Being witness

Many times

the biggest help you can be

is to turn a listening ear towards another

to hear everything they have to say

no matter how troubling how painful how confusing

to give up for a while

being another judge, another critic, another fixer of troubles

to be a welcome to all of it

all of it

and in your seeing and hearing embrace

find out how healing

being witness can be

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The horizon that is visible is not the whole sky

When we take the automatic path (see this post, and this), we try to resolve our difficulties by doing more of what we’re already in the habit of doing already.

We try to deal with our overwhelm by getting busier. We think that if we can just go a bit faster we’ll soon get on top of things.

We can’t see that it’s not a question of faster but more often a question of priority, of deciding what’s important and saying no to everything else.

We try to deal with other people’s apparent lack of commitment by speaking more loudly, being more insistent, yelling. We think that if we’re just more forceful then people will do what we want.

But we can’t see that involving others is not usually a question of force but a question of enrolment – that we’d be better turning our attention to inviting a genuine relationship that supports commitment in arising.

We try to deal with our anxiety by turning away from it, numbing ourselves, only to find out that anxiety forced underground is just as painful and, in many ways, causes us much more difficulty.

We can’t see that feelings are there to be felt. That our anxiety can educate us, have us reach out for support, teach us about what’s most genuinely important for us.

In each of these cases, and in many more, we’d do well to remember Martin Buber when he tells us

“The horizon visible from one’s station is not the whole sky”

Or, in other words, the resolution to many of our difficulties is not to continue on automatic but to turn towards what we’re not currently paying attention to.

It’s to find out that what we’ve taken to be the ‘horizon’ – the way the world is, the way we are, and what we have to do – is only a part of the picture. That the resolution to our difficulties, or at least the lessening of them, is often in finding out that the world of possible relationships, explanations and actions is way bigger than we’d imagined.

This, then, is the path of responsiveness, and the path of development. 

And it’s worth working on with everything we can bring to it.

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A lifetime’s work

Automatic:

Cliche
Saying the same thing to the same person in the same way
All the ways we use jargon or business-speak
Predictable reactions to what you’re feeling (lashing out, withdrawing, self-criticising)
Tuning out from what’s really happening
Most of our habits
Always knowing, always being sure
Excluding certain emotions
Keeping conversation within predictable, narrow bounds
Saying “I am this way”

Responsive:

Asking “What’s needed now, here?”
Tuning in to the wholeness of the situation – with mind, emotions, bodily sensation
Relaxing your need to know what to do
Letting go of feeling safe, so that what’s needed can arise
Allowing yourself to be surprised – at yourself, at others
Feeling it all
Giving up defending, clinging on, controlling what’s happening
Doing what’s called for, rather than what ‘one does’

We easily become masterful at automatic. 

And although responsive is our human heritage, for most of us mastering it takes ongoing practice because so much of what we’ve learned – at school, in work, in our families – gets in the way.

We could do well to remember that responsive – much needed in our lives – is a lifetime’s work.

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Automatic or alive

Two paths available to all of us, that are an inherent part of being human.

(1) The automatic path

Our bodies and minds have an exquisite ability to learn something new and then reproduce it without our having to pay much attention to it. It’s what we rely on to get us around in the world. Navigating doors, cooking utensils, cars, speaking, phones, cities, social niceties, and paying for things would all be practically impossible were it not for this capacity. Without our automaticity we would have to learn and relearn how to interact with just about everything in the worlds we have invented.  Indeed, without our capacity to automatically respond to the vast and rich background of culture and tools in which we live, culture itself and tools themselves would be impossible.

(2) The responsive path

We also have an exquisite ability to make sense of and respond to the particular needs of the current moment. In any given situation we can find ourselves doing or saying something we’ve never done or said before. Sometimes our creative response can be surprising, sometimes clumsy, and sometimes we find ourselves able to respond with beautiful appropriateness to what’s happening. From this comes our capacity to invent, to respond with empathy and compassion to others, and to change the course of a conversation or meeting or conflict mid-flow. Without this capacity we’d hardly be human at all. We’d be machines.

