Saturday, March 28, 2020

Having Lost a Lot, We Grieve

     Covid 19 has shocked many of us out of our comfortable, trance-like, self-absorbed complacency. We hoped that we could float through life comfortably, without being overly bothered by the ridiculously miserable life circumstances of so many in the world, the escalating extinction of species & meltdown of our environment. But now suddenly, we're (almost) in the same boat as our fellow human beings around the globe. Almost, because we are able to comfortably remain in our homes to minimize exposure. Almost, because even if we do become infected, we're rested & well nourished to better fight the infection & have ready access to proper health care. Not so for the millions trapped in sprawling refugee camps and slums around the world.
     Nevertheless, we are now grieving for our lost innocence (naivete), our lost illusion of safety, our lost illusion of control over life. 
     It's very useful & beneficial to deeply understand our grieving process:

     “The five stages of grief are: 

Denial: shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred
Anger: that someone we love is no longer here
Bargaining: all the what-ifs and regrets
Depression: sadness from the loss
Acceptance: acknowledging the reality of the loss

     (These) describe only a general process. Each person grieves in his or her own unique way. …

     The fifth of Kubler-Ross’s five stages is acceptance. At this stage, we acknowledge the reality of loss. We take some time to stop and breathe into the undeniable fact that our loved ones [or other important relationships or possessions etc] are gone. There’s nothing easy about this stage. It can be extremely painful, and acceptance doesn’t mean that we are okay with the loss, or that the grieving process is now officially over. However, there’s been an assumed finality about this fifth stage that Elizabeth and I never intended. Over the years I came to realize that there’s a crucial sixth stage to the healing process: meaning. This isn’t some arbitrary or mandatory step, but one that many people intuitively know to take and others will find helpful.
     In this sixth stage we acknowledge that although for most of us grief will lessen in intensity over time, it will never end. But if we allow ourselves to move fully into this crucial and profound sixth stage – meaning – it will allow us to transform grief into something else, something rich and fulfilling.
     Through meaning, we can find more than pain. When a loved one dies, or when we experience any kind of serious loss – the end of a marriage, the closing of the company where we work, the destruction of our home in a natural disaster – we want more than the hard fact of that loss. We want to find meaning. Loss can wound and paralyze. It can hang over us for years. But finding meaning in loss empowers us to find a path forward. Meaning helps us make sense of grief …
     What does meaning look like? It can take many shapes, such as finding gratitude for the time they had with loved ones, or finding ways to commemorate and honor loved ones, or realizing the brevity and value of life and making that the springboard into some kind of major shift or change.
     Those who are able to find meaning tend to have a much easier time grieving that those who don’t. They’re less likely to remain stuck in one of the five stages. For those who do get stuck, this can manifest in many different ways, including sudden weight gain (or loss), drug or alcohol addiction, unresolved anger, or an inability to form or commit to a new relationship out of fear of experiencing yet another loss. If they remain stuck in loss, then they may become consumed by it, making it the focus of their life to the point where they lose all other sense of purpose and direction. Although you can’t pin all of your troubles or vices on getting stuck after a loss, there is almost always a connection.
     Grief is extremely powerful. It’s easy to get stuck in your pain and remain bitter, angry, or depressed. Grief grabs your heart and doesn’t seem to let go.
     But if you can manage to find meaning in even the most senseless loss, you can do more than get unstuck. When circumstances are at their worst, you can find your best. You can keep growing and finding ways to live a good and someday even a joyous life, one enriched by the lessons and love of the person who died [or memory of other serious loss].” 

      David Kessler. “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.” Scribner, 2019.

      David Kessler's recent (15min) television interview:
      A recent magazine interview:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Control? Separateness?

     Every once in a while, "the shit hits the fan." We are now in such a time (logic behind toilet-paper hoarding?).
     But when things are "normal" aren't we deluding ourselves, sleepwalking through life?

     "Don't hope for a life without problems.
      An easy life results in a judgmental and lazy mind." Kyong Ho

    The only thing we can directly control is our attitude. But because we mistakenly believe that external circumstances completely determine how we feel, we invest almost all of our time & energy struggling to control external circumstances & other uncontrollables: constant change, aging, sickness & death. This is an "illusion of control."
     Related to this compulsion, we spend our lives convinced that each of us is a separate, solid 'thing' - a 'self' independent from & usually in a competitive / adversarial relationship with other people, animals, a harsh uncaring environment, life itself. Loneliness & isolation is becoming an increasingly common, serious psycho-social / medical problem. This is the "myth of separation" - the sense of a contracted, separate self. Einstein long ago felt that the most important question a human being needs to answer is: "Is the universe a friendly place or not?" And if we deeply believe that the universe is unfriendly, peace of mind is rarely possible. Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.

     But our deeper intelligence tells us that, we're profoundly interconnected & interdependent with everyone & everything - AND - science shows that we're only truly happy while intimately engaged with whoever / whatever we're dealing with in each successive present-moment. Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 2010; 330(6006): 932.

