‘Finding’ And Generating The Extraordinary In The Ordinary


When I speak extraordinary you already know what it means.  It means stuff that is not everyday (ordinary) kind of stuff.  So an extraordinary life is one full of extraordinary events, extraordinary achievements, extraordinary possessions…. Right?

I invite you (and me) to park this way of thinking: to take of the clothes of fantasy (just for the duration of this conversation) and look at the way life is and is not.

Ponder, ask yourself, what is your living made up of?  Is it made up of extraordinary (wow!) moments?  Take a deep look at someone who is living an extraordinary life: an actor, a celebrity, a singer, a politician, a business superstar. What makes up the bulk of his/her life?

I say that even one who is deemed to live an extraordinary life finds that his life is filled with ordinary moments: waking up, taking a shower, brushing one’s teeth, dressing, eating breakfast, ‘travelling to the office’, working (even celebrities work!), talking with people, lunch, walking, reading, sex, loving, hating ……..

It occurs to me that one way of Playing BIG, really playing big, is getting present to the fact that life is made up, for the large part, of ordinary moments. And using this insight to live in a transformed way. How? By being present to, finding and/or generating the extraordinary in the ordinary.

What is it that I am pointing at when I speak of ‘finding-generating the extraordinary in the ordinary’?  Allow me to make that real for you and me, by sharing recent lived experiences:

1. I was out in the garden enjoying the sunshine and admiring the plants. A red robin appeared and perched on the branches of a red robin shrub!  I found myself delighted: just gazing with wonder at the beautiful creature. Suddenly the red robin took off and danced so beautifully in the air.  This graceful movement took my breath away.

2. We had a box of fresh vegetables (direct from local farm) delivered.  I washed the cherry tomatoes and bit into one. DELICIOUS!  Even now, as I am present to that experience, I notice that my mouth is salivating.

3. Lying outside in the garden with the sun on my the skin of self.  I notice that the sun is hot and getting hotter. Then the wind blows through the garden, the chimes sing, and I notice the kiss of the breeze on my skin. Wonderful – so soothing. And a little ticklish.  What a perfect world! That is the thought that hits me.

4. It is towards the end of the afternoon and the back garden is now in the shade. I get out the lawn mower and mow the lawn. It is hard work, I find myself sweating. I take off my t-shirt and continue mowing the lawn. Thirty minutes later I finish.  I find myself so pleased with myself. Why? The garden looks beautiful and this sense of order, of beauty, leaves me feeling peaceful and provokes joy.

5. I find myself listening-watching a course on Coursera. I find myself thinking what an amazing world: all this knowledge available on my phone, my tablet, my laptop. And it is totally free!

6. Reading Philip Gould’s book When I Die, I find myself deeply touched about that which he shares about his battle-experience of cancer.  I find myself laughing, I find myself crying. I find myself grateful that this man used his dying days to share his experience of cancer and provide hope for those of us battling cancer or other ‘diseases’.

7. I join the family in the kitchen. I am listening to my niece speaking about interviews and interviewing. Whilst listening I am doing my stretch exercises (‘bad’ back). Suddenly, I cannot stop myself laughing all the way from my stomach; Marco (son) is just made an insightful-witty remark as to what it would be like for someone to be in an interview with me. I am laughing so much that I have to stop my stretching exercise…..

It occurs to me that you/I can play BIG right now simply by being present the ordinary moment. And in so doing finding and/or generating the extraordinary within the ordinary.

I get that the voice in your head may be doubtful. Asking how it is that one finds-creates the extraordinary in the most ordinary of moments. This evening, I cleaned the sinks and toilets in my home. I experienced joy-delight. How so? I listened to beautiful music whilst cleaning. I danced whilst cleaning. And all the time I was present to this: I was in the process of bringing beauty into the world – for me and my family; and I was keeping my word to myself and my family which left me relating to myself as a person whose word counts.

I thank you for your listening. Live well. Experiment with being present to, finding and/or creating the extraordinary in the ordinary. I say you a life (a transformed living) to gain. And nothing to lose.

