On ‘sitting on the dock of the bay’, ‘celebrating what’s right’ and other ways to do better in 2019

“Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away, sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time…”

A lyric about being lazy is perhaps the most productive advice anybody’s given to us, the digitally distracted and continuously chaotic dwellers of the 21st century.

I followed the advice and started my year by chilling. Mostly, I drove around the country towns of NSW and Victoria. Just signifying old streetscapes and older landscapes. Swimming in the public pools that other generations of civil Australians scrimped and saved to build, and devoted to old soldiers who sadly never made it home to cold beers at the Royal or the Railway pub.

Pausing my harried head was a healthy way to actually decide what’s right for this year. Usually, when I pause, something broader in my being eventually and intuitively locks in on the few half-decent ideas I’ve ever produced. Under-thinking is good.

I’m drawn to the beginning of the previous year when I struck on three things: to listen, to be clear, and to invent. I wrote this then:

The Year of the Ear. Work is changing, as technology goes faster. Futurologists don’t know where “Uberification” will lead. For me, there’s one sound response to uncertainty and risk. Listen. To hear where my clients and my colleagues are coming from. To understand what’s inspiring them and what’s worrying them… In a context that’s so fast and fluid – technologically, politically, socially – the smartest approach for me is to try to connect to those who matter the most.

UnFake News. Complexity is obvious. But adding to complexity is the changing nature and volume of information as sources diversify / tailor / micro-target. My answer to complexity is simple: simplicity. A mentor said: “Clarity is king.” A productive thing I can do is get to the essential. To cut clutter and get to the sweet spot. The why, to borrow from Sinek. That which makes most difference the best way – be it in policy, financial, management, emotional or social terms.

Make Stuff. Our work can be a practice of what Buddhists describe as mindful contact, thought, emotion and deliberate measures forward. It’s about pausing to understand the energy around an issue; to seek insight; to decipher with sound, scalable analysis, and; to come up with imaginative ways forward. To be my own Einstein and Edison – and invent.

I ask myself: how’d I go? Did implementation follow intention? Did I listen deeply, provide clarity, and invent new things?

As with most things, I plead WIP – work in progress.

On listening, I’m proud of leadership projects in Ukraine where the key was not to lecture but to respect and reinforce righteous people’s capabilities. However, if I counted the words out of my mouth as opposed to the words into my ears, I’d be net negative.

On clarity, I helped my industry here in Oz – the resilient recyclers – put forward a more specific yet more ambitious agenda for public policy. At the same time, like a kid running laps in a junior high school gym, I cut corners in cultivating consensus about that agenda.

On inventing things, I churned out more op-ed pieces than any other year, but for one more trip around the sun, I avoided going to the light that I somehow am scared shitless of: writing the fiction that I actually know I’m capable of. Just chickened out in large measure. Again. Cos I know that such yarns mean real and uncomfortable accountability before the Higher Power of my life.

There’s no point in new goals. Last year’s are fine and dandy. But how to ensure more progress?

Perhaps, the way I’ve started the year is the way to savour and succeed through year. Through more pausing and more moderation in thought, word and action. My tools for these tasks are my ‘Have I Truly’ questions:

  • Have I truly heard to this person and really tried to understand their point of view?
  • Have I truly looked for the ‘why’ of this situation and what’s most essential?
  • Have I truly trusted my creativity, eg, my Higher Power’s purpose for me?

And, I also share this: I’m getting divorced. Not from the Sensational Suzi. Heaven forbid. But from crazy-making, my own and sometimes that of others. From convenient cynicism, from self-inflicted conflicts, from the folks that I occasionally seek out just to jab at my own scabs, and from the social media scrolling for scrolling’s sake.

And, I’m getting remarried. Here, DeWitt Jones, a photographer for the National Geographic, soothingly spends 18 minutes teaching us to celebrate what’s right with the world and with humanity: “It’s not the light that shines on us, but the light that shines from within us.”

Let it be so.

 

 

 

 

On reading this at work and saying “F@ck it” to the Australian Busy Cult (ABC)

“Flat out.”

“So much to get done by Christmas.”

“It’s the busiest time of our year, what with clients’ requests and all.”

These are the cicada-like noises of Australian workplaces this week. They are the soundtrack of our new Australian cult: the cult of being busy.

