Friday, 31 August 2012

What Is There To Fear?

Fear.  It paralyses us.  It prevents us from moving forward.  It undermines confidence and it sows the seeds of doubt that fester and grow until it seizes control.  I've been scared before.  In fact, I've been so scared that the entire left side of my body was shaking uncontrollably.  I was completely and utterly gripped by fear.  And I can still remember the day, as clearly as though it was only yesterday.

I was standing on the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand, and I was facing a bungy jump.  It was mid-winter in the southern hemisphere and for a while I considered that I was shaking from the cold, but the reality was that I was scared.  Plain, simple, scared.  So why was I there?  Because I had started to believe in omens and in fate.  I was on vacation in New Zealand, it was August 2004, and I had been spending six days in Queenstown, so that I could do some snowboarding.  On my second evening there, I came across an A.J. Hackett Bungy office.  Stupidly, I went inside and signed up for a jump.  It was a few days later that I realised that actually, I did not want to jump.  I had paid no money or deposit, so it wouldn't matter if I missed it.  The appointed day of the jump was the same day I needed to drive from Queenstown to Kaikoura, a drive of 408 miles around the winding roads of the South Island.  I told myself that actually, there would be no time to make the bungy jump, which was planned for 10:30am.  I had to make it to Kaikoura, because the day after, I was booked to go whale watching and that was something that was a one off opportunity.  And, I figured that the route I needed to take to Kaikoura was in a different direction to my bungy site. So, on the day of my jump, I packed up and checked out of my hotel and hit the road, bound for Kaikoura.  I felt no twinge of regret about missing the bungy jump, none at all.  Then, at around 10:10am, as I was driving happily along, listening to the rock radio stations of New Zealand, I drove passed the Kawarau Bridge, the place of my bungy jump.  I drove passed at exactly the time I would have, if I had planned to come and make the jump.  I was shocked at seeing the sign.  I took my foot off the gas and let the car cruise.  What should I do?  My heart told me that there was really only one thing I could do.  I heeded the signs and turned the car around and drove back to the bridge.  And so it was that I stood on the bridge with the other jumpers and with my leg and buttock vibrating uncontrollably.  When my turn arrived, I reluctantly stood on the very edge of the jump platform, I looked down to the river in the canyon 140 feet below me, I was crippled with fear.  And then the words I had dreaded to hear.  "Three... two... one... bungy!"

What is fear?  Fear is a primordial emotion triggered as a response to a perceived threat or danger.  It prepares us to fight or to flee by stimulating the body to pump adrenaline into our blood stream.  Just like feeling happy, sad, excited, or anxious, fear is a trait of what it means to be human. 

When you decide to walk your path in life, once you recognise and give legitimacy to the voice of your heart, when you decide to throw off the shackles that have bound you and to seek the peace and happiness that lay in your heart, that is when it is necessary to consider the unknown, to think about taking a different path in life, this is a time when fear and doubt will find you.  Your resolve will be severely tested.  You will ask yourself many questions:-

What am I doing?
What if it doesn't work out?
Why am I giving up my comfortable life?
Why am I giving up the security of everything that I know?
What will I do after?
What are people going to think of me?
How is it going to work out?

And there will be no answers to these questions because in life, you can never know the answers until you have taken that first step, until you have decided to have trust and faith in your heart.  So, the fear and doubt will surround you, they will invade your waking thoughts, they will stop you from sleeping at night, and they will try their hardest to silence the voice of your heart.  This is the time when you have steel yourself, to have the courage and the strength to push forward, despite the fear, despite the doubt.

What is it that makes us fear and doubt?  It is the unknown.  It is the deep, dark, black abyss into which we look, knowing that the only way to find the answers is to go there, to venture into the darkness, to walk the path of our own making, in the search for the truth of ourselves.  And child and adult alike, we always fear that which we cannot see.

Now ask yourself this, what is in this darkness that you cannot see?  We always imagine the bad, the evil, the wicked.  But the darkness cloaks and hides everything.  Does a rose stop being beautiful just because you can no longer see it?  Does a snow capped mountain cease to be an awe-inspiring magnificence just because you can no longer perceive it through the darkness of night?  No.  These things do not change, they are what they are, regardless of dark and light.  So, in this darkness into which you stare full of fear and doubt, there is goodness awaiting you - there will be beauty, passion, love, peace, contentment, happiness and laughter.

Do you journey alone into this darkness?  No.  Even though you cannot see where the path is going to take you, even though you can never be sure of where you are going, you will never walk the path alone.  Your heart will be your companion on the road, sharing your journey, from the very first step, until the very last.  You will always walk together with your heart for company.  It will talk to you when you are lonely, it will urge you onwards when you are tired and weary, it will show you the way when you are lost.

Do you fear failure?  Then ask yourself whether it is better to fail after trying to achieve all that you want in life, rather than to have never tried at all?  Seizing an idea and trying it is part of what it is to be human.  This is how we evolve as people, this is how we evolve as a race.  Trying the unknown is something that you did almost every day as an infant and as a child.  You never had fear then.  When you tried to walk for the first time and you wobbled on your legs and fell, you did not give up.  You stood up and you tried again, and again, and again.  In the darkness into which you look lies not failure but glory.  Even if you never reach your ultimate goal, everything that you meet along the way - the places, the people, the experiences - they will enrich your life forever more in ways that you could never have predicted.  Failure simply ceases to exist.

There is beauty in the darkness.  You do not journey alone.  Failure does not exist.  So, what is there to fear?  Nothing.

And remember this: The darkest part of the night is in the minutes just before the sun rises.  Take the first step on your path and the sun will rise up inside of you and the light will come to illuminate your path, the light will come from within.

"Even though I cannot see the end, even though I am full of fear and doubt, even though my eyes cannot penetrate the darkness that lies ahead, I am going to walk into the abyss nonetheless.  Because I want to go in search of my dreams, I want to follow the urging of my heart, and I will have the life of my own making." - Andy. M. Smith

So what happened that day on the bridge in New Zealand?  I took a leap of faith and I made the jump.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Sun, The Moon And The Wind

I had an idea that I wanted to expand into a short story.  I hope that you enjoy it. 

The Sun, The Moon And The Wind
The wind was having a blast, roaring through the forests, filling the leaves, so that the snow that had lain on the boughs of the trees all that day, fell in clumps all around the base of the trees.  It was one of the wind's many games and in this one, it often tried to see if it was possible to make the snow fall on top of some poor unsuspecting rabbit or fox.  Harrgh-harrgh roared the wind as it raced across the prairies, grass and crops swaying this way and that.  Out across the open ocean pushing water in its wake, creating the swells that would become waves that crashed against the shore.  Harrgh-harrgh it roared again and again.

So busy was the wind having fun and rushing from one place to the next, that it almost didn't notice that another day was ending and night was beginning.  It slowed down and as it did so, it heard voices.  Curious, the wind went to see what was going on.

"I tell you that I am the strongest."  It was the moon.

The sun continued to shine down almost as if it was smiling and said, "Oh moon.  Dear sweet moon.  If you are the strongest, then how do you explain that you disappear every morning when I rise?"

The moon was momentarily flustered.  "Disappear?  Disappear?", it repeated.

"Yes" said the sun, "I come up bringing light to the world and as I do so, you disappear.  You scurry off some place."

"I do not disappear and I certainly do not scurry.", said the moon indignantly.  "I just go and rest for a while, that is all.  If you had to stay up all night long, then you would understand how tiring it can be.  All night, watching over all the people, the animals, the fish, the trees and the plants.  It's very tiring indeed!"

"And what do you think I do all day long?", asked the sun.

"Exactly!", beamed the moon even more brightly.  "And so you disappear at night time so that you can go and have a rest, just the same as I have to, during the day."  The moon was triumphant.

The wind was listening in great interest to this debate between the sun and the moon.  So many times the moon and sun argued about who was the strongest.  It really was quite a bore sometimes, but the wind liked to listen because it too needed to rest after so much blowing.

"Every evening, as soon as I appear, it is you who goes running away.", continued the moon, believing it now had beaten the sun.  "You cannot stand to be in the same sky as me, because you are afraid that I will outshine you.  You are afraid that you will look pale in comparison to me.  You are afraid that the people will see how weak you really are!"

The sun merely smiled.  It knew that here was again its moment of complete triumph over the moon.  So, it waited just a little bit longer before it played the winning card.

"See! See!", yelled the moon.  "You have no answers."

"Oh dear, sweet little moon.  Ever you have been my companion.  When will you ever accept the truth?  When you are shining at night, illuminating the night sky for all of the creatures that wake and hunt and must be about their business after dusk, do you not wonder what it is that makes you glow?  Do you not wonder from where the beams of moonlight come?"  The sun paused a moment, so that the moon might consider these things.  "They come from me dear moon.  Even while I sleep, I am lighting you up so that you may light up the sky for all the creatures that need some light.

The moon looked dismayed as it considered these things.  Then came the decisive blow from the sun.

"Dear moon, if I so wished it, I could darken you forever and all the creatures would forget that you ever existed.  So, you see sweet moon, I am the strongest by far."

The moon was crest fallen and sad.  It had been made to look weak by the sun and now the wind had heard everything.  The wind would travel the world and spread the news that the sun was the strongest.  The wind, however, had a different idea.

"Dear sun, dear moon.  My companions for an age.  You might well fight about which one of you is the strongest, but you have forgotten one important thing."