 

I leave you with this quote from Dan Millman’s The Peaceful Warrior:

There are no ordinary moments!

 

An ‘extra-ordinary’ life is distinct from an extraordinary life


When I speak, I speak. When you listen, you listen to me speaking.  Yet, I live in my world – a unique world.  And you live in your world – a unique world.  Given that is the case how can I be sure that I have generated the understanding, the experience, that I intend with my  speaking?  And how can you be sure that what you have heard me say is what I actually spoke?

This speaking and the listening brought to the speaking is particularly troublesome when it comes to ideas like extraordinary.  So it is likely that some of you upon hearing me speak of an ‘extra-ordinary’ life or ‘extra-ordinary’ living will have collapsed this with extraordinary life and extraordinary living.   They are not the same, they are distinct.  Allow me to bring the distinction to life through a personal story.

When I was a child, before the age of 5, my life showed up as ‘extra-ordinary’ and there was nothing extraordinary about me or my life.  I grew up in a farming community in a poor part of Pakistani controlled Kashmir.  My mother was poor and we lived in a mud house.  We had just enough to eat.  I remember pleading with my mother for some milk which she would not give me because she sold it to buy stuff that she did not grow. The outward appearance was distinctly ordinary for that part of the world: one boy among many boys; one farmer’s dwelling just like many of the other dwellings in the area.

Yet, when I travel back in time and re-experience my life, at that age and in that place, it shows up as an ‘extra-ordinary’ life. I flowed with life and life flowed through me. In this ‘extra-ordinary’ living I don’t remember ever saying to myself “I am better or worse than someone else”.  And I don’t remember saying to myself “I am good/bad”.  I don’t remember saying to myself “There is something great/defective about me.” And I don’t remember thinking “I need to improve this/that about me.” I don’t remember saying “Something is missing.”  Nor do I remember saying “This is hard work”.  And I don’t remember saying to myself “I am bored, I need to find something to do”.  I don’t remember saying “This is a good person, this is a bad person.” Nor do I remember saying to myself “I am poor or we are poor.”  I am sure that I never said to myself “There is something wrong with my life.”

I do remember that some of the baby chicks that I loved and was responsible for feeding (water and food) died. I don’t remember saying “It is my fault. I am bad.” Nor do I remember saying “It is his/her fault for not giving me the water/food I needed to feed my baby chicks!”

I do remember being absorbed in living.   I remember getting up early and being occupied for the entire day and going to sleep exhausted.  I remember liking some people and not liking others – yet just getting on with them, with living.  I remember liking being with my dog and not liking my mother chaining my dog up and not letting me play with him.  I do remember joy in playing out all day.  And I do remember great sadness when some of my baby chicks died. I remember laughter (lots of it) especially when I was playing with my dog and my friends.  And I remember a waterfall of tears when I woke up to find my dog (my best friend) missing and not finding him day after day.  I remember that one day the tears dried up and I got busy being absorbed in life and living.

I hope that you have gotten the difference between ‘extra-ordinary’ living and extraordinary living.  You and I have the power to transform our experience of living from ‘ordinary’ to ‘extra-ordinary’ whilst living an ordinary life or an extraordinary life.

It occurs to me that so many of us are chasing that extraordinary life (of being the best, of being rich, of being looked up to, of pleasure….) and in the process we sacrifice the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living – the kind of living that I experienced in the first five years of my life.  And I say it is never too late to transform the quality of our lives – to shift from the chase of the extraordinary life to generating the experience of ‘extra-ordinary’ living.

Getting present to the ‘awe/wonder’of Existence


“Existence is infinite, not to be defined: and though it seem a bit of wood in your hand, to carve as you please, it is not to be lightly played with and laid down.”  Lao Tzu

I say that if you and I dive into this, really dive into it, our experience of our living is transformed.  To be present to the awe and the wonder of Existence is to move from ‘ordinary living’ to ‘extraordinary living’. Sometimes, when I am present to that which exists between my daughter and I, I am profoundly shaken.  She is my world. And she exists only because my wife had a miscarriage.  It could so easily have been otherwise.