And like all cults, there’s some part of their theology that’s probably reasonable and some part that’s really whacky but fully accepted by its members.

Think of Scientology: normal people, success orientation, and a firm belief that the hinges of the clam evolved into the hinges of the human jaw.

In the case of Australian Busy Cult, it’s absolutely the case that the vast majority of jobs have expectations of performance and the associated deadlines for its delivery. But the notion that we all need to be working hard all the time to meet them is absolute bullshit.

The fact is that some of you are reading this at work right now. Some of you spent the better part of the day mindlessly flipping through Facebook. Some of you have actually very little of substance to do today or some other day.

Yet, we live in an era where the Australian Busy Cult’s norm is for us to at least put on the show of being fully occupied and of having a million pressing and important tasks. To test this, let me ask you: have you ever heard anyone in a workplace lift say something like “Actually, I’m really chilled right now, don’t have very much to do and that’s totally cool”?

Nah. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that the whole enchilada depends on others being told how busy we are and, by correlation, how important we are to the enterprise.

The Australian Busy Cult also loves the technology that enables this. For example, it should be great news that Australians are officially receiving less emails. Too bad that all the messaging and collaboration platforms like WhatsApp have substituted this traffic by five-fold. (Do the quick audit right now of how many pointless conversation strings you’re in…)

If it was all just theatrics, no biggie. But what we say is what our thinking and our emotions ultimately become. Studies show how hard it is for many to conceive, how challenging it is for many to sleep, and how lonely many feel because they may not be spending any real quality time with real people “in real life” rather than the digital dimension. The Australian Busy Cult, like all cults, demands sacrifices.

Even when we’re not busy, our brains still seem to be. (Buddhists call this the Monkey Mind that we’re born with, and a key point of their practice is to get rid of it because it’s not necessary after about age four.)

That’s why it’s so interesting to watch Australians on this upcoming summer holiday. On the surface at least, the Australian Busy Cult tells us to “recharge our batteries for a big year coming up”.

Over Christmas and New Year, with the temperatures up and the beaches beckoning, we enforce a break. We command ourselves to slow down and take it easy – as if that was something that’s almost abnormal.

The phone must be switched off! Time must be spent with family and friends! There are newspapers and books to be read – not just work stuff! And, that stuff around the house that needs doing, it needs to get done!

Let’s not forget everything that needs preparing for Christmas and the need for ‘a plan’ for New Year’s Eve!

It seems the Australian Busy Cult just switches lanes and keeps rolling on rather than truly pulling over and looking at the scenic vista of our lives, relationships and daily occurrences.

So, if you are at work and reading this, or it’s in the middle of some task on some ‘to do’ list that you’re meant to be doing, I want you to do this instead.

I want you to escape the Australian Busy Cult. Here’s how.

Take a breath. And another.

Now repeat after me: F@ck it.

And now leave the office early.

To do: nothing. Exactly nothing at all.

Happy and exceedingly lazy holidays.

Geronimo’s Daybreak

Henry and his slow son, Henry, had stumbled out of the Commercial pub, and then some fool mate’s tool shed, and into the their creaky caravan next door at about 0430 in the morning.DSC05687

“I coulda fuckin swore there was still a bottle of JD in here,” Senior yelled as he conducted a search-and-destroy through a battalion of empty VB tinnies and a platoon of rusted oyster cages that got taken inside but never fixed.

Bev’s dog, Geronimo, stirred and grumbled in his sleep at the foot of the double bed that sank on one side only. He probably knew, like Bev, what was coming next.

“Fucking Junior. Where’d ya fuckin put the fuckin whiskey, ya halfwit?”

That was enough. Bev threw off the IronMan doona she liked and fond her Ugg boots in the half-dark. She could barely see them for all the diesel stains and caked on mud from the bay’s mangroves near the oyster beds. Geronimo jumped down and his little nails skittled on the bent linoleum tiles.

DSC05690 2By the time her salt-bleached Hilux got them down to the surf beach, the sun was starting to rise. As the little dog and her climbed over the scrubby dune off the service road, Bev remembered that expression: the sun will always rise again in the morning.

Truth is – she still needed to prove it to herself. Even after decades.

