Each Of Us Is More Than S/he Seems


During my participation in the Landmark Forum (many years ago) I found myself deeply touched by that which was unconcealed once the social masks that are us, in our everydayness, lost their grip on me and my fellow participants.

What showed up in this unconcealment?  Allow me to introduce that through the following story:

Some years ago a young resident psychiatrist ……. who wanted to learn more about people at the edge of life was observing one of my sessions.

A former gang member whose hands were covered with tattoos was speaking of the deep love he now felt for his young wife who was dying of cancer, the ways in which this capacity to love had caught him unawares and so had healed him.

As he shared his insights about himself and his experiences of intense intimacy and tenderness with his wife, I glanced over at the young Freudian psychiatrist. He had stopped taking notes. His eyes were filled with tears.

After the patient left, I asked him if he had learned anything useful from the session. He smiled ruefully, “We are all more than we seem,” he said.

Actually, we are all more than we know. Wholeness is never lost, it is only forgotten. Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves: it is more an undoing than an doing, a freeing ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves …..

Often in reclaiming the freedom to be who we are, we remember some basic human quality, an unsuspected capacity for love or compassion or some other part of our common birthright as human beings. What we find is almost always a surprise but it is also familiar; like something we have put in the back of a drawer long ago, once we see it we know it is our own.

– Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

 

 

 

 

Opening Ourselves To The Impossible And Living A Life Of Possibility


There is one scene, one dialogue, from the movie 12 Years A Slave that is etched in me.  Solomon Northup is an educated, free black man, who finds himself sold into slavery. He is being advised, to hide his education and play the dumb black man in order to survive. Solomon replies with great conviction “I don’t want to survive. I want to live!” 

It occurs to me that the difference between surviving and living is possibility: living into-from-out of possibility.  What is the difference?  I share with you some powerful, even life transforming passages, from Ellen Langer’s book Counter Clockwise:

In most of psychology, researchers describe what is. Often they do this with great acumen and creativity. But knowing what is and knowing what can be are not the same thing. My interest ….. is in what can be …… Small changes can make large differences, so we should open ourselves to the impossible …..

The psychology of possibility first requires that we begin with the assumption that we do not know what we can do or become. Rather than starting from the status quo, it argues for a starting point of what we would like to be. From that beginning, we can ask how we might reach that goal or make progress towards it. It’s a subtle change in thinking, although not difficult to make once we realise how stuck we are in culture, language, and modes of thought that limit our potential. I maintain that we don’t know even if we try, because when we try and fail, all we know is that the way we tried was not successful. We still do not know that it can’t be. 

The second step toward embracing a psychology of possibility …. is to try out different things without evaluating ourselves as we go along….. We would simply note whether or not the attempt was successful. Pursuing possibility regarding our health may result in the desired end, but in addition, pursuing the psychology of possibility is itself empowering. It feels good to have a personal mission, it contributes to a more positive outlook in general... As we actualise the possible we may find out other interesting things about ourselves and the world…

Too many of us believe that the world is to be discovered, rather than a product of our own construction and thus to be invented. We often respond as if we and/or the world around us are fixed, even when we agree in theory that we are not. We might sit uncomfortably in the bathroom each day without realising that we would feel better if we changed the height of the toilet….. We don’t go to the opera because of our glaucoma, when the experience of merely listening to the music could be extremely rich. There are many changes we would know how to make …. if it only occurred to us to ask.….. We imagine the stability of our mindsets to be the stability of the underlying phenomena, and so we don’t think to consider the alternatives.If we open up our minds, a world of possibility presents itself…..

If I had never wondered about what is possible, I never would have conducted the counterclockwise study and never witnessed the transformative power of our minds.

Do you want merely to survive or do you want to live!? If you want to live! then listen to Ellen Langer and open yourself up to the impossible – embrace, step into, and live from a life of possibility.

If listening to Ellen Langer is not enough for you then I leave you with the following two ‘laws’ from the prolific science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

 

I have failed, am I failure? (part II): Werner is right, I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground, do you?


This post is a follow up to the last post I wrote:  I have failed, am I a failure?   The source of this post is a friend that reached out to me after my last post.  Before I speak/share that with you allow me to prepare the ground by sharing some of Werner Erhard’s sayings on our relationship to Reality.

What does Werner say about our relationship to Reality?

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.”

