One Apple A Day #536 – help others shine

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” —Ben Sweetland

My first boss was, he still is, an incredibly talented, smart and knowledgable person.
In my eyes, he knew everything about software development. We worked together for a long time, and we became friends. It was the time of the Internet Bubble, the beginning of this millennium. Life was great for software developers. We worked a lot, most of the time on exciting projects, and we were well paid.
During all those years, he kept teaching. It wasn’t a well-paid job, not compare to software development and, considering the amount of time spent in the office, I couldn’t understand why he was investing so much time in teaching.
When I asked him, he told me that teaching was the better way he knew to learn and improve himself.
I have to admit, I couldn’t really understand his answer at the time. To me, he was already the most competent person in my field.

But this morning, while I was reflecting upon the power of helping others shine, his story came up.
If you are struggling to overcome a tough situation, or you want to grow, but you can’t find your way forward, you can try helping someone else who’s on a similar journey. When you help someone else shine, their light will brighten your path.

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 #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 #533 – movement and rituality

Have you ever played golf?
I didn’t, at least not properly. But I tried to shoot some balls twice.
Once in New York at a practice field at the docks. A friend, who’s a player, took me there to had some fun. We got 50 balls, a golf club and we were set. He explained to me the basics, and for 20 minutes, I just tried to hit the ball without hitting anyone. I did my best with poor results, but it was fun.

Years later, while I was exploring the complexity of human emotions and how they influence our behaviours, my perspective on golf changed. I realised that it wasn’t about training the body or learning the movement, not only at least. It was more about training the mind and harnessing emotions to enter the flow state where the stroke just happens.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to hit a few balls at a friend’s house. But this time, I didn’t focus on hitting the ball. I kept my full attention on myself, my body, my sensations and my feelings. I experienced a short moment of peace as if I was within a bubble for a few seconds.
I’d love to say that my throws were great, but they weren’t. Though I hit the ball every time. What I enjoy the most is the experience of being able to create a bubble of intense focus and presence through movement and rituality.

One Apple A Day #532 – mirrors

Listening.
This is my intention and my desire for Today.
To be able to truly listen.
To someone else, because every time we listen with intent, we create a space where the other can empty her heart and mind, and find clarity.

But also to listen to myself.
And this is challenging.
How can I be the same person talking and listening?

Maybe, the only way I can listen to myself is through listening deeply to others.

We are all mirrors.

“We are the mirror, as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste of eternity this minute.
We are pain and what cures pain.
We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.
Soul of the world, no life, nor world remain,
no beautiful women and men longing.
Only this ancient love circling the holy black stone of nothing.
Where the lover is the loved, the horizon and everything within it.” ― Rumi

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 #530 – Anchor

It’s dawn in London, and I’m writing this on a bouncing train to the airport.
I’m tired and a bit sleepy so there is a high probability that this post won’t be one of my best.
Though, I needed these fifteen minutes of writing. No matter the outcome, I need to put some music, open the laptop and tap on the keyboard.
This moment is my anchor.
When I don’t do my morning writing, I can’t get through the day smoothly.
I found that for me it’s vital to have something I can anchor my day.
It helps me stay centred amidst the storms of life.
For me, it’s writing, for someone else it may be running or just sitting for a coffee with your family. If you are sailing through the sea of life, you need sails to catch the wind and move forward. You need a compass to know your way and a rudder to steer the trajectory.
But you also must be sure to carry an anchor with you.
So you’ll know that no matter what, you’ll always be able to ground yourself amid turbulences or maybe just to rest.

Do you have an anchor? What is it?

One Apple A Day #529 – environment

I wanted to write about the importance of having an anchor in our life.
But then I woke up with the birds singing, the sky over London is blue, from my window I can see the vivid green of grass and the tree of the park behind the house.
I saw all of that, and I stop for a minute to stay with it.
The more I stared at the beauty of nature, the more I feel peaceful and positive about the day ahead.
This moment of morning bliss reminded me of the importance of the environment that surrounds us. At home, at work, everywhere we go and operate. And with “environment” I mean everything around us; the location, the building, the furniture, the things but also the people.
If the environment in which we are immersed is not aligned with our intentions and values, it’s like rowing against the current. It can be done, but it drains all your energy just to move a little. But when there is alignment, then the environment becomes an amplifier.
Even more, the right environment can pull you in the direction you want to go and support you also when you’re tired or your motivation drops.

We can’t always choose the environment on which we are, that’s why it’s essential, anytime you can, to choose wisely what and who you want around you. Your environment can become one of your greatest assets.

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?