there is a strange depth and beauty in people who have endured great loss and suffering, innocent people are doe for a pastry waiting their turn to be cooked.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Act V, scene V
Everyone is shocked to the core by the tragic events this week at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. Politicians, experts and the public alike are asking, what drove Page to take so much arsenal and guns to kill defenseless men, women and children who are in prayer? Why did this happen? What can we learn? What can we change to avoid this in the future?
However, as horrific as these events are, I am sad to say these are but "walking shadows" - just stories that we will tire of hearing about soon enough, before they erode into into cocktail chatter and small talk and in the passage of time to signify nothing.
Nothing will be learned. Nothing will change. This is because as a society, we will not have the patience to sit with the pain and anguish long enough for change to take effect. We will not ask the tough questions long enough to make a real change in the way we think, live, educate and relate to one another.
Our media is a reflection of our incapacity to feel deeply and stay with a tragedy long enough to get to grips with its cause and take action to resolve such causes. We the general public get caught in murder fatigue. Killings are reduced into stories of "mishaps", misunderstandings and one off crazy people with a gun.
The anti-gun lobby will try to score some points. The gun lobby will lay the same script out. And this sad news story will fade till it is "heard no more" as it is replaced by another, new story a couple of weeks from now, and that one again, after that by another story.
The media frenzy over this story reflects the public emotional outpouring over Wisconsin. Both will die away in a couple of weeks. The public will tire of the "Sikh story" and a new hysteria will be found to fill the void. The public will bore and the ratings will require flesh supply of meat. And it is sad to say, there are enough crazy people out there to provide the means.
All the hate killings, the spousal abuse, child abuse, old age abuse and all the attacks and fights and pain and anguish we cause each other for no reason will continue. Why? Because hate begets hate. All this 'sound and fury' will signify nothing because angry young men will always destroy themselves and the innocent around them to prove a point that is not worth making.
There have been many attacks on innocent people following the 911 tragedy. An Sikh man (Balbir Singh Sodhi) trying to make ends meet by working in a gas station near Pheonix, Arizona is shot to death because he was wearing a turban. A young Christian Brazilian is shot by police in London (Jean Charles Menezes) because he looked like a Muslim. An Islamic taxi driver (Ahmed Sharif) is stabbed in the neck and face by an ignorant arts student in New York. Two Sikh pensioners taking a quiet evening walk in Elk Grove, California (Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal) are shot by kids screaming racist slurs. Surinder is wounded, Gurmej dies. Jaspal Singh is beheaded by the Taliban in Pakistan whilst on a pilgrimage to Sikh temples, for refusing to convert to Islam. Hundreds of such hate crimes but few of them ever make the headlines and those that do are reported as one off incidents, tragic mishaps. There is no attempt to surface a pattern, no time for any in depth analysis, they simply do not register. No candles are lit for them. There are no all night vigils. No long, heartfelt debates on news programs. No speeches. They do not matter. They signify - nothing!
Defenseless, innocent children, women and men praying in a church/ temple/ synagogue/ gurdwara/ mosque attacked, maimed and killed by a crazy gunman. This hits home. People who go to worship in their community feel vulnerable and unsafe, fear they might be next. They do not drive taxis or work in gas stations, so how could they relate to these one off incidents, even if the death toll and injury is just as great as this one event?
Even though the mass media lives off such tragedy, this is not about the media. The media is merely our mirror. The sound and fury it projects from its stage is the play we feast on. Blaming the media is like smashing a mirror because we don't like what we see. Our cold harsh reality is presented back to us not by an idiot but by a story-teller about idiots, us.
"All this I see, and I see that the fashion
wears out more apparel than the man.
But art not thou thyself giddy with
the fashion too, that thou hast shifted
out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?"
Much Ado about Nothing
(Act III, scene 3)
Truth is a stirring concept. But whose truth are we spinning? Who is spinning the truth that our reality is being spun on? We are stirred by poetry, movies, the colour of a car, a lovers embrace and a soap advert. We rush home to cook up a meal that will eventually kill us.
Reality shows are scripted. That is why they are called "shows". That is why we believe in them so much. If they were not scripted perhaps we would get bored and switch off and see the real things going on in our own lives?
We are paid a compliment and yet it costs nothing. Flattery lifts us up into the sky, leaves us twisting in the wind, fragile, vulnerable, needy. The more we want to be loved, the less lovable we are. We are found wanting in our wanting. Wanting more. Always wanting more. Because if we don't buy, we will die.
Reality shows are scripted. That is why they are called "shows". That is why we believe in them so much. If they were not scripted perhaps we would get bored and switch off and see the real things going on in our own lives?Beauty is not skin deep, it is botoxed, brush stroked and photoshopped. We know it and believe it anyway because we need real beauty to beautify in our lives, even though we are already beautiful. We are told which films and songs we like in awards shows so we can like them more.The only news that sells is the one that sells us out.
Men of God kill the creators creation, in "His" name. A man about to burn Korans in America is told this will stir a violent response, people will die. He burns them. People die. He justifies his act by pointing to the innocents who have died. One world condemns the other. The other world condemns them back. The rest of the world talks about how pointless all the violence is, as if that will make the slightest difference? Just like I am right now. This is how we spin.
Priests who abuse children are protected. Children who protest are shamed. Rich people lure poor kids to fight wars so they can make more money and send their own kids to better schools. Rich people's children are far too educated to be sent to the front line. We are told that the "war is won" but the peace is lost? We spin. We are spun. We spin the hand that spins us until spin is the only truth we know.
The truth is not down the road less travelled, that is a lie. Truth is an jagged rock that cuts open our heart, lulls us into a false sense of certainty as we slip into the abyss of nothingness. The more poignant the truth is, the more it hurts. This is why we hide from it at every turn.
Everybody cannot be our "Friend". We can never lead any of our "Followers". Just because a post has being Liked it does not mean we have been Loved. And we know it. And feel loved. Because this is our script. This the fashion of our times. We trip over ourselves to believe it.
I am going on and on and on, even though I am writing for no one. I am sitting here spinning this tale about being untrue for no one. And there you are reading this. Thank you for turning up. Thank you for making a liar out of me. And I really, really mean that. Thank you!
"What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?"
Hamlet (Act II, Scene II)
Why does being disillusioned get such a bad rap? Being deeply disappointed by a frustrated ideal or a false held belief is an awakening. Waking up is not the most comfortable routine in our day but consider the alternative?
To "relate" to another human being, don't we actually need to converse with them at some point? Not fill our finite time with small talk. Why are people so afraid of real feelings and intimacy? Why is an authentic conversations so rare?
Perhaps it is the belief that if I don't relate to others, they can't betray us and we will not get hurt? If so, what a painful way to go through life. Is this why we are so anesthetized? We waste an enormous amount of energy and time on anniversaries, birthdays and new year celebrations. Jumping for joy for what? Why are we so consumed with celebrating natural passages of time when what we should be celebrating is our awakening?
Sadness is a such a maligned emotion. Our wrinkles and scars are our road-map, why do we need to mask them? Disillusion is expressed in sadness. We gave sadness an evil name, call it a disease and even have pills to make it go away.
Sadness is a side effect of living, just as happiness is.
They are the unavoidable consequences of being alive, like breathing, eating, dying, sleeping and belching. Do we really want to live a life where we dare not relate or risk loving someone for fear of losing them?
Oversleeping doesn't make our dreams come true.
I have no interest in wishing away another day. I want each passing moments to count, in all its grime, hurt and bruising ambiguity. We don't get any of this once we are laid out like a plank to be washed away.
We possess nothing. This life is on rent. It is all a grand illusion. We don't matter and if waking up and getting out of bed is the worst part of my day and then that is why it is the best.
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are loved of more and less;
Thou makest faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem'd,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated and for true things deem'd.
How many lambs might the stem wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
SONNET XCVI (96)
“Fish not, with this melancholy bait
For this fool-gudgeon, this opinion”
The Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene I)
Whether we sneak into tweets, blogs or snogs to take a peak or open up the broadsheets and listen to a broadcast to be informed, every which way we turn we are pinned down by the ever expanding pine of opinion.
We are in the age of glum views and wall-to-wall disaster news. Never have so many people had such a global opportunity to complain so much about so little and avoid so easily that which matters most.
Filtering out what the truth is in all this noisy complaint is as big a gamble as any played in Las Vegas. Poisons have been sold, idiots have been elected and wars have been fought for less. Weapons of mass self deception cloud our weary eyes.
There's nothing wrong with negative opinions, some critiques are so finely tuned they border on art or good journalism. They are ethical, objective, grounded in realism, emotionally neutral, like fine cuts of meat carved carefully away from heart clogging fat of conceit.
Other times, vile opinions are so soiled in self, so mired in vanity, they poison anything they touch.
The term ‘opinion’ derives from the Latin term “optare” which means to ‘desire or choose”.
Such desires shape our choices. Our words beget our conversations, beget our decisions, beget our deeds, beget our relationships and therefore our lives. When our views of others are vieled in sadness, it can make for a good poem, a wistful argument, a pointless fight or an excuse for a stiff drink, but I sometimes wonder if all this negativity is just an easy way out?
People who are melancholic have always been deemed to be cooler than the bright, sparking and positive variety of homo sapien. It is also a darn sight easier to dismiss a fellow human being than have to take the time to know how much they are (more or less) the same as yourself.
Are we the masters of our negative opinions or slaves to those that we have been fed?
In an age of increasingly polarised news agencies, endless avalanche of email, Facebook posts, micro-blogs and instagrams, it is not easy to keep our head above water. It is so easy to be drawn into the whirlpool, constantly being drawn in for our comments, likes and follows... and before we know it, we are yet another plankton merrily tweeting away our lives in the ocean of public opinion.
We need to be more sensitised and aware now than ever of the crapshoot of negative opinion, as it may shape our lies far more than we know, as it rots into our lives.
“I must have liberty
Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please; for so fools have”
As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII)
"As I travell’d hither through the land,
I find the people strangely fantasied,
Possess’d with rumours, full of idle dreams,
Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear"
King John (Act IV, Scene II)
Fear is not something we can conveniently bury or wash away. It is inside us and all around and it will always be. Even the serene Zen monk strikes fear into the heart of his student, putting them through physical hardship and punishment to literally break them out of their attachment to certainty.
Fear is energy without a purpose. Without fear we are an empty vessel. If there is too much fear it just burns us out. We are told to "be brave" and unafraid, as if a logical argument is going to solve and emotional riddle.
The coward and the hero both feel the fear, the only difference is one is succumbs to it, the other uses it to take action.
Fear of failure, fear of success, of being judged, not being noticed, not fitting in, standing out, not standing out, being insufficient, being ruled, being ridiculed, having bad breath, losing hair, having too much hair, being too big, being too small, being hit, having to hit, losing a loved one, not waking up tomorrow and not being missed.
Fear is a many headed self consuming monster. Fear is the fuel that feeds upon itself. The solution is not to deny or project our fears onto others. Fear is not our ally or our enemy. So what are we to do with fear?
Can we "own fear" without being being possessed by it? Just like people own cars, others are owned by their car. Since we are going to feel it anyway, can we own fear rather be possessed by it?
Frank Sinatra and Sir Laurence Olivier were both masters of their craft. They both talked openly about their stage fright throughout their illustrious careers. These two very different men, tell the same story (at different times) about the day they realised it was time to retire. They said it was the day they lost their fear of going on stage. They knew that the fear was gone because suddenly they no longer cared enough to make what they were doing, matter. If they did not care about the perfomance, then fear had not place. They could only perform as long as they could feel the audience. The fear of not getting it right was just part of the creative process. An energy that they had learned to tap and turn into beauty.
We need to replace the slogan "no fear" with "know fear".
"Alas! it is the baseness of thy fear
That makes thee strangle thy propriety.
Fear not, Cesario; take thy fortunes up;
Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art
As great as that thou fear’st"
Twelfth-Night - (Act V, Scene I)
"Scorn at first makes after-love the more.
If she do frown, ’tis not in hate of you,
But rather to beget more love in you;
If she do chide, ’tis not to have you gone;
For why the fools are mad if left alone.
Take no repulse, whatever she doth say;
For, ‘get you gone,’ she doth not mean, ‘away!’
Flatter and praise, commend, extol their graces;
Though ne’er so black, say they have angels faces"
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Act III, Scene I)
When someone contradicts me they help me reveal myself to me.
