Having chosen to swallow the red pill...

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Rightful Livelihood

I am currently struggling with the 5th precept of the Noble Eightfold Path, namely ‘right livelihood.’ I am constantly plagued by the question, ‘What is the right livelihood for me?’ I wish that I was one of these people that knew that they wanted to become a doctor from the age of three, became a doctor and never looked back. I feel that there is something that I am meant to be doing, but I don’t know what it is, and that thought stresses me. I am about to drop everything and change direction completely but keep getting cold feet and second-guessing myself. To change direction will mean certain sacrifices for my wife and I, whilst I am studying again. I feel that, as I didn’t get it right the first time, there is even more pressure for this to be ‘right’ this time. Coupled with this move, will be a shift in lifestyle, where I move from an area of work with the potential to make very good money, into one where my ‘services to humanity’ form a big part of the monthly pay check, and I want to be able to make the mental move too, where I get such satisfaction from the work that I do that I can move beyond the need for material acquisition. That I can see my happiness and feeling of peace as greater payment than having a full bank account and the material trappings of a ‘successful’ lifestyle. It makes sense, to move from the need to ‘make a killing’ towards the need to ‘earn a living’. I posed the following question to the Laughing Buddha (http://www.lifepositive.com/askbuddha.asp):

‘What should I work with?’

The answer, in its typically Zen riddle form was: ‘Come easy… go easy and relax.’ There is definitely something in that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

On the pleasures of raw herring and schnapps... and sex.

The summer solstice slipped past my radar on Monday. For us here, it meant sun down at 21:55 and sunrise at 04:24. And now, bit-by-bit, the days begin getting shorter. If that wasn't depressing enough, the thermometer by my office window measures 16.5 degrees and it has been raining the past few hours. In fact it has been raining for most of the past few days. I have to cycle home soon, and must acknowledge with a Zen-like forbearance that I am going to get wet.

Still, on the bright side, Ellie and I are going to go shopping this evening, ready for 'Midsommar'. Over here, 'Midsommar', literally a celebration of summer, is celebrated in a pure and charming way with flowers, dancing, singing, good food and drink. The girls wear elaborate braids of flowers in their hair and white cotton dresses, we all dance around the 'Midsommarstång' ,a pole with two balls at the top of it (are you getting the fertility references yet?) then we eat a fine meal of raw herring, breads, cheeses and wash it all down with schnapps and strawberries. With the extra daylight, the evening is long and its no coincidence that the birth rate rises around March the following year!

This year, we are going up the coast to Ellie's cousins. I can't wait. We are having breakfast with her sister + husband + kids on Friday morning, then driving-up in convoy, ready to start the celebrations around 13:00. The following day, I am hoping to take her younger cousins to watch the latest Harry Potter. The day after we are driving further up north into the woods and lakes of Småland, to visit the glass factories that make the region famous, and then on Monday, we will drive leisurely back to Malmö.

I am so excited that I just hope tomorrow doesn’t drag its feet…

You go to work
but on the pillow
your smell lingers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Where I discover that a piece of furniture can symbolise so much

It is my birthday next week, and my nearest and dearest are going through the yearly ritual of trying to find out just what the hell I want for my birthday. The problem is that I either never know, or if I do know, it is either too expensive or they consider it boring.

This year, I know what I want, but I know not why and its messing me up and its all going wrong, somehow. < Takes a deep breath> Ok, let’s start at the beginning. I want a piece of furniture that I have had my eye on in a second-hand store down the road from where I work. Ellie doesn’t like it, but in a great spirit of self-sacrifice has relented, because she can see that I do like it.

I do like it, but I don’t know why. It is best described as a wooden unit that sits in a corner of a room. It has bookshelves, drawers, cupboards and a small bar inside the unit. I think that the outside of it is teak or teak veneer and the back, true to form, is plywood, so it’s not a ‘luxury’ furniture item. It does, however, contain a innate charm, sort of ‘wabi’ where somehow its simplicity and functionality gives it a beauty. It is also pregnant with possibilities. I see myself sitting down beside it in the basement, its shelves stacked with my books, reading in an evening. I see myself talking to a friend and opening the bar section to pour the two of us a whisky, and continue talking. It would seem that this simple piece of furniture could help substitute my basement into the study I want. It is not a study, but it would be close.

But somehow I also fear that the joy that has built-up from the possibility of me owning this piece of furniture, will diminish, as it always does, once it is in my possession. That I will enjoy it for a while and then the pleasure will go and it will sit in the basement as a reminder of my foolishness and of how easily my desire can trick me…

…And somehow, to make it worse, here I am deliberating whether I get this piece of furniture for my birthday, and I read today that the average coffee plantation worker in Haiti must work three days to earn the amount we pay for an espresso and this cost a whole load more than an espresso! Crap. Now I feel bad and the whole thing was meant to be about a birthday and feeling good.

