be who we are moved-touched-inspired to be?  Here’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”

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.