Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Are You Sure?

     "Real faith means holding ourselves open to the unconditional mystery which we encounter in every sphere of our life and which cannot be comprised in any formula. Real faith means the ability to endure life in the face of this mystery.” Martin Buber 

When You Are Old
W.B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep, 
And nodding by the fire, take down this book, 
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look 
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace, 

And loved your beauty with love false or true, 
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, 
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars, 

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled 
And paced upon the mountains overhead 
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

     “If you want a barometer for progress in practice, look at how skillful you are at holding ‘not sure’. It’s very different from what most spiritual disciplines teach. Exercise the skill of being mindfully ‘not sure’, apply it and try it out. Remember this is not just another technique or position we grasp in our search for security. Really try it out in your formal practice and in daily life. Start to experiment with the result of restraining the mind’s tendency to grasp at wanting to be sure.” Ajahn Munindo 


          "In the Forest" watercolour on rice paper by Krista Hasson

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Delusions of Difference

     Several times I've observed people who had fairly consistently been arrogant, become distinctly pleasant, approachable - essentially "more human", after being diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, they tended to return to their "old self" when they assumed that the danger had passed (new delusion: remission = immortality). 

          Only when all our hold on life
               is troubled,
          Only in spiritual terror can
               the Truth
          Come through the broken mind -
                                                                                                             W.B. Yeats

     I suspect we all have at least moments of delusion when we feel special, somehow above, completely separate & immune from common human frailties. At these times we're quick-fix superheros, right wing, law & order, hanging judges. More than a few of us retain this attitude till they "pry our gun from our cold, dead hands."
     An individual or "group may assert exceptionalism ... in order to exaggerate the appearance of difference, perhaps to create an atmosphere permissive of a wider latitude of action, and to avoid recognition of similarities that would reduce perceived justifications."

     Dysfunctionally reacting to, instead of wisely addressing, existential dread, is perhaps our central problem:

     "A neurosis is suffering that has not yet found its meaning."     Carl Jung

     "Shrinking away from death is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose." Carl Jung

     "Real liberation comes not from glossing over or repressing painful states of feeling, but only from experiencing them to the full." Carl Jung

Monday, May 29, 2017

Path of Maturation

     We have an intuitive sense of what's really going on, but to help maintain the momentum of life, we keep this from every-day conscious awareness. 

     “The person who can freely acknowledge that life is full of difficulties can be free, because they are acknowledging the nature of life - that it can't be much else.” Shunryu Suzuki

     Our conscious mind (left brain) is concerned primarily with survival. The left brain, home of the egoic self, pretends that we have far greater control over the environment & our life, than we actually do. Exaggeration of a normal, healthy sense of agency ("illusion of control") is most clearly seen in young men who take crazy risks with the assumption that they'll be just fine.
     Another delusion our left brain holds is that of our own normality. We readily notice others' faults, idiosyncrasies, and strangeness, but hold (idealized versions of) ourselves as models of perfection, or at least what's proper & normal.
     Interestingly, as we become increasingly self-aware through years of meditation practice, we see with increasing clarity how we truly are. This is very, very humbling. So much so, that we're filled with love & gratitude towards all those who patiently tolerated our (to put it gently) eccentricity over the years. When we now see our own "eccentric" traits & behaviors in others, instead of being harshly critical (projecting or externalizing) as in the past, we're far more apt to warmly recognize common human steps on the long, slow road to growing up.
     Seeing things more objectively or realistically (allo- & ecocentrically, rather than egocentrically), is the work of the "right brain". An improved left-right brain balance may occur gradually as we age, but aging definitely does not guarantee maturation. Regular meditation practice does tend to accelerate our human psychosocialspiritual maturation process.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Danger Signals

     Immediately from one or a few obvious cause(s), or more gradually from unknown numbers of straws on the camel's back, we're regularly bombarded by many, many danger signals.
     'Danger' sounds acute, even life-threatening. But as social creatures, we sense danger even when someone we consider important, isn't as friendly towards us as usual. So the innumerable variables in life, coupled with our 'negativity bias' conspire to more or less constantly keep us on edge! And the greater our history of trauma, the more exaggerated the alarm bells & our responses. One can sustain major trauma without ever having experienced combat or sexual abuse.
      “By far the most important predictor of how well (people) coped with life’s inevitable disappointments was the level of security established with their primary caregiver during the first two years of life.”
     Bessel Van Der Kolk. “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” Penguin Books, 2015. 

     So we can see that we should be gentle & understanding with our own & others' odd behavior. We're all, to some degree, scared, needy kids who just want to be safe, secure, loved & happy. Our behavior hints at how patient (to desperate) we are to get there, as well as how healthy (to dysfunctional) our idea of "there" happens to be. All of us are always doing our best, no matter how that may appear to others - and even to ourselves when we look back (with dismay & gratitude for the great tolerance we received) later!
     But identifying with our level of dysfunction is unsatisfactory - intentional wallowing simply won't do. We must tirelessly dig ourselves out of this hole. We can learn to quickly & easily recognize the felt sense of false (ego) danger. There's a distinct difference between danger to our ego vs actual life. We must learn to identify this difference, because our quality of life definitely depends on skillfully managing these two vastly different dangers.

 The Space Between by Alice Mason

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Knowing

What am I seeing?

What am I feeling?

As I hold you close

As we hold not knowing

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Can We Get Beyond Partisanship?

