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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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Thursday, 31 December 2015

THE GENERIC #NEW_YEAR'S #RESOLUTIONS

Dear Friends,

If you're feeling uninspired, here is my list of the generic New Year resolutions:

For 2016 I resolve as follows:

MOODS: Never to feel disgruntled or disconsolate. I choose therefore to be gruntled and consolate at all times.
APPEARANCE: I can't stand looking unkempt, even during holidays, so I choose to look properly kempt at all times.
ACTIVITY AND ENERGY: Never to be inert or succumb to inertia. I will therefore always be ert and engage only in ertia.
EXPLORATION AND CREATIVITY: It is desirable to be intrepid but not reckless, so I will aim never to be trepid, but always reck in my endeavors.
LANGUAGE: I shall aim always to be couth.
MAKING A CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETY: I will be nocuous in all that I take on.
GRACE IN ACTION: Every movement I undertake will be as gainly as possible.
COURAGE AND COMMITMENT: I will consistently be gorm, but never ruth.
BEHAVIOUR: In public I shall be toward in every respect and ept in all I do.
LANGUAGE USAGE: always be wieldy.

I hope those are useful. Wishing you an inspired and abundant 2016.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

TESTING THE SENSE OF HUMOUR

I write this on Day 3 of my road-trip across South Africa.  I left Gariep Dam this morning under a dappled blue sky and quietly drove the two hundred and something kilometres to the turn-off for Nieu-Bethesda, the location of the Owl House and an important way-point on any trip through the Karoo. The Owl House has an intriguing if sad history and was made famous by Athol Fugard's play, "The Road to Mecca".  The drive to that point was simply breath-taking, with huge open spaces surrounded bowl-like by stark mountains and dotted with scrub, yellow flowering Karoo Acacia trees and a scattering of merino sheep.  With beautiful music playing in the car, I could not have felt happier or more content.

I turned off to Nieu-Bethesda onto a dirt road. A sign-post declared that the village was 31km away.  Cheerfully I set off up the road, bouncing around on the uneven surface. As I started climbing a pass about 5km up the road, I was rudely shaken out of my blissful state by an alert on my dashboard advising me that I had a puncture on my back wheel.  I'm never especially pleased by punctures, but least so on gravel roads in the back of beyond.

It also never ceases to amaze me how I can be cruising happily through Life in one moment and in the next my state of being is disrupted by one of Life’s deliveries which I neither wanted nor asked for.  But there it was:  the options were to sit on the side of the road, feel sorry for myself and hope someone would come along and help or else to unpack the car, locate the spare wheel and jack and get down to business in the 32 degrees heat. I supposed in that moment that a puncture was a necessary rite of passage on a 7 day road trip. 

In much the way that a road-trip wouldn’t be complete without a puncture, Life wouldn’t be complete without its attendant highs and lows.  The question is: how should we be in the turmoil of the lows?

Most times I would not particularly relish the idea of changing a heavy wheel covered in dust in the middle of a hot and sticky nowhere, particularly when losing time brings out the worst in me. As it is, I tell myself more and more frequently that I have become too old to keep getting my hands dirty.  Nonetheless, I unpacked the car and clinically and methodically set about changing the wheel.  Two cars stopped to offer assistance whilst I was busy and, grubby as the job was, I declined on each occasion, wanting just to stay engaged in my own thoughts and process. (And of course live out my "I don't need help" drama.)

Finally the job was done, I lowered the car back onto all fours, repacked, dusted myself off and then turned around to return to the main road.  I figured that the Owl House would have to wait as I didn’t fancy another 20km  plus the return trip on a gravel road with no spare tyre. 

I quietly and carefully drove the 5km back towards the main road, congratulating myself on my very reasonable, philosophical acceptance of Life’s offering. As I approached the main road, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t properly re-tightened the wheel nuts.  With the thought of having to re-unpack, find the wheel spanner, get my hands dirty again and so on, my great Buddhist-like philosophical acceptance flew out of the window to be replaced with a huge irritation towards myself for being careless, sloppy, thoughtless, and, and … all the good stuff which lies below the surface, ready to attack my self-esteem whenever I don’t get something quite right. Genial acceptance of Life's little set-backs had trans-mogrified into a monumental sense of humour failure by the time I again stopped the car to get down and dirty.

It’s a funny thing that I can generally forgive Life for the way it treats me when I don't think I had anything to do with the event, but my default is to be hard on myself when I personally goof.  I don't know how many times I have seen this movie, so none of it is news to me, but it is wonderful to see it play out so vividly in circumstances where I am completely alone with myself. We all have our patterns and the reality is that they are hard to change, try as we might.

In any event, I am grateful for one more opportunity to forgive myself and nurture the one person who is always present in my life.  Perhaps the calling is for all of us:  to keep on forgiving, being caring and nurturing of ourselves.  If we can do that for ourselves, how much easier might it become to do that for others?

And maybe some of that helped when I discovered later that my sunglasses had not been properly designed to be sat upon. Although I didn't exactly feel a leap of joy in my heart when I felt the crunch under my backside, somehow or other it just didn't seem like the end of the world. Besides, one-armed sun-glasses might yet become all the rage.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

ROAD TRIP: GETTING TO KNOW A FULL-TIME COMPANION

So, day 2 of my 6 day odyssey across South Africa is done and dusted (well, actually, dusty). I am on a circuitous route from Durban to Cape Town where I will meet with my family on Christmas eve. My companions on this trip are my camera, a mountain bike and me. 

Yesterday saw a 6 hour drive through the Natal Midlands, past the mighty Drakensberg mountains, up Oliviershoek pass and then through Golden Gate National Park, an area rich with towering sandstone and granite columns, caves and mountains. I overnighted in Ficksburg, cherry capital of SA and then circumnavigated the northen hemisphere of Lesotho, plowing through miles of beautiful, open nothingness and finally over-nighting at Gariep Dam.

I had forgotten just how beautiful the Karoo is in its starkness: somehow it is the vast emptiness, dotted with the occasional farmhouse, sheep or struggling dam which lies open for inspection by all who pass through which offers a gift of simplistic and uncomplicated beauty.

As a child I was bored to tears (and usually car-sick) whenever we drove through this part of the country, but now I find myself in raptures of gratitude. The country's woes of a fiscal nightmare borught about by a corrupt President and inept government just seem so far away and irrelevant in the face of the beauty which is the real South Africa. The rest is all illusion at some level.

This is my first holiday alone for as long as I can remember. Before I left I wondered how it would be having only me with my musings for company. I've discovered that I make a pretty good companion for myself. I can't think of a moment when I have felt lonely or bored and I feel grateful for that, especially given the number of people I know who aren't especially comfortable unless they are around others all the time.

