RIP, Roy Batty

I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments will be lost… in time… like… tears… in rain. Time… to die.

Rutger Hauer, Roy Batty from Blade Runner, died last week.

Despite all the contributions that make Blade Runner a classic – the imaginative creation of LA of the future, the direction of Ridley Scott, the atmospheric music of Vangelis, the story of Philip K. Dick, the script of Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, the acting of Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and others – I’d argue that it was the final words of Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, that are primarily responsible for Blade Runner’s status.

Roy Batty’s words resonate because of everything that leads up to the moment on the roof – the parallel experience of Roy Batty and Deckard, the injured hands, the broken bodies, the loss of loved ones, the desperate scramble for life.  The words resonate, somewhere deep inside of us, in a way that is hard to articulate.

With a few brief words that appear nowhere else in the movie – Attack ships on fire, the shoulder of Orion, C-beams, Tannhäuser Gate – Roy Batty tells us of the uniqueness of his replicant experience, full of beauty, awe, richness and longing. Just like any other human being, unable to fully share with another, one’s experience  of the mystery of consciousness.

Then, with the next sentence ,  “All those… moments will be lost… in time… like… tears… in rain,” Roy Batty yokes his experience to our human experience of the universe, finite, yet infinite; unique, yet part of a multitude; universal, yet distinct.

Finally, with, “…Time to die”, Roy Batty accepts his fate, spares Deckard, and like a human, goes from Form to Emptiness. Like a human at the time of their passing, unable to control the transition. Something left behind, something going away.  Neither sufficient by itself, each part necessary, the whole greater than the parts.

Truly, “more human, than human.”

Thank you, Rutger Hauer/Roy Batty, your moments will never be lost in time, because you showed us what it means to be human!

Resolutions VS Goals

The start of the New Year is when most people make their Resolutions for the upcoming year. Lose weight. Eat better. Exercise. Save more. Etc.

Also most people, abandon their resolutions, two weeks into the month of January. That initial fire doesn’t last very long. What happens? For some, the inertia of their situation eventually takes over. For others, it is too hard to create a new habit.

Perhaps, people should think about it as a Goal, instead of a resolution, and apply the SMART elements.

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Time bound

While this may require a lot more thought and planning up front, it will also increase the chances of success.

Good luck until 2019, only another 364 days to go!

A Decisive Moment

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While best associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson, the term “decisive moment” is actually a quotation from Cardinal de Retz:

There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment, and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”

We go through lives in a stupor, and don’t see this truth. When this truth becomes evident with startling clarity, often, it is as it applies to our health.

Health can change very suddenly, and then nothing is the same. An illness that turns out to be more than just a cold. A diagnosis of an unknown chronic disease. An accident.

When this happens, we look for causes, because human beings are storytellers. We create these elaborate chains of causality, trying to find the decisive moment. We try to explain, deny or fight what happened. We look for excuses or visualize alternate pasts, hinging on alternate actions at a particular moment .

“If I hadn’t stepped off the sidewalk, the car wouldn’t have hit me.”

“If I had been paying attention, I wouldn’t have cut my tendon.”

“If I hadn’t shared the ……., I wouldn’t have picked up ………”

But this dissembling hides the truth. The deep truth is, sometimes, there is no cause. The links of causality could not have been any different. There is no one decisive moment, a moment when everything changed, that can be pulled out and examined, revisited and relived with exquisite care –– every moment is a decisive moment.

It is only when we accept this truth, that we can find a way forward. Every moment of our lives, is a decisive moment.

We cannot explain it, deny it, or fight it. We can only accept it. And when we accept it, we can find a way forward. Because then we give up the self-indulgence of an alternate past. Because then we give up the hope of a prior imagined future. We stop blaming ourselves and others for what happened.

We face the reality of this immediate moment, every moment, a decisive moment, with gratitude for what we have, without blame for what could have been and without regret for what wasn’t.

The Tillerson Tragedy

How does a person rise to the top of a large company and then behave like Tillerson in this article? How does one become a CEO while being so tone deaf? How does one lose all ability when moving from a company to government?

Tillerson rose through all those different levels, to become CEO of Exxon for 10 years. Almost surely, every time, he had to have been selected over another person, because of his personal characteristics, or the business results he delivered. How could he such a poor manager at State? How could he not realize the impact of his actions or non actions? Could Exxon have been making an error, every time, by continuing to promote Tillerson?

Humans are truly unknowable if they are able to behave like this. Human processes are so error prone, if they could deliver this result.

What a sad state of affairs! For Tillerson to go down in history as the worst US Secretary of State. For his tenure to be an unmitigated disaster. All citizens of the USA, and people of the world deserve better!