But here’s a problem. We so often call on or demand the automatic path when what’s called for is the responsive path:

We fall into habits shaped by the strong feelings that arise in our emotions and bodies.

We tell ourselves ‘I don’t like that’ (and so don’t do it).

We say ‘I am this way’ (meaning I won’t countenance being any other way).

We insist other people stay the same as we know them, and put pressure on them to remain predictable in all kinds of overt and subtle ways.

We institutionalise or systematise basic, alive human interactions in our organisations, insisting on frameworks and codes and processes and procedures so that we won’t get surprised.

We repeat ourselves again and again – saying the same things, the same jokes, the same ideas, the same cliches.

We think rules, tools, tips and techniques will save us.

We form fixed judgements of ourselves and others which we can fall back upon when we’re in difficulty.

We turn away from anything that causes us anxiety or confusion. We prefer to know rather than not know. We’re hesitant to step beyond the bounds of what’s familiar, and comfortable.

We would often rather settle into the predicability and sense of safety that our automaticity allows. Sometimes we even call this professional or businesslike.

And all the while what’s most often called for in our dealings with others, in our businesses, in our work and in our organisations is the responsive path – our capacity to respond appropriately to the particular situation and its wider context; to be unpredictable, creative, exciting, unsettling, sensitive, nuanced and, above all, alive.

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A sea of stars

I was reminded yesterday that, on the eve of the destruction wrought on the Jewish communities of Europe in the first part of the last century, my great-grandfather and his brother sat down to talk. They could see how desperate their situation was likely to become, and they had no idea how they could secure the future of their families against the gathering storm. And so they made a bargain, and a gamble with fate. They would toss a coin, they agreed. Whoever called correctly would take their family to England. The other would stay in mainland Europe.

Between them, they hoped, some part of the family would manage to survive.

As a result of this decision, my great-grandfather’s family came across a sea of stars to England. His brother, his brother’s family, and all their children passed through Poland and Paris and eventually to the death-camps at Auschwitz, where as far as we can tell all of them perished.

On the throw of a coin the chain of life that came down to me and now on to my own children was secured. Who knows how many generations, how many lives, how much that has since and yet will be brought to the world, rested on that fateful moment?

Remembering all of this is a huge call back into gratitude and wonder in my darkest, most self-obsessed, most resigned, resentful, and most narcissistic moments. It cuts through confusion and despair, awakening me again to what life is calling for, to my unique responsibility to act and take care of life – my own and others and everyone’s.

And it strikes me that the moment at the heart of this story is one of countless billions of chance moments and near misses, stretching back and back over time, that make it possible to be here.

That any one of those moments could have called an end to the great chain of which I am the inheritor.

And that this is true for all of us, whether or not we have stories in our families of desperate decisions made in terrifying times.

And that if perhaps we made efforts to remember this, somehow, in our daily lives, we’d go to sleep less often to the unfathomable privilege and enormous responsibility of simply, gloriously being alive, in this place and at this time.

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This moment

Every moment – each second, each breath – is both an end and a beginning.

At each moment what is done is done. The present dies into the past, never to return.

And at each moment something new is born. The future, born into the present. A moment, like every moment, in which anything could happen.

Perhaps you wait until a new year, an anniversary, or a birthday before you recognise this, before you wake up to the endless cycle of death and birth, ending and beginning in your life.

Or perhaps you catch a glimpse, sometimes, that every moment is such a moment, filled with the possibility of choice and responsibility, of waking up to life or of going to sleep to yourself again.

What kind of moment will you make this moment? One of turning back into your life, or one of turning away?

And what will you do, what regular practices or habits or reminders could you take up, that will wake you up to the endless aliveness of your one and only life?

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Difficult times

firerain

We seem to live in uniquely difficult times.

We face multiple, simultaneous, almost intractable difficulties. The widening inequality of our societies. Economic uncertainty, and the undoing of many of the assumptions upon which we have built our economy. The effect we’re having on our climate. Billions living in slums. The rise of violent religious and political fundamentalism. An uncertain energy future. Rapid population growth.