I suppose it is for each of us to make peace with who we are and what we bring to the world and truly embrace that. I can't think of a better training opportunity than spending time alone in a vast, semi-desert in the middle of South Africa in 40 degree heat, just feeling grateful for beingto be alive.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

"I WISH I'D SPENT MORE TIME ON #FACEBOOK"

I wonder how many people lie on their death-beds and, as they are breathing their last breath, gasp out to their doting relatives gathered around the foot of the bed: "I truly wish I had spent more of my time on #Facebook (#Twitter, #Instagram, #WeChat, my smartphone etc.) rather than with any of you". It seems to me that social media and smartphones have become the greatest way to connect with everyone else in the world, but the biggest source of disconnect from the people who live and work with us and generally who are closest to us.

I watched a couple at a restaurant a week or so ago who simply sat and looked at their phones. I don't think they said a word to each other at all, other than perhaps in passing when the food arrived.

Somehow it has become a priority for us to connect with people we hardly know in preference to those that we know and love well. Now, before anyone rushes to remind me that, as I write and post this blog, that is exactly what I am doing and I am therefore a hypocrite, let me steal your thunder and be the first to acknowledge my guilt in this sphere. I too am seduced by the information and intrigue available on social media. My only mitigating circumstance is that I think I am aware of the issue and am reasonably discerning about when I look at my smartphone. However, I have no doubt that I manage to raise the ire of others as much as they raise mine when they pick up and look at their phones whilst I am having a conversation with them.

If we are all perfectly honest with ourselves, we will agree that it is just plain discourteous to disconnect from a face to face conversation, without giving notice of the disconnect, and engage instead in a conversation with some stranger at the other end of a smartphone. And I don't see the problem improving: phones are getting smarter, more and more social interest traps are springing up and Facebook and others offer a convenient and sometimes interesting diversion and escape route from whatever else we happen to be doing.

The alternative to the smartphone and tablet are the possibilities of re-connection and re-engagement at a personal level with the world around us.

So, anathema as it may be to make suggestions which might stop people from reading a weekly blog called "The Talking Stick", here are some thoughts:


  • We all have priorities and passions. If social media are not serving what you think are your main priorities or your passion, ask yourself why you're spending so much of your time on your phone or tablet.
  • If it is more important to you to be on Facebook or your phone, rather than with the person who is in the room with you, at least make an agreement with the other person about how long you intend to be distracted and whether it's OK that you disconnect with the person in the room for an agreed period of time.
  • Ask yourself every time if connecting with your phone is REALLY more important than being connected to the people in the room with you, before you pick up your phone.
  • Work out how much time you spend on social media each week on average and then ask yourself if at least some of that time could be more valuably or productively spent. Set limits to how much time you spend on FB and others.
  • If there are particular blogs you want to read without immersing yourself in the niceties of what your other FB friends had for breakfast or how the weather is in Ouagadougou, source them some other how, perhaps by email and read it in privacy.
  • Commit absolutely and unconditionally to not looking at your phone after a certain hour - maybe 8pm.
  • Get a life outside of your phone.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

LETTING GO THE #BURDEN

I set out one morning a couple of weeks ago on my bicycle beneath burdened skies. The clouds hung heavy overhead, pregnant with rain they were unable to deliver and bearing the burden of having to break the worst drought we have experienced in the past 40 or so years. I thought to myself: If only they could devolve their burden to those who could help them manage it - to the rivers, dams, farmers and fields. They could help spread the water to where it was needed and the burden would be shared.

And then I reflected that South Africa sits in the midst of at least three droughts: a physical one, an economic one and a political leadership drought. Arguably we are also in a moral drought, at least at Governmental level.

We have a President who is incapable of shedding his own baggage of the past and apparently incapable of dealing with the burden of a country sliding into recession under the moral bankruptcy of those who govern. What if he could devolve his burden of leadership onto those who actually care about the country more than themselves? That would be true leadership. The lesson is clear: if you carry a burden and are unable to shed it, you have to devolve it onto those who can genuinely assist, even if that means stepping out of the picture once you have handed the burden over.

Let the rain cloud release its water and then drift lightly on. It will have done its bit: the rivers will do the rest. Let our President hand over his power and move on. Let each of us do what we can to share our own burdens with those who can help and reclaim our free spirits.

Friday, 20 November 2015

R.I.P. FRANCISZEK KIEPIEL, 12.02.1921 - 17.11.2015

A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER-IN-LAW

On Tuesday this week, two mighty warriors fell.  The first was the legendary New Zealand rugby winger, Jonah Lomu.  The other was the legendary husband, father, uncle, brother, bee-keeper, golfing companion and friend, Franciszek (Frank) Kiepiel.  With some exceptions, the two did not have much in common.  Lomu was a giant of a man, 6ft 6" and weighing 120kg.  Frank was nearly a foot shorter and 50kg lighter.  Lomu lived for rugby whilst Frank despised it, thinking it was a barbaric and stupid game.  Tragically this particular gene was passed on to his daughter, Kazalette.  Jonah Lomu died at the tender age of 40.  Frank outlasted him by 54 years.

Those differences aside, there were some similarities.  Off the field, Lomu’s friends and adversaries alike described him as incredibly humble and a wonderful human being.  For the 35 years that he has known Frank, this son-in-law would, amongst other things, unhesitatingly describe him as incredibly humble and a wonderful human being.  Jonah Lomu would sweep aside with disdainful apparently inhuman strength all who would try to prevent him from scoring tries.  He was unstoppable.  Frank was similarly unstoppable when pursuing a goal, but he did it by sweeping up with him all who might object, persuading them to share in his enthusiasm and determination.  The only meaningful and occasionally successful resistance he ever met came from my equally wonderful mother-in-law, Joan.

Frank’s life story is nothing short of heroic and astounding.  Time doesn’t permit its full re-telling right now and indeed most of the information about the torrid time he spent in a Siberian labour camp during WW II and his trek by foot from that camp through Kazakhstan, Afghanistan to Iran after the Russians joined the allies and freed him and his colleagues have for the most part gone to the grave with him. However, occasionally over a beer (or some more sinister drink with Polish origins), Frank would let slip some of the horrors that he had experienced. 

After reaching Baghdad on foot he somehow made his way to New Delhi and then caught a ship from India which took him around the Cape of Good Hope, a place he noted as a future home.  He arrived in England and joined the Polish RAF to complete his contribution to the war effort.  Then, in a village called North Muskham in the English Midlands, whilst learning English from a local volunteer, his teacher’s pretty young daughter hit on him. Although she knew no Polish and Frank could only speak about two words of English at the time, Joan must have done a pretty good job in chatting him up. Whatever they managed to convey to each other started a love affair which lasted more than 70 years.  Despite the language and cultural barriers, somehow this extraordinary relationship was kindled, caught fire and culminated in an epic congflagration which had no prospect of ever fizzling out. 

