What is a Good Life? #52
A Journey Toward Co-Flourishing with Martin Ebeling
On the 52nd episode of the What is a Good Life? podcast, I am delighted to introduce our guest, Martin Ebeling. Martin is a philosopher and the co-director of The School of Life Berlin. He is also the co-founder of the Pura Vida Festival Retreat. While you can follow his journey toward and exploration of co-flourishing on The Co-flourishing Project, where he writes under his alias Ocean.
In this deeply insightful conversation, we delve into Martin’s exploration of the meaning of life and his shifting from a lone wolf to his fascination with co-flourishing. He shares how his recent insights on co-flourishing unfolded after a personal retreat in nature and silence, shedding light on valuable lessons we can draw from those experiences.
We explore what has resonated with him in his research on co-flourishing, encompassing the practices he observed at the Zen monastery, Plum Village. Here, monks consistently share both their wonder in existence and their experiences with difficult emotions. Additionally, we touch on the neuroscience that suggests it takes more than one human brain to create a human mind and we reflect on the interdependent nature of our being.
I found this conversation to be highly illuminating. We discuss numerous themes that can guide you toward leading a more connected life—connecting with yourself, fostering meaningful relationships with others, and cultivating a deeper connection with the world around you.
The weekly clip from the podcast (5 mins), my weekly reflection (4 mins), the full podcast (60 mins), and the weekly questions all follow below.
1. Weekly Clip from the Podcast
2. My weekly reflection
There are two things in this interview that Martin shares from his experience at the Zen monastery, Plum Village, that really resonate with what is working in my own life. He reflects on the monks' practices of repeatedly sharing their emotional difficulties with one another. However, when they share with others, it isn’t to enter into a problem-solving space and provide a solution; it is simply to give it air and let it be known.
What I have noticed in my personal relationships is that if you genuinely show up to a conversation - no phone, no distractions, no nonsense - with your undivided attention (and bring yourself back to that attention when you inevitably lose it), and you truly listen to what someone has to say, that in itself does far more than what we presently give credence to. I have had numerous conversations of late where people have explicitly told me they have neither had a revelation nor gained new insight from our conversation, but they felt better or lighter for having had the conversation.
They still have to face whatever life situation they are dealing with, but the act of simply sharing it and having it fully received changes our relationship with it. Perhaps it gives it space, air, a new perspective to observe it from, or it alleviates some of the intensity of our painful ruminations. In any case, something changes.
However, there are typically a couple of things that happen when someone shares a challenge with us that I don’t think help at all. Firstly, we may say something like “it will be fine” or “everything is going to be okay,” as if our words, particularly when using empty platitudes, are going to have any affect in altering the mood of another. I’d even go a step further and say it deflates our trust and intimacy a little, as often we say something that we don’t know or really mean. How can that enhance a situation or build a connection between us?
Secondly, we may go into problem-solving mode, as if we, a group of people who typically have our assortment of contradictions, unhealthy tendencies, and shadows we are unwilling to face, have all the right answers for somebody else’s life. We tell them obvious things that we may not even follow ourselves, as if what the person really lacks is information and common sense (if they are actually lacking that, by all means, say something, but generally, people have it themselves). None of which makes the person feel on the same level as the dispenser of “wisdom” or tells them they are equipped to face the present situation.
I understand why we do these things; we think it helps, maybe we don’t know what else to do, perhaps we have no idea how to truly listen or pay attention, and we are missing all the cues, or we feel uncomfortable in silence or with someone else’s struggle.
However, I think you’d be amazed at how much someone appreciates your full attention when they share anything with you without trying to fix anything. We can’t insulate people from life happening. Disturbing moments and experiences are consistently part of life, and indeed a good life. But there is something to be said for truly holding what someone has shared with us, that momentarily lightens or suspends the load, without trying to transform it or hurriedly paint new pictures.
I am not saying to sit in silence and not say a word, but when you deeply listen to someone, the words you respond with come from a different place. When you are truly listening to each word as it emerges, your response also has a habit of saying what needs to be said (if anything at all), as it emerges.
The quality and necessity of what we say is considerably affected by the quality of our listening. This is something which I think is almost entirely missed in our culture.
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3. Full Episode - A Journey Toward Co-Flourishing with Martin Ebeling - What is a Good Life? #52
4. This week’s Questions
Is there a relationship of yours that could benefit significantly from more regularly sharing your inner emotional world?
What would co-flourishing look like in your life? What might you add or subtract from how you presently live?
I am a Coach based in Berlin, via Dublin, Ireland. I left behind a 15-year career in Capital Markets after I became extremely curious around answering some of the bigger questions in life. I started this project in 2021, for which I’ve now interviewed over 170 people, to provide people with the space to reflect on their own lives and to create content that would spark people’s own inquiry into this question. I am also trying to share more genuine expressions of the human experience, beyond the facades we typically project.