Each Of Us Is More Than S/he Seems


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

 

 

 

 

Insights Into Human Nature & The Human Condition


I want to continue, flesh out, and give some concreteness to that which I shared in this  post: What Is Our Fundamental Nature? Is It All Made Up?  What better way to do that than share the insights of ‘sensitive’ human being (Ted Simon) who spent four years travelling around the world on a motorbike in order to come face to face with life, and experience-feel all that goes with being truly alive:

The concept of the Self seemed to connect with my own thought …. of being made of the stuff of the universe, all pervading and imperishable.  The Truth was in the stuff itself, revealed in the natural order of things.You have only to merge with the world to know the Truth and find your Self. 

There are shapes and forms which arise out of the natural order. Trees, caves and animal architecture lead naturally to thatched roofs, stone houses and mud walls. If you knew this you would not choose to put up a roof in corrugated iron. Nor would you think of throwing a plastic bag in a stream, not because of what you have been told about pollution, but because the idea of a plastic bag is offensive in itself. Without this sense of what is naturally fitting you can be cleaning up the world with one hand and spreading poison with the other.

It surprised me to discover that this sense of rightness does not appear naturally in people, even though they live in the heart of nature. In my own village in France the same people who fished the stream shoved every possible kind of refuse and sewerage into them, even when offered a convenient alternative. In Nepal, where not a single engine or power line disturbs the mediaeval rusticity of the Himalayan valleys, people shit in the rivers with a dogmatic persistence ensuring that every village is infected by what the people upstream have got.

The Truth obviously does not reveal itself unaided to humans. It has to be uncovered by an effort of consciousness. Or, more likely, it exists only in human consciousness. Without man to recognise it, there is no Truth, no God.

Yet it is not consciousness that governs the world, nor even ideology, nor religious principle nor national temperament. It is custom that rules the roost. In Colombia it was custom to do murder and violence. In a period of ten years some 200,000 people were said to have been killed by acts of more or less private violence. Yet I found the Colombians at least as hospitable, honourable and humane, as the Argentines, whose custom is merely to chat. Arabs have the custom of showing their emotions and hiding their women. In Sudan it is customary to be honest. In Thailand dishonesty is virtually a custom, but so is giving gifts to strangers. 

Every possible variation of nudity and prudishness is the custom somewhere as with eating habits, toilet practices, to spit or not to spit; and almost all of these customs have become entirely arbitrary and self-perpetuating. Above all it is customary to suspect and despise people in the next valley, or state, or country, especially if their colour or religion is different. And there are places where it is customary to be at war, like Kurdistan or Vietnam.

Speaking of the more vicious customs, and of men who should have known better, St Francis Xavier  said a long time ago: ‘Custom is to them in the place of law, and what they see done before them every day they persuade themselves may be done without sin. For customs bad in themselves seem to these men to acquire authority and prescription from the fact they are commonly practiced.’

Custom is the enemy of awareness, in individuals as much as in societies. It regularises the fears and cravings of everyday life. I wanted to shake them off. I wanted to use this journey to see things whole and clear, for I would never pass this way again. I wanted to be rid of the conditioning of habit and custom. To be the slave of custom, at any level, is much like being  a monkey, an ‘ape of the wayward senses’. To rise above it is already something like becoming a god.

Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

Get real!


Mitt Romney‘s wealth is estimated to be between US$190-250m. He was the CEO of Bain & Co (renowned management consultancy).  He co-founded Bain Capital one of the largest private equity firms in the USA.  He was the the Governor of Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006.  He then got busy on his ambition to become president of the USA.   Just keep this in mind, I will come back to Mitt Romney later in this post.

I notice that a lot of people are hurting.  I notice that some of the people that are hurting, are hurting so badly that they are on their knees.  Thankfully, I am not one of these people.  You might be one of them. What am I talking about?   I am talking about the tough economic times in the western world (Greece, Spain, UK, USA..) where many people have lost their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods.  This is new for us – not new for many others that live in this world that peoples us and is our home.

In many parts of the world life is difficult and has been difficult for a long time.  It is not only difficult it is oftentimes harsh/brutal/unforgiving.  Because this applies to just about everyone (except the elite) people in these parts of the world do not say “I am in this position because of me.  If I am in this position then that means there is something wrong with me.  I have failed.  I am defective….”  Nor do they go about saying that about others.

