Friday, November 24, 2023

What is Trustworthy?

    "Einstein was asked what he thought the most important question was that a human being needed to answer. His reply was, ‘Is the universe a friendly place or not?
    Our answer to that question is the cornerstone on which many of our values & beliefs inevitably rest. If we believe that the universe is unfriendly & that our very souls are in danger, peace will be elusive at best."
    Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.

    Many years later, one of the world's foremost PTSD experts expanded on the same topic:
    If you feel safe & loved, your brain (is) specialized in exploration, play, & cooperation; if you are frightened & unwanted, it (is) specialized in managing feelings of fear & abandonment.
    Bessel Van Der Kolk. “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” Penguin Books, 2015.

    "The Great Way is not difficult
     for those who have no preferences..."

    We all have many, perfectly harmless preferences, like enjoying one flavor of ice cream more than another.
    But why does not getting what we want so powerfully grab our attention? Perhaps it's because many of us live under the (mostly subconscious) assumption that survival & safety depends entirely on our ability to control our environment. We live in fear that failing this, will quickly bring chaos, sickness, starvation & death.
No wonder we're triggered every time life appears indifferent to our personal preferences.
    Yet realistically, how often does our every wish (preference) come true? Rarely, & then only briefly. So most of us spend our lives striving mightily against 
reason & reality by trying to capture & sustain personal preferences. We cling to our preferences like drowning people cling to bits of wood floating by. This is how we create most of our suffering, and it's completely unnecessary!

    Life rarely unfolds exactly as we want it to. And if we stop and think about it, that makes perfect sense. The scope of life is universal, and the fact that we are not actually in control of life’s events should be self-evident. The universe has been around for 13.8 billion years, and the processes that determine the flow of life around us did not begin when we were born, nor will they end when we die. What manifests in front of us at any given moment is actually something truly extraordinary – it is the end result of all the forces that have been interacting together for billions of years. We are not responsible for even the tiniest fraction of what is manifesting around us. Nonetheless, we walk around constantly trying to control and determine what will happen in our lives. No wonder there’s so much tension, anxiety & fear. Each of us actually believes that things should be the way we want them, instead of being the natural result of all the forces of creation.
    Every day, we give precedence to our mind’s thoughts over the reality unfolding before us. We regularly say things like, ‘It better not rain today because I’m going camping’ or ‘I better get that raise because I really need the money.’ Notice that these bold claims about what should and shouldn’t be happening are not based on scientific evidence; they’re based solely on personal preferences made up in our minds. Without realizing it, we do this with everything in our lives – it’s as though we actually believe that the world around us is supposed to manifest in accordance to our own likes & dislikes. If it doesn’t, surely something is very wrong. This is an extremely difficult way to live, and it is the reason we feel that we are always struggling with life.
    The question is, does it have to be this way? There is so much evidence that life does quite well on its own. The planets stay in orbit, tiny seeds grow into giant trees, weather patterns have kept forests across the globe watered for millions of years, and a single fertilized cell grows into a beautiful baby. We are not doing any of these things as conscious acts of will; they are all being done by the incomprehensible perfection of life itself. All these amazing events, and countless more, are being carried out by forces of life that have been around for billions of years – the very same forces of life that we are consciously pitting our will against on a daily basis. If natural unfolding of the process of life can create and take care of the entire universe, is it really reasonable for us to assume that nothing good will happen unless we force it to?
    There must be another, more sane way to approach life. For example, what would happen if we respected the flow of life and used our free will to participate in what’s unfolding, instead of fighting it?

    Michael A. Singer “The Surrender Experiment. My Journey into Life’s Perfection,” Harmony, 2015.