"What is that?", both the sun and the moon enquired in unison.  Neither could believe that they had forgotten anything at all.

"It is simply this." replied the wind.  "You moon, yes you have dominion over the sky during the night.  And you sun, you have the power to shine all of the day and to lend some light to the moon during the night time.  But it is only I, the wind, that is able to blow hard both day and night and to be in all places, whenever I so choose.  The clouds, they block your sunlight and your moonlight.  If the clouds were there all the time, no creature would know either of you ever existed.  But it is only the I, the wind that has the power to move the clouds away so that you may shine once more and so that creatures may see your faces.  So, it is I, the mighty wind, who is the strongest!"

The sun was shaken because it realised the truth of the wind's words.  The moon quietly laughed to itself because it was happy that the wind had shown that the sun was wrong and not as powerful.  The sun sank away and the moon raised itself up, feeling a whole lot better now that the wind had spoken.  The wind, now rested, blew on into the night.

And listening to all of this was Mother Nature, who had been completely unseen by either the sun, the moon or the wind, because they were too busy talking.  Mother Nature had heard everything that was said and now she sat smiling to herself.  Because Mother Nature knew that it really didn't matter which was the strongest, since all things were equally needed to keep the balance.  And the balance was really the only thing that mattered, since all things had always been and would always be forever more, One.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Price That Must Be Paid

It is a Monday morning, late August, Montreal, Canada.  I'm sitting at a table under a parasol, protected from a blazing hot late August sun.  I rest my feet up on a chair to become more comfortable.  I have a freshly brewed cup of coffee only four inches away from my computer on the left side.  Tucked under my laptop, is a small piece of paper with the names of movies that I should watch, recommendations from a friend.  There is not a single solitary cloud visible in the sky above me.  A breeze stirs the leaves on the trees, the leaves that will soon be turning to reds and browns and fading as the autumn approaches.  I am approximately 3,240 miles away from a place that I used to call my home, only the small matter of the great Atlantic Ocean lies between us.

Home.  A word that conjures up pictures of warmth, comfort, security and the familiar in the mind.  The place where family and friends live.  A place where you know every street, every alley, every corner, every nook and granny.  A place where almost every inch of its bricks, mortar, concrete and tarmac hold a memory.  The place where you had your first crush, fell in love for the first time, had your first kiss, had you heart broken.  The place where you first learned to ride a bicycle, watched your first movie at the cinema, rode your first ferris wheel and dodgems.  The place where you played badminton and frisbee on the back lawn with your parents, brother and sister.  The place where as a kid, you jumped through water sprinklers on hot summers days.  The place where you went to school.  The place where school summer holidays lasted an eternity.  The place where you tried your first cigarette and your first pint of beer.  The place where you learned to drive a car.  So many memories, all tied up into one single pin prick of a spot on a map.  Home.

Where is home?  I ask myself this question since I really no longer know how to answer it.  It was once a small village in the county of Kent, England, where I lived for the first nine years of my life.  Then it became a seaside town on the south coast of England, where I lived for a further twenty four years.  And it became Budapest in Hungary, after a period of living there for only nine months.  How was that possible?  How could it be that I so quickly and easily shifted my perception of home from England to Hungary?  I can remember the day that I first realised it.  I was waiting at an airport in Belgium with a colleague of mine from the Budapest office.  We had spent a week on the same management training programme that had taken place in Brussels.  As we sat having a drink, waiting for our flight, I can clearly recall turning to him and saying the words, "I cannot wait to get home."  And as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realised the significance of what I had just said.  Budapest was now my home.  It was no longer England.

And following on from  the time I spent living in Budapest, where I lived for a little under three years, I have since stayed for extended periods and lived in Malaysia (7 months), New Zealand (3 years, 3 months), South Africa (5 months), Curacao (3 months), USA (3 months), Costa Rica (1 year), Canada (3 months) and some time back in the UK (5 months). People say to me that it must be very unsettling but I've never found that to be the case.  I realised that home for me is wherever my heart is and my heart is always in the present moment, in the present place.  So, wherever I am at a certain point in time, that is now the place that I call home.

This, I believe, is one of the prices that I pay for walking my path.  I am now homeless in the general meaning of the word.  My transient life means that I have lost all of the ties back to my past, to the places in which I grew up and which I formerly called home.  I am British by birth and parentage but after being away from the UK for so many years, I am now out of touch with British culture.  I find that I no longer 'get it'.  I am no longer able to understand the topical jokes, I don't know the programmes that are shown on TV, I have no idea about the music scene, my ideas and beliefs are founded on old information.  When I speak with my parents on the telephone, my mother will be speaking to me about some personality she has seen and she will say to me, "You know the one from..." but the truth is, I really don't. 

More than this though, is the price to pay for not being able to visit family and friends.  Not being able to pop around to say hello, not being there on birthdays, at Christmas, on special occasions.  Not having my family and friends around me on my own birthday.  Of the times when I arrive in a new place and there is no one around me that I know, when I am all alone.  My parents are getting older, they're both retired pensioners now.  I dread to think of a time when one of my parents or other close family member becomes seriously ill.  I have missed the funerals of my grandfather, a great aunt whom I was very fond of, and a close friend.  It is not easy when these things happen.  They test my resolve.  I ask myself whether I will some day regret not being able to spend time with the people that I love.  This is the biggest price I must pay for following my heart.

When you consider following your heart, you have to be aware of the consequences.  We are all responsible for our own decisions in life.  All I can say is that by following my heart, I am more happy and content than I have ever been.  I balance the price I have to pay for my lifestyle against knowing how I felt in my old life.  Yes, I must pay a price, because in life, there is always a price to be paid, but I will pay that price and I will not regret my actions.  To do anything else would be to betray myself and my own heart.  And nothing is worth that.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Pretence of Happiness?

I was talking with a friend the other day, and she said to me that I must be pretending to be happy in my life, since it is impossible for someone to be happy all of the time.  She also said that she thought that I never deal with my emotions, I never show the sadness and the pain that I have suffered, I never work through my problems and therefore, I must be unhappy on the inside.  Surely, she continued, I have to be projecting a mask of happiness to the world.  In other words, the life that I am living is a lie.

Conversation like this is useful and despite how it may first appear, it is positive.  It makes you stop and think.  It makes you look at how you are living your life and to question and evaluate yourself.  It pushes you to take a good hard look at yourself.  It set me to wondering, is it actually possible to pretend to be happy?  I don't mean the kind of pretending that you do when someone gives to you a birthday present and you find that on unwrapping it, it is something that you really do not like, so you force a polite smile and say thank you, in order to avoid an awkward situation.  I mean the kind of pretending that you have to live with each and every day.  The kind of pretense where you wear a mask to cover over the real you, every waking moment.

For me, the answer is yes.  I know from my old life that it is possible to do this.  I can recall times in the past when I pretended that everything in my life was going well, in order to protect the people that I loved.  Why did I do this?  Because I said to myself that they have their own problems and I did not wish to burden them with my problems.  But now I think about it, did I hide my problems out of a sense of pride, or did I hide them, not to protect those I loved, but to protect myself?  No matter that reason, the result was equally the same.  Each time I would see my family and friends and they would ask me how I was doing, I would smile and say that everything was going well, even though I wanted to tell them that my life at that moment, really sucked and I was deeply unhappy.  I am sure that this is a very common practice and a lot of people can relate to it, either having done it themselves in the past, or they are continuing to do it now.  Someone who puts on a brave face when they enter their place of work, someone who takes a deep breath just before turning the key in the door and walking into their home, someone who continues to be the happy out-going person their friends know and expect despite their inner turmoil.  Only in our quiet moments of privacy and solitude does the mask fall and the true face of unhappiness show itself.  Then we once more become ourselves.  The real person.

Why do we feel the necessity to wear a mask of happiness for others, when we ourselves are feeling anything but happy?  One reason may be defense.  We are in defense of ourselves and of the decisions that we have made in life.  If I decided to change my job, or to fall in love with a certain person (can we actually decide that anyway?), or to move house, change car etc... then those decisions are mine and mine alone.  If something then goes wrong, there can be no one else to blame except for myself, since it was I who made the decision.  So instead of being honest and saying "I screwed up", "I got it wrong", "I made a mistake", we want to hide the error lest others should think ill of us.  Then we compound that error by not admitting that we are unhappy in what is happening in our lives.  Pride gets in the way.  Pride blocks us and prevents us from sharing our problems with the people that love us and know us and from those that might be able to help us.  We further compound the problem. 

Another reason for wearing a mask of happiness in life is so that we  show no signs of weakness or vulnerability.  In British culture, there is a saying: "Keep a stiff upper lip".  What this really translates to is this: "Do not admit failure.  Do not admit weakness.  Put on a mask and show the world that nothing can affect you."  It became the backbone and the resilience of the British people during the height of the Nazi bombing campaign (the Blitz), when the German air force, the Luftwaffe, bombed London and other major cities, destroying more than a million houses and killing more than forty thousand civilians.  This of course is a good reason to not show weakness to an enemy, but what it also does, is ingrain in the emotional psyche the need not to ever show a weakness or vulnerability.  In human society, it seems that we are still prone to see sadness, unhappiness and upset as weakness of character and not as everyday occurrences, that happen to every single person that lives and breaths on this planet.  Wouldn't it be better to share the pain, talk about the situation, have people help you to find solutions to the problems, to give you reassurance and for you to be able to release the emotions that are caught up inside of you?  I think the answer is yes.

