This afternoon I returned from Dubai after spending 2 days coaching for one of my clients. I do not particularly like Dubai as a place, the artificiality and the focus on materiality and luxury do not appeal to me greatly. This time, though, I took more time to understand the background to Dubai and its phenomenal growth. It was intriguing to look at how fast it has grown and to see how it has positioned itself to be a hub between the East and West and also the North and South. What made me sad was chatting to the taxi drivers (mostly Indian) who drove me. One in particular, who was not unusual, had come from Chennai in India and had been working in Dubai for seven years to send money back home to his wife and children. He aimed to stay another two or three years (although I noted that everyone I spoke to aimed to stay another two or three years before returning home).
My instinctive reaction was that this was not something that would be acceptable in England. As usual, Life was listening. On returning to the UK, I had an hour and a half to talk to the taxi driver driving me home from Birmingham airport who explained to me how many flights now came into Birmingham and Manchester Airports and how the Emirates was paying for an extension of the runway at Birmingham airport in order to allow the Boeing 780s to land (these planes carry up to 600 passengers). At Manchester, he explained there were 3 flights per day to Dubai. I then spent time (as I love to do) chatting to the taxi driver about his life and sharing mine. He explained that he had become a taxi driver when his business selling small gifts in offices had gone bust. He described how he now worked on average 75 hours a week. I asked him why he worked so many hours and he explained that he was only paid the minimum wage of £5.50 an hour which had just been put up to £6.10 an hour and this was the only way to make it pay. Suddenly I saw how cleverly Life had caught me out again – here was an exact parallel of what I had seen in Dubai and it was the Emirates that was providing the work! I wanted to know more, curious to understand his black hole game and what had brought him to this point. He explained that the accountants for the business had made an error on VAT which landed them with a bill for £20,000 that they could not afford. He and his wife carried on trying to survive but reached a point where they realised that they were completely overwhelmed with debt. They had used their credit cards to their maximum, they were missing payments on their mortgage and so on. He said that he turned to his wife and said they were going to have to give up and ask for help. So he consolidated the debt. It was £120,000. He explained that it was going to take until he was 75 until the debt was paid off, however, they got to keep the house which was important to his wife and didn’t have to declare themselves bankrupt this way. My heart went out to him and I was busy thinking of schemes whereby I could anonymously help him out by paying off some of his debt. However, as we talked, he explained that many of his fellow drivers complained about how they were treated by their company but his response was that it depended how you viewed it (something we had been discussing in terms of what you could control in your life) and he would always challenge the other drivers on what other job they could do where they could paid to drive a top class Mercedes Benz around all day. As he explained more about his background it emerged that his father had been a relatively successful stockbroker and he had come from a reasonably well-off background. He explained that his father, though, had spent his whole Life speculating and trying various schemes to make money and he had inherited this. I reflected to him, that perhaps his situation had freed him from this and he agreed. He reflected and said that his wife had a good job which paid reasonably well, he got to keep the money above a certain level to pay off some of the debt and they continued to live in their house. In many ways he had all he wanted and was freed from the scheming, worry and fear about money. He was quite surprised to realise that he was probably more content now than he had been at any stage of his life and agreed wholeheartedly with me that money was relative – the problems did not really change, they scaled up or down. We talked about the Emirates who were fabulously wealthy and speculated that probably the less wealthy Emirs probably felt poor and jealous of the wealthier ones, that the Sheik of Abu Dhabi (the captial Emirate) probably got very anxious and jealous when Dubai expanded and grew so rapidly and he no doubt feared he would miss the boat and be outdone by his fellow Emir.
I related to him that when I was in my teens (we were not particularly well-off when I was young) I asked my father who continually worried about money, how much money it would need for him to stop worrying about money (I was nothing if not a precocious child!). I was stunned because he had an instant reply – £250,000. At that point you join the world of the rich where money makes money he said. It was because this was the amount at the time that you needed to be a “name” at Lloyds of London (before the crash when they were all bankrupted!). Some years later with inflation and property house rises I realised my Dad was probably worth £250,000 so I asked him “are you happy now? Are you secure?” (what it is to have kids eh?). “No” he replied. Given inflation and other factors he explained that the figure would now be a million pounds. I waited patiently and when my Dad retired he sold his business and with a small inheritance and the rise in property prices I realised he had again exceeded his goal for security. I asked him again if he had done it. He told me that now all he was doing was worrying about it running out and the fact that mother was still young and that he realised he was never going to be free of it no matter how much he earned. It struck me, having inherited his anxiety about money, that no amount of change in his external situation would change anything if it was going to change it would require a change internally in attitude.
When I got back home, I could feel an interesting after effect of the trip to Dubai. I had flown Business class, I had stayed in a hotel with a sauna and swimming pool in the sunshine and come back in a chauffeur driven car (free courtesy of Emirates airline). There was just the first traces of being seduced by the luxury lifestyle. When I had landed I had been noticing the first signs of this and I was reminded of the line in the I-Ching about someone when he is established becoming arrogant and luxury loving. I sat down at my messy desk in my ramshackle house and opened up my emails. There was an email from one of my clients about my trip to Paris the following week. It detailed that a number of people couldn’t see me and one of the main people I was coaching did not want to see me. My heart sank with paranoia and anxiety. I turned to the I-Ching to consult it and received the first and 4th lines of 10 (Conduct) in a situation of 59 (Dispersion). The first line says
A man finds himself in an altogether inferior position at the start. However, he has the inner strength that guarantees progress. If he can be content with simplicity, he can make progress without blame. When a man is dissatisfied with modest circumstances, he is restless and ambitious and tries to advance, not for the sake of accomplishing anything worth while, but merely in order to escape from lowliness and poverty by dint of his conduct. Once his purpose is achieved, he is certain to become arrogant and luxury-loving.
Arrogant and luxury loving! The fourth line was the contrast of someone hesitating and uncertain but
having the inner power to carry it through. I wrote to the individual who apparently did not want to see me and said that the message I had received had made me anxious, was it that he wasn’t going to be around or was it that he didn’t want to meet up with me again; that I didn’t mind if it was this but it would be useful to know why. I received an immediate response saying he had not known whether he was going to be in Paris and that he had already confirmed a time since the message had been sent – and also reassuring me not to worry! As I received this, I suddenly twigged what Life had been up to. Careful it was saying, you get carried away and start getting comfortable and certain about anything and you are going to trip up, so here is a little shock to remind you. What I love about understanding Life in this way is that as soon as I understood what Life was saying and the I-Ching so clearly any anxiety disappeared and I could laugh and see the message. In this respect I am always reminded of Ram Dass seeing his guru in different guises coming to trip him up and test him – even coming disguised as a microphone that he didn’t want – “I’ll get you, you phony holy you”. Life can catch us all just when we are tempted, I think it loves to trip us up whenever we succumb to hubris or we relax and get complacent.
(The author is currently absent in Paris being tested regularly and being reminded that he is in a precarious position and knows nothing – so that’s ok then!).