“The mind is inherently stubborn about change, and seems to snap back to its original position like an elastic band.
But there is catch: when we truly comprehend in our guts the finality and truth that THIS is IT, right now, no matter how our life is, then we grasp what Werner Erhard was always screaming about:
that no magic pill or workshop or experience of any sort is ever going to come along and finally “fix” you or me or make us permanently happy, and in that very moment of giving up the search for transformation, a transformation paradoxically does in fact occur.
One recognises that one was never broken in the first place, and suddenly all the energy previously devoted to seeking a way out of or through the problem of the unfulfilled self is freed up to power one’s mission and vision, which is a gesture of giving and contribution rather than one of searching, waiting, and hoping.
And that is a good thing, if a bit sobering, because it means we are asked to step up to the plate in life with what and who we already are. We have been given our piece in the game, and it only remains to play wholeheartedly.”
Kathleen Taylor finishes here TEDx talk with the following exhortation:
Discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world. Stop bullshitting
Why does Kathleen say this? Because she has learned from spending time working with-counselling the dying.
What can we learn from Kathleen?
Dying people teach us that it is never too late to shed what’s false and to become who we truly are.
Do you and I have to wait until our last days to live authentically?
But I’d like to hope that it is never too soon… So here is the challenge …. let’s don’t wait until we are at the end of our lives to find out who we really are.
Have your ever found yourself thinking about the purpose of your life? Wrong Question!
Have you every been confronted with this question: “What is my life about? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” This question is one that I continue to grapple with. And this is what Kathleen has good news for me:
I think that is the wrong question.
I actually think the better question is “Who am I being with my life?”
What is the relationship between being and doing?
There is an intersect between doing and being. But, I’m pretty sure that being comes first.
And what you are supposed to be doing with your life will flow from who you truly are. You really can’t screw that up if you do it that way.
Why bother with living authentically? Why not just fit in and go with the flow?
Action, and creativity, and innovation that comes from true authenticity is what moves the world forward. And it has the lovely side effect …. of creating joy.
Awaken to the preciousness of time! be authentic, stop bullshitting
Living is the process of dying. Please read that again: living is the process of dying. This is what you and I are almost never present to. Yet, this is not true for those who are dying:
It ends up that some of the purpose of facing your mortality is to look back on the body of work of your life and develop a deep sense of self. And really, to finally awaken to the preciousness of time.
This brings us back to Kathleen’s exhortation:
Discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world. Stop bullshitting
Here is Kathleen’s TEDx talk
By now you may be in a place where you actually want to see-hear-experience Kathleen’s TEDx talk. Here it is, enjoy!
One of the most insightful talks on the human condition is a speech “This is Water” given by David Foster Wallace in 2005. Having read and listened to it, it occurs to me that David Foster Wallace got life in a way that few of us do. And as such I share this short video of his talk with you.
Here is an adaptation of the speech that he gave courtesy of Shane Parrish:
A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
Given the triumphal academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default-setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what’s going on inside me. As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.
By way of example, let’s say it’s an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired, and you’re stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home — you haven’t had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job — and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the workday, and the traffic’s very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store’s hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out: You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store’s crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.
Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.
The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I’ve worked really hard all day and I’m starved and tired and I can’t even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid g-d- people.
Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious form of my default-setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just twenty stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks, and so on and so forth…
Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do — except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to rush to the hospital, and he’s in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am — it is actually I who am in his way. Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat-out won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible — it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.
We go about living as if life is simple. We assume that life is black and white. We assume that reality and truth is one dimensional, and not multi-dimensional. We assume that we can access ultimate reality and truth. We asume that the way that we see it and speak it, is that way that it is. And we are oblivious to these assumptions. As such, we show up in the world and operate from these assumptions. In doing so we generate conflict, we fracture relationships, and we hinder our ability to be effective in the world as it is.
Is there an alternative? Yes, there is and it starts with getting a profound truth about our existence in this world. It is the kind of truth that is pointed out in the following parable:
The Mulla Nasruddin [a wise fool in sufi teaching stories] was sitting court one day. A husband and wife came to the court to settle the matter of who should be in charge of their son’s education. The wife argued that she should be given sole custody, giving many fine reasons to support her view. Mulla Nasruddin said, “You are absolutely correct!” Then the husband spoke to defend his position. In response, Mulla Nasruddin exclaimed, “You are absolutely correct!”. Immediately, a cleric in the back of the court stood up and cried out, “Nasruddin, they both can’t be right!” To which Mulla Nasruddin replied, “You are absolutely correct!”
Is it possible that each and everyone of us has some access to truth? Is it possible that there is some truth in everything? Is it possible that despite our best efforts all we can ever arrive at is some approximation to truth? And what would be possible if each and everyone of us showed up in the world being present to and living these questions?
A lot of pain has been present in my living over this last week. So much physical pain that I have done little even though I had plans to do a lot. Truthfully, I have been much less than I aspire to be. I found myself distant from my family. I have found myself being snappy with one of my son’s. I found myself just wanting to be left alone to deal with my pain. And when it got too hard I took the easy way out: I took muscle relaxants which eased the pain and knocked me out.
And in this very week, what shows up in my world? Inspiration. Heart touching-moving inspiration from two sources. The first is from “the happiest man in the world”. And the second is from 12 year old Jessie Joy Rees.
The happiest man in the world
I find myself watching this man, listening to him and being captivated. Captivated by what? His stance in life. The way he shows up in life. The way he counts his blessing. His philosophy of life. His wisdom. I am clear that he gets it. And as such I am delighted that I have come across him.
Jessie Joy Rees and the Joy Jars
What can I say? I find myself watching this video and there are tears running down my cheeks. I am inspired to ask this question:
How can I help them?
I have a question for you: how can I help you? Please think about it and let me know.
We spent a large part of last weekend at the home of our friends: Gisela, James, and Jasper. As Gisela says, it is our home in the countryside. It strikes me that coming from someone else this would strike me as mere words, intentions, or simply being nice, being polite. Yet, Gisela’s words do not show up that way for me: they show up for me as truth – my home in the countryside.
What is it about Gisela, James, and Jasper that leaves me feeling loved and loving them as I do?
1. I notice that there is genuine joy in their being when I show up in their home. And vice versa.
2. It never occurs to me that I am being judged: right-wrong, good-bad… And I do not judge them. What is presence is acceptance and the space that creates for us: to simply be.
3. One-upmanship is absent: nobody is out to show that they are better, or not, than anyone else. Yes, we rejoice in each others gifts. And we leave it at that: there is no judgement about those gifts. We take delight in each other, not judgement/evaluation.
4. I am not being advised nor educated about life. Nor am I being questioned or interrogated. There simple is no space in our being for that kind of conversation to show up.
5. Nothing shows up as being forced. It does not occur to me that anyone is doing their best to please others against their own feelings-needs. It occurs to me that there is an absence of pretence. And as a result there is a certain ease and gracefulness.
6. There no faking, no bullshitting, no preening, no grandstanding, no falseness going on – none that I pick up or have picked up yet. What there is, is, even if it is deemed to be “bad” or “inappropriate” by conventional wisdom and morality
7. We share. We share the shopping if there is shopping to be done. We share the cooking if there is cooking to be done. We share our speaking and listening. We share our joy in being present with one another. We share smiles. We share hugs. We share what we have found on TED, or elsewhere, that speaks to us. We share the joys, challenges, disappointments and heartaches of life: that which works and that which does not work in our lives.
8. Smiles, hugs, laughter and even play is present. And what an amazing difference that makes. To get up in the morning and be greeted with genuine warmth/affection made visible through smiles and hugs.
I am left asking myself, “What if I showed up for all the people in my life, the way that I show up with Gisela-James-Jasper?” And the thought occurs that it would be “Awesome”. What a way to show up in the world!