So, it seems that I have answered my question of whether it is possible to wear a mask of happiness and to pretend to be happy?  That answer is also yes.  But I want to know if that is what I am doing in my life now, am I pretending to be happy as my friend thinks?  Is it possible to always be happy and content with what life throws your way?
What I have come to realise is that when you walk your own path in life, when you truly go in search of the life that you wish to manifest for yourself, then you begin to walk down the path of true happiness.  This is not some momentary feeling, it is not just an in-between mood splitting the bouts of sadness, anxiety and depression.  No.  This is a balls to bone knowing that flows through every pore with each beat of your heart.  It is a happiness that comes from the depths of your soul and permeates through everything that you feel and every thing that you do.  If you are following your heart, then this is what you will feel - every moment, of every day.  Those that are walking their own paths will recognise what I am saying.

Yes, there will be moments and occasions will arise when something does not go right, but those moments come and they go again.  They pass you by like water breaking on the rock.  Following your heart gives to you a profound sense of happiness in all that you do.  It cannot be broken.  If you begin to feel unhappy, then you cannot be truly following your heart's desires.  How can you be unhappy when the life that you are living, when everything about that life is your own manifestation?  How can you be unhappy when you see the miracles of life all around you, in everything?  Even the caw of the crows that I can hear now in the trees, as I sit outside writing this, or the beauty and magnificence of a white butterfly that just fluttered past?  When you open your heart and follow its calling, then happiness awaits.  Not a fleeting moment of happiness, like the rays of the sun breaking through the clouds of a leaden sky, but rather, a feeling of being bathed in those rays each and every day. 

If there are times when I no longer feel the happiness, then it is simply because I must have ceased to follow my path, my calling.  I must have wandered off in the woods and become momentarily lost.  Then it is necessary to stop and listen and wait.  It will come again.  Faint at first, then stronger.  You will hear its voice again, calling to you, guiding you, pulling at you.  Your heart will show you the way, it will help you back to the path, and it will once more become your companion along the road.

So, what I say is this: Throw away the mask of happiness and open yourself up to the voice of your heart.  Hear its urging, listen to what it tells you.  Then ready yourself.  Prepare yourself for adventure.  And take the steps along your path to true happiness.  Leave your mask behind and become the true you. The you that you always knew existed.  Take a deep breath.  Seize and moment and walk.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Richness - Part Three

Yesterday, I was exploring what it means to be rich in life.  I came up with an idea for another short story to illustrate my thoughts on the subject.

A Life of Riches
An elderly gentleman sat in the back of his chauffeur driven Mercedes with a deep furrow and knot on his brow, the look of a man caught up in a maelstrom of worry.  How could he overcome the obstacles he faced in finding a solution that would be amicably accepted by both boards of the companies involved in the acquisition he was brokering?  Employee rights were a contentious and costly issue and it was obvious to both sides that the acquisition would bring with it a certain amount of streamlining of human capital.  Cost cutting and efficiency were always necessary with any deal like this, but this deal was more difficult due to the family-owned nature of the to-be acquired company.  A solution would present itself, it always did and when it did, it usually involved some kind of pay off to the board members.  He leaned forward and tapped twice on the class divider, which a moment later had vanished.  "It's okay, I'll walk from here Jackson", he said to his chauffeur, "I need to clear my head of some things and I think a jolly good stroll is going to be just the thing for putting my thoughts in order.  Go home early and take your wife out."  The elderly man reached forward and let a clip of bank notes fall onto the vacant passenger seat next to the driver.

"Thanking you Mr Phillips.  That's mighty kind of you.  Are you sure you know your way from here?", enquired Henry Jackson.

"Yes, yes, thank you Jackson.  I think we've travelled this route together quite enough times, don't you?"  It was a rhetorical question to which Henry knew better than to answer.  "Pull over just here would you?"

Henry did as he was requested and David Phillips, dressed in the fine cut and cloth of his tailored suit, the perfect Windsor knot of his tie, the gold links on his cuffs and the impeccable shine of his black Oxford shoes, climbed out of the Mercedes and bade Henry a good evening and watched as the black Mercedes pulled away from the curb and was lost in the stream of the evening commute.  David began a quick step along the paved street and was soon lost in his thoughts of corporate acquisitions and mergers.

By car, it would take no more than ten minutes to reach the foyer of David's city apartment, where the porter would come over, open the door and always with a greeting of "Nice to see you again Mr Phillips. Can I get you anything this evening Mr Phillips?", but by foot, on a never walked on before sidewalk, on streets that have unfamiliar names, with buildings of glass, steel and concrete that loom overhead and become the walls of the city maze, this journey by foot was going to take David a whole lot longer than he had planned.  After some thirty minutes of fast paced walking and of balancing two potential solutions to his problem on a theoretical see-saw to see which one carried the most weight, David realised that the towers of this city maze were unfamiliar, and for a moment, he considered that he might actually be lost.  No, he was never lost in life, he was just momentarily caught between several different options, all of which needed serious consideration, that was all.  Looking around, he saw one of those small areas of green that can sometimes be found at intersections in a city, a token of greenery in a the barren desert of construction, so he hurried over and sat down on the nearest available bench.  But he was not alone.

Laying on the bench, with his head resting on what could of once been a respectable rain coat, with his knees drawn up to his waist, was a weather beaten, scruff of what looked like a homeless person.  David was horrified and tried to distance himself from the man, but the arm of the bench proved to be a worthy barrier.  Hastily, he looked about him for another place to sit, but there were no more free benches.  Not surprisingly, this had been the only one with space available.  He thought of getting up but with the walking and his state of confusion as to his whereabouts, David knew that he must compose himself for a few minutes. Any problem could be resolved with a little bit of thought, was his favourite adage. The tramp stirred and raised his head.  David focused on looking straight ahead.  Then the tramp spoke.

"Hello."  That was all that he said.  A simple hello.  And it was said not with the guttural overtones of a drunkard or a waster, but with the tone of a man who had been clearly educated.  David was perturbed.  Talking to the homeless was not on David's agenda for that evening.  "Are you feeling alright?"

"Why would you ask me that?", a question to answer a question.  Never give anything away.  Never show a weakness.

"Well, judging by the way that you're dressed, by your suit I mean, and that you're sitting on a bench next to a hobo, I would say that you were either lost, or that you're conducting some sort of personal experiment."

David couldn't help himself and smiled and looked around at the other man on the bench.  A man, who, judging by the flecks of grey in the hair and beard, was probably in his early to mid-forties. He relaxed.

"Actually, yes I am rather.  Lost, I mean.  Not the experiment thing."  He smiled again at the other man who had now sat up.

"Well now, I can help you there." said the tramp.  "Perhaps we can make a mutual exchange?"

"Oh no, I'm sorry.  I don't carry cash and I'm sure you don't accept platinum cards do you?"  David felt immediately uncomfortable.  Perhaps he had misjudged this man after all.  He readied himself to get up and walk away - fast.

"No.  That's not what I meant at all.  I simply meant that I would help you in exchange for a conversation.  A free exchange between two men of this world.  I don't want or need your money.  My name is Matthew."

Matthew stretched out his arm and offered his hand.  David looked down at it, then looked into the face of the hobo that was called Matthew.  Then he smiled and took the hand and shook it.  An accepted sign of trust between two strangers.

"My name is David.  I'm sorry if I offended you, but most homeless people usually demand money.  I just assumed you wanted the same.  Tell me Matthew, how did you end up living like this?  I detect from your voice that you are an educated man, am I right?"

Matthew reached inside of the coat that has formerly been a pillow and pulled out a bottle.  He offered it to David.  "It's water, from the drinking fountain on the other side of the park. Fresh at noon."  He proffered the bottle once more.  David gratefully accepted it, unscrewed the cap, smelled it, took out his handkerchief, wiped the top of the bottle and then finally took a grateful swallow.

"Thank you Matthew.  So, what's your story?  How did you end up here on this bench?"  He passed the bottle back to Matthew, who also took a drink.

"My story?"  Matthew smiled.  "It's rather simple really.  After a standard upbringing in suburbia, I went to college and obtained a degree in computer science.  Immediately after, I was selected to join the undergraduate program of a large global IT firm and my career started.  I worked hard at the beginning and after a few years my hard work paid off.  I found myself working on a project and I gained a lot of recognition from my superiors.  My career accelerated after that and I began to travel to clients and provide consultation services.  I travelled the world, away almost every week some place new.  In the beginning, it was a joy.  I thrived on it but after a little while, I realised that my life was no longer my own.  I had become a slave that the company owned, telling me where to go and when, encroaching on my own personal free time.  I missed family events, I missed friends birthdays.  I could never plan anything because I would never know where I would be from one week until the next."

Matthew stopped talking and offered the water bottle again to David, who accepted it without hesitation. Matthew also drank again and then continued.

"So, I found myself in my mid-thirties.  I was living in a nice apartment on my own.  No steady girlfriend, no kids, no pets.  Just me and some furniture for company.  One day,  it was early August, that much I can recall, because I was approaching my thirty-fifth birthday, I had a kind of epiphany moment.  A moment of startling clarity and I asked myself the following questions..."

