Opening into the day,
Playing at life
A smile releasing…being
Lightness dancing into the world.
I’ve been fascinated for decades with our cultures inability to dialogue issues of suicide and death and indeed wrote a blog about the former a couple of months ago.
Mathew O’Reilly is an emergency medical technologist. He gives this extraordinary TED talk where he describes how for years he protected critically injured people that he was assisting at the roadside, from hearing the news that they were going to die.
He did this because he felt he was being helpful to them. He believed that if he told them the truth, that they were about to die, they would die in terror and fear. Then one day when a patient asked him if he was going to die, Matthew said, “Yes.”
He was stunned by the fact that instead of the person going into shock and anxiety – which I believe is created by our society’s fear of death – they went into a state of inner peace and acceptance.
“From that moment forward” he says, “I decided it was not my place to comfort the dying with my lies.”
The 3 Things
His story gets really interesting when he describes how there were 3 patterns which he observed in the dying:
- A need for forgiveness, which tells us about how much guilt people tend to live with, for example, ‘I wish I had spent more time with my children.’
- The need to be remembered, which is the need for immortality, ‘it doesn’t all end here.’
- The need to know that their life had meaning, for example, “There is so much more that I wanted to do with my life.”
To hear these needs in people, says Matthew, can give the dying great peace.
In this talk, he gives no recommendations as to how we should deal with these three things before we die but certainly I would think that most people are going to assume that they should try to be less selfish, that they will try to do things, leave a legacy and be more impactful on people’s lives so that they will be remembered and equally, to try really hard to create more and more meaning out of their lives.
I would like to suggest exactly the opposite.
My reason for doing so is that if you try to do, what I think you will do when hearing this…you will fail.
You will fail because it’s all about good intentions. Generally speaking, people are not good at living out their good intentions. Occasionally yes, but generally, no. Just look at New Year’s Resolutions – I wrote a blog about that at the beginning of the year.
In addition what I find with people who want to be more giving and less selfish is that they don’t necessarily become less selfish, because that’s really difficult, what they do is now judge themselves and feel more and more guilty for being selfish.
I would therefore like to suggest the following:
- We learn to forgive ourselves now for our selfishness, our lack of perfection in our relationships with others, our not being giving enough, our neurotic humanness that so much of the time is simply just trying to survive in the face of enormous stress and pain. That we do this before we die so that we can come to be at peace with ourselves as we are now, which means that when we die we will be at peace with the life we have lived.
- Dissolve as best we can our need to be remembered. We are special and not special. See if you can really own that.
Notice, right now, how you are considered to be special by others and not. If you have an intimate partner and you were to die tomorrow, would you want them to move on and find someone else to be close to? Most people would say yes, but you might simultaneously feel hurt, that in moving on, they have forgotten you, or trivialised your relationship.
Essentially we are conflicted and confused.
- The need for meaning is very tricky. Human beings have the most extraordinary need to find meaning in whatever we do. I really believe we are addicted to it. We want meaningful work, we want meaningful relationships and we want a meaningful life. We get bored very easily which says that there is a lack of meaning in what we are doing.
The economist John Maynard Keynes suggested that in times of significant unemployment, economies could be pulled out of depression by getting unemployed people to be paid to dig holes and then simply to fill them, which would increase earnings and hence also the demand for goods and the economy would grow.
The problem with doing this is that just digging holes and filling them might seem pretty meaningless, although the pay-check at the end of the week might be meaningful enough to overcome this problem, but probably only for a while.
There are two sides to this issue of the pursuit of meaning:
The first one is that it is very useful because when we find a relationship or the work we are doing meaningless. It drives us toward work and relationships that are going to be more fulfilling, more in line with our essential nature which is a wonderful thing.
Everyone wants to live more aligned with their true nature.
The problem is that this desire for meaning gets out of control, in the sense that anything that is meaningless becomes boring and we develop an intense aversion to boredom.
The very fabric of first world culture is about creating newness and excitement and it is an endless hungry monster whose appetite is never completely fulfilled.
My suggestion is that you look beyond the desire for meaning. The phrase, “Enjoy the journey don’t focus on the destination” has become a monumental cliché and I don’t think people really make use of it because it is so clichéd, but it is certainly pointing in the right direction.
Alan Watts – Playfullness
There is a beautiful video by Alan Watts about this.
He says that the Universe if basically playful. It isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have a destination to arrive at.
(We are, much of the time, desperately driving toward a destination or longing for a better one – my comment.)