If I am myself, that is, if I can still my mind and reach beyond the vain need to protect the facade called personality, then there, beyond the distraction is a the trusted space where I can learn and grow.
When I am criticized, it is an opening for an awakening. A brief glimpse of what I might be, not what I am condemned to be. It allows me to search my motives, to determine what sour cause I may have given to another person for them to respond in this manner?
The more I tear into this cloth, the more naked I become, beyond the fear of losing the self that clings to my mast, beyond this is an ocean of discovery. I relish being contradicted. It is an invitation to wisdom.
My response to any feedback I get reveals my mood, is the mirror to my self confidence and motive. It reveals the trust i have in myself and the other person.
A single word can singe a relationship. It can jar beween them for years. An honest word can cut like ice water, stings at ever entry point. But we if we are open, we can learn to be resilient, to adjust to each fresh new temperature in good time.
Even if the feedback is a personal attack, coming from the vilest place the other person can find, even then it is an opportunity to open up the fear from whence it came, to allow the other person to discover something about their own moods and motives.
When I open my core, air my vulnerability, I am free to lift the grit of daily habitual face saving.
If the other person is pouring out genuine love in sharp words and bitter tones, it is my foolishnes to dishonour their gift with shallow self justifiation or burn their honest words with blame.
If the other person is pouring out their own poison, the least I can do is allow them to be rid of such deadly toxins.
When I am consumed with defensive reasoning, when I am entangled in my own logical response, then rationality rattles in my skull, confounds me, makes me small to the point of not mattering at all.
It hurts to wake up to our stupidity and ignorance. It hurts to wrestle with other people's version of our game. These is nothing good or ill about it, it is what it is because it is the human condition.
"I am press’d down with conceit
Conceit, my comfort and my injury"
The Comedy of Errors (Act IV, Scene II)
"This noble passion,
Child of integrity, hath from my soul
Wip’d the black scruples, reconcil’d my thoughts
To thy good truth and honour. Devilish Macbeth
By many of these trains hath sought to win me
Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me
From over-credulous haste; but God above
Deal between thee and me! for even now
I put myself to thy direction, and
Unspeak mine own detraction, here abjure
The taints and blames I laid upon myself,
For strangers to my nature".
Macbeth (Act IV, Scene III)
What is courage? Where does it come from?
Physical courage is the rage. We are all deeply rooted in a physique obsessed world, where botex, life consuming diets, six-pack sports heroes and sculptored actor define the norm to a gazing, gaping, fooled world. But this is not physical courage, it is a mirage. A photoshoped fashion of our idle age.
What is courage? Is it thumping bibles and quoting the Koran? Thumping a stranger in the club? Raising our voice? Cutting someone down? Or is it perhaps something deeper? To understand courage, we have to understand cowardice first.
Cowardice is hiding behind an institution, allowing others to do our seeing and thinking for us. Moral cowardice is living a cartoon life, a lice of laziness feeding off the safe code that our moral masters our politicians, priests, educators, financiers, media moguls and shallow friends preach to us. Bowing to the courage of others does not make us courageous.
Cowardice is hiding behind alchol, drugs, fashion, wealth, age, connections, titles and positions. Moral cowardice is hiding behind the threat of physical violence, whether it is with a spouse or another nation. Moral cowardice is a leach that consumes and ultimately destroys it's host.
Courage is the sweetness of honey (the truth we create) with a sting hidden just below the surface. Moral courage is having the emotional strength and fortitude to know and defend what is right.
Speak up when others roll over in compliance. Listening to the truth without getting defensive or hiding behind excuses. Having the tough conversations. Being true to what and who we are.
Moral courage over rides physical courage every time. Moral courage resides deep in that place we call our heart.
What is the one thing that people want more than being thanked and loved? It is feeling heard and being "needed". Mark Twain once said "I can live on a compliment for a month".
Being needed has nothing to do with being loved. If we love someone it is for their sake. When we need someone, it is for our sake.
Why is this? Do we have a hole in our heart that we can never be fulfilled?
The need to be needed is the most prevailing illnesses in our society and yet we have no name for it. Being constantly eager to have our ego fed by being noticed, acknowledged, complimented, liked... such neediness is the root of hardship. It is an addiction of our own imagination. It is beyond belief.
Spending our lives propping up our own false sense of certainty in a life that consists of two noble truths - we are imperfect and we are impermanent, is wasting precious time that we can ill afford to spill.
Paying attention to and expecting compliments is the opposite of love. Feedling off compliments is a selfishness borne out of an shallow sense of who we are, an ignorance of the beauty that resides in our lives and all around us. We should not take our selves so seriously.
Waiting for others to acknoweldge what we should already know is no more than worshiping our own idle vanity. Embracing truth involves both facing our limitations and accepting our nobility. Without excuse, explanation, justification, shame or blame.
Our strengths and weaknesses reside within us side by side, we are big enough to embrace both. We do not need to justify or be justified.
Let not my love be call’d idolatry
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse, to constancy confin’d,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Sonnet CV (105)
One of the the dumbest question ever (and repeatedly) asked is: "What came first the chicken or the egg?" This is a dumb question because nothing is served by the asking or the answering of it. The more useful question would be "How do we ensure healthy chickens and healthy eggs?" This moves us from wrestling in a senseless duality into the richness of connectedness, where the truth ever waits.
Our questions define us. The pedantic duality of OR encircles our lives. Choices are not created by such indolent thinking, they are reduced to a cartoon, a parody of the richness that is within and all around.
Sadly we are conditioned to think in terms of life as a logical, explainable, convenient trajectory, with a finite beginning and end. The the arc of all our reason is encircled in this mind-trap.
We are taught that our life cycle begins with our birth and ends with our death. Even the circumference the great teachers of connectedness (Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, Nanak etc.,) is bound by dates as if when they were born or passed away matters?
Old Shak evokes the inevitable cycles of the four seasons, these are inevitable, regardless of how we anticipate them, view them, dress up for them. They are what they are, they don't need us and perhaps for what it's worth, perhaps we should learn to respect them for what they can teach us.
That life is a continuous, endless flow of destruction and renewal. Birth is not a beginning because it is the outcome of all that came before. Death is not an ending because the mark we leave, the impact we have on those who we have touched, good or ill, remains.
As the winter solstice passes us today from one part of a year into the next, who will mourn the death of 2011? We know it and are all that occurred in it, this will remain part of us beyond our physical existence, we are the parents of these memories as we were and are origin-al in them.
"The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original"
A Midsummer-Night’s Dream (Act II, Scene I)
"Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices"
The Tempest (Act III, Scene II)
As with any musical instrument it requires both discipline and boring, long hours of practice. Anyone can grind an organ or play second fiddle to another persons opinion (repeat what we heard, to be as good as our last conversation).
What stirs us when music plays? What is the music in your voice?
What do you stir in others when you open the organ of your mouth?
What emotions do the notes and lyrics of your voice evoke? What song is left resident in the heads of the people you have touched yesterday, today and tomorrow?
When we find our own voice, there is no need for pretense or approval. There is enough space for other voices.
The challenge is when we do not have our own voice, when we are an extension of everyone else’s motives and needs, consumed with what he said, she said, what they want, what they feel, what they do?
"In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart"
King Henry VIII (Act III, Scene I)
Have you ever noticed how the tempo and nature of personal judgment and feelings towards someone who is hated alters when that person dies? This applies both to public figures such as a politician as well as family members.
It becomes much more difficult to hate someone once they are dead. For sure there are feelings of pity, sadness, regret, shame, remorse or frustration, but rarely is the emotion anger or hatred.
Suddenly the questions change - from "Why can't he sort himself out and be a nicer person" to "Why was he so?" The questions shift of course from the hopes that the person might change to trying to appreciate why they were the way they were.
It is understandable that the passing of a human being would alter people's perspective, so perhaps it is worth reflecting on why people change the way they feel so suddenly, so dramatically, and possible implications of the ultimate requiem, the living requiem for people who we hate - while they are still alive?
It isnt just that people say nice things about the deceased. Of course they do at funerals, out of a social custom of politeness, but there is also an emotional change, an immediate softening of how people feel about the deceased. A loosening of a tension. The setting free of anger and hatred.
Why can't we assume such empathy while these resented people were still alive?
Perhaps it is because forgiveness is easier once fear has been swept away. Whatever we imagined this individual could do to us or say about us is not longer an issue. It is easy to forgive when there is no fear. We may not want to consider the fact that we are afraid, but the possibility is always there despite our denial.
Perhaps it is because we are humbled by the reminder of our own mortality? We are given a sharp reminder of the futility of our fear, frustration and anger at others.
Perhaps it is that death is a constant and ever present reminder that all the things we cherish, all the fortunes we gather and count either get left behind or turn to dust. A requiem for a hated person is the vain hope that we might be forgiven by those of our enemies who survive us?
Whatever the why, think about someone who you don't like right now. Bring their worst attributes and characteristics to the front of your mind. Consider how they make you feel. Pay attention to the tension in your stomach, back of your neck and shoulders. Pay attention to your breathing.
This is not only how this person makes you feel emotionally, but transforms you physically. Of course you are making yourself feel this because only you are in control of your feelings.
Now imagine they have just died. You are to write and present a eulogy for them at their funeral tomorrow morning. You are to compose or at least select the music that would be fitting for their funeral. If you have the courage, write that eulogy. Just one or two brief paragraphs will do.
Now reflect on all the emotional energy you have bottled up, that has no effect on that individual whether alive or dead. What if this negative energy were to be released and replaced through a living requiem? Just as a funeral is much more for the living than the dead, a living requiem may be about a hated person, but it is to free you of them.
"How heavy do I journey on the way
When what I seek, my weary travel’s end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
‘Thus far the miles are measur’d from thy friend!’
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lov’d not speed, being made from thee:
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind:
My grief lies onward, and my joy behind".
Sonnet L (50).
REM's "Losing My Religion" is one of those songs that always hits the spot. It is not about god, but about our weary journey, that moment when we lose all sense of direction, self, meaning or hope. It is the time when we are dangling - at the end of our rope, lost of all reason or reasonableness.
Our mind (the horse) comes to a perfect stop.
We forgo common sense, lose faith in our convictions. We cannot fathom where our confidence has evaoporated to. We withdraw in to the darkness and wrap ourselves up tight in a blanket of stupidity. This is what this song "Losing My Religion" is getting at.
"'O heart,' as the goodly saying is,
--O heart, heavy heart,
Why sigh'st thou without breaking?"
Troilus and Cressida (Act IV. Scene IV)
And it does not take much for us to 'lose our religion'. It can be just one thing goes wrong, or perhaps two or three small things don't go our way in a day and suddenlty the day is (i.e. we are) a wreck.
Then there is that other beautiful classic "Up on the Roof" by The Drifters. The antidote to REM's "Losing My Religion". Letting go. Get away from it all. Reconnecting with the earth and the open skies. Coming up for air, to regain our perspective. So appropriate for this to be sung by a group called The Drifters.
I read an interesting statement from his Holiness the Dalai Lama. He advises us to spend at least one part of each day - alone.
I am very fortunate to be sitting here, writing this blog. This is cherished time, to be alone. Even as i sit in a crowded Starbucks, writing this love-letter to a world that i cannot know, that doesn't know me or may never even read these sullen words.
However, this - this is my perfect excuse to be with me, alone. I worked briefly for Starbucks as a consultant, in Seatle. To my surprise, the very basis of the business model is based on creating a space for people to slow down time and be either alone or with each other in what they call the "third space", a space that is not work and not home, but just our own free common space.
And, true enough, there you are sitting way out in a future I could not possibly know. It is strangely comforting to know you are there, sitting "up on your roof" in your alone time, peering back, seeing me find my religion as you find yours.
"Beseech you, sir, be merry: you have cause,
So have we all, of joy; for our escape
Is much beyond our loss. Our hint of woe
Is common: every day some sailor’s wife,
The masters of some merchant and the merchant,
Have just our theme of woe; but for the miracle,
I mean our preservation, few in millions
Can speak like us: then wisely, good sir, weigh
Our sorrow with our comfort".
Tempest (Act II, Scene I)
As many of my friends in their “golden time” share the pain of the passing of their parents, it brought to mind when my grandfather passed away the how the wisdom of my grandmother became engrained in my soul.
1. Parents are first our ‘air’, as babies we are completely dependant on them from minute-to-minute for food, shelter, love and safety.
2. Parents become our ‘water’ in our youth as our needs are present but not as immediate. Their practical wisdom and emotional sustenance helps us to meander through our youth and into early adulthood.
