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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.