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.


“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.

I have failed, am I a failure?

Karl Jaspers on failure

“The ultimate situations – death, chance, guilt and the uncertainty of the world – confront me with the reality of failure. What do I do in the face of absolute failure, which if I am honest I cannot fail to recognize? …Crucial for man is his attitude toward failure………………The way in which man approaches failure determines what he will become.”

When I look at my life it occurs to me that I have failed in so many ways

I have failed to be the kind of husband I imagined and was up for being. And I imagine that my wife sees me as a failure as a husband.

I have failed to be the kind of father I imagined and was up for being. And the kind of results I expected to show up failed to show up. I suspect that one or more of children see me as a flawed father.

I have failed to be the kind of son I imagined and was up for being. And my father often tells me how much of a disappointment I am and how I failed him.

I have failed to be the kind of brother I imagined and was up for being. My relationship with one of my brothers is particularly difficult.

I have failed to be the kind of uncle I imagined and was up for being. I came out strong out of the starting gate and then my own children arrived.

I have failed to be the kind of friend I imagined and was up for being.

I have failed to be a ‘good employee’ – you could say I am blessed/cursed with an independence of mind and the rebelliousness to go with it.

I have failed to the kind of neighbour I imagined and was up for being though I have good enough relationships with my neighbours.

I have failed to arrive at the kind of career / financial success I envisaged when I was young and at university.

I have failed in making something great out of Humanity In Action even though it got off to a great start.

I have failed to have the kind of impact I wanted and imagined that I would have on people’s lives (for the better) and the world. My sister once told me something like “I used to so look up to you. Nowadays, I am just disappointed in you.” And she had every right to be. I was at least that disappointed in myself!

I have failed to master myself – the automatic machinery that just shows up and spoils the show. This failure is the one that stings the most if I let it sting.

I have failed does that mean I am a failure?

Given that I have failed in so many ways I am free – not trapped by the allure of ‘perfection’, ‘success’, ‘reputation’, ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’. I am free to simply be, to live, to be grateful for the privilege of living as I live: in a safe country; in an affluent/safe neighbourhood; in a nice house; as a member of a family; with the privilege of sight which allows me to be present to beauty, to navigate, to read; with the privilege of sound such that I get to enjoy music; with the privilege of movement so I can move, dance, cycle, play sports; with the privilege of touch so that I can give and receive hugs; with the privilege of language so that I can speak myself and connect with my fellow human beings in/through conversation.

I am that which I am. Anything else is simply a label that I put on myself or someone else – mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend – puts on me. What I am really interested in is this question: how can I live such that I ‘play BIG’: live an ‘extraordinary’ life: be of service to my fellow human beings; to put something into, to contribute to the game of life; and co-create a ‘world that works’, none excluded. The question is how well am I living that mission? The answer is that I can play this game much more powerfully then I am playing right now!

You and I can live in the past or be fully embedded in the present (surviving, fixing, looking good and avoiding looking bad) or we can invent, project and live into possibilities (like the possibility of ‘playing BIG’) that provide meaning for our lives, that move-touch-inspire us to live resolutely and play full-out in this game called Life.

Fighting and killing over labels and how to give it up

The situation – we fight and kill over labels

The other day my wife and I ended up in a conversation talking about poverty.  Whilst the conversation started well it quickly ended up with each of us arguing/disputing against the other.  And quickly after that emotions became inflamed and our relationship a distant one for the rest of the evening.  What happened?

When I got thinking about it – during the night – I ended up laughing at the human condition, my condition.  My wife and I had ruined a perfectly good relationship where we felt connected to each other and were being respectful to each other simply over a label ‘poverty’.  What do I mean?  We ended up fighting because I said ” X is poor” and she replied “X is not poor”.  To which I replied that she did not understand poverty as she had not experienced it.  And as such she was wrong and that “X is poor!”  To which she replied that I was mistaken…..

So my wife and I ended up fighting over a label.  How stupid!  How human!  How often do I end up arguing with others over labels?  How often do you end up arguing with people over labels?  And what do we get out of it?  We argue, we raise our voices, we throw verbal assaults, we hit each other and ultimately we kill – all over labels!

When my children were young (less than eight years old) I would play a game with them.  They would make the statement along the lines of “X is good” or “Y is stupid” and I would offer them £1000 if they could show me good and stupid.  And of course they would show me X or Y.  In turn I would point out that they had shown me X and Y – not good or stupid.  Yet here I am 40+ years old falling into that trap myself all the time!

Which are our favourite labels?  They include: good, bad, right, wrong, true, false, me, you, us and them.  If you take a good look these labels and the cognitive and cultural structures that give rise to them are deeply embedded in our way of thinking and acting.  The bizarre thing is that these labels are all made up!  And I should know better than most people having grown up in two very different cultures.

How to give up fighting over labels

The other day one of the family members simply said somethign to the effect “You are critical / wrong / bad”.  Normally, I would tend to respond along the lines of “No, I am not!”  This time I simply said “Yes, I am critical / wrong / bad.” Guess what happened – nothing. The conversation came to an abrupt and peaceful end.  There was nothing for us to work on – to structure to continue the conversation and argue.

How did I end up there?  I simply got that when you make the statement “Maz you are bad” you are not describing reality.  No, you are giving me access to how I land for you in your world.  So your statement gives me access to the reality of your mind.  And who is the expert on your mind?  You are!  So if you say that “Maz you are bad” then I can simply say “Yes, you are correct.” because you are – in the way that that the world occurs to you.

Key insight: all statements are ultimately about how I see the world and not the world itself

The key takeaway is that most of us most of the time are not making statements about the world.  No. We are simply describing our world and how things land for us.  If we can get that then we can give up fighting and killing over labels.

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