It’s understandable in such times that we should feel afraid. That in the face of all of this difficulty we should get caught up in protecting ourselves, before anyone else. That we sooth ourselves and numb ourselves with glowing screens, with our busyness. That we distract ourselves from the buzzing, whirling sensations in our bodies and emotions that try to show us that something is wrong. That we amass whatever we can for ourselves as we try to cling on. That we wait until we feel better before we step forward and make the contribution we’re here to make.

But as we do this, as we pretend we’re fine while all the while feeling very afraid, we forget that the world has always been this way. Human life has always been perilous. We have always been faced by crises and by threats to our very existence. We have, most probably, always told ourselves that our own times are particularly troubled ones.

Seeing this opens up two new paths.

The first is that we stop adding to our very real difficulties with our stories about the uniqueness of our troubles. Those stories make us mute, frozen, self-obsessed. When we know that we human beings have, for millennia, found ways of responding creatively and with great resourcefulness to what life brought us, we can begin to trust our own faculties more. We can begin to turn towards one another and the world again, and ask ourselves what’s needed, and what we can do.

The second is that we remember that it’s right in the middle of difficulty, when we are most uncertain, that our most noble and life-giving qualities can emerge. When there’s trouble and we find ourselves turning towards our neighbours, towards people we hardly know, towards community, and towards the society in which we live, we remember that compassion, care for others and being in relationship are powerfully life-giving and meaningful activities.

Which way we turn – towards defensive self-centredness or towards relationship and compassion – is not just a matter of choice but a matter of ongoing practice. In other words, we live lives in which through our actions we cultivate one path or another.

Let’s not wait until we feel safe and settled before we start to cultivate the second path, one that can bring great meaning – and great healing – to ourselves and those around us.

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Seeing Systems

When you start to see that your organisational dramas (see this recent post) repeat themselves in organisation after organisation you can also start to see that your difficulties are often not so much personal as they are systemic.

Another way to say this is that what you might think is the problem with Dave or Jill or Aggrey or Sue (or with yourself) is often being brought about by the wider system in which everyone is participating and not simply by the person themselves.

We are not used to looking in this way.

We blame Jill, who is in a senior position, for being aloof, distant, and unresponsive to our needs. But all the while Jill is experiencing her own position as overwhelming – caught between her personal accountability for the organisation and all the problems others keep on bringing her.

We blame Aggrey, who is in a middle position, for being unable to respond to our reasonable requests for information or support or action. But in order to respond to you he needs the cooperation and response of others. All the while his experience is that of being pulled in opposite directions by the demands of his bosses and the demands of the people on his team.

We blame Dave, who is a team member, for complaining that he is under-resourced, while missing that Dave is experiencing the vulnerability and uncertainty that comes from others deciding what work he will do, or even if he will have any work at all.

Jill, Aggrey and Dave are experiencing the archetypal difficulties that come with being in a hierarchically ‘top’, ‘middle’ or  ‘bottom’ position. And we judge them, mistakenly, with archetypal and personal judgements, which misunderstand their situation.

We come to believe that for anything to happen they must change and that until they do we must wait and put up with it. While we wait for them to change, or demand that they change, we reserve the right to complain. We don’t see the particular difficulty their positions bring, and we don’t see that our very complaints are part of the problem.

Our complaints assume the difficulties we experience at their hands are personal, and that the solutions to them are personal too (which is to say that Jill, Aggrey and Dave simply need to get their act together, buckle up, and do what we need of them). But much of what we’re experiencing – and much of what Jill, Aggrey and Dave are experiencing -is systemic, which is to say it’s being brought about by all of us. Until we see that, we’re trapped in a cycle of judgement and blame which asks the impossible of our colleagues.

The first step required to get out of this drama is compassion – which includes finding out what the world is really like for those whom we find troublesome.

The second step is seeing that we keep these systemic difficulties going through the stories we tell about others, and that there are many alternatives to the stories that are most familiar to us.

When we find and act upon stories that account for people’s actions more accurately than our usual blame and judgement stories, many possibilities for connection, responsiveness and partnership open to us.