“There is no necessary relationship between the way you feel, the way you think, the way you are, the way you’ve figured it out and the way it really is.”

“This lady lives her life as if when she feels a bear there’s really a bear…… I want you to get that this is the way you live your life: as if reality is what is real to you?”

Werner is right: I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground

In my reality (as opposed to Reality) it does occur to me that I have failed in so many ways. And I shared that with you in this post:  I have failed, am I failure? 

The question is what is the relationship between my reality (how things show up for me, my thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs) and Reality (what is really so)?  If you read my post you will notice that it occurs to me that I have failed at being the kind of friend that I imagined I would be and was up for being.   I’ll let you judge – one of my friends read my post and sent this email:

I read your post and wanted to say that I think you are a wonderful friend. There are very few people who have been there consistently for me over the last 20yrs in the way that you have been – especially given my overall crapiness in keeping in touch and given that I know it is not something I have returned.  I read a poem a few years ago and at the time I read it I thought of the way in which you have been there for me so I’m sending it to you. I know you don’t do the whole feelings are important thing but please take it in the spirit in which it’s intended.

If there was ever one

Whom when you were sleeping

Would wipe your tears

When in dreams you were weeping;

Who would offer you time

When others demand;

Whose love lay more infinite

Than grains of sand.

 

If there was ever one

To whom you could cry;

Who would gather each tear

And blow it dry;

Who would offer help

On the mountains of time;

Who would stop to let each sunset

Soothe the jaded mind.

 

If there was ever one

To whom when you run

Will push back the clouds

So you are bathed in sun;

Who would open arms

If you would fall;

Who would show you everything

If you lost it all.

 

If there was ever one

Who when you achieve

Was there before the dream

And even then believed;

Who would clear the air

When it’s full of loss;

Who would count love

Before the cost.

 

If there was ever one

Who when you are cold

Will summon warm air

For your hands to hold;

Who would make peace

In pouring pain,

Make laughter fall

In falling rain.

 

If there was ever one

Who can offer you this and more;

Who in keyless rooms

Can open doors;

Who in open doors

Can see open fields

And in open fields

See harvests yield.

 

Then see only my face

In the reflection of these tides

Through the clear water

Beyond the river side.

All I can send is love

In all that this is

A poem and a necklace

Of invisible kisses.”

This email, this reaching out by my friend gets me present to the this fact: at least in the domain of friendships and as regards this friend in particular I do not know my ass from the hole in the ground.  No I have assumed.  The Reality is that my thoughts/feelings about myself as a friend do not tie up with what is really so.  Which makes me wonder, am I making the same ‘error’ (mistaking my reality for Reality) in other domains of life?

Is Werner right about you?  That you too do not know your ass from a hole in the ground?

Are you as convinced, today, as I was yesterday that your thoughts/feelings are an accurate representation of Reality?  If so it is highly likely, I say certain, that Werner is right about you as well: you do not know your ass from a hole in the ground!  Just in case you haven’t figured it out let me state it bluntly: you don’t have to be stuck with your reality you can let it go. If your are up for that, if you want to have your life work then I invite you to read the following post: Want to set yourself free and live powerfully? Let go of your beliefs….

Want to set yourself free and live powerfully? Let go of your beliefs….


Reality and our relationship to reality

What is real?  What is our relationship to reality?  Here is what Werner Erhard had to say on this matter:

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.” 

Let’s take a look, a closer look.  Is the Sun real?  Is the Moon real?  Is that road real?  Is that car real?  Is that tree real?  Are your hands real?  Are your eyes real?  Are your feet real?  Have you noticed that those questions are easy to answer.  Are you aware that you don’t ask yourself these questions?  Do you notice that we don’t get into heated discussions about whether the sun exists or whether you have two feet? So why does Werner make the statement that he makes?  Because you confuse beliefs (what we say is true, what we say is real) with truth/reality!

Beliefs and our relationship to our beliefs

Why do you and I need beliefs?  Think about this deeply and you will see that we do not need to believe in the Sun, the Moon that car in front of you or your arms.  Notice that what is real does not require a belief!  Go further and you inevitably come to the conclusion: beliefs are simply statements about us, about people, about the world, that cannot be proven.   Put differently when we enter the land of beliefs we are dreaming whilst being awake yet not present to the fact that we are dreaming.  Belief land is fantasy land – it is the fantasy land that we have been granted by our culture, your parents, our schoolteachers, our media, our friends and it is also a land that we shaped by constructing our own beliefs.