There is a riddle in here somewhere and I really want someone to help me solve it.

Brown rice
and vegetables.
A meal for one.

Monday, June 21, 2004

What I meant to say at SPERM before the red wine kicked-in and time ran out…

Gentlemen of SPERM, congratulations. This little group of ours has just about survived two years now. Well, not just survived, but in its own way, it has prospered. Sitting around the table with me tonight are not just 5 faces, not just 5 men, but 5 friends. 5 friends who have shared with one another both good news and bad news, who have supported one another with everything from relationship problems and job problems through to the joyful birth of a son and a daughter. It is a group that is learning to trust one another, that is learning to listen to one another and take an interest in each others lives and a group that is slowly opening up to the strength of support and friendship that can come from other men. These friendships, these 5 friendships bring me joy and I would like to thank you all for that.

As we are now starting to open-up to the group’s possibilities, we should also start looking towards the group’s potential. ‘Potential’, what can be or could be. SPERM can go as far as the desire and drive of all of us can take it. It may be that you are happy with meeting once a month, sharing the good and the bad, having a beer and having a laugh. It may be that you feel that this is becoming routine and you want something more out of it. Maybe you want to do more activities, do different things than just meet in a restaurant. Maybe you want to use the group to explore different issues, you have a hobby or interest you would like to share or you feel that the group should get involved in some kind of voluntary work. Whatever you want to do, the group is the sum of the individual parts. If you think what we do is becoming routine or wish that we did something specific, but leave it up to someone else to drive it, then you not only let yourself down, you let all of us down; you miss the opportunity to stand-up and lead and we miss the chance to try something new. The group is the sum of its parts and that means YOU. That is something that we will stand by or fall by.

So, I’ll sit down now and I hope, that sometime soon, someone else will stand-up with a smile on their face and say :’ Gentlemen, the world is on fire and I have an idea…’

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Unconscious mathematics

Living in Sweden, where Swedish girls assess a potential husband’s suitability based on the time it takes him to assemble IKEA’s ‘instant house furniture kit’, IKEA is not only never far from our lives, but also just 15 minutes drive from our house.

Besides selling very affordable interior design, the IKEA further amuses me in two ways. The first is that of ‘unconscious mathematics’ where you pop into your bag a bunch of colourful, well-designed items at SEK69 (£5) per item, not realizing that when you get to the till, those ten almost inconsequentially cheap items suddenly have you swallowing in amazement and forking over SEK 690 (£50), swearing to yourself that it won’t happen again; knowing simultaneously that it will.

The second thing that amuses me with the IKEA concept is how easily it lets ‘desire’ in, unannounced, via the backdoor. We went in there this time, intending only to buy 4 terracotta plant pots… and came out with our plant pots, a new lamp, a roll-down blind for the cellar door, a rug for the cellar floor, 4 low-energy lightbulbs and three large containers to store our recycling in! … and yes, they probably cost only SEK 69 each, and yes, I was surprised when I came to pay, and yes, my math teachers from school would hang their heads in shame. (and yes, I'll probably be going back again after pay day)

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Crossing the line

The aim of this blog is not to be political or too personal, but, by using the word ‘confessions’ it is to be honest.

I just write about what is on my mind, be it random interactions, thoughts or impressions. By doing so I provide myself with some cathartic relief and hope to be able to discover some truths on my journey. I also hope that you as the reader can take something away from it, even if you only grin and shake your head.

Today, my path takes me away from my usual introspective bubble and into the dangerous highway of political opinion. I have, for a while now, been growing increasingly more and more uncomfortable with the decisions and policies of the US administration. I have been putting it off with the phrase ‘better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t’ but I feel somehow that a line has been crossed. I was wondering how to pull my words together to express what I felt, when I came across this article, (http://www.zenunbound.com/antibush.html) which does it perfectly for me.

I am not for one second, anti-American, but I am uncomfortable with the policies of the current administration and feel that it is time to take a deep breath and stand-up and be counted.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Boy in a Bubble

I hereby denounce my need to be an over-achiever and accept life instead. I had a temporary glitch at the weekend, when I just felt that I was never enough. I wasn’t managing to read enough, I didn’t read as many Swedish books as I should, I wasn’t training enough, my body wasn’t toned enough, I wasn’t spending enough time with my friends etc... Basically I was stretched too thin and never seemed to be enough, everywhere I looked. I was experiencing Dukkha, I was suffering. And I was suffering because of Tanha, literally ‘thirst’ for things and concepts, which one persuades oneself that ‘I need this in order to be happy’ only to discover that the ‘happiness’ is only fleeting because all of these things you desire are ultimately impermanent.

