The matador kill(er)

July 15, 2016

Some people say that bullfighting is a sport. Nothing could be further from the truth. To taunt and continually provoke an animal that has been placed in an arena from which it cannot escape, until it is slaughtered by the matador to the loud applause of a paying public, is not sport. Instead, it is a barbaric form of warped human entertainment.

Sport is embedded in an ethical philosophy that stands for fair and respectful competition that rewards the winner. Sport has evolved scientifically, as participants embark on a never-ending quest to improve their skills to ensure that they can beat their opponents and win. However, to beat the opponent in a fair and honest way lies at the very core of the competitive battle. And that is why doping and match-fixing in elite sport can never be condoned and should carry the penalty of a life ban from the sporting arena.

In the bush, fleeing from a predator

In the bush, fleeing from a predator

There are many stories about what happens to the bull before the actual fight. In short, the bull endures a two to three day ‘pre-match’ process of torture in a dark confined enclosure in order to weaken its capacity and dull its senses, especially its eye sight. The torture is also used to enrage and stress the bull, to ensure that it is in a ‘fight mode’. It does not have the opportunity of ‘flight’.

While I may not have a deep understanding of the traditions of bullfighting, my total abhorrence of cruelty to captured animals is due to (a) my deep respect of nature and the interconnected fabric that exists between all living things (of which man is only a part), and (b) the necessity for fair and honest play in any competitive exchange.

Last weekend a matador was killed in the ring. In terms of the sporting metaphor, he tragically lost the match. While this was not sad enough, the bullfight did not end there. In a bizarre ritual (if a matador is killed), a witch hunt is carried out to find the bull’s mother who is then slaughtered in order not to continue the aggressive bloodline. Such irony. In line with the dominant, patriarchal nature of the culture in which bullfighting is embedded, no action is taken against the bull’s father. Why not? No record may be kept of which male is used to fertilize the female. But maybe the non action against the father of the bull further reveals the warped beliefs and ideology that underpins the thinking of those who are involved in the world of bullfighting.

Talk about matador bravery and dominance of beast reflects the simplistic, power-driven and arrogant perspective of all those who are involved (matadors and public observers). For me, bullfighting has a powerful, yet sad message to all of us: It reminds us of (a) our barbaric past and how cruel we can be, (b) our need to use brutal force and power to dominate nature (and others), and (c) our actual lack of evolutionary progress in the way we relate to all living things.

The majestic African buffalo

The majestic African buffalo


Dealing with an aggressive, self-opinionated energy

June 2, 2016

So the question remains; How best should you deal with someone like Donald Trump in a political debate? This was posed to me after my last blog article.

While this is a difficult question with no easy answers, it is worth mentioning that Donald Trump tends to use two basic tactics to disrupt and distract his opponents. Firstly, he attacks the person. Secondly, he stirs up emotions, in order to reduce or lower the intellectual component (which is his weakness) of the debate. Understanding this, and drawing on ideas about what it means to be mentally tough in the heat of battle in the sporting arena, some guidelines about how to deal with such a forceful, self-opinionated energy in a competitive debating context can be formulated.

In elite competition, the opponent may attempt to unsettle you psychologically, by distracting and disrupting your focus. In rugby, for example, there may be off-the-ball incidents, such as a punch or a jersey pull. In cricket, a batsman may have to deal with sledging (verbal abuse) by the fielding team between every ball that is bowled. The challenge in the heat of the battle is to have an internal focus, to remain clearly focused on what your goals are. On a simple level, you need to keep your eye on the ball and not get distracted by what you cannot control. Any mental energy that you use worrying about what your opponent is planning, saying or doing, will undermine your effectiveness.

Keeping your eye on the ball in a tough competitive moment

Keeping your eye on the ball in a tough competitive moment

In sport, there is an energy flow between competitors as the match unfolds. There are upward and downward spirals of energy flow, resulting in periods of effortless performance or times of intense struggle. It is important not to panic when you are struggling. To do this, it is necessary to connect with your breathing so that you can consciously ensure that your breathing has an even rhythm and is relaxed. Check to see that you are not holding your breath or are breathing in a rapid, shallow way. Being emotionally composed and balanced underpins exceptional performance.

