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KNOWING vs. BELIEVING

A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Saturday, 28 June 2014

ENJOYING #ROOT_CANAL TREATMENT

I spent a 90 minute session in the #dentist's chair yesterday, having cracked a tooth a few weeks ago and needing root canal treatment and a crown.  Given that #root_canal_treatment is generally used as a benchmark for comparing unpleasant experiences in most peoples lives, is it actually possible to enjoy the treatment? 

In case you have never had the dubious pleasure of the procedure, it involves bright lights, needles in gums, many tools, poking, prodding, drilling, squirting, gouging, vacuum suction, plastic moulding, unpleasant tastes, noise and a lot of action in your mouth.  In broad terms I can say with a measure of confidence that it has very little to recommend it.  This was my third round with the dentist in as many weeks as there were a few complications with which I shan't bore you.

However, as I lay in the chair feeling the first needle pierce my gum, I wondered if there was any way to enjoy the experience, or at least not to hate or fear it.  It occurred to me that it was a great allegory for how Life can get at times, with wave after wave of unwanted and unasked for stimuli and experiences coming our way.  I took that on as my project for the session.

The first thing was to stop feeling fearful of what was to come.  Although it seemed inevitable that the dentist (Life?) was going to touch the odd nerve, I trusted him enough to know that I would get through the experience without him putting me through more than I could manage.

The next piece was to relax and let things be.  I could feel how tense I was, bracing myself for the onslaught.  As with all stuff that comes our way, whether we asked for it or not or wanted it or not, the fact remains that it comes anyway and we are called to respond to it.  It is as it is, so our challenge is just to let it be and accept that it is in our lives, whether we like it or not.  So I consciously let the tension go out of all parts of my body whilst the dentist, Dr George Parker, worked away.  He was thoughtful enough to ask me every few minutes how I was doing.  Perhaps that's a question we can ask more of ourselves - a kind of periodic check-in with ourselves to make sure that we are coping.  If we aren't, what will we do about it?

The third part was to know that this would eventually pass.  Thankfully, with dentists' appointments, one does generally know that they will end some time.  One cannot necessarily feel that confident with Life events, but the reality is that they do all pass eventually, one way or another.  Somehow I derive comfort from knowing that I will eventually get over an illness or injury, or that a difficult situation will eventually be resolved.  The moment I can accept that something will pass and I rather engage with the present than demand that the situation be over, it becomes easier to be in it.

So, having stopped being fearful, feeling trusting and relaxed, letting things be and engaging in each moment of the experience, knowing that it would pass, suddenly things were easier.  (It also helped to distract myself wondering what gift was in this for me!)

The last step was to look for some gratitude.  I felt grateful that Dr Parker was being so thoughtful and trying to minimise my discomfort.  I felt grateful that the pain in my tooth with which I had lived for weeks through the various procedures would finally be resolved.  I was grateful for the professionalism of Dr Parker and his assistant.  And I was grateful for the opportunity to transcend an experience I would rather not have had.

So, did I get to enjoy root canal treatment?  Not really, but I came a lot closer to enjoyment than I have in the past.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

INSPIRING WITH GRACE AND HUMILITY

I was listening recently to a radio interview of the legendary #BruceFordyce (@BruceFordycerun), a man who, in his day, was the greatest #ultra-distance runner #SouthAfrica (and possibly the world) had ever seen.  In the 1980's he won 9 #ComradesMarathons.   That record still stands to this day.

During his interview he was asked what he would most like to be remembered for.  In typical self-effacing fashion he said he would like to be remembered as someone who had managed to inspire people to get fit and look after their health.  Despite being a household name synonymous with the great race, he would rather be remembered as someone who simply inspired others to be healthy.

I knew Bruce slightly.  I had met him on Campus at University once or twice, but he was a few years older than me and I didn't for a moment think he had any reason to remember who I was.  In 1986, at the peak of Bruce's running career, I was running a 53km race from Bergville to Ladysmithin KZN.  When I was 5km from the finish, running one of my best races ever, but totally on my edge and close to blowing up, my father (who had been seconding me) drove up and told me that Bruce was behind me and closing fast.  (Bruce's typical training for the Comrades saw him treating most other races as quiet training runs.  Had he been pushing it that day, Bruce would have been an hour ahead of me.) Feeling a little grumpy, I asked what I was supposed to do about that.  Dad replied that I should do my best to stay ahead of him.  Right.  Quite rich coming from the guy driving the car!

Anyway, I carried on and eventually ran painfully onto the track of the field leading to the finish.  As I did so, Bruce cruised up next to me with a companion of his and said: "Come on, Andy.  Run with us and you'll get some TV coverage."  Whether I was more surprised that he had remembered my name or that he had been thoughtful (or compassionate) enough to encourage me, I don't recall, but I needed no second bidding.  I found a hidden reserve of energy and burst into what for me by then felt like an all-out sprint.  Bruce graciously allowed me to finish a pace or so ahead of him and to this day I cherish the photograph of me finishing ahead of my then superhero.  His gesture elevated him to demi-God status in my mind.  I went on a month or so later to run my best Comrades Marathon.  Although I had done my training, I am sure that my brush with Bruce contributed in some way to my run.  As it happened, that was the same year when he also ran his fastest time and set a record which stood for many years  (although I'm not suggesting that I had anything to do with his glorious run!). 

What that taught me, however, was just how inspirational genuinely humble people can be, how much small gestures of recognition can mean to others and how little effort it takes to make a difference.  In that brief moment of connection, this great man had somehow helped me to believe that I mattered.  It also taught me the importance of noticing and acknowledging others.

The truth is that we do all matter, but often it takes the catalyst of someone else - not necessarily a Bruce Fordyce - but someone to help us see that.  Perhaps that is a calling for each of us: to connect with, encourage others and also to help others to see themselves, however we choose to do that.