Ultimately my peace will come from learning to love myself as imperfect. (Actually, it will probably come from understanding the Japanese concept of ‘wabi’ - the perfectness of the imperfect.) And from giving myself a break; stopping setting unrealistic demands on myself to be an ‘über-mensch’. Demands which, when they aren’t fulfilled, lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment. I spend all of this time feeling bad for stuff I ‘could’ have done and for all the things I ‘should’ be, and meanwhile life passes by outside my little bubble of self-contemplation and the world is burning...

A good start would be to accept life with a pinch of salt and start smiling more. Today is going to be a good day...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Malmö favourites

Every Thursday, our local paper features local celebrities and well-known faces talking about their favourite parts of Malmö. I read them each week and have both discovered some places that I didn't know about and have been surprised by the diversity of what makes a 'favourite place.' It also got me thinking about my favourite places here. I think that because I cycle everywhere, it gives me a different picture of the minutiae and I notice much more detail than when I am driving around town in the car. Well, for the record, my Malmö favourites are...

... in the middle of Pildamspark there is a very Henry Moore-esque sculpture of 4 seals, hidden slightly amongst the trees. By day, they don't look like much, but by night, they emit a warming orange glow; similar to taking the colour of a full summer orange-peach sunset and having it shining out through lalique glass. I admire the courage and vision of the person who commissioned them in the first place, as it took me a while to like them, and I find their glow comforting as I cycle through the cold park in winter.

... tucked into the outskirts of the town is Hyllie Church. This is a small and modern church that provides me with a great sense of peace each time I go there. You enter it walking on a path of long granite strips, pitted with age. The church is on your left and in front of you is an enclosed courtyard and kindergarten. The whole effect gives me a feeling of peace and community all at once. The inside of the church is pretty minimalist and the entire structure is made of birch. The simplicity of the surroundings give a sense of beauty and purity whilst simultaneously offering minimal distraction to intrude on silence and contemplation.

... out behind parts of Malmö university, lies the industrial harbour. Sitting there looking at the docking bays, the working ships and the older rusty boats I am simultaneously reminded of Malmö's past as a ship- and submarine building city and of the fact that Malmö does in fact sit right on the sea, something which I sometimes forget where I work in the middle of the city.

Let's NOT get serious for a minute

Reading through the introspective babble that constitutes the majority of my blog entries so far, I am, quickly, reminded of something that Ellie said to me over the weekend - I need to stop being so serious - it is like I get muscle fatigue when I smile from using muscles so seldom used.. I take myself, my work, my life too seriously, but I am not sure how to lighten-up as I have taken everything so seriously for as long as I can remember. Any suggestions???? or maybe, help!

Well, the weekend went by too fast as usual, but I got a lot done, which felt good. Ellie and I have been busy building a Zen-style stone garden at the front of our house, to replace the random collection of bushes and plants and weeding projects that were there before. During the weekend, Fredrik fixed the lighting and I put-up the bamboo fence and planted the bamboo bushes. The garden is all but finished now. I just have 15 more slate paving stones to cut and lay and then we can just enjoy it. In a burst of enthusiasm, I also took down some shelves in the basement and built a raised ledge in the back garden for our herbs to sit on. It gives the whole place a very Mediterranean feel.

So there you go. Whilst I am busy trying to have a 'life less ordinary', I end-up having just the opposite...

Friday, June 11, 2004

4 secrets with pretty BIG consequences

Secret 1: Every morning, and indeed, at any time during the day or night, you can choose to change anything or everything about your life.

Secret 2: You have the responsibility for your own choices and for their consequences. Where you are today, good or bad, is a result of the choices you have made in the past. If you want things to get better, then it is your responsibility to change them. If you do nothing, then that too is your choice, and the result is your responsibility.

Secret 3: You have as much time available to you as Leonardo Da Vinci, Richard Brandson, Nelson Mandela or whoever you feel has done great things. You, like them have 24 hours in a day; the only difference is how you choose to use them.

Secret 4: Death is your hunter. If you keep putting things off until tomorrow, well, one day, there won't be a tomorrow for you.