"Yes?", David was deeply interested in the story of this man on a bench in downtown, some where that could equally be no where.  "Do go on."

"I asked myself why?  Why was I doing this?  Why did I need to do it?  Why did I need to live my life in such a way?  Who was I doing it all for?  And the answers came flooding at me.  I didn't need to do it any longer.  I didn't need to live my life that way.  I wasn't doing it for me, I was doing it for them, a faceless corporation.  And at that moment, I knew that I could no longer continue.  So, I didn't.  I quit my job.  I sold everything, I packed a bag and I left.  I travelled, I explored, I tried to live as cheaply as possible and I said to myself that the only things I wanted to worry about each day were where is my next meal coming from? and where will I sleep this night?  I began with no plan other than I wanted to go and do something else in life.  I had  no thought other than getting away from my old life.  I travelled through villages, towns and cities, I passed through entire countries.  I met people on the road, people like me in search of some other meaning to life, people who were living in the place where I had stopped.  I swapped stories, I learned new customs and cultures.  I learned to speak new languages.  I realised that I was learning more of the world by travelling than I had learned through sixteen years of education back home.  I found love and I lost love.  I learned and discovered things about me, I found forgiveness not just for others, but also for myself and very importantly, I became friends with myself.  I saw things I had only ever previously read about in books or seen pictures on television or in magazines.  I walked barefoot on the sand, I swam naked in the waters of the ocean, I climbed mountains just because they existed, I walked in forests of trees, I saw beasts and birds and so many other incredible animals, and I found the wonder of creation and nature.  Every day there was some new experience waiting for me.  And every day, I filled up my soul with life.  Gosh, I do ramble on at times."

"No, no. It's quite okay.  It's an amazing story Matthew."

Matthew took another sip of water, then continued again, looking a little embarrassed.

"I started on a journey and in the process, I found the voice of my heart and it has ever since been my guide and my companion.  I guess that is all I really wanted to say."

David sat for a moment.  He thought about the woman he had loved and had lost because he would not sacrifice his career.  He remembered all of the things he had always dreamed of in life, but had never done because there was never enough time and besides which, urgent matters always demanded his attention at the office.  He thought about the friends he had once known but no longer knew what had happened to them because he never had the time to maintain the friendships.  He had visited many countries but only saw them through the glass of the airport lounge, the hotel bedroom window or the window of the office.  He had never had a family of his own.  He had not spent enough time with his nieces and nephews and now he was nothing other than a distant uncle.  But what he did have was a lot of money.  He had VIP accounts at several banks, he had stocks and shares in various companies, he held investment trusts, he owned a lavishly furnished apartment in the city and a large house on the beachfront in Miami - a house that he had visited one time only when he made the initial purchase.  What did it mean to be truly rich? he wondered.  And then he looked at Matthew, looked at the man sitting in worn out clothes at this side, at the man who had shared his water and the story of his life, and he knew.  

"Matthew, thank you for sharing your story with me.  You may not have any money, but you are rich beyond  imagining.  Only now, in the twilight of my life, do I see that money is not the same as richness. I cannot take my money with me to the next place after my life here, but you will take your experiences with you forever in your heart and soul.  You shall be rich for an eternity and no one will be able to take it away from you.  Thank you Matthew.  But tell me, just how did you end up on this bench?"

 "I had been walking and became a little lost and needed a place to rest.", he replied.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Richness - Part One

Ask anyone the question how rich are you? and I am sure that in nearly all responses (not including those people who tell you to mind your own business!) the answer will be given in terms of monetary wealth.  I have this amount of money in the bank.  I earn this amount salary.  I own a car, a house, furnishings, jewellery, sports equipment.  I have this credit limit on my credit card.  In fact, if you look up the definition of rich on the internet, you will find this definition listed first:-

Rich: having a great deal of money or assets; wealthy.

In our modern society, this is how we are conditioned to think - in terms of monetary wealth and not in terms of personal growth and well-being.  To be rich means to possess a lot of money.  The two things are now intrinsically linked.  If you stop and think about what money is, then you can say that we measure our richness based on a something that only exists as a series of zeros and ones (the binary code of the computer program that holds the details of your bank account) held in some form of electronic digital memory device, or as pieces of paper that have a special kind of ink pattern on them.  Here's another question.  If the financial economy went into meltdown and completely collapsed, as it very nearly did in 2007 and it continues to teeter on the brink, or, if there was a catastrophic global computer systems failure and all details of bank accounts were irrecoverably lost, would you cease to be rich?

My answer to you is no.  Not if you value your life and measure its value not by means of monetary value, but in terms of life value.

Manfred Max-Neef, an economist and environmentalist, created a widely accepted classification of the fundamental human needs.  He defined them as:-
  • Subsistence
  • Protection
  • Affection
  • Understanding
  • Participation
  • Leisure
  • Creation
  • Identity
  • Freedom
Money does not exist on the list.  Therefore, money itself is not a fundamental human need.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his hierarchy of human needs.  This hierarchy is still in use today, in terms of understanding human motivational factors. 

 Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs

Once again, there is no mention of money in the list of human needs.  So why do so many of people believe that money is the greatest need of humanity?  Why do so many people devote so much time and effort in the pursuit of money? 

Because modern society dictates that money is fundamental for a healthy, prosperous society.  That having money is a way of gaining acceptance.  That money brings freedom and power.  But none of this is actually true.

I propose a new way of defining richness.  Richness in life can be determined with the following formula:-

(Family + Friends + Love + Life Experience + Shelter + Subsistence + Freedom of Expression) x Positive Contribution to the Universe and Life = Richness

Everyday that I follow my heart and live the life that I choose for myself, a life free of dictates by conventional society, a life in tune with the voice of my heart, then I will always be a rich man.

I am rich because I exist, I live and I let life flood into my heart and I give out love freely.

Richness - Part Two

Last evening, I was writing late into the night, as I was inspired by a boy and his father and by my continuing thoughts on the theme of richness.  I'll let the boy and his father tell the story.

The boy and his father stood in the crowd by the side of the road and watched, as the bridal procession approached, along the road that ran through of their village.  The daughter of a rich and powerful merchant from the city was to be married and, in keeping with the tradition of the country, each daughter, before she was wed, was to be shown to the people.  The greater the wealth of the family, the finer and more extravagant the clothing, the more villages it was necessary to visit and the bigger the spectacle that was expected by the people.  Everyone clapped and cheered and tried to catch a glimpse of the bride, reputed to be one of the most beautiful women of the region, as the procession came passed.  The father lifted his boy onto his shoulders, so that he might get a better look. After all, it was not everyday that such a marriage as this one, between the daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants and the son of a noble took place.

"When I grow up, I'm going to make lots of money and to become rich.", said the boy to his father after the procession had passed and they were walking along the street back towards their home.

"Why is that son?", asked his father.

"So that I'll be able to marry a beautiful, wealthy merchants daughter and have a wedding procession just like the one that we saw." replied the boy.

"I'm going to tell you a tale of two brothers, money and riches." said the father, "Let me set my pipe and then I'll begin.  As they continued to walk, the father reached inside of his jacket and took out his tobacco pouch and a small pipe he had carved from the horn of a deer.  After setting the tobacco, he lit the pipe with his tinder and took three quick and deep breaths, to make sure that it was started.  "Let's sit here against  and lean against this old oak tree and I'll tell you the tale."

The boy sat by his father's side and waited expectantly for his father to begin.


The Tale of Johann and Mathias
Some years ago, there was a man who had two sons, Johann the eldest and Mathias, his younger brother.  Johann worked hard with his father at their shipping and importing business and when he was not working, he studied his books and was always learning, so that he could become knowledgeable and wise, because one day, he would have to take over their father's business and he wanted to be a credit to the family name.  Mathias, two years younger than Johann, also worked at the family business but he did not study and read.  Instead, he preferred to be out walking in the fields and woods, or spent hours down at the dockside, watching the ships and talking with the sailors about their voyages.  For Mathias longed to see the world and to travel.  The father loved both of his sons equally and very dearly, but always feared that Mathias would never make anything of his life in the world.

One mid-summers day, after they had finished eating their evening meal, the man called his sons into his study, as he wished to speak with them.  The man sat at his mahogany desk, with his wife at his side.  "My two precious boys.  As you know, life has been kind to us this past few years and we have been able to put a goodly sum of money aside.  I would like to make a gift to each of you, as a token of our love and to reward you both for helping me with the business.  The man reached down to his side and pulled out two bags of equal size and weight, each full of coins.  He handed one to Johann and one to Mathias.  "This money now belongs to you and as such, it is for you to decide what to do with it.  I set you at liberty for the period of one year.  Please go and do what you will, but promise me one thing only..."

"Yes father?", the boys asked in unison.

"You must return to me here, in one year's time.  No more, no less.  That is all that I ask of you."

"Of course father!", they replied together.

In the days that followed, both boys made their arrangements and then came the day of parting.  Neither brother was to see the other nor their father or mother until one year hence.  The brothers in turn embraced their father and mother before embracing each other, and then each set off.

Summer faded to autumn.  The leaves turned to browns and golds and fell from the trees.  Autumn gave way to winter.  Snows lay on the frozen ground, covering the hills and fields in a white blanket of stillness.  Winter retreated as spring took hold.  The flowers bloomed again and on the trees, buds appeared, which soon became leaves that danced in the breeze.  And spring ushered in another summer, where the buzz of the insects was a constant companion.