For a wonderful, articulate and very practical exploration of all this, I can’t recommend Barry Oshry’s book Seeing Systems highly enough.


Where value comes from

Most of us are taught, from a very early age, that the true value of things is how they perform.

We quickly conclude this about ourselves too.

We equate ourselves with our exam results, comparing ourselves with others, with what we thought we should get, or with what other people told us we should get. And we experience the crushing disappointment of being a failure or the inflation of being a success based on this.

Or we take ourselves to be the number of friends we have (more popular = better kind of person).

Later on we think we’re our salary, or the size of our house, our reputation, or the performance grade given to us by a manager. Why else would we feel so inadequate or jealous when we see people with more money, recognition, status? And so self-satisfied when we come across people with less?

And as a result of this we not only see our own value as that of our performance, but other people’s too. It turns us all into objects.

All of this brings us many difficulties:

We live a life of constant inner and outer comparison, swinging from deflation to grandiosity and back again as we encounter other people.

We conclude that we are at fault. If only we were better, we’d have more of whatever it is that we’re measuring ourselves against.

We’re distanced from others by our fear and judgement and endless comparing.

We withhold our contribution because we’re so fixated on (1) doing what will turn out well and (2) doing what will give us the (self) esteem we crave. Whole categories of meaningful, contributory, connecting activity become unavailable to us. Listening deeply (which might show us what we fear about ourselves) and saying what’s true (which might make us unpopular) are both immediate casualties.

We fuel our busyness, mistakenly believing that all this will be resolved if we can simply do more.

We eat away at our own sense of meaning and possibility, and we constrain it in others.

There is an antidote to all this, desperately unpopular in the world that our performance anxiety brings about. And it is this:

People (every one, including you) are intrinsically of value. And not just a little value, either, but infinite value. Regardless of exam results, regardless of house, regardless of salary or status or reputation or style or coolness or performance grade or job title.

This is not a popular position to take in our cynical, world-weary, frightened, acquisitive times.

When we start to see others as of infinite value we we’re able to listen to them, support them and for the first time, trust them, so they can bring their own contribution.

And when we start to see ourselves this way we open astonishing possibilities for acting and contributing, free of the constraints and resentment that our constant self-assessment brings about.

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Not part of it

There’s a myth in many places of work that emotions aren’t part of it.

“We’re professional,” you might say, “no place for feelings here”.

And in saying that, you’ve bought wholly into an enormously unhelpful misunderstanding: mood as an essentially corrupting, messy, distracting element of human life – better left alone than faced, better ignored than talked about, better suppressed than felt.

But moods didn’t go away just because you’re pretending they don’t have a place, and they didn’t stop shaping the world of possibility available to you just because you don’t want to look at them.

Somehow, we’re going to have to start talking to each other, in even the most ‘rational’ of organisations, about personal and organisational mood, and about the way gratitude, resentment, anxiety, resignation, love, shame and cynicism shape what’s possible for us and those around us.

And that’s going to entail widening our understanding of what human beings are, and what it is to engage in work together.

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Tearing apart

It’s so easy to tear things apart…

… to use critical thinking, objection, cynicism, resignation – or even a call for freedom – as a way of dismantling what others have built. It’s easy to think that this way of thinking itself – dismissing, critiquing, undoing – is a mark of a sophisticated mind.

And it takes a quite different faculty – perhaps best called love – to weave things together into coherence, to form enduring bonds that can support us.

Superficially it can look like tearing apart – of ideas, concepts, commitments, relationships – is liberation. But while dismantling is often a satisfying activity at least while we’re in the midst of it, and while it frees us for a while, it frequently just frees us into the ruins of what we once relied on.

Often what we’re most called to do is weave the kind of strong net that frees us up even as it constrains and holds fast.

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Basic Failings or Basic Goodness

So many of us, going through life with such interior harshness, gnawing inner-criticism and attendant shame, fear, resentment, and anger.

So many of us, blind to this force within us, unaware that this is the water in which we’re swimming, the air which we are breathing.

