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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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Sunday, 28 February 2016


So, after a short leave of absence from The Talking Stick, here's today's piece.

When I returned from my end of year break my body was showing a few of the excesses of the holiday. Enough to irritate me and take some steps to halt the rot. I decided I needed some help and hired a personal trainer in mid-January for a few weeks of private boot camp. 

I was then fortunate enough to spend three nights at Brookdale Health Hydro in the beautiful KZN Midlands with Kazalette two weeks ago. The idea was to chill, mostly de-stress and generally re-focus. I had stopped drinking coffee the week prior to our Brookdale visit, for which of course I paid with the inevitable 2nd day withdrawal headache.  In any event at least that was out of the way by the time I arrived at Brookdale. 

Three days later, superb (and healthy) food, daily exercise, a healing with the excellent Brenda McFee at Fordoun and I was back on track.

Since then, I have stayed off coffee (save for the odd cappuccino every couple of days), only eaten what is serving my health, exercised more this year than I have for a long time and generally taken my health in hand. Weight is down, body fat massively down, fitness,vitality and energy up and generally I'm feeling more stable healthwise than I have for a while. 

Simply put, I feel inspired right now to care fully for myself and my health. Yes, I know I'm sounding sanctimonious, but I'm going to allow myself to be. (In any event, if I don't say it first my mates will tell me!)

My first step to inspiring myself was to set a purpose for my health. The next was to appoint a trainer. The third was to commit fully to myself. The rest just followed. 

The moment we take a purposeful step, we inspire ourselves. The questions therefore are: 

  • What is your purpose for yourself right now?
  • What first step will you take to inspire yourself?
  • Will you commit 100% to yourself?
Let me know what and how you're doing.

Saturday, 6 February 2016


A conversation is recounted in the book #Shantaram in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #God.  You can either know God or you do not know God.”  Which got me to thinking that maybe that is so about a lot of things.  You cannot believe in #suffering: you can only know or not know suffering.  You cannot believe in joy: you can only know or not have known joy.  You cannot believe in good or evil: you can only know the one from the other. You cannot believe in the #truth. You can only know or not know what is true. What good did it do you to believe in the Tooth Fairy?

The issue here is that “believing” requires a lot of faith. It also requires you to rely on the experience and say-so of others, speculation and unverifiable beliefs.  Actually knowing something requires you to have verifiable evidence of it.  Believing in God is speculative.  Others might tell you about God, might even have had their own experience of God, but unless you’ve had your own experience of God (whatever that means to you) all you can do is believe and hope for the best.  So what then does it mean to “know God”?

Well I suppose it depends on who or what God is to you.  If God is some omnipotent grey-bearded being somewhere in the sky, the chances are you aren’t going to do much better than believe in God.  You aren’t going to meet that person other, perhaps than in some sort of afterlife.  I want to suggest that even then it is doubtful.

If, however, God means something else to you, say, an experience of exquisite joy or a sense of connection with all that is around you, or compassion for the entire human race and all other sentient beings or what you might experience as a total engagement with Life as we know it, then you might come to know God.  God will then become an experience which aligns with your definition of God.

I don’t want to define God for you, because there are endless notions of who or what God is.  However, coming from my professional background, I am quite big on verifiable evidence. There is a reason that the courts  don't like hearsay, or second-hand evidence: it's often unreliable. If I don’t have a clear notion or definition of something, I am not sure that I will ever actually know that something, but on top of that notion I require experiential or verifiable evidence to match the definition. Without a definition and clear evidence, all that will be left is to believe in that something, but with all the nagging doubt that can go with believing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


I was listening to a senior judge being interviewed on the radio the other day.  She made a comment along the lines that “apartheid caused Black people to lose confidence in their ability”.  I don’t doubt that there is more than a grain of truth in what the judge says.  In particular, I don’t doubt that many black people are not as confident of their ability as they might have been had there not been an era of apartheid.  What I do want to challenge is that apartheid itself caused the loss of confidence as opposed to how the people who were subject to the injustices of apartheid processed their experience.

Now, before I get branded a racist (and become a player in the current national sport) for suggesting that apartheid did not cause lasting psychological damage in people, let me unequivocally and unconditionally state that apartheid was an appalling blot on the history of South Africa and many people remain scarred by it to this day.  However, my point is something different.

What is so is that apartheid, or indeed any systematic oppression (e.g. an abusive spouse, a violent teacher or a brutal parent) will behave in a manner in which the victims of that oppression may start to doubt themselves.  If someone is repeatedly told that he or she is useless / ugly / no good / not worth feeding / incompetent / lazy and so on, it becomes easy for him to start believing that if it is repeated often enough.  A typical pattern is where someone in authority makes a comment which might seem plausible on the face of it and then becomes the recipient's reality.  If I say to an employee often enough that she is lazy or not good enough, eventually she will believe it, especially if there is no other point of reference against which the statement can be verified as true or false.  The moment you start believing a statement or judgement, no matter how wrong it might be objectively, you start behaving in a way which makes it true for yourself.

So, if a teacher (one who would know) tells me that I am stupid, I might start believing that I am stupid (especially if I have no objective facts against which to measure this statement) and then lose the belief of confidence in myself that I am capable of doing anything that requires a modicum of intelligence.  Fundamentally, I have taken someone else’s statement which has been presented to me as true, adopted it as my own truth and thereafter behaved in terms of that truth.  Factually, the original statement was judgemental, not based against any objective criterion and so unspecific (and therefore wrong) that I end up adopting as my truth or my reality a belief which someone else has imposed on me and behave as if it were true.  Springing from the belief that I am stupid, my mind then invents several more beliefs about myself such as “I am incompetent”, “I am unworthy”, “I will never succeed” and perhaps “I don’t have what it takes”.

We then walk around with this as our world view and behave as if we are incapable.  The tragedy is that this is nothing more than a type of internal computer program that boots up over and over again in our minds to inform us about our inabilities, unworthiness and place in the world.

So what I am suggesting is that, just because the custodians and benefactors of the apartheid regime might have said things about Black people and their competence and capability does not mean that those things were true.  All it means is that those things were said and a number of Black people (most definitely not all) allowed those to become their reality and hence lost their confidence.

The good news is that, because that is just a program of unverified or untrue beliefs which runs in people’s minds, the internal computer can be reprogrammed with verifiable facts about those same people’s capability.  Even if people lost confidence as a result of apartheid (or any other form of oppression), it does not mean that the program cannot be changed and they cannot regain confidence by learning to esteem themselves and recognizing their inherent skills and qualities.  It may take time, but no-one needs for one  moment to believe that because he or she was oppressed, bullied or abused, he or she is somehow less than other human beings.  If that were not the case, how is it that some Blacks who were raised under the apartheid regime are lacking in confidence, but there are many others raised under the same regime who are super-confident and have been super-successful in their lives?  Same regime, different approach to life.

I want to suggest, therefore (and with the greatest respect), that the judge was wrong.  Apartheid did not cause people to lose confidence so don't blame apartheid itself: that is the easy way to explain why some people are struggling in their lives. Rather blame the way in which their minds processed apartheid and caused the loss of confidence. The moment the unconfident ones have that piece,  they can re-program their minds, re-process their lives and regain their lost confidence.