It occurs to me that if you and I treat everyone that we meet the way we treat our very best friends then together we would transform our lives and the world. What do you say?
What does it take to generate joy? I say this is a question worthy of my attention, your attention, our attention.
Is there an experience that is more nourishing than joy? The joy of being alive- present to the gift of life? I say for me there is no experience that nourishes me more than joy. What about you?
How often do you experience joy? Are you present to joy every moment? No? How about every minute? No? How about every hour? No? How about once a day? No? How about once a week? No? How about once a month? No?
When was the last time you experienced joy? When was the last time you opened the doors of your being to allow joy enter your life? When? Can you even remember? And if you and I do not experience the joy in living then I ask this: what is the point of our living, of being alive? Why bother with it all?
As I grapple with this question what shows up for me? That my default way of being-in-this-world is to be on a journey. What goes with a journey? Planning. Preparing. Travelling. Hurdles-Obstacles-Surprise. Dealing with obstacles-hurdles-suprises. Breakdowns. Dealing with breakdowns. Busyness. Arrival at destination. Rest. Onwards to the next destination. And the cycle repeats.
If you and I are so busy on busyness of life and our focus in on achievement then the doors of our being are locked. What are they locked to? Being present to that which is present. Being present to the miracle that is our existence. Being present to the wonder of this world. Being present to joy – the joy of being here right now in this world.
I stopped the other day. I took over the left over bread. Slowly patiently I tore it up into little pieces. A smile was present on my face and in my being. Then I opened the door, went into the garden, and left these breadcrumbs in the right place – place where I see the birds hopping about. In that being/doing I was a little child once more. Joy was present. The joy of being connected with life. The joy of transcending selfishness and being of service.
On returning to the house it occurred to me that it really does not take much for joy to enter my house of being. All it takes is thinking of my fellow participants in this game of life and engaging in little acts of kindness. Making a cup of tea for wife or sons. Giving a hug. Receiving a hug. Telling a friend that she shows up as a source of inspiration for me. Cleaning the house so that it sparkles. Reading a book. Watching a movie. Writing. Going for a walk and allowing my face to be touched by sunshine.
Sometimes it doesn’t even take that. It just requires being present. Yesterday, driving daughter over to the gym, she asked me if she could turn on the radio. I said yes. Shortly, she was listening to one of her favourite songs, singing along beautifully and then the following came forth: “I just love music!” Wow! I found myself to be sharing in some of her joy.
It occurs to me that joy shows up when I chose to be joyous. It occurs to me that joy shows up when I wonder that I exist, the sun exists, the sky exists, laughter exists, hugs exist, movies exist, that I can drive…..It occurs to me that joy shows up when I put myself into action and contribute to the wellbeing of others. How about you?
What is the access to transformation? Specifically, what is the access – for you and me – to transform the quality of our living? Put simply, it is shifting our being-in-the-world, and thus our showing up in the world, from impotent to potent. What do I mean? Let’s take a look at the definitions:
Adjective: unable to take effective action; helpless or powerless
Adjective: having a great power, influence or effect.
Synonyms: powerful – strong – forceful – intense
Let’s assume that you and I are up for transformation, up for shifting our being-in-the-world from impotent (the default) to potent. What is the access to making this shift? Willpower? No, this rarely works as many New Years resolutions show. Is it setting goals? No, this rarely works because goals tend to rely on the exercise of willpower. And willpower tends to fade. So what is a suitable access?
The access to making the shift is inventing and living from one or more possibilities that move-touch-inspire us. Which begs the question “What is a possibility?” A possibility is not a wish. Nor is it an intention. A possibility is not a goal, an outcome, an achievement. Nor is possibility a belief in that which is possible for a human being.
Still looking for a pointer as to what constitutes a ‘possibility’? Then let me share this quote from Nikos Kazantzakis (author of Zorba The Greek):
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.” Nikos Kazantzakis
And when he speaks of believing he is talking about the following kind of believing:
“A belief is not merely an idea that is thought, it is an idea in which one believes. And believing is not an operation of the intellectual mechanism, but a function of the living being as such, the function of guiding his conduct, his performance of his task.” Jose Ortega Y Gasset
A possibility gives meaning to one’s life and power to one’s being-in-the-world. As such it does more than provide one with a reason to get up in the morning. It provides one the access to transcend one’s psychology and push the limits of one’s biology as and when this is necessary. It calls forth one to be unreasonable when unreasonable is what it takes. In short, it the access to living a life that shows up as fulfilling. A life worth living.
Why do I write this blog as opposed to put my feet up, watch a move, hang out in a bar? Because I invented a possibility. What possibility? The possibility of playing BIG, living an ‘extraordinary’ life, of being a source of contribution to a ‘world that works, none excluded’. How about you? What possibility leaves you moved-touched-inspired to be and create that which does not exist today? What possibility are you up for inventing/living this year?
Please note, that all acts of leadership start with inventing a possibility that leaves one moved-touched-inspired to disclose and create that which does not exist today.
You and I want to feel special
I want to feel special, you want to feel special and just about everyone wants to feel special. That is just what is so. And all would be well if we could just be with what is so: wanting to feel special.
For some or even most of the time you and I do not feel special. That is also what is so. And all would be well if we could be with what is also so: not feeling special.
You and I do not leave it at that. Instead, some of us look for people in whose company we feel special. When we are with these people then we feel special – life simply shows up as great, we laugh, we feel lighter, our worries seem to fall away….. Others turn to roles, titles, or positions of power to feel special. Some of us get to feel special through the triumphs in organisations we support like sports teams and political parties.
“There is something wrong!”
Sooner or later we find ourselves without the company of the people who makes us feel special. Or without the roles, titles, or positions of power that makes us feel special. And from time to time our sports teams lose. Then what shows up? We experience not feeling special!
What do you and I do with that experience of not feeling special? Do we accept it? No! We make it mean “Something is wrong!” Something is wrong with me, with you, with the world…. And when we do that what shows up in our experience of living? Misery shows up: we create misery for ourselves and these ripples of misery infect others that we come in touch with.
Masters of creating misery
Then there are some amongst us who are masters of creating misery for ourselves. Those of us who are ‘masters of misery’ insist that we can only be happy if we have someone in our lives who makes us feel special. Or that we can only be happy if we have certain roles, certain titles, certain positions of power etc…
Notice what has happened here. We, the masters of misery, make our happiness conditional on someone else and/or something else showing up in our lives and making us feel special. And in the process we give up our responsibility and our freedom. Instead we enslave ourselves. Why do I say that? Because it is the world that then determines how we get to experience our lives.
Is there a way out of this prison?
If you/I find that we are one of these ‘masters of misery’ then you/I can let ourselves out of the prison that we have created for ourselves. How? By giving up the demand that we feel special. And by giving up our commitment, our addiction, to the point of view that we can only be happy if someone/something makes us feel special.
Look around you and notice that it is the ‘ordinary person’ who is at ease with who he is, what he does and the circumstances of his life, that shows up as special. Notice, It is the person who is at ease with his ‘ordinariness’ that shows up as special. Notice, it is the person who can be with people or be with him/herself that shows up as ‘special’. Notice, it is the person who can be with and make the most of the sunshine and the rain that shows up in his/her life that shows up as special.
The paradox of special
Here is the paradox, when you/I give up the need to feel special and the demand that the world makes us feel special it is then that you/I become and show up as special.
It takes a special person to be totally ok, and even delight in, being ‘ordinary’. It takes a special person to choose to show up in life happy – to put happiness into life – for no reason whatsoever except that he has chosen to live this way.
A conversation with a young woman
I was in communication with a young woman recently and the conversation went something like this (this is the best I can do from memory):
Me: “Is the light on inside? Is joy present on the inside?”