3. Parents are our "fire" when we reach the stage of adolescence. The dawn of adult life forces a radical change in our relationship with them. Some never make it through the fire, others come through with life scars, for others the relationship is reborn.
4. For those who emerge out of the fire, parents become the ‘earth'. Our more reliable friends in our middle age. As time wears on they increasingly depend on us for as much physical and emotional support as they have given.
5. When our parents pass on they become our 'sky' -- eternally present, untouchable. Our ‘heaven’, they are in every sunrise and every sunset. Enrich us with light and rain. The heaven that sits above us, a constant reminder of our destination, where (if we made it through the fire) our children will find us one day, an ever present canopy of truth and grace.
My life tilts between stages 4 and 5 as my parents age… it is the cycle… painful as it is inevitable, it is thus.
"Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remembered not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee".
"Ol' Blighty" is an affectionate term for "Britain". As I pack and get ready to head back to Ol' Blighty, i recall my fondness for the word blighty. Although it sounds very much like an infection a plant would get, Blighty has a much richer meaning than a rotting veg. Blighty is more than a 50's pin-up magazine. The word has a much richer meaning.
Long before the poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and songs of World War I popularized "Old Blighty" -- its roots derive from British India, from the Urdu/Hindi term "Bilayati" which means "foreigner". Ironically the term that Indians used to describe foreigners in Asia is now used to describe locals in Great Britain.
For the first 30 years of my life in the UK, I was treated as an outsider, a foreigner in the land of my birth. The strange thing was that when i finally did go to India all my relatives kept referring to me as "bilayatia" (30 years later they still do). We have continued to be refered a "bilayatia" in Canada and America. My wife, brothers and I are quite distinct from our cousins who came straight from India. To them we are pardesees or "Bilathia" - i.e., 'outsiders'.
The Australians added the "Ol" to Ol Blighty to bear witness to the old country from whence they came. Perhaps if we all stop to uncover our ancestry far back enough we would discover that we are all foreigners and that there is nothing wrong with being foreign, that perhaps it is a necessary human (natural) condition?
Walt Whitman in his opus Songs of Myself, wrote "I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable". Birds and beasts are not bound by national boundaries. Why should we be so constrained and fathomable? As Whitman says further in the same poem - "I exist as I am, and that is enough!"
Perhaps being a 'bilayatia' is our noblest blessing? Free to be ourselves, naked, unadorned, unburdened of the emotional shackles of nationalism. Perhaps "Being Blighty' is a calling to be who we are is perhaps something far more vast and essential than merely being defined by where or to whom we "belong"?
Blighty might be a pin-up girly magazine to you, but this is what it means to me.
"This blessed plot, this earth,
this realm, this England".
King Richard II
Act II Scene i
Where are we running to? What are we running from? Why am I rushing headlong to burn out each sacred day? I wind up the clock till there is nothing left to turn or see or feel or do or hear or need or know or be.
When I return to Toronto after a week or more away, not matter where I have been (unless it is another time-whore like London, New York, New Delhi, Mumbai, Tokyo, LA, Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Chicago, etc.), I am immediately struck by the complete absence of any natural rhythm - between myself and the place i have stepped into.
If I have been away to rural area for over three weeks, I find that i have to almost quite literally kick my mind body into gear, jolt myself into the pace of the race that chases dreams away. You may have experienced this yourself after a vacation or long trip to a rural place.
Before too long, I am once more entrained, I am once more hustling, bustling, hassling, pushing so hard that I am too busy to see reality pass my life by. Before i know it, i have 'returned' to the witchcraft of urban decay.
But we are not bound to be cursed if we happen to live in a city. We just need to take control, whereas in the countryside nature provides the rythmn.
When I first enter a new room, a new relationship, a new town or country, I am struck by how much I see. My hungry eye is slow, my curiousity engaged, I am open, vulnerable, fragile, willing to be broken, surprised, contradicted. And for this small price, I am take so much more in. The spell of time is broken, I am free.
More is experienced in less time because I am less preoccupied with what I am meant to be doing or saying. The longer I am with something or someone, the less curious I become, the faster time flows by and the less is achieved. Familiarity may not breed contempt, but it certainly kills contemplation.
Take this simple challenge, this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Simply reduce whatever your normal driving speed is by 10mph. Don't worry, you wont kill anyone, if anything you may be slightly annoying (to fellow rush addicts) but also a lot safer.
Turn the music, radio or phone off. Let your impatience be, resist the temptation to be dragged along at the pace of the road worriers. You might notice something.
You might discover that the same routine route you take every day, the same roads, houses, trees and corner stores now greet you with new eyes. You may arrive home no more than five or ten minutes later than usual, but you may be unusually, specially, refreshed.
If you don't drive, the next conversation you have, allow silence in. Don't rush to fill every second with a word. Ask questions rather than speak, listen deeply, inquire, deeper than it is normally comfortable to do. But use the silence to allow the other person permission - to think, rather than react in auto-response to whatever comes first to the mind. Allow the ripple of the water to settle. Peer into a new reflection. But this requires courage. It is not easy. Why?
Why don't we have time for love-affairs with the ones we love anymore? I don't mean something sexual, I mean to be engaged in the affairs of the heart. Why have we become such willing time-whores? What are we afraid of? That we will run out of time? We will run out of time soon enough. That is for sure.
Perhaps it is time to allow the wound of busy-ness to heal? To snap out of the witches spell. To be here in true revelation. To enjoy the ones we love not for any reason or to any end, but enjoy them for the person we still don't know because we (and they) did not take the time to reveal. Whenever I do this with another human being they are uncomfortable for sure but it is often, the most precious gift i or anyone has ever given them. Time for them to be with their own uncertainty and wonder.
Fear of boredom is the biggest driver of our economy. If I am not working, being entertained, serving or being served then I might be found in my cozy rented jail cell - doing time (sitting in the rush hour traffic jam or glued to small talk on twitter or anethetized to react in preconditioned ways to rythmn of the latest talent show).
The true currency of flow is to be found in nature, things are slow and then there are bursts of speed, then slow and then burst. These cycles are connected, the slow growth of the a tree or flower that appears to blossom in an instant over night. The clouds that gather slowly before they burst down upon us.
Plutarch wrote: "Courage stands halfway between cowardice and rashness, one of which is a lack, the other an excess of courage". Perhaps we are so consumed proving to ourselves and our neigbours just how heroic we are that we have no time to pay attention.
Being busy, in a rush and out of time is trendy otherwise why would we suffocate every minute of our waking day with so much noise? Being being late and rushed for time is almost chic, a sign of self-importance as if this is why we matter?
It surprised me when i first came to the States to find people asking "Are you busy?" and i would say "Yes" and they would say "Good" and then i would shake my head and ask "But it is not good, I don't want to be busy, I want to be effective." Which would result in an awkward silence as I had broken a cardinal law of small talk encounters. I learned soon enought that they were only asking if I was busy as a polite way of saying "are you earning money or unemployed?".
Meditation, sleep and prayer are not resting. They are a quiet ways of awakening. Of interupting the auto-pilot, of arresting back life back from the jaws of time-poverty.
When an hour is empty, the minute I am no longer defined by time, that is the moment I can define time. This is how and when the healing begins.
"How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Thou know'st we work by wit, and not by witchcraft;
And wit depends on dilatory time."
Othello - (Act II, Scene III)
It is a blessing that we cannot fully know all that has shaped us nor fully know what we or might be. If someone did actually crack the code on human beings, what a bore life would be. The mystery would be over. Our lives and relationships would be reduced into procedures in a cook book. It would choke our freedom to be curious, to wander and wonder, what might be possible. Most of all it would steal from us the joy of being surprised.
Even though countless people, many of them 'geniuses' have spent their lives carving through every nook and cranny to unlock the secrets of our restless hearts and ever changing minds, although some broad stroke principles have emerged at a very high level, no one has quite figured out the 'answers'.
There are many who feel (often very vehemently) that definitive answers have been found. They feel quite sincerely that they have mapped the coordinates of the human condition and these can be used to manage and control life.
As happy as i am for the vast contributions of these pioneers, at the same time I can not help but feel that after thousands of years, if the truth were so self evidentt, would we have not by now abolished the struggle, anguish and wars that continue to tear us apart?
Even physicists and biologists are still discovering new truths every day about our physical world and being. And perhaps that is the point? That it is the questions we ask not the answers we arrive at - that set us free.
The great poetic and spiritual movements have not arrived at solutions, but they engage us in a personal and collective act of inquiry. They invite us to continous awakening and mindfulness. They suggest that living a life is not about discovering that the answer is 42, but it is experiencing the unknown and unknowable, so we are always 'strangers' always bringing a beginners mind to each and every relationship, every encounter and every breath.
I know this is not everyones cup of tea, but for me the joy of life is not in knowing because that is easy, the joy is in the openess to be free to be afraid, to be strangers forever discovering the vastness of what we are and how infinitely unknowable we may be?
"And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
The Tragedy of Hamlet,
Act 1, Scene V
I am told today is my birthday. I am useless with birthdays. Both mine and all loved ones alike. I never could got my head around the point of them? We are free to celebrate the unfathomable richness and uniqueness of each living day, why is a 'birth-day' so special?
Each morning we crack open an aching eye out of the warm womb of dreams into new born day. Each waking a wide berth of possibility. A youthful invitation to an unimaginable innocence of pain and promise. Afternoons are middle-age, the energy of a fresh young morning fuses with deeper truths and rhythms of the day that is yet to come.Evenings are the culmination, the crecendo of a day fully celebrated.
A day-in-the-life and life-in-a-day are brought to a head as our weary frame fades under the cloak of a peaceful easy sleep of death. Will we awake from it? We are too tired to know. And we must never know, else how could we sleep but that through the womb of another night will arise the gift of a fresh new morning, a new day of birth.
Each day, lived fully in the present is an precious invitation to a celebration, until there are none left to speak of. The way we live in the presence of that gift is its only true celebration. As we say around our house "Happy New Day!".
"Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be."
A Midsummer-Night’s Dream
Act III. Scene II
"I am not merry, but I do beguile
the thing I am by seeming otherwise"
Othello (Act II, Scene I).
Keeping up appearances consumes more time and energy than we would care to admit. We all know people who are brutal. They go through life with a God complex, sorting out the good from the bad people in their midst. If you try to challenge them, argue that their simplistic black and white view of highly complex human beings merely reduces people into caricatures and that we do not live in a cartoon world, they will not know what the heck you are talking about.
Then there are people who like to please. The pleasers avoid any entanglement, agree with everyone, say whatever it takes to make others feel good about themselves (and therefore like them). They may say otherwise behind people's backs but in front of you they are the best friend you are ever likely to enounter.
If you try to challenge them, argue that people are not a game to be played, if relationships are not real, then nothing is, that they are reducing life into a game of second guessing and sugar coating, they will not know what the heck you are talking about.
Just when i thought things could not get any worse, this morning I met a so called "executive coach" who made my day go from bad to worse. She coached me on how to applly the 'sandwich technique'. This is how it goes:
Start by paying the employee a compliment, to get them to relax and open up. Now you have the sucker soften up for the punch, apply the bad news. Then to complete the other side of the sandwich close with something positive so they leave on a natural high. She shared this "bullshit sandwich" with me as if it were divine revelation.
She assured me with a broad shining smile that I would make more money in my business if I applied this "iron fist in velvet glove" technique. Then she suggested that since she had shared one of her "trade secrets" with me that we should exchange ideas - quid-pro-quo. Made me want to spit.
She had perfected the worst of both worlds. Tell people what they want to hear and attack them. She assured me that she was not alone, she was working with several other consultants, all of whom swore by this manipulative technique! I just wanted to swear. I had to get out of there, so i told her that I thought her little technique was unethical. That it would only cause more harm than good. She stared at me with disbelief. I said "Oh I am sorry, should i have started and ended that with a compliment?".
The crazy thing was that all these monkeys get paid good money to give this awful advice (caveat emptor!) . These executive consultants are our modern day preachers. All influence, no accountability! I wonder, do people like this know they are creating a mess? Or do they merely repress their memory? Or are they gliding through life - confident in their utter stupidity?
There are so many such people messing up the world. Corrupt politicans, perverted priests, ignorant parents, docile managers, twisted lawyers and greedy marketers. And they all do the same thing, sour their profession for the decent people in their ranks.
There are so many of them that even if we were to start cleaning up the world from one end, by the time we got all the way round to where we started, we would find an even bigger mess waiting for us than we had to clean in the first place.
