Adding no agreement: The Case of the Noodle Man


There was one seat left at the table at the food court by the time I got there. I slid in and looked across at the man opposite. I’d seen him earlier that day. From Adelaide I think he was, and he was here at the conference with his wife. He was eating noodles. He introduced himself. Alex. Few years older than me. Smiling eyes. Spiky hair standing up on his head.

We started chatting about “what we did for a living” and what had brought us here. He had his own accountancy practice, he told me, and had enjoyed it for many years. He described going in to work on Monday mornings and greeting his staff, the pleasure and satisfaction it gave him, and the atmosphere in the office, the friendship, the camaraderie.

I was entranced. I hadn’t experienced work as a source of pleasure and satisfaction for many years, if ever, and was agog to hear it actually existed. It was like hearing a strange tale from a foreign land. I lapped it up, urging him on, tell me more, hoping his “secret” would rub off on me.


At that time, I had a big story going about my work history. The story went like this – “I’m intelligent and highly educated, and yet I haven’t had jobs that are a match for what I can provide. It must mean there’s something wrong with me” – and I was continually trying to work out what that something was. In fact, you could say that was my main employment: trying to work out what was wrong with me :)

After Alex spoke about his business, the conversation turned to what I did for a living and, as I did in those days, I eagerly launched into my “tragic” tale.

I must have started with an early experience of work, and after I had spoken for some time, Alex asked, “And then what?”

I went on to another experience and spoke about that. Again, when I paused, Alex asked, “And then what?”

I started on another episode, and again, after some time had passed and I had reached some pause in the story Alex asked, “And then what?”

We went on this way, with me fully engaged in my well-worn story and Alex going on eating noodles and every so often asking his question until something started to dawn on me.

I started to get that Alex was really listening to me. He was listening to me as I’d never been listened to before. What was he doing? I couldn’t work it out. There he was, calmly eating his noodles in silence, no murmurs, no grunts of assent, no expression on his face, no sympathetic nods or glances or noises. Just, every so often, his question.

I felt I could say what I liked and Alex would get it. I felt like Alex was providing me a space in which I could relax and take my time and say my story, and could be however I wanted to be. It was like encountering a vast field or pool in which I could lie and swim and float and be at ease.

Alex was listening and adding no agreement. There are dimensions in listening that far exceed questions of sound and non-sound, speaking and non-speaking, and with Alex I discovered this dimension and it was an extraordinary experience in my life.

I can also hear when another human being has discovered it too and I hear it in the story I published some time ago between former Harvard theologian, Henri Nouwen, and Adam, the disabled man Henri cared for at Jean Vanier’s L’Arche.

What was so amazing about all this was the very gradual realisation that Adam was really there for me, listening with his whole being, and offering me a safe space to be.  I wasn’t expecting that, and though I do not express it well, it really happened … Sometimes when I was anxious, irritated or frustrated about something that wasn’t happening well enough, or fast enough, Adam came to mind, and seemed to call me back to the stillness at the eye of the cyclone.


What Alex provided me that day allowed me to complete my past in relation to work, and the story I had about work has completely vanished.

Nowadays, I have my own business and I’m engaged in doing things that matter to me. Every day, I experience the pleasure and satisfaction Alex spoke of, and I understand this pleasure and satisfaction has its source in how Alex listened me that day.


Image: Old man eating noodles by keruiii

The women I spent IWD with. Aren’t they beautiful?

I went to an African headwrap party for International Women’s Day. Here are the women I was with. Don’t they look beautiful, regal, queenly in their headwraps? Mandi, the beautiful young woman in the blue headwrap in the front, is the same koala woman who featured up a tree in this post. She spoke about our country, our peoples, being in need of healing from our past. She said it well.



A book written by no-one and everyone


Once upon a time, I bought a little book from a secondhand shop in Hobart for the title, The simplest book God ever wrote.* There is another author’s name on the front cover and it’s not important, and that’s what the title means. The book was written by no-one and everyone.

In homely, unpoetic language, the book speaks about what I discovered on the corner of Exhibition Street and Collins Street four years ago: that who we are is love.

Here are some quotes from the book (italics are mine):

Life is simple, very simple …

Many people will tell you all sorts of things about how to be happy. “Live your dreams” they will say. “Find a career” or “Find your soulmate”. Or that you need lots of money or a great education, a car and a house, or two cars and two houses. We need things to be happy, or to be doing things, or going places.

The truth is really simple.