Her: “No. It hasn’t been present for a long time.”
Me: Why not? What is getting in the way?”
Her: “I feel trapped – living this life, here with my parents, my family. Sometimes, I think about running away and starting a new life, my life.”
Me: “What is preventing you from taking that step, moving out, living your own life?”
Her: “The impact it will have on my parents, what it will do to them. Sometimes, I get so angry with them that I hate them for keeping me here, living this life.”
Me: “I see, you get that you have choice and you have made the choice to live with your parents and the life that goes with that. I don’t get why you are blaming your parents. Your parents are not responsible and do not deserve your blame/bitterness/anger. You are free to leave any time you wish. Yet, you choose to stay. So you are the person who is responsible for the life that you live and your experience of living. You are responsible for your unhappiness, you bring this on to your self.”
Her: “Don’t say that. If believed that then I’d want to kill myself!”
Freedom, choice and responsibility
Yes, we are thrown into this world and we don’t get a say in where we are born, whether we are born male or female, healthy or unhealthy, who are parents are, what kind of circumstances we are born into, what culture we are born into, what schools we go to (if we go to school) etc. Yet at some point we grow up and are no longer children, no longer dependent and at the mercy of others. Like this young woman we leave home, we go to university, we get an education, we dabble/experience the bigger world, we get to stand on our own two feet….
I say that the process of ‘growing up’ is coming face to face with freedom, choice and responsibility. As beings-in-the-world we are faced with choice. You could say being confronted with choices and making a choice is the evidence of our freedom. Even in the most difficult of circumstances where what we can and cannot do is severely limited we still get to choose: we get to choose our attitude towards ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we are embedded. Put differently, sometimes we get to choose between two flavours of ice cream say chocolate or vanilla. And sometimes life presents us with only chocolate and even though we get only chocolate we are free to choose our attitude, our stance towards chocolate being present in our lives.
With choice comes responsibility. Put differently, we are responsible for our lives and our experience of living – just as it is and just as it is not. Look, sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I look at how my children behave. And when I look at the situation honestly/courageously I see that I am totally responsible for what is so. When my children were younger, many people – wife, parents, parents-in-law, friends – pointed out that I was allowing my children too much freedom, not setting strong boundaries, not being controlling enough. And I ignored all of them. Why? I was committed to allowing my children the widest degree of freedom. And I reasoned that as they got older I could talk with them, reason with them and they would regulate their behaviour so as to get on/along with the people around them. My theory did not work out as I had anticipated that it would work out.
What is the ultimate choice that confronts us?
I say that the ultimate choice that confronts us is the choice of owning our lives or not. Owning my life is owning freedom, choice and responsibility. I am free to make choices and I am responsible for the choices that I make and that which flows from and shows up from the choices that I make. So, ultimately, each of us takes, is taking a stand towards freedom, choice and responsibility – whether we are present to making this choice or not.
You and I can look honestly at lives and face up to/get that we are the authors of our lives: that we get a say in how we live our lives, how our lives turn out, our experience of living. As such we can invent/project/live from and live into possibilities that move-touch-inspire us.
Or we can pretend that we are victims (like this young lady) and when we are confronted with ownership/authorship of our lives, our experience of living, we can strive to shut out this conversation that confronts us with our freedom, choice and responsibility.
What choice are you making? Are you owning your life and your experience of living? If you are owning and being responsible for your life just as it is and just as it is not then who is owning / being responsible for your life?
I know where I stand: the most powerful place to stand for me, is to own my life and my experience of living just as it is and just as it is not. And being the owner, the author, of my life I am free to imagine and take different paths through it. This matters because it puts hope, possibility, new worlds into my life, my living. It is this stance that opens up a transformation in our living, in our world.
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.”
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.
To be human is to be the host to disappointment from time to time. Disappointment is a guest that simply shows up – usually unannounced – without invitation. This week I notice that disappointment – with my children, with myself – has been present in the house of my being.
How to be with disappointment and what does it unconceal?
How to be with disappointment when it shows up? I can accept it, I can pretend that it is not there and all is fine, I can try to push it away, I can struggle with it, I can fight with it………….
This week I chose to observe it as I might observe a new/interesting guest at a dinner party. And by observing it the following was unconcealed:
- my disappointment can occur in relations to people and/or objects;
- disappointment that lingers, that is more seductive, is in relation to the people who are the closest to me – my wife, my children….;
- disappointment is distinct from anger – anger has an active quality to it that tends towards hitting out whereas disappointment is passive and has an air of resignation to it;
- disappointment is not only towards others it can occur in relation to one’s self – how one is being and what one is doing;
- moving from being disappointed to observing disappointment is the shift that loosens the grip of disappointment and creates a space to simply let disappointment be;
- in choosing to let disappointment be disappointment (as opposed to adding meaning/significance to it) disappointment loses its grip on me and thus I am free – to get on with my ‘life projects’;
- disappointment with oneself, one’s life, can be an opening to transformation – the caterpillar has an opportunity to transform into a butterfly;
- disappointment with people leads to withdrawal and withdrawal is the suffocation of relationship and that in turn is the suffocation of oneself – as I always exist in relationship with others, no escape;
- disappointment is rooted in expectation – usually, unrealistic expectation born of unrealistic beliefs about self, about people, about human beings.
Ordinary living: addicted to illusions about others (and self)
Disappointment is rooted in expectation is the clue. I notice that when disappointment showed up (in relation to my children) I was engaged in a particular kind of conversation: “When I was that age I was X and s/he is Y! At his age s/he should be more X than Y.” Clearly X is the desired state and Y is the undesired state. It is in that gap that the clearing for disappointment to show up arises. Which begs the question: how realistic our expectations of one another are? This is what Anthony De Mello writes in his book Awareness:
“A young man came to complain that his girlfriend had let him down, that she had played false. What are you complaining about? Did you expect any better? Expect the worst, you are dealing with selfish people. You’re the idiot – you glorified her, didn’t you? You thought she was a princess, you thought people are nice. They’re not! They’re not nice. They’re as bad as you are – bad, you understand? They’re asleep like you. And what do you think they are going to seek? Their own self-interest, exactly like you. No difference. Can you imagine how liberating this is – you’ll never be disillusioned again, never be disappointed again? You’ll never feel let down again. Never feel rejected. Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas. See through people. If you see through yourself, you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. Otherwise you spend the whole time grappling with your wrong notions of them, with your illusions that are constantly crashing against reality.
It’s probably too startling for many of you to understand that everyone except the very rare awakened person can expected to be selfish and to seek his or her own self-interest whether in coarse or refined ways. This leads you to see that there is nothing to be disappointed about, nothing to be disillusioned about. If you had been in touch with reality all along, you would never be disappointed. But you choose to paint people in glowing colours; you choose not to see through human beings because you chose not to see through yourself. So you are paying the price now. “
Reading this passage from De Mello provided me with a powerful opening to own that I had left the doors open to disappointment by living from/into an unrealistic story. I am delighted to say that my son and I took the first steps today to move past the disappointment with one another. Right now, disappointment is not present, it has flown away and the house of my being is peaceful.
Finally, a warning
Please note: you and I do not need to add any meaning to “everyone except the very rare awakened person can be expected to be selfish and to seek his or her own self-interest”. I am not saying that this good or bad, right or wrong. This is as pointless as saying that driving on the right is wrong and driving on the left is right. In the real world, what matters, is to know if you are in a country where people drive on the right or left. And given that understanding you and I are free to choose to fit in with the existing way of doing things or to chart an alternative course and take the consequences that come with that.
