“I’m about to not listen”

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As a human being, you don’t listen to what others are saying; you listen to your story about the other person or situation. Another way to say it is this: we are listening before anyone opens their mouth and we are listening to something we formed a long time ago, usually decades.

This is one of the premises of all the programs at Landmark, and it’s called the “already always listening” distinction. I heard a Landmark Forum leader on the weekend creating the distinction for others, and he said this marvellous thing.

He said, “Every time there’s someone there who’s about to speak, I say to myself, ‘I’m about to not listen'”.

That’s a man who’s unwilling to live in the fantasy that he’s listening. Instead, he starts from the assumption he’s about to not listen. Starting there – in the acknowledgement of what is so – he then has the chance to discover listening. A chance, not a guarantee, and it’s a chance even so. The other way, there’s no chance.

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Image: One of my favourite philosophical texts, the brilliant The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech by Avital Ronell

The greatest acknowledgement

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What is the greatest acknowledgement you have received in your life? Being a language nut and a communication nut, I often think about the greatest words that have been given to me, and the greatest words I can give to another.

I really do live my life from the premise there is a word which, when uttered, can change everything. Like “Abracadabra!” or “Open, sesame!”

These are some of the greatest acknowledgements that have been given to me in my life.

A man I worked with about 12 years ago said, “You have a beautiful mind.” Isn’t that great? I love it.

Another man came up to me at the end of an intense training and development program seven years ago and said, “I knew that so long as you were here, everything would be alright.” Wow! I was so moved when he said that, and I’m moved all over again telling it now.

Then there was the day of my dad’s funeral. I knew I wanted to say something, and I felt sad and wordless. So I called up a friend the day before the funeral and she asked me one question, “What are you creating for tomorrow?”

As soon as the question was out, the answer was right there: “Unity.” So that’s what I created on the day. I stood up and spoke about a walk I took with Dad when I was about seven years old, and then spent the rest of the time speaking about who remained and acknowledging each member of my family. So it was a eulogy that mostly wasn’t about the person who had died! Afterwards, my mother came up to me and said, “Thank you for what you said”. That meant a lot.

What about you? What are the greatest acknowledgements you have received in your life?

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Image: Isn’t this a great pic? I got it off Facebook. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this post. I just love it!

7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents

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This morning before dawn, in her home town of Sydney, Heather Hawkins finished the seventh of seven marathons she has run in seven days on seven different continents which is the World Marathon Challenge. Seven days ago, she started in Antarctica, the day after, it was Chile, then it was Miami, Madrid, Morocco and yesterday, Dubai.

Heather is 50 years old, and only “took up long-distance running three years ago after surviving ovarian cancer.” She had emergency surgery to remove the cancer in 2007, and afterwards decided she wanted to challenge herself.

“It was just a life-changing experience,” she said.

“I feel so eager to have experiences and to live life and to really push some boundaries physically as well as to prove that the cancer hasn’t beaten me … I dedicate it to friends and fellow ovarian cancer survivors and people battling the biggest battles in their life with cancer … And that just helps wield you along and you just think if I get to the end of this race and then I’ll get to the next one and we’ll get through that as well.”

Her husband, Doug, described her journey as

an epic tale of determination, guts and a will to achieve, all done with a smile.

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De-identified

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A friend who I hadn’t seen in a year or so sent me a text this week. He asked “How are you?”

Most times, I’d say something conventional, “good”, “fine”, “all good”, blah, blah. This time, something stopped me. I couldn’t say something glib. I stopped and actually looked to see “how I was” and I saw that certain circumstances in my life suck right now and that I’m feeling happy and alive. So I said that.

Since then, I got something happened there. I got I’m not my circumstances. There have been other de-identifications along the way, the big one being that I’m not my thoughts and feelings, and I hadn’t gotten this one before.

Now I see there’s another one that hasn’t occurred yet: that I’m not my body and appearance. That’ll happen in its own good time too.