We give up our freedom by constructing the bars of our prison through beliefs

Look we have established that reality does not need beliefs.  We have also established that beliefs only arise when they are not supported by reality.  That is to say beliefs arise and can exist only if there there is no evidence, in the real world, that confirms that beliefs.  Lets go to the point:  beliefs are superstitions!

What happens when we construct beliefs?  We give up our zone of freedom.  Allow me to illustrate:

I believe that I my religion is the only true religion.  Consequence: I cannot be with, explore, learn from the other religions.

I believe that I am superior to you, know more, am better than you.  Consequence:  I will not enter into a real relationship with you, I will not listen to you, I will not learn from you, I will take on behaviours that are opposite of yours.

I believe that musical instruments, singing and dancing are the ‘devils work’.  Consequence:  I will not own/play a musical instrument nor sign nor dance.  And I will segregate myself from people who do engage in the ‘devils work.

You get the idea.  Every belief narrows down the zone of Possibility and of our relatedness and of our freedom to be, to participate in life, to live fully!

Now here is the really bizarre thing.  When our fellow human beings show up and ‘challenge’ our beliefs we get upset, we sulk, we withdraw, we condemn, we get angry, we shout, we maim and we kill.  That is how determined we are to keep ourselves enslaved.  If we were sane, if we had a sound relationship to reality, we would welcome people who exposed our beliefs, our prison bars, and thus allowed us to set ourselves free.

Let go of your beliefs and set yourself free

We did not come into this world with beliefs,  Once upon a time, you and I were in intimate contact with reality and simply flowed with it.  And as such everything was permissible to us.  Then little by lit we assimilated beliefs, constructed our prison bars and gave up that freedom we were born with .

You and I can reclaim our freedom right now by letting go of our beliefs.  Every time we encounter a belief we can let it go – we can point at it and shout “Superstition” Every time we do that we dismantle another prison bar and thus increase our zone of freedom.  To do that we have to be willing to stand in a very different place: a place from which we see beliefs not as truths, nor as useful tools but as a prison bar that constricts our freedom.

Struggling with this?  Please get to present to the fact that reality is reality and a belief is a belief.  When our beliefs don’t match the reality then we suffer.  Allow me to share a quote that I came across recently:

“My heart says people are inherently good, it is my experiences that speak differently.” Angela Sturm

When a wise person notices the mismatch between his beliefs and reality (what is so in terms of our experience) he gives up his belief.  If you and I let go of beliefs and be with what is so we increase the ‘workability’ of our lives and thus minimise our ‘suffering’.  This benefit is in addition to be reclaiming our freedom.  Do you wish to be that wise person or do you wish to continue to be the fool?  That is a choice for each one of us to make and live with.

How to live powerfully: replace beliefs with Stand, with Possibility

If I was Angela I would let go of the belief “People are inherently good”.  Why?  It is false – all beliefs are false!  Instead I would recognise reality “Some people exhibit behaviours I say are ‘good’.  Some people exhibit behaviours that I say are ‘bad’.  The same person can exhibit both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviours.”  Going further, I can let go of the belief and invent a Stand:

“I am Stand for recognising the good in people and calling that forth in my thinking, in my speaking, in my actions, my behaviour”.

Do you notice  the power of the Stand?   It is not a belief about me, about you, about our fellow human beings, about the world at large.  No, the Stand is me creating / inventing my role in the drama called Life.  It is a ‘call to arms’ that I give myself.  Notice, that if people were already inherently good (and behaved good) then my Stand makes no contribution.  By taking on this Stand I am calling forth / living out of the Possibility that I can impact how people show up in the world – ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Do you want a concrete example of the difference between reality, belief and Stand/Possibility?  Then watch this 4 minute YouTube clip of Viktor Frankl – Viktor explains the difference in a way that you will never forget.  Why is he worth listening to?  He wrote one of the most profound books (Man in Search of Meaning) when it comes to understanding of the human condition.  And he survived the WWII concentration camps whilst losing everyone – all his family and friends.  Yet, just listen to how he relates to people given his very real understanding of people:

Live a life of freedom: dismantle the prison bars by dismantling positions that limit


Live is full of experiences – some of them painful

Come take a walk with me down memory lane.  Imagine that you are around 7 years of age, it is autumn, it is cold, you have just got off the school bus and you are walking home with you school bag slung over your shoulders.  After a five-minute walk you are happy to arrive home.  You knock on the door.  To your surprise, your father opens the door instead of your mother.  You and your father don’t get along so you are already a little anxious.