Sorry. Am having a really bad hair day!
"So may the outward shows be least themselves:
the world is still deceived with ornament.
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
but, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
obscures the show of evil? In religion,
what damned error, but some sober brow
will bless it and approve it with a text, hiding
the grossness with fair ornament?
There is no vice so simple but assumes
some mark of virtue on his outward parts:
How many cowards, whose hearts are all
as false as stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
the beards of Hercules and frowning Mars;
Who, inward search'd, have livers white as milk;
And these assume but valour's excrement
to render them redoubted!"
The Merchant of Venice
(Act III, Scene II).
"If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wish’d for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents".
Henry IV, Part One – Act I, Scene ii
To be authentic, we have to connect and be true through all our senses, physical, emotional, sensual, intellectual and environmental. Over reliance on any one centre of energy is unhealthy, results in disharmony and dis-ease. Connecting to the sacred requires a paradox of action and reflection, experience and meditation, physical exercise and stillness. It involves both zooming in and out, inside and outside our self till it no longer bears any resemblance and therefore not longer holds any power over us.
What Jim Collins and Jerry Poras in the classic book "Built to Last" beautifully refer to as "the genius of AND over the tyranny of OR".
This is why diaries and sanctuaries (such as this blog, this on-line cave I am sitting in right now) are so necessary. We need masterful moments to lift us out of our toxic states. We need sanctuaries bring us back down to earth into a terra firma, rooted in reality.
Holidays are the day we dedicate to return to being ‘whole’, to connect our mind, body, emotions and environment as one complete, connected being.
That is why vacations are often taken as a return to nature, to lie on the beach, swim in the powerful rhythms of the sea, trek in the woodland, visit the countryside or go up mountains to ski.
One of the key reasons why people do not want to go back to 'work' after a holidy is that they are stepping back into a place that is not whole, not full-filling, a space that is fragmented into inhuman, senselessly logical functions, disconnected from the sum totality of a true experience. People blame their bosses for creating unhealthy work environments, and yet we are all far more in control of our destiny that we might at first imagine.
For some people, vacations have become as much work to organize, run and complete as "the work" they are attempting to take a break from. A vacation in this sense is not a sanctuary, it is not about freedom but much more about running from the truth, burying the misery of their life at "work".
Some people use their trip to the temple, church, cinema, shopping mall, sports arena, pub, mosque, synagogue or other modern sanctuary to rediscover their wholeness. That is great, but what about making work iself an interuption?
Making work a whole-i-day does not mean spending more time at work than taking holidays, but rather that work should be something that engages people, helps them to realise their potential and find as much fulfilment as vacation time.
This does not mean work is the only thing people should live for and do, but the fact that most of us will spend more time "at work" than time with our loved ones, it is important to make that time fulfilling.
When i refer to work i don't just mean an occupation, being employed by someone to fuilfil taks and reach objectives. Work in this context includes both the work people people to do in their homes, work people do for or with an employer and the work we put into being healthy and preparing what to eat. These are all different types fo work, but the central principles of successful work apply to them all.
Holiday's are not brief snatches of 'life' pulled from the deathly fire of work, but an extension of our life in new spaces and places. Happy Christmas everyone!
Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee,
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter’d?
No; let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks; and bless’d are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well comingled
That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
HAMLET (Act III, Scene ii)
I sat at a Starbucks making small talk with a friend yesterday, we talked about the usual nothingness, then for no apparent reason I asked her "Are you happy?" She got stuck in her tracks. What did I mean? Physically? Socially? Sexually? Financially? Professionally? Economically? Ergonomically?
When you tie all these elements together they are all connected to the same simple core root cause and effect, which is were her achievements greater than her expectations ?
I asked her, "We have known each other through good times and bad, when we were out of work, struggling to make payments and when fortune smiled on us and we were rolling in cash. But tell me honestly, today, as we are successful, healthy and have all our faculties, are you happier today than when you were struggling to get here". She smiled. "Of course I am happier now".
But as the converstion went on, it became clearer that happiness is not the opposite of struggle. Being easy is the opposite of struggle. The opposite of happiness is sadness. But when we are struggling to make ends meet, we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we are too hell bent for leather to achieve a goal, to realise a stated purpose. And even though the struggle is hard, when we get out of such a bind, are those not the most satisfying moments of our lives?
When we accept both fortune and misfortune with the same openess, we are no longer slaves of passion, or caught up in the whim of luck and chance. When we attach our sense of identity and self worth to either our good times and our bad times, then we are like ships in a storm, out of control, liable to sink in the ocean of our own desire.
Being intense is not the same as worrying about something. We can focus intensely on something far more easily when we are confident and calm, than when we worry. Because when we worry, we are distracted, our energy is dissipates without meaningful cause.
Professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has done more in this space than any psychologist I know. His work on Flow is pioneering, both for its simplicity and also how it gets to the heart of the question of happiness. I don't often make recommendations for books to read because so much of what is out there is reguritated crap. And in six years of bloggin this is the first for me. But i would highly recommend (if you have not already) that you purchase and keep reading and re-reading, Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, or any of Mihaly's subsequent works on the same topic. http://www.amazon.com/Flow-The-Psychology-Optimal-Experience/dp/0060920432
In a nutshell, what Czik discovered through his research was that our sense of fulfiment, what in sports they call being "in the zone" or in music "in the groove", or in art "in rapture" or in mystic spiritualism "in divine grace"... these moments of optimal experience arise when we are fully engaged, when the challenge in our environement matches our capacity.
When our capacity or readiness (converted potential) is too low, we feel overwhelmed and when the challenge is too easy, we feel bored and distracted. Flow sits in the convergence of arousal and control, it contains the essence of both anxiety and relaxation. It is neither of these, but above both of them.
Thus we are happiest when we struggle to achieve meaningful goals. It really is a simple as that. The difficult thing is figuring out what those goals might be and willingness to put up with the suffering, not for sufferings sake, but the suffering that is at the root of our happiness.
"There is nothing either good or bad,
but thinking makes it so."
Hamlet - (Act II, Scene II)
What is the mind? Where is this self-contained heaven located? Does it have a geography or physical center? Philosophers have argued over this for thousands of years, so I am not going to provide any revelation here. Just a very quick rexamination of a question that gets lost in our daily grind.
We know for sure that it conditioned by but far more than the physical brain. The brain is to the mind as the driver is to the car. Both co-exist but one uses the other or is destroyed by it (think of a car accident as a mindless person who misuses the brain).
When the monks tell us to be 'mindful', they do not mean that we must fill our mind, but quite the opposite. They mean that we need to be 'careful' with our thoughts, to 'care' for how we think, to pay attention and most important of all to be 'attentive' to our breath, to our existence, to be awakened, rather than busy and preoccupied.
Shakespeare suggests something very similar in The Tempest (quite literally in the play The Tempest but also in the turmoil of our daily existence), that we 'chill' - that we take a walk, and in doing so 'still' our "beating mind" so that we might repose there. If we let it rest, if we entrust in our natural intelligence, we cease to struggle, and in ceasing the struggle we tap the practical wisdeom that is buried below the rational surface of what is known. This allows us to go beyond our questions to new meaning that our questions could not fathom, to new questions, new experiences, to a new life.
It is in this discovery that we find ourselves anew. And it is in this discovery that the mind is alive, and does its most important work, which is to set us free. When the mind is free, we are alive. Otherwise, if we reduce the mind to an auto-processing thought machine, then like a vermin all it does is consumes us.
For me at least, this is what the mind is: It is a unlimited power, an infinite energy source that if it is allowed to be, informs and transforms our lives. And to tap it, all we need to do is take five, and chill! This is why every culture has formed prayer or mediation or taking time 'off' a cruical part of living. All we need to do, as the song by The Eagles suggests is to "Take it easy", huh? Because when all is said and done, we have to trust in that our mind - is far more than we think.
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.—Sir, I am vex’d:
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled.
Be not disturb’d with my infirmity.
If you be pleas’d, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind"
The Tempest (Act IV, Scene I).
Where do you think the mind resides? Is it housed in the brain or the body? The cartesian riddle is more than a philosophical rant, our position on this question shapes everything we think and do. Can I - my life and everything in it - be bigger than my thoughts? Is the mind and body one or two cogs that slip gently together through the oil of the soul?
The mind is not housed in the brain. I find it hard to believe that my mind is an obedient rat chasing itself in the cage of my hollow brain. This is a story we have been told as children, to put an end to our searching before it begins, seal us from the journey into the hearth of darkness.
"Conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action"
Hamlet - (Act III, Scene I)
Cogito, ergo sum? Hello? No! I am therefore I think and whole bunch more! My life is more than the sum of the perpetual voices rattling around in my brain. The mind is a trick question, a boundless space with a thousand exit signs. It has to endure noisy, messy, meddling neigbours who will not leave well alone. Their given names are thought, memory, belief, ambition, opinion, conscience, knowledge, pain, lust, assumption, confidence, custom, love, perception, pride, hope, inference, fear, logic and lunacy.
The mind has more visitors than we have names for them. These pests hunt and prey, slip in and out, trying to weave and shape the very thing that feeds upon them. They are as much of the mind, as we allow them to be.
Beyond this mind-field is a much bigger reality and universe that I can never hope to reach. There is more out there than I can ever conceive, and yet it is no more than a variation of the truth locked up in my little pearl. I dip my imagination into the ink well of hope and fear, from this unfolds the fleeting story called my life.
"O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell,
and count myself a king of infinite space,
were it not that I have bad dreams.
A dream itself is but a shadow.
Then are our beggars bodies,
and our monarchs and outstretched heroes
the beggars’ shadows"
Hamlet (Act II, Scene II)
Did I hurt someone today? Did I inspire someone today? People gather, organise and catalog compliments and insults as if they are a butterfly collection. Lay them out on the white board of their imaginations, so they can fill the emptiness of their days with righteous indignation.
Especially when other peoples opinions (much like our own) is more often than not no more than a reflection of how they feel and think about themselves. Why do we lay so much on other peoples opinions? Get consumed by the monster of our own projection?
Whevever i pollute a relationship with my projections, I harvest a fresh crop illusion to drown my misery. We are all equally frail. Our flaws are not a problem to be picked apart hair by hair, they are here today, gone tomorrow.We don't need a healthy excuse to cry, we can cry anytime we want to.
Rage is an easy excuse. It is a clueless attention. Taking a breath and rejoice the opportunity to peek out of the window to our own sanity. We should not take such glances so lightly and give so much credence to the monster of self-doubt? Especially we have only so many finite breaths left to heave?
"Best you stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
or else my heart concealing it will break" T
he Taming of the Shrew (Act IV, Scene III)
I have written about this topic a couple of years ago, but the subject keeps rearing its delicate head. It has been come up in recent conversations with Mikel Ellcessor of WDET and Jennifer Ferro of KCRW. What is the nature of competition?
The term competition came from the Latin competere which means “to strive in common". Competere was derived from two Latin roots:
• Com – which means to come together, to agree, to realize, to be qualified.
• Petere – which means to petition, which means to strive, to seek, request, supplicate, to pray, appeal to a higher authority.
…thus to compete means to "strive together".
Destructive competition seeks to benefit an individual, group or organism by damaging and/or eliminating competing individuals, groups and/or organisms. It assumes a “winner takes all” outcome. Challenges are reduce into a zero-sum game. The success of one group is dependent on the failure of the other competing groups.
Destructive competition comes from a siege mentality rather than one of abundance. It derives from a wanting to consume, cling, claim and control, it comes from and generates fear.
Positive competition does not seek to change but to be changed by the best in oneself and society. It is not a wanting but an acceptance of the unknown that is in us and all around us. The challenge is to remove the blinkers that we cannot see, therefore focus us in ways we cannot know.
Positive competition begins with seeking to give not take, to learn not codify, to honour not destroy, to being changed not to change others, to seek and understand not judge or lable as good or bad.
Although many of these organisations changed later, the founders of many of the industry shaping organisations drew their strength from positive competition. McDonalds "strived together" through Ford Motor Company to pioneer mass retailing of food (or fast food as we call it today); Dell competed with Toyota by creating custom built orders through a strong supplier base and rationalisation of inventory; Southwest competed with Greyhound by combining simplicity with service; Starbucks competed with the café’s in Italy by bringing the "third space" between home and work into America.