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Image: Photo of a Rosalie Gascoigne  (1917-1999) work in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, Australia

Some things Tom Cox has learned about writing

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Tom Cox is creator of the wildly successful Twitter account about his 20-year-old poet/philosopher/cat called The Bear, as well as a long-time journalist for publications such as The Guardian and New Music Express, and author of several books, not all of them about his cats.

He has posted some thoughts about writing for a living to mark 20 years in the game, and I’ve reposted them on my business website (because there’s lots of gold there, and because it means I can post a pic of The Bear whom I love dearly). You might notice that Tom’s voice is contagious. And that’s a VERY GOOD THING, especially if it can’t quite rise to the standard of the original.

If you want more of Tom’s writing and his life with The Bear and Roscoe and his Dad and the rest of the crew, go to his website, Tom Cox, and to follow The Bear on Twitter, go to @MYSADCAT.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Tom on writing (my favourite point is the penultimate one: The longer you go on writing, the more “improving” becomes knowing what to leave out) … Some things Tom Cox has learned about writing 

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Let difficulty transform you

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“When we’re putting up the barriers and the sense of ‘me’ as separate from ‘you’ gets stronger, right there in the midst of difficulty and pain, the whole thing could turn around simply by not erecting barriers; simply by staying open to the difficulty, to the feelings that you’re going through; simply by not talking to ourselves about what’s happening. That is a revolutionary step. Becoming intimate with pain is the key to changing at the core of our being – staying open to everything we experience, letting the sharpness of difficult times pierce us to the heart, letting these times open us, humble us, and make us wiser and more brave.  Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.”

~ Pema Chödrön

Image: Detail from a bookmark design by Australian boy, Zane Austen-Young, which won a prize in a bookmark competition for the Book Depository site, based on his favourite book, Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek; notice the love hearts he’s drawn on the sheep’s face and the nostrils and the speech bubble that says “Roar”.

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Freedom from fear, freedom from the attempt to shame: Australia Day address, 2016

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To my fellow Australians, I urge you to listen to this Australia Day address by human rights lawyer, Deng Thiak Adut; note, among so much that is superb, the absence of blame, of “calling out”, of the attempt to shame. That’s what being a leader is about, what transformation is about.

Contrast it with the recent speech by Stan Grant, one that is well-intentioned and fails on these fronts. “Calling out” – ie, attempting to shame – cannot, will not, ever work. Shame is the most powerful and destructive of human forces, and seeking to induce or extort it, no matter the justification, is no less a violence than dropping a bomb.

Listen to the address here: Rescued child soldier delivers 2016 Australia Day Address on Australia Day.

Or read the transcript here: Australia Day Address, 2016 

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Random on a Monday: “Hillary, can you excite us?”

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A young African-American student at Harvard who supports Hillary Clinton asks, “Hillary, can you excite us?”

Now that is a great question. There’s a world in that question. Here’s my view: if you’re not exciting people, you or your idea will not fly. Doesn’t matter how “good”, how deserved, how competent, how whatever you are, it’s not worth the candle if it doesn’t excite others. And in order to excite others, it has to excite you. So underneath the question is another version of the same thing: “Hillary, do you excite you?”

Second great question: what is exciting? Here’s my view: human beings are liable to be surprised by what excites them. Usually, it’s not what you would expect.

Credentials as a hedge against being wrong

A friend contacts me this morning to say he’s been hired for a temporary role in a state government department. His job is to recruit people with a “knowledge of evaluation frameworks” to three vacant research positions in the department. The positions come with a modest salary of $90-100,000 and no-one below PhD level will be hired. In fact, he says, he’s the only one in the department who doesn’t have a PhD.

Now that is the definition of a fearful organisation, an organisation mired in the paradigm of blame and fault. If we can only hire enough qualifications, the unconscious/conscious reasoning will go, we’ll be safe. Safe from what? From being wrong. There is no limit to what people will do to avoid being wrong.

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“A majestic mass of futuristic vessels … “

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Since 2011, Laurent Kronental has been photographing the Grands Ensembles housing estates built around Paris from the 1950s to the 1980s, and their elderly residents. The results are haunting, melancholy and magnificent at once. Here are some of the images featured in The Guardian last week. For more information about Kronental and his Souvenir d’un Futur project, please visit his website.