When she’d been a kid, trapped in the Dark House near the Post Office, with her drugged-out father dictating 10,000 word letters about the Jews running Australia’s big four banks to ABC radio hosts, it hardly seemed like it would. She tapped away at the old Olivetti, hoping that maybe they’d run out of carbon paper so she could go to sleep before school.DSC05683

Now, Bev walked down to the break, took off the boots, and let golden water run across here feet. She tried to take a deep breath and hold it when her phone chimed.

An app telling her what day it was. International Free-Range Chicken Farming Day. National Autism Awareness Day. It helped her remember there was a life outside Wilson Bay. There had to be more than scraping by on selling trays of a dozen shells at a time to Balmain tourists looking for some “real local catch”  (which seemed like it was always founded on somebody else’s real local impoverishment).

Today was World Kindness Day, the little screen in her palm said. Bev thought to herself:
“That’s nice”. That’s what her head said, but Bev didn’t feel particular kind. When she closed her eyes again, she could feel her calves cramp up like iron re-bars for pouring cement piers.

Anger. Wanting to bust in on the Old and Young Henry before Senior laid into Junior, and bust Senior’s head open with heavy skillet.

Wanting to bust into the Dark House before Dad lit another bong and rescue her Kid Self from another rant about aliens, or ethnics, or single mum’s on the dole – like his missing ex, Daisy.

Bev felt a tickle on her foot and opened her eyes. Geronimo had coming running back down the beach and laid a big pink shell on her toes. He yapped and jumped vertical.

DSC05692

“Best thing that ever happened to you, eh, sport?” Bev said and gave Geronimo a scratch under his chin. The dog whirled in circles while Bev balanced the shell on her foot and then flicked it into the surf. Geronimo dashed into the little break to retrieve it. It was how he’d earned his name.

She stretched her arms over her head, and made a mental list of which rows of cages she needed to pull today, of finding time to change the plugs on the outboard, of sharpening the curved shucking knives on the worn pumice stone.

The dawn, the dog, the to-do list’s, the rows of cages – Bev knew that’s what kept the show on the road day after day and year after year. She wished for kindness that didn’t come and she had anger she couldn’t enact. Survival meant routine.

“Step into the space in front of you”, something clicked in her head as the daylight grew from hint to heat. It surprised her. Hopefully, it wasn’t an early start to the cDSC05719acophony of her father’s crook mind. “Crooker than Rookwood”, he’d say in clearer moments.

But it was there and it was her own clear moment, it seemed. She flicked the shell into the surf again for Geronimo. It sprayed sand as it flipped end over end.

The coffee shop at the petrol station would be open soon and her flat white would be waiting for her. The dog came back, the seashell like a massive cheesy grin in his bite. Bev looked down to the end of the beach where the rock pools were, and where she never went. She turnedDSC05702 that way.

“Let’s go have a squiz, Geronimo,” Bev said. She caught their shadows – long and strong- on the sand as they started to walk down the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a bookstore that’s a dive bar in Kyiv & writing

My dive bar in Kyiv is a bookstore.

Whether its Ukraine or Australia, it seems the world over people do what it takes when it comes to planning laws and permissions. The rumour about “Kupidon” – and I hope it’s true so I never ask – is that the owners couldn’t get consent for a bar so they just bolted one on to the existing and permissible basement bookshop.

I love the idea that books gave rise to beer and borscht. That is a productive and practical contribution of printed wshotords to the common good.

It’s actually generous to call it a bookstore. It’s more like a broom closet with stacked shelves from floor to ceiling. Sets of antiquarian titles with ornate gold tooling on their spines and a steady stream of older literary types with bent spines dropping in for a chat with the proprietor. I’ve never seen anything sold. It seems commerce isn’t key.

It functions more like a cave-like confessional for authors, poets and other sundry scribes (of which I’m proud to nowadays count myself).

“Have you read so-and-so’s new one?”  

“Has Mr X been by lately? Is his health okay?”

“She didn’t deserve that award. It was politics.”

“How’s the latest one going? Are the words coming, darling?”

books

We have these conversations because they buy us a break from the words – words that can be hard. Hard to find and hard to put down. Hard as an upstate New York lake in winter.

It feels sometimes like a bad Wi-Fi connection. There’s something there, but it’s infernally frustrating.