In the West, Existence is no big thing.  Existence slipped into the background centuries ago and most of us are never present to the ‘awe’ of existence.   That the mountains are.  That oceans and rivers are.  That waterfalls are.  That rain is. That snows is.  That the wind is. That trees are.  That grass is.  That deserts are. That lions are.  That birds are.  That fish are……….That I am.  That you are.  That we are together as beings-in-the-world.  That feelings are.  That love is. That sadness is.  That laughter is.  That language is…….

How magnificent Existence is!

“Existence is infinite, not to be defined: and though it seem a bit of wood in your hand, to carve as you please, it is not to be lightly played with and laid down.”  Lao Tzu

If you need some help in getting present to the awe/wonder of Existence I recommend reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Conversation with a ‘condemned’ man: life is precious gift


On holiday in the l’isle de Re I came across many people.  Only one, Jean, grabbed my attention with the way of his being in the world.   It occurred to me that Jean was simply in the world making the most of being in the world.  He showed up as being ‘natural’ – just flowing like water flows without any need to make a statement nor to seek any approval/admiration from himself or others.  He occurred to me as  a person at peace with himself and the world.   Jean is retired/elderly (those are the facts) and yet he did not show up that way for me.  He showed up as being physically fit and youthful: his physique, his clothes, the way he carried himself, the car he drove…

What is Jean’s secret?

Was Jean always this way?  No.  He tells me that he was like everyone else going through the motions of living without being alive. He did not focus on what mattered, what called to him, what generated joy within him.  He would procrastinate.  He would let opportunities slip by.  He would let days idly slip by…..  He was immersed in ‘ordinary’ living and not even aware of it.

Then one day 20+ years ago he found he had cancer and that he was a condemned man – the cancer was going to kill him.  It was this death sentenced that freed him from his ‘ordinary’ life and opened the gate to his ‘extraordinary’ living.  This death sentence transformed his view of himself, of his relationships, of his life and his living.

What makes Jean show up as ‘extraordinary’?

Jean does not take life for granted like many/most of us do.  Jean does not complain/whine about life like many/most of us do.  To Jean, being alive is a privilege: life and living show up as precious gift that is not to be squandered. He is clear about who he is and who he is not. He is clear about what matters and what does not matter. He is clear what he likes to do/spend his time.  And being clear he acts on this clarity.  Jean is committed to living fully into and making the most of each day.  Today he thinks through how he wishes to spend tomorrow and when tomorrow comes he throws himself fully into it. Jean does not waste time on ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’, ‘looking good, avoiding looking bad’………… He is too busy living an authentic life and thus has no time, no space, for the rubbish that goes with everyday, ordinary, inauthentic living. 

You and I cannot escape death; we are all condemned to die from the moment that we are born.  You and I can continue to ‘forget’ this inconvenient fact and go about ‘ordinary living’ with our addictions to ‘surviving and fixing’, ‘making it’ and ‘looking good avoiding looking bad’. Or we can live the way that Jean live where every day is a gift and what matters is to simply be one’s authentic self and put oneself fully into the game of life.

How about inventing and living from/living into the possibility of living ‘a life worth living’? 

What kind of a life shows up for you as being a ‘life worth living’ for you? Given that death is sitting on our shoulders ready to tap us and take us away, how long are you and I going to wait to live a ‘life worth living’?

An extraordinary understanding of and orientation towards responsibility: “I am cause in the matter of …”


The ordinary understanding / orientation of responsibility

What is my ordinary, taken for granted, understanding of and orientation towards responsibility?  I say that it is pretty much captured by the following definition:

  1. The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
  2. The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

Is this a powerful place to stand? No. Who wants to be beholden to duty?  Doesn’t duty show up in my world as a burden?  A burden that is imposed on me by someone else?  Isn’t some element of the burden present even if I say I have a duty to do X and not Y? Looking into this further duty is given/imposed upon me by some outside authority including religion and culture.