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Images by Laurent Kronental: (from top) Jacques, 82, Le Viaduc et les Arcades du Lac, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, 2015; Joseph, 88, Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, 2014; José, 89, Les Damiers, Courbevoie, 2012; Joseph, 88, Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Noisy-le-Grand, 2014; Les Tours Aillaud, Cité Pablo Picasso, Nanterre, 2013 (two photos); Roland, 85, Le Viaduc et les Arcades du Lac, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, 2015

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the glory and the terror of it

Immaculate words on the glory and terror of the truth about responsibility …

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The Path of Love is like a bridge of hair across a Chasm of Fire.

The Realization that every act, every word, every thought of ours not only influences our environment but mysteriously forms an integral part of the Universe, fits into it as if by necessity, in the very moment we do or say or think it, is an overwhelming and even shattering experience.

If we only knew deeply, absolutely, that our smallest act, our smallest thought, has such far-reaching effects; setting forces in motion; reaching out to the galaxy; how carefully we would act and speak and think. How precious life would become in its integral oneness.

It is wonderful and frightening. The responsibility is terrifying and fascinating in its depth and completeness, containing as it does the perplexing insecurity of being unique and the profound consolation of forming part of the Eternal Undivided Whole. And we all…

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What do we owe each other?

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Good to see an article in the The New York Times drawing on the thought of Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, to consider the issue of refugees.

From the little I studied of Levinas when writing my thesis on Heidegger, no-one comes close to him for the interrogation of our responsibility to other human beings, which in his view, always already exceeds any other consideration.

His is the ultimate voice on the question of the ethical call on each one of us, and it’s grounded in the authority of his experience as a prisoner of the Nazis and the annihilation of all members of his immediate family. His view has the effect of making the so-called Christian “ethic” – do unto others what you would have them do unto you – a very poor and conditioned thing.

Read the article here: What Do We Owe Each Other?

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Image: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Possibility of new life

For the last 113 mornings I’ve been getting up at 5am and going for a walk around my neighbourhood. A then-acquaintance on Facebook declared she was getting up at 5am as part of a 66-day challenge. I heard something in her declaration – the possibility of new life – and joined her.

Since then we’ve become close friends through sharing our experiences. When coming to the end of the 66 days, we decided to start a new cycle and today is day 47 of the second cycle. Both of us have experienced this 5am rising as life-changing.

The first week was a revelation. Suddenly, there was so much time. The world is new and I’m creating it every morning. It’s spring and unseasonably warm. The wind is orange blossom and wisteria, blackbirds sit on TV aerials singing as I walk by, Venus, the morning star, shines in the east. I’m in paradise each morning. I’ve got a thousand times more energy and each night I feel the tiredness I felt as a child, a genuine tiredness, a delicious tiredness.

The original 66 days came from a video proposing that it takes 66 days to establish a new habit, the latest in a long line of such theories. In my case, around day 30 it had become normal and I’d started to wake before the alarm. Sometimes now I wake at, say, 4am and if I feel fresh I get up. The fear and resentment of getting up, particularly in the dark, which has been with me since I was a child is not there.

The number doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the repetition, the commitment. This is also new to me because all my life I’ve disliked routine and predictability and I’ve gone out of my way to overturn it. Now I know that whatever else is happening, I’m going to be getting up at 5am and that’s that. The difference is that it’s my word and each morning I get to fulfil on my word, and this provides such a tremendous platform for my days.

The walking thing is magic, sacred. Each morning, I receive gifts. One morning, a super-moon hanging over the city stopped me in my tracks, a massive pale orange ball suspended over the tops of the skyscrapers. On another morning, a waning moon snuggled up to Venus in the east made me gasp with beauty. I walk with owls and bats, and a few weeks ago, saw a small figure hurrying up the road towards me. All of a sudden I realised it was a fox and stopped dead. Then he stopped dead. We looked at each other and then he turned and calmly trotted back the way he had come. Another morning, I stopped to tie up my shoelace and saw the leaves of the bush next to me were burnished.