The fundamental tenet of tai chi (a slow moving martial art) is to know how to use and re-direct an opponent’s aggressive energy in such a way as to physically unbalance him/her. In tai chi, you never meet force with force. Instead, you learn how a slight deflection of an opponent’s action can result in you gaining a major advantage. A slight shift in stance or position helps to give you the upper hand on which to base your counter-attack. Learning how to yield to pressure and then to quickly counter-attack is at the heart of tai chi.

George Bernard Shaw once said: ‘Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it’. It is important not to get pulled into activities that strengthen your opponent and weaken your resolve and focus. I remember consulting with a cricket team who had difficulty in dealing with one particular individual in the opposing team. The fundamental issue was that this individual enjoyed talking and would constantly be trying to initiative a verbal exchange with any member of our team, in order to distract you. He was self-opinionated, and at times verbally abusive. He performed best if he could have an audience to listen to him. As a team, we decided to ignore him completely during the match. No player was allowed to acknowledge or speak to him while on the field. A super-inflated ego thrives on being acknowledged and listened to, and the strategy of ignoring him, removed the source of his egotistical self-validation. Without this validation, his performance dropped significantly.

In sport, an athlete should not attach his self-worth to his performance, but instead should work on detaching himself from his performance. In this way, the athlete will be able to focus on the unfolding process and not be obsessed with the final outcome. Being able to separate the sense of self, from the results in performance allows the athlete to perform in a relaxed, uninhibited and creative way. More importantly, the athlete will be able to think quickly and effectively when dealing with stressful moments during competition. Poor performance is not taken personally and instead, failure is considered to be an opportunity to learn and to grow. This type of attitude reduces the fear of failure during performance.

A political debate is full of ‘attacks and defends’ as the participants try to gain the upper hand so as to increase their support and vote of the electorate. In order to beat your opponent on the debating stage, the lessons of competitive sport suggest that you should:

  • have a clear, internal, focused strategy regarding the issue at hand
  • work on not getting distracted and side-tracked by generalized, emotive, contentious statements
  • remain emotionally balanced and composed when conveying your message
  • not try and match force with force in a dominant way, but instead unbalance your opponent by asking intellectually, insightful questions that highlight the absurdity of the emotive opinion being forwarded
  • do not take an attack on your person, personally

In his book, The four agreements, Miguel Ruiz states that ‘you should not take anything in life personally’. Anyone’s actions or comments that are directed at you, has nothing to do with you. Instead these comments are a reflection and projection of who they are. Political debates highlight this point so well.

 


Trump trumps politicians

May 29, 2016

There was a violent clash between pro- and anti-Trump supporters after his campaign speech in San Diego. His rigid, inflammatory views on immigration was at the heart of the clash. But it is not only on immigration that Donald Trump has the ability to polarize the diversity of opinion, that is of concern.

According to Dolan, a law professor at the South Pacific School of Law, ‘Trump is a dangerous, unprincipled vulgarian‘. He urges Republicans to have courage and step up and defeat Trump. But this seems impossible now, since the process has gone too far. Trump has done the seemingly impossible and won the Republican nomination for the USA presidency.

But how was this possible, given all the criticism and outrage from the establishment that he has received during his campaign?

Trump is a political outsider, and he has not engaged his opponents according to the ‘political rules’. This has been his most effective strength. Being an outsider, he is not answerable to established patterns and rules. He has been politically incorrect in every way.

His fundamental strategy has been one of belittling, demeaning and degrading his opposition in public. In a sporting context, he has fought dirty. No political opponent has been able to defeat him at his own game. Anyone who has tried to play him at his own game, has lost. Trump is not sensitive to the opinions of others, so outrage and criticism from others that may threaten him, will be the very process that he feeds off, fueling his intense desire and determination to gain control. Trump loves to fight, and he knows how to fight. This fight intensifies when his egotistical survival is threatened. For him, the best form of defence is attack.