There is only one cause of lasting happiness and that is the flow of love …

Love is easily misunderstood. It is not that we have to be romantic or even affectionate to every soul in the universe. Love at its most basic simply means to be connected …

… we will be the happiest when we can offer every atom in the universe our unconditional love, and in turn, receive the love that is always flowing from every atom. This is the most essential element of our nature. Every one and every thing radiates love naturally whether we are conscious of it or not …

Conversely, there is only one cause for all suffering in the world, lack of love.

Instead of looking at your car with disdain, thinking that you are just waiting to get a better car, try looking at it with love. Imagine getting into your car and saying, “I am so grateful that this wonderful chariot transports me so effortlessly and lovingly every day, thank you – I love you …”

A good place to start is with ourselves. This is our doorway to the love that we offer outside of ourselves. If we can love ourselves properly then we will find it is extremely easy to love others. We need to diminish fear and develop trust in ourselves …

God has made it very simple, free and available to every single person on the planet regardless of race, class, colour or creed or financial status.

It does not matter what we do, it matters only that we be … We are responsible for our happiness. There is no other cause. Happiness comes from the flow of love …

The spiritual reality is that there is no geography that separates us, ever.

We are all part of each other. Every single atom is you and I. Please hear this, every single atom is you and I, one …

To philosophise or not to philosophise? Talking about the universe and the nature of God has one purpose. To help us realise that all God’s power and peace and love is inside us right now, where we are in this moment … To philosophise is interesting but the real journey is to know God. To know in every atom of our being that we are God, we are infinite love


The simplest book God ever wrote, Sunirmalya Symons, Heart Garden Publishing, 2007

Image: A few months ago I heard a story about a woman who conceived the building of a labyrinth in Sydney’s Centennial Park, modelled on the great labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France, and I resolved to walk it in the coming year. Then, a month ago, I was visiting Brisbane and one hot, steamy morning I happened to walk past the city’s main cathedral, St Johns, and noticed the unusual stone it was made from. So I crossed the street and decided to talk a look inside its coolness. When I got near the altar, I was surprised to see a labyrinth laid out. It was made from a canvas sheet on which they had simply painted the labyrinth, and it was based on the Chartres one too. Bingo! Here was the labyrinth I wanted to walk, waiting just for me, in an entirely different city!



Dustiness is who we are


“When we forget our dustiness, our mortality, our human nature, we begin practicing our piety, our life, before others; hoping to be seen, recognised, and praised.”

~ Father Mike on remembering we are human beings, that dust is our source and completion, and dustiness, who we are. Read him here: Welcome to the human race.



Fear into Love


The public conversation in Australia at present is truly poisonous. Come hither Thich Nhat Hanh and speak to me of love.¹

“We have a great, habitual fear inside ourselves. We’re afraid of many things – of our own death, of losing our loved ones, of change, of being alone … Sorrow, fear and depression are like a kind of garbage. But these bits of garbage are part of real life, and we must look deeply into their nature. We can practice so as to turn these bits of garbage into flowers. We should not throw anything out. All we have to do is learn the art of composting, of transforming our garbage into flowers …

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writtenafterwards: Future Beauty at QAGOMA

WrittenAfterwards-SS-2013-Collection-Bye-BuyThe Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion exhibition has recently concluded at the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, and I was in Brisbane to see it a couple of weeks ago.

In the 80s, Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and others launched a fashion aesthetic the like of which the West had never seen. They presented a radically

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This shall be

He was upset, speaking about the missing years, his brothers cut off from their children, his father and grandfather cut off from their grandchildren, his brothers cut off from each other. Every way he looked there was distance and division. His eyes filled with the speaking of it, and then he was afraid of not being “strong”. Do you know how beautiful you are at this moment, I asked.

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Listening as the radical, intransitive act

Listening When I first started my training and development with Landmark Worldwide, I was entranced by the way language was used in the programs I attended, and in the conversations about the programs.

The language was highly rigorous, and featured unusual phrasing and an absence of modifiers such as adjectives, adverbs and superlatives.

I was getting all these breakthroughs in my personal life and relationships, and then there was this wonderful bonus: the language. For a language nut like me, Continue reading

The possibility of possibility

A Sentimental Journey, 1971This post is dedicated to Amal.

Like many people, I find myself in situations and circumstances in which it appears only one way is possible, and it’s the way that’s hard, undesirable or requires loss. Recently, I heard three people speak about what they’ve been facing in the last eight weeks, and I was reminded there is never only one way. Even in the worst of situations something else is always possible and frequently it’s the miraculous. In listening to their stories I was also reminded that we rarely know what people are really dealing with, even those closest to us, in fact, maybe especially those people.