Oh, what a nice person I am, off-loading that lot for you all to think about:-)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

All things come full circle

I was recently reading a website by Rhonda Hull, author of 'Drive Yourself Happy' (http://www.driveyourselfhappy.com) who outlines some key components for happiness, which certainly ring true for me:
- Embrace life as a journey greater than the destination.
- Clarify what matters to you most.
- Become aware of the effect of your thinking attitude and how it can affect your moods and focus on the quality of your experience.
- Recognise the power in your perception.
- Understand that you have choices and you are not a victim of life. Face-up to that responsibility to yourself.
- Remember that life and your success is more about self-acceptance than about self-improvement.
- Practice having your words and actions being congruent with your intentions.
- Realise that sustainable happiness comes from the inside out.
- Respond rather than react to the circumstances in your life.

What also interested me was Rhonda's intention (stated in bold on the website) of : 'being dedicated to living a successful and joyful life with her work genuinely reflecting who she is.' - and that was it, the essence of integral living, where what you do reflects who you are. That enables you to be genuine.

Whilst I have been doing my thinking and going through my own 'long, dark night of the soul' I have come across many way markers. People, quotes or excerpts from a book, which have pointed to a new direction or affirmed the path that you are treading. My journey is a personal search for a genuine life, one to which I feel inexplicably called. One which allows me to use my gifts and to express my values and one where I add instead of take away. I have been examining what matters to me most during this journey and what my gifts, ambitions and values actually are. Rather like a bird’s nest can be made of various scraps that they have picked-up and carefully placed to form the whole nest, so my journey has been guided and influenced by various things and people. After a while, you realise that these influences are in fact way markers and they are slowly moving you in a direction. My direction is now clear, and although this part of my search is coming to an end, my journey, as it is, is only just beginning.

"A man does the best that he can until his fate reveals itself."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Wine Snobbery

As most of you know, I like wine. I consider the exploration of wine to be an adventure in taste, and to that extent have over 120 carefully stored bottles of wine in my cellar. When selecting which bottle(s) to add each month, I read about the wines, I visit their websites, if they have them, and I even send e-mails to the vineyards to ask about harvesting conditions and recommended storage time. Nothing brings me more pleasure than sitting with Ellie and some friends on our veranda on a nice summer evening and taking a bottle out of the cellar that perfectly compliments both the food we are all eating and the mood of the evening.
What I don't like about the wine world is wine-snobbery. People looking down their (often large) nose at you because your favorite wine happens to be one of the cheaper ones or because you happen to prefer South African wine over French wine. This snobbery makes people feel ashamed or ignorant and that isn't right. I was in Systembolaget's new flagship store recently (for all of you reading this outside Sweden, Systembolaget is the state-controlled stores where you buy your alcohol from, and no, don't get me started on what I think about it) and the special feature was a wine cellar for the more expensive and hard to obtain wines. I was interested in what they had in stock as I was looking into which wines I should buy for the cellar this month, so I stepped inside the room. I was greeted by an elderly man who promptly looked down at me, through the glasses placed on the end of his nose, which, I am sure, were placed there for precisely this reason. Anyway he asked me, in that tone, and you know the one I mean, whether he could help me. I couldn't help myself and asked immediately if I could get a beer and a hot-dog. I was told that I couldn't, so I asked where the cheap wines could be found, and he pointed vaguely to some shelves outside and dismissed me. This gave me the chance to examine the 'cellar' wines in peace and to decide that I didn't want to buy any anyway. (I ended-up with a couple of bottles of Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Merlot, which I am sure will taste delicious when I get them out of the cellar in 2009) - For the record, I am an irrepressible fan of New World wines and most of my cellar is stocked with wines from Argentina, Australia, Chile and South Africa. Wines, which I believe, are hard to better.

I think that the moral of this story is to just enjoy your wine. Explore the different grape types, both red and white and make a note of the bottles that you like, and care not if they are expensive or cheap or what anyone else says about them, because you like them, and that is all that matters.

Welcome Message

Since I have written to you all and asked you to extend me the kindness of your time by visiting my lonely little Blog, it is only right that there is a warm message of welcome awaiting you as you visit.

Picture this, as you arrive at my blog site, if I could, I would transfer you to join me and the rest of my visitors at a special bar that I love in the middle of the Masai-Mara game reserve in Kenya. It is a round bar and you get to it by coming along a long wooden walkway leading away from the camp, suspended over the bush beneath you. The bar is all wood and looks out over a water hole, where, at any given moment, any of the plethora of Africa's marvelous wildlife could suddenly emerge from the bush to drink and then, equally as mysteriously as they came, to merge back into the undergrowth.