Then there is the territorial orientation towards responsibility.  I particularly notice this at work where marking out territory and defending it can be and often is important.  Often the orientation is something like “This is my responsibility!” where the hidden message is I own this, it is my business and I don’t want you involved.  Or the orientation is that of “It’s not my responsibility!”  Either way the orientation is territorial.  And we use territory to assert ownership and exclude each other.

Who wants to leave himself open to blame, to criticism?  I don’t, I really don’t, I absolutely do not look forward to being criticised and even when I criticise myself I do not feel good.    Is it any surprise that many of us avoid responsibility and accountability as we wish to avoid being criticised, being blamed?  Isn’t my first response, your first response, something like “It’s not my responsibility.  It’s not my fault, I am not to be blame.  So leave me alone, let me be.”

Werner Erhard makes a great point. Blaming does not work.  Look there is spilt milk all over the floor.  How is blaming myself, or blaming you help with the situation?  No amount of blaming, responsibility pinning, is going to deal with the spilt milk.  The appropriate course of action is to mop up the milk!

Self-help orientation towards responsibility

If you read enough self-help literature you are going to come across the notion of ‘responsibility as response-ability’. That is the notion that between the stimulus (that which triggers your response) and your response (to that stimulus) you have a window of opportunity to choose your response.  That is you have the ability to choose your response.

Look into this deeply enough and you might just find that the phenomenon of stimulus-response is more complicated than that.  It is mood dependant.  When you and I are in the mood of being calm/relaxed then the window of opportunity is large enough to choose our response.  On the other hand if you and I are stressed, pre-occupied, grappling with our stuff, then the response to the stimulus is automatic.  Yes, we can unlearn this behaviour and it is likely that it takes many many hours of practice.

Werner Erhard: an extraordinary understanding / orientation towards responsibility

There is a radically different way of understanding and orienting oneself towards responsibility.  An understanding and orientation that leaves one in a powerful position.  Werner Erhard came up with and articulated this understanding.

The first point to make is that Werner Erhard’s definition/orientation is not a description of what is so. No, his orientation is generative.  What does it generate?  Possibility.  And a powerful place to stand when it comes to how your lives have turned out and how they can turn out in the future.   So what is Werner’s definition/orientation toward responsibility?

For any situation in our lives, in the world, I can freely take the stance: “I am responsible for……” as in “I am cause in the matter of…..”.   And in taking this stand I move from showing up as victim of the situation, or simply a bystander looking on the situation, to being someone who declares himself to be a causal agent, someone who has a say in the situation at hand and how it turns out

Let’s make this real. I have been experiencing disappointment, frustration, anger, bewilderment towards one my sons and how he behaves.  And we had a relationship that goes along with that: mainly one of ignoring one another.  I was clear that he is responsible for his behaviour, I am not responsible for it.  It is he who talks disrespectfully.   It is he who leaves stuff lying around the house.  It is he who walks into and all over the house with dirty shoes making a mess.  It is he who picks on his brother and sister simply because he is bored.  Standing in this ordinary orientation towards responsibility I was left feeling powerless, a victim of my son’s behaviour.  And I was wondering how it was that a child that I lavished love and attention upon turned out this way.

My wife provided the opening for me to get present to and take Werner Erhard’s orientation toward responsibility as regards my relationship with my son. She simply told me that my ‘bad behaviour’ shows up in the absence of relationship.  This got be present to taking the stance, freely/voluntarily, that “I am cause in the matter of my relationship with my son.  I have contributed to what is so.  And I have the power to influence how our relationship turns out.”  With this shift in orientation, I led, I became the causal agent.

I asked myself the question, what is missing the presence of which will make a difference here in my relationship to my son?  The answer was simple, spend 1 to 1 time with him doing what we both enjoy doing.  And give up blaming my son. Since then I have been playing pool with my son several times a week, we have gone to the cinema, we have played badminton and we have cooked together.  Interestingly, I notice that mutual affection and respect is present.  Two days ago my son said “You know Papa you don’t have to do so much for me, I know that you love me”.