You start thinking: it’s hardly worth it. Every smart or kupidonclever thing has already been written. My stuff is unoriginal or has no craft. Or, whatever undermining utterances the Mental Machine of Malicious Musings wants to muster depending on whether it’s been fended off with a serving of comfortable potato pancakes or not.

(Or, I can recommend the Big Shwed Burger named after my mate, Roman Shwed, the ex US sailor from Philly, radio broadcaster and now mayor of the “Kupidon”, who nearing 80 still gets to the poetry reading here every Saturday arvo.)

There’s really only one answer. It’s the method of great American author, E.L. Doctorow (“Ragtime”, “The Book of Daniel”, “Billy Bathgate”). He suggested that writing is like driving at night time- you can only go as far as the headlights. Even writing that makes me cringe with insecurity and self-doubt in light of his mastery.deruny

If ‘one day at a time’ has become our social slogan of slog and resignation, ‘one word at a time’ is my personal slogan of hope and inspiration.

If I can just somehow keep pumping stuff out – be it a short story, poem, or essay – something of my true voice, perhaps I find solace in a world of disquiet, calm amid the constant conflict. Perhaps, I will come to understand or at least accept so much that I simply don’t – mostly myself and my many bad choices. Perhaps, I will become better and somehow redeemed.

Perhaps, somebody will even read something and it will mean something to them. Winner winner chicken dinner.

Perhaps. In the meantime, there’s always another green tea to be ordered. There’s another conversation to ‘over-listen’. There’s a “Kupidon” to make my Kyiv home on cold drizzly day where the keystrokes keep me wteaarm company.

And maybe that’s what I’ve learned today as I type away. That writing is a bit like the “Kupidon”. Part scam, part hidden, part hope and part failure, part art and part artifice. And those are good parts to make me whole.

On floating through fear – and other tips for surviving a shitty business meeting

I’ve got a business meeting today that I’m concerned about – and ‘concerned‘ is the more socially acceptable way for a reasonably successful and reasonably old-fashioned Baby Boomer male to say ‘anxious‘ or ‘afraid‘.

As I put the toothbrush onto my old teeth, I caught my flawed (read: human) brain doing all the tricks it does in these situations where I’m basically scared:

  • drawing up a Plan-of-Battle (POB);
  • anticipating different attacks and how to recoil them;
  • thinking up arguments that diminish the credibility of my “opponent”, and;
  • digging through past injustices and scorns.

All that sounds real productive, yeah? Gonna make for a super successful set of results at the discussion? Gonna make me have a great weekend? Hardly.bundanon

So, I got in the shower and just kinda let the water flow down this battered body I lug around nowadays. I was reminded that the Buddhists have a concept called ‘upekha‘ (in the Pali language of their doctrine). If I understand it correctly, it’s basically ‘going with the flow‘ – or more specifically ‘equanimity‘. It’s about:

  • not assuming a bias – your own or somebody else’s;
  • not being attached to a preconceived view of what is or may occur;
  • not considering yourself, your interlocutors or this very moment as especially significant, and;
  • not presuming the worst.

A couple of smart people have commented on similar. The dude I’ve relied on for quite sometime, Prah Mana, who runs a Thai Buddhist forest monastery where we practice ‘noble silence‘ in the Bundanoon bush, once said: Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

Another mate, who has been CEO of two significant scale businesses, put it another way to me over dinner a few months back: It just doesn’t matter.coffee

Dont’ you love great advice that you don’t know how to use? That’s what a coffee on your own is for – figuring out how to go from theory to practice. Over my soy flat (yeah, yeah), I kept thinking about water, how it always soothes and guides me. How when I – too infrequently – get in a lap pool the world gets much better. Here’s how I’m going to do today’s challenging meeting based on that:

The Door. When I walk into the swim centre, I start to breathe long, deep and relaxed. It’s the pause button to my whole being to slow the fuck down and chill the fuck out. Same today with meeting.

The Change Room. At the swim centre, I get out of the clothes of the day and into the clothes of the present. Preparation reminds me I’m about to transition to something else. No, I’m not going to the meeting in my Speedos – not pretty. Rather, I’m just going to write down what’s being discussed as it’s discussed. Just record – but not judge or evaluate. Specific words being repeated; positive offers of cooperation; openings to value.