These organisations were not competing narrowly, attempting to consume or destroy the "market share" but rather to create new value. They honored that which inspired them to suprise themselves with unspoken and unexpected value. They were applying what Marion Blackett-Milner called "wide attention".
We cannot learn contentment. It cannot be gained by thinking or trying or buying. It is within us, it surfaces by letting go of fear and accepting, opening ourselves up to uncertainty as a wonder to be discovered not something to be controlled and removed. Milner describes "narrow attention" as blinkers or blinders.
Acceptance and opening up to what is unknown within us, in the relationships and universe around us removes the blinkers and changes how we the face of the world and therefore how we experience ourselves "to make boredom and weariness blossom into immeasurable contentment". This often occurs in silence, quietude is the most under-estimated of skills.
People and organisations that alter the competitive landscape do not seek to shape but be shaped. They do not compete in the niave,cognitively obsessed sense taught by business schools and the negative way management text books define “competition”. In fact, go back and trace the history of all innovators, and you will see it is precisely the moment when the bureacrats took over that the value of the organisation began to die. We have worked with many self-destructive organisations that are sustained by people (many of whom go unrecognised and unrewarded because they do not crave attention) who apply positive competition. It behooves leaders in government, private industry, non-for-profits and private equity firms to remove their blinkers and surface these natural born competitors in their midst. These are the people who shape the future, with or without leaders telling them to.
The way we are taught to map business plans through a narrow, academic view of competition destroys value. This is why template driven business planning exercises are such a terrible waste of time and energy. They narrow attention to the confines of an existing industry or market or way of leading a church, a non-for-profit or a government department, etc.
We become whatever we gaze upon. Open your mind to the people and institutions that inspire you, then competed to your hearts content. Do not compete through fear, compete through the unknown. Then you will discover who are you striving in common with and the value that is possible.
"In time we hate that which we often fear"
Antony and Cleopatra
Act I Scene iii
Over the past few months, I have suffered three personal losses. Three people, first a friend, then a cousin and then last week a dear and devoted business partner.
First a friend in Australia without any prior symptoms – collapsed and died instantly of a massive heart attack. Then a month ago even as the shock of Rob Pledgers tragic death was still rattling inside of me, my cousin collapsed and died in precisely the same way as Rob. Victor was a tender 39, ten years my junior. He had not right to go before me, even though I have no right to presume such rights!
Following Victors death, my wife Ammie made me throw my laptop into the closet, jump onto a plane and go to Rome with her for a week, without plans or aims or any such care in the world, just get away from it all.
However no sooner had we returned, as if to remind us that there is no escape from such cold, cruel realities, a close business partner of ten years, Ken Stewart, (with whom I had established a business) suffered an acute cerebral aneurysm. Once again, there were no symptoms, no headaches, nothing. Just gone.
None of these individuals knew each other. Only one or two people in each of the network of people who knew these men knew any of the people in each otheres network. I am the only thread that connected them and now, sadly the story of their inopportune departure connects them all in my torn heart.
At times like these, our feeble notions of “normality” are stripped naked, revealing the unabashed fragility of natural order.
I find myself thrust again and again through the invisible curtain, into a groundless, airless, nothingness. The dominion of death. The ulimtate reality of all realities. We have all been touched by its raw edge. It is a world we dare not acknowledge, but one that awaits for us all, patiently, relentlessly, effortlessly. A reality so daunting that the very thought of it scurries our senses into a retreat, forcing us to clamber back into the safe clutches of our busy, noisy, perpetually distracted, spiritually dehydrated lives.
The universe of death gets steadily larger and clearer as we grow older. As more of the people we love enter it, it becomes clearer and more vivid until it connects our mutual sadness into a single seamless whole. A reality that connects us all with each other even as it tears us apart. I am in hope that there will come a time when it will not be so hard for me to make such a cold and clear distinction between life and death.
Grief is a universe where logic is reduced to a soft toy. A place where convenience of common sense, of rights and wrongs and roles and rules all melt into thin air. I ache to ‘wake up’ out from such the terrifying place. I dare not be brought face to face so abruptly with my unimportance, imperfection and impermanence. However this is not a hell, but rather a sacred space. It is not a nightmare, grief is not a sleep, it is an awakening. Death is not a sleep. Our grieving of the dead is an uncompromising space where we ache so much from reality that all our truths thaw into pure feeling. This feeling is frightening because it is so real. For sanities sake we retreat from such woes into THIS sane world, this pinch-self-must-be-true pool of logic world where there are enough distractions to keep us occupied.
We ache to return to this dream of order, reason and rationality. When we retreat into this brittle sleep from which we are so rudely awoken, this is the safety into which snuggle so anxiously keeps us warm…we are only on hold until our next awakening, the ultimate one of course, being our own.
"To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause."
HAMLET, Prince of Denmark
Act III. Scene I
"What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unus’d. Now, whe’r it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought, which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom,
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do;’
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do ’t"
Hamlet (Act IV, Scene IV)
Culture is the earth within which language festers or flourishes. But what tills this soil and shapes our language and indeed all our relationships and experiences is how we we see, how we hear and how we feel. People who know how to manipulate these more basic of human attributes are rewarded the most in society. They are the high priests of culture - the people we yearn to see ourselves through, the people we yearn to be or at least be with. Beyond our intimate (true) relationships, these idols are more often than not "our" (ah hum!) actors, politicians, priests, teachers, game show hosts, sales people and fashion icons. In reality they are less ours than our lives are theirs?
If we peer quietly and reflect patiently into the bowl of own life, what do we see? For all the joy we entrust in them, was it the slow witted or the clever who have made our life a living hell? This is a trick question, because it is easy to confuse cleverness with intelligence. The term 'clever' derives from the source cliver - which means "expert at siezing". Lo how we are siezed!
When we are intelligent we are able to see without being invested in what is before us, we are able to see and feel without fear of losing face or justifying our own position or existence. When we are intelligent we do not vest ourselves in a position or an argument, we are aware of ourselves in our own drama, concious of our context, open to new ways of seeing, welcome uncertainty and surprise because we know we can and will make the most of it.
Being clever is about using words, knowledge and facial expressions to trick others into getting ones own way. Clever sales people are everywhere, they are the politicians and celebrities and thier publicists, the high priests of culture that we never see. Clever people win hearts and minds, gather and move crowds, they alter the fate of nations, write our history books, and more often than not do all this without personal consequence. But being 'experts in siezing' - being clever is the same as tooth rot, hyperglycemia and heart disease, we do not see the consequences of our sugary consumption of cleverness but it will come soon enough and when it does, will do so with devestating permanance.
"O dear discretion, how his words are suited!
The fool hath planted in his memory
An army of good words: and I do know
A many fools, that stand in better place,
Garnish’d like him, that for a tricksy word
Defy the matter!"
The Merchant of Venice (Act III, Scene V).
These conditions play themselves out every day in families, sales conversations, management-reviews, coaching discussions, supplier-customer contracts, across communities, across nations, cultures and generations.
It was never the stupid people who created the violence and blood-shed. It was always the clever people. There are clever boys and girls at school. They will be tuaght to be well read, to articulate themselves and influence the world. To what end?
"Why, look you now, how unworthy
a thing you make of me.
You would play upon me; you
would seem to know my stops;
you would pluck out the heart
of my mystery; you would
sound me from my lowest note
to the top of my compass;
and there is much music, excellent voice,
in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak.
’Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played
on than a pipe? Call me what instrument
you will, though you can fret me,
you cannot play upon me"
Hamlet (Act III, Scene II)
Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have,
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?
Where is our usual manager of mirth?
What revels are in hand? Is there no play,
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
A Midsummer-Night’s Dream (Act V, Scene I)
I move from child to child, airport to airport, colleague to colleague, client to client, shuffling from day to day, city to city, truth to truth. At each turn of the dance, opening myself up to the next step, the next new reality, to each new sense and new truth.
Oh - what it is - to turn on a dime? To be the Fred Astaire of the mood moment. To be pulled along by its graceful call. To dance the joy out of every sacred moment. To adapt to any environment, any persuasion, any person, at any time, without the stiffing ego tripping me, hurling my concious efforts to the floor. To be at the mercy of the moment. Allow others to spill their mind, then give them permission to be just that little more.
Step in and out of each moment, tip gently betwen tragedy and joy, happiness and sadness, right and wrong, good and ill, today and tomorrow.
A single word, question, glance or nudge can change everything.
Every morning our stage is bare. Waiting to be filled with a new dance. Moments to be unpacked, surfaced, enjoyed for what they are and what we will be.
The struggle with certainty is in itself the problem. The idea that stuggling is necessary is a wild distraction. It keeps us from being present, slowing down long enough to see what is really already here at our feet.
Clear the floor, let your self go, dance the only dance you know and let the dances you could never have imagined surprise you. Let go of struggle. There are no steps, only the fow of one moments movement into the next. Dance openly, acceptingly, unafraid. Dance until each moment opens up and teaches its truth. Dance being perfectly still in quietude. Dance sitting with uncertainty. Dance listening without prejudice. Dance freely without the burden of knowing or presuming.
"How far your eyes may pierce I cannot tell; Striving to better, oft we mar what's well"
King Lear (Act I, Scene IV)
"He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour to act in safety. There is none but he whose being I do fear" - Macbeth (Act II, Scene I)
Are my relationships with people or my opinion of them? Is this a lifetime spun out on the axis of my projections onto them or their projections of their reality on me? And if this is a delusional way of building relationships, why bother?
The word relationship derives from the term 'to relate' which means 'to recount or tell a story' and 'to communicate with'.
The circumference of my relationships is bounded by stories, be these tales of inspiratin, rumours or slanted operating assumptions.
How many true relationships are there in my life? How many true conversations did I have today? How many of these resulted in a story worth re-telling?
How many people have I been totally wrong about? How many do I assume to have "figured out" and are now relegated into relationship on auto-pilot? I have grown and changed in the past ten years. Have these individuals changed in this same time period? I continue to judge them and they judge me. Our relationships are based on the tension between possibility and uncertainty. Two sides of the same question.
"What error drives our eyes and ears amiss? Until I know this sure uncertainty, I’ll entertain the offer’d fallacy" - The Comedy of Errors (Act II , Scene II)
How deeply and truly do I appreciate others? How do others appreciate me? The answers to these two questions can be revealing, perhaps even shocking!
"The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but, being in, bear ’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment" - Hamlet (Act I, Scene II)
I get off on the wrong foot with an individual. The difference between an insult and a compliment is in the mask that we attribute to each other. We are safe now because we only need to relate to the masquerade now.
I need to step over the easy excuses and rush to judgment. I need to find a way to reset the refresh button each time I relate to another human being. I can only refresh the relationship by challenging myself to listen more openly and by encouraging the other person to reach beyond the bounds of innocence and help them appreciate themselves for who and what they are.
If one of us have to take off the mask first, then let it be me. I will falter, I will fail, I will get hurt, but what is the alternative? How much does it cost to live a lie?
"This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" Hamlet - (Act I, Scene III)
Technology is meant to be here to free up time so we can be present to do what we want with our own lives. To be free to be with the ones we love. But this is a difficult proposition when the medium controls not just the message, but the messenger.
In our media soaked times, with advertisers and institutions screaming for our attention, aching for us to be and do what they want us to, how can we find the time to think for and be with ourselves?
How can we reclaim our freedom? To stop being part of someone else’s economic or social plan and be truly free to think, feel and act out of our own volition? When we are taught how to think, what conversations to hold and news becomes a conversation coat hanger, where and how do we have the time to think for ourselves?
The past and the future are illusions. They exist only in our heads. Dreams of the future are recycled scripts from the past. We are taught that the future is out there. But the future is not ‘out there’, it is here, right here, right now. The future is born out of what we think, feel and do right now. The past ends with what we do now.
Our presence in now does not mean we abandon consequence for short term gain. Being present now is the acknowledgement of the power we have to create the future now. We set the context and basis for the future now. Some of our decisions will have impact for a few days; others have consequences for many years. We can only know what the right decision is by being present in the current reality of all the people our decisions affect. To know this requires us to be present not only in our own reality but the reality of everyone our decisions affect.
Despite the praise and celebration of freedom, when we have it we don't use it because it is frightening.How free are we really to make our own decisions? If we don't have time to be with others and be present in our own lives, how do we even know the decisions we are making are going to benefit us, sustain our freedoms or curtail them?
