Category Archives: Enquiry

Life Stories

Life Stories

By an odd coincidence, I recently came across a video interview of an old colleague – a man now acclaimed ‘the most successful Dutchman in Silicon Valley’, apparently. He had something very interesting to say about how products – he was speaking about technological products, but I think it applies equally well to anything – become successful. What he said was that a product doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s not their inherent quality or perfection that makes them successful, it’s how good a story is told about them. It’s the story that sells them.

What’s your story?

I think the same is true of people. Our experience is the result of our story. For example, if your story is one of happiness and success, that’s more likely to be what you encounter – and the reverse is also true. The real issue lies in whether you believe the story, whatever it is.

For example, at a certain point in my career, about 18 years ago, I decided I was no longer inclined to ‘follow the job’, and turned down a posting to another country. This time, I decided I wanted a more radical change, and began working for myself as a marketing communications consultant and writer. Over the following 3-6 months, I thought about how to do this, took a couple of skills courses, registered with the Chamber of Commerce and changed my status at the tax office, etc., and told everyone I knew about my decision. One of the people I spoke to was a salesman who visited a lot of companies in the course of his work. One of his customers told him of an opportunity that might suit me, and he passed on the name to me. That contact became my best customer, and continues to be a respected colleague and great friend to this day. The point here is that my ‘story’ was credible. And because I believed in it myself, it found resonance with others.

Within the overall story of our life we tend to have ‘sub-plots’: one for career, another for partnership, one for financial status, and so on. We may be more or less aware of these sub-plots. So finding out what our stories are is an interesting feature of enquiry. Also interesting is finding out where and how they may be limiting us, and ultimately realizing that we have choices. And most interesting of all is being open to all the choices that present themselves, when we haven’t already hemmed ourselves in with old stories.

It is no easy task to see through the blocks and obstacles that limit our potential. It can be challenging to investigate the empty spaces that show up in the cracks between sub-plots, the space that appears between self-images and stubborn beliefs. It’s good to remember that we’re all creators, the makers of our own stories. When we look closely, we might discover more interesting options. We need to be adventurers, and engage in a little space travel!

Try it sometime.

Taking Time

Taking Time

It’s amazing how many of us never seem to have enough time. Perhaps we all take the proverb ‘Time and tide wait for no man’ to mean that we have to keep running in order to catch up. In fact, much of western culture is oriented towards ‘saving’ time, speeding things up. The results? Fast food, fast traffic, and fast information – leading to indigestion, blockages, and confusion! Taking more time, making space for ourselves, could be the single most important thing we do in the course of the day, in the course of our lives.


We need time and space to feel the impact of our experience, digest what we’re taking in, and see what’s happening. The idea of spontaneous responsiveness is very attractive, and it can seem like the best and most genuine way to behave. The 60s suggestion to ‘Let it all hang out’ could well have been based on a truth – that it’s better not to suppress or deny feelings or thoughts that may become distorted and block genuine expression. But there’s a catch. First of all, our behavioural patterns are based on experience from very early on in life. Our personality has had a long time to become fixated and rigid, and in fact, literally second nature to us. And again, most of this happens unconsciously. We don’t even realize that we’re often reacting on the basis of lessons learned and conclusions drawn in infancy – and then reinforced again and again – rather than in response to what is there in the moment.


It is possible to come to understand why we always seem to see certain situations turn up in our lives. To investigate the layers of distortions and misunderstandings that have come to cloud the expression of who we really are. To find out why we seem to end up with bosses who never seem to recognize our real value, partners who don’t fully appreciate us, family members who can’t see us for who we are, or neighbours who persist in encroaching on our space. And of course, the opposite can also be true – employers who praise us to the heavens, friends and family who worship the ground we walk on, acquaintances who can’t do enough for us. For some strange reason, however, we don’t usually feel stimulated to question the second category of experiences!


Luckily, there are increasingly numerous sources of support and guidance to help deal with the difficulties we encounter; professional psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual caregivers. And with the advent of more true knowledge and experience relating to the human psyche, there are also growing opportunities for self-help. Taking time to explore our experience mindfully allows for understanding and growth. Definitely worth enquiring into!




Do you time travel?

Do you time travel?