Summing up

Coming to grips with and living from Werner’s articulation of responsibility, as in the sense “I am cause in the matter of…”, is fundamental pillar of living an extraordinary life. This understanding, this orientation, allows me/you/us to move from a position of resignation (I can do nothing, I have to put up with life) to one of authorship/leadership (I have a say in how the situation is and how it turns out).  And this shift from resignation to authorship/leadership/causal agent makes all the difference to my experience of living and your experience of living in this world that we co-create and inhabit together.

Love and Life – not your usual perspective!


Occasionally I read or hear something that introduces a glitch in the ‘matrix of my mind’, lifts me out of my default state of ‘fallenness’ and provides an opening into a ‘new world’, new way of being. Before I share that with you let’s get present to what is so in the ordinary way of living in which almost all of us are embedded almost all of the time.

Ordinary living: love as finding someone special and ‘being in love’

What is ordinary way of think about love?  If you are like me it is likely to be something like:

  • Love as a feeling – as in ‘I love you’ which more accurately said is “I feel love for you”;
  • Love as quest for that special someone – as in ‘I need to find someone to love me for me to feel OK, to feel complete’; and
  • Love as in falling in love – it is not enough for us that someone loves us, we strive to find that someone we love and who loves us!

What shows up when we approach love standing in this clearing: one of wanting, need and feeling?  If you are like me and I say that you are, more accurately most of you are, then it does not work out that great, does it?  It is not that easy to find that someone special.  And even when you do, how long does that feeling of ‘being in love’ last?  How do we react when that feeling is no longer there?  Does frustration, disappointment, anger, bitterness, self-criticism ofr choosing the wrong person (again!), restlessness, feeling cheated, feeling deprived – do these seem familiar to you?

In life and living there is risk and there is pain – that is simply what is so.  What is not within life itself is suffering.  Suffering –  this is what we introduce into our lives because we have a faulty view of life, of reality.  And I cannot think of a domain of life where are as mistaken as we are in the domain of life called ‘love and loving’.  Consequently, we suffer greatly.

Extraordinary living: Clea Iqbal speaks a forgotten ‘truth’

Here are the words that introduce a glitch in the ‘matrix of my mind’, lift me out of my default state of ‘fallenness’ and provide an opening into a ‘new world’, new way of being.

“Love is something everyone wants,

many do not realise they are loved,

someone cares for them lovingly,

and watches out for them.
________________________________________

Many people go out looking for love to be happy,

and they don’t realise,

to be happy,

you don’t need to love someone,

nor have someone love you.

_________________________________________

You need only to love life itself!”

Do you get the wisdom, the beauty, the power, the freedom, that Clea has made available to each of us?  Being alive – see, hear, feel, touch, play, create, taste – is a privilege!  That is what Clea is pointing out.  What would show up in your living if you lived your life from this vantage point, from this stand?

Leadership is about disclosing new worlds, new possibilities and modeling that behaviour.   What impact would you have on those close to you, those you work with, those come across, the world at large?  Would it not show up as a transformation in the quality of your living and of our world?   Are you prepared to be that big and ‘play BIG’?  Are your prepared to be a leader?

About Clea Iqbal

Clea is daughter to me as I am father to her.  From time to time she comes out with profound insights that blow my mind and my heart.  So I invited her to share her voice and her insights with all of us both as self-expression and as contribution.  She took me up on this invitation and we set up a blog for her: Clea’s Blog

A final thought: perhaps one of the practices that we can incorporate into our living and of loving life is allowing/encouraging/enabling our fellow human beings to speak authentically and put that speaking into the world.

Resist or be with that which shows up in your life?


‘Ordinary’ living: judging, embracing, rejecting what shows up

Have you noticed that the default setting of your life is such that you struggle ‘being with’ that which shows up in your life, your living?  Have you noticed that stuff shows up in your life and automatically your machinery gets busy classifying into any number of buckets: ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘great’, ‘awful’, ‘ok’, ‘not ok’?  Have you noticed that once your machinery (which is always on 24x7x365) has slotted stuff that shows up into one of these buckets then it generates an automatic response?  I am talking about the feelings that arise, the thoughts that arise, what you say to yourself or to others.