Sometimes I feel as if I am stuck in a dark theatre, a river of selective memories rushing ceaselessly from my past through the projector of my busy mind. This is not just a metaphor for being presnce, but quite literally, my presence is consumed by the constant distraction of screens. Projections, artifacts, illusions, crisises, nonsense, noise, an unconcious prisoner of so much white noise.
Conversations deteriorate into chats, chats dissolve into acronyms and instant messaging is the coolest thing to do. Fine, if we had no time to connect with each other and this tiny hole in the wall of noise is all we had to stay in touch, but what happens when this is all we do? If this is all we do, staring into screens, when will we have time to be with each other? To look into each others eyes. To hear each other breaht? Filling out time (on screens) removes the need to hold real conversations, to be present with each other.
If there was a Stone Age and an Iron Age, then we are in the Screen Age. Having realised political freedom, we have become slaves to screens. These screens have no tone, warmth or silent expression. We pick the fonts that express our handwriting. We pick the still photo’s that represent our public self.
These screens scream for our attention. Through them we attempt to define who we are and manage our relationships. My skype conversation with the kids is convenient, but when did convenience become the corner stone of fatherhood?
Be it the television set, an email on a computer screen, constantly checking the phone, blackberry or PDA screen for life's instructions, what to do and where to be next. When we play its through a WII, X-Box or gigantic screen in a movie theatre. Screens soak up our time. First we waste time and then it wastes us.
These machines quite literally screen out the human touch. In an age where I am my FaceBook page. I am my logo. I am my Avatar, Skype handle and email address, where is there the time to be myself and be with those I care about in this life? To be with them, here now?
Thankfully there are many proven ways of breaking out of being screened out from realising our freedom.
These are some of the ways to rinse the screen out of our minds-eye. Daily baptism. Clues on the paths to freedom and being present here, now.
I am no Luddite, I spend all my time serving and being served by screens. The question is not whether they are useful, but rather whether we are being used by the medium or using it to connect with ourselves and each other in the moment, free to be here now, he says, joyfully, typing into a screen.
Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To cheque time broke in a disorder'd string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
Richard II, Act V, Scene V
The term struggle has always been associated with negative attitudes. And yet, artists, parents and leaders in society have often created the greatest value and realised their greatest achievements following the greatest struggle. People who are disabled, rejected or repressed often discover more potent or original ways to express their individuality and innate power. But this rarely comes without a struggle.
There is an ancient tale of a boy who sees a butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon. He feels so sad watching the new born butterfly struggle. He wants to help so he cracks open the case of the cocoon. The boy is overjoyed when the little butterfly leaps out of the cocoon. The butterfly flies several yards and then it suddenly collapses onto the floor and dies. The boy’s mother hears her son crying and rushes over to ask why he is so upset? On seeing what has happened, she explains to her son that the butterfly builds the strength of its wings through its own struggle to get out of the cocoon. This is nature’s way of creating itself. To build our immunity to a disease, doctors inject us with a safe dose of the illness, to teach our system to learn and grow. This tension or ‘stretching’ is part of natural creative processes of life. If it is appreciated, it results in unique value, if it is ignored, repressed or avoided, it can become quite destructive.
One way to deal with human development is to appreciate the nature of struggle. Once we yield to the source of a struggle we may find the basis for new value. A struggle is not necessarily a bad thing. It the basis of learning and growing, it is the heart of creativity and innovation. A struggle is only depreciating (destructive) when it is ignored, denied or repressed.
It is important for us to learn to listen to our own ‘struggle’ and to each others ‘struggle’. Listening in itself is the most important thing as it creates space for the struggle to breath. Some people struggle with what we call ‘capability conversion’. This means that they have a calling, a capacity that needs to be realised or experienced. It is a hollow feeling, as if something vital is missing in their life, it is theirs and they want it back. Their capacity has grown over time creating a space or “a calling” to be fulfilled. Our capability calls to us, the only way to answer the call is to ‘realise’ and come to terms with the capability within and then to realise it by applying it through the acquisition of new skills, knowledge and experiences.
Converting capacity is easier if the individual and the institution they are working in (be it a family, a church, a military unit, a charity, government department, private business or a public corporation) is fully aware of what is going on in doing so they provide the necessary space and support.
Other people are struggling because their growth over time is going through a transition to a new level of complexity. Similarly this struggle finds new energy and confidence. If an individual or an organisation knows what it is and that it is OK.
Another aspect of struggle can be seen in the conflicts that occur between individuals and between groups when they fail to appreciate each other’s capability or ‘calling’. We see this phenomenon constantly in all manner of institutions, large or small. When people are not given sufficient space or discretion to experience or express their latent potential or to apply their judgment, they break the bounds of the formally defined roles that contain them.
Roles are not fixed, they are constantly evolving as the context, constitution and environment within which these roles exists is constantly changing. For example if a role (of a father, mother, son, daughter, neighbor, farmer, nurse, banker or bus driver ) is too narrowly defined, individuals will vent their frustration or find other ways to express their capacity. If a role is too loosely defined leaving, too much space for discretion, with little opportunity for feedback and learning, then the individual can become be overwhelmed, afraid and confused. In these conditions, without vigilant support around them, individuals shrink the role to into a shape and size that fits their capability. This is how many organisations are designed. Being trapped in these conditions consumes more energy that it creates and over time this erodes health, confidence and sense of self-worth.
We often see this ‘struggle’ when an individual in an institution is being required to report into another person who is has less capacity for abstraction or complexity. We call this struggle “structural conflict”. Structural conflict is not the same as personality or cultural conflict. Structural conflict occurs when different levels of complexity of work are not aligned or nested properly with each other and directed towards shared aims or purpose.
If a leader is unable to see (appreciate) this, the struggle will be a negative one, destroying value and squandering latent potential, sometimes for years. We do have experienced managers who appreciate and understand the implications of the capability of those that report to them and are able to, coach and nurture this talent. These people often become life-long friends and associates. Once this struggle is appreciated it often immediately addressed. Thus there is a negative aspect of struggle, when an individual is reducing the size and shape of a role to fit their comfort level. The impact this has on others and themselves can be very damaging. This is when the need to bring their attention to the need for support, collaboration and capacity conversion becomes critical.
This is addressed by developing the skills, knowledge and experience . The key is to allow every individual to become self aware, so they are conscious of their own capacity and also how their decisions and behaviors affect others in the work place. One of the most important tasks of any leader is how much space to create and where to create boundaries so others are able to grow?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart.
Hamlet, Act III, scene ii
Every thought, concern, plan, priority and purpose was contained in the purity of the moment. We sat and stood and cried both together as one and yet each at our very personal proximity to mourn the loss of our uncle.
Sidhu Masserji was one of those jolly uncles, the ones who with a glance, a wistful smile and a booming joy fill the room with his love. His six foot six frame was not large enough to contain his joyful heart. At the same time the largest man in the room and at the same time the biggest child. The honesty of his smile and warmth of his embrace would melt an acre of cares.
Today however, the cares were swept away not by the embrace of his warmth but the stillness of his unbending departure.
Death is a constant reminder of our inevitability and the destiny of everyone we do and do not love. Its agony can only be felt in the joy of our love. The deeper we love, the wider the berth of our anguish. And yet, despite the drama and ceremony we wrap it in, death is and will always remain completely ordinary. It is the most sobering and ordinary of experiences we can ever encounter.
Death is ordinary because does not distinguish. It does not compromise between race, creed, colour, fame, title, age, wealth, wisdom, insanity, the saint or the devil. It is what it is. There is nothing to negotiate. Death is our simplest expression of clarity. Our final statement.
My cousins’ fellow police officers graced the funeral with full military honours today. They lent a fitting dignity to our seperation from a man whose entire life had been about grace and connection to others. And yet at the same time, the formality of their polished uniforms and exact saltues could not take the ordinariness out of the stiff reality that lay bare in front of us for all to see and feel. The absolute normality of our mortality.
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow"
Macbeth, Act V, Scene V
Toronto is in the middle of one of its worst garbage strikes ever. For over a month the rubbish has piled so high that the stench and associated health risks are starting to become a major public hazard, especially with the lethal combination of heat and summer rain storms.
As I drove through this (otherwise) beautiful city, i thought about how the processing of waste, whether it is a city, a business, institution, house or human body is such a central part of our health and well being.
Then I began to think about how mad people would get if someone was to throw garbage onto their doorstep, and yet when someone whispers rubblish (bad mouthing another human being, nationality, race or group), some tolerate this, some refuse to taken in the toxic sentiments and others not only consume the stench, but beg for more.
When people bad-mouth others, is it any different than throwing rubbish onto each others front door. Negativity consumes, it erodes our ability to see what is really goin on in a flexible, fearless, resilient way. The stench of negativity towards others warps an individuals and an organizations ability to function effectively.
I have worked with firms where regularly and without consideration, simply putting the competition down was a celebrated trait, but then the same negativity would eventually spill over into other departments, functions and vendor partners and as a result, consume institutional capacity with nonsense/noise.
Once the municipal civic workers strike is over in Toronto, the garbage trucks will return and is likely to take weeks and a concerted effort to remove all these piles of stench. As a result of this combined effort, this beautiful city buried in rubbish will breath again, it will be revealed once again for one-and-all to enjoy.
What effort would it take to remove all the negativity we have taken in over the years, to rediscover and appreciate ourselves for what we are and allows others to do the same?
"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."
Othello; Act III, scene iii
People die every day. In the same week as the very public deaths of Michael Jackson, Steve McNair and Farah Fawcett, in our family we lost an uncle to cancer. He fought bravely through great anguish and torment for the past 18 months. He was a beautiful man with a warm wit and always a gentle inviting manner.
His life was a blessing to anyone touched by it. He did not shape an industry or create a new art form. It was the ordinary and simple things that he did that made him special to us. The way he listened, the way he greeted us, the way he told his stories, the way he went about his work, the way he shared everything he had and everything he was without expecting anything in return. The way he carried himself through his role repertoire as father, son, husband, brother, farmer, neigbour and friend. Just sitting with him was energizing. He did not postpone life. He did not pass the time blaming, hiding from or making excuses for his life. He was always being there right with you.
I was in Joburg when I heard about Michael Jackson. I was amazed at just how deeply and how widely this man (obsessed with never growing old) had touched so many people in the world. But at the same time I wondered whether it was him or his fame that so many people craved? Who actually knew Michael? His very public departure was a further reminder that being famous has its own price tag. Being ourselves is more fulfilling than merely being famous. Growing old is not easy but someitmes it can be easier than trying not to.
Of all the fears, the root fear is of death. This is not necessarily our physical demise at the end of our life, but rather as we live, the fear that we do not matter, that we are unloved or unnecessary.
The anguish of not being noticed or needed is a salient expression of the underlying fear of a living death. This vain attachment consumes the ability to be ourselves and be fully with the people who deserve our love and attention while we are here to give it and they to recieve it.
Trying to be liked is a much lonlier place than being a farmer in India, in a village where less than a thousand people will ever come, a place where being known is not as half as important as being a good neigbour and being yourself.
Fear is a form of energy. Fear of death is futile. Better to acknowledge its existence and move our energy into a life creating and a giving and forgiving direction. Our energy follows our attention, even when we (our physical bodies at least) are long gone.
"Were better to be eaten to death with a rust
than to be scoured to nothing with perpetual motion"
Henry IV. Part II (Act I, Scene. II)
"Here art thou in appointment fresh and fair,
anticipating time with starting courage."
Troilus and Cressida
Act IV, Scene V
There are times when procrastination serves us well. Sometimes we have to cease being slaves to the impulse of doing whatever we think is right. Sometimes being in not knowing, lost in uncertainty, in the freedom that confusion affords us, there is a stirring that our deeper un-breathed breathes need to dislodge. Wisdom is rooted in quiet, uncomfortable truths. For what learning did not preceed through the door of confusion? What new insight did not spring out of a restless thought? Procastination is often the path to that place.
More often than not, procastination is disguised in activity. We are so busy rinsing and repeating outlived habits and thoughts that we forget to trust ou instincts. As a result we fail to see beyond what we feel.
Procrastination is neither good or bad, but what we make of it. It has a bad name because it is not always good. At worse it is a form of cannibalism. Using ones capacity to aimlessly consume ones existence and potential is not a capital offence, but killing each moment adds up. Over a lifetime, that is a living death.
The challenge is when we are conscious of our procrastination. When we can put our finger inside the wound of their own addictive thinking, and find ourselve addicted to such an addiction. We woe in the mire of intellectual masturbation. A bad case of over-thinking is all consuming. As my dear friend Jeremy Preedy used to call it "over egging the custard". Procastination is neither good or ill but it is what we make of it. The struggle in the space between knowing and doing, is as old as to be and not to be and all that shit.