Mid-summer day arrived.  The father and mother has been eagerly awaiting the return of their sons and as the day of return approached, their anticipation had grown.  As the morning tipped over to the afternoon, much to the relief of the parents, first Johann came galloping back on a fine black stead, followed not long after by Johann, who had hitched a ride on a farmers cart.  Both brothers were happy to be home and both were happy to be reunited with their parents and with each other.  After much happy and excited talk during the afternoon, the father again asked both brothers to meet him in his study after the evening meal.

"My sons", he began, "it truly is an amazing day, to see you both returned safe and sound.  Now tell me, how did you spend your time and what did you do with the money that I gave each of you?"

Johann, as the eldest spoke first.

"Father, the gift that you gave me was mighty.  I made my way to the city and there, I spoke with some acquaintances and I invested all of the money.  Due to good fortune, I was able to extract a monthly sum on which to live.  It did not afford me a lavish lifestyle, but I was able to rent a modest room and to keep myself adequately.  I spent my time going to the library to borrow books and to immerse myself in literature and learning.  I have returned from the city after one year not only with the money that you gave to me as a gift, but I have been able to double the amount and I now give these riches to you my loving father, as a gift from a loving son."

The man was very pleased.  His son Johann had been wise and the family business would be in excellent hands, when one day, he handed it over to his eldest son.  Yes, Johann would indeed do well at the business.  Now he turned to Mathias.

"And my second son, how did you fare?"

"Alas father, I must confess that I did not meet with such good fortune as Johann.  I made my way down to the docks and sought passage over the ocean.  On my second day in foreign lands, I was robbed and beaten by bandits and all of my money was taken.  I was left penniless and unconscious by the side of the road.  But as I lay there, a kindly woman from a passing trade caravan stopped and took pity on me.  She took me in, fed me and nursed my wounds.  I travelled with the caravan and, to repay her for help, I worked for her for some months.  We travelled through many strange lands, full of amazing towns and cities, of people and animals as strange to look upon as looking upon a purple moon.  I learned of the cultures and customs of these people, which were sometimes unusual, sometimes unsettling and sometimes familiar, but always interesting.  I made friends among the people of the caravan and I made friends in the towns and cities that we visited.  I travelled further than I ever thought was possible or ever dared to dream.  After some weeks of travel, the woman who had taken me in, began to pay me a small amount of money in exchange for the work that I was able to do for her.  I saved this money, in order that I would be able to travel back home again and fulfill a promise a son made to his father.  And that is what I have done but I return with barely a penny to my name father and for that, I am sorry."

The father spoke first to Johann.

"Johann, you did a fine job.  You returned here not only with the money that I gave to you, but also you increased your wealth.  You will one day in the future become a very rich and wealthy man."

Johann smiled and was pleased with himself.  He felt pride in his chest at his father's words.  He knew that Mathias had not done as well, in fact, with barely a penny to his name, it was obvious to Johann that his brother had failed and their father would not be pleased.  It had always been this way.

"Mathias, you returned with hardly a penny to call your own.  You were careless and had your money stolen from you.  That was foolish.  Yet, you could have returned home at that point, and I would not have loved you less, but you did not.  Instead, you have returned home after you have seen the world and experienced things that no one else here in this room has ever experienced.  You have done more than I could possibly have asked of you.  I judge you now to be a man who is truly rich beyond that of money, wealthy in experience and the ways of the world.  And that is a wealth that no amount of money can ever purchase.  Thank you Mathias for proving an old man wrong."

"Father..." it was Mathias who spoke again. "Father, there is one more thing I must say.  During the time I spent with the caravan, I fell in love with a beautiful girl called Sarah, who is the daughter of one of the traders and I have made a promise to her. I came here today, so that I could fulfill one promise, but I will be leaving here again the day after tomorrow, so that I can fulfill another.  I will return to the caravan that travels through a distant land and to the girl that I love."

The man smiled at his youngest son and he was pleased with him.  'Yes, my youngest son has truly found treasure and possesses riches more than I could possibly imagine.', he thought.

The father put away his pipe and turned to his son.  "There is only one kind of richness in this world, and that is the kind of richness that money cannot ever buy you.  Always remember to live your life like that of Mathias and you will lead a life full of experiences and riches that no one can ever take away from you.  Now, let's get home for supper."

Both father and son climbed to their feet and began the walk back home again.  The boy had enjoyed the story.  He would one day like to travel like Mathias and maybe meet a beautiful girl from a foreign land.  The thought made him blush. 

The father walked at his son's side.  'Home', he thought and then, in another moment he smiled as the name of his wife came into his head.  Sarah.

Monday, 20 August 2012


On weekday mornings, I cycle with my friend from her apartment in the eastern suburbs, over to her place of work in the downtown city.  It's a ride that takes us around twenty minutes and allows us to get some fresh air, exercise and to enjoy the sights and smells of summer.  Alas this morning, that I should I realise that summer is coming to an inevitable close.  Although the sun was blazing out from a sky clear and blue, there was a morning chill on the air, a chill that signifies the impending coming of autumn and with it, change.

Change.  It is inevitable in life.  Whether we seek it out or not, eventually, it will come to each and every one of us.  It can never be stopped, halted, prevented, avoided, or side-stepped.  When it comes, change can have small and subtle affects that are imperceptibly noticed or it can have far reaching and profound impacts.  Is there anything on this planet that is not susceptible to change?  Even the hardest rock will eventually change, worn down and slowly eroded by the rains, returning the rock once more, back to the earth from which it once came.

When I was younger, my mother simply used to say to me the words "You've changed." in a manner that was a blunt statement and was said in such a way that made me feel as if I had said or done something wrong.  She said it in a manner that implied I was no longer the person that she knew and that she didn't like it.  She did not give her approval to it and it was therefore, something that I should feel bad about.  And at the time, I did.  What she said though, is a very normal response from the people that love us.  People who love us do not want their relatives and friends to change, they wish them to stay exactly the same and be the person that they want them to be.  But this is just not possible in life.  Every person changes whether we like it or not.  Each of us has our own personality, our own uniqueness, the very quality that makes us human.  When a person changes, it is because they have opened themselves to life, to new experiences, to new emotions.  The only thing that we can do is to accept that change and to be happy about, and to grow and evolve our relationships as each of us changes. Love is letting go.

How we face change and what we do when it comes to us, defines whether we fear its affects or whether we joyously embrace it.  It is necessary to always be ready to embrace change as a friend, to see it as a companion on the journey.  It will bring to you the incredible highs and lows of emotion, it will lead you to new and unforeseen experiences, to meet people that you otherwise would have missed, to go places that only previously existed in books, magazines or on television.  If you try to fight change, then ultimately, you will suffer as a consequence.  You will feel cheated out of whatever it is you believe that you had before the change came to your life.  You risk feeling loss, sadness, and defeat.  But to embrace change means to feel uplifted, empowered, encouraged and open to the possibilities of life and new experiences that will, whether or not you realise it at the time, bring a richness and depth to your life that you never could have dreamed or foreseen was possible.

Some change is unlooked for and unexpected.  Losing your job, the death of a relative or close friend, the death of a pet, the break-up of a relationship, losing your home.  These are major events in life, that at the time can seem devastating, that leave us reeling, trying to make sense of what has happened, trying to find answers and asking ourselves "Why did this happen to me?".  The answers to that particular question can never be found at the time, this is a question that can only ever be answered in retrospect because in retrospect, you will be able to see how these events became catalysts for change and for everything that has happened in your life since that moment.  But, perhaps there is an answer that it is possible to give immediately to the question of why did this happen to me? and it is simply this: life.

Life happens.  As summer fades to autumn, autumn gives way to winter, winter recedes as spring takes hold, and spring once more ushers in another summer, so the cycle of life goes ever on.  It is and always will be.  All things are one.

When we feel change come upon us, we must be ready.  We must dare to take that first step along a path unknown and unfamiliar.  That first step, that beautiful first step on an untrodden path of infinite possibilities, where adventure awaits.  It is said that the art of walking is the act of falling forward, each time ensuring that you have placed your next leg in front, to catch yourself.  Walking is falling and to let yourself fall takes courage.  Embrace the courage, embrace the change.

So why am I contemplating change this morning?  One reason for sure is that feeling of the cool morning breeze as I was cycling this morning, but I am also aware that the time is coming when I must also move on and leave this place.  My summer in Montreal will end, as I always knew that it must.  Change is coming.  I can see the tips of its masts over the horizon, soon I will see the white of its sails and eventually, it will sail into port and ask me to board.  And I must ask myself, what comes next on my journey?  Where will the wind blow me?  What does the voice of my heart speak to me?

I am sitting in a cafe in Montreal, writing these words, looking out on to a street of morning activity, because I was open to change.  I have no job, I have no permanent place to call my home.  I am adrift in an ocean of possibility.  All roads lead from here.  So, I will choose a road of my own making and I will fall head first, down my own path of new experiences, and I will walk that path not alone, for I shall be accompanied on my journey by my friend, the friend that I call change.

Open your heart to the possibilities and let life flood in.  Change yourself, change your future and let life illuminate your path to glory.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Happiness in Simplicity

I was sitting at the table, eating my breakfast cereal this morning, browsing the internet, as is my usual habit of the morning and I became distracted by my friend's cat playing on the floor of the kitchen with a plastic drinks straw.  This got me to thinking about the simplicity of life and how this cat had no need or demand for anything other than a small, hollow, lime green, piece of plastic tubing, in which to find happiness and contentment.