The bartender is very friendly and can mix any coctail you want, the whisky is first class, the wine is simply to die for, and the beer is of course cold. It is to just such a place that I would like to transport you to, when you visit my blog site, so I could ensure you both a warm welcome and instill in you the desire to return for more visits in the future.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Laughing Buddha

Whenever I have a question that I am having difficulty answering, I go and visit the Laughing Buddha (http://www.lifepositive.com/askbuddha.asp) and ask him. The answer is never what you expect but often, in true Zen Master style, it pierces to the heart of the problem giving you immediate and profound insight. I recently posed the following question to the Laughing Buddha: 'What do you mean by rightful living?' and the instantaneous answer was 'Happiness and love slip away from clenched fists.'

I'll leave that one with you all to think about...

Peeling the onion

Maybe the apple isn't the fruit of knowledge or the forbidden fruit. What if, instead, Adam had eaten an onion? The apple in its place is commonly used as a metaphor for Western philosophy, which always contains its ultimate meaning at its core. What if we superceded that with the onion, and when you peeled it away, layer by layer, you find nothing left. There is no truth. There is no knowledge. There is no mystery.

Maybe that is why we cry each time we peel an onion?


It is quickly coming up to SPERM's second year anniversary. To quickly explain, SPERM stands for (the Society for the Preservation and Education of Real Men) and it a men's group I started over here about a year ago, based on two reasons. The first was my desire to have more fulfilling friendships and the second was to have a group to discuss the evolving role of men with.

As I see it, the role of men in today's society is confused to say the least. Too many bad role models and lack of respect for some of the values of time gone by have left a lot of men who are either 'unmanly' or overcompensate and become overbearingly macho, chauvinistic or misogynistic. What I felt was needed was a safe environment for men to explore the power of the male spirit and the challenges facing us today and to be able to apply that energy for doing good, both in our lives and the community at large.

Well, the first year is up and it has been a mixed bag of results. On the positive side, although one of the group has left, the rest of the group is still very much together, meeting regularly and very positive about SPERM as an initiative. Over the year, trust has slowly built up in the group process and the guys have actually started to open-up, ask for help when it is needed and actually care about one another and what is going on in each of our lives. I think that is a great success. On the negative side, I think my initial approach was maybe too 'California Man' for my more 'conservative' Swedish friends and the role of men here is more confused in what is a very 'gender-equal' society. So, some of my more ambitious plans have been put aside and I have had to learn to take a back seat and let things happen at their own pace. I think my only disappointment has been that sometimes the other group members have had less enthusiasm than I had hoped. I very much wanted to divest the cloak of leadership and make it everyone's group, where everyone can and is expected to contribute. To that extent, everyone takes it in turns to organise and lead the monthly meetings, but there is not much energy in taking it beyond there. When asked, the group is feeling that things are beginning to become repetitive, but no one takes initiative.

Well, next weekend we will have the 1 year anniversary meeting and I will bring some of these issues up then and see what happens.

In the meantime, I would be interested if any of you out there have had similar experience of groups like this, male or female, and maybe you have some tips for me to pick up the tempo a little?

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Work

I have been thinking today about using Byronie Katie's concept of 'The Work', but using the words in a different context, namely to communicate the idea that 'there's no such thing as a free lunch.'

If you want to get fit, study at university or become proficient in an art or skill, then you can do it. It is something that anyone can do, but you have to be prepapred to do 'The Work' first. The idea that if you want something worth having, you have a good chance of getting it, but first you have to do the hard work. The simple truth is that there are very rarely, if ever, easy solutions. What stands between you and your goal is hard work.

If you can acknowledge that and are prepared to enter your chosen arena expecting hard work (not feareless, but respectful) then you will achieve a lot of your dreams.

It is important to own your own time

I wrote this down the other day as a seemingly random thought that I had; that somehow seemed significant, but I couldn't fathom its significance at the time.
Today, as I was walking back from town, thinking through a conversation that I had been having with a friend yesterday about having the courage to step out and follow your life's path...and suddenly the coin dropped! It is important to own your own time. - When you start working, an organisation effects a contract where they buy the hours of your life in exchange for money. Sometimes this almost feels like an unconscious choice (it's just a job and it's what I do). Yes, it is, but you need to own your own time. I realised that my time is too important to exchange for money, but rather it should be exchanged for living out my purpose, whatever that may be and this is a choice that I can make.
Am I happy that my time, literally the days of my life are exchanged for helping clients with their brand strategy? Is the money that I get for that a fair exchange, well, a fair exchange for my life? - Of course you need to earn an income, but the choice of integrity seems to be that that income is payment for my using my time as I choose. The income is not the focus, but rather a side benefit and I use my time, or my life, to fulfil my purpose. I guess that is what it means to life authentically.