Taking a fresh look at helping
Is it possible that in helping you I am, underneath it all and hidden from view, fanning the flames of my ego? Put differently, is my helping there to bolster my sense of self-worth, to display that I am better/stronger/knowledgeable… than you? Is it possible that in the game of helping you are there for me as opposed to me being there for you?
Is it possible that when I reach out to help it is to sooth/extinguish my own pain – the pain that I experience when I am present to you experiencing pain? Neuroscientists claim that ‘mirror neurons’ dwell within us / are an essential part of us. And when I see/hear your pain the same pain shows up in my world, I experience it. It is by experiencing this pain that I act. Put differently, where the mirror neuron circuitry is impaired people do not show empathy, they do not act.
Is it possible that when I help you I am not being helpful to you? Put differently, is it possible that when I read for you I get in the way of you learning to read and reading for yourself? Is it possible that when I cook for you I get in the way of you learning to cook and cooking for yourself? Is it possible that when you fall and I lift you up I am getting in the way of you getting up yourself by yourself and getting present to being capable of lifting yourself of the floor? Is it possible that when I supply you with food handouts I am getting in the way of you learning and taking responsibility for growing/coming up with your own food?
‘Helping’ and ‘being helpful’ – two different beasts?
It occurs to me ‘helping’ and ‘being helpful’ are two very different beasts yet in the way we carry ourselves we collapse them into the one and the same. It occurs to me that when we are ‘helping’ it is most likely that we are not ‘being helpful’. And that by confusing ‘helping’ with ‘being helpful’ we are doing harm to our fellow human beings. How?
By sharing, by telling, by advising we are ‘pushing’ our views on to our fellow human beings and thus robbing them of their responsibility and their freedom. What responsibility? The responsibility to search for/come up with their own views. By doing stuff for others we are robbing them of their responsibility for doing the work. By making the choices for others we are not only robbing them of their freedom (to make their own choices and live with these choices) we are robbing them of their responsibility for making choices. I hope you get the idea.
What is the critical difference between ‘helping’ and ‘being helpful’?
When I am ‘helping’ you then I am the lead actor, I cast myself in the most powerful role, it is about what I am doing to you/for you, I am the active force acting and you are the passive one simply receiving that which I am handing out.
Helping requires little thought, reflection, intentionality – it is easier, it is quicker, it does not require you and I to work in partnership, to cultivate strong bonds. I am the parent, you are the child, I lead you follow, I dictate you obey…… I say ‘being helpful’ is totally different ‘game’ – one that is rare simply because most of us collapse ‘being helpful’ with ‘helping’. Put differently, our automatic way of being is such that it occurs to as that ‘helping’ is by definition ‘helpful’. And because ‘being helpful’ really takes something (hard work, sacrifice) as opposed to ‘helping’ which is rather easy in comparison.
What constitutes ‘being helpful’?
‘Being helpful’ requires that I let go of my ego, that I do not rush to act. ‘Being helpful’ requires that I stand in the place that I see/act towards you as a person who is whole-complete-perfect, a human being who has all that life demands of him/her. ‘Being helpful’ requires that I never encroach on your responsibility for your life. ‘Being helpful’ demands that instead of taking away your freedom, I confront you with your freedom: to invent possibilities for your life, to take a stand in life, to make your choices, to walk the path you have chosen for yourself. That I act to increase your capacity to be responsible and to exercise your freedom. And importantly, that I act to increase your capacity to act powerfully on yourself and your circumstances. Once this context is in place and I act from this context then any help that I provide will show up as contributing to the game of ‘being helpful’.
Imagine that you are confronted with a poor person. Giving that person money is ‘helping’. Buying that poor person food, clothes… is helping. Now asking yourself what would constitute ‘being helpful’ to this poor person? I say you are ‘being helpful’ when you ask and enter deeply into the following questions:
“What would enable this person to help himself, to lift himself out of poverty?” Another way of thinking about this is to ask yourself the question “What is getting in the way of this person not being poor, being OK, being prosperous?” A great place to start is with the person himself and the story that he has created (about himself, his circumstances) and lives from/into. Then take a look at the circumstances of his life and the environment in which he is embedded.
“How do I ensure that at all times this person gets that s/he is whole-complete-perfect and gets s/he is in the driving seat?” That s/he gets that s/he does not need fixing – s/he is all that it takes to deal with/transcend her circumstances. Notice: I deliberately wrote is and not has. That s/he is confronted with the responsibility with lifting himself out of his poverty. That it is s/he who chooses if s/he wishes to lift herself out of poverty – to make fresh choices, to walk a different path, to do the work that goes with walking this new path
“How do I ensure that I keep my ego out of the picture? And if it is in the picture what can I do to ensure that it contributes to the game of ‘being helpful’ rather than undermining it?” Just being present to this question, being mindful of it on a daily basis, keeping it existence is often enough to ensure that I show up as ‘being helpful’ as opposed to indulging in ‘helping’.
“What is missing the presence of which would make a significant difference?” Here I am talking about resources. For many it is simply belief in themselves as whole-complete-perfect. You and I can supply that much needed resource by relating to these people as whole-complete-perfect and not acting in any way to undermine this. For example, in a Montessori School if a student goes and asks a question then the teacher, if she is embodying Montessori principles, will ask the student what he things the answer to the question is. If the student says he doesn’t know then the teacher is likely to ask the student where/how we can find out for himself and encourage him to do so. It may be that the resource that is missing is money to buy equipment to start a small business. This is what Kiva does – enable people to lift themselves out of poverty by tapping into microloans. It may be that the resource that is missing is simply education: “please teach me to catch fish so that I am able to catch fish by myself for the rest of my life. And teach others to catch fish!” I hope you get the idea.
‘Being helpful’ requires a certain kind of play and generates certain kinds of results. ‘Helping’ requires a different kind of play and generated different kinds of results. I am not making the assertion that one is better than another. Nor am I making the claim that one is good and the other bad. I am definitely not telling you what do do not even under the guise of ‘helping you live better lives’. You are responsible for your life, you are free to choose how you live your life. I am simply making it clear that ‘helping’ and ‘being helpful’ are distinct and should not be collapsed. That we should not kid ourselves that when we are ‘helping’ that we are by definition ‘being helpful’. And that when we ‘help’ others we can actually be undermining them and thus not ‘being helpful’ to them.
Finally and importantly, I am not saying that you and I should not ‘help’. If a young child falls into a fire I will take that child out immediately. I will not wait to figure out how I can ‘be helpful’ to this young child. If I come across a starving person I will ‘help’ that person by feeding him. And then I might just choose to play the game of ‘being helpful’.
It really takes something to listen to my speaking. I deliberately make it so – my commitment is to ‘be helpful’ and not simply ‘help”. If you are listening to my speaking then I thank you. And in particular I thank the 30+ of you who subscribe to this blog. Without you there would be no value in my speaking. So once again I thank you for you listening.
This post continues the conversation that commenced earlier and which you can find below:
Let’s get present to where your are at (or were at)
“I tend to always fall for men that are dominant and players. It is difficult for me to be attracted to someone who is less witty and dominant, as I have a strong character. Although I know that it will always lead to hurt and abandonment, am like a moth to a flame.
This is one aspect of your life that you shared with me. You also shared the following with me:
- “I guess I am feeling the loss of physical intimacy, someone to just be there to hold me when I’m feeling lost and alone.”
- “Tired of searching for ‘the one’ to be my life companion – whilst desperately longing for one.”
You are the cause of your suffering and you can give it up this instant
There is what you want to be so. There is what is so. There is a difference between what you ‘want to be so’ and ‘what is so’. This difference shows up as ‘painful’ – an issue to be dealt with / a problem to be solved. And you are probably telling yourself that once you have solved this one, met the ‘one’ your life will work out and you will live happily ever after.