 

 

I Was So Afraid I Would Die

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“I was so afraid I would die, you know,” said my barber as I sat in her chair, while she cut my hair.

We all have these moments when we are not in control.

I sat down in the barber’s chair, politely asked her, “How have you been?” and then relaxed as she started her story.

She tied the neck strip, and draped the barber’s cape around my body. “Oh, I just came back from Vietnam. I was visiting my family there, you know. I had just got there, when I started getting pain in my stomach,” she said. “It was so bad, I thought I was going to die. I thought, ‘Am I having a heart attack? I’m vomiting, I have a fever. Why does it hurt so much?'” The scissors clipped my hair as I saw her reflected in the mirror.

“I went and saw a doctor, and he said, ‘You have gall stones, and need to have surgery right now.'” Her eyes were focused on my head as she kept going around the chair, her hands darting and taking off errant hair, the click-clack sounds creating a rhythm, puffs of hair dropping in my lap, onto the barber’s cape.

“I had to go in for the surgery, and I thought – if I die, what will happen to my clothes, my shoes and my handbags? All my things, you know? Back in the United States? Who would take care of them? Where would they go?”

We don’t like to think of what will happen after we are gone, and when we do, there are more questions than answers. Answering these questions requires too many hard conversations with loved ones. So we maintain the patina of normalcy, and don’t have the conversations – unless, of course, we cannot ignore the premonitions of mortality provided by our bodies. Then, all of a sudden, the questions are irresistible, overpowering, suffocating, beating down the carefully maintained door of our consciousness, demanding attention.

“I had my surgery and it went well, and I am back here, you know, but I was so scared of dying in Vietnam.”

As I sat and looked at her reflection, I suddenly saw her as a full human being. Not just with physical scars visible on her body, but also hidden psychological scars on her mind, received through her experiences.

Just like all of us.

What To Do When Feeling Stuck?

The feeling of being stuck, with no escape

Stuck, with no escape

photo credit: Pozzo di San Patrizio via photopin (license)

Just over the last few weeks, in several conversations, the same theme has emerged:

“I feel I did the wrong course. What I want to do is different from what I’ve studied.”

“I have anxiety and I cannot sleep. I wish things were different.”

“I am in this job, and cannot quit. Because how do I find something comparable?”

” I wish I could lose 50 pounds. But it is so hard to lose weight.”

These are the times when we find ourselves “stuck”, when change is hard and feels impossible. We wish we were somewhere else, a different place, a different time, in a different relationship, a different body. That we had done something different in the past, so we wouldn’t be here today. That only if we could make someone do what we want them to do, our life would be so much better. That only if we had something – a new status, a new possession, a new development in a relationship, a new job, we would feel OK.

That the present moment is not OK.

I am familiar with these feelings. I have struggled too with this thinking. The feeling of being wronged, being misunderstood, being in a place where I don’t want to be, or think I deserve to be.

My words below are the opposite of a recommendation for passivity. Instead they are a clarion call for action with compassion and courage, for beginning, and beginning again and again, not giving up.

Imagine, yourself, “stuck.”

Recognize you are suffering. That you are worthy of compassion, sympathy, love and caring, just like you would help a friend who came to you with such a problem.

Accept the situation you are in. The present cannot be any different, because we can’t go back and change the past.

The future, however, doesn’t have to be the same as the present. That, you, yourself, decide your destiny. Change lies in your hards, and you need the courage to start and move, even if it seems impossible.

Most importantly, to make a change, even if it is a small beginning. To be consistent with this change, even if you fail and have to start again. The biggest danger is to stop because you did not see any results. Your responsibility is just for action, without negativity or blame for failing, with kindness and compassion for yourself.

Don’t let others get you down with criticism or find fault in your progress. You have the responsibility to act, no matter what.

Finally, every day is a new start, a new opportunity. Make the most of it. Just begin again.

 

 

Less Than Perfect

 

 

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9576892

Wabi-sabi: Accepting transience and imperfection

What happens when you are not the best you can be with someone you love?

This evening, while driving N home, I asked if he had spoken to his coach about missing practice, like I had asked him to do. N replied that he had, but in his own way, leaving out what I felt was an important detail.

The frustration of a long day caught up with me. With a raised voice, I pointed out, where, several times in the recent past, N hadn’t done exactly what I had asked him to do. By the time I finished, N had tears in his eyes.

I remember a Q&A session at a meditation retreat. I asked the monk how I could protect my children from hurt and suffering, since I am not with them during most of their day. The monk replied that I couldn’t save anyone else from suffering. I could only save the person I was with 24 hours a day – myself.