Julian was born in England and the family then migrated to South Africa where Kazalette was born 13 years later.  After arriving in South Africa, joined the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Allen Wilson Shellhole - MOTHS), that noble organisation which supports the soldiers who have fought in the Great Wars, which became a big part of his life.  Frank later started a road construction business. Some of you may not know it, but virtually every road on which you have ever driven in northern, central or southern rural Kwazulu Natal was constructed by Frank.  He had an astounding engineering brain.  No gadget, widget, machine or vehicle could last long without Frank effecting some sort of improvement or long lasting repair.  Even the likes of golf equipment manufacturers like Titleist, TaylorMade and Ping could have saved millions of dollars in R&D costs had they only looked in Frank’s golfbag.  There was barely a club that didn’t have a modification: a piece filed off here, some lead soldered on there, square hand grips designed with metal reinforcing bars and so on.  He never quite managed to tweak one putter he liked sufficiently, collecting a mere 14 of them in his quest for the perfect putt. Admittedly, when he invented or repaired something, aesthetics were not a particularly high priority, with almost everything being finished off with a signature coat of his beloved red anti-oxidising paint.

His generosity knew no bounds and was closely allied to his love and care for the people around him and his ability to see the bigger picture.  This was no better illustrated than by his gift to Joan on an anniversary or birthday some years ago She received a grass-cutting tractor on which she could ride around in the garden.  As with any woman receiving the gift of her dreams, Joan was incredibly grateful and seemed to understand the bigger picture (which was presumably that she would not then have to push a lawnmower around the garden).

Every time his impecunious son-in-law arrived at the farm outside Pietermaritzburg to visit his daughter in a student’s car of dubious reliability, Frank would immediately refill the tank, usually replace the tyres and effect any other necessary running repairs.  For many years I thought this was symptomatic of his generosity, but eventually realised that the bigger purpose was presumably to ensure that his daughter’s ride did not get stuck at the side of the road.

Frank was a wonderful and loyal friend to all who knew him, with his only foible being his occasional need to try and poison people with a toxic bottle of Polish Spiritus drawn from his freezer, a disturbing and on-going habit of mis-directed hospitality shared by all of his countrymen. On the eve of the 1981 rowing Intervarsity and Natal Champs he set about poisoning my rowing crew in this manner. Resistance was futile. However, in the context of the bigger picture, his behaviour facilitated a very good night’s sleep for all of us and somehow our wicked head-aches spurred us on to great heights and famous victories that weekend.

 Frank was incredibly resilient, enjoying more lives than a cat, having endured a near fatal car accident, aortic aneurism, quadruple bypass, prostate cancer, a stroke and numerous other medical bullets which he managed to duck each time. His resilience was always, I suspect, to ensure that he would not have to leave his beloved Joan. 

Emerging from all of his hardship, he was classically a self-made man who doted on his family both in South Africa and Poland and especially his children and grandchildren. 

Frank, whilst the legend of your extraordinary life may not have been as widespread as that of Jonah Lomu, you were a hero, a legend and a precious human being to all who knew you. You were well-loved and will be sorely missed.  Go well.  Hamba kahle! Rest in peace.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

THE JUDGING GAME: LESSONS FROM #PARIS

In the wake of Friday's terrible #Paris #attacks, perhaps now would be a good time to talk about the judging game we all manage to play. Yesterday I read an angry, but excellent letter on Facebook, ostensibly from an aggrieved #Moslem, addressed to the (now dead) terrorists and expressing his anticipation of the negative social consequences for himself and his family hereafter and damning the terrorists for tarring all Moslems with the brush of terrorist evil.

The thought occurred to me, ironically on the day of the attacks, that there was something to be said about the way in which we tend to brand and judge people by race, religion, nationality and so on and the separation that this approach causes. I was thinking at the time in race terms in South Africa, but as it happened Life delivered a more compelling wake-up that evening, Friday 13th November.

To say that I am dismayed about the Paris attacks doesn't start to express my revulsion and outrage. There is a part of our common humanity which cannot help but tap into the horror and fear experienced by the Parisians and feel immense empathy with what they are going through. And not once: the good people of Paris have been subjected to a number of terror attacks, not least of which was the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year. I can't begin to guess what the wider psyche is in Paris right now, but I imagine it's not the fun, cultured, curious, majestic, jet-setting and sought-after destination and residence of old.

And who is to blame? Well, it's the Moslems of course, or the Syrians, so they must all be inherently bad, if not mad. When we have a burglary, or a murder locally here in South Africa and a black person is involved, all Blacks suddenly become dangerous thieves and murderers to be feared, or at least potentially so. Simply because we have a hopeless President who has surrounded himself with equally hopeless sycophants, many Whites hold the judgment that the  ills of the country are because it was handed over to Blacks who are incapable of holding public office. When a white person still holds a senior position in the police, or business, it becomes all Whites who are responsible for continued oppression, for the economic downturn, possibly for the drought as well and definitely for apartheid, which fostered all of these ills in the first place.

The funny thing, however, is that I have some wonderful friends, acquaintances and colleagues who are Moslems, Buddhists, Arabs, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Indians, Nigerians, Kenyans and the rest. I would trust my life with any of them and am grateful to have them in my Life. 'Ah yes', some will say, 'but they're the exceptions. The rest are no good.'  I don't know any Syrians, but they suffer like the rest of us and share our common humanity. They want the violence as little as you and I. Why else would they be fleeing from their homeland? Judging others against the poor behaviour of a few of their peers cuts us off from our own humanity,

What if we could all look at every human being for the first time, no matter his or her race, colour or creed, and simply see the inherent good? What if we could assume everyone to be equal, to share the same wants, needs, feelings, love and basic integrity and treat them in that manner? What if we could simply allow everyone to be innocent rather than judge them guilty because of who they are. If you must judge, at least give everyone the benefit of any doubt you may have and don't start judging them until they actually show a side which is inherently evil? What if we could be less suspicious and more trusting? 

Call me naive, but I can't help thinking that that approach might just reduce the levels of separateness and antagonism that our judgmental minds foster in the world. It might just reduce  attacks such as Paris, New York, London, Madrid, Beirut, Mumbai and, and.... Just saying.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE ROOM

I heard a great quote the other day: "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room." Which of course got me to thinking about how I would know if I'm the smartest person in any particular room and which rooms I tend to hang out in.

I suppose what doesn't really help is thinking generally that I'm not the smartest person in the room, but of course I cannot know until I've checked out everyone in the room and concluded that no one has anything to teach me, which in itself has a faint smell of arrogance. I guess the answer is to start with the presumption that everyone brings some sort of life experience or learning and perhaps there's always something to be learned, even if it's how not to be. The danger of believing you're the smartest person in the room is that you end up writing everyone else off.

Be that as it may, I love the idea of seeking out people with more experience, more knowledge, more insights and particularly more grey matter which is thoughtfully and productively used.  The moment you think there's no more learning to be had is the moment your life goes into stagnation mode. 

