Playing BIG In The Presence of Death – Death of a Good Friend


Richard HornbyI last saw my friend Richard Hornby on Sunday 4th March 18 when we shared three hours of our lives with one another. He was in bed, in a room by himself, in a hospice for the terminally ill. I woke him up with “Hello Richard!” He was pleased to see me, and I was pleased to see him. We talked. We brought to life shared memories of times gone by. We laughed with one another.

And I helped him with the little things that had become huge things: getting fresh/cold water and helping him to drink it; helping him eat his fruit salad  – the only thing he wanted to eat from his lunch; intervening on his behalf with the doctor to get his pain addressed; and getting the nurses to give him the morphine that the doctor prescribed.

After taking his morphine and as he was about to go to sleep I took my leave with “I’ll be coming over to see you next weekend.”  I did not get to keep that promise. The next day, in the evening, I was told that my friend had died: He had died peacefully – spared physical pain, and the indignity of being at the mercy of others.

Even today, two weeks later, tears flow when I allow myself to be present to that which is so: my friend is no longer – there will never be another occasion when we walk together, eat together, talk together, laugh together.  I get that he died at the right time – and I am delighted by that. This, intellectual view of the matter, does not do away with the grief/sadness that is present in me right now.

What has helped me to work with the death of my friend and the loss of our friendship is me asking myself this question: “What does playing BIG look like in the presence of loss – the loss of dear friend?” Being with this inquiry I found an abode of peace. And this inquiry helped turn my attention toward Richard himself: what is it that I so admired/liked about him?

What is it that my friend Richard embodied?  What way of being-in-the-world showed up when Richard showed up?  A certain humbleness / lightness that tends to be present in those who do not see themselves as more important than others. A disposition towards looking at life in the manner of the glass is half-full.  His being there for me whenever I needed and asked for his help. And, his unflappability:

What does playing BIG look like in the face of Richard’s death? My answer  for myself is manifold:

  • To accept the sadness and allow the tears to flow down my cheeks without embarrassment;
  • To allow myself to feel the full strength of grief as in the kind of grief where one cries from the stomach with the whole of one’s being;
  • To remember our times together and the contribution he made to my existence – the times that I needed his help and he was there for me; and
  • To keep in existence, as in embody, that which I value/admire about Richard – his humility, his genuineness, his helpfulness, and his unflappability.

I realise that what has allowed me to Play BIG with his death is that I played BIG before he died. When he told me 10 months ago he had terminal brain cancer I cried. And then I  made and lived this commitment – to walk by his side, to make a positive difference to his existence in the face of his impending death.

How am I doing in keeping in existence that which Richard embodied? Badly as in failing more than succeeding. Is that bringing me down? No. Why not? This is a conversation about Playing BIG and that necessarily involves stretching – taking on that which lies to some extent beyond that which one is today.  If I already embodied all the qualities of Richard that I admire/value then I probably would not have valued/admired Richard as much as I do.  Put differently, sometimes Playing BIG is a marathon rather than a dash for the finishing line.

I dedicate this conversation to Richard Hornby. A human being that called forth both affection and respect from many if not all.

 

Tears


The domain of experience: what is so

Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears. Tears.  Tears.  Tears.  Tears.

The domain of mind/concept: the ‘story’ that shows up uninvited

This is so sad:he was so young, had so much to live for.

This is painful: I will miss him; and I will miss her.

Why do I feel so sad?

Why so many tears?

I am soft, I am sensitive …..

What will my wife and children think seeing me tearful?

Stop being such a woman, be a man!

Pull yourself together, don’t let your guests see you this way.

Tears are part of the human condition.

Tears are a sign that you care, that you are human, that you are not a robot.

What is the right thing to do by his family, her family?

Blah. Blah. Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.

Getting it!

It is resisting the experience.  It is taking flight into the domain of mind, of concept, of story!

What one resists, persists!

Being with what is so: the domain of experience

Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Tears.

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


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

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

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

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

‘Extraordinary’ living: be with what shows up

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

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

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

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

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

Remember:

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

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