In fact, the birds and trees and moon show me things. They teach me, they lead me. I’d been conscious of this, and then a few days ago, I understood something further. I understood I could allow the path to guide me. I could rest in the path and have it show me how to respond. I don’t mean this poetically or metaphorically. I mean it literally, with the concrete situations I am dealing with in my life. I can relax and be alert and let the path show me. I don’t have to push or shape or will the path, I and the path can move together.

This is one of many insights I’ve started to receive while walking, and when I was writing about labyrinths the other day I realised that that’s what I’m doing each morning, walking a labyrinth. Even this is literal because I live in a tight nest of short streets and each morning after I walk up to the lookout over the river and look in the eastern sky, I have a choice of four or five pathways I can take. Some days I take one path, other days, another path.

To encourage the insights, I’ve started to experiment as I’m walking by reciting mantras, coordinating my steps with my breaths, or naming feelings and sensations as they arise. Today I was doing the latter and a new thing happened. Most mornings,  I see very few cars or people. There are two men, a young Indian student around 19 or 20 and another Indian man in his 30s, who drive their cars around the neighbourhood with their hazard lights on, stopping and getting out to lay the newspaper at the front door of the houses who still take newspapers. I tell them I appreciate the care with which they do their job, and often the experience is as if the three of us are creating the world out there in the dark. Apart from them, I usually see two or three cars at most. Today was different. Thirty or forty cars must have passed by and each time one passed I noticed a tremendous irritation and anger rise up in me. It was quite incredible how strong this was, and it was all I could do to keep the irritation from eating me. It was new and shocking and interesting.

In a thousand ways, the possibility of new life is being born every minute.

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On not creating a fight in yourself

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“You do not have to struggle against a desire. There is no need for a battle within you. Mindfulness is something that embraces and includes things like desire, that recognises them with great tenderness. Meditation is not about turning yourself into a battlefield where one side fights the other, because the basis of Buddhist meditation is nonduality. The habits of drinking alcohol or getting angry are also you, and therefore you must treat them with great tenderness and nonviolence. The essential point is not to create conflict, a fight, within yourself.”

~ From Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Repeated moments

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A warrior of light knows that certain moments repeat themselves.
He often finds himself faced by the same problems and situations, and seeing these difficult situations return, he grows depressed, thinking that he is incapable of making any progress in life.
“I’ve been through all this before,” he says to his heart.
“Yes, you have been through all this before,” replies his heart. “But you have never been beyond it.”
Then the warrior realises that these repeated experiences have but one aim: to teach him what he does not want to learn.

~ from Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho

It was only a few years ago that I realised my experience of repeating the same situations over and over again was a universal one. How could it not be? One is always encountering oneself, one’s myth.

Then about a year ago, I unexpectedly came across a labyrinth in a cathedral in Brisbane just after I’d started thinking about walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. The Chartres one is the Ur-labyrinth of labyrinths and, sure enough, the one at Brisbane was a copy.

After walking the labyrinth in Brisbane, I realised what the labyrinth is saying. It is saying what Coelho is saying. That as I walk life’s path, I keep returning to what looks the same spot which is also a spot of bother. And the experience is as if I’ve been walking and walking and gone nowhere. The labyrinth is also saying look more closely. When I do, I see the spot is similar and also contains the possibility of breakthrough, a new turn, discovery. Again and again, the situation offers itself for transformation. And it keeps doing so until it is transformed.

(Click on images to enlarge)

 

Images: Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

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Bad mango

 

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“We can actually see that these thoughts do not have our well-being in mind. They are like a bad friend or an approaching mugger, and we can recognise their harmful potential and immediately turn in another direction. Ajahn Chah described this as recognising bad mangoes. ‘When we choose a fruit to eat, do we pick up the good mangoes or the rotten ones? It is the same in the mind. Learn to know which are the rotten thoughts and immediately turn from them to fill your basket with ripe beautiful mind states instead.'”

 ~ The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield

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