So, how do you choose to connect with and inspire someone today?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

CONVERSATIONS

I started this blog floundering with what I wanted to say.  Life supported me by helping my computer lose everything I had written, gently pointing out that it was a heap of judgmental and contrived junk.

So I started again and this is what I really wanted to say.  When I write this blog, it is not because I think that I have lots of answers that everyone needs to know.  It is rather because I love reflecting on what matters to me (and to all of us) and sharing my musings in case there is anything valuable for anyone else in whatever I come up with.  The second reason I write this blog is to start conversations.

I love engaging in big conversations: things that matter, like how we feel, what we think, where we are going with our lives and how we will leave our legacies on this planet.  My experience of the social media (of which I of course am a part), however, is that it is often easier for us to engage in the less risky and more mundane conversations.

My invitation to anyone reading this blog, therefore, is to either start your own or join in the big conversations of others, if you aren't already doing that.  You can engage with the conversations I start on this blog simply by making your comments, whatever they may be.

There are of course no "have to's" about this: only if you want to, but I for one would love to be part of those conversations.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

REFUSING TO FORGIVE

@sisonkemsimang recently wrote a powerful article at http://t.co/Pv5lfbi2Nl about #LimphoHani refusing to forgive #Clive-DerbyLewis for the assassination of her husband, the late, great #ChrisHani.  In it she argues that Limpho Hani should be entitled to rage at Derby-Lewis, not forgive him and carry on insisting that he not be given parole.

I agree with her at this level.  It is Limpho Hani's prerogative to feel rage and hold resentment.  Anyone can choose to rage, be resentful and bitter.  As far as she sees it, she has good reason to feel angry about the death of her husband and to want his killer to suffer as much as she has suffered.

However, we need to be careful not to confuse forgiveness with condonation.  No right thinking person is expected or required to condone an act of inherent evil.  In fact, condonation would simply give legitimacy to the criminality of Derby-Lewis' actions.  It would make it right, when murder can never be right, no exceptions.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is all about the person who is holding onto her rage and resentment towards the wrong-doer.  It is not about the wrong-doer.  Rather, forgiveness is about no longer holding ill-will towards the wrong-doer.  Nelson Mandela can never be said to have condoned apartheid or his incarceration.  However, in order for him to move on it was necessary to forgive - to let go of his ill-will towards his jailers and oppressors, failing which they still had a hold on him.

Clive Derby-Lewis doesn't necessarily know or care about Limpho Hani's rage and resentment towards him.  He has problems of his own - ill health and attacks by other prisoners.  Limpho Hani's rage, resentment and bitterness is harming no one but herself.  Like a cancer, resentment eats away at a person's fabric and soul.  If you've been around someone stuck in resentment for years you will know that they aren't much fun to be around.  The person is so bent on getting even with the wrong-doer that she almost becomes the person she so despises: cold, calculating, angry, hate-filled, stopping at nothing to cause misery to the wrong-doer and self-righteous into the bargain.

Now I don't know Mrs Hani, and I might have the picture quite wrong.  However I do know resentment when I see and hear about it and Mrs Hani seems to fit the bill.  What concerns me is that people who are resentful for long periods of time can bring on physical illness.  Anger can induce heart disease.  The cancer of resentment can turn into the real thing.  The mind is immensely powerful and really does those things to people who are running on high emotion.

I am not asking Limpho Hani to condone what Derby-Lewis did.  Forgiveness is not about her making his actions right.  However, what I truly wish for her is that she can find a way to choose to let go of her ill-will towards him, to let go of the bitterness, let go the rage and allow our justice system to run its course, rather than demand it should run her course.  

That is what will truly set her free, because as long as she keeps on resenting Clive Derby-Lewis, he is the one who has the power over her.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

CELEBRATING UNITY

On the eve of #WorldCup2014, we in #SouthAfrica, four years on, can reflect on what potentially lies ahead for #Brazil in the next four weeks.

A celebration of the beautiful game; connection amongst millions of strangers; sharing of a common vision; the journey of millions, all making their way towards the common goal of the Final; the indescribable pride of being the host nation to one of the greatest man-made spectacles on earth; individuals across the nation taking ownership of the event with flags, jerseys, music and other symbols of recognition; a daily and constant buzz of excitement; transport congestion about which no one really cares; an experience of common goodwill to all; disappointment, joy and all of the feelings which lie in between; an event which cannot help leaving a legacy.

To all Brazilians who are hosting, players who are participating and fans whose lives become entangled with the action over the next month: have a wondrous experience of humanity at its best.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

CONNECTION WITH THE HUMAN SPIRIT

I've been watching the #ComradesMarathon for the past 5 hours with Kazalette and Stefan.  The route passes near our house in #Kloof, KZN.  It is such a privilege to be able to watch and support participants in what must be the greatest sporting event on the planet.

What makes the Comrades special?  Well, anyone who can complete over 2 marathons in a day is special in terms of self-discipline, commitment and resilience, but the Comrades is a whole lot more than that.  It is a common adventure for 18,000 people from all walks of life, but different as they all are, they all share an experience of suffering, of grace, of connection, companionship, mutual support and triumph, from the first to the last.

It is an event which delivers so many of the tests that Life has to offer that the runners are often called to transcend suffering, doubt, hopelessness and disconnection as their bodies rebel against this ultimate physical test.  The amazing thing, though, is that, for most, their salvation lies in the human connection with their fellow runners and the spectators.  It is the pat on the shoulder, the gesture of support, calling out a name, the cheering and encouragement which eventually get everyone through this race.

Somehow, I can't help wondering if human connection and support isn't the ultimate panacea to help each other through Life's tests.