This is not a luxury that is available to those of us who live in protestant countries especially the UK and the USA.  Why?  Because the dominant narrative and thus listening that one person has for another is as follows: how your life turns out depends on you; look everyone, EVERYONE, can make it; if you have not made it then you must be responsible; you are at fault – you are the source of the hardship that you are experiencing.  With this narrative comes a lack of compassion, kindness and generosity towards one another.

What is astounding is that so many people in the USA/UK have bought into this myth that they are hard on themselves.  That is to say that you/I find ourselves on our knees and we  blame ourselves.  We are ashamed of ourselves.  We berate ourselves.  We think that we have failed and that there is something wrong with us.  “Look, I live in a country where ANYONE can make it.  I have not made it so there must be something wrong with me!”  Put differently, we lack compassion towards ourselves because we have a FAULTY map of the world.

I say get real.  I say get that you/I are not Gods – we are mortals and as mortals our circumstances and our destiny is to some extent ‘shaped by the Gods’.  The Greeks got this beautifully.  The Greeks got that at the end of the day man is subject to the ‘whim of the Gods’ and the best that s/he can do is to ‘fight the good fight’.  This is what makes the human situation a tragic one; we are not like the stone, the plant nor the tiger – we can do so much; and yet we are mere mortals, not Gods.  This might not be concrete enough for you so allow me to make it real by going back to Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney lost!  He spent six years of his life and a spent something in the region of US$750m and he lost.  The richest person to run for the presidency lost.  One of the most influential people in the USA did not get to realise his ambition.  Many thought he was going to win.  He, himself, thought he was going to win and so had a massive celebration including fireworks planned.  And how did it work out?  He lost!  All his wealth, his fame, his track record, his influence, the $750m he spent .. did not get him the presidency.  In Greek terms ‘the Gods’ were not on his side, they favoured Obama.

I say get real!  I say be compassionate towards those who are hurting right now – whether that is your fellow man or yourself.  We are not masters of our fate.  Whilst we can do a lot, we cannot shape, entirely, how our lives turn out or how the world turns out.  

Werner Erhard, found this out in 1991.  Many thousands of people flocked to take part in his seminars (est, and later the forum).  Werner created ‘transformation’ and he touched many lives – indirectly he has touched mine through my  participation in the courses delivered by Landmark Education.   Werner preached ‘responsibility’.  He urged the est participants to take responsibility for their lives – just they are and are not – rather than play ‘victim’ and blame others.   Werner was soaring at the heights – both in terms of the impact he was making and his fame/fortune.  Then in early 1991 he found out that CBS News were going to show a programme that was going to ruin his reputation.  Despite his best, including his offer of taking a lie detector test, he could not persuade CBS News not to run the programme.  And he left the USA and found himself in exile – reputation ruined.  Many years later the allegations in the CBS News were retracted. And the impact on his life had been made – there was no ‘going back’.

Finally, I say that if you/I find ourselves on the receiving end of the ‘whims of the Gods’ like Werner did then we can put ourselves in a powerful position to be with and deal with what is so.  First we can be compassionate towards ourselves. Second, we can in the context of this compassion take responsibility for our lives – including getting ourselves off the floor.  Werner Erhard did just that.  He left the USA and he invented a new life for himself outside of the USA and he has been making an impact all over the world.

And finally, if you find one of our fellow human beings hurting and/or on the floor (emotionally, financially, physically) then I ask you to give that person a helping hand.  If you are finding that difficult because you are under the myth of ‘man as God’ that is so dominant in the USA (and to some extent in the UK) then I remind you of Mitt Romney, six years, $750m spent, and no presidency!

 

 

Beyond possibility: shaping the environment to call forth that which you wish to call forth


Inventing possibilities is not sufficient

It is not enough to invent possibilities; inventing possibilities does not lead to a transformation in the experience of my/your living.  If you/I are to experience a transformation in our experience of our living then the access to that transformation is inventing possibilities that leave us moved-touch-inspired.  Why?

It takes something say “activation energy'” to get us to be/act differently to the default that you/I have become accustomed and addicted to.  To use the analogy of the rocket, it takes a certain amount of energy to overcome gravity and get the rocket those two inches off the ground.  If that “activation energy” is not there then the rocket will continue resting on the ground.   Put differently, our habits run us – they run us without us even being aware that they run us.  Like the rocket, it takes a certain amount of mindfulness/effort/energy (“activation energy”) for you/I to break loose from these habits.  And you/I are most likely to put in the required effort when we are moved/touched (emotionally) and inspired to act.