The Pool. I emerge from the change room and look at the pool, how many lpoolanes going, who’s fast or who is on my dugong-like pace. I just take it in the chlorine smell, the ripples on the surface, the big stopwatch on the wall. I decide where’s the best lane and place for my efforts in the pool. And so with today’s discussion, where / how can I actually do something worthwhile?

The Lane. I step down the ladder, duck dive under the ropes and off I go. Strokes. Paddles. Kicks. More breathing. More following the black line. My way – not Ian Thorpe’s perfection but Pete Shmigel’s progress. In a meeting context, it means talking and contributing where I can add something of benefit – and do it safely for myself.

That’s the intention! All set! And if things still go to shit, the swim centre will be open tomorrow too.

 

 

 

 

On the death and discovery of diners, and anger in America

The Flagship Diner in Briarwood and I were born a year apart – me in ’64 and it one year later. Now, I’ve improbably outlived my local diner.

A yellow bulldozer sits parked outside it, waiting like a Japanese movie monster to smash away at the glass booths, the pink leatherette seats, the faux marble flooring, and the memories of several generations in this typical neighbourhood.

A neighbourhood where a fleeting visit by Rod Stewart and some glamourous bandmates in the 70s to the local playground, as well as our own version of Ringoliveo, remain among the very few claims to fame.

The Flagship was the special place where normal people marked special stuff: a daughter’s junior high school graduation; the championship of a local Little League team; the finalisation of Bah Mitzvah preparation; a return from US Army basic training. Eggs and events; mugs and milestones.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXRTte3xk_A

It was both where you took first girlfriends and wives broke up with you. You wanted everybody to see the first; she stayed safe from a scene with the second.

And now it’s gone. My Australian son, visiting the neighbourhood with his own girlfriend and both tenderly looking after his Ukrainian grandmother, drops a hint for me to go steal the diner’s nautically-themed signage. It’s a big fence, though, he gently reminds me. I think of the ship’s helm, the cycle of life, and the Buddhists’ Eight Fold Path. street

I think of Queens. Tattered, worn, a bit lumpy but still good to go – like a baseball with too many innings on the dirt sandlot and no new balls available in the catcher’s kit bag.

I think of grief and its stages – the shock, the sadness, and the anger. How we lash out at loved ones sometimes as we miss other loved ones, as I regretfully did on my own father’s passing.

I think – perhaps too naively – that’s what America is doing right now too. Somehow, through uncertainty of her place in the world and uncertainty in the future of her citizens, she lashes out.

In angry Senate hearings. In angry social media shouting. In angry car horn blasts at the lights. In angry shootings of innocents by the somehow maligned using malicious military-grade weapons.

I want to be angry too. About the developers who ended the lease the Greek family had on the Flagship. About the Dunkin Donuts swallowing our street corners. About seemingly politically partial and insensitive men being appointed to one of the world’s most genius examples of social infrastructure. About a President who daily uses that most modern means – the Tweet – to digitally flatulate at the historical foundations on which this profoundly complex country has always sat. About persistent poverty amongst rising riches.street2.jpg

So, I woke early this morning. The box-like brick house with the leaky roof asleep. Suzi, my patient wife, still and settled even as I stumble around for the palaver of the day – keys, wallet, phone, laptop, specs. Even asleep, I make out that she lovingly knows that I seek some solace. Tim and Wendy who will rise to another day of youthful limitlessness – whether its colourful cooking, tremendous treks or new plans for study and life. My mother, Nadia – a survivor of war, hardcore psychiatric wards, a burning South Bronx, and now her two hip replacements in six months – who will rise to the very real limitations of body and time.

I walk out the door to the rental car and I go in search of a new diner as the new day dawns. A place where two retired lesbian schoolteachers kiss the owner’s son, their former student at the public school, on entering. A place where ABBA’s “SOS” comes soothingly across the speakers in the ceiling. A place where the main conflict is a ritualistic one between resigned and long-suffering Mets fans and bold and brash Yankees fans – each finding something oddly admirable in the other even though they’d never change stripes. A place where people recount the day’s tasks and chores ahead – the vehicle registration, the dropping off of an old air conditioner, the checking in on an elderly neighbour – and are greeted with a knowing “yeah, it never ends.”

classic

Such is The Classic Diner – truly classic – a few miles from my own ‘hood and over in Richmond Hill. A universe away in my youth; a youth now a universe away itself.