I believe the same is true, perhaps even more so, for dogs.  What does a dog love more in life than a simple game of fetch with a stick or ball, to play endlessly, incessantly, even though it pants with its tongue hanging limply to one side and knowing that it can barely stand on its legs any longer?  Or to lay next to you, revelling in the pure and total joy of simply being at the side of its owner?  Simple pleasures.

Children also have the same ability to find pleasure in the simple things of life.  They are able to play for hours at an end, lost in the depth of their own imaginings and creations.  I can remember being lost in this way playing with Lego, kicking a ball against a wall, playing with my model trains, my action figures.  I recall the stories I would create, giving life to inanimate objects, talking with them, as I became lost in a universe where anything and everything became possible.  Are you also able to recall such times?

As children too, we are filled with a sense of awe, of wonderment at the world in which we live.  Almost every day, there is a new discovery to be made, another amazing fact to learn, a bewildering sight to behold.  There are the marvels of nature and the natural world - animals, birds, fish, plants, flowers, trees, mountains, oceans, canyons, lakes, rivers.  And there are the marvels of human invention - cars, aeroplanes, trains, space rockets, skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, ships.  The world seems an exciting place.  A place similar to the world we create in our imagination, where anything might be possible, and indeed, it seems that it is. 

Then, at some point, we begin to lose this sense of excitement and bewilderment of the world.  Our eyes, our ears and our brains become accustomed to everything.  Things that we once held in our minds as the most incredible things we had ever witnessed, now become the ordinary.  A world in which we once feared nothing, begins to give us causes to be mindful.  A place where once we believed anything was possible, now gives us reasons to doubt.  The things that we once enjoyed for endless hours, now seem silly and childish.  We lose our sense of awe.  We stop seeing the magic in the world.  And we stop believing in miracles.  I am sure that this happens to everyone.  It happened to me. 

But I can also recall times, when I would rediscover my love for the natural.  The beach and the ocean in particular, have always held a place in my heart.  Summertime down at the beach, losing myself by swimming out a distance from the shore and then laying on my back, floating with arms and legs outstretched, eyes shut to block out the bright sunshine, simply bobbing around on the gentle rolling of the waves.  These were the moments that I seemed to live for.  These were the times when I would feel something stirring, something crying out in my heart and I would say out loud to no one other than myself, "I love this!"  And I did and I still do.  I would always head to the beach whenever I could, whether to bathe in the water, to walk with my parents dogs, to lose myself in thought and just stare out to the horizon.  Perhaps, these were the times when I heard the voice of my heart but I was not yet ready to heed its calling. 

I do not remember exactly when, but at some point in time, I began to open myself back up to the possibilities of life, of nature and to miracles.  Now that I think about it, maybe I had never actually forgotten to do this.  I can remember how awestruck I used to be, gazing out of the window of the plane I was traveling on, at the cloud formations, the sunrises and the sunsets.  How amazed I was at the size of the European Alps, a seemingly endless vista of mountains and valleys and how I felt an urge to be down there, walking and climbing amongst their peaks.  I can remember being absolutely thrilled one Sunday morning, flying from New York back to London, when at around 6:30am, somewhere over the heathers of Scotland, I was able to watch Concorde zooming passed us in the opposite direction, New York bound.  In deed, the first time I laid my eyes upon the skyline of Manhattan, I was dumbstruck, almost unable to take my eyes of this mesmerising and incredible feat of architecture and engineering.  But it was a few years later, that I truly began to see the more simple things around me, those things that occurred on a daily basis, and to be aware of the miracles of life that were happening all around me, all of the time. 

Life is a miracle.  Creation and evolution are miracles.  Watching a butterfly amongst the summer flowers, hearing the chirrup of crickets, listening to the dawn chorus of birds, hearing the wind through the trees fluttering the leaves, seeing clouds drift lazy by overhead.  All of these things are simple moments in life that allow us to recall the miracle of nature and of life.  There are so many others.  I once again began to see the world as a child sees the world - as a place of wonderment and possibilities, where anything could happen.  I try as often as possible to be a child, to seek out the joy and fun of simple things. I marvel at the flight of birds, at the humming of a bee.  In moments of solitude, I have never felt lonely because I am surrounded by and immersed in life, in miracles.  A few years ago, I was living in Wellington, New Zealand and one Sunday morning, as I sat on the beach wall down on the waterfront of Oriental Bay, drinking a take out coffee, enjoying the warmth of a winter sun, looking out across the bay to the snow capped mountains in the distance, I happened to look up and watch a seagull flying over my head.  In this moment, I had a profound and deep sense of joy, peace and calm.  I felt as though I had plunged into the heart of the universe, I felt immersed in life, I felt connected to every living thing on this planet and in this universe.  Life shows us the way and we have only to open our hearts and eyes to its miracles. 

And so it is that now, I find happiness in simplicity.  Happiness in immersing myself in life and in stripping away the complications that as adults, we all too easy allow ourselves to become embroiled in.  I strongly believe that simplicity is the key to happiness.  Because life is actually very simple.  Life just is.

Provider of miracles
Of possibilities
Of dreams
And of love.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Cat Fud - One Of My All Time Favourite Cartoons

A friend of mine was sharing some cartoons from The Far Side by Gary Larsson on Face book this morning, and I remarked how my favourite was the Cat Fud cartoon.  She was extremely kind and posted it to my Facebook wall for me, so I want to share it here as well. 

Heed The Calling Of Your Heart

I started to write something this morning and then I had to deleted all of the characters that were before my eyes.  I was not writing truthfully and I was not writing honestly.  Writing for me, has to come straight from my heart.  To write authentically, I have to be lost.  Lost to the voice of my heart.  If I start to write something and I find that I am stopping every minute or so, then I am writing from my head.  I am over thinking what it is I want to say.  And if that begins to happen, then I am not writing what I truly want to say.  The heart always reveals the truth of all things. 

The heart. Dear precious heart.  Where would I be without your voice?  Certainly not here, certainly not typing away to no person in particular, certainly not having experienced everything that I have experienced in the past six years and seven months.  How different would my road be if I were to go back, if I were able to make a change to my past life and alter a decision, where would I be now?  I would be living a lie.  I would be living a half life.  A life in which I would be telling myself I am happy, trying everyday, every moment to believe what I was telling myself.  But knowing that it was not true.  Knowing deep inside that I had betrayed myself.  That I was a coward.  Or would I?

If I had not commenced my journey, then how would I know what it is that I missed?  I wouldn't, I couldn't know.  In the first few days after taking the decision to stay with my comfortable and secure life, where everything makes sense, I would have been wondering whether I had made the right decision in saying no.  I would have questioned it over and over again.  As days turned into weeks, I would have begun to tell myself that I made the right decision, it was for the best.  I would have begun to find happiness with the things that I had in my life: my car; my apartment; my friends; my family; the programs I watched on TV; my commute to work; my colleagues at the office; the chance to look forward to Friday, even though it was still only Sunday evening.  Weeks turn quickly to months and with those months, I would have started to forget all about the decision.  I would have more important things to worry about: a presentation I had to give to some clients; would the car pass its annual inspection; which tie I should wear; did the girl in accounting notice me.  Yes, the very important things in life.  Months soon become a year and, as one year turns its page over, so another commences. 

Everything would be fine for a while but sooner or later, there would be no stopping the voice of my heart.  It would come back again, only louder, more urging than before.  It would tell me that I had wasted more time, that I should act now before it becomes too late.  In the quiet moments just before sleep it would whisper to me of far off places, of walking  in forests and along golden beaches, of seeing mountains with their tops covered in a blanket of snow.  I would fall asleep but no longer would I sleep as soundly.  I would begin once more to remember the decision that I had taken long before. I would once more wonder whether I was a coward.  I would once more have to decide whether to heed the calling of my heart, or to bury its voice and silence it again. 

Only now, it is no longer as easy for me to go off in search of my adventure and follow my heart.  Now I have more reasons to stay in my current life: my career that has continued to progress; I have more possessions; I might have a family of my own; my parents have grown old and need looking after; my brother and sister have children; my friends; I have even more security and comfort than I had before.  So, I have no alternative but to once more silence the voice of my heart and the process starts over one more time.  Days become weeks...

And then there would be silence from my heart until one special day, when I am sitting in my comfortable chair, in a well manicured and kept garden and I feel something I have never felt before.  I feel that my heart is dying, that my time has come.  In the moments between this realisation and the inevitable drawing of my final breath, I look back upon my life.  I look back upon everything that I achieved and with a feeling of loss, sadness and regret, I realise that my life was never fulfilled because I denied my heart and with that denial, I was never able to follow the path of my dreams, the path that would have led me to true happiness, contentment and on a voyage of discovery.

I think that what I am writing this morning, is that I cannot deny my heart, now that I have heard its voice.  My heart is my friend, my guide, my companion.  Although I do not claim to be religious, I am spiritual.  If there is a god, then it is my belief that this force for good exists in each and every one of our hearts.  In my heart is where I find peace.  In my heart is where I find the miracles. 

What I have written today reminds me of something I wrote back in 2006, when I was staying on the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia.  I am going to share it.