    A few more insights from Singer - a meditator & businessman, who maintained a very deep meditation & yoga practice WHILE creating & running highly successful companies:

    “the personal mind (with it’s neurotic chatter) always returned once I got up (from sitting Zen meditation) and became active. … one day in a flash of realization it dawned on me that perhaps I’d been going about this in the wrong way. Instead of trying to free myself by constantly quieting the mind, perhaps I should be asking why the mind is so active. What is the motivation behind all the mental chatter? If the motivation were to be removed, the struggle would be over.
    This realization opened the door for an entirely new & exciting dimension to my practices. As I explored it inwardly, the first thing I noticed was that most of the mental activity revolved around my likes & dislikes. If my mind had a preference toward or against something, it actively talked about it. … it was these mental preferences that were creating much of the ongoing dialogue about how to control everything in my life. In a bold attempt to free myself from all that, I decided to just stop listening to all the chatter about my personal preferences, and instead, start the willful practice of accepting what the flow of life was presenting me.
    I would let go of my preferences and let life be in charge. … If life brought events in front of me, I would treat them as if they came to take me beyond myself. If my personal self complained, I would use each opportunity to simply let him go and surrender to what life was presenting me. This was the birth of what I came to call ‘the surrender experiment.’
    Surrender – what an amazingly powerful word. It often engenders the thought of weakness & cowardice. In my case, it required all the strength I had to be brave enough to follow the invisible into the unknown."

     Singer's experiment was very successful. His suggestion?

    “Do whatever is put in front of you with all your heart & soul without regard for personal results. Do the work as though it were given to you by the universe itselfbecause it was.”
    Michael A. Singer “The Surrender Experiment. My Journey into Life’s Perfection,” Harmony, 2015.

    It's understandable, especially if we've had a rough childhood & a harsh life in general, for us to be flailing frantically for control. And yes, it's almost impossible to teach more effective swimming techniques to someone WHILE they're drowning. Nevertheless, there ARE MUCH wiser ways of being in the world than remaining trapped, identified with our neuroses.


Monday, November 13, 2023

What Do I Stand For - No Matter What?

    We live in wildly tumultuous, perilous times, even the very fortunate living in the relative safety & sanity of Canada. The war in Palestine / Israel, like all conflicts, demands infinitely more than knowing how to defeat 'the enemy.' The level of thinking which builds & sustains colonial empires, multi-national corporations, & billionaires; also estroys the air, water, land, plant & animal species, human relationships, quality of life; & promotes conflict & war. This reptilian 'rape, pillage & plunder' mentality favors only the short-sighted ultra-rich & puppet politicians. Jem Bendell PhD
, we've been conditioned to at least partially believe the 'American dream' sales pitch: owning stuff IS happiness. Otherwise, we're repeatedly told that life is supposed to be meaningless. Immediately after 9/11, then US President George W. Bush told New Yorkers, "go show those terrorists what we're made of - and shop!"
Einstein suggested we NEED a qualitatively higher level of intelligence THAN the one that got us into this mess

     The current Palestinian / Israeli war provides a pressing opportunity to decide WHICH MENTALITY we take - the old reptilian 'eye for an eye' reaction - OR - our evolved wise loving nurturing intelligence

    "The personal experience of suffering unites us with other people: it is the dynamo that generates compassion, which, by its nature, is transpersonal." Dean Rolston

    Below Jack Kornfield - former Buddhist monk, beloved meditation teacher, retired clinical psychologist, parent, husband & senior citizen - reminding us of our true nature & what we stand for (transcribed from his EXCELLENT 61min YouTube video bottom of page) :

    “From Yuval Harari, one of our great thinkers & historians,
    For right now, most Israelis are psychologically incapable, at this moment, of empathizing with the Palestinians. The mind is filled to the brim with our own pain, and no space is left to even acknowledge the pain of others. And most Palestinians are in a similar situation. Their minds too are so filled with pain and loss that they cannot see our pain. But outsiders like you, who are not themselves immersed in pain, should make an effort to empathize with all suffering humans, rather than lazily seeing only one side of this terrible reality. It is the job of outsiders to help maintain a space for peace. We here in Israel and Palestine deposit this peaceful space with you, because we cannot hold it right now. Take good care of it, for us, so that one day, when the pains begin to heal, Israelis and Palestinians and you too might inhabit the space of peace together.'

