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 #544 – no meaning

A few days ago, during a casual conversation, someone asked: “why do wasps exist?“. It was an innocent question due to the annoying presence of some wasps in the house. But that question made me think, so I asked a bit more. We discuss the fact that wasps, apparently, have not a known role like bees, they don’t make honey.
I realise how human-centric is our vision of the universe. So, I push the conversation a bit further asking: “interesting, so why do we exist?“.
Obviously, I wasn’t expecting an answer. We just laugh together about the whole conversation. Plus, a quick search on google showed us that wasps, like bees, pollinate plants and flowers. So, they have a vital role in nature.

But the role of wasps is not the point. The point is that when we ask about the meaning of life or of anything in the universe, we are pointing our attention in the fruitless direction. It is only when we look inward, and we ask ourselves what meaning we want to give to our presence in the universe, that we take responsibility for our lives and in the end, find freedom.

“We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” – Viktor E Frankl

One Apple A Day #541 – release

A dear friend once told me that if you keep a bow always under pressure, it becomes less effective and may even break. So, it’s essential to loosen the tension of a bow when we’re not using it.

Yesterday I had a quite intense day with many fruitful conversations and productive working sessions but without any proper breaks.
When the evening arrived, my mind was exhausted, and I couldn’t think clearly.
Luckily for me, I went out to chill out with two fantastic friends. Nothing fancy, just three friends having some beer, cracking a few jokes and sharing some good laughs. Those two hours of lightness recharged my batteries.
This morning I woke with some new ideas to work around some of the obstacles where I was stuck yesterday.

I’m now ready to stretch the bow again and throw some arrows.

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 #539 – being silly

“It is well known that humour, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” – by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning

Here I am, with three minutes left of my fifteen-minutes writing slot and nothing to share. This morning I wanted to write about serious silliness – one of BeTheChange cards – and about the importance of infusing humour to our life.

But after more than ten minutes tapping on the keyboard, the result was a sequence of severe sentences. And it struck me how often, in the effort of being playful and seriously silly, I end up being ridiculously serious. It happens anytime I approach playfulness from the doing perspective. As a result, I bring my heaviness into what should be a playful experience.
Being seriously silly, it’s an attitude, a state of the being that infuses everything we do.
What does it mean to do something with a playful attitude?

So, my invitation for today is to be a little silly while doing serious stuff.

One Apple A Day #534 – curiosity

One day I was playing with some kids. Tough stuff like jumping, running, doing somersaults, throwing stuff. For some reasons, kids think that I’m a good playmate for this kind of things.
Anyway, we were playing and having fun when one of them threw something at me. He hit me quite heavily on the chest. Because I’m an adult, it was just a bit painful, but it could be worst if he targeted one of the other kids. So, I told him that what he just did wasn’t fun at all, that it was painful and I didn’t want to play in that way.

I can still see his puzzle eyes staring at me, trying to find a sense in what had just happened. His curious mind was combining information and creating new connections.

I admit, for a moment I envied him, his not knowing, his curiosity, his need to experience the world first-hand to find meaning and discover the boundaries. With all our knowledge we know, or we think we know, the outcome of an action before trying. Even if we never did it before. And those expectations set boundaries from the very beginning.

What would happen if you go into something with the innocent curiosity of children? Are you able to set aside all your knowledge and jump fully into the experience?

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 #528 – defining moments

“When a defining moment comes along, you can do one of two things. Define the moment, or let the moment define you. “— from the movie “Tin Cup”.

I don’t remember how I ended up watching this movie years ago. It’s not really Oscar’s material. Probably it was before the “on-demand” era when there weren’t many choices on TV. Anyway, I remember nothing about that movie but that sentence. And it comes back anytime I am, or someone I love is, going through a tough moment.*

I believe that somehow every moment is a defining moment. In the sense that every moment contributes to shaping your identity. Every moment in life we are called to choose how we want to respond to external circumstances. Our choice, as we saw in a previous post, will cast a vote towards the person we want to be.

But some moments are more defining than others. I’m talking about those events that can turn a life upside down. From the positive ones — having a baby, falling in love with someone, or winning the lottery — to the negative ones — losing someone you love, a divorce or a nasty illness.
In those moments, it may feel as if the universe has something against you and it’s easy to feel lost and without any way out or forward your current situation.

But we always have a choice.

“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

If you hide from that choice, then it’s highly probable that the moment will define you. But if you choose to own the moment, you can define it and transform it into a growth opportunity.
I’m not saying you can turn things around just because you decide to.
Some situation can’t just be changed or are outside your sphere of control.
But you can decide how you show up.

“Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” — Viktor Frankl

So, if you are going through a defining moment, you may want to ask yourself “who do I want to be in this situation? What can I change about this situation? What can I change about myself? What opportunities to grow are here for me?”

* I’ve searched the scene on youtube. I believe that when the character, played by Kevin Costner, said that sentence to explain his stubbornness more than to talk about the importance of owning the moment. Though, that statement is still compelling.

One Apple A Day 526 – explore and exploit

Today I want to write about passion. Or better, about the lack of it.
When I was a child, I didn’t know what my passion was. Sure, there were many things that I love, reading above all, but I didn’t have a clear idea of who I wanted to become.
Things didn’t get better growing up. I can’t remember a moment when I thought “this is it, my passion, what I’m going to do from now on”.
Instead, I went using a trial and error approach.
An approach that I’ve been refining over the years and it worked quite well for me. Though, I still have that subtle feeling of envy when I meet someone who has a burning passion for something; a person on a mission.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many people haven’t found that defining passion or mission, yet.

And you know what? It’s ok.

It’s ok to be searching and trying. Isn’t it the quest for our mission a mission on itself?
The important thing is to keep searching, trying and learning. Fragments of the picture will emerge along the way. Our passion will grow within us while, at the same time, we will grow into it.

Of course, there’s a problem with this approach: life is short.

We need to find the best explore/exploit trade-off.
Find something that works for you, something on which you get higher returns than the average person and exploit it. But always keep a window open for exploration, to try new things and when you find something that works well, exploit it integrating it with what you’re already doing.

One Apple A Day 525 – the master is ready also

This morning I walked my niece to school. It’s a five-minute walk through a small industrious village of the Italian countryside. On the way to the school, she told me about her day’s ahead, what she likes and what not. Her stories about school make me often think about how we approach education here, but that’s a good topic that won’t fit in a fifteen minutes writing slot.
On the way back, I was thinking about the relationship between a student and a master. In the last two years, I met many people who have taught me a lot. They are not teachers in the proper sense. They are friends, colleagues, partners, fellow travellers in the walk of life. Yet, more than once each one of them has been a master to me.

I was thinking about this while walking home, and I remembered reading somewhere that “the student makes the master” or something like that.

So, I ask Google, and I found out that the quote that I remember was “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” A quote that is often presented as a Buddhist proverb.

As I always do, I dig a bit more until I discovered that Buddha has nothing to do with it. Instead, it is an old Theosophical statement taken from a book titled Light on the Path, wrote in 1886 by Mabel Collins. The statement is a bit more poetic, and it says; “for when the disciple is ready the master is ready also.

Anyway, even if the quote has some weird and questionable origins, it resonates with me.  Any time I embrace a learning mindset, a “master” manifests before me. Sometimes the master is a person, other times it is something else like a piece of art, an event or nature herself.

I think the lesson for me is that if we want to learn something, before finding a master, we must embrace the learner’s mindset.

P.S. I just realised I already wrote about this not long ago. What is the lesson here?