If procastination is consuming us, there are three steps that can open the future. Free ourselves from its empty bondage:
1) Ask.Call a friend. Admit we are stuck. Ask for help. Reveal and revel in our vulnerability not as a shameful scar but as door to new beginnings. Let someone hear our nonsense so it can vibrate through them back to us. But at such times we must avoid friends who want to "help" us, lest they infect us with their distraction. A true friend is one who is wise enough to allow us to listen to ourselves through their silence.
2) Start. Break the momentum. Lets begin. Taste what it feels like to begin. Start right now. In the next 3 minutes start to do the one thing that we want but dread the most. And only give it the luxury of three minutes. Even if we do not finish it will not matter because at best we may arrive in a place that is not here. At worst it may give us something else to overthink about. However, we may find a point of view or touch upon an energy in ourselves, a perspective we could not imagine but can only know by making a decision or taking an action. Breaking the inertia of our thoughts requires a leap of faith. But once it is released, it creates its own energy. Carves its own pathway forward.
3) Play. Cease the vanity of taking ourselves so damn seriously, Our life is just a brief itch. We are a temporary craving. This silliness we call an existence, this too shall pass. So with only a finite number of breaths, why not let the next one breathe in the fallacy of this drama. Relish these costumes. Take this make up seriously. Fix this silly wig. If life is a game (which of course it is) then lets play at being here today. This moment will either become a memory we will cherish or it will be wiped away like dust in the wind like so many billions of lives before us. Each aching care blown away in a whisper. Pfew! It is gone. So why are we so hung up? Why are we taking this emptiness so seriously?
All of these require us to be surpried, to tear up the old script. Abandon our identity. To cease thinking, but do something different. Why worry so much about our identity? It is going to slip off our stiff cold carcass one day soon enough. Why not today? Let our old self be. Let it go. Move on. Do something that is not on a to-do list. Do just one thing that makes us afraid. Sit in the uncertainty of it all. Taste the fear. Meet the person we never imagine we would know. Ourselves.
"This dangerous treason lurking
in our way to hinder our beginnings.
We doubt not now but every rub is
smoothed on our way"
Act II, Scene II
The painting "Poetry in America" contains two predominantfigures: For me, one of the dancers depict America and the other dancer represents Europe. The old poetry defends itself from extinction in the face of the new poetry.
Dali had a vital sense of the emergence of commercialisation, commoditization, globalization and the poer of consumerism. In Dali’s painting, the blood of Christ has been transformed into a dripping blood bottle of Coca Cola. A phone oozes black ink as the mass media consume "the word". The darkness of his vision of media is in sharp contrast with the light of Christ that is signified by the candle in the dancer’s head, the deep cavern humanity. Dali became more deeply smitten by his Catholic faith as he grew older.
In the "Poetry of America" two cosmic athletes, harmless sword fighters, dance around each other like yin and yang, completing each other, grappling through the air. The futile dance continues to revolve like the earths revolutions, as time runs ticks away in the background, rooted in the cradle of all civilization, Africa. A naked child seeks to confirm the "time of day" with a stick and tries to reconnect with the sun to dial in the time. All innocence is consumed with activity and consumption.
Here is how Dali replied when he was asked about The Poetry of America in 1966, in his own words:"The greatest passion of the American people is when they see little children killed. Why? Because, according to the greatest psychologists in the United States, the massacre of the innocents is the favourite theme, the one which is found in the innermost depths of their subconscious minds, since they are constantly annoyed by children, so that their libido projects itself filling the cosmic surfaces of their dreams".
A half century later, what would Dali see or say if he were here now? What would Dali make of our digitally connected, time poverty stricken, age of global consumption? Would his soft melting "French Camembert" have dissolved into a mist? Are the new and fast growing urban middle classes of India and China our ages new geopoliticus children?
Has the "Poetry of America" become the dance of the generation of globalised children? Turn on a television set, open up a computer or switch on the phone and the world is waiting to pour in from the other end. 50 years on we are more deeply, broadly and instantaneously connected than ever before. One of the consequences is that the culture of America has soaked the fabric of the world. Perhaps, half a century on, the two figures are the new poetry of America, dancing in the form of middle-class India and China?
"Nothing will come of nothing"
King Lear. Act I, Scene I.
According to Joy Lim, reputed Feng Shui expert, the Year of the Ox, 2009 will be a “year of resilience”.
Other Feng Shui experts echo Lim’s sentiments that despite (or perhaps because of) the current economic turbulence that the Year of the Ox will bring respite because the Ox is patient, persevering and tireless.
A time to keep our head down, replenish the soil, focus on getting the basics right and our arses back in gear.
I don’t know if this is custom, prediction or wishful thinking, but I’ll take it!
We all fail but we are only a failure when our truth is smothered in blame and regret. Courage and appreciation will be as important as ever as we step together into the wondrous Year of The Ox!
O Happy Day! Hung Hei Fat Choi!
"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing".
"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
As You Like It; Act III, Scene I
As You Like It; Act III, Scene I
It is not what we predict but how we inflict our past upon our future that matters.
Our obsessive grip on concrete facts and certainty constrains and blinds us from what destiny has in store. We are not overcome by the horrors and hopes we expect. It's the punch we don't see coming is the one that takes us down; the unexpected gifts and surprises give us the most joy. Our ability to reach a goal that we never dreamt possible and do things we never thought we could defines the boundaries of our joy and life.
Rational choice is a succor, an instant gratification that quietly rots a deep cavity into our imagination. Our friends say what we need to see. Our enemy is the one within, the soft voice that hides us from the joys of inconsistency, looking clumsy, confusion, ambiguity, relishing not knowing or being liked. The rest is vanity unleashed.
Rational choice is a succor, an instant gratification that quietly rots a deep cavity into our imagination.
Our friends say what we need to see. Our enemy is the one within, the soft voice that hides us from the joys of inconsistency, looking clumsy, confusion, ambiguity, relishing not knowing or being liked. The rest is vanity unleashed.
Our future flowers from the unknown present moment. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up. Stand still to know where we need to be. If we tie the choke hold of certainty around the throat of our creativity we should be prepared to swallow the infliction of never knowing surprise. All along dormant needs sit paitently, waiting for a little ray of light to shine through. Our latent knowledge suffers the indignity we would not reserve for our greatest enemies. As long as our sense of identity is tethered to a past that is defined by where we are now rather than where we have truly been how can we claim to know where we will be? Our practial wisdom is consumed in the grind of the daily noise of senseles habits. We are surrounded by pepole who can see all in us that we cannot and we choose not to ask and they choose not to intrude on our lonely plight for fear that we might disrupt theirs. And yet a seven year old who does not speak through filters of what 'should be' because they have the pleasure of not knowing any better or a seventy year old whose filters have been stripped away because she has realised what a terrible burden self deception is, they will introduce us to the strangeness that is the stuff of life. Predicting the future is a fruitless activity, it ought to be outlawed with all the other drugs that society spurns. If we pay attention to not knowing, we can sense the fresh morning air and risk experiencing an untold future, enriched with surprise. "So that in venturing ill we leave to be
The things we are for that which we expect;
And this ambitius foul infirmity,
In having much, torments us with defect
Of that we have: so then we do neglect
The thing we have; and all for want of wit,
Make something nothing by augmenting it"
The Rape of Lucrece (211)
Our future flowers from the unknown present moment. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up. Stand still to know where we need to be.
If we tie the choke hold of certainty around the throat of our creativity we should be prepared to swallow the infliction of never knowing surprise.
All along dormant needs sit paitently, waiting for a little ray of light to shine through.
Our latent knowledge suffers the indignity we would not reserve for our greatest enemies.
As long as our sense of identity is tethered to a past that is defined by where we are now rather than where we have truly been how can we claim to know where we will be?
Our practial wisdom is consumed in the grind of the daily noise of senseles habits. We are surrounded by pepole who can see all in us that we cannot and we choose not to ask and they choose not to intrude on our lonely plight for fear that we might disrupt theirs.
And yet a seven year old who does not speak through filters of what 'should be' because they have the pleasure of not knowing any better or a seventy year old whose filters have been stripped away because she has realised what a terrible burden self deception is, they will introduce us to the strangeness that is the stuff of life.
Predicting the future is a fruitless activity, it ought to be outlawed with all the other drugs that society spurns. If we pay attention to not knowing, we can sense the fresh morning air and risk experiencing an untold future, enriched with surprise.
"So that in venturing ill we leave to be
Here we go again. The US media swings full scale into yet another overdose of sensationalism.
It is not enough to come to terms with the fact that an African-American man might possibily be intelligent and eloquent. Having not had enough of the buzz over Hillary Clinton's "historical" race for the Democratic nomination, we are now knee deep in Sarah Palin overdrive. We are meant to be consumed by her qualifications (through the dualistic lens of right or wrong, right or left). We are to sit by and watch people pick apart at her personal and private family affairs in the name of political clarity, as if any of this nonsense matters.
All of this crazy media hype about 'history being made' is more hysterical than historical. History is made in every moment, the rest is so much excess labelling.
Lest we forget, here is a brief tribute to the many nations, media groups and the women around the world who have carved the pathway for the "greatest democracy in the world" to follow. Here are some timely lessons in how democratic elections can be fought and won with dignity, integrity and respect.
We are not talking here about the many women who ran for the office of the Vice President. Nor are we talking about the hundreds of women who ran for national party nomination and were narrowly defeated. We are talking about the 62 women who have stood for the highest political office in their land and won on their own merits.
We are talking about the women who became the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of State of soverign nations. These elections occured without any of the hoopla of the U.S. media circus agast at the fact "Oh my god, she's a she!". Where were the "historical" pundits then?
The Irish electorate voted for two women in succession as their President. Just as the United States of America braces itself for a "possible" female Vice President, just across 'the pond' women have been running the highest office of the land in Ireland for the past 18 years!
Do you recall the headlines in 1997 when Mary AcAlleese succeeded Mary Robinson as President of Ireland? The big question of the day was not that she was a woman but that the largely male dominated para-military group Sinn Fien were strongly advocating her victory. Some in the press wondered if this would hurt Mary AcAlleese's chances at the polls? The point is that this issue was gender neutral.
If you are not aware, then check out Mary Robinson's credentials, her track record as President and the legacy she left behind. In each of these case and so many more around the world, women have risen to power in a male dominated system because they were the best fit for the job.
Here are the 62 pioneers who lead their nations and have nourished the world over the past 48 years. The stories of these women can now nourish the American political media and its electorate as they discover their own path towards a new historical future.
"From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world:
Else none at all in ought proves excellent"
Love's Labour's Lost
Act IV, Scene iii
The ‘middle path’ is a Buddhist construct. But middle in the Buddhist context does not mean compromise, concession, conflict avoidance or tolerating being average. Middle in the Buddhist tradition means to sit in the core of a problem or situation and to realize it fully, without being affected or infected by it.
The middle path is the ability to walk through the battle field surrounded by noise, confusion and destruction, confronting our reality by remaining emotionally still and intellectually neutral. Neutral is not the same as being neutered and being still does not mean to do nothing, only to remove attachment to the self, the obstruction of needing to justify oneself or seek approval from ourselves or anyone else for that matter.
Taking the middle path means sitting with our current reality in the here and now. Not to be caught in the past that we can never fully know or a future that is yet to be. The middle path is clear when we free of attachment and still long enough to see ourselves in our own drama
The middle path is our ‘true north’. The truth emerges out of our own mind and body, there is a practical wisdom that sits quietly underneath our chattering mind, bound by the chain of memory and cursed by the need to need.
The measure of a leader is his or her ability to act freely and do what is right without being consumed by what is right or wrong. Without having to prove to themselves or others that they were right.
Taking the middle path means sitting with our current reality, exploring a situation, seeing an opportunity or a problem from multiple, even conflicting perspectives without angst. It requires us to see all points of view without being physically, intellectually or emotionally embroiled in what we see.
The painter who paints the effortless stroke, the musician who plucks just the right note or harmony out of the air, the friend who says only what needs to be said, the lovers glance that says it all, the engineer who sees the simplest path in a mass of complexity, the cricketer who catches the ball in the sweet spot of the bat and snaps tit into the perfect corner of the circle. That is the middle path. It is emergent, it is uncontrolled, it is the sum of all our practice, all our learning, all our non-yearning.