By analogy, John Demartini says if you want to be a millionaire, hang out with other millionaires. If you want to be a billionaire, same principle. If you are happy to be a hundred-aire, hang out with other hundred-aires. Although billionaires may not necessarily be the smartest people in the room, chances are they know something at least about how to make lots of money. There is something empowering about understanding how other people do their lives and it gives us an opportunity to learn how to achieve great things, or how to be mediocre, or creepy, or inspiring or whatever is on offer, depending on our discernment.

I guess you also need to define what "smart" means for you. Is it the people who have made the most money, the ones with the highest IQ (or perhaps the highest EQ), the ones with lots of letters after their names, those who seem to have their relationships altogether, the healthiest ones, the people who are pursuing a committed spiritual path or simply those who who make you laugh? Or all of the above?

For me, the smartest people in the room are those who both inspire me, but still manage to remain humble in their brilliance. It's as simple as that, but if I'm not hanging out with those people, I guess that makes me the dumbest person in the room anyway.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

HOW WE USE OUR ENERGY

Our personal energy is a limited resource. Like our own power utility, #Eskom, we only have a certain amount of personal energy. If we over-use it in one area, we will run out of it in another. A friend of mine, @AnnMcMaster, calls it personal #load-shedding.

I see people time and again spending their energy on being angry, or trying to please unappreciative other people, or insisting on being right when actually it doesn't matter at all, other than to their egos, or hanging onto their resentments for dear life, because it's the only way they feel better about the wrong they think they have suffered at the hands of the object of their resentment. These all drain energy, and plenty of it.

But guess what? If the energy has been used up being something less than our most noble selves, there isn't enough left to be truly our highest and best selves. If you are using up energy fighting, resenting or sulking, where will you find the energy to love yourself or indeed anyone else with all your heart, or the energy to be truly creative, or to bring your best part to a relationship, or to put all of yourself behind your career, a project or anything else that matters to you?

I can think of a couple of times in my own life when I have goofed badly and then spent hours, days, weeks, months expending energy on beating myself up. Whilst I was doing that I didn't then have sufficient energy reserves to bring all of myself to my relationship, to look after my health properly or to keep responding proactively to everything else that Life was presenting to me. The result: a downward spiral of under-performance in most areas, except of course in the self-pity area.

The question then is: where do you expend your energy? Is it in the furtherance of creating something more or bigger with your life, or is it in furtherance of looking after your ego and dealing with things which ultimately don't matter? 

Explore what truly matters in your life and put your energy there. You'll be so glad you did.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

TAKING A STAND FOR THEMSELVES: #FeesMustFall

This past week has brought with it #student #protests against #tertiary #education fee hikes, the likes of which commentators say South Africa hasn't seen since the Soweto riots of #1976. My son Stefan, himself a student, suggested that protesting has become the only way anyone can get heard in this country. That certainly seems to be the trend.

In our day (admittedly some years ago), when 90% of us had sufficiently affluent parents to help us through university, the only thing we could think of against which to protest was the apartheid system of the day. The police were more pragmatic then, thrashing those of the students whom they could catch with sjamboks (a South African whip) and detaining the student leaders indefinitely without trial under the various security laws in force at the time. However, the thing with protesting white students in the 1970's and 1980's is that, for the most part, they weren't directly adversely affected by apartheid.

Today, the benefactors of our protests are faced with their own direct challenges: How do they pay for the tertiary education which offers the hope of escaping from the cycle of poverty in which their parents and grandparents found themselves? Truly, for many students coming from homes where their parents are cleaners and manual labourers, they simply have no access to funds, but see for themselves a way out of the poverty trap by getting a decent education. This has been an issue for children looking for an uplifting future ever since apartheid crumbled in 1994 under a promise by the new ANC government of free education. Some basic education is now free, but that's it.

Nearly 40 years after Soweto, students have once again courageously and decisively taken a stand for themselves. In the context of good old fashioned police brutality against unarmed students - rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades - yesterday the ANC Government finally woke up, capitulated and agreed that there would be no fee increase for the 2016 academic year. Ironically, this morning on the radio I heard an ANC spokesman disingenuously saying on the radio that they had always supported the students' call for a zero fee increase! Quite frankly, the crisis arises because of the ANC Government's short-sightedness, failure to prioritise social issues properly and inability to contain corruption and abuse of public spending.  Now they have only themselves to blame for the quandary in which they find themselves: how to find the money to keep the tertiary education institutions going.

What's to be learned? 
  • If you want something badly enough, take a stand for yourself and make a noise
  • When no one's hearing for you, keep raising the volume of the noise until it is uncomfortably loud for the decision-makers
  • Understand that you are a decision-maker in your own future: only you can make it happen
  • Making it happen can require sacrifice (which word interestingly stems from two Latin words meaning "to make holy")
  • The youth of our country - in fact all countries - know what they want and at some level will always demonstrate what the future holds for the country, because they are the future leaders
Having witnessed their leadership of the past week, I feel hopeful that South Africa will one day be in sensible hands.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

#MTB: THE THRILL-SEEKER'S MEDITATION

Last weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of riding the #BergandBush 2 day mountain bike (MTB) ride through the beautiful Winterton area, including a brutal climb over the famous Spioenkop mountain.

The Berg and Bush has just celebrated its 10th year as an MTB event and is truly one of the most thoughtfully organised and best MTB races on the South African calendar, with farmer Gary Green and his family working every year to make an impeccable event better and better. For one who does no other MTB racing whatsoever, this was my 6th Berg and Bush, a testimony to the regard in which I hold the race.

However, the point of my story is something different. It occurred to me over the weekend - in fact as I rode down the 13km breath-taking descent from Spioenkop - why it is that I so love riding my MTB. 

There is always an element of the risk of falling off a MTB, which I guess is why adrenalin seeking thrill-seekers with partially reduced frontal lobes can scream downhill with no regard for personal safety. That's not me: although I enjoy the excitement of doing something a bit risky, I still prefer not to push the envelope beyond my comfort zone. I'm more of descender intent on self-preservation. 

Whichever way you do it, however, one thing is for sure. If you are not 100% focussed in each moment on where your front wheel is going next, inevitably you will find yourself making involuntary contact with mother Earth. And for so long as you are focussed on your path, there is simply no room for extraneous thoughts and distractions.

Isn't that more or less what Buddhist (and other) meditation is about? Staying present and focussed in the moment, following your path (preferably a path of righteousness), avoiding obstacles, completely engaging with your surroundings and feeling joyful about what you are doing?

Sure, MTB has some tough elements about it. Gasping for air up Spioenkop was a good example. We don't necessarily enjoy the challenges that Life delivers us at the time when we are going through them, but if we are able to transcend them successfully and allow them to lead us to the next step in our lives, then there is a gratitude we can feel for those challenges.

You don't have to have a MTB to feel joy and gratitude, but it sure helps.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

WHAT I WASN'T TAUGHT AT SCHOOL

A couple of weeks ago our 40th High School reunion took place in Johannesburg at a St Stithians College which is virtually unrecognisable from that which I left so long ago. I have to say that a number of my old classmates (I guess I have to include myself in that grouping) were also not terribly recognisable, but somehow or other for the most part we could still connect and see the essence of the people we were in the 1970's.