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“we encounter a pitiless machismo…”


Nine months ago, I met a man in immigration detention in a camp in the middle of prosperous, comfortable Melbourne who’d been held there for over five years. He had committed no crime, been given no comprehensible reason for his detention, had no access to defending himself by law against the unspecified charge. What had brought him to that place was the action of seeking asylum in Australia.

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“You’re in trouble”


Where was I? I’ve just crawled out of the bog of social media for business purposes, a terribly determined place.

It’s customary to say if I’d known what it takes to start a business from scratch, I wouldn’t have done it. Only I would have done it nonetheless, because I’m stubborn and bonkers, and because working as an employee I was often bored out of my brain. Very late in my so-called “career”, I cracked the secret of being satisfied and happy at work, and as soon as I got that I was done. Nothing more to prove!

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Freedom of speech, debate, having the right to be a bigot: A conversation

Greg (in US)

I know of no place where it rules absolute, regardless of language. Exceptions! Many exceptions…

Me (in Australia)

Exactly. Even where it’s legislated, it’s not usually the bottom line. Cannot be, for good reason. However, the public conversation discusses it as if it were the bottom line. It’s as if people are trying to erect an ethic, a morality, on this tiny platform.


Hard to debate with people who don’t sweat details!


Debate. Another spurious concept. “We have to debate in order to arrive at the truth.” Yeh, right. Debate=fastest way to move further away from the truth.


Really? What’s your sure path to truth?


A path to truth is real conversation, ie, deep listening and compassionate speaking. Debate is predicated on scoring points, winning, being right (and when we’re being right, someone else is being made wrong).

We are fully stocked with debate and then some. Debate is not what’s missing. What’s missing is deep listening and compassionate speaking.

“The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.” ~ Martin Heidegger


Ah. I have a broader notion of debate, I suppose. Real interactions are certainly best, and the best sort of argument involves just that: conversation, and listening.

Mrs D (in Canada)

I guess the danger comes when individuals can be beaten up, jailed, sent to concentration camps or even killed for making even the mildest criticism of those in authority. I hear what you’re saying about deep listening and compassionate speaking, but on another level I am deeply concerned about the loss of civil and human rights brought about by the “war on terror”.


I get your concern about the loss of civil and human rights. Our concern and fear can only grow while ever we fail to generate solid ground on which to stand.

Mr B (in US)

There are generally three recognized limits to free speech – and their respective slippery slopes, at least here in the US:

1) Public Safety – you cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and call it free speech. The slippery slope can lead to not-quite-so-direct matters of affecting public safety, but this is the first category.

2) Slander / Libel – you cannot make untrue statements that discredit a person’s character. Public figures seem to be somewhat exempted from this, but not entirely.

3) Obscenity – not covered by free speech. Again, like the other two categories, the interpretation of what this is – is up for debate and court rulings.


Thanks for outlining the situation in the US. Have they ever discussed adding an exception for something like “inciting hatred”? Just curious. Or maybe that would come under the “obscenity” ground?

Australian lawmakers have tried (maybe even succeeded?) from time to time in “reading in” to the Constitution a prohibition on inciting hatred (or similar).

My concern at present is that the US conversation for freedom of speech is being imported wholesale into Australia without close thought or attention to detail or context. It concerns me because, looking in from the outside, it seems the conversation doesn’t always serve the US. I get my view is limited and you may have a different view.

A few months ago, the Aust Attorney General proposed changing the constitution with some “free speech” clause. He proudly stated that everyone “should be entitled to be a bigot.” This is the depth to which our parliament has sunk. This nonsense was entertained for some months.

Me (later)

There’s been discussion in Australia in the last day about whether the Charlie Hebdo cartoons would have been able to be published here. Various legal experts have said “no” or “highly unlikely” based on section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act (not the Constitution as I implied) which states:

“It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

It is this section which the Australian Attorney General was previously trying to water down in light of the proposition that people “had the right to be a bigot”. Incredibly, since the Paris massacre, one or two members of the Government have revived their calls to water down the clause. They see the massacre as a reason to loosen limits on free speech. This shocks me.


Vanishing evocations


The finest piece of writing I know on music, creativity, life and the whole damn thing by James Baldwin. “Listen, Creole seemed to be saying, listen. Now these are Sonny’s blues. He made the little black man on the drums know it, and the bright, brown man on the horn. Creole wasn’t trying any longer to get Sonny in the water. He was wishing him Godspeed. Then he stepped back, very slowly, filling the air with the immense suggestion that Sonny speak for himself.”

Originally posted on Solid gold creativity:

“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air …

I just watched Sonny’s face.  His face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn’t with it.  And I had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. But as I began to watch Creole, I realised that it was Creole who held them all back. He had them on a short rein. Up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing…

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