Sure, it’s denial. No lo contendre. Not wishing to think about the injustices of our society. Not wishing to consider that these angry times may in fact be different and worse times, especially for people who are not like me. Not wishing to think about some responsibility I too may have to protest.

But, if there is to be a defence, then let it be that it’s also possible to deny the pattern while picking the detail.diner1

Indeed, anger isn’t an inheritance, requirement or a condition. It’s a choice and I today choose differently. I choose a broccoli and cheddar omelette, a kind smile from my Latina waitress, and an exit “thank you” from the proud Greek owner in his pressed short sleeve business shirt.

It’s morning in my tiny piece of America.

On drafting a Fool’s Manifesto for Modern Times

I can’t or won’t, and I can and will.

I can’t or won’t:

  • accept that the whole joint is going down the shitter;
  • see the world through one lens, be it race, class, gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnicity, or football code;
  • lose my humour;
  • plead guilty to the crimes of others;
  • forget about history and beauty;
  • constantly filter out any frailties or doubts;
  • keep poking my own wounds with through bad choices and inauthentic relationships;
  • pretend that any music after 1986 is worth listening to, or;
  • always cross the street on the green light.

I can and will:

  • admit that I know very little;
  • continue to laugh at myself and my world;
  • put pen to paper to make some sense of stuff and provide solace to self;
  • only give advice when asked for it;
  • desperately resist the digital vortex;
  • go bush;
  • see the world in kaleidoscopic terms for all its diversity and complexity;
  • try to listen and lead;
  • let go and let God;
  • continue to suffer with the New York Mets;
  • sit on a grass hill in the sun at Henson Park, drinking beer with family and friends, and hoping the Newtown Jets win while not caring about the score;
  • think aloud and cop criticism for it;
  • be inspired by brave limitless peers;
  • work for folks and causes who may not be as well off and that I’m placed to help;
  • defend the Constitution, and love my adopted country and respect it’s first people;
  • reinvent myself a lot for both the right and wrong reasons;
  • seek the grace in others with curiousity and compassion – and stuff it up a million times along the way;
  • hold my kin close, and;
  • always move forward.

Sworn on this day in a Kyiv cafe by Fool-in-Chief.

On not knowing bugger all and being okay about it

I don’t know.”

No truer words can be said. I recently walked down my street and did an audit of my lack of knowledge.

In that 100 metre span from the Parramatta Post Office to Civic Square, these are the things I didn’t know:clipper

  • how to use a digital cash register;
  • how the “money” from a transaction goes up a digital line or through space and into somebody else’s possession;
  • how to give a Thai massage;
  • what are the bodily pressure points and energetic meridians of Qi;
  • how to cut hair;
  • how to design and manufacture a hair clipper;
  • how the pawn shop guy knows how to value the objects people bring him;
  • who to contact in China or someplace else if I want to make millions of hair clippers;
  • what the importation rules are for bringing stuff from overseas to sell in Australia;
  • how to pour a foundation or the basics of building a cement and steel structure;
  • why the pedestrian lights change in a particular time sequence;
  • what the ingredients of road base and asphalt really are in detail, and;
  • who figured out how to shoot water up into the air at the municipal fountain

And that’s just a limited and random list of my knowledge limitations. It says nothing of things I think I know, but am factually wrong about. Like human motivation, people’s feelings, the rules of rugby scrums, or why colours improbably change when mixed together.

colours

When I objectively weigh up all the gross gaps and foolish flaws in my knowledge, I consider myself lucky to get through everyday without hurting myself and others too much.

It makes me wonder about those steely souls amongst us who insist on hard-core science, evidence and rationality. I would have thought their zealous quest is a pointless one because no matter how smart they may be, they are ultimately endowed with basic brains as flawed in design as mine and yours. Brains that are finite; brains that fade and fizzle over time; brains that blur at the smell of a burger or the laugh of a kookaburra.

Our operating system is faulty – even-though the God-like technology at our finger tips may trick us into thinking otherwise. The Google delusion.

compSo, how can I and presumably many others be truly hapless but somehow manage to get through life, look after our families and friends, and try to make some contribution through our work and civic participation?

