One Apple A Day #559 – How do I show up?

Before the challenges of life – the small and personal ones, so close to us to fill up our vision, and the big ones that are shaping the future of humanity – we usually ask ourselves “what can I do?“.

What can I do for climate change?
What can I do for the dear friend who’s going through a tough time?
What can I do to be happier with my partner?

All powerful and essential questions without an easy answer.
As a result, too often the answer is “nothing“.
So, I am wondering. What if “what can I do” is the wrong question?
What if we turn the direction of our quest inward by asking “Who can I be“?

Or, if you want to make it more practical, then you should ask “How do I show up?“.

How do I show up amid climate change?
How do I show up for my dear friend who’s going through a tough time?
How do I show up with my partner?

But be aware, because these are challenging questions. They ask you to look inward, to check your intentions and, above all, you can’t use “nothing” as a valid answer.
Neither you can postpone the action that comes with the answer.
Because this is about your identity, your being.

“The word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your repeated beingness.” — James Clear

The way you show up here and now, is how you show up every day in everything.

One Apple A Day #552 – responsibility and freedom

Bureaucracy.
This is the word that emerged and filled up my mind this morning.
Not a fanciest or most inspiring word in my dictionary, for sure.

I have a complicated relationship with bureaucracy. At any levels and in any context.
Sure, the worst experience is when I have to do with the public administration. In those cases, I feel as if bureaucracy has been carefully designed to create uncertainty and doubts.
But to be honest, I struggle anytime some rules and procedures overshadow human relationships to make things happen.

To me, bureaucracy is the epitome of a form depleted of the energy from which it manifested.

So, I woke up with this word in mind, and I want to do something with it, not just vent out my annoyances.

I remember a quote that I read a while ago.

“Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

That made me immediately think about the relationship between freedom and responsibility.

In a workshop that I did a few months ago precisely on this topic, I’ve been reminded that responsibility is the “Ability to respond” to situations.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

So, freedom and responsibility are strongly linked.

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

If we don’t feel free, we won’t take responsibility. But if we don’t take responsibility for our words and actions, we can’t be free.

I recollect many conflictual conversations in different organisations, where employees were asking for more freedom and the manager were asking for more responsibility. And they couldn’t find an agreement; apparently, they were asking for two different things without realising that they were just talking about two sides of the same coin.

Great! So, where do we start? From responsibility or from freedom?

It looks like a typical chicken or egg problem.

“The first step toward personal freedom is awareness.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

My feeling is that we should always start by expanding our awareness.

One Apple A Day #550 – focus on nothing

What you focus on expands.

I’m sure you already experience this straightforward law. When you focus entirely on one thing, that thing fills up all your sensory space.
I experience the power of this law every morning when I approach this writing exercise. If I focus on the white page before me, it quickly fills up my mind until I’m stuck, unable to write a single word.

So, I know I have to find an idea before opening a new file. Most of the time is just a small seed like a sentence, an image or just a word. Once the seed is there, I focus on it for a minute or two. I allow for that seed to expand until it becomes an idea, and it wants to flow out.

This morning, the seed is a question.

What would happen if I deliberately decide to focus on nothing?

Being able to laser focus on something is extremely powerful. It removes all distractions, so our energy is wholly devoted to making happen the target of our attention. It’s one of the first concepts taught by all experts in high performances.

So, what happens if I deliberately turn off my attention?
When I don’t have a goal to reach, a target for my attention and I just am?
I’m not sure I can describe it in words.
I remember feeling like that when I was wandering in Patagonia with my best friend. We didn’t have anything to focus on but fully being in the moment.
And it was bliss.

One Apple A Day #549 – Make it personal

Don’t take anything personally” is the second of the four agreements shared by Don Miguel Ruiz in his most famous book, The Four Agreements.

Ruiz reminds us that nothing other people do is because of us, but it is because of themselves. Using his words: “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.

This is a powerful reminder that would remove a lot of tension and stress from our life. We spend so much time worrying about the opinions of others. In doing so, we let those opinions shape our behaviours and, in the end, our lives.