    If you go into certain Zen temples in Japan or elsewhere, there’s this weird thing, they have little, low doors. We find them in Tibetan temples too, & other places. You have to bow to go into the temple. You can’t stride in. You actually have to lower yourself, with a certain sense of reverence & humility. And often by the gates of the temple are (statues of) the demons, that represent all that keep us from that place of peace & stillness. And you have to pass through them & acknowledge them. You can’t just ignore them. They’re part of the price of admission: to face the demons, to bow low. And then when you enter, you’re invited into a timeless reality. In Zen they say, ‘This is the reality of who you were, before your parents were born.’ That’s one of the great koans: ‘Show me, tell me, who were you before your parents were born?’
    There’s a liberation amidst birth & death, joy & sorrow, war & peace, that is beyond it all. And this is the sacred openness of love & awareness itself. And you know this. You know this as sure as you know your own name – even if you forget it – you do know that there is something bigger & majestic & timeless. And this is the opening to the cosmic dance
    Remember the famous poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Call Me by My True Names’?

'I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.'

    I am them all. I am the joys & the sorrows. I am born again & again. This is the cosmic dance. And from this perspective, fear & ignorance & hate are seen in the vast ocean of love & understanding because we are part of creation unfolding itself. And if you take a Bodhisattva vow, as I’ve done, ‘O nobly born,’ it reminds you, ‘may you remember this freedom, and may you commit yourself, o nobly born, to alleviate the ignorance and suffering and fear in beings, the suffering of beings wherever you are.’ And then you say, ‘How long?’ As long as it takes.

    So this is a shift of consciousness for refuge. This is the timeless refuge.
‘Who is your enemy?’ it says in the Buddhist texts. Mind is your enemy. No one can harm you more than your own mind untamed, filled with greed, fear, confusion & ignorance. Who is your friend? Mind is your friend. No one can help you. Even the most loving parents & friends, as much as your own mind, tamed & trained & filled with goodness.’ So then you sense the outer refuge and the sacred refuge and it becomes your refuge inside.

    What else is a refuge for us in these times? Ethics, virtue, whatever language you want to give it, morality. Here from a Buddhist text that I love:

‘Others will be cruel. We shall not be cruel. Thus we shall incline our hearts. Others will kill beings. We shall not kill beings. Thus we shall incline our hearts. Others will be violent. We shall not be violent. Thus we shall incline our hearts. Others will take what is not given and steal. We will abstain from taking what is not ours. Thus we shall incline our hearts. Others will speak falsely. We will abstain from false speech and speak that which is true. Thus we will train our hearts. Others will be envious. We shall not be envious but respectful of all others. Thus we shall incline our hearts. Others will be fraudulent. We will be honest. Thus we will train our hearts. Others will be arrogant. We shall be open-minded with humility. Thus we will train our hearts. Others will be harsh without compassion. We will be established in compassion. Thus should we incline our hearts.’

    That’s a really powerful call isn’t it? To say no matter what happens, what is your refuge? What do you stand for, no matter what? Integrity, honesty, non-harming, respect, and in it there’s so much truth & mercy, because it knows that ‘hatred never ends by hatred, but by love alone is healed
    And you look at Palestine and Israel, and it’s one traumatized people traumatizing another traumatized people from the displacement of the Palestinians and the Holocaust. And we may weep, and stand with others, and understand the cycles of trauma, and see with the eyes of wisdom, tenderness, and tears, and courage.
Longfellow who says,
    ‘If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would see sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.’
    A deep forgiveness, allowing the heart to break, and opening to this dance of joy & sorrow that is given to you, it is who you are, is who we are

    And I think of these lines from Ellen Bass in her poem, ‘If You Knew,’
‘What would people look like
if we could see them as they really are
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?’
    How could we not see, with the eyes of love, everybody?

    So what supports you in living your values? Reflect for a moment, and sense what it feels like to stand up for what matters. Others will do other things, we shall not.”

Jack Kornfield on the Heart of Refuge - Heart Wisdom Ep. 211


Friday, November 10, 2023

What Can We Do?