Despite having learnt at school all about the reproductive cycle of the schistosoma haematobium, Virgil's Aeneid (in Latin), good stuff in algebra and geometry which I have never used, the adventures of an Afrikaans man called Bart Nel and the woes of Hamlet, it came to me quite clearly on Friday how little I actually learnt at school and how much we get from the informal lessons which Life has to offer.

Some of the things that I was never taught, but have nonetheless had to teach myself as best I could include:
  • How to fall in love, stay in love and be lovable
  • How to keep contributing to a relationship to ensure it survives and thrives
  • How to stay committed to a relationship when it's going through tough times
  • How to deal with disasters when the Life I think I know starts crumbling around me
  • How to set boundaries and be firm with others without being unkind
  • How to persevere against the odds
  • How to deal with resentment
  • How to engage at a heart (rather than head) level with others
  • How to bring up children to be the best they can be when they go out into the world
  • How to be no more nor less than I am, but just to be my authentic self
  • How to find Life's gifts which are so well hidden in times of adversity
  • How to access my creative self when a part of me is encouraging me to dumb down and just do what I've always done
  • How not to run away from trouble 
Oh yes, and how to read a balance sheet!

And so much more. School sets some solid foundations, and for those I am grateful. However, quite frankly, with the exception of the balance sheet, the school system couldn't teach most of the above, even if it wanted to.  Ultimately our greatest learning experience is derived from the lives we each live and all of Life's deliveries, whether or not we ask for, want or like them and how we choose to deal with them.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

THE ART OF GROWING OLDER (GRACIOUSLY)

On the eve of yet another birthday, it's time to confess that I don't think I'm getting older very graciously. No matter how often I get told how distinguished grey hair looks, I remain a fan of the glossy dark mop I used to have. Besides which, what does that platitude mean? Who wants to look distinguished? Isn't that the same as poncy? Distinguished from what? Those poor folk who haven't yet experienced the joy of grey hair?

There is also something infuriating and frustrating about not being able to do physically what I used to, but instead being prone to the physical frailties occasionally visited upon me. Instead of being out rowing or canoeing up I storm, as I write I find myself on my bed with a buggered back. I must say that I quite liked the indestructible warrior of yore. Then of course im not sure that I really appreciate the growing network on my face of smile, frown and worry-lines. These apparently give one character. Bring back the character-less smooth face, I say. Where rising at 4.30am for a run or ride used to be a daily joy, rising nowadays an hour later to go to work has become something of a chore.

So, with that whinge-fest out of the way, the true question is: what's this all about? My friend and mentor, Ann McMaster, reminded me a few weeks ago what a hiding to nothing we are on if we keep comparing ourselves with others. I didn't think that I do that, but clearly at some sub-conscious level I do at least keep comparing myself with Andrew Jr, the 20-something year old Adonis that I must have thought I was (in all my youthful arrogance).

The truth, however, is that whilst I may have slowed down a bit physically, I'm fundamentally the same human being I always was: inherently kind, loving, caring and so on. Nothing has changed in that sense. However,  the massive advantage I now have over Andrew Jr. is the life learning and experience for which I would have given my eye teeth in my 20's. That's the trade off between youth and middle age, and so long as I can tap into that life experience and all that goes with it, I can be truly grateful at a spiritual and emotional level for my advancing years. In that sense I'm perfect, just as I am.

Besides which, I do love birthdays.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

#VW: LIARS, CHEATS AND POLLUTERS

I'm not sure why, after all these years, I am still surprised and disappointed when things turn out to be different from what I had assumed and from what they seem. How can it be that VW, a paragon of integrity and quality, can have shown its colors as a lying, cheating polluter in one of the biggest corporate scandals to visit us in recent times?

What would possess a company with such an incredible brand to behave in a way which simply shocks everyone's sense of moral decency? The facts are by now trite, so other than to say they have been pretending to the world that their diesel cars have far lower emission levels than they actually have, and they have done this by way of the use of sophisticated cheating software, I shan't discuss the detail of what they have done.

More importantly, what were they thinking? Is the deadly sin of greed the motivation for that of deceit? One has to think so, but surely with all the grey matter that sits on the executive of VW it might have occurred to someone that:

  • What they were doing was dishonest
  • They might be found out
  • The discovery would ruin the company
  • Overnight they and Volkswagen would become pariahs when they were discovered
  • What they were doing may have been earning them greater profits, but they were helping f*ck up the world for generations to come, including for their own children and grandchildren
It's that last piece that gets me. People chop down rain forests, pollute, destroy the environment, pay bribes for soccer tournaments and shoot wildlife for sport all in the name of greed or ego. And when someone finds out, the default position is to become even more deceitful and pretend they didn't know or didn't do it. 

Somewhere in every action like that is an in congruence, a denial of people's fundamental selves as authentic, caring and loving beings which is nothing short of tragic.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

JUDGING FISH

Our beloved power utility, #Eskom, gave itself a self-congratulatory pat on the back recently for having generated an uninterrupted power supply for 5 weeks. As the local political rabble-rousers, the #EFF said in response: 'There is no need to congratulate a fish for being able to swim.'

And that seems to be so for all of our endeavours. If we are simply doing our jobs, but no more, or not cheating in our relationships, or feeding ourselves sensibly, or being kind to others or caring for our children, we do not need special praise or accolades. That is simply what we do and are expected to do.

It is only when we do something extraordinary that people might be expected to sit up, take notice and perhaps give us a high five. 

So if you're doing your job and want to complain that no one notices or acknowledges you, before you take the moan any further, perhaps it's worth questioning whether you are just doing what you've been told to do, or whether you are actually going the extra mile.

And whilst we're on the subject of fish, Albert Einstein is credited with the quote that "Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb trees, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". As it happens, the Mangrove Killifish can apparently climb trees, so perhaps that is at least one particular fish of which we should be taking closer notice. 

On the other hand, if you were to judge Eskom for its inability to produce power on an uninterrupted basis, perhaps it will rightfully keep believing that it is stupid until it gets its act together.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

WHEN THERE'S WATER COMING UNDER THE SHOWER DOOR

If I see water coming from under the shower door and running down the passage, the first thing I do is find the source of the water and switch it off. Then I start mopping up. If I just mop without switching off the water, I am going to keep mopping indefinitely. Sounds trite, doesn't it?

So why, I ask myself, is everyone in Europe trying to soak up the deluge of incoming Syrian refugees, but not taking more seriously what is happening in Syria, to try and stop the exodus and have Syrians stay at home?

Yes, I know it's complicated, but somehow I would expect a greater level of intervention from Arabs and the West within Syria to stop the atrocities there and make the place habitable. The Finnish Prime Minister, bless his heart, has offered his personal home to refugees. Why should he have to do that? And, quite frankly, no matter how big his house may be it certainly isn't going to fix the problem. Anyway, why should anyone have to take on hoards of displaced people? I guess it's good neighbourliness, morally right and so on, but my guess is the displaced Syrians would rather be in their own homes if they and their families weren't at serious risk of death, disease and worse.

And it's not just about switching off the source of refugees. Water under the shower door can look like abuse coming your way, over and over. You can keep on cleaning it up, or you can do something about switching off your abuser's torrent, like cutting him or her out of your life.

It's not always easy to switch off the source of any leak or flood, but if you don't do so, expect to keep on mopping to the point of exhaustion.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

EVERY DAY A NEW DAY

I woke yesterday at 5.30am, pulled on some cycling gear and headed out into the dark chill of the morning. I warmed up quickly as I cycled to the top of our road and then rolled rapidly in the half-darkness down the hill taking me to the bottom of our gorge. Climbing the steep hill out of the gorge, I felt a familiar burning in my legs and smiled wryly to myself at how much I enjoy some of the toil in my life.

As a continued to climb, the beautiful purple and orange of the new dawn crept over the gorge and I was serenaded by a cacophony of guinea fowl and francolin. The gorge was alive with the new day, and I was a part of the fresh activity of the morning. I couldn't have felt happier or more grateful at that moment, simply to be alive.

Which of course got me to wondering why each day can't be that way, which of course it can. (And you don't need to ascend Alpe d'Huez on a bicycle for it to be so!)

As I carried on up the climb it occurred to me how much what I was doing right then was a mirror of my life, indeed of everyone's lives. We all go through some toil at various times, but if we can see it as a means or passage to our greater goals and work which opens up possibilities, the slog takes on more of a sacred character. In the literal sense, my ride was opening up the possibilities of reaching the top of the hill and thereafter cruising graciously and effortlessly on the flat for a while, but it was also supporting my fitness, health and longevity, preparing me for cycle events later in the year and offering the possibility of a couple of hours of peace and solitude. 

In the same way, figuratively every toil in our lives offers new possibilities. 

Importantly for me at that time however was also to re-connect with the idea that each new day offers new possibilities. That was the exciting piece: we don't have to be stuck in daily routine if we can see and grasp the possibilities offered by each new day.

I also reflected on the fact that, later that morning, I would be attending a memorial service for a friend who had died recently. Rippon Morford was someone who the preacher at the service later aptly described as someone who had sucked every bit out that Life had to offer. When his children described the richness, fullness and variety of Rippon's life, it really came home to me how much he had explored and engaged in all the possibilities on offer to him.

And it also came home poignantly that, eventually, we run out of new days. If we really want to explore all that Life has on offer for us, there truly is no time to lose. The invitation is to let every day be a new day, rather than just another day.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

OPEN LETTER TO @WalterPalmerDDS, #CECILTHELION #KILLER

Dear Wally,

WTF were you thinking when you came into my back yard to shoot an African lion, and not just any lion, but Zimbabwe's most famous lion, Cecil? Did it not occur to you that the reason many lions in Africa have names is because there aren't too many of them left? Fewer in the wild than black rhinos, in fact, and they aren't exactly flourishing.

I have an inkling about what you might have been thinking. Perhaps you were thinking how impressed your family, friends and neigbours would be when they saw a mighty black-maned lion's head on your wall. They'd all think: He's the man!

I can imagine, perhaps, your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, sitting at your feet in front of the fire one day. One says: "Tell us about the lion's head on the wall, Uncle Wally." (Oh, by the way, 'Wally' is a term of endearment which us Anglophiles use to mean 'dickhead'. Could be an unfortunate coincidence. Just saying.) 

So you regale them with tales of bravery and great cunning: "Well, we cleverly threw down lion food and lured Cecil out of his sanctuary, the Hwange National Park, because then we could say we thought we were allowed to shoot him. I shot him with a poisoned arrow, because then we had the thrill of hunting a wounded, suffering lion for two days. When we found him again, out of a sense of goodness we just had to put him out of his misery." You might continue: "And you know why this was a good thing? Well it's because I didn't think too highly of myself before I did that. I didn't think I was manly enough. I thought others didn't like me and this would make them impressed and like me more and it would make me seem very manly. You do think I'm manly, don't you? And I did feel a whole lot better about myself when I saw the photograph of me posing with the lion.

You might leave out the part that now most of the world hates you. You might also leave out the part that you contributed to destroying the wildlife heritage of Africa. My heritage. And that of my children and their children. We don't choose to live in Africa because we have to. We choose to live here because of the treasures we have, and we sure as heck didn't ask you to come here and destroy them.

Perhaps one day, when there are no lions (or indeed any animals) left, your great-grandchildren will come home from a history class and ask their parents: "Is it really true that Uncle Wally helped destroy all the animals?"

Anyway, Wally, I think your money was well invested and you must be well pleased. Most advertising agencies will tell you that you can't buy publicity like you've had for the $50,000 you paid to kill Cecil. It's a shame that the publicity may not have been quite what you had in mind, but as the stars say: "Any publicity is good publicity."

From my side, I just wanted to say that you aren't welcome in Africa, unless it's to come and personally offer a public apology and commit yourself to the conservation effort, but I somehow guess that isn't going to happen.

Anyway, assuming you won't be coming back, perhaps you should in the meantime concentrate on luring your neighbours' dogs out of their yards with food and then shooting them: it might not win you any more friends, but it sure should enhance your manliness and self-esteem.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

BLOOD LIONS: BLOWING OPEN THE #CANNED #LION HUNTING INDUSTRY

Last Thursday I went to the premier of a courageous, powerful and profoundly disturbing movie, BLOOD LIONS (www.bloodlions.org). The film lifts the lid on and challenges the multi-billion rand lion breeding and hunting industry in South Africa.

Canned lion hunting has been in and out of the news for some years, but this film exposes the huge extent of the practice, the size of the industry and just how grubby it really is. A few interesting facts I learnt:

  • We only have 2,500 lions left in the wild, 2,000 of which are diseased (e.g. feline AIDS and TB). So the maths is 500 healthy wild lions left
  • To put this in context, the number of endangered black rhino left is 3,500
  • There are up to 8,000 predators (7,000 of which are lions) which have been bred in captivity on about 200 different farms around South Africa, all waiting to be shot by hunters in unethical circumstances or by businessman who export the, bones, pelts, stuffed trophies and so on
  • The breeding conditions are grim, squalid and in-humane, with cubs (which usually suckle for 18-24 months) being taken from their mothers within 1-2 weeks so that the mothers can start breeding again immediately after giving birth
  • Inter-breeding is causing genetic defects and destroying the gene pool
  • Any pretence that any of this is to support conservation is a joke
  • Botswana (whose Minister of the Environment, Mr Tshekedi Khama II attended the premier) has banned all hunting and Australia has banned the import of trophies in an effort to help stop the practice
  • The South African government condones the practice and has done nothing

The film was produced by our friend, Pippa Hankinson, who has been involved in conservation efforts for many years. She was inspired to produce it after visiting a lion breeding camp 4 years ago and being so appalled and upset by what she saw that she made a decision to take a stand to rid the world of this unethical and sickening industry. She found some people willing to help her and created a film production company. What I love about her process was that, faced with a seemingly impossible task of challenging this huge and murky industry, instead of cowering and retreating, Pippa was able to draw on her courage and channel her anger into this creative act.