As Ruiz wrote: “You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in the dream of hell. What causes you to be trapped is what we call personal importance. Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about me.

What happens around me is not about me. It may impact my life, indeed, but it is not about me.

Though, in my experience, I’ve learned that only when I make something personal, I really give everything I got to make things happen.

So, my agreement becomes “Don’t take anything personally, but make everything personal.

Whatever happens around me, it is not about me, but it is part of me as much as I am part of it. So, I won’t take it personally, but I’ll make it personal infusing my whole being into my doing.

“If we understand and feel that every animal, person and object is our very own self, we cannot go wrong. That is the experience of love.” — Rupert Spira

One Apple A Day #546 – I am only a visitor

I took a few trains these last two days, and I’ve spent some time waiting at the stations. To most, the time spent waiting in stations and airports is probably time wasted. Not for me.

I’ve always been fascinated by stations and airports.
Maybe because I love the space in-between things.
And a train station is exactly that; an interstitial space in-between an arrival and a departure.

One of my favourite games is to sit in the hall of a station to observe the people around me and imagine their stories. Each person is a universe of experiences, emotions, relationships.

Where are they going? Where are they coming from? What are they leaving behind, or what are they going towards? Are they fugitives or seekers?

Each one unique and yet all sharing the same humanity. A myriad of different voices in one infinite conversation.

This incredible constellation of diverse stories all in the same place is a beautiful reminder that we are all unique and all one at the same time.

Isn’t that magical?

I’m writing this in the hall of a small train station.
When I started writing, this place was crowded with people commuting to work and school. In less than 15 minutes, everyone is gone, and now I’m alone in the waiting room with my small bag. And I just remembered a short story I read a while ago.

In the last century, a tourist from the States visited the famous Polish Rabbi Hafez Hayyim.

He was astonished to see that the Rabbi’s home was only a simple room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and a bench.

“Rabbi, where is your furniture?” asked the tourist.

“Where is yours?” replied Hafez.

“Mine? But I’m only a visitor here.”

“So am I,” said the Rabbi.

One Apple A Day #540 – the joy of missing out

You’ve probably read about a thing called FOMO or Fear of missing out. It is – according to Wikipedia – “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.
This fear is made worse by social media, where we are regularly exposed to the glittering life of others.
Crawling beneath this fear, there is the need to be seen and to be heard.

I thought I was free from this phenomenon until a friend made me realise that I may have a tendency to say yes to too many things. Sometimes, stretching myself a bit too much, until I feel guilty for not being able to keep what I promise.

Am I pushed but the fear of missing out something?

So, this morning I dug out a little more. I believe mine is a slightly different version of FOMO. I’m not worried to miss out an opportunity to be seen. I’m afraid that I may miss out a chance to find meaning.
So, this morning I’m writing this to remind myself that in the search for meaning, what we don’t do is as important than what we choose to do.

One Apple A Day #537 – it starts from not knowing

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” —Josh Billings

Yes, it happened to me many times. It still happens.
Let’s be honest, when reality doesn’t fit with what we know for sure, it’s more comfortable to lie to ourselves than challenge our truth.

The world is full of opportunities to learn and grow. But you’ll never begin a learning process unless you become aware and accept what you don’t know.

On the 20th February 1969, Martin M. Broadwell published on “The Gospel Guardian” the 17th and last part of a series titled “Teaching For Learning”. In his article, Broadwell introduced a new learning model that he labelled “the four levels of teaching“. Or, how it is often called “the four stages of competence“.
The founding idea of the model is that we ‘can’t being a learning journey if we are unaware of what or how much we know. He calls this first state of being unaware of not knowing the “unconscious incompetence” state. As we progress with our learning, we go through four psychological states until we reach the last one; the “unconscious competence” stage.

Let’s take a look at the four stages.