By nature, there is always a strategy and power-play to every politician’s statement. In general, politicians say what they think you want to hear. While debating, Trump has highlighted the hypocrisy and deviousness of himself, as well as, of all other politicians. He has exposed and highlighted the ‘darker side’ of the political world.

His ‘rules of engagement’ in any interpersonal encounter (personal, business and political) indicate that he cannot be trusted. He has an egotistical perspective about any situation that he encounters, which he interprets and changes in a manipulative way to benefit his need for power and control. Africa is full of such leaders (Mugabe, is a case in point), and when in power, their every action activates a process of destruction.

So given all of this, why does he have such a following?

On stage, in public, he has voiced in a simplistic, yet emotive way what many of the electorate at grassroots level are thinking and/or experiencing. His rather crude and emotive language helps him join and connect with those who have felt ‘unheard’. It is obvious that there is a great divide between those in political power who purport to serve the people, and the people. The electorate are angry at the politicians and therefore take vicarious delight at how he brutally attacks them on a personal level.

Trump brings to the surface, simmering issues, such as immigration and terrorism. These issues threaten the basic safety needs of people and in a rather bizarre way, he is seen to be the solution to complex global issues. His strong-arm tactics seem to make them feel safe, much like a bouncer at a night club that ensures everyone behaves.

Of particular concern, the USA presidential campaign has cast serious doubts on all of its leadership. As an alternative to Trump, Hilary Clinton offers little confidence. She is also riddled with controversy. So at a critical time in our global evolution, the USA does not seem to have a leader with the necessary qualities of integrity and wisdom to deal with the complexity of global issues that are emerging. It is a sorry state of affairs.

With regard to the immigration issue, many ordinary people are feeling unsafe and fearful. This results in societies building up barriers in order to protect what they have, in the fear that others from the outside may take what they have got. This is not just the case in America. In a small Swiss village, many miles from the US, the inhabitants (many of which are millionaires), have voted to reject 10 asylum seekers into their community and instead pay a £200 000 fine to the government. But paying off a problem, only suspends the problem. The fundamental reason given by a resident was that ‘we have worked hard all our lives and have a lovely village that we do not want spoiled…we are not suited to take in refugees…they would not fit in here’.

Alone on the Zug lake, Switzerland

Alone on the Zug lake, Switzerland

Dealing with any global issue requires integrative and holistic thinking. The political challenge is to find collaborative ways for all concerned to participate in finding solutions to complex problems that are being encountered. This is a creative process, not a power or financial process. The USA presidential campaign has clearly highlighted the ineffectiveness of politicians in this regard.


Responding to major change

April 27, 2016

Adapting to a major change process is a challenge, especially when it comes to having to deal with a foreign language. I have recently re-located to Germany for an indefinite period, and have had to deal with many administrative processes that require not only knowing how the system works, but also having to understand a foreign language and all of its subtleties.

As I encounter those around me, it feels like I am enveloped in a sea of ‘gibberish’. Nothing makes sense. There are no anchors to hold onto, no cues to connect with. It makes one feel powerless.

My work as a therapist is all about language, stories and the creation of meaning. My struggle with not being able to ‘converse’ effectively with others was therefore acutely heightened. I was having first-hand experience of the power of ‘not having language’.

As I thought more about my situation, the image of a one-year-old responding to his(her) environment came to the fore. This image offered me ‘an attitudinal approach’ to how I should respond to the major change that had occurred. Four ideas were activated by the image, which helped align me to a clearer philosophy and methodology going forward.

In time

‘In time’ suggested that I need not rush or panic about the new unfolding process. I needed to be patient with myself. With consistent practice, it would only be a matter of time, before I would be acquiring new knowledge and the necessary language skills. This realisation helped to settle me.

Beginner’s mind

A beginner’s mind is an inquiring mind that engages the environment in a non-judgemental way. It is also a responsive mind that acts spontaneously. Unlike the mind of a one-year-old which does not have any previously ingrained knowledge and language codes, I was filled with an old established pattern of language. I now needed to let go of the ‘old’ and embrace the new input in order to acquire a new set of codes and meanings.