As a measure of her determination, after receiving a standing ovation for the film I heard her say she could take no credit for it unless it leads to the end of the canned lion business.

I think that what she has done with the support of her team - Ian Michler, Nick Chevalier, Bruce Young, Dr Andrew Venter, Jeremy Nathan, Rick Swazey and Dave Cohen, to name a few, is nothing short of heroic. It takes a special act of passion and courage to stand up for what you believe in when there are threatening circumstances involved.

I don't often ask for my posts to be shared, but this time I ask that you share it on Facebook and Twitter, using the icons below. If you want to support Pippa on her quest, please follow www.bloodlions.com on Facebook and Twitter. Also read the FAQ's on the website to understand what this industry is really about.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

BEING THE CAPTAIN OF YOUR SHIP

I spoke in my last blog of our recent boat trip along the #YonneRiver and #CanalDuNivernais in #France. Here's another piece to emerge from this wonderful journey.

When we took delivery of our boat in #Migennes, I was handed a Captain's Manual and required to sign a document declaring myself to be the Captain of the boat (and therefore responsible for it). 

Kazalette, Jeśka and Stefan were my crew, but I was the one required to take command. Signing on didn't seem too onerous, but that was before I had been given my initial training on a small patch of water and we had taken the boat through its first lock. Those two events woke me up to what it meant to be in charge of this beast. I learnt as I entered the first lock that boats have a mind of their own. If they aren't steered and managed in a certain thoughtful and consistent way, they steer all over the place and tend to bump into things (like lock walls, for instance). Bumping into things is not particularly good for the welfare of the average boat (ice-beakers might be an exception).

Of course, with the novelty and tension of a new lock, everyone on board had some thoughts and advice for the Captain, vocally put forward, on how to do this thing. At the helm, I could feel an ulcer rapidly developing.

Then we were through the first lock, looking for a place to berth on the river bank for the night. Thankfully we were being guided by some friendly barging veterans in another boat ahead of us, but nonetheless the entire crew again offered helpful advice on how to berth, with the Captain trying to listen to everyone and effectively hearing no one. Despite this, we somehow managed to berth without major incident.

After a big night with our new-found friends and guides, they bade us farewell and we were left to fare for ourselves on the waters of the Yonne for the next week. Inevitably, advice from the crew to the Captain thereafter came thick and fast, going through the locks and finding picnic spots on the following day. The Captain, on the other hand, found himself feeling tense and grumpy about crew members not putting out and hanging into ropes when they were meant to do so and the boat, robust as it was with its rubber fenders, bumping its way past miscellaneous obstacles.

Finally the penny dropped for the Captain that he was being indecisive about navigational decisions, had not been particularly specific with his requirements of his crew and was countenancing way too much democracy on board. No sooner had the scales fallen from his eyes than the locks became a breeze, a reasonable measure of democracy was permitted in selecting lunch and overnight spots, but some order was introduced to berthing procedures.

And so the Captain's folly turned to the Skipper's delight. I stopped feeling tense every time we had to do something other than steer straight down the canal and we all engaged in one of the most wonderful holidays we as a family have ever had.

The lessons learnt?

*  Take total responsibility for your personal boat
*  If you do not take control, expect some bumps, if not a shipwreck
*  Understand that you can't do it all alone, so solicit help when you need it, but be clear about what help you need
*  Do what is reasonable or you'll burn yourself out
* Don't take the journey so seriously: rather enjoy the beauty and excitement of the ride

Saturday, 11 July 2015

SIMPLY BEING HAPPY

A friend and teacher of mine, Roy Whitten, wrote a book some years ago entitled "Simply Being Happy". I have also been privileged enough to be part of trainings led by Roy in which his simple approach to happiness and being happy has come through time and again. Inevitably, I have considered the nature of happiness time and again in my own life.


I have just returned from the most special week with my family, Kazalette, Jeśka and Stefan, on a barge exploring the beautiful Yonne River and the Canal du Nivernais in the Loire Valley, France.

One evening we moored on a secluded bank alongside the canal for the night. I later found myself sitting on the bank next to our boat, watching the beauty of the soft early evening light fall on the trees, listening to the birds singing, engaging with the reflections on the water, watching Stefan earnestly fishing, Jeśka quietly answering masses of birthday messages she had received earlier in the day and Kazalette pottering around the boat. It was a scene and experience of blissful tranquility. I can honestly say I have rarely felt more at peace or happier.

Whatever was happening in my office back home was not completely out of my consciousness, but it had the level of priority that office work should have when on holiday: close to 1 out of 10 and I just trusted that all was well. Every part of me was grateful for every gift, and right then everything in my life up to that point was a gift. I was simply happy, being exactly where I was and how I was in that moment and surrounded by beauty and my precious family.

Perhaps it is easier to be happy when barging around France, and perhaps circumstances do help, but the truth is that we can be happy anytime we choose, so long as the mind doesn't have us somewhere else feeling unhappy. All that is needed is to be completely present, engaged in whatever moment presents itself, and feel grateful for all that we have.

And part of my gratitude lies with Roy Whitten, for helping to wake me up to the experience of true happiness. Namaste, Roy.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

BECOMING #MICHAEL_PHELPS...

I woke yesterday morning feeling mildly over-indulged from the previous night's dinner. With what the Afrikaners describe as lang tande (lit. long teeth, or general reluctance), decided to go for a swim at our local gym. The motivation was largely to neutralise the effects of the big meal the previous night which, with hindsight, may not have been the greatest motivator.

There was no part of me that especially wanted that swim, and the performance in the water for my first couple of hundred metres suggested that my body's willingness was equal to my mind's: pretty low on the willingness scale. Tired shoulders from the outset, no rhythm, bored and just wanting to get it over with.

After 10 lengths I stopped and questioned whether this was the way I wanted it or indeed whether it was doing me much good. I could think of other times where I had exercised out of obligation rather than out of willingness and how little satisfaction I had got at the time. So what was the opportunity on offer here? What would transform a lang tande swim into an outing that I could and would enjoy?

The strategy I chose was to forget about how far I still had to swim and simply to focus on each stroke and the sensations on my body in the water. I immediately started seeing the bubbles around each hand every time it entered the water and the shape of my hands and arms in the water. I felt the cool flow of water down my flanks, and the way my body rotated with each breath to the left and right. Within a length or two I could feel my rhythm was back, any muscular discomfort was minimal and I was swimming with purpose again. 