  1. Unconscious incompetence: at this stage, we don’t know how to do something, and we don’t recognise the deficit. Only when we become aware and accept our incompetence, we can move forward and start a learning process.
  2. Conscious incompetence: at this stage, we recognise our deficit, and we start the learning process to address that gap. Rules, forms and imitation are essential to building the competence we need.
  3. Conscious competence: we have finally acquired the skills we wanted, but to use them, we must be deliberate in our actions. The newly acquired skills may be now easy to use, but they require attention and for us to be conscious. Being conscious of how we use our capabilities allow us to go deeper and integrate the new behaviours in our identity. We are shifting from Doing to Being.
  4. Unconscious competence: finally, what we have learned become “second nature“. The new skills become part of our identity. We don’t do them anymore, they are integral to who we are.

One Apple A Day #535 – don’t resist, embrace

I usually write my daily apple at home, in the quiet stillness of the dawn. Today it was not possible as we had to leave early so, here I am in a lively cafè with the latecomers having their quick espresso before rushing to their offices.
We can’t always control the situations around us, disruptions happen. But, as Viktor Frankl wrote, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
When something is meaningful for us, we adapt and find a way through. And as you know, this writing pause is my daily anchor.

And somehow, this disruption in my routine fits with the thoughts that have been spinning in my mind since yesterday evening. I attended a workshop about emotional intelligence, and I left with the awareness that we can’t stop emotions from emerging.
The idea that we can leave our emotions behind in some environment, typically work, can lead to a great deal of stress and pressure. There are things you can’t stop from happening such us changing, moving, communicating and feeling emotions.

We change, no matter how much we would like to stay the same.
We move, no matter how much we try to stay still.
As the psychologist and philosopher Paul Watzlawick said, “One cannot not communicate” because “every behaviour is a form of communication”.
And you can’t stop emotions from emerging within you.

Resisting is energy consuming. This is why it is important to embrace, own and take care of your emotions. So you can harness them to create a positive impact within and without you.
And the first step, as I learned yesterday evening, is to recognise your emotions and give them a name.

One Apple A Day #531 – show don’t tell

“In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” — Anton Chekhov

This morning this few words appeared in my mind while I was doing some stretching to wake up my body; “show, don’t tell”.

It’s an expression used to summarise a writing technique. If you’re writing about something, you can describe what’s going on, providing all the information and details, including feelings and emotions. Or you can paint a picture through which the readers can feel the experience as if they were living it.
In the first case, you’re telling, in the second one you’re showing.

The short excerpt at the opening of this post comes from a letter that Chekhov wrote to his brother, and I think it explains the concept perfectly.

Now that we know what “show, don’t tell” means, I’m left with a big question mark and only two minutes to finish this post.

Where is this thought coming from? And what should I do with it?

Maybe it’s related to the experience of last days. I had been talking and coaching with people from different part of the worlds. We used the English language for our conversations even thou, it was not the native language for any of us. And the different styles are just the surface of a more profound richness of cultural nuances.
In those situations, telling doesn’t work.
If I tell how I feel using the words I know, the other person may never really feel the connection. I won’t be able to spark empathy. But if I show how I feel, I can go beyond the boundaries of words and create a real connection.

One Apple A Day #527 – chaos

“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.” — from Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Chaos is scary because it is unpredictable.
You can create the conditions for chaos to happen, but you can’t design it. Our brain is a predicting machine. It continuously evaluates the situation to find clues that will trigger behaviour in response. In every moment, our brain tries to fit the complexity of the world within the map of reality it has built over time.
But amidst chaos everything gets blurred and mixed up, clues are hard to find, and our mental framework becomes almost useless.

For all these reasons, chaos can’t be modelled or replicated. So, it is hard to deliberately create chaos to solve a problem. Though, chaos is generative. Because we can’t rely on what we know, we are forced to connect with the energy, to use our intuition and to trust.

Chaos challenges our beliefs, and in doing so, it helps us evolve beyond the boundaries of our mental framework.

“Unless some degree of chaos is permitted to enter the system, no further progress can be made. Sometimes, to create new structures, the old ones must be destroyed so the blocks can be recombined in different ways.” — From Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray