One Apple A Day #680 – demanding situations, choices and freedom

“I suppose the role of character is for the individual to rise to a situation. If it were not for the situation, we would never have heard of him. So that you might say that character is the product of an exceptional demand by the situation upon human ability. I think the ability of the average man could be doubled if it were demanded, if the situation demanded.” — Will Durant

Will Durant was an American historian, philosopher and writer. With his wife, he wrote The Story of Civilization, 11 volumes covering the whole story of humanity. The words opening this post are extracted from an interview in which he shared his thoughts on thoughts on the “Great Men and Women” in history. The heroes, the ones who shaped history and whose lives we study in the hope to become better.

In the same interview, he said that “the hero is a product of a situation rather than the result being a product of the hero. It is demand that brings out the exceptional qualities of man.

I love the idea of the hero as someone cut from a different cloth, with exceptional skills, wit and brilliance. 

However, I know we are all made of the same substance. I know we all have within us the potential to be heroes. And I know that hard times, like the one we are living now, can bring out the hero and the heroine from every man and woman. But it can also bring out the worst, the villain.

What makes the difference is a small choice. The choice of how we want to respond to the challenge.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor E Frankl

One Apple A Day #679 – what windows are you keeping open?

For my research, I’ve been reading about neuroplasticity in the last days. Things like a study did a few years ago showing that interacting with our smartphones, it actually changes the way our thumbs and brain work together. Dr Ghosh, the author of the study, suggests that “that cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by personal digital technology.

More and more, we have proofs that the choice of where we put our attention, shapes who we are.

Two days ago I went to the supermarket. There was a heaviness in the air, affecting everybody. A few people moving quickly around the shelves, avoiding each other and not only physically. No eye contact, no smiles.

I talked to the lady at the till and she told me that nobody says hello or goodbye anymore. We are letting fear expand in our minds, hearts and souls. As a result, the space left for other feelings and emotions is shrinking. 

Then a dear friend sent me this powerful poem yesterday. 

The wine of divine Grace is limitless.

All limits come only

from the limitation of the cup.

Moonlight floods the whole sky

from horizon to horizon,

How much it can fill your room

depends on its windows.

Grant a great dignity, my friend,

to the cup of your life;

Love has designed it

to hold His eternal wine.

~ Rumi

The amount of love that can fill my room depends on its windows. 

I must remind myself to check every day what windows I’m keeping open. 

I must keep shut the one of fear, we all the negative news trying to flood in. And hold wide open the ones of love and connection.

One Apple A Day #678 – what are your questions?

What’s next? What’s going to happen? How is it going to be once we are out of this situation? What will be the new normality? What world will we find, when we will wake up from this nightmare?

Conversations are full of questions, lately. Questions to which I have no answers at all. Sure, the prediction game is an appealing one, at least when it’s done with people with a positive attitude. But it feels driven more by the desire to escape the present than by a genuine will to create the future.

I prefer another quest instead. One driven by different questions. Who do I want to be? How do I want to show up? Tomorrow, sure. But also today. What can I do today, right now, here to be that person? What would that person do in this situation?

I’ll be honest, it’s not an easy quest. I get lost often. Confused between who I am, who I want to be, and who I think I should be. But I keep asking and searching. Every day a new opportunity to shine a bit more light, to advance another tiny step.

It helps me stay grounded in this uncertain time.

One Apple A Day #677 – You must not be your own obstacle.

Having more time, and need, for inspiring conversations is undoubtedly one of the positive sides of this collective pause in which we are all in. 

Yesterday, I was talking about energy and protection. 

How often, driven by the desire to protect our energy or the source energy of a project or organisation, we end up limiting the creative potential of that same energy. For all the right reasons, we get in the way of our own potential.

I was reminded of an episode of “Chef’s table”. A Netflix series telling stories of some of the most celebrated chefs in the world. Jeong Kwang is the protagonist of one episode, but she is not like the others. She has no fancy restaurant. She’s a Buddhist monk working in the kitchen of a monastery in South Korea. Yet, she’s recognised as a fabulous creative chef.

At one point, with the same grace with which she prepares the food, she said to the interviewer:

“Creativity and ego cannot go together.

If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly.

Just as water springs from a fountain, creativity springs from every moment.

You must not be your own obstacle.”

One Apple A Day #676 – spread the change

From the way this virus is spreading, I feel we can learn some lessons on how we can create change in any system.

Homeostasis​ ​is​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​tendency​ ​of​ ​an​ ​organism​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​its​ ​stable​ ​condition​ ​and environment. It’s a tendency that applies to any system in our lives. Our​ ​inner​ ​beliefs,​ ​​​habits​ ​and​ ​​environment,​ ​they​ ​all​ ​work together​​ ​to​ ​create​ ​and​ ​keep​ ​our​ ​life stable and steady. Any time we try to change a system, ​those​ ​same​ ​forces​ ​that​ ​have​ ​established​ ​the​ ​current​ ​equilibrium​ ​will​ ​fight back to keep as it is.

The more we push to change the system, the more those forces will pull in the opposite direction.

It’s similar to what happens when we pull an elastic band. If we use a lot of force to pull it quickly, we will meet a lot of resistance, and it will be hard to ​keep​ ​the​ ​new shape.​ ​We will likely have to ​are​ ​to​ release the band and let it ​slide back to its natural status.

This virus is showing us a different approach to change. It is not so aggressive to trigger all our defences. At the contrary, in the beginning, it went mostly unnoticed. Our systems didn’t react immediately, so it had the time to spread and compound. When we became aware of it, it was already everywhere.

If we want to change something in our lives, in our organisations or communities, rather than go head-on, we may try a more subtle approach. One based on small​ ​but consistent daily​ ​improvement​ ​that compounds to create the change we want.

One Apple A Day #675 – state of confusion

Richard Phillips Feynman was undoubtedly a genius. He may not be as popular as other scientists, but his contribution to quantum physics was essential. For his work on the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

He was the kind of guy you’d expect to be incredibly knowledgeable and capable of understanding everything anytime. Instead, as you can hear from his own voice in the video below, he admitted that he was, more often than not, in a state of confusion.

You see, it’s tempting to think of the great innovators and geniuses as superhumans with the incredible power of seeing the answers, knowing the direction, and envisioning what’s next with clarity. 

However, as Feynman revealed, the real power lies in their inability to understand things and acknowledge it not as a weakness, but as an opportunity. A source of wonder. 

Obviously, Feynman knew a lot of things. But, he found pleasure in not knowing and being forced to figure things out.

If there is one thing we can learn from the great innovators of the past, is that to create impactful results, we have to muddle through, with no guarantee of success while seeing the perfection of uncertainty. 

Most of us approach innovation because we want results. Preferably predictable results. 

But, as Feynman taught us, it’s only when we become comfortable with living in a state of confusion, that we can create wonder.

I learn about Feynman and his state of confusion from this article by Greg Satell

One Apple A Day #674 – it’s all perfect

“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”

This is what Katsumoto says to Nathan Algren in a scene of “The Last Samurai”. 

The quest for perfection.

This scene came up for me yesterday in a conversation with my friend and mentor, Sujith. We were reflecting on how many things that happened in our lives in the last weeks were perfectly timed. As if they were part of an invisible but perfectly crafted plan.

That image came to my mind when I realise that the quest for perfection is not an outward hunt. It is, instead, a practice through which we learn to see the perfection in everything.

When we become aware that everything is perfect, then everything becomes an opportunity. We unleash infinite creativity and abundance.

Perfection then, it’s not a characteristic of something but rather an inner state. An elusive and fleeting one, indeed. 

That’s why the quest for perfection is a lifelong practice. But, as Katsumoto says, a worthy one.

At the end of the movie, when Katsumoto is dying, he looks a the cherry blossom floating around him, finally able to find that perfection.

“Perfect. They… are all… perfect…”

One Apple A Day #673 – conversations

These last days, I’ve been struggling with my rhythm, my practices and rituals. Been disciplined is way harder than it used to be only a few days ago.

I feel like a sailor, wandering in the middle of the ocean under a night sky without stars. All the cues I learned to read to understand where I am and where I am going, are not there anymore.

Even time has changed.

It flows differently.

As I wrote yesterday, it is what it is, and I can’t change this situation.

But I can change myself.

It is time to find new cues, to learn new ways to navigate through life.

One idea, in this period, when we are forced to keep distance between each other, is to nurture the connection with others.

I will fill up my sky with a new constellation made of conversations.

One Apple A Day #672 – I am the one

We are all living, without doubts, a challenging situation. What is happening is shaking the foundations of our world at all levels; personal, professional, individual, social, economical. Our habits, routines and rituals have been disrupted. Most of the cues and frames through which we were able to read the reality around us, are useless now.

At least, this is what is happening to me. 

And I’ll be honest. 

There are moments, during the day in which I feel lost and powerless. It looks like no matter what we do, things keep getting worse. The flood of news and messages is not helping for sure. 

This morning I woke and realised that this tension is getting under my skin. I slept with my jaw tight, not a good sign.

So, this morning I enter my meditation with the only aim to relax, let go of the stress and find peace. 

And some words came up.

I am the one who’s asked to change and evolve.”

When I opened my eyes, I remember one of my all-time favourite books, “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” 

So, my question for today is “How can I change to thrive in this challenging time?

One Apple A Day #671 – Run Baby Run

My life is blessed by the presence of fantastic people with I can engage in inspiring conversations.
The other day I was telling my dear friend Luca, that sometimes I feel like a child lost in a crowded place.
I don’t know if it ever happened to you as a kid. Or maybe you’ve witnessed it. A child going around with her parents in a crowded place, like a square or mall, side by side. Then, maybe because she sees something fascinating or her parents got distracted for a second, the child loses the grip on her parent’s hand. All of a sudden, the parents are nowhere to be seen. Everything becomes big, dark and scary. The child, frightened and desperate, begins running around frantically to find her parents.
Sometimes, I feel like a lost child. And I find my inner child running around looking for the adult version of myself.
Though, we all know that the best solution is to stand still and wait to be found, fear pushes me to run around. Wasting energy and time.

Luca helped me see that, in my running, there may also be the desire to get out of a painful situation as soon as possible. The faster I run, the sooner I’m out.
How often does it happen in life? Because we are in pain, we accelerate thinking that this way, the pain will go away sooner. Instead, too often, we are just wasting energy, and a pause would help us see things more clearly.

Then the day after Giulia reminded me that, in our continually accelerating and changing society, we teach people that they must go faster if they want to keep the pace.
Run baby run.
But is true? What if we challenge the idea that faster is better?
Maybe, if we try to stand still, breath and wait for a moment, the way forward will find us.