So then I started feeling grateful for the opportunity to swim, thinking about people who were injured, those who didn't know how to swim and those who simply had no access to a pool.

All of a sudden I was swimming beautifully (well, in my own estimation anyway) and loving the experience. The lengths passed by quickly and then it was time to get out.

The possibility which Life had offered me (or perhaps which I had offered myself) was the opportunity to transform and enhance my physical performance simply by changing the way I was approaching the exercise. The wonderful thing is that that is on offer to all of us, whether we're battling with exercise, weight loss or any other particular undertaking.

So, move over, Michael Phelps: your secret is out!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

"THE ONLY THING NECESSARY FOR THE TRIUMPH OF EVIL IS THAT GOOD MEN DO NOTHING"

@Eusebius McKaiser recently wrote an excellent article "'Good' guys at the top shockingly silent" about #Zuma getting away with #Nkandla whilst everyone in the #ANC remains silent. We also see that #Blatter was overwhelmingly re-elected as President in the face of the biggest scandal to hit #FIFA. And #Mugabe could rule forever.

McKaiser makes a good point. How can this stuff happen when there are ostensibly good people in the organisations behind these people? Surely they aren't all rotten to the core? Surely some people behind the despots have an inkling of what integrity means?

Because, if there are such people, how do they make it okay for evil to triumph and still feel congruent within themselves if their consciences are even faintly pricked by what is going on? 

No doubt, many people benefit from the patrimony of their leaders, so the conflict of interest between personal benefit and personal integrity is simply resolved by expediency. However, given for instance that the ANC has it sfoundations rooted in integrity and a man who was arguably the greatest statesman of our time and a model of integrity, #NelsonMandela, how is it that there is apparently no one left in the organisation who can purport to emulate him or call him or herself congruent in terms of thoughts and deeds?

And don't for a moment think that this phenomenon is limited to corruption, or to those in high positions of power. It occurs wherever evil manifests itself and at every level of our society. 

We are each called to examine carefully the times when we keep our mouths shut in the name of expediency, avoidance of conflict, personal comfort and fear rather than speak up when we see or hear others acting out of integrity in ANY way whatsoever. Yes, sometimes it requires courage to call someone for being out of integrity, but courage is what we have as a resource. If we cannot find it in ourselves to draw on that courage, where does that leave us? 

However, if we can stand up, there may just be sufficient ground-swell to wake our leaders up to their own deficiencies in this regard. If we don't, we simply allow evil to triumph and ourselves to slide into a personal hell.

What do you choose? 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

SO, THIS IS YOUR LIFE...

Recently I have found myself getting more and more grumpy about #loadshedding. Actually, downright hacked-off and pissy, if the truth be told. We got through it in 2008 when it was arbitrary, unscheduled and could last for half a day. However, eventually it passed. Now, although scheduled and slightly more predictable, there is no end in sight and I feel fed up and almost worn out. Ok, maybe that dramatists it a bit, but I really am over it now.

(For the benefit of overseas readers, loadshedding is the switching off of all electrical power to different areas of the country at peak periods most days so that the power utility, #Eskom, can conserve power in the grid because it has insufficient capacity to supply power to the whole country. I won't get into a discussion about how that situation came about.)

Anyway, it's patently clear to me that my irritation is triggered by two parts. The first is that I am not accepting graciously and unconditionally that loadshedding is a real part of my life, like bad weather, taxes and poor drivers. There is a part of me demanding that it be different, demanding that Eskom should have foreseen and done something about this much sooner, judging them for being incompetent fools, resenting them for the inconvenience caused and bitching about the effect on the economy. The other part is my bloody-minded refusal to run off and buy a diesel-guzzling generator, inverter or something else which might alleviate the hours of darkness and inconvenience, but will cost me money which I shouldn't have to spend and will pollute the environment or draw even more power off the grid. So I'll rather just curse Eskom when the power goes off and behave petulantly.

Of course, there might be some other options available to me. I could, for instance, go and live in another country where there is no shortage of power supply. That would be a high-commitment, major inconvenience solution, but not inconceivable. The simplest option, however, might be simply to say to myself: 'This is your life and this is what you choose'. 

The moment I take responsibility for myself, my feelings and actions  instead of playing the blame game, I can sit quietly and contentedly during my daily two hours without power and read a book by lamp or candlelight, meditate, chat to Kazalette about the day and our lives, go out and exercise or a host of other options. I can almost start looking forward to the quiet downtime offered by loadshedding, rather than blow off steam about loss of productivity and ability to do things that require power, like watching the telly.

And so it is with anything we don't like in our lives: 'This IS your life, so get used to it, get on with it and make some choices which align with and support your circumstances.'

It's as simple as that, so bring on the next blackout, Eskom!


Thursday, 21 May 2015

CREATING WITHOUT EGO

I saw a moving documentary last week about a street photographer called #Vivian_Maier. She worked as a nanny in #Chicago and #NewYork in the 1960's through to the turn of the century. All the while, however, she carried around with her an old #Rolleiflex box camera and privately photographed her charges and the ordinary, often down-and-out people on the streets of the city in which she lived.

Over her lifetime she took over 150,000 photos, all on 12 shots-per-roll print film, getting through about a roll a day. The photographs I saw in the documentary (and on the Vivian Maier website) were beautiful, candid, evoking and of extraordinary quality, the more so given the basic equipment she was using.

As she had no home of her own, she spent most of her nanny's income developing her pictures and then hiring space to keep them in bins at a storage warehouse. At the end of her life she had an accident, was hospitalized, never recovered and her photographs were auctioned off by the warehouse for a pittance. Today her work is mostly in the hands of three people who have exploited the collection for millions of dollars.

A sorry tale by most standards, especially as Vivian Maier's fame was posthumous and she had no idea of its value and contribution to the art world.

What makes the story all the more remarkable is that she apparently never showed any of her pictures to another soul before she died. No one knew much about her, she was reclusive and a private person. She didn't try (and perhaps didn't want or feel the need) to be liked. Despite her photographs now being recognized as one of the most important bodies of photographic work, it seems that at no moment in her life was any photo shot with the intention to exhibit, sell or otherwise display it. This was her work, created for her sole  satisfaction and we may surmise with no desire for personal acknowledgment.

Yes, Vivian Maier might have been described as a little odd, perhaps even disturbingly odd, but what shines out of her work is a creative spirit who saw the world and its inhabitants for who they were and are. Perhaps the celebrated photographers of our time can do the same, but it seems that Ms Maier was able to see into the hearts and souls of her subjects because she had placed herself in a situation where she had nothing to prove, didn't need (or want) to be judged on her work and so was able to go about her creation in a place where the ego played little or no part.

What's in this for the rest of us to learn? Perhaps it is simply that when we do not demand or require recognition and acknowledgement, have no fear of judgement and are not slaves to the ego, we are free to unleash and exploit our deepest talents. The moment we are creating with an underlying purpose to satisfy the ego's greedy needs, that agenda interferes with the integrity of the creation.