Being present and playful

To be effective in any learning situation, you need to be fully present and focused in the unfolding moment. In helping babies perform on television commercials I have always been amazed at how concentrated and focused a baby is when playing and exploring. As I thought about this, I realised that I needed to lighten up and become more playful in the process. I had become too intense. I needed to laugh more and not take myself so seriously.

Appreciation

Joy and appreciation are linked. Without appreciation, there can be no joy. As I thought deeper about the challenge of learning a new language, a part of me started to feel excited. The situation was offering me a gift to expand myself and to encounter the true diversity of life.

Concluding remarks

On a general level, internal resistance is activated initially, when encountering any change. The greater the change, the stronger the resistance. In dealing with change, however, adjustment is required. Adjustment and resistance are inversely related: the more the resistance (the more the rigidity), thus reducing the ability to relax, which in turn, impacts on one’s ability to adjust.

Letting go of resistance, and aligning yourself with the attitude and playfulness of a one-year-old allows you to embrace change in a flexible way. Opportunities to learn more about yourself occur and new knowledge and skills can be acquired more effortlessly.

On a therapeutic level, dealing with the change has offered me insights into the intra- and interpersonal complexities of what it feels like to be an ‘outsider’, due to the inability to access and utilise the vehicle of connection, which is predominantly language (for adults).

Watch me play

Playing


Love and quantum leaps

April 16, 2016
Balanced and focused

Balanced and focused

Recently, my nephew Keaton Jennings, scored two centuries in the opening match of the English county cricket season. Any cricketer will tell you how remarkable this achievement is. His performance placed him in the Durham County Cricket Club’s history books.

I often equate life to the image of an iceberg, where 1/7 lies above the surface (the seen), while 6/7 lies beneath the water line (the unseen). His remarkable performance did not surprise me one bit, since I had observed the accumulation of all the hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes. He never shies away from doing the ‘hard yards’, and is keen to learn more and more about the complexity of top performance.

In talking about the mental aspects of elite performance, I shared with him that the mental and emotional components of an athlete need to be integrated and balanced for exceptional performance to unfold. In order to assist this process, Keaton and I spent 6 months doing tai chi together. In addition, he applied the calm breathing exercises of the tai chi practice to his batting.

Besides working on getting into this balanced performance state, I mentioned that an athlete will not be able to perform to his(her) potential if riddled with fear during competition, especially with the ‘fear of failure’. Fear constricts and restricts the energy flow of a person. It tightens the body and freezes the mental capacities of the athlete. Fear vacillates (depending on the context), and tends to rear its ugly head at critical moments during the competitive encounter of elite sport.

There are two processes that one can use to tackle and neutralize fear. It is worth mentioning, however, that fear is a powerful and stubborn energy that is not easily conquered. Given this, one needs to apply gentle perseverance to the process of overcoming it.

Firstly, one should ‘look’ at the fear squarely in its eyes and acknowledge its existence, without trying to change or resolve it. By just looking at your fear, you shine light on it. Since fear operates in the dark recesses of the mind, it does not like light. Besides wanting to remain in the dark, fear thrives and grows with denial. Honest looking, is a powerful neutralizing agent since this is opposite to the denial process.

Secondly, one can counter fear by applying lots of love to it. Love is the opposite energy to fear. When there is love, there can be no place for fear. Playing top sport with love in the heart, assists the athlete to enter the emotional and mental place where mind, body and spirit integrate into a unified and coherent energetic force that allows a quantum performance to occur.

Playing with love in the heart does not mean that the athlete is soft, weak or casual. Love requires taking care of what one does and insists that you are patient, persevering and dedicated in your efforts. Further, love means that the athlete is not critical or judgmental when dealing with failure. Instead, love is expansive and drives the athlete further to reveal the true potential that exists within. By accessing the energy of love, the athlete becomes alert to the unfolding moment and responds spontaneously with an open heart. It is in this emotional place, that the athlete enters the zone, where doubts are released and replaced with an inner peace that thrives on the challenge of the competitive moment.