Do you notice something interesting? There is no ‘issue’ no ‘problem’ in the world as it is. You are generating this ‘issue’, this ‘problem’, this ‘upset’ and the suffering that goes with it. Let me be plain: YOU are the cause of your own suffering! And you can choose to not suffer – you can do that right now. Let’s take a look at this in more detail:
You have bought into and are living out of a myth. Here is how it goes: I can only be happy if/when I find the ‘one’; the ‘one’ is out there; once I find the ‘one’ or he finds me then all will be great and I will live happily ever after. I know many people who have found the ‘one’ and then found out, later, that life has not worked out and bliss is not ever present. I know of people who have found the ‘one’ only to lose the ‘one’ through death – and they are left grappling with that. I know of people who have found the ‘one’ and then the ‘one’ has cheated and/or left them for another – and these people are left grappling with that. What if you let go of this myth? What if you let go of putting conditions on happiness? What if you choose to be with the fact that right now the ‘one’ is not in your life and you choose to put happiness into your life? Notice that when you put these conditions onto life you are constructing your own prison.
“I know that it will always lead to hurt and abandonment”. Is this so? Let’s take a look at hurt, specifically how you (and I) create hurt. Notice that hurt arises in relation to people and pets. How does it come about? We create and live out of expectations around people – especially those who we are close to / those close to us. We may or may not share these expectations with them. They may or may not agree to our expectations. When the expectations are not met what shows up? Hurt. The bigger the gap between the demands we place on people (whether communicated or not) and what we get/do not get from these people the bigger the hurt. If you and I genuinely want to be free from hurt then we can do that right now: give up any and all expectations of people. You can even go further and ‘expect’ that every single person will act to get what he/she wants out of life – to act ‘selfishly’. Don’t you do the same? So what is the big deal when others do the same as you, same as me? If you practice this you will notice that there is no space for ‘abandonment’ in your life. ‘Abandonment’ is a function of making demands on people, on life, that life does not fulfil. Put differently, it is label for a specific kind of hurt.
Are your running a “racket”?
During my participation in Landmark Education I was exposed to the distinction “racket”. What is a racket? I say a racket is made of the following:
- Fixed way of being e.g. being demanding, being critical, being helpful, being miserable…
- Fixed set of behaviour – doing the same things over and over again
- Recurrent complaint – about someone, something, about yourself
- Payoff – usually hidden, not acknowledged – what you get out of being/doing what you are being/doing
Let’s get clear on this: you find a certain type of man attractive; you go for this type; you get what you get and you take it; at some point the ‘hurt’ and ‘abandonment’ shows up in your life’; you ‘beat yourself up’ in some way or form; you do the same again and again; and then you plead that you are simply a ‘moth to a flame’.
Well you are not a ‘moth’! You are human being who can envisage future, see possibilities, be other than that which you are being, pursue possibilities/paths other than what you are on today, do stuf that you are not doing today, stop doing stuff that you are doing…. you can even choose to give up your life. To be a human being is to be ‘the one that is always the chooser, always, not that which is chosen nor that which shows up or is imposed’. You can play at being ‘small’, ‘helpless’ even ‘pathetic’, that might work with you friends/family – it does not work with me. I relate to you as a ‘force of nature’ who can at any and all times invent and live into futures that leave your experience of living transformed. You are ‘BIG’, you really are. The question is, when will you choose to ‘play BIG’?
So now that we have distinguished the upper most level of racket – playing ‘small’ and asking for ‘leniency’ or ‘help’ let’s move on to the second level of your racket as I see it. Notice, I am not making truth claims. I am simply sharing my perspective with you, you might not like it and I say that is fine, try it out and see if it works. If it works then keep it, if it does not then you can drop it – I am not attached to it, you won’t hurt my feelings. Back to racket.
I say that you ‘ok’ with what is so including the ‘hurt’ and ‘abandonment’. Why? Because whatever it is that you are getting is of more value to you then the cost that you are paying. Put differently, the ‘payoff’ exceeds the ‘cost’ and so you continue doing what you are doing. Do you want to create the space in which you can choose to give up this game? Then look ruthlessly at the payoff – this will taking brutal honesty with yourself and we, human beings, are poor at that. What might that ‘payoff’ be?
- You get to be right about men – they cannot be trusted, they are selfish;
- You get to be right about yourself – you are small, helpless, cannot help yourself, cannot control yourself, you are passionate-different-trusting…..
- You get sympathy – you can tell the story of how life is not working out and get attention, get sympathy………..
- You get out of demands that you or others would otherwise place on you – after all if you are ‘hurt’ and ‘abandoned’ then you can give yourself a ‘get out of jail for free’ card and others typically do the same for you
- By playing this ‘game’ you keep yourself occupied rather than being bored – it is better than ‘nothing’
- Your belief in the myth of the ‘one’ continues intact and your dreams are not shattered……
The list is endless yet the buckets are not. What do I mean? Some wise folks have pointed out that human behaviour is driven by:
- Looking good avoiding looking bad – which is why walk around with masks and are almost never truly ourselves
- Being right and making others wrong – even if that means going to war and millions get killed
- Dominating others and avoiding being dominated – in a family there is no-one as dominant as the one that gets the others to believe that he/she is helpless, ‘small’ and needs to be given special exemptions and be looked after!
- Validating yourself (everything including your beliefs and points of view) and invalidating others – I experienced a great example of this morning when Matthew, Jehovah’s witness came to my door to show me the error of my ways and convert me.
Breaking free from your “racket”
‘Sister’ be ruthless with yourself and get clear on the ‘payoff’ and the ‘cost’ of playing this game. When it comes to ‘cost’ look at both the cost that you pay now, that you are paying longer term, and the cost that the people in your life pay. When you have written that out then get present to it – step into it, experience it. Once you have done that – are clear on the ‘payoff’ and ‘cost’ as experienced – then choose. Choose to play this game of falling for/going for the dominant men, the players, and if you do this then you give up complaining. Or choose to give this game up. If you choose to give it up then you create space to invent a more inspiring-moving-touching-uplifting game.
Finally, remember what I said earlier – you are creating your own suffering and you can give that up right now. How? Be with life as it is and as it is not. I wish you well and it will not make a difference. You, only you, are the difference that can make a difference to your experience of your living. Your destiny lies in you.
This post continues the conversation that I started in the previous post where a ‘sister’ reached out to me for help, for advice, for my point of view as she was and may still be suffering.
Let’s set the ground for this conversation
Look into the matter deeply and you might just find that we human beings do not have access to the truth. If you are scientifically minded then study what has been taken for knowledge and ‘truth’ and you might just find that ‘truth’ is always provisional and ‘truths’ have come and gone. Once ‘truth’ was that the heavens revolved around the Earth and women were held to be inferior to men – some men, tribes and religions still cling to the belief that women are inferior to men and are the property/playthings of men. I remember standing up to my parents so that my sister could go to University and create her own life rather than have a forced marriage thrust upon her.
How best to illustrate, provide your for a feeling for what I am pointing at? Allow me to share a sufi tale with you. A sufi master is said to have told the following story:
‘Finding I could speak the language of ants, I approached one and enquired, “What is God like? Does he resemble the ant?” He answered, “God? No, indeed – we have only a single sting but God, he has two!”‘
Which is not to say that all viewpoints, all the places we choose to stand are equal in value. If you are driving in the UK it makes huge difference as to whether you drive on the left (the UK viewpoint) or the left (USA/Continental Europe). The same applies to Life: some vantage points are simply more useful for tilting the table towards the ‘workability’ of life. So the point of view that I share is not the truth. I make no such claim yet I do assert that living from the vantage point that I am sharing can increase the ‘workability’ of your life. Now that we are clear on this lets move on to the conversation itself.