And because of this, so many of us projecting our own inner-criticism towards others as  judgement, shaming, name-calling.

Perhaps we don’t even understand we’re doing it, but it settles us to have the outer world reflect our inner world. That way we can say “it’s the world that is this way”, rather than anything to do with us.

And how it spreads, our inner acidity evoking and provoking the acidity of others.

Could today be the day to call a moratorium on this inner battle we’re fighting? To discover how much more there is to ourselves, and to others, than a constant barrage of comparison, belittling, and ‘not-good-enough’.

And to find out that there is another kind of contribution we can make – wiser, kinder, more transformative and not a jot less powerful – if we start by searching for and bringing out basic goodness rather than the basic failings we are convinced are the heart everyone, including ourselves.

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Two to read

Two worth a read.

Robert Poynton on how seductive the new can be, and how it blinds us to the wisdom and value of what endures.

And Seth Godin on the consequence of becoming passive consumers (led largely by the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets) and our ongoing responsibility to produce creative work that can change people.

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Who to help

A crisis.

Somebody is in need.

Time to jump in.

That way I know I’m being of use.

That way I can feel good about myself.

That way I know I’m needed.

But I have to ask

Am I helping the person in difficulty?

Or am I making this all about me

Helping myself, and not the other?

And could I assist in a different way…

…One that actually does something?

For some fabulously clear advice on this question, read The Ring Theory of Helping. It’s of value in all kinds of crises – medical, existential, organisational.

And it answers a most important question when we want to be of use – not whether, but who to help.

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How to help

Of course you want to help.

Of course you want to relieve other people of their suffering and difficulty where you can.

But it’s easy to confuse what’s actually, genuinely of help with what makes you feel better.

In other words, it’s easy to do what makes you at ease and then take your ease as proof that you must be doing good.

But being of help does not and cannot always feel that way.

Genuine helping is an act of vulnerability and courage and openness towards another. It requires you to give up all your demands that things turn out or feel a particular way. And to give up needing a particular kind of response from the other person. In real difficulty, it might involve you giving up knowing, or pretending to know, what to do at all.

Confusion over this, and of course your wish that others not feel pain, can lead you down some queasy paths. You reassure a friend facing a possibly life-threatening illness that everything will be alright. You ask someone who is grieving if they are ok, when ‘ok’ is the word furthest from their experience.

In your attempts at kindness, you end up missing the other’s simple deepest wish for connection: being seen and understood, their difficulty recognised for the suffering it is. Your kindness leaves them feeling more alone.

From speaking to others who have experience of this, and from an interlude of my own acute, frightening illness, it seems clear to me that the most compassionate and most helpful way you can speak to someone who is in difficulty of any kind is to first, simply, to ask them

“What is this like for you?”

And then listen. With every ounce of presence, openness and receptivity that you can muster. For as long as it takes for them to speak.

Allow yourself to hear something quite different from what you were hoping to hear.

And allow yourself to be changed by what they have to say.

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The mountain

We’ve believed that somewhere, at the top of the mountain we feel like we’re climbing, everything will be alright at last. We’ll be fulfilled, at peace, happy.

And so everybody’s climbing the mountain, and everybody else seems to be trying to sell us something that will get us there more quickly. ‘Buy this product’, the advertisements scream, ‘and at last you’ll be ok. At last you’ll be able to rest’.

So we climb, faster and faster, harder and harder, exhausting ourselves along the way. We’re sure the answer is at the top. We tell ourselves, ‘When I have that job, that house, a beautiful lover, children, money, fame, the right car, or body shape, or clothes, an advanced degree, my name on a book, when I retire, I’ll be there’.

And the climb becomes more frantic, more determined, because it seems that other people have reached the top of the mountain already. Film stars, celebrities, billionaires, models, TV presenters, novelist, the people in the next street with the nicer houses, your friends – many of them look like they have it together, that they at last have reached life’s destination.

There are books, and courses, and coaches and products that promise you all of this – that there’s some secret to the climb that’s right in front of you if only you’ll buy it, some magical way to accelerate you to the top.