Because:

  • where we end, something bigger, wiser and more enduring starts;
  • the impermanent state of all things teaches us not to become attached;
  • our “heart-ware” is just as important in guiding us as our “hardware”;
  • we can – every second and every minute – just be rather than think and do;
  • when we let go, we let God;
  • the touch of a breeze on a forearm is worth as much as any formula of physics.

Or, as Shakespeare said in one play: “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

Yup, our operating system is faulty. I reckon it’s a planned obsolescence, an intentional  design flaw. It illuminates the confines of our condition and opens us up to the possibility of infinity beyond our mere selves. In the vulnerability and humility of humanity, we discover a greater grace that’s everlasting. void

In that void of not knowing or emptiness – or “Sunyata” as the Buddhists call it –  we perhaps counter-intuitively arrive at a broader knowledge.

Besides, all I really need to know about hair clippers is 1 is a shorter cut than 3.

 

 

On limitlessness and an ex-con named Dima

Limitlessness.

When I listen to Dmytro “Dima” Sherembey describe that quality as key to Ukraine’s future, I hear the truth of lived experience.

Dima is Ukraine’s number one HIV AIDS activist and runs many things including the brand new 100% Life Centre in Kyiv, a super-modern facility focussed on the health needs of vulnerable patients. His motto is “Fight for Life”, and under its banner, Dima, his NGO team and countless volunteer supporters fight for the rights of fellow citizens suffering from HIV AIDS. They deliver dignity where before there was physical death through lack of services and spiritual stigma through lack of understanding.

Dignity matters to Dima. He like thousands of others stood on the Maidan until Ukraine’s dictator stood down in 2014. He like others stands with the soldiers, who risk of the steady and savage death from Russia’s continued military aggression in two of Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

His advice at breakfast with me in a café of funky surrounds and funkier servers, and to all he comes into contact with, is to live large, to take pride, to embrace freedom and the possible, to act with determination, to completely and comprehensively own one’s life, and to know that one is answerable only to God. To be limitless.

There’s a street-fighter’s toughness and a convert’s intensity to Dima’s voice and words. Perhaps, it’s part of how, for 17 years, his philosophy has kept him sober and off the drugs he was once addicted to. The drugs that landed him in a hardcore prison for a 2 year stretch; the prison where he used dirty needles for his habit; the dirty needles that gave him HIV AIDS.

As I listen to Dima, I grow self-conscious. I can see the contour lines of my own limits and limitations. How for reasons of ill-discipline or comfortable habit or lack of self-awareness or distraction I have in some ways diminished or downgraded my own life, and my own contribution to the lives of others.

Those occasions when I’ve declined or ducked leadership either deliberately or indirectly. Those periods where I have settled for second-best, including in my own conduct, because it was simply more convenient. Those times I have not told the truth because it connotated confrontation.

Those moments when I have let my soul settle like sediment rather than stirring it to success and sympathy.

It is too easy to either intentionally or insidiously slip into one’s own comfort zone and not go out. Out of our way for some abiding alternative. Out of our own thinking or behaviours for the service of others – be it the nation or the neighbour. Out on a limb for an unpopular cause or concept. It’s too easy not to choose sides and to simply slide along.

Dima, on the other hand, lives in the contact zone. Where he’s constantly in the face of folks’ suffering. Where he has to fight for what’s right and against what’s wrong – be it for more services for his constituents or a new mentality for his nation. Where he doesn’t necessarily have control of what’s next, but only of his commitment to change.

His t-shirt speaks of change. You can see how Dima’s pursuit of it not only saves other lives, but sustains his own. The contact zone may be confronting and hard on a daily basis, but it is ultimately where kindness is cultivated and sustained. It’s both a junkyard and a garden.

People ask me why I spend time in Ukraine. I go out of my way to say it’s not about nationalism, as it’s not my country. I go out of my way to say it’s where I can perhaps most contribute my professional skills to a human rights agenda I believe in.

But really… It’s that contact zone I seek when I’m here in Ukraine. People like Dima – and my courageous friends Dr Ulana Suprun, the Health Minister, and her husband, Marko Suprun, who runs a life-saving NGO – transport me there with their courage. They put a mirror up to my suburban satisfaction and under-used opportunities for connection, compassion and community.

With their limitlessness. May it never end.