All kinds of unhelpful/disempowering feelings & thoughts can show up in our lives
Sister I notice that all kinds of thoughts and feelings are showing up in your life: feeling lost; feeling the loss of physical intimacy; feeling lost and alone; feeling the burden of uncertainty/insecurity; feeling unwanted; feeling you don’t belong; longing for the one; thinking and believing there is something wrong with you…….
It might occur to you that you are all alone, that this is only showing up in your life. You are not alone. Many, many of us have experienced these thoughts, these feelings at some point in our lives. How many thousands are thinking/feeling this way right now? Allow me to share a story with you.
“One day a mother turned up to the abode of a holy man clutching the body of her dead baby. She was in so much pain and she pleaded, again and again, with the holy man to bring her baby back to life. The holy man listened patiently and then told the mother that indeed he could help her. And in order for him to help her he needed her to go back to her village and bring back a glass of water – but only from a household which had never experienced death.
The mother went back to her village and started knocking on doors. Each household was more than willing to give her a glass of water. Yet the water was of no use as every household had lost someone – grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, friend……
After knocking on all the doors and finding no household, no person, left untouched by loss of someone dear the mother returned to the holy man. This time she was lighter because she had gotten that loss, sorrow and death touch us all – an intrinsic part of human life.”
How about living from this stand: whole-complete-perfect?
So ‘sister’ you are no less than anyone else on this planet. Suffering is not a sign that there is something wrong with you, that you are defective. Loss, pain, sorrow, suffering come as intrinsic to human existence on this planet of ours. You are whole-complete-perfect just as you are and just as you are not. How about standing in that space? The space of “I declare myself to be whole-complete-perfect just as I am and am not!”
You (and I) are neither our thoughts nor our feelings
Sister, being a woman, it is quite possible that you may find the following a struggle. And I say there is value in listening to what I am about to say. I say that you and I are neither our thoughts nor our feelings! That’s right I get that thoughts and feelings are present and I say that you are not these thoughts nor these feelings. Do you disagree? Does this upset you? Bear with me and let’s explore.
Do you choose the thoughts that pop up into your mind? Just sit and meditate even for five minutes, keep a blank mind, think no thoughts. What happened? Did a stream of thoughts simply show up? Did you choose to think these thoughts? If you are honest you know that you did not choose these thoughts, they simply pop up in your house of being without your bidding. Look deeper and you will find that some of these thoughts hook you and others don’t – they show up, they disappear.
What about your feelings? Do you choose them? Do you choose to feel sad, miserable, joyful? If you look deeply you will find that feelings show up in your house of being uninvited just like your thoughts. And you will find that some feelings show up more often than others. You are also likely that some feelings hook you more than others – they stay longer, you connect with them more deeply. And all feelings fade away whether you want them to or not.
Do you still find what I say difficult to accept? Imagine that you are throwing a party and a you get a village load of people turning up at this party – some invited and some ‘gatecrashers’. Does your Self expand to include these people? Do you ever say to yourself I am all – me, the people that I have invited and the ‘gatecrashers’? No, you do not. What is more once you noticed the ‘gatecrashers’ you would ask them to leave and if they did not you would call the police so as to eject these unwelcome ‘gatecrashers’, right?
How are the thoughts and feelings that show up in your house of being any different to the ‘gatecrashers’? And why do you collapse them with yourself and call them your feelings, your thoughts? I say that you do that because you have been born into a culture that says and teaches you that the thoughts and feelings that show up for you are yours – they constitute an integral part of yourself. And that is why you latch onto them and confuse them with yourself. Yet you are not the thoughts and feelings that show up and then disappear!
Do you want access to freedom?
If you want access to freedom then I invite you to live from this sand: “I am the context and not the content. I am the house of being not the furniture that turns up, stays around, wears it, is thrown out. I am the chooser not the chosen (content) nor the ‘gatecrashers’ (thoughts/feelings/moods) that show up in my house of being uninvited . I choose and declare myself to be the possibilities that I project and the stand/s that I take in life!”
You might be wondering how that gives you freedom. Allow me to illustrate with a personal example. Last week I was in considerable pain – some days I spent curled up in bed, some nights I did not sleep at all. Then Friday morning arrived and it was the first morning that I felt OK. Months ago I had agreed to meet a ‘friend that I had not yet met face to face’ and his guests for an informal chat in London. That informal gathering was due to start at 4pm. What to do? Do I take a chance and drive into London – an hour drive? Or do I play it safe and rest given that I have already let my friend know that I am ill and might not make it? The day showed up as being miserable: dark clouds and heavy rain.
What thoughts and feelings showed up? Thoughts: don’t go, stay at home, it is safer (more accidents on the roads in this kind of weather), it is the right thing to do as I need to rest, and if I do go and am unwell then my wife/family will criticise me. Feelings: confused, worried, scared – about doing the wrong things, making my health situation worse.
What did I do? I chose to be my stand: to honour my word as myself. I got into the car at 14:45 and headed into London in the pouring rain. Half and hour later the noticeboard showed speed restriction and a blocked lane, long delays – an accident had indeed occurred on the motorway. This was a great excuse to turn the car around and head back home. Those thoughts did pop up in my mind: look you have done your best, you have kept your word, no disgrace in heading home. What did I do? I chose to play full-out to honour my word. I diverted onto minor roads and found myself a different route into London. I arrived 15 minutes late and yet I did turn up and I am proud of myself: I choose not to allow the uninvited thoughts and feelings to deflect me from my stand in life.
You, I , we can choose to relate to ourselves as the possibilities that we invent live from/live into and the stand/s that we take in life. You, I, we can get and live from the stand that we are not the thoughts and the feelings that pop up, stay a while, disappear, reappear in our minds/bodies/lives.
Living from this context we can let go of “I am feel insecure or helpless” and replace it with “How interesting I notice insecurity and helplessness are present, I wonder how they ended up in my house of being.” And living from this context you can let the thoughts and feelings that show up, simply be, whilst you continue to be ruthless in living from/into the possibilities that you have invented and the stands you have taken.
I guarantee that if you live from the context that I have outlined above your experience of living will be transformed. You will relate to yourself as a powerful human being. If you do that then you can drop the need to take more courses to fix yourself. How/why? Because you are already whole-complete-perfect and as such there really is nothing to fix and no course will fix it!
Ultimately it comes down to choice. Whether you choose to live from the context of whole-complete-perfect, living from/into the possibilities that you invent and the stands you take. Are you up for that ‘sister’?
A ‘sister’ reaches out
Recently a ‘sister’ reached out to me to share aspects of her experience of her life and to ask for my advice:
“I am feeling lost without anchors in my life. I guess I am feeling the loss of physical intimacy, someone to just be there to hold me when I’m feeling lost and alone. Work stability and security in an organisation that is chaotic with recurring re-structuring and transfers.
It is bearing me down, the uncertainty in my workplace and bearing the responsibility of taking care of 3 growing kids, with sometimes no one to talk to for parenting advice.
I guess I had reached a point where I was just very, very tired and feeling as if I don’t belong or wanted both in my work-place and in my personal space. Tired of searching for ‘the one’ to be my life companion – whilst desperately longing for one. Sometimes believing that I am flawed in some way that is preventing that from coming into being.
I tend to always fall for men that are dominant and players. It is difficult for me to be attracted to someone who is less witty and dominant, as I have a strong character. Although I know that it will always lead to hurt and abandonment, am like a moth to a flame.
People, friends have said I am strong and a survivor from what they see. I know I am a survivor, but the scars have been deep and plenty. I don’t feel very strong most of the time, struggle to overcome my feelings of insecurity and capabilities.