And all the while, you’re hardly in life at all. Always postponing, always deferring, and piling suffering upon suffering as you compare yourself with others who seem to be further ahead, living the life you should be having.

But the mountain has no top.

Each crest simply hides another, and the genuine, heartfelt relief that comes from reaching it is soon replaced by the understanding that you didn’t arrive yet, that you have further to go. Gradually you realise that staking your life on reaching a peak that never existed isn’t what you’d bargained for.

Or – alternatively – you discover that you’re already at the top of the mountain. And that you always have been.

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Not about them

So much of what seems so obviously true about other people is, if you look closely, a product of the particular way you see things. It might well be that your judgements arise precisely because of the categories you are insisting other people fit into.

Your obsession with detail – has other people show up for you as unreliable, chaotic, or inconsistent.

Your refusal to engage with emotions – has others show up as soft, or flaky.

Your insistence that everything is treated as black or white, right or wrong – has others show up as incomprehensible to you.

Your longing to be loved, to be seen – has others show up as uncaring.

So what would happen if you treated your many judgements about others (your criticisms, your comparisons) as telling you nothing about them and everything about yourself?

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Back to front

When you find yourself in genuine difficulty, which path you do choose?

The path of self-harshness? This is the way of criticism, loathing, comparison. And the way of pushing harder and harder.

Self-harshness, so familiar to so many of us that we don’t even see that it is what we are doing, has the surprising effect of increasing harshness everywhere in our lives.

Or the path of self-kindness? This is the way of taking exquisite care of yourself, asking for what you need, stepping into the deep bonds of support that are so often available to us, turning the loving attention of your own heart towards yourself in the midst of your difficulty.

Self-kindness, so unfamiliar to so many of us that we do not even consider it an option, has the surprising effect of making kindness possible towards many others, even in the darkest, most frightening, most disorientating of times.

Most of us are confused about this. We equate self-harshness with righteousness (perhaps we think we’ll redeem ourselves if we add to our suffering) and self-kindness with a moral softness (perhaps because we’re so convinced we’re broken and at fault already that kindness would be an act of irresponsibility).

But the more I look at the results of my own self-harshness, and that of others, the more convinced I am that we’ve got it all, precisely, back to front.

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Moods – truth or manipulation?

Watch how your emotions and moods play a part in your dramas.

He doesn’t ask about your day in the way you were hoping for…

She doesn’t say to you how brilliant your contribution was to this morning’s meeting…

He doesn’t tell you he loves you at the moment you wished he would…

…and you become angry, resentful, or sulking; overtly or quietly, with loud demonstration or with a roll of your eyes, with a slouch of your back and shoulders, or with silence.

Are you actually, truly, angry or resentful or resigned?

Or could it be that this mood that’s swept upon you is itself a way in which you keep the drama going?

Because each mood tells a story to you and to others, casting you and them in roles that call for particular kinds of action. These moods, in particular, establish you as the wronged one, with the other person as wrongdoer. And, because moods are public even if you’re doing your best to hide them, you’re instantly affecting the other person, calling from them a new kind of response, even before you speak.

If you get the response you wish for – an apology, an admission, an offer, loving attention – does the mood subside?
And if you don’t, does it deepen, continue, heighten?

Moods are not just occurrences that sweep over you unbidden but actions in which you are involved. And as you observe this you might start to see that they are rarely simple reflections of what is happening, but a way in which you act to have new things happen.

I think this is what Robert Solomon means when he tells us that our emotional responses can be cultivated, made more sophisticated – more truthful – over time. It’s an important project, for each of us, to find out how what we’re feeling is not some simple unquestionable truth but also a way that we’re involved in keeping our dramas going, and in getting what we want in indirect and often confusing ways from the people around us.

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Keeping it going

Dramas – the stories in which we’re at the centre of things: ignored, hard-done-by, unfairly treated, not seen, unrecognised, imprisoned by the actions or insensitivity of others.

Of course sometimes our stories are not dramas in this sense at all, but genuine accounts of oppression or neglect, upon which action must be taken.