I am inspired by the possibility of communication & relatedness with my children

A couple of months ago I invented the possibility of being intimately related to my children and vice versa such that we spent more time together and enjoyed the time that we spent together.  I was so moved-touched-inspired that I told my children that I would be available and present for them every day between 7pm and 9pm – to do whatever they wanted to do.  And that is exactly what I did.

How did it turn out?  Not as I had expected.  In the main the children were looking for me to play entertainer – to come up with ideas that appealed to them and then put on the show.  I soon ran out of ideas!  Truthfully, disappointment was present.  And I was struggling with how to generate that interaction and thus relatedness between us.

The hidden power of the context/situation/environment to call forth and shape behaviour

Then one evening I came home and noticed that the dining table had been converted into a table-tennis table.  It just so happens that we can all play table-tennis and most of us do enjoy playing it.  What showed up?  We showed up at the table-tennis table playing table-tennis.  Not only between 7pm and 9pm but also at other times.  The ‘table-tennis’ was calling us to play table-tennis and in the process relatedness was showing up – indirectly!

One day, I came home and noticed that the dining table was once more the dining table.  Then what showed up?  For sure no table-tennis showed up because there was no table-tennis table in the house.  I notice that the interaction that had been called forth by the table-tennis was no longer present – the children were in their rooms doing their own stuff.   And I was left missing the interaction with my children.   Now here is the puzzling thing.  I left the dining table as the dining table rather than make the effort to convert it a table-tennis table.  And over the course of a week or so I got used to the ‘lack of interaction’.  

A week or so later I came home and the table-tennis table was there again.  Delighted, I invited one of my children to play table-tennis.  He agreed and the interaction was there once more:  noticed that in the course of playing table-tennis we talked and laughed with one another – the relatedness was present once more.

Shape the context/environment/situation to call forth that which you wish to call forth in yourself and others

If you/I wish to transform our lives and our experience of our living then we have to act.  The default way of acting is to rely on willpower – to will ourselves to do what is necessary.  And over the longer term it does not work.  Experience and research studies show that willpower depletes itself and once depleted we find ourselves enmeshed in our defaults – our habits.  Yet there is another way, smarter way, to call forth the behaviours we desire.  What way?

I say the most powerful way is to shape the context/situation/environment to call forth the mode of being/acting that we wish to generate.  So if you wish to generate conversation, interaction and relatedness, for example, then stop that subscription to pay-tv, unplug that tv, put in a table-tennis table, make it a custom for everyone to sit around a table and eat together, introduce and play the game of three questions three answers……… If you want to exercise your ethical values then work for a enterprise that shares/exhibits/calls forth those ethical values.  If you want to be more laid back then live in a culture/people who are laid back…

And finally

When Martin Heidegger (‘the philosopher of being’) was offered a prestigious post in Berlin (the capital of Germany) he refused even though it was his dream job.  Why? Because he knew that the cosmopolitan/sophisticated/urban environment would shape him in ways that he was not up for being shaped. He also knew that the provincial and agricultural context/environment in which he lived/worked was the environment that nourished him as a person and as philosopher of being.

I have failed, am I a failure?


Karl Jaspers on failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have failed does that mean I am a failure?

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

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

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

A powerful access ‘extraordinary living’: whole, complete and perfect


Before I share with you a powerful access to ‘extraordinary’ living  I want to share with you what is so about ordinary living: the point of view that keeps is embedded in ordinary living and the price we pay.

Ordinary living: I am flawed, you are flawed

Dig into your experience, dive deep, and you will find that the culture tells you that you should be whole, complete, perfect.  Yes, you should!  Yet, the message that you (and I) have been getting from our parents, our school teachers, our colleagues, our media, our places of work, even our religions is that we are not whole, we are incomplete and we are imperfect.  Christianity is the dominant religion in the Western world and what does it say?  You are born a sinner and you have to seek redemption!  That is exactly what most of us buy into and do yet we fail to find that redemption because we are no a fool’s errand, we have a mistaken view of us, of life (more later in the post).