By the way, it has just occurred to me that all that I have written this morning, is intended for me, as a reminder than even though I have begun the journey along my own path, I must never stop heeding the voice and call of my heart.  It does not matter what I have done, it only matters what I do.

Peter Waits
Peter sits and waits
I will change he says
Time passes
Like the cars passed the window
Each one a journey
To a different destination
And still he waits
Things will be different
Next year, next month
Peter grows older
He does not realise it
But life is running
It never stops
Still he waits
I am still young he thinks
But the young look at him
And through their youthful eyes
They see an old man
The years that were ahead
Now lay behind
Each one just like the next
Full of hope, of promise
But nothing realised
Peter has waited
Peter has sat his whole life
Poised for action
Tensed like a bow string
The heart cannot take this
It can only wait so long
Like the string of the bow
Too much tensity and waiting
And it breaks
Nothing lasts forever
No one can wait forever
Peter gets up to change
To begin a new life
But his heart is old
His legs no longer work
And his heart long ago
Ceased its dreaming
Peter sits by the window
And wonders what might have been.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Call of the Heart

Another day and another opportunity to write and to create, but more importantly, an opportunity to let me soul flow onto the page before me, unfettered and free, revealing my inner thoughts and feelings.  Perhaps that may seem dangerous to some, to spill all of your deepest feelings onto a public blog site, to reveal some part of your soul, but the way I see it, I am me, I am Andy and I am happy and content to be me.  Sharing my soul with others helps me to reveal the treasures that are locked away, that my waking, conscious thinking cannot fathom.  And besides which, if I speak to someone else out there and assist them in some small way, then, it is worth every letter and every word that I type.

I was thinking this morning of the life of a traveller and what determines the cafes that we frequent.  Is it the aroma of the coffee?  Perhaps it is the price of the drinks?  The clientele?  The choice of background music? (I've got The Doors playing Soul Kitchen - so I've picked a good one this morning)  The atmosphere?  The appearance and personalities of the staff?  I'm sure that all of these things are important, but today, as I entered the cafe, I did what many other travellers do: I walked in and before I ordered my coffee, I started to look around.  I looked down at the ground, at the fittings and furniture, and I traced my eyes all around the lower part of the brown, mocha and chocolate coated walls - designed I am sure, to invoke in the mind the colours and hues of coffee and coffee beans.  I was searching for something.  I noticed the comfortable and beckoning leather armchairs, I saw the secluded table by the side of the mock(?) fireplace, the table by the front window with perfect street viewing opportunity, but today I needed to discard such places.  I had other urgent need.  I was in search of what has become one of the most important things a traveller has need for - power for my ailing laptop battery.  And it struck me this morning that this is perhaps, after the obligatory wi-fi, what has become the most important feature of a cafe to a traveller.   
Travelling. Moving.  Being on the road.  Jack Kerouac had something.  After coffee this morning, my project is to head to the la Grande Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and find me a copy of A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I saw it in a book store one day last week and I avoided the temptation and rising urge to purchase it.  But the thought of reading it has stayed with me and I hope to find a copy this morning.  I realised a while ago that the books I choose to read have always involved adventure and travel.  It begun with The Famous Five, progressed through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and has continued with reading such classics as Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick, On The Road, Call of the Wild, Walden (Life in the Woods) and others.  I also read true stories of adventure like Between a Rock and a Hard Place (later 127 Hours), Into The Wild, Touching the Void, Up the Yukon.  I dream of adventure, I dream of travel.  It is the thing that stays in my heart always.  I can feel it there, with each beat of my heart it calls out to me.  Go find a mountain, a lake, a river, an ocean, a deserted beach, a forest, a valley. Go. Go. Go.

I've realised that this was my calling in life.  It never really mattered what I did, I just needed to travel, to be having adventures.  Even in my professional working career when I would head off on a business trip, to me, it was an opportunity for adventure.  I can remember distinctly my very first overseas trip.  I was asked to go over to Orléans in France to assist on a project.  I'd only ever flown once before - a return trip from Athens (we had driven there by car - a story for a different time) and that was with a privately chartered plane.  Now, I had to take a taxi to Heathrow airport in London, fly over to Paris, rent a car, drive on the other side of the road for the first time (in the UK they drive on the left side), drive on the other side of the car for the first time (right side for the UK, left side for continental Europe), drive and navigate myself from Charles De Gaulle airport, around the Périphérique of Paris, find my way down to Orléans - a drive of around 130km (81 miles), find my hotel, find the IBM location and then make the return trip two days later. And I was on my own.  I know that by making this first trip on my own, I set the wheels in motion for much of what followed in my life.  I overcame my doubts and fears, I successfully found my way to Orléans, even if I did get lost once or twice, and most importantly, I did it on my own.  I looked upon this trip as an adventure and after having returned home, I yearned for more.  More importantly though, I had proved something very significant to myself - I was able to travel on my own.

I never saw business travel as a pain, I saw each trip as a chance to travel, to explore, to watch the clouds from the plane window, to see rivers, valleys, forests, mountains and oceans below, to see and experience things that could never have happened to me had it not been for my opportunity to travel.  I was grateful for each time I needed to go somewhere.  And I firmly believe that each of these trips helped to awaken my heart, to unlock the voice which I had silenced for too many years.  Magic happened because I let it.  Magic happened because I became open to the possibility of miracles.

I have been fortunate in life, luckier than some, not as lucky as others.  It is not how much luck we encounter in life, it is what we choose to do with it when the moment arrives.  Stand and look and ponder what to do, dip a tentative toe in, or plunge head first into the abyss?  And it also occurs to me that even when we think that times are bad, we have luck on our side, protecting us and guiding us to some place new.

Life.  Let the bugger flood in.   Let it fill your sails.  Blow you where it will.

I found this poem posted on Paulo Coelho's blog today, so I am going to share it here.  It seems rather apt:  

All The Hemisphere

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Random Thoughts of Nothingness

Wednesday morning, somewhere in the middle of August, somewhere in the middle of Montreal.  Actually, I know exactly where I am and when I am - although when I am depends on whether you accept the point at which all time is fixed, because if you do not, then we are at any time and personally, I like that idea very much.

Starbucks on Avenue du Mont Royal Est at the junction with Rue de Brebeuf.  A grande non-fat latte, my signature drink at Starbucks, sits to the right side of my laptop, which sits on a small round table, that sits on a grey tiled floor.  It's a grey day, a light rain (we call it a drizzle) falls from the leaden skies above.  I have hope of seeing the big blue stuff later on today.  After Starbucks, I am going to cycle through the park of Mont Royal and test my legs against its slopes.  I love to cycle.  I always have.  Put me on a bicycle of any description and it unlocks something within me.  I immediately surface the kid inside of me.  I cycle as fast as I possibly can for as long as I can, until my legs feel like they have fallen off, then I cruise a little bit and take it easy for a breather, until I feel ready to do it all over again -  and I do, again and again and again.  I pull bunny hops over manhole covers.  When I zoom down a hill, I weave like a madman down the road, zigzagging from one side to the other, imagining that I am snowboarding down a mountain.  Zigzag, what a great word.  I bounce up and down pavements, I weave in and out of the traffic.  At stop lights, I try to balance on the pedals for as long as I possibly can without putting a foot down, seeing whether I can stay like that until the lights turn to green and I can go wild again.  Did I say I'm a kid on a bike?  Maybe I actually become a puppy.  Whatever it is, it unlocks an inner freedom within me, it unlocks my heart.

All this talk of cycling reminds me that I often think of undertaking a great cycle tour one day.  Like from East to West coasts of the USA.  Or across Europe, from London to Istanbul and to the Bosphorus Strait - where Europe ends and Asia begins.  From northern most tip of New Zealand (Cape Reinga) down to the most southerly point.  You always have to go north to south because otherwise it would feel like cycling uphill all the way.  South America, Australia, Africa?  There are many possibilities, each with their own set of risks, people, places and adventures awaiting.

Some days, as I sit and become thoughtful, I become emotional and I ask myself how did I come to be sitting at this Starbucks in Montreal, writing nonsense to no one in particular - I guess I write only for myself.  I become emotional because it is these moments that I realise that I am on my journey, that because I am no longer doing what it was that I used to do, that I am no longer in my old life, that I no longer view the world in the same way, that I realise that anything is possible in life.  I have these moments of clarity and vision and I become incredible humble and grateful for all that has happened to me - the good and the bad - because everything is needed in life in order to move us on in the journey and to steer us towards our spiritual awakening.

And is that the purpose of life, the purpose of human existence?  To spiritually awaken.  To know within your heart that all things are one.  That everything on this planet is of the planet and of the universe.  To realise that every element needed to create life is found here.  To see that the position of the moon, the sun and the earth is perfection.  That every moment miracles occur all around us.  To listen to your heart when it urges you and speaks to you.  To let the tears fall unbidden when the need arises - for sadness, for joy and in pure elation of the beauty of life.  And to walk the path that is written for each of us, that is held deep within each of us, embedded in our hearts.

As I write that last part, indeed a miracle has occurred.  The sun burst forth from behind the greyness and brought a brightness and warm through the window.  Perfect timing. My coffee is just finished.  The park and the hill beckon.

