Unpacking the Ego

An excerpt from  my  speech on “Enabling Self-Determination” at the National Student Leadership Forum  2013- Canberra. 

Why was I doing this? What were the roots of my intentions? For while I still maintained a deep desire to lead a life of contribution …over the years, it seemed that my approach was contradictory.


It became clear to me upon examination that it (working on social projects) was an escape – a drug of sorts. My intentions on the surface were good…but the internal drivers of this call to action were not entirely altruistic. Quite simply I was doing it because I felt ugly, unworthy, small, insignificant, incapable…..working on these projects took me away from this personal reality. My father succumbing to alcoholism….my own depression…were all tucked away …unprocessed …because I felt good about myself when I could help others. It was distanced from my own self-loathing. Of course I started to see the toxicity of this approach both to myself and to those I purported to help….it was a dependency on dependency.  One ultimately blind to the real needs of others.


This period of personal growth was instrumental as I started to see how my own beliefs about myself were a fundamental contradiction of the change I wanted to see in the world. For who was I to speak  to anyone,  let alone  the most disenfranchised,  about self-belief, capability and hope if I had no authentic belief in it for myself? So if I asked myself what it would look like if I were to serve authentically  and this ..in short involved a lot of conversations…arguments…reflection and meditation ….and as a result some deep insights for my own life. A love and appreciation of myself…scars and all.  A sense that while  I wanted to live a life of contribution ….I wasn’t what I did …it was who I was that mattered. Layered into this was the realisation that I have many roles and relationship  in life…with myself, as a son, a brother, a friend, a partner, a…as a human being.


As I draw my sharing to a close I have two thoughts I’d thoughts I’d like to share ….

I have no doubt that contribution has been a major thread in the conversations you have been having here in this forum. In all my conversations with people across faiths and cultures, it seems clear that this is the key to living a deeply fulfilling life, one with meaning and purpose. Yet in the passionate pursuit of ways to contribute we need to be vigilant…mindful of our intentions.  We need to slow down and be real with ourselves, look in that metaphorical mirror and  exercise compassion towards ourselves ….this is a process and it never ends but I feel it is the most liberating , necessary action.  I do not feel there can be true love for others unless one loves self… I do not simply mean this as an intellectual ideas but as deeper acceptance . Look at ways to practice gratitude towards yourself and the very fact that you draw breath. Articulate your values and beliefs, share them …with complete honesty….be open and vulnerable. This gives others permission to do the same. In my case I maintain a personal mission statement that captures this the essence of my values and the roles I play I life.


Then we can consider the second part ….when contribution is no longer the central feature of one’s escape or psychological identity….it is an expression of purpose that can take so many forms. To use the idea of a mirror once more, I see deep contribution as being a process through which you can  hold a mirror so that others can see their own greatness. Their own power and vulnerability. Then it is not about you as a leader, an individual seeking fulfilment or identity through your own creation or achievements. It is an authentic exchange of our humanity.  This does not need to be an organisation, a project or a career…but it can be all of those things…there are opportunities for such leadership in daily living….right here in this room.The choice has been …is and will always be yours to make. So I urge you all to be a light on to yourself and thereon to others. Lead …by being.



  Some nights I distill the foundations of my will,

Tracing the depths of this yearning to be of use.

I ask if it predates upon the inequities of circumstance,
Feeding upon a marrow of injustice.
Or if it is the revelation of a thread that binds us all
in a fabric beyond the dictates of thought.
And if these years unravel towards the truth of it,
It moves past fallacies and false dichotomies, There is no giver and receiver.
For it is through acts of contribution,
Through the mirror of interdependence,
That I have peered beneath this skin,
Into a world I can sincerely embrace.
Where sorrow is fertile soil for seeds of joy.

Beacons of the Present

In the depths of the haze I was in, I found solace in the strangest things. I was waiting for the reasons to dawn on me, reasons to persevere, to rejoice in the midst of my despondency. Not the reasons of intellect, those wisps of so called insight have never had the roots to survive within me. I was waiting for reasons that would reverberate through my very being. I was waiting as I would for the train at Central Station every evening ...for a timely means to get me home. And It was here that a peculiar habit started to form...

New Bern Pigeon[1]


One day I rose from the catacombs of thought and my eyes chanced upon a group of pigeons roosting on the platform's rafters. Their breathing seemingly vigorous and brimming with vitality. Their movements like uninhibited expressions of every impulse swimming within them. I was captivated by this scene and thereafter, I would habitually scan the rafters and while away the wait. Days turned to weeks and then to months. I'd often feel the borders of a rare smile on my face upon each sighting.

I ask myself what it was that drew me to this seemingly unspectacular scene each day. Perhaps it was a sense of kinship I felt in their seemingly frantic ways, their apparent lack of direction and purpose. Their subservience to impulse. Their existence in the shadows of the lives of others, relegated and labelled rats of the skies , scavenging upon the scraps of those who truly lived.

Or was it very different? Was it that I perceived their manner as being reflective of an intensity of living I sought? A freedom from the shackles of thought. Did they encapsulate a vitality and innocence lost to the largely mechanical, discontent passengers below? Were they smiling at the useless smoke I was mired in? Was I smiling back because some part of me recognised this?

Alas it is the nature of the mind to examine all of this in hindsight. To vilify or to romanticize, to simplify or to add layers to what was. The truth is that it was likely a murky mixture of these reasons that swam in the sea that is my subconscious. What I do know is that the sight of those birds brought me to the present. Freeing me, if but for a series of moments, from the tentacle grip of the past. Immersing me in the vitality of living through the sheer contrast of their impulsive activity against my rare stillness. I am of the firm conviction that this in itself was instrumental in me transcending the smokey rooms that thought created within me... so I would wield my pen again.

As I walked along the platform this morning , I paid thanks to my old friends as they flew on to their daily adventures. For when I was waiting, they were beacons of the present.