If you have the courage to lead others you should also have the courage to change yourself.
Amsterdam, Noord Holland, The Netherlands.
Friday the 13th wasn’t that bad. I met with the publisher and R., the owner of the P.R. agency and his right hand, the lady I met before. Very nice people, had a good laugh. Something I like about Dutch people: quite a few of us are quite good at making jokes about ourselves. In some other countries it is perceived as showing weakness, here we call it humor. I realize that by saying this you still have no clue of what R. said. Sorry about that anti-climax.
My point is that I felt very much at ease quite fast. There was a bit of nervousness from my side in the beginning and a few jokes here and there helped me relax. If I could have chosen a way the open the meeting and break the ice this would be my preferred way. I feel grateful for the way I was received.
After R. and the publisher introduced themselves I was — with a generous gesture — asked to take place in the hot seat: “We don’t know anything about you, we are blank canvases. Now tell us about yourself.” For 2 milliseconds I felt trapped. I know that I have a tendency to meander too far off and lose the connection with my audience when I start talking aimlessly about such an ungraspable topic like that. I realize that you could receive that sentence as very deceited but I don’t mean it that way.
Seriously, how do you define yourself? I find that impossible to do (and I therefore suck at elevator pitches). From a spiritual perspective I could say we are all limitless (we are) but to say “well, I am limitless” would be a bit weird, right? At the same time I didn’t want to emphasize my limitedness too much either. I chose to try to balance both aspects, hoping it would sound not too abstract but human and believable. To my relief, I think that I got my message across.
The feedback to my life-story-in-a-nutshell was very positive. There is definitely a book in there, according to my conversation partners. The question was, “Which book?’ What I told was inspiring but: what makes me different from the other inspiring people on the shelves of a bookstore? There are many inspirational books out there, as we all know. Thus now I was prompted the question, “What makes you unique?”
Wow … another astonishingly difficult question. I see resemblances between a meeting with a publisher and a PR agent and having dokusan (a private interview) with my zen teacher: when I walked out of the room I felt exhilarated, acknowledged and … stripped from all concepts and ideas of myself. It is almost similar to the famous zen question, “Who am I?” It feels liberating and humbling at the same time. What on earth is the answer to this question? What makes me unique?
My intention for this post is to explore that question. And if you, friends and readers, feel you can help, please do. What we want to know is what my added value is in an arena of writers, inspirational speakers and spiritual teachers.
The good news is that I can’t think of anybody like me. The bad news is that I never really did any “market research” so I wouldn’t know, really. I assume if there would be somebody “just like me” somebody would have told me.
What I have been trying to practice for the last several years is to be unconditional in my honesty, in the first place towards myself and in the second place towards the world. This does not come out of a desire to be a good boy or for a need to conform to the rules of society. It is because I have realized that separation creates suffering. Being selective about our truth causes separation (and what we are taught is to be selective, making us as a society and a race primarily dishonest, not honest). I do not want to separate myself from the world and hence cause suffering to myself and others. It is that simple. So, I must be honest. There is no choice and no room for negotiation.
I feel called to inspire others to choose a path of inner growth and spiritual development, of honesty and integrity, of sharing with and supporting each other. We are more than we have learned to believe we are and we have the potential, the possibility and therefore the duty to transcend our egos (and thus our selfishness, fear and greed). I practice what I preach and share the ups and downs. I feel that a conscious and unconditional choice for “a life from the heart” will undoubtedly lead to fulfillment. At the same time I feel being sent on a path involuntarily that is filled with un-safety, insecurity and unpredictability. I have no doubt that my way is the right way and I want to inspire many to follow me. At the same time I am full of doubts if my particular version of the way is the right way. But I go ahead anyway. Yes, it is a paradox.