Dear Heart
Awaken dear heart
Beat to the rhythm of life
Share with me your wisdom
Urge me forward
Dare me to take the next step
Show me the door
And I will open it
Keep me company
When the road is lonely
Speak to me of love
When I am alone
Encourage me
Whenever I feel lost
Push me forward
Whenever I tarry
Show me the way
If I become lost
Listen to me
As I listen to you
Give to me hope
If I begin to feel despair
Walk with me dear heart
And I will walk with you.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

People - Coincidence or Design?

Unless you find yourself marooned on a desert island, or cast adrift on the ocean, or lost in the jungles of the Amazon, the chances are that during the course of any given day, you will have the opportunity to meet and converse with a great many people.  Of course, typically we are too busy to talk to every single person we pass on the street, or see on the bus or train.  This would not be possible and quite frankly, you would be looked at as being decidedly odd, if you were to attempt it.  However, there are many times when we do talk with people, some of whom are known to us and others, whom we meet at seemingly random times and places.  When this occurs, when two people talk with one another, there is an opportunity to receive a message and to be the provider of a message.

When I look back on my life, I can see how fortunate I have been to have met certain people who have had a profound influence and affect on me.  It seems that these people delivered to me messages and helped to guide me towards the beginning of my own journey and to taking the first step along my path, even if they did not realise that this was what they were doing.  In some way, these people helped to shape my destiny and helped to solidify the ideas that were already held inside of me.  They helped me to hear and to heed the voice of my heart.

Some of these meetings and events can seem insignificant at the time, but what transpires after can shape your destiny.  Take for example the action of my friend K, who, as we shared a taxi ride in Budapest one evening, reached into her handbag and pulled out an English version of The Alchemist.  She handed it to me and said to me that I might enjoy it.  This simple gesture of one friend lending a book to another would become the catalyst for everything that followed.  How could either she or I have known the significance of that moment as it occurred? 

I sometimes wonder whether certain people are placed on our paths in order that we should have the opportunity to meet with them, and to exchange messages with them.  I can think of many other people who have come into my life and delivered to me very significant messages.  Even if I did not realise it at the time, looking back I can see how each of these people gave to me a piece of my jigsaw.  I am able to see how I took each of their messages and pieced them together, until I reached the point of awakening to the voice of my heart and to the pursuit of my own path in life.

It also occurs to me that in order to receive the messages from the people we meet, we have to be open and we have to be ready to hear and to perceive the meaning of the message.  We have to listen not only with our ears but also with our hearts.  An open heart is required so that we may truly connect with the other person on a spiritual level.  The timing of the meeting is crucial because the possibility exists that we meet with the person, but we are not yet ready to receive their message.  Imagine how many countless millions, if not billions, of actions and events have had to occur in order for us to meet the right person, at the right place, at the right time.  Actions and events that take place before we were born, before even our parents or grandparents were born.  In fact, every single action and event that has happened since the beginning of time plays a vital role in delivering us at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right place.  That's quite incredible when you think about it.

Are these meetings coincidence or design?  Unfortunately, there is no certain answer to the question.  I believe that people come to us when we need them and they deliver the message that we need to hear - if we are open to hearing the message.  For me, that only occurs when we have an open heart and mind to the wonderful possibilities and miracles of life.  Love comes from the heart, it is love that drives this world and it is love that created and maintains all life.  By having an open heart, we are immersing ourselves in the most wonderful energy - the energy of creation.

So, it is simple then.  Always live with an open heart.  Always be ready to hear and to receive the messages.  And never be surprised when you become the messenger yourself.  All things are one.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Exercising Your Freedom By Giving It All Up

Take a few moments to look around your home and to look at all of the things that you have accumulated during your life.  Some of these objects will be gifts from family, partners or friends.  Some might be heirlooms or inheritances, handed down from the generation that came before.  Souvenirs from your travels.  Photograph and pictures in frames on walls and on shelves.  DVDs, CDs and books.  Of course, there is some furniture - a bed, a wardrobe, chest of drawers, sofa, table, chairs, cabinets.  You might have a television, music player (CD / MP3), a computer, a games console.  In the kitchen probably a refrigerator, a cooker, a microwave, a kettle, a toaster and maybe a coffee machine.  There will be things hidden in the drawers and cupboards - crockery, cutlery, saucepans, containers and so on.  In the garage, on the driveway or on the street there maybe a car or motorcycle.  Maybe you have sports equipment - a bicycle, roller blades, skateboard, ski equipment, golf clubs.  That's quite a lot of things isn't it?  I am sure that if you started to look, you would find a whole lot more hidden away in boxes or tucked into corners.  These are the things that say who we are, what we like, what we've done and where we've been.  They define us.  They belong to us.  But is that really true?

Now imagine giving up all of these things. Every thing.  You even have to give up the home in which all of these items have been stored, so that you no longer own anything other than some clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, a personal washing kit and maybe just a few very personal, sentimental items - just enough to fill a suitcase or a backpack.  How do you feel about that?  Does it seem wrong?  It doesn't seem to make much sense... or does it?

In the autumn of 2005, I was in such a situation.  I had made a bold decision in my life, a decision that at the time seemed the most logical and easiest - to quit my successful career with a global corporate IT company and to go backpacking to Asia with my girlfriend.  Resignation in, plane tickets purchased, no going back.  Everything that I had purchased and owned needed to be seriously downsized.  In fact, I had to be rid of nearly all of it.

I have realised that during my life, I have never been materialistic.  Well, okay, I probably was as materialistic about some things as everyone else (CDs, DVDs, cars - a big weakness) but I was never one to splash out on new TVs, new furniture or to keep upgrading existing items.  My motto was: If it works, use it.  If it's broken, fix it or get a new one.  I still used the same kettle I had since I had first left home, 16 years earlier.  It worked, I liked the look of it and to me, it did exactly what I needed it to do.  I used saucepans that had been given to me by my brothers girlfriend.  My dining room chairs were being discarded by my parents, so I rescued them.  Yes, I did possess some newly purchased Ikea furniture but this had been purchased out of pure necessity and yes, just a little frivolity.

There I was, an apartment full of things, two months to go before I was due to fly to Thailand and no where to store anything.  So, I set about selling everything that I owned, or giving it away.  I utilised eBay for the good quality furniture and for selling items that I thought might be collectable.  I discovered that there is always someone who will buy your item.  One of my favourite sales was a well worn tour t-shirt of a little known UK rock band from the late 1980's, that was purchased by someone in Germany.  A guy flew down from Scotland to have a look at my car that I had advertised on eBay.  I figured that if he was coming all that way (a round trip of around 900 miles or more) then he must be serious.  He was.  He drove the car back to Scotland the same evening.  Charity shops benefited from clothes, board games, old VHS videos I could not sell and other miscellaneous items.  The local internet cafe was the recipient of approximately 50 disposable ball point pens that I had accumulated on various business trips from the hotels I had been staying in.  The selling process became addictive.  I enjoyed watching the bids flying in on my on-line eBay auctions, as the auction came to a close.  People paid me more for some items of Ikea furniture, than I had paid for the item new.  I was amazed.  But I was not really out to make money, that was just a bonus.  My only intent was to be free of these possessions.  Slowly but surely, everything began to go.  My old life was disappearing.  All of the things that I had once held dear and enjoyed had gone.

During this process it occurred to me that actually I didn't miss any of it.  Not a single thing.  Many of the items had been in cardboard boxes or on shelves in cupboards and I simply thought to myself that if the item was hidden away in a box or a cupboard, then I was never using it, and if I was not using it, then why was I keeping it?  Items that had meant so much to me previously, no longer held the same meaning.  In fact, they became poisoned chalices from which I needed to be free. 
And that is what I learned during the process.  That once everything was gone, I was free.  Until that moment, each of the possessions had some how had a hold over me.  I needed to protect them, to look after them, to find places to put them, I had to pay insurance for them, I even needed to find an apartment of a suitable size in which they would all fit.  I hadn't owned my possessions after all, they had owned me.  These inanimate objects had a power over me and a control over my life.

I also realised that I didn't need to have the books I had read on show in bookcases.  I know which books I have read and enjoyed and I can discuss them with anyone I talk with, at any time.  What is there to prove by showing that I have read such and such a book?  The same was true of everything that was on display in my apartment.  The concerts I had attended, the CDs I had collected, the movies I enjoyed the most.  None of this was really important to me any longer.  I realised that I was finally comfortable and happy to be me and that I had nothing to prove to anyone else.  And besides, I could borrow books for free from a library and then return them after reading.  I didn't need to own the book.  The same was true for DVDs and CDs.  And besides, if I listened to the radio, then I could hear music for free.  I changed the way I did things, in order to exercise my freedom.

Now, I travel with a backpack large enough to carry some clothes and a washing kit, a bag that contains my scuba diving equipment, and a small backpack for personal items.  I do have one other small suitcase in my parents attic, that contains mostly those items that are sentimental to me and cannot ever be replaced - my journals, some old photographs, a wooden bowl my grandfather turned on his own lathe and some other bits and pieces.

At the beginning of this post, I stated that all of our possessions belong to us and asked if this was true?  My own experience tells me that this is in fact not true.  It is us who belong to them.  They own us because we need to take care of them and to protect them.  You do not need an object to show or to prove who you are or what you have done in your life.  That is what your voice is for - to share stories and experiences with others.  Once you are without possessions, you will experience a liberation and a joy.  You will begin to experience true freedom in your life. 

"We are born into this world with nothing and we return to the Earth with nothing, except the memories of all that we did and all that we accomplished in life."