He goes on to say that music is basically playful. We play the piano, we don’t work the piano. When we travel we are wanting to get somewhere. When we play music, we aren’t trying to get to the end of the composition!
Dancing is the same. The point of the dancing is the dancing, not to get to the end.
Our entire school system is designed to get us somewhere, to be a somebody, to get good grades so you can get to University and get a great job with great money, get married, have kids…always the destination out in front, luring you on.
Looking for meaning in the next thing…and the next thing…and the next thing…
Responsibility tends to destroy playfulness, which is why kids are so good at playing, they don’t have responsibilities, the mortgage, the car, bills to pay, someone to report to, mostly we are reporting to our conscience, driving us to be better, never good enough.
I stopped this writing to go cycling and while flying down the autumn leaved streets I remembered an amazing energy I experienced as a 10 year old.
We lived in Bramley on what was then the northern edge of Johannesburg.
Three blocks from my home, the dirt roads began.
We created this race track and named the corners. I so clearly recall one particular corner at the bottom of a hill, shooting around it with joy and abandon with my friends. We would yell its name at the top of our voices, “Pygmy Bush, Pygmy Bush,” what freedom!
I did so again this morning.
I felt 10 years old again.
Oh, to do this again and again and again.
You may get this as a realisation, even a very deep one, but to enable playfulness to enter into every aspect of life is a tall order for most of us.
We are so heavy in our hearts, so burdened by fear, anxiety and responsibility.
My experience is that it needs to be worked with in a microscopic kind of way. The reason being that we are so deeply embedded in our seriousness and the challenge of doing playfullness in the moment of stress and pressure is very difficult.
How do you get to be playful when your partner is attacking you or being defensive or being difficult, or when your kids are having problems?
How do you get to be playful when you run short of money before the end of the month?
How do you get to be playful when your investments crash or you are staring at potential bankruptcy?
My suggestion is that you start working on connecting with the energetic signature of playfulness more and more of the time in your life.
This ‘work thing’ has an energetic signature that is tight and contracted and playfulness is loose and open, so that spending more and more time in the looseness and openness and the lightness and laughter of playfulness, is the deal.
Playfullness is smiling.
Can you feel your way out of your serious, responsible, tight and frowning energetic signature, back to the smiling playfulness of your Original Self-Esteem nature?
People with great Self-Esteem don’t take themselves too seriously. They take criticism and ‘failure’ lightly. They can play with it and laugh it off. Which doesn’t mean repressing the hurt at all, which is what a vast majority of people do.
When I started to work, I mean play – ha ha – with this, I to noticed getting up in the morning, the drive to shower, get dressed, eat, exercise, before tackling the tasks of the day…
Where’s the playfulness?
It’s all about the next thing, getting it done. Getting it done, right!
If you start to feel into this, the grasping and clawing for meaning can begin to release itself, it can get lighter and looser and more open.
What I try to work with is seeing if I can experience more and more of just being alive, dancing my life, playing as best I can, experiencing the joy of aliveness, as opposed to driving toward the excitement of something new?
In doing this, the whole energy of the game changes.
One of the major problems with trying to maximise meaning is that it is using the mind to evaluate how things are going. So we reflect back on an experience, thinking about it or we look forward to experience thinking about it, which is using the mind to evaluate something and this evaluation separates us from the experience.
It is essentially division.
We long for wholeness, but most of the time when we listen to the mind, we create division which is pain and suffering.
To put it another way, if you are looking for meaning you will never maximise it completely, because life will always present a polarity i.e. look for meaning and you will get meaninglessness following shortly thereafter.
Ask a top sports person who has one big international event that they’ve focused on winning for many years and they will tell you, after finally winning it, that somewhere in the following week, there is an anti-climax, which is a sense of meaninglessness.
I had a client who spend years getting a PhD and afterwards he said to me, “So now what?”
The mind cannot experience the NOW because the mind essentially separates.
To connect with the NOW is paradoxically, to connect to the infinite.
Even trying to understand this with your mind is very difficult and what I suggest is you just see if you can settle into the aliveness of now without having to be stimulated by any so-called meaningful external experience.
For most of us this is only doable when we are feeling good. Any anxiety or depression or disconnection from our emotions obscures the ability to do this.
Finally, can you say, my life is my life. I’m doing my best, even when I’m not doing my best, to honour that which you are… Nothing to forgive.
Then you will live it without regret, so that in dying, you are at peace.
If you would like to explore any issues that this blog has evoked in you, face to face or via Skype, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org