There is a problem: you want to get into the house and your father doesn’t let you.  There he is, a big strong man, standing at the door and refusing to let you in.  “Why?” you ask and he says something like “This is not your home.  You are not my son.  You’re not allowed to come in, go away!”  You are only 8 years old, you are puzzled, wondering what is going on here.  So you ask “Where’s my mum?” and your father tells you she is not at home.  So you wonder what has happened to your mother – you love your mother.

Puzzled, cold, frightened you plead with your father to let you in: you tell him that you are his son, that this is your home and you plead with him to let you in.  He stands his ground insisting that this is not your home and that you not his son.  This goes on for something like 10 minutes.  Then something changes for you – tears flow down your cheeks as you turn around and walk back the way that you came.

Lets stop for a minute.  You the 8 year old child, walking away from home, what do you say to yourself?  Take a moment, given your experience, what is the conversation that you are having with yourself as you are walking away with tears running down your cheeks?

Here is the position that I took and the prison I entered into

I am that 7 year old child walking away thinking that I am all alone.  As I walk I tell myself that I will never see my mother again: maybe she is dead, maybe she has left and taken my brother with her.  I wonder where is my brother, will I ever see him again?  Then it hits me: how am I going to survive?  Who can I count on to help me, to look after me, to care for me?  My mother!  But she is not here and I don’t know where she is.

What would you say to yourself, if you were in my shoes, experiencing what I am experiencing, speaking what I am speaking to myself?

Here is what I said.  From somewhere I heard these words spoken with absolute confidence: “There is nobody that I can count on to help me.  That’s OK, I’ll count on myself.  I will survive, no matter what it takes, and I will find my mother and my brother.  I don’t need anyone, I can do this by myself!”  Repeating these words, the tears dried up, my back stiffened and fierce resolve took hold. That is the day the 7 year old child gave up his childhood and became a ‘man’.

Every position has a payoff

I didn’t just speak those words.  I became convinced that my speaking was a truth about myself, people and the world.  And from then onwards my living, my life was shaped by that position.  What do I mean?  I wouldn’t say that I did not ask anyone for anything, I would say that I never asked anyone for anything that mattered and they might say no.  No way, was I going to repeat the experience that I had experienced with my father.  No way was I going to allow people to let me down and upset me.

So from the age of 7, I stopped asking for and expecting any help from anyone. I was the hero of my life and I was going to do it all myself:  I dived into the Greek legends full of heroes and heroism – I read these legends every day.  I got totally absorbed with Alistair MacLean novels – full of heroes, villans, adventure.  I stopped showing any weakness and focussed relentlessly on doing well. And by the age of 30 I attained everything that I set out to attain: I had my own flat that I loved; I was being paid a great salary and had lots of money;  I was driving a BMW;  I had my own office; and I was managing businesses

Every position has a cost

The position I took at the age of 7 sounds marvellous doesn’t it.  Look at the fruits it delivered: money, status, power, possessions…  Don’t fool yourself and don’t be fooled, every position has a cost: imagine each position as a stick with one end being the payoff and the other end being the cost – a stick always has two ends.  So what was the cost?

The cost was that I was alone.  I stood alone, always.  I relied on no-one and I never asked anyone for anything.   I always had to be strong, I could never be weak:  if any signs of vulnerability, of weakness showed up then I despised myself and stamped upon these weaknesses.  How did that show up? I had a small circle of friends that I had made at university and loved (Tim, Jim, Dave, Andy, John, Simon) and I was distant from just about everyone else.  It would be fair to say that whilst people valued my efficacy then did not want to party with me.   I was lonely whenever I was not occupied with work and personal development.

Ah, personal development, that was my religion – relentlessly focussed on learning and developing myself.  That had come in handy and delivered the fruits and yet in the process I had become addicted:  there was always something more to learn, something to change/improve about myself…..  What did I do with my free time and money?  Spend it on personal development as I had be stronger, more capable, more resilient – after all I am on my own right and I have to face the whole world!