     Partisanship - my political party, my religion, my personal short-term interests, my possessions, ... feral egocentricity to hell with everyone else, the environment be damned - is what got us into the global mess we're in now. More on partisanship:

     But if we're brave and invest the time to look a bit more deeply at ourself & our life, we may see things differently enough to perhaps work towards improving the quality of life for all. More on bravery:

     "Studies of self-affirmation typically ask the experimental group to write about their most important value and the control group to write about a low-ranked value. The consistent superiority of experimental over control groups in beneficial outcomes suggests that thinking about one’s own highly ranked values is important. This finding is consistent with theories of optimal human functioning that emphasize the role of autonomy. Self-determination theory identifies autonomy as one of three basic needs (along with competence and relatedness) that are essential for psychological health and life satisfaction. Ryff’s comprehensive theory of psychological well-being also includes autonomy as a critical element of healthy functioning. Studies of the self-concordance model show that pursuit of goals that reflect authentic personal interests and values is associated with increased goal attainment and higher overall well-being.

     Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) experts note that when clients are encouraged to think autonomously about their deepest aspirations, they almost invariably choose prosocial values, such as meaningful work, loving relationships, and contributions to a community. When this does not happen, e.g., a client says that he values making a lot of money, further discussion about why money is important is likely to reveal prosocial underlying values, such as providing security or opportunities for one’s family. If values appear to conflict (e.g., providing financial security for the family versus spending time with them), discussion focuses on finding patterns of committed action that serve both values and provide greater overall satisfaction with life.  
     The prevailing tendency to identify prosocial values is believed to reflect universal human requirements for biological survival, social interaction, and the welfare of groups. That is, individuals and societies are more likely to thrive if people take care of them- selves, help each other, and work for the benefit of the group. Of course, these universal needs do not invariably prevent harmful behaviors. However, current psychological theories, research, and treatment methods consistently suggest that encouraging people to identify their own most deeply held values may promote adaptive and prosocial behaviors more effectively than adopting a list of values prescribed or suggested by others
     A central concern of positive psychology is the understanding and cultivation of human virtues that define good character or the domain of moral excellence."
       Ruth Baer. "Ethics, Values, Virtues, and Character Strengths in Mindfulness-Based Interventions: a Psychological Science Perspective." Mindfulness 2015; 6: 956–969.

This morning, at the Canada Games Center, Halifax, NS

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ideology, Identity & Science

     From outside the US, it's hard to understand how a majority of American politicians, and those who elected them, could care more about partisanship (group egoism) than the welfare of their fellow human beings & the environment. 

     Katharine Hayhoe (KH): “We as people have become increasingly polarized over the past two decades - not as much in Canada as in the United States... We’re becoming increasingly polarized, and climate change is one of the biggest casualties of that political polarization because one party has decided – and these are in the words of Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is famous for writing a book about how climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on mankind, in his own words in 2012 he said, ‘I used to agree with you that this was real when I headed the Senate Environment Committee, until I found out how much it would cost to fix it.’ 

     … arguing over the science (only) deepens the divide between people who are convinced that this isn’t real, not because of any scientific arguments they’ve been presented with, nor even because of any pseudo-scientific arguments they’re bringing to the table. They’ve been convinced because they can’t be who they are and agree that climate change is real. It’s an identity issue
     Social science has actually shown that arguing the science like that does end up with people who are more firmly convinced. In ‘The Years of Living Dangerously’, an excellent series on Netflix or Amazon, one of the episodes is about my friend Anna-Jean, whose father is a conservative pastor in the South-East United States, who is quite convinced that climate change isn’t real. The episode was about Anna-Jean trying to convince her father, marshalling all the evidence to convince him that yes, this is real and that as Christians we should care about it even more because it effects the poor and the vulnerable. That episode is a fantastic example of ‘the backfire effect,’ because he ended up more convinced that he was right at the end, than he was at the beginning. It’s a textbook case."
     Michael Enright (ME): "Then we’re all doomed aren’t we? I mean, if you can’t present empirical data and facts and so on to someone and get them to change their minds, where do you go from there? What’s the endpoint of that?" 
     KH: "We’re not doomed. And that’s what I’ve spent the last ten years trying to figure out. … What I’ve learned is, talking science, science, science, isn’t what changes peoples’ minds. But what does is, first of all genuinely connecting and bonding over shared values, or shared concerns, or shared loves. So understanding whomever it is we’re talking to enough to where we can say ‘Yah, let’s talk about this thing that we both really care about, whether it’s our family, our faith, fishing, water, farming, the economy, national security, skiing … And then, sharing from the heart here’s why I’m concerned about climate change is because it effects this thing that we both agree on
     And it’s really fascinating because my friend Anna-Jean who I mentioned before with the father who’s very convinced that this isn’t real, she recently told me that they actually had a great conversation the other day where they got to the level where they were talking about their genuine fears and concerns. And she realized that on their fears and concerns, she and her Dad weren’t hardly that far apart at all. In fact they were very close. It was just where they went from those fears and concerns that ended up in completely different places
     So if we can connect on that level, which is hard to do to be honest, then at that point we can share from the heart why we are concerned, but then always, always, always bring that to solutions.
     Because if we feel that there’s nothing we can do, to fix this massive global problem, our defense mechanisms psychologically is just to shut down, dissociate, disengage and deny
     Whereas if we feel like ‘Hey, did you know that in Texas so far this year we already got almost a quarter of our energy from wind? Isn’t that amazing?’ Next time I turn on my lights, I realize that’s a quarter wind, we’re doing great, let’s do more. 
     So there are different ways we can engage. And by talking solutions that are already in place, solutions that we can be part of, solutions that we can engage in in our daily lives ourselves – one of those big solutions just being simply talking about this issue – because hardly anybody ever does, we feel like we’re part of the solution. And that actually changes our perspective on the issue too."

       The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright “Donald Trump versus the climate: a conversation with Katharine Hayhoe.” Sunday April 30, 2017