I always feel that there is constant turbulence in my life both at work and in my personal life. How do I continue when I’m feeling so tired and hopeless.“
Warning: I am not ‘God’ and do not have ‘solutions’ to life
Before I dive into the heart of the matter I wish to make it plain that I am not in a position to provide advice. I am clear that I am not ‘God’ and as thus I have no solutions to life. To take that orientation is to see life as a ‘problem’ – we search for solutions to problems. Perhaps life is simply a gift that we are granted or it is a challenge/opportunity to help us unfold, develop and flower in our unique way in the process playing our part and contributing to the bigger play called ‘Life’. Perhaps life is simply a mystery that can never be solved, only lived.
“How do I continue when I am feeling so tired and hopeless?”
Sister, rest assured that if you do not actively interfere with your automatic machinery (that goes with being human) then you will continue and you do not have to figure out how you will continue. What do I mean? I mean that by virtue of being human and being here, you have been granted a fierce will to survive and an array of capacities that enable you to survive. Put differently, to be human is to be a formidable survival organism – one that continues because its design is to continue itself for as long as it can. That is to say your ‘human machinery’ will take care of surviving/continuing if you do not get in it’s way.
Who and what is the cause of tiredness and hopelessness?
When you ask this question (How do I continue…..?) what you are saying is that ‘the story that you are telling yourself about your future’ is leaving you feeling tired and hopeless.
In the Western world, Sunday is a day of relaxation – it is where you can take it easy, meet up with friends and family, do what you enjoy doing. It should be the ‘happiest’ day of the week. Yet, research shows that it is the ‘unhappiest’ day of the week for many people. Why? Because many of these people are looking into the future and what they are present to is being at work, slaving away at work they do not enjoy, on the Monday. Which is the best/happiest day of the week? Friday. Why? Because whilst these people are in the office (where they do not want to be) they are not really in the office. Instead they are living into the future that is the weekend – who they will be with, where they will be, what they will be doing……..
So let’s be clear on this: what gives you your being today, right now, is the future that you are living into. Here is what Alan Watts says in his book (The Wisdom of Insecurity):
“Human beings appear to be happy just as long as they have a future to which they can look forward – whether is be a “good time” tomorrow or an everlasting life beyond the grave.
So what can you do about ‘tiredness and hopelessness’?
You can choose to be resolute and fierce in your living. You can choose to relate to yourself as a ‘force of nature’ with awesome qualities – all that you need to live fully right now and into the future.
You can get present to the fact that you really do not know how the future will turn out (and thus is open to invention). You really do not know. And even if something ‘bad’ happens you do not know how that will turn out. What shows up as ‘bad’ or a ‘catastrophe’ today, can show up later as the best thing that happened to me, just what I needed to grow, to develop, to move forward on to a new path.
You can choose not to listen to nor create a story about a future – a dismal future – that leaves you feeling tired and hopeless. If one part of you is throwing up this story, then don’t buy into it. And that is a whole lot easier if you embrace my next suggestion.
You can, right now, deliberately create a story about you and your future that genuinely leaves you moved-touched-inspired-uplifted. What kind of a future, if you created it now and lived it now (as if it were real right now) would leave you genuinely moved-touched-inpsired-uplifted?
You can choose to focus on what works in your life, what you can be grateful for right now. What if you had all the challenges that you have right now and you lost your eyesight? What would that be like? What if one or more of your three children fell ill with a serious disease? What would that be like?
You can choose to spend time and focus upon those who are less fortunate than you. If you do that then you will both lose sight of yourself (and your suffering) whilst you are helping others less fortunate than you. Indirectly this helping, this intimate contact with those less fortunate than you will leave you more grateful for the blessings – sight, speech, hearing, movement etc – in your life. Finally, you are most likely to show up for yourselves as a ‘god’ rather than a ‘beggar’. For most of us it is impossible to ‘give of ourselves’ to the less fortunate and not to receive more back in return.
What if you simply you cannot change your circumstances?
Lets, just assume that you face circumstances that you simply you cannot change. Then what can you do, how can you be about that? Here is what Viktor Frankl says: “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“I broke my neck but it did not break me. I am at present helpless and this handicap will remain with myself apparently forever. But I would not give up my studies. I went because of my own helplessness to help other people. I want to become a psychologist to help others. My suffering will add an essential contribution to my ability to understand and help others.”
Please notice that this young man has chosen to be fiercely resolute. He has invented a future that gives his life meaning and within which his unchangeable circumstances show up as an asset rather than a tragedy. He has created a story that moves-touches-inspires-uplifts hims. It is the story that is giving him being – a powerful desire to live to contribute to be of help to those facing helplessness – rather than his circumstances. It is ALL story: life is ALL story. How life show up for you is a function of the story that you are living into/from.
You can watch an interview with this young man (Jerry Long) and Viktor Frankl: http://youtu.be/1_lmMl4P7cQ
I will continue the conversation in the next post – there is so much to ‘grapple with’ here and it requires more than one post.
“If only” and “Someday”
What is it you tell yourself? Isn’t it something like “If only I had the money/food/love/sex/fame/power/status…. then I’d be happy and everything would be perfect”? Which tends to go along with “Someday when I have the money/food/love/sex/fame/power/status/perfect partner…. everything will be just great, I will be happy”.
Are you and I chasing after the right stuff?
I have a question for me, for you: “How do you know that when you get what you are after – money, fame, love, sex, power – you will be happy?” Put differently, before you spend your life chasing something in order to be happy might it not be useful to question if you are chasing after the right stuff? Lets take a walk with Timothy D Wilson in his book Strangers to Ourselves:
“Imagine that you are part of a grand experiment in which you are provided with everything you need. At regular intervals you are given gifts of money, food, love, sex, fame – whatever you want. The only catch is that you can do nothing that increases or decreases the likelihood of obtaining these rewards. In fact, in order to receive the rewards, you have to spend eight hours a day in a room doing nothing – no career to occupy your time, no one to talk to, no books to read, no paintings to paint, no music to compose – in short, nothing to engage you.”
How do this show up for you? Look you are being offered everthing that you are chasing! Not only that, you get everything that you are chasing after with no effort on your part. That’s right, sit back and put your feet up. Are you raring to go, to take the plunge wholeheartedly, to take up this offer?
“Even though you can get any reward you want, this would be a hellish life. Compare it to quite different existence, in which the tangible rewards are modest. You make only enough money to meet your basic needs and have few luxuries. But you spend every day absorbed in activities you love.”
What do you really love doing? What do you enjoy doing simply for the doing? What is it that so involves you that lose your self, you lose track of time, even if you end up being ‘tired’ you are not tired, you are uplifted?
“In such extreme cases few of us would choose the first life over the second. In everyday life, however, I think people sometimes opt for lives more like the first one. I see undergraduates striving for careers that will pay them lots of money but doom them to mind-numbing daily routines (tax law comes to mind but that might just be me). The second kind of life is that of the struggling artist, a social worker who loves to make a difference in people’s lives, or, I suppose, tax attorneys who are really turned on by the latest changes in Roth IRAs. Daily absorption is more important than the paycheck at the end of the month, as long as the paycheck covers our basic needs.”
Which brings me back to the central questions – for me, for you, for us
How do you know that when you get what you are after – money, fame, love, sex, power – you will be happy?
Are you ok with living a life of drudgery, of meaninglessness, in order to simply fit in, be comfortable, be approved of and in the hope that someday you will have all that you need to be happy?
What do you really love doing? What do you enjoy doing simply for the doing? What is it that so involves you that lose your self, you lose track of time, even if you end up being ‘tired’ you are not tired, you are uplifted?