What do you do with the stuff that shows up in your life and which is not OK with your machinery?  If you are like me and most of your fellow human beings then your natural, automatic, response is to resist.  Yes, the ordinary being of human being, is to resist that which does not fit in with our needs, our expectations, our desires, our view of the world, of ourselves.  How does that tend to turn out?  Does your resistance to what shows up work?  Does it leave you with insight, with a greater freedom to be, with peace, with joy?  It does none of those for me.  The more I resist the more trapped I become, the less present I am to life, the less present I am to the beauty in life and all the stuff that I can be grateful for: the ability to see the sky, the clouds, the flowers, the face of my children, my wife, you; the ability to hear – my favourite music that makes me feel and usually gets me dancing with a huge smile on my face; the ability to touch / hold my wife, daughter and sons……

How can I help you to visualise this?  Think about gusts and tornados.  Many years back (I think it was 1987) really powerful gusts hit the UK and felled many trees all over the UK.  The interesting fact is that the trees that fell were the older, bigger, stronger trees.  When these fierce gusts hit these ‘proud and strong’ trees stood their ground.  They resisted and many of them fell.  On the other and the younger trees, those that were supple, simply bent with the gusts, let them pass and then straightened up and went back to the way they were before the gust arrived.  Most of us are like those older trees whereas toddlers/young children are like the younger trees.

‘Extraordinary’ living: be with what shows up

When you stand in the clearing called ‘extraordinary’ living then you purposefully take a particular stance with that which shows up in your life.  You accept that which shows up in your life and you be with whatever shows up just as it is and just as it is not.  One way of pointing at and showing up the attitude associated with this stand is “Wow, how interesting?  Who am I being in the world that this shows up in my life?  What is the lesson that this is bringing with it?  What test am I being put through?  What questions am I being asked?”

Let me give you an example to further illustrate this.  On Saturday, waves of sadness and melancholy hit me out of the blue.  I found tears running down my cheeks.  If I had been immersed in ordinary living then I would have made this wrong.  I would have called myself weak and told myself to stop being a baby and be a man.  Furthermore, I would have told myself to get a grip because “you have no reason to cry, life is great, you have so much to be thankful for!”

As it happened I was present and so was able to step into ‘playing BIG’ and coming from that space I accepted that what was so was so. Instead of judging it, categorising, resisting it, I chose simply to be with it.  Actually, I went further, I dived into it – kind of became one with it.  I felt the feelings deeply, I connected with the parts of my body that were generating those tears, I noticed the rythm….. What was remarkable about this experience?  The sadness/melancholy was present, the tears were present, the deep sobbing was present and yet I was totally peaceful, totally relaxed!

By the end of day the waves of sadness/melancholy departed as quickly as they arrived and as far as I can tell for no reason.  What was I left with?  I was left with the insight that the ’cause’ of those waves of sadness/melancholy was me reading a particular chapter of The Brothers Karamazov.  What I got present to was that the waves of sadness/melancholy were the speaking of a certain part of me – the spiritual side.  Why the sadness? Because until recently, and for a long time, I had locked up that side of me.  The spiritual side of me had been in prison, bound hand and foot, gagged, kept in the dark, unfed.  And through those waves of sadness/melancholy it was simply letting go of the pain.  What I got present to was that those waves of sadness/melancholy were and are a gift.  A gift that shows me that ‘being a decent human being’ matters to me.  A gift that shows up that a natural and powerful part of my self-expression is to speak my truth, to be of service to my fellow human beings, to contribute, to put something into the game of life, to work to co-create a ‘world that works’, none excluded.

I leave you with this question:  what would have been my experience (and where would I be now) if I had resisted those waves of sadness/melancholy?   Now I ask you a question: are you willing to ‘play BIG’, to accept/be with what shows up in your life and ‘learn’ that which there is to learn, to face the question that life is posing, to undergo the test that life is putting you through?  Or you are going to go with ordinary living and resistance?

Remember:

a) ‘playing BIG’ is a gift that you grant yourself and only you can grant that gift to yourself.

b) Leadership ALWAYS starts with yourself – if you can be with that which shows up and learn from it then you can model that stance for the people you are leading.