I was recently delighted by the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story ‘Three Hours Between Planes’. It’s a classic description of how memory – real or imagined – influences our present experience. In ‘Three Hours Between Planes’, the protagonist – Donald – visits a woman he knew as a 12 year-old child – they are meanwhile both in their early 30s. Time telescopes. Each relives their memory of that long-ago relationship. Except that, the woman, Nancy, is actually remembering a different relationship with a boy of the same name – a different Donald. The warmth of that memory – a relationship the present Donald wishes he really had – draws them both into reliving the past – and re-enacting it in the moment. Discovering who he really is, she rejects him, just as she did once before. And he is disappointed. All over again.

The reason I appreciate this story is because it shows so graphically how object relations operate. Object relations theory explains how our very first relationships define all of our subsequent relationships. If we knew more about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters, we’d probably find out that Donald’s mother was somewhat distant and rejecting of him. Perhaps Nancy idealized an absentee father – although of course it isn’t necessarily as straightforward as that.

The point is, we seldom see other people for who they really are. No matter how long we’ve known them, or how intimately we are linked to them, we see the others in our lives through the impact of our first experience of other. And without exploring the possible lack of reality in those parallels, we’re likely to treat others accordingly.

A global example from my own experience is when I respond to my friends and relatives ‘on automatic’, that is, without paying attention to what I’m actually experiencing in the moment. I’ve noticed how I often take an opposite or contrasting stance to the one they’re expressing. My intention is not to be argumentative or to deny the truth and value of what they’re saying – not at all! To me, it’s an attempt to answer what I think is an implicit or unspoken question. I’m trying to show I understand, I know what they mean, I’m on their side, I’m participating. But in fact, it’s often a defence mechanism. I don’t want to be considered uninformed, or uninterested. An unconscious sense of deficiency is in operation. The deficiency is not based on reality; it’s based on memory. Generally speaking, it’s the memory of being the youngest in my family. Of being teased when I got something wrong, or didn’t understand. It’s an automatic response to the fear of feeling small – which as an adult, I interpret as being inadequate.

This is just an example of the millions of ways in which we can be catapulted into old feelings, old reactions based on the past. They provide fascinating opportunities for exploration. It’s not always fun – painful memories may surface in this way sometimes – but it is always rewarding. And this is one of the beauties of enquiry. Becoming aware of our experience in the moment provides rich opportunities to free ourselves from limiting beliefs based on old imprints. We can change our minds, and it’s liberating!


Dispersing clouds

Dispersing clouds

Imagine playing a game in which you don’t know what the objective is, the rules are not the same for all players, and your equipment is different from everyone else. To cap it all, you discover that nobody else is actually playing the same game. What a relief to finally find out that, in the words of Eurovision’s amazing bearded lady Conchita Wurst, you don’t have to try to fit in, because when it comes to living your life, it’s <em>your</em> game. What matters is to see it for what it is – and play wholeheartedly!

What is it that clouds the issue, and stops us from playing our own game, living a real life? One of the major obstacles to exploring the truth of our experience is that inner judge that insists on telling us what we should and shouldn’t do.

Free play

Naturally, we need to obey the rules of society in order to have order and safety in our lives, and follow our conscience in showing respect for others, and looking after the well being of ourselves and our environment. But when it comes to personal expression and growth, inner criticisms and unrealistic beliefs about ourselves are limiting, rather than supportive. Very often, these beliefs are so much a part of how we operate, we don’t even recognize them for what they are.

Inner tyrants

Everyone has their own personal inner critic, the superego that dictates what we should and shouldn’t do, who doesn’t like it when we expand beyond the limits of what we believe is ‘proper’ behaviour, or what we are ‘allowed’ to do. This inner judge believes that we’ll lose our loved ones and antagonize our colleagues and employers if we don’t act exactly as it thinks we must. It makes us doubt ourselves and hold back our natural liveliness and exuberance. It exercises veto power over our life, getting in the way of seeing and developing our full potential.

You’re fired!

From my own experience, I know how important it is to take the time to look closely at whether the superego is operating, when my enquiry seems to have come to a halt. Vigorous defence tactics are sometimes called for, to get out from under its heavy cloud of doubt and undermining criticism. And that in itself is no easy task, since the inner critic tends to drain away the healthy life energy needed to stand up and tell it: You’re fired!