How to dismantle your positions and why I will never forget Karl

I, you, the self is made up of many positions, we call them beliefs.  During my participation in Landmark Education courses I got present to and let go of many of my positions (the prison bars that construct the self) and thus opened myself up to freedom and self-expression that I had never experienced before. Yet, there was one position, the one I have shared with you here, that I would not let go of.  That was until the day that I chose to step out of my position.

I was participating in the ILP course.  To get certified, to achieve the outcome, I had to do a whole bunch of stuff.  I was committed to achieving the outcome and the issue was that I was struggling with the ‘bunch of stuff’ that I had to do.  The more I insisted on doing it myself, not asking for help, the more I struggled and the more I fell behind.  Finally, out of desperation, and at the insistence of my coach I asked for help.  No help came: the first person was busy; the second person was busy; the third person I could not get hold of; the fourth person was busy…. I had left it too late – to the very last minute to ask for help and all of these coaches were busy helping others who had asked for their help.  What did I make it mean?  How stupid of me to listen to my coach and ask for help: hadn’t life taught me that I couldn’t count on anyone else!

Shortly thereafter, I was assisting at a Landmark seminar – setting up the room so that it was just so.  One of the people doing that work was a chap called Karl.  Karl and I got talking and in that talking I shared what I was doing with/at/via Landmark.   When he found out that I was on the ILP course he told me that he had gone through it.  He asked me about how I was doing. I told him the truth – I am good at being straight with myself and others.

To my shock, Karl volunteered to help me.  That’s right, he volunteered to help me, without me asking.  Karl set aside a full day – a full day – of his time to coach me and coach me he did.  Again and again and again: we started the work around 10am and we finished around about 7pm.  I expected the work to last about 2 – 3 hours.  The love oozed out of Karl – he was patient, he was demanding, he was ruthless and behind it all was love.

When I was getting ready to leave, I gave Karl a big hug and thanked him for his contribution to my life.  He had helped me to dismantle the position that had run my life to that day.  Karl had shown me that my position was false.  I can count on people to help me, I do not have to do it all on my own and I cannot do it all on my own.  And I experienced joy in doing the work with Karl – collaborating with a fellow human being.  Karl thanked me.  Yes, he thanked me for spending the day with him.  “What?  I have taken a day of your life and you are thanking me!  What is going on here?  Are you simply being polite?”  Karl told me that life had been a struggle for the last six months or so – some days he had found it hard to get out of bed.  He had lost his job, his marriage had fell apart, his wife had taken the children with her and he only got to see them at weekends…..

Then Karl told me something that opened up my world, offering me an opening to asking for help from a context that I had never considered.  What did Karl say?  Karl told me that me asking for his help, being open to his help, taking his coaching for the whole day it allowed him to experience being worthwhile.  Our interacting had impacted us both deeply.  I was not the only one who had dropped a position that curtailed my freedom and locked me into prison, Karl had done the same.  Through our interexperiencing Karl let go of his position that he was a failure, that he had nothing worthwhile to contribute.  Instead, he experienced being useful and powerful – the Karl that he used to experience himself as.

Putting in place a more powerful position

What happens when you take out all the old furniture from your living room / lounge and send it away?  You are left with an empty room, right?  What happens with this empty room?  It gets full again – either all in one go or in little steps.  Right?

The same applies to the human mind and positions.  So the trick is to replace old positions that limit you and your freedom and replace them with powerful positions that provide you with freedom and self-expression.  What did I do?  I replaced the position “I can’t count on anyone so there is no point in asking anyone for anything; I’ll do it all by myself” with:

  • “I will ask people for their help whenever I need help and sometimes when I do not need the help.  I will give people an opportunity to contribute to me and in so doing I am contributing to them: allowing them to get present to being useful, being powerful, being worthwhile, being great human beings.”

How powerful is that? For me, powerful.

Question for me, for you, for us

Am I, are you, are we willing to search for, examine, let go of the positions(beliefs, fixed points of view, decisions) that limit us, that restrict us, that are the bars of the prison we construct around ourselves?  And replace them with positions that provide the context for freedom, self-expression, joy and power: the power to create the life / the world that we are up for living in?  I know where I stand. What about you?  Are you up for a life of freedom, self-expression, joy and living powerfully?

I thank your for your listening and I love you: I know, that like me, you are a soul whose intentions are good and underneath all the muck you are a ‘god’.  Do you get that?  Really, do you get that?