“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” — Charles Bukowski
If I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to start 2016, save that I knew I would definitely write something. (This isn’t my first post, but it’s the first substantive post to my blog, which I intend to write once a week — I’ve taken my cue from Steven Pressfield who publishes once a week, on a Wednesday.)
I thought a good place to start would be to briefly explain my current interests as they relate to my work (this doesn’t include my paid role as Chief Executive of a small law firm).
I could have started somewhere else — i.e. the importance of living a contemplative life — but I’m conscious, for those that have followed me since my escape from law (… now, nearly six years ago), a lot of what I say online and off will have changed.
Perhaps it’s not really my interests we’re talking about but something more profound, i.e. who am I, really? It could also be born out of a sense of unease with my life situation, but I’m acutely aware that I’ve vacillated in my writing, crossing a multitude of boundaries from social media, to excellence, to habits. Even for me, with my tastes, I’ve had difficulty keeping up.
But no more. (I know I’ve used these words before, but I’m serious about changing what I do and how I’m perceived.)
If it comes down to anything, it’s probably to be found in my daily ritual … and at least one book (New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton) that, as much as I might admit otherwise, has forever changed me.
I should qualify my insistence on a daily ritual by saying that it hasn’t superficially changed — I still get up early, write and read — but the intent is now very different.
When I talk about intent, the vanilla expression can be boiled down to the fact that my creative endeavour is no longer focused on generating work, i.e. blogging to secure speaking gigs, but instead focused on getting down on paper my lifelong search for meaning — mostly through my work — and to help others in their search to live an undivided life. And it’s not just the creative part, but how my early-morning ritual informs the way I carry myself throughout the day. (I wish that I could say that I’m totally congruent online and in my life, but in expressing things in written form, I very much hope that it will bring sufficient pressure to bear that I’ll have no choice if I want to be the change I wish to manifest in the world.)
In case I haven’t made it clear, for as long I can remember I’ve been obsessed with understanding why some people achieve so much in their lives or, better still, are at peace and others merely exist, battling with the vicissitudes of life until, one day, they understand that their one, precious life has passed them by.
This intent is also why I’ve dropped any reference to social media (I do have a social media presence but I no longer talk about it). That’s not to say that I’ve distanced myself sufficiently to render otiose what I previously said, but my fascination with social media was no more than a stepping stone along a rather rocky path to self-awareness and allowing me the space to step away from a 15-year career in law.
For the record, if you’re holed up in private practice as a lawyer, the longer you leave it to contemplate your future — “Is law for me?” — the less likely you’ll make the leap, let alone a successful one. And that’s a great shame because there’s so much talent that goes to waste by dint of people, very unhappy people, who can’t see their career wood for the (living a true life) trees.
So, to be clear, my daily ritual now provides the platform for me to write and create material that is focused on self-inquiry, understanding what it means to live an undivided life and contemplation. There are other areas in and around these primary headings (leadership and sacrifice being two that immediately spring to mind) but I don’t intend to write about social media.
But what of New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton?
Here’s one of my favourite passages:
“Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self … We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves. (34) Contemplation is not and cannot be a function of this external self. There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. (7) Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness … We can rise above this unreality and recover our hidden reality … (281) God Himself begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and true self. (41)”
On its face, it might not mean much, but when I read this (actually I listened first to the book on Audible) it awakened in me something that had been bubbling under the surface for a very long time. Not at once, but certainly after a few weeks of sitting with the words, I could see why I had struggled so much with my self-identity, shadowed as I was (and still am …) by an illusory self. Call it God, Awakening or Buddha nature, but I think all of us would like to find a place in the world where we live at peace with who we are — not the egoic, look-at-me identity, but our true self.
To put it in another way, and as Richard Rohr said in his recent daily meditation:
“The purpose of prayer and religious seeking is to see the truth about reality, to see what is. And at the bottom of what is is always goodness. The foundation is always love.”
I suppose what this means is that faith is now part of my life. If I’m honest, I think I’ve always known that but I’ve been scared to admit it to myself let alone others. I suspect it’s a legacy of my childhood where religion was forced upon me, and a type of religion which seemed out of sorts with an independently-minded child who always questioned the status quo — “Yes, but why?” — much to the chagrin of my old-fashioned, Victorian parents.
I don’t know about you, but without faith and a belief in something more purposeful than work — these days we’re defined more by our job title than we are our name! — I fear that all of us will end up running faster and faster just to keep up with life, and never get close to asking some of the more profound questions, e.g. What’s my purpose?, Why am I here?, What am I?
At this juncture, I reminded of E. E. Cummings’ quote:
“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.”
If all this leaves you a little cold, let me try and frame my faith to make it a bit more ‘of this world’. (I’m using vocation as a starting point, but it equally applies to other areas of our life.)