Here is my experience : I have been profoundly happy/fulfilled – singing and smiling – cleaning toilets. And I have been profoundly unhappy staying at a five star hotel, in a ‘beautiful’ city, driven around in fancy cars and eating in fancy restaurants! I have been profoundly bored in ‘safe places doing safe stuff’ and on the edge of my seat, fully alive, fully immersed, totally fulfilled and joyous sitting a jeep being driven along one of the worlds most scenic and dangerous routes. This blog is just another vehicle for access to joy, to self-expression, to be the stand I have chosen to be: I love sharing what I have learned, I love sharing my experience, I love being of service/contributing to my fellow human beings.
Here is,perhaps, the most radical question
What if happiness is something that you bring to the table, that you put into life, rather than something that you have to search for, dig for, to beg for, to build brick by brick? Really what if you can choose to be happy right now and bring that happiness to the game of life, to your living such that wherever you are happiness shows up? If you are open to entering into this conversation then please check out this post that I wrote some time ago: “Happiness: a master speaks and shows the way (not for the faint hearted)”
Some years ago waking up at around 2am pain was present in my chest and breathing occurred as painful and difficult. “Aha asthma attack, relax, focus on breathing, all will be ok”. After waiting for ten minutes or so it did not get better, it got worse. Walked to the windows, open them wide, stood there and breathed. “This will make the difference, it has always done so before.” It doesn’t make a difference, pain becomes worse, breather becomes shallower. “Am I going to die?” Panic. Then the
Thought arrives with absolute conviction “Time is running out, I am going to die this night”. Absolutely calm. “What is there to do before I die?” Another thought “Ring the people closest to me, those that have contributed the most, the people who will miss my presence.” Rang mobile phones and then peacefully waited for death to arrive. Completely calm. Later, knocking on the door. Walked slowly down the stairs and opened the door. “It’s my sister!” She drives me to hospital, doctor does his stuff, I live.
More difficulty in making peace with ‘ill health’
Spent my childhood in and out of hospitals – didn’t like it one bit. You can argue that I should be grateful: ‘Ill health’ was the reason that my father bought my mother and us (2 boys) over to the UK from Pakistani administered Kashmir. If that had not happened life would have turned out differently – probably would not be writing this.
Nonetheless, ‘ill health’ does not sit well with me, it shows up as unwanted, an unwelcome guest. ‘Ill health’ signifies lack of control and dependency on others – detest not being in control, detest being dependent on others, that is the story of childhood. “Death is preferable to being ill and dependent on others!” That is what shows up for me again and again. Looks life life has other plans.
Not been feeling well for the last month or so. Ignored it at first and got on with stuff – work, reading, writing, playing… ‘Illness’ did not go away, just got stronger: stomach pain, loss of appetite, tiredness…… Difficult to concentrate on that which interests me including writing this blog. Not able to eat Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Woke up this morning with stomach ache, could not eat, just had tea. Several hours later ate a banana. Pain, more pain, more pain, toilet. No lunch. Mid afternoon: hunger. Ate portion of omelette. Pain, pain, pain – afternoon of pain. I started to feel sorry for myself.
Be Thankful: a wonderful, uplifting poem delivered by a friend far away
Just when the temptation to play ‘victim’ to feel sorry for myself was the strongest, I received a gift from a friend:
Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.
It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.
Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.
Getting present to that which calls forth thankfulness/gratitude
All the days and times good health has been present
All the times when ‘ill health’ was present and the doctors and nurses who did their best to make me better
The delicious food I have eaten in restaurants around the world – Paris, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Rome, Milan, London, Madrid, Lisbon, Stuttgart, Copenhagen, Amsterdam……
Fine, freshly cooked, delicious meals served by my wife for the last 17+ years – rare is the time that the food was not fresh, not delicious
The beautiful places that I have spent time in / trekked in: Yosemite, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, The Pyrenees, The Alps, Lake Annecy, Lake Geneva, coastline of Senegal……
Sports played/enjoyed: tennis, badminton, table-tennis, cricket, football, trekking, cycling, paragliding – how great it is to be in the air hanging by a ‘thread’!
Today, grateful for the sunshine on my face, the bench in garden to rest upon, love and kindness that flows from daughter…..
Today, grateful for the care shown by doctors and that live in country where medical treatment is free. Friend in USA is in similar condition and he has no access to healthcare – not rich enough for medical insurance, not poor enough for free medical care!
So much to be grateful for: beauty of flowers in the garden, the wonder/joy of music, ‘taking a course’ in existential philosophy via the iPad that was gifted to me by my sister, listening to the kind words of daughter, hug from daughter, can move, can write, can read, can touch, can be and do so much.
Grateful that am not in living hell like that which lived/experienced by JDB who found himself fully awake and locked into a ‘dead’ body.
Thankful and grateful for the life that had gone by, the life that is, the life that lies ahead.
What am I to be, to do, to have in this world?
How do I decide what/how I am to be in this world? How do I decide what to do, how to conduct myself, what to chase after in this world? Of all questions these are the most important questions and they do not have easy answers.
Given that these are the most difficult questions and there are no ready made answers how do I answer these questions? The default is simply to follow the herd: look around me and buy into the way of life that everyone around has bought into. Look deeply and you will notice that we human beings are herd animals. We just don’t use the word herd instead we use softer more appealing words like ‘community’, ‘profession’, ‘vocation’, ‘nation’…..
“It’s all made up!”
If we are fortunate there will be glitches in the ‘matrix of the taken for granted every day life’ and we will notice these glitches.
I noticed these glitches. I would go to school and be told “X is great, this is the right way to be, the right thing to do…” and I’d get home and I would be told “X is totally wrong! It is the wrong way to be, the wrong thing to do, the wrong thing to chase after…”. At home I would learn a set of views/practices and upon arriving at school I’d be told that these were wrong. I was lucky enough to be born into one culture and live in it whilst at home and then be embedded in a different culture during school hours.
At the age of about 8/9/10 I remember thinking “Its’ all made up!” That was the most liberating thought of my life – it changed/directed the course of my life. I focussed on school work rather than religion. I studied Physics rather then Biology and thus dashed my parents hopes of becoming a doctor. I went to a university far from my parents home rather than one nearer home. I chose my wife rather than get an arranged marriage. I made friends irrespective of their colour, their race or their religion instead of sticking with my ‘own kind’. I questioned things and asked difficult questions rather than accept the ready made answers….
Being with the herd does not make you ‘right’, going away from the herd does not make you ‘wrong’
Most of us will experience a series of glitches in the ‘matrix of our taken for granted way of thinking and living’ and one or more of these will grab our attention and open our eyes so that we see beyond the surface. When we see beyond the surface we may come to the conclusion we are living a false life, a shallow life, a mindless life, a meaningless life, a joyless life, someone else’s life. Then we are confronted with choice: act/reclaim our life as ours or to go back to being with the herd and pretend we never saw what we saw.
Most of us lull ourself back to sleep and get back to following the herd. And if we don’t do that then the people around us act on us with more and more force to get us back in the pen with the rest of the herd. Our argument, their argument is often that the herd cannot be wrong, we must be wrong. With that in mind and with a commitment to leave us with the freedom to transform our lives I share with you the following passage from R.D. Laing’s book, The Politics of Experience:
“From an ideal vantage point from the ground, a formation of planes may be observed from the air. One plane may be out of formation. But the whole formation may be off course. The plane that is ‘out of formation’ may be abnormal, bad or ‘mad’ from the point of view of the formation. But the formation itself may be bad or mad from the point of view of the ideal observer. The plane that is out of formation may be also more or less off course than the formation….
In particular, it is of fundamental importance not to confuse the person who may be ‘out of formation’ by telling him that he is ‘of course’ if he is not. It is of fundamental importance not to make the positivist mistake of assuming that, because a group is in formation, this means they are necessarily ‘on course‘.….. Nor is it necessarily the case that the person who is ‘out of formation’ is more ‘on course’ than the formation……
If the formation is itself off course, then the man who is really to get ‘on course’ must leave the formation.”
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….