I could say more about paradoxes. I have always felt like a walking paradox: a book worm in the gym, a muscle head in university, a visionary thinker and a party animal, a white guy with an Asian spiritual practice, a masculine alpha male with a “soft” message, a rich kid with a modest income, privileged but deprived, street wise and intellectual, popular and misunderstood, loved and abandoned: I could go on and on. And after the awakening experience of 2004 I truly feel that I am a human being and that nothing that is human is alien to me. Pretty unconventional, I would say. But is it unique enough?
I like that my mind sees the links between the abstract and the personal, between the spiritual and the mundane, between clichés and wisdom. I like the position of being in between. I like to make the incomprehensible and transcendental understandable, believable and accessible. I make it simple and I keep it real. I think I am a living example of a spiritual path being an adventure and a test in courage, perseverance and faith. Not boring and not holy. Not easy either.
Living a spiritual life doesn’t need to look spiritual. As a man I must serve, contribute and — if necessary — sacrifice myself. I am not on the planet to avoid danger so I can live a long and safe life. That is the path of the coward. That’s a selfish path. Fuck that. I must be open, vulnerable, and available. Why? Because I can. I only need to overcome my embarrassment, day in day out. Do I find that easy? No. Is it simple? Yes. Just take a deep breathe and do it.
I don’t preach happiness. I don’t preach how and where to find an amazing life. I don’t believe that Nelson Mandela was blissed out with joy every day of his life. I don’t believe Mother Theresa shed tears of happiness every day. But they have lived exemplary lives and are an inspiration to billions. Why? They kept their hearts open and their backs straight. They never backed out of difficulties and they never gave up. I believe that the world needs men and women who have the courage to go on difficult missions. I feel that taking on such missions is wholesome to our souls. We must find our calling and not our “dream career” or “dream job”. I find that there is something distasteful to the pursuit of a “dream career” or “dream job”. It suggests a path towards comfort and affirmation. When you follow your calling it is of no importance if you will end up comfortable or not because you are not important. What is important is that you surrender to the task you know you are called to do, regardless of the consequences.
I do believe that surrendering to one’s calling has the potential to leads to a deeply fulfilling life though. And living your calling is definitely is more fulfilling than NOT surrendering to your calling. In a way I have a dream job myself now. I do believe that Nelson Mandela feels good about his career and accomplishments. I don’t think Mother Theresa has any regrets. But Vincent van Gogh might have felt misunderstood to the very end even though he painted what and in the way he felt was right. I don’t think he would have wanted to spend his life in a different way. I do think he would have liked the idea of being more at peace with himself.
The sad part of this story is that I think that this is what makes me unique: I know what I have to do and I have surrendered to that. I must contribute to the awakening of myself and others and I must apply all my skills, charm, courage, perseverance and intensity. It is an unconditional path that is brutal, embarrassing and painful to the ego. The sadness comes from the realization that “unique” also means ‘pretty lonely’. I should not be lonely, there should be millions of like-minded souls watching out for me. We should be shoulder to shoulder, united in our unconditional dedication of realizing the goodness in ourselves and sharing it with others.
If there is an audience I would like to speak to it is to my fellow alpha males. If you have the courage to lead others you should also have the courage to change yourself. Our paradigm of living out of greed, fear and competition is finite. You should not apply your talents just for the sake of financial profit for yourself and the corporation you work for. The world needs to be led into a new paradigm and it can only be done by leaders who have transcended their own selfishness. We must stop bowing to the Gods demons of status, power and wealth and become really free. First we must devote ourselves to our liberation, then we must find ways to create leverage for the awakening of the collective. I really don’t know how to do the latter but I hope to inspire the powerful and the smart to have the guts to learn to listen to their hearts.
Well, this is what poured out of my heart and fingers. I hope it answers the question of what makes me unique. If you have any ideas yourself, please let me know.
EDIT: I ran into R. yesterday afternoon and told him about this exercise. Apparently, I somewhat misunderstood. He wanted to know what makes my book unique. My question to you is a) what kind of book would you like to read or b) what do you like about my writing and would you like to see transformed into a book?
Photo credit: Flickr/bcmom