The middle path is simple, but it far from easy. The middle path is our inner voice. The middle path is the sacred space where we our breath and the earth that breathes in harmony with us.
"Give me a man that is not passion's slave and
I will wear him in my heart's core"
Hamlet, Act III: Scene 2
The term competere "coincide, agree" is also the root of the term ‘competent’ as competence is the basis of an agreed set of standards of professionalism.
Since the industrial revolution, the term competition has became synonymous with trying to beat others in a furious race to acquire and accumulate the most finite resources. Turning a blind eye to the old adage "even if you could own everything in the world, where would you put it?"
Competing has nothing to do with stealing or taking advantage of others for our own selfish benefit. Competition is not a zero sum or short term game.
To vie for, challenge, contend and strive to be the best creator of value for the people we serve has more to do with how and why we apply resources than how or why we accumlate them.
The accumulation of wealth is a natural outcome of the value we create for others. One follows the other. When we focus on accumulation over application we confuse cause and effect; short cuts and corruption soon follow upon our heels (performance enhancement drugs, cooking the books, burying the truth).
Competing is about applying limited resources more wisely than anyone else in order to create more resources in the form of new value, than anyone else. Value begets value.
A common way of growing market share, leveraging economies of scale and reducing overhead is to acquire a competitor. Knitting resources together is not enough. To be successful the new entity needs to strive in common. Some mergers and acquisitions realise this, many more do not.
Competing is a question that always begs an answer to a question that has no bound. Striving in common requires an openess to uncertainty that melts into grace. Meekness is no giving in it is rising up above the illusions of ego.
When we compete we lose something we gain something. What we gain is a a focus, we innovate new forms of value for customers/ society our competitors cannot imagine or repeat.
"Trifles light as air are to the jealous
confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ"
Othello: Act III, Scene 3
Satyagraha means the “Firmness of Truth” or "Truth-Force"
Satyagraha means the “Firmness of Truth” or "Truth-Force"
Satya the Sanskrit word for “truth”; agraha means "firmness". Thus combined Satyagraha means "the firmness of truth”.
Satya the Sanskrit word for “truth”; agraha means "firmness". Thus
combined Satyagraha means "the firmness of truth”.
Gandhi's impact on Indian independance has been exagerated and romanticised by western academics and idealic biographers. The sacrifices made by Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Bagaha Jatin, Veer Savarkar, Tilak, Rabingdranath Tagore and Neaji Subhash Chandra Bose had a far more profound imapct on the British than Gandhi alone.
Gandhi's impact on Indian independance has been exagerated and romanticised by western academics and idealic biographers. The sacrifices made by Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Bagaha Jatin, Veer Savarkar, Tilak, Rabingdranath Tagore and Neaji Subhash Chandra Bose had a far more profound imapct on the British than Gandhi alone.
Nevertheless, the Mahatma did have an inspiring influence, he charmed not only the British out of their divide and rule commercial and imperialistic brutality, but has had an untold and personally acknowledged influence on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Gandhi's greatest strength was his wit and wisdom in knowing how to manage and put the use of mass media to his own pragmatic use. Gandhi went out of his way to clarify precisely what he meant by non violence, "passive resistance" or Satyagraha.
Nevertheless, the Mahatma did have an inspiring influence, he charmed not only the British out of their divide and rule commercial and imperialistic brutality, but has had an untold and personally acknowledged influence on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Gandhi's greatest strength was his wit and wisdom in knowing how to manage and put the use of mass media to his own pragmatic use.
Gandhi went out of his way to clarify precisely what he meant by non violence, "passive resistance" or Satyagraha.
Mahatma Gandhi was concerned that the media and governments both in the east and west did not understand his phrase "passive resistance". They kept confusing it for "passive agressive" behaviour or simply doing nothing.
Mahatma Gandhi was concerned that the media and governments both in the east and west did not understand his phrase "passive resistance". They kept confusing it for "passive agressive" behaviour or simply doing nothing.
Gandhi drew his inspiration for Satyagraha from Baba Ram Singh, who lead the Kuka Movement in the Punjab. Here in Mahatma Gandhi's own words is a vivid description of what Satyagraha meant to him, and it is in the same stroke quite self explanatory as to why it is important for us:
Gandhi drew his inspiration for Satyagraha from Baba Ram Singh, who lead the Kuka Movement in the Punjab. Here in Mahatma Gandhi's own words is a vivid description of what Satyagraha meant to him, and it is in the same stroke quite self explanatory as to why it is important for us:
"I have drawn the distinction between passive resistance as understood and practiced in the West . I often used “passive resistance” and “satyagraha” as synonymous terms: but as the doctrine of satyagraha developed, the expression “passive resistance” ceases even to be synonymous, as passive resistance is a quiet admission of violence, it should be universally acknowledged to be a weapon of the weak"
"Passive resistance does not involve complete adherence to truth under every circumstance. Therefore it is different from satyagraha in three essentials:
1. Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong
2. It admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever
3. It always insists upon truth.
Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth and a determination to search truth.
Every truth is self-acting and possesses inherent strength.
Passive resistance should not be confused passive aggression, the two are opposites. Satyagraha is a pure soul-force of truth.
The truth is by its very nature non-resistant because it cannot be moved, the truth cannot be destroyed.
A Satyagrahi has infinite patience in the truth.
Satyagraha abhors cowardice, and he who preaches it with any selfishness about him.
Satyagraha teaches us the art of living as well as dying.
Satyagraha is a method of carrying conviction and of converting by an appeal to reason and to the sympathetic chord in human beings.
Satyagraha is a process of educating public opinion, such that it covers all the elements of the society and makes itself irresistible.
Satyagraha is self- dependent. It does not require the assent of the opponent before it can be brought into play. Indeed, it shines out most when the opponent resists. It is, therefore, irresistible.-
Satyagraha is an attribute of the spirit within. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
Satyagraha is a method of carrying conviction and of converting by an appeal to reason and to the sympathetic chord in human beings. It relies upon the ultimate good in every human beings.
A satyagrahi turns the searchlight inward relentlessly to weed out all the defects that may be lying hidden there still.
Satyagraha has been designed as an effective substitute for violence.
The fight of Satyagraha is for the strong in spirit, not the doubter or the timid.
In the dictionary of satyagraha, there is no enemy. A genuine satyagraha should never excite contempt in the opponent even when it fails to command regard or respect.
A clear victory of satyagraha is impossible so long as there is ill-will.
Satyagraha does not depend on the outside for help; it derives all its strength from within.
The method of Satyagraha requires that the Satyagrahi should never lose hope, so long as there is the slightest ground left for it.
Jesus Christ, Daniel, and Socrates represented the purest form of passive resistance or soul force.
A Satyagrahi has infinite patience, abundant faith in others, and ample hope. A Satyagrahi cannot go to law for a personal wrong.
In the code of the Satyagrahi, there is no such thing as surrender to brute force"
"Truth is truth to the end of reckoning"
Measure for Measure: Act V, scene 1.
In a recent conversation with my dear friend Robbie Stamp I found myself reminiscing about my teachers at Dormers Wells High School. For some bizarre reason, this run down multi-cultural school in West End of London in the late 70's was chock full of Welsh teachers.
Our Welsh teachers would jibe us about how our parents ended up in Southall because it was "the first bus stop they came across after they got off the plane at Heathrow Airport". We would joke with them about how they had to hitch a lift down the M4 as it was their only way out of eating daffodils.
How could we ever forget our morning assembly’s? Mr. Mathias and Mr. Evans patrolling menacingly through long lines of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh kids ensuring we were singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” at the top of our lungs for fear of a short sharp boot up the back side.
In the middle of the hymn they would implore “dig in deep, dig in deeper you rascals, put some heart into it for Pete’s sake!”. I am sure St. Peter was greatly pleased with our efforts, give us a C+?
Not that white Christian kids were spared the ordeal. Most of them children of poor Irish and Polish immigrants. Being Catholics made them as foreign than us.
Our teachers were not racists or bigots. They were not trying to convert us into Methodists or Presbyterians. We understood what was going on. Their only sin was that they loved to sing and scream our load about their passion for life. These were not "stiff English worms" (a phrase i never forget), they had pure British blood. These Celts had more in common with the Basques of Northern Spain than the Germanic lot who commanded England.
But for them, how would I have ever known of the socio-political genuis of Aneurin Bevan, the artistry of Gareth Edwards, the tenacity of David Lloyd George, the betrayal of Richard Burton (by "that no good for nothing two timing drunk whore Liz Taylor"), the amazing George Everest (who was forced to have the worlds highest peak named after him - despite the Welsh humility of his protests) and of course Mr. Lawrence of Arabia who came from as far from golden deserts of the Middle East as one could possibly get, his 'green, green grass of..." Gorphwysfa in Tremadog, Caernarfonshire.
These crazy Welsh emigrants infused us with the passion for life, hymns, dance, song, language -- who would i be today without the poetry of WH Davies, R.S. Thomas, Roald Dahl, George Herbert, Edward Thomas and Dylan Thomas? These loud, mercilessly joyful and angry teachers enriched us beyond measure. I don't remember the lessons in the books we were forced to read, I only remember the lessons of their lives, their ways, their inspiration.
There were reserved Sasunnach teachers in our school, but I remember few of them. All of our Welsh teachers were larger than life romantic characters. These “bugger all” backwards who wended from the vicinity of Llareggrub were lyrical, smart, eloquent, stubborn and always irreverently funny. We laughed until we cried. They were my teachers because they were unashamedly, absolutely, completely who they were. As such, they taught me to be unashamedly who I am. What more could an innocent child ask for?
"You thought, because he could not speak English in the
native garb, he could not therefore handle an
English cudgel: you find it otherwise; and
henceforth let a Welsh correction teach you a good
English condition. Fare ye well."
Henry V, Act V, Scene i
I was born in England to Sikh immigrants. Taught to be a A good English Christian schoolboy during the day, reverting to a good Sikh son of an honest immigrant farmer every evening and weekend.
For reasons I will never understand, the hard switch back and forth between Eastern roots and Western breeding, from obedient Christian by day and Sikh warrior by eve was far more of a torment to me than either of my brothers or any of my 'second generation immigrant' friends.
To make matters more colourful most our teachers were Welsh immigrants who despised the English would go out of their way to remind us that these "Anglo-Saxon immigrants" had taken over their Celtic homeland, and how the Normans and Vikings all plundered and watered down the ancient Briton bloodline. Their anger at the immigrants of the past cast the presence of my parents and my own unwashable tan skin into new light.
To relieve the mental anguish and silence the self torment I would bunk off from school, use my lunch money to take the Tube from Ealing Broadway on the Central Line directly to Holborn Station to escape in the wonder of the Reading Rooms at the British Museum. There I dug through the brittle skin of what I was being told by what it meant to be a “Sikh” at home and by what it meant to be a “Christian” at school and excavated my own darkness.
My private ordeal eventually turned from an elevation, to an elation and eventually a rev-elation. Both faiths, indeed all faiths are connected by a stream that runs deep beneath, in an undercurrent of latent truth that connects all humanity with or without our feeble permission. We should never trust what we see on the surface we are not that shallow. Our true task is to (if we are blessed or we are blessed if we) slow down long enough to drink from the sacred pool of truth rooted deep within us.
Baba Nanak Faqir followed the Rumi saints at the same time as he cleared the hindu cobwebs off the Vedic scriptures to reveal that "there is no moslem, there is no hindu". Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji was equivocal about this, he taught that if people have the courage to step beyond the shackles of social identity, the shallowness of social despair will give way to the breadth of humanity. I learned that if people slow down long enough, allow the pool of their frantic minds to be still, then they will see that we all uniquely love.
"How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees"
Othello. Act II; Scene iii
“Weep not, sweet queen; for trickling tears are vain”
Henry IV - Part One
Act II, scene iv
Moma butterfly’s flight has been ever supple strong, never brittle hard, her world could never be consumed by the coaxing flames of greed. Today, she has unclipped her wings, broken free of the unfinished symphony she cast so carefully to tame the toxic breed.
Seeds sown devoid of pride will take roots in her stride. Her passage to her next feast will be as turbulent and yet as certain as the morning tide. Moma butterfly knows only how to fly with titan heart, healing eyes and arms open wide.
“There is difference between a grub and a butterfly;
yet your butterfly was a grub. This Marcius is grown
from man to dragon: he has wings; he's more than a
Act 1, Scene iii