Not only had I not protected N, I had contributed to his distress. I had modeled a focus on missing details, instead of complimenting N on his independence in talking to his coach. I had demonstrated how to carry troubles of the past, unresolved conversations, unfinished tasks, anxiety for the future, all the disappointments of the day; I had illustrated how to unload this ammunition onto an unsuspecting loved one.

After I apologized to N, because of his big and generous heart, he accepted my heartfelt apology.

But I carried the disquiet of my behavior into the evening. How to forgive oneself?

First, with acceptance of the hurt from my thoughtless words to my son.

Second, by letting go of the deep regret I felt for the way I had behaved.

Third, by resolving to be more mindful and in the moment, by not carrying the burden of a frustrating day into my next conversation.

Finally, by accepting that I am less than perfect, human, still a work in progress.

 

Show Up and Own It

Ergs ready for competition

Getting Ready for the Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championship

 

The Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championship took place last weekend at Canada College. All the prep work was done by parents and rowers from Stanford Rowing Center on Saturday, Feb 6.

A task list was circulated by the coach, and parents and rowers signed up for different tasks – loading the ergs, unloading and arranging the ergs, testing the ergs, etc. However, no one was directly in charge to issue orders and allocate work.

With this uncertainty on what to do next, some parents and rowers jumped right in and started doing something, even if they didn’t know exactly what to do. They saw someone working and said, “Can I give you a hand with what you are doing?” Other parents and rowers stood around, averted their eyes, and checked their phones.

Why would someone volunteer and show up at an event, and then not be fully engaged in the work? In no particular order, here is my effort to understand this behavior. I thought about this as I drove home after the prep work was completed:

  1. They didn’t really want to do work, but wanted to say that they had volunteered. They wanted to be seen as a volunteer.
  2. There was something more important going on in their life at that time – school, family, work, etc., but since they had committed to showing up, they did so. But their mind was elsewhere.
  3. They didn’t feel comfortable breaking the ice and introducing themselves to someone they didn’t know. Or asking a more experienced person what to do. Because of social anxiety, they retreated to their phones.
  4. The tasks they wanted to do were already being done by other parents/rowers. They didn’t want to do open tasks, and no one was there to tell them what to do.

Nonetheless, all the work got done on Saturday. Sunday was again managed by volunteers, and it was a spectacularly successful event, on-time and well organized.

To organize and run a successful event, doesn’t require everyone to be 100% committed. Even varying levels of engagement are enough, as long as a core group is fully engaged.

But it sure is more fun, if you Show Up and Own It!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit to the Hospital

Entry to the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital

Cath Lab at Stanford

Yesterday, I had an unscheduled visit to Stanford Hospital for a relative. Chest pain, Emergency Room visit, then the Cath Lab. While waiting for the doctor to come out and give us an update, I reflected on the transience of life.

One moment and everything is different.

Thinking is clear. Priorities are uncomplicated. Relationships regain importance. Words have urgency. Time is finite.

Why can’t we carry over this clarity of thought into our daily lives?

Perhaps it is because we suppress thoughts of our mortality, that we will all exit stage right. Constantly thinking of our own mortality could lead to a defeatist attitude – why does anything matter anyway.

Perhaps we make ourselves the center of the universe, and think everything revolves around us. Since we are so important, of course, we will always be there.

Perhaps it is the mystery of an event that has no experiential answer. If there is no answer, why think about it.

Perhaps societal norms guide us to ignoring the finiteness of our bodies. No one wants to strike up a casual conversation about mortality. When such a conversation is necessary, it is accompanied by uncomfortable emotions.

Perhaps thinking about our own physical transience is accompanied by too much regret and remorse. We revisit actions that we would do differently, and mull over actions we should have taken.

Then the doctor came out and gave us an update. All had gone well, the angioplasty was successful, the patient was recovering.

But I am still reflecting on these thoughts and feelings and hoping to carry the urgency and clarity of those moments into my daily life.

 

 

 

A Small Beginning

A game in progress

Game

When starting something new, I hear so many voices in my head:

  1. Will I fail?
  2. Will it be hard?
  3. What if I do it wrong?
  4. What if it is not good enough?
  5. And the big one – What will others think?

It has taken me a long time, and I am still a work in progress, but I have developed an approach for such questions.

The approach is to start with a small beginning and think of it as a game.

A game has goals, rules and feedback, which can also be applied to a task in our lives. But a game downplays and sidesteps questions like those above. In a game, if you fall over, you get another chance. If you die, you get a new life. If you hit an obstacle, you get another attempt. Because dealing with failure is built into the mental framework of the game, I find that I can sidestep the critical mind that raises questions.

This is similar to meditation. During meditation the instruction is let your thoughts arise and pass without any judgment. Similarly, a game calls for no judgment as you play. Without any judgment, everything becomes easier.

Still a work in progress, but with a new and hopeful approach.