But it’s illuminating to see how often our drama stories are in large part an invention.

And how we keep them going.

Because, even when wildly inaccurate, dramas have huge payoffs.

They tell us we’re the centre of the world (doesn’t it feel better that way?)

They make others responsible for our difficulties (gets us off the hook)

They stir up our anger, resentment, fury – even our hate (all of which feel so much better than confusion, uncertainty, boredom)

And because of all this they’re usually wildly more attractive to us than any of the alternative truer stories, which would have us act, step up, step in, talk to people and take responsibility for our part in the difficulties in which we find ourselves.

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Dramas

Dramas – the stories you spin into being, which although perhaps painful and frustrating and fearful, place you right in the centre of the action.

Dramas – all your stories of how people are not paying you due attention, seeing you in the way you want to be seen; all the ways you are left out, overlooked, your needs and wishes unnoticed and unmet; all the ways in which others are conspiring against you or, at least, taking care only of themselves; how the world seems organised to particularly frustrate your personal hopes, your longings.

Dramas – perhaps unsurprisingly – are a powerful way of generating some sense of self-esteem in the midst of a world that’s confusing, contradictory, and chaotic; a world far beyond our understanding which does not obviously attend to our particular needs and wishes as quickly or as completely as we would wish.

Once we start to see that our dramas are not the way the world ‘is’ but a purposeful activity on our part to make ourselves feel better, or to get seen, or to manipulate others to get our needs met, perhaps we can begin to loosen our grip on them a little.

Because by placing ourselves in the centre of the world, our dramas seriously reduce our capacity to respond to the needs and longings of others. And in this way our collective commitment to keeping our dramas going brings about exactly the self-centred world we fear is excluding us in the first place.

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Fiery and Fierce

When was the last time you felt fiery and fierce about what you’re up to? Whole-heartedly and bodily swept up in work that matters deeply to you? Left feeling alive by your efforts?

When did you last find that your work diminished you? Left you feeling less than whole, and less than fully human?

And what, if anything, are you doing about what you’re concluding?

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Anything you want

In the sometimes desperate, fearful shoving and striving of getting what you want, it’s all too easy to find yourself in a life whose form is quite far from what is fulfilling, or alive, or meaningful, or that allows your unique contribution to come forward.

You may even find that what you thought you wanted, that which you’ve been pursuing with so much effort, turns out to not be what you wanted at all.

Perhaps you’ll only notice then when you find out how far from yourself you are living.

So as well as asking how to get what you want, and working towards that, you could also ask what kind of person you want to be. 

This is not a question many people are taking on with seriousness.

And what could come if you pursued that with a sincerity, vigour, and dedication equal to your other projects?

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Of Value

The danger of expectations is that the value of an experience, a meeting, a project, a course, or a relationship collapses into something really quite shallow. Value becomes, simply, the extent to which your expectations were met, or not.

By holding tightly onto expectations you are, before an event even happens, squeezing it into a frame that you’ve created. ‘That day together was no good’ may simply mean it didn’t match the way you’d imagined it.

Instead, how about entering into an experience or relationship with sincere intent? Orient yourself towards what you intend to bring, or a way you intend to be.

When you bring yourself with a whole heart, with generosity, with the intention to contribute, or be true, or to listen deeply – without attachment to the outcome – you allow the experience or relationship to be what it is.

And you give yourself and others the chance to discover that, surprisingly, what’s genuinely of value often arrives in ways quite different from what you were expecting.

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Dusting off

When you consciously take up an ongoing practice – running, saying no (or yes), meditating, delegating, gratitude, kindness, speaking up for yourself, writing – and you fall out of your rhythm, out of your commitment for a while… when you find that it’s just not happening, what else is there to do but stand up, smile, and jump back in again?

Excuses, justification, apologetics – none of these do much, in my experience, other than produce a momentary boost of self-esteem.

Even harsh self-criticism and shame are rather wonderfully twisted ways of producing self-esteem by showing you that you care and are not indifferent.

After a rather interrupted August, here I am, standing up, dusting myself off, writing again.

I’m pleased to be back.

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