When you look at yourself, relate to yourself, experience yourself, you (and I) see ourself as something like this:

What is the price that I pay, you pay, he pays, she pays?  What is to like to know/feel/experience being not whole, not complete, imperfect when the culture around you spins the myth of perfection?  I know what that is like. You know what that is like!  He knows what it is like and she know what it is like.  We keep that shame of imperfection hidden.  We strive and strive and strive to be complete, to be perfect, to be whole.  Yet, the way that we go about is guaranteed to keep us rooted to being incomplete, broken, faulty, worthless, inferior, imperfect.  If you sense of wholeness / perfection is tied to your partner then what happens when your partner becomes unhappy with you, starts an affair, or leaves you?  If your sense of wholeness / perfection is tied to your job then what happens when you lose your job?  If it is tied to your wealth then what happens when you lose your wealth or are in danger of losing it?

The price that we pay is the cost of wearing a mask.  We can never put ourselves in the world as we are – we give up self-expression.  We can never build genuine human bonds – the cost is genuine relatedness with our fellow human beings.  We can never relax into the world – the cost is shows up as alcoholism, drug taking, stress, disease and an early death.  Right?

Access to ‘extraordinary’ living: “I am whole, complete, perfect – just as I am and I am not.  You are whole, complete, perfect – just as you are and just as you are not”

Look into Buddhism and you get a central insight into the human condition: we cause our suffering by living from/into an incorrect/false view of ourselves and the world.  The false view is that I, you, he, she, they, we are broken, incomplete, imperfect!

The correct, the right, view is that I am whole, complete and perfect, just as I am and just as I am not.  There is nothing to add and nothing to take away!  And that applies to everyone of us.  Sound philosophical to you?  It is.  Let me make it more concrete to you – take a look at the diagram below:

Do you see it?  Do you see / get the beauty of what is so?   Look at the diagram again.  If you look at each shape in isolation you can easily say that it is incomplete, imperfect, something missing – none of the shape are a square or a circle!  Now look at the picture as a whole – how the shapes connect to make a beautiful figure.   And the figure is never completed!  No matter how big it grows the design allows more and more piece to connect.  The design of the design is connection!  You only get this when you stop looking at one individual piece and start looking at the whole show.  Sound abstract?  Think about an orchestra – you can zoom into only one member of the orchestra or you can use a wide angle lens and see the whole orchestra.  Both are there!  Each individual member of the orchestra and the orchestra itself. 

Here is the truth of our design, of our situation, our existence on this planet:  we are social beings: you, me, they, we, have been designed for connection – we are perfectly designed for connection.  We have whole, complete and perfect for connecting with our fellow human beings.  Think about language and the connection it enables: I see you, you matter, you make a difference, your existence matters to me, you contribute, I love you.  Neuroscience tells us that we have mirror neurons:  I see you crying and seeing you crying, my mirror neurons enable me to feel/get your experience and thus I have the access to connect with you.

Look around you, look around you, wherever you want in the world.  What do you see?  People live with one another, people live next to one another, people work together, people trade with another.  Now think about this, you are invited to party you are told how amazing it will be – the food, the drinks, the place (say Hawaii or whatever your favourite place), the music will be just so, exactly they way you want it.  Can you imagine yourself at this party?  How delightful does it feel?  There is catch to this party.  No other human being will be present. The drinks and the food will be served by robots.  The dj taking care of the music will also be a robot.  How excited are you now?  Are you going to that party? No, right?  That is the truth of our being, our design, that we do not see and we are not encouraged to see.  Hell for us is solitary confinement: have you ever wondered why this is the harshest punishment meted out in prison?  Because the prison guards gets what is so – the truth of our design as human beings.  People matter to us. People contribute to us.  We are only human when we are connected to, contributing to, one another.

A movie recommendation: The Way

Are you up to getting present to what I am speaking about?  I recommend that you watch “The Way”: Michael Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to France to collect the remains of his dead son, killed in the Pyrenees while walking The Camino de Santiago.  Driven by profound sadness, and desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on this historical pilgrimage.  Tom navigates this 800km journey and soon meets others around the world, all looking for greater meaning in their lives.   This is a moving, inspiring movie that provides a powerful access to the human condition and our greatness.

And Finally

If you are still wondering about your greatness then let me repeat:  our greatness is that we are whole, complete and perfectly designed for reaching out, connecting, uplifting, healing, completing one another and generating a beautiful pattern called life on Earth.  I leave you with this picture to ponder – it is visual metaphor for our lives:

I thank you for your listening.   The context from which I am living my life is “I matter, you matter, they matter, we matter, let’s live extraordinary lives and co-create a world that works, none excluded”.  Are you up for joining me?  You Matter, your answer matters and shapes our world that we share!  I love you. I hope you will join me.