Take something like our obsession with career success. Most people are conditioned to believe that the apogee is to have a well-paid job, for a well-known company, offering lifetime employment where they can earn enough money to enjoy all the trappings of success — a big house, two cars, a family holiday or two and enough money to have plenty of adrenaline-fuelled experiences. Yes, there’s a plethora of stereotypes in this montage, but if your desire for career success isn’t to have any of these, then why do you do what you?
But what if you went to work for or set up a company that was purpose driven? I know there are a few companies who say they have this as their prima facie objective — and good on them — but what about a company which had, as its purpose, the development of every person in their charge, in pursuit of a higher purpose? For me, this would be wholly different to every company I’ve worked for, who never saw people as they could be but only as they were.
If you need to understand this issue further, I recommend you read Michael E. Gerber’s stunningly insightful book, The Most Successful Small Business in the World and what he has to say about higher purpose. Here are a few quotes which I think illustrate the point:
“The entrepreneur of the past is consumed by people as they are, exploits them as they are, panders to them as they are, excites them as they are, terrifies them as they are” (p.87).
And from p.88:
“Perhaps there’s a higher aim, something more worthy of our time. That’s the role of the new entrepreneur, in this age of the new entrepreneur. That higher aim is not to stimulate a purchase. Rather it is to provide a result that authentically serves a human being in the process of emerging from where they are to where they could be. Once the authenticity of the result is seen, understood, valued by the customer — as essential to their life — the sale has been already achieved.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The thing about New Seeds of Contemplation and a few other books of the same genre (e.g. With Every Breath by Mike Riddall and Living Contemplation by Simon Small) is that I was now able to label something — true self vs. false self — which had haunted me since my early childhood. It was definitely an ‘aha moment’: I was able to understand why work never satisfied me beyond the fact it pandered to my competitive self.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, but, putting to one side all the team-building rhetoric, all the environs that I ever encountered ended up being gladiatorial and that’s fine for a while (as long as you’re on top), but, in the end, it leaves you bereft of soul. Actually, it’s worse that that, it kills you from the inside out.
However, just imagine a world turned on by non-egoic presence, where people showed up as their true self.
Do you see it?
No, do you see it?
Look around your company.
What do you see?
Lots of scared people, too frightened to speak up for fear of losing their job? Or people who wear a series of masks to get through the day and are usually miserable as hell.
I suspect you’ll think me naive, and that’s fine, but at some stage we have to connect with our deeper selves (the ‘being’ in human being) for if we don’t we’ll continue to pursue a purposeless life, most likely to be found in the pursuit (only) of material success.
I suppose in the end what I’m really hoping for is that if we had the opportunity to connect with our true self that that in turn would abet a more considered view of our impact on the world, which in turn would abet a less materialistic and greed-obsessed world. Of course, there are materialistic spiritual types, but I’m convinced that if we connected to our true self (as Merton describes it) that in turn would shed light on or inculcate a greater appreciation of our interconnectedness, and however dreamy it might appear, we’d see the world not as something to own and exploit but to cherish and love (and I include every living creature — Thich Nhat Hanh and Charles Eisenstein call this Interbeing)
At this point, I’m conscious of how much I’ve bitten off — writing, contemplation, faith and purpose — and to say I’m being ambitious is an understatement, but as I opened with, I feel I’ve no choice.
Yes, things are rough around the edges and need development but that’s the point of my writing; I don’t know about you, but the more I write, the sharper the focus.
So there you have it: a longer than normal post and one that gives me a solid place with which to build for 2016 … and perhaps the rest of my life.
I should also add that I’m in the process of developing a rock solid routine which I’ll share with you once I’m comfortable in my progress, i.e. it’s not another flash in the pan. (For a great book on the subject, I highly recommend Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals.)
One last thing. I’m still not sure about my online profile. For a start, I’m still too prolific and I know it’s pandering to my Resistance, i.e. the Lizard Brain. Even though I’ve cut back considerably on what I do and say online, I think I’ve still got a way to go. In time, I can see me ceasing all activity on LinkedIn, Livejournal (providing this blog doesn’t crash) and commenting generally. If I’ve got any ambition, it’s only to post to this blog, share it on Twitter and post the occasional picture on Instagram. We’ll see. But if I can, then it will free me from my slavery to something that has, at times, drained me of all my creative juice and affected my soul to the point where I’ve questioned who the bloody hell I am.
Perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying that I need to cut the Gordian Knot with social media.
Finally, I don’t know what you’ve got planned for 2016, but I still think writing on something you feel drawn to, even if not in public, is one of the most powerful processes I know in coming to terms with a world that forever seems to conspire against you … living at peace. A journal is a good place to start but, frankly, it doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you write something.