     We are very slowly, very gradually evolving beyond, growing up from fear-driven autopilot reactivity ("fight / flight / freeze" - our frightened child mode) and embodying mature balanced kind behavior appropriate to our long-term common good ("tend & befriend" - our wise grandparent mode). The individual / collective contracted ego rigidly insists on remaining isolated & unchanged, trying desperately to retain a sense (illusion) of personal / group control to prevent dreaded chaos. But our deeper intelligence ("heart" / "gut") draws us to expand into, reconnect with a far deeper, more expansive, meaningful life.
     From a recent Scientific American article:
     "People who believe that everything is fundamentally one differ in crucial ways from those who do not. In general, those who hold a belief in oneness have a more inclusive identity that reflects their sense of connection with other people, nonhuman animals, and aspects of nature that are all thought to be part of the same 'one thing.' This has some rather broad implications.
     First, this finding is relevant to our current fractured political landscape. It is very interesting that those who reported a greater belief in oneness were also more likely to regard other people like members of their own group and to identify with all of humanity. There is an abundance of identity politics these days, with people believing that their own ideology is the best one, and a belief that those who disagree with one's own ideology are evil or somehow less than human.
     It might be beneficial for people all across the political spectrum to recognize and hold in mind a belief in oneness even as they are asserting their values and political beliefs. Only having 'compassion' for those who are in your in-group, and vilifying or even becoming violent toward those who you perceive as the out-group, is not only antithetical to world peace more broadly, but is also counter-productive to political progress that advances the greater good of all humans on this planet.
     I also think these findings have important implications for education. Even if some adults may be hopeless when it comes to changing their beliefs, most children are not. Other beliefs - such as a belief that intelligence can learn and grow ('growth mindset') - are extraordinarily popular in education these days. However, I wonder what the implications would be if all students were also explicitly trained to believe that we are all part of the same fundamental humanity, actively showing students through group discussions and activities how we all have insecurities and imperfections, and how underneath the superficial differences in opinions and political beliefs, we all have the same fundamental needs for connection, purpose, and to matter in this vast universe.
     Perhaps now, more than ever in the course of human history, we would benefit more from a oneness mindset."
       Scott Barry Kaufman. "What Would Happen If Everyone Truly Believed Everything Is One?"
Scientific American, October 8, 2018

“If a living system is suffering from ill health,
the remedy is to connect it with more of itself.”
Francisco Varela

"When we seek for connection
we restore the world to wholeness.
Our seemingly separate lives become meaningful
as we discover how truly necessary we are to each other."
Margaret Wheatley

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Appreciating the Subtle

     Equanimity, peace, & other subtle states are seldom appreciated or discussed these days. When we do notice subtle states, we tend to dismiss them as "boring" or rush to escape them! We overlook or dismiss most of life; instinctively cling to pleasant experiences; and instinctively reject unpleasant experiences. 
     Unless we deeply understand & minimize this conditioned, trance-like reactivity, we will continue to create unnecessary suffering for ourselves & others.

     Equanimity’ can be defined as: "a gentle matter of fact-ness with whatever comes up in experience. In a similar way, a scientist is trained to maintain the detached viewpoint of a neutral observer."
       Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.

     “Being bound neither by delight nor distress is a classical description of the mind-state of equanimity. Bikkhu Bodhi describes this mind-state as a ‘considered mind’ (‘because a prejudiced mind, a mind that has already been made up, cannot consider anything that is contrary to its accepted views’); a mind that has become pliable; become stable; become flexible; reached a state of not fluttering. This is a concentrated mind, without blemish, purified and cleansed with all defiling tendencies gone.
     This is admittedly an accomplishment of a buddha (with a small b) and a tall order for those not trained in the mental discipline. Still, in investigating deeply the workings of our own minds and meditative experiences, we may be able to catch a glimpse of some of the attributes described above. This glimpse, in turn, is a peek into the mind-state that has gone beyond [seeking] delight and [avoiding] distress.” Mu Soeng 
       Mu Soeng, Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia, Andrew Olendzki. “Older and Wiser. Classical Buddhist Teachings on Aging, Sickness and Death.” Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 2017.

     "... my hope (is) to have ‘traversed the world’s attachments’ (and therefore achieving) a state of equanimity and contentment rooted in wisdom. Contentment is a state of mind and need not rely upon a particular set of external conditions. We are accustomed to thinking that we’ll be content once this, that, or the other thing takes place, and we thereby put a lot of energy into trying to make those conditions manifest. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Even when it does, when we reach a goal (such as retirement) or fulfill certain criteria (such as having a comfortable place to live), it may still turn out that we are not content. Either the conditions change, as they are wont to do, or we find that new desires arise to clamor for our attention once the old ones are fulfilled.
     At any given moment, the quality of one’s experience will be defined by whatever emotional states are arising. Riding the roller coaster of desire, we might be gratified half of the time and distressed the other half. We are being told by the Buddha, however, that we also have a third option – not climbing on board in the first place. Any moment with desire is a moment entangled in suffering. Any time we want things to be different than they are, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is because delight and distress are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot have one without the other. It is precisely because he is not consumed with delight that the Buddha can ‘sit alone, without being consumed by regret.’
     Many people will say that it is worth the distress to experience the delight. As we mature, however, we may find ourselves drawn more to the middle range of experience, the state of mind described here by the Buddha in which the fires of desire no longer burn. This is of course the best-known metaphor for awakening: ‘the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion have been extinguished (nirvana).’ Conventional wisdom assumes it is boring and bland in this middle emotional range, but those who have experienced firsthand the equanimous quality of mind that comes from true mindfulness know better. Unencumbered by the emotional highs and lows, the mind is capable of a remarkable clarity and immediacy. Delight and distress do not spice up our experience as much as they confuse and obfuscate it.
     If our contentment depends upon receiving the things that delight us or avoiding what causes distress, it will remain shallow. At the deeper end of the pool, the mind is more calm, more focused, and hence more powerful. Awareness itself is the most astonishing aspect of the human condition. As we learn to orient toward it more often and more skillfully, the contentment described here by the Buddha becomes increasingly accessible. Profound well-being awaits us here and now, in every moment, and can be reached simply by ceasing the attempt to get somewhere else." Andrew Olendzki 
       Mu Soeng, Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia, Andrew Olendzki. “Older and Wiser. Classical Buddhist Teachings on Aging, Sickness and Death.” Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 2017.