    Imagine shortly after your birth, you were cold, hungry, thirsty, wet, uncomfortable & unhappy. So you cried as loudly as you could for help. You had no way of knowing or comprehending why you were no longer being held in safety & unconditional love like you (more or less) were for your timeless 'eternity' in the womb.
    What went through your completely innocent mind? Overwhelmed by the primal fear of abandonment & death - attachment trauma.      
    “Children can be traumatized, not just by terrible things happening to them, but just by not having their needs met – by not being seen, not being heard, not being held. Those are wounding for a child.” Gabor Maté MD

    Now imagine as an adult, waking up alone, in great pain, lying helplessly in the recovery room, immediately following major surgery. So you ring the button to call for help - even start yelling, and wait, and wait ... You have no way of comprehending why nobody comes to help.
goes through your mind? Fear, anger, frustration - abandonment, dying alone.
Trauma is not so much what happened to us, but rather what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic mutually connected witness." Peter Levine PhD

    Imagine watching the evening news: escalating war in the Gaza / Israel; endless war in the Ukraine; enthusiastic "proxy" participation by most of the world's dictatorships & "friendlies" - with repeated threats of nuclear weapons; thousands killed by yet another earthquake in Nepal. Meanwhile, in the world's most privileged countries, escalating numbers of homeless "living rough" in severe winter conditions; rapidly increasing deaths by drug-overdose, direct suicide even of children & insane levels of "gun violence". Then, 'in other news': much faster-than-anticipated global warming, rise in sea levels, rise in CO2 levels, extinction of species, toxic air pollution, etc etc. Reptilian world leaders continue playing colonialist 'rape, murder & plunder' games, as they confidently destroy our one-and-only earth.
goes through your mind? Fear, anger, frustration, disgust, cynicism - am I alone in a hostile, meaningless universe?

    Indeed, what can we do?
    Many refuse to watch or listen to the news - "It's too depressing!" Well yes, but immature & unhelpful.
    Then some aspire to at least be "well adjusted." However,
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society" Krishnamurti

    Which brings to mind a scene from the Viet Nam war movie, Apocalypse Now, showing Lt. Col. Kilgore, shirtless, cigar in mouth, practicing golf drives into the South China sea, surrounded by his young soldiers in uniform. Behind him, American fighter jets rain down bombs, evaporating countless Vietnamese in the jungle below. With great gusto Kilgore says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
This timely topic: The Myth of Normal. Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture.” is carefully examined by Gabor Maté MD & Daniel Maté, in their excellent 2022 book.

    How, one might wonder, does a sweet, innocent, loving & lovable little baby turn into a Kilgore? None of us are born to ideal parents who are able to make us feel consistently safe & unconditionally loved. Therefore, very early in life, most of us experience some degree of attachment trauma, and learn to escape the present moment by dissociating whenever we find situations unbearable. Many other forms of trauma occur later in life.
Pathological dissociation generally results from being psychically overwhelmed by trauma. Trauma is everywhere & highly prevalent." Elizabeth F. Howell. “The Dissociative Mind.” Routledge, 2008.

    Dissociation is almost universal. However, while dissociating we can't be intimately engaged with whomever we're with, or whatever we're doing, because we divert attention elsewhere - from urgent self-preservation to mere distraction. For many, dissociation becomes habitual, occuring even in the absence of triggers.
    "… studies on attentiveness show that people are only briefly & unpredictably attentive. Attention habitually diverts to unrelated thoughts & feelings, leaving any task at hand to be managed 'on autopilot.' These studies suggest that mindlessness ('mind wandering,' 'zoning out,' 'task-unrelated thought') is 'one of the most ubiquitous & pervasive of all cognitive phenomena' and that it often occurs unintentionally, without awareness, occupies a substantial proportion of our day, and leads to failures in task performance."
    Lovas JG, Lovas DA, Lovas PM. “Mindfulness and Professionalism in Dentistry.” J Dent Educ 2008; 72(9): 998-1009.

    Dissociation due to fear is a fundamental problem - the precise opposite of intimacy arising from love. All wisdom traditions, through their saints & mystics, as well as artists (intermediaries between spirituality & materialism) have been trying to tell us this for thousands of years. 

    As infants & children, numbing / being closed down can be more important than feeling / opening up.
now, as adults, "it's time to pull up our big boy pants