Leaping with joy

Leaping with joy


‘Not knowing’

April 13, 2016

NotKnowing1

Yesterday, I was reading through some messages that I and a close friend had been exchanging over time. As I read them, I experienced a range of feelings, from sadness to a deeper appreciation of our relationship.

The sadness was due to my reading our messages dated two months before he passed away. I had just spent a wonderful week with him, taking photographs, and had been telling him how much I enjoyed our discussions about photography. He replied, telling me how much he valued our relationship. He was a well known film director and had a wealth of knowledge about lighting, composition and creativity in photography, that he shared with me in abundance.

I used to visit him on a yearly basis, usually around his birthday. For me, it was a photographic retreat where I could immerse myself into a field that I loved.

When he visited me, we spent hours talking about philosophy and psychology. He shared some of his deepest emotional struggles with me. It seemed that without us knowing it, we developed this ‘to and fro’ visiting rhythm where photography was centre stage in his place of abode, and psychology was the theme when he spent time visiting me.

During my visit in April 2014, he did not know that he had cancer. We also did not know that he only had two more months to live. As I was reading through our exchange that we had in April 2014, I couldn’t stop thinking about the notion of legacy and love, and how quickly life can change and how fragile our existence actually is. In this age of information flow, communication is documented and archived in a string of ‘to and fro’ bits of meaningful (or not?) exchanges between people. As you reflect back on the past communication you have had with a friend or family member, you never know when death will intervene and stop the exchange.

As I read through the old messages between us, there were no regrets about not having said what I really wanted to say, or wishing that I hadn’t said what I had said. In fact, as I went through our messaging, I felt a deeper appreciation of our relationship.

I couldn’t stop feeling that since we live in a state of ‘not knowing’ when it comes to death, our every message that we send to others should be enveloped with a conscious awareness that we are creating a legacy of who we are, and how we wish to be remembered.

NotKnowing2


Decay of a system

February 9, 2016

In the ruthless world of business, a stock price can drop significantly over time due to poor performance and lack of profitability of a company. As the decay continues, the share is eventually suspended due to severe financial loss and bankruptcy.

If Cricket South Africa was a business, operating in the market place where normal economic forces are at play, the share would have been suspended months ago.

While most of the media attention has focused on the poor performance of the senior team over the past year since their semi-final loss against New Zealand in the World Cup, of greater concern is what has been unfolding in the Under-19 team over the past two years, since being crowned World Champions in 2014. At the end of that tournament, Cricket South Africa saw it fit to replace the experienced coach Ray Jennings (who had been in charge of managing successful Under-19 national teams over ten years). The reasons for not renewing his contract were not revealed. Since his departure, it is worth just looking at the results of the younger generation of South African cricketers, bearing in mind that they are the feeder system into the senior team. These results have gone unnoticed by most. Building up to the recent World Cup championships, the bare facts reveal that the team had played 19 Youth ODIs and had lost 16 of these (15,7% success). Then the team did not make the quarter-finals, losing to Namibia, and finally to round off the lows, the team was bowled out for 91 by Zimbabwe, losing by 8 wickets in the Plate matches.

While the reasons for the poor performance of the national and Under-19 South African teams may be many, there are two predominant factors that I feel are at play: (a) the quality of the leadership and, (b) the criteria regarding selection policy and political interference in natural competitive sporting processes.

Cricket South Africa should be extremely concerned at the decay that is unfolding in their cricket system. It is obvious that there are internal processes that are causing the system to implode. But is it too late to rescue the situation, or is there the will or intention to address the unhealthy processes that exist in the system?. The sad state of affairs is that the quality of performance of the senior and junior national teams has dropped significantly, to a level where the teams are now losing to their impoverished African neighbours.

In my practice, I consult with many young athletes who have aspirations to turn professional in their respective sports. I have witnessed a dramatic reduction in those wanting to pursue cricket. On a fundamental level, there has been a shift away from team sports (such as cricket), to the more individualistic sports where the possibility of administrative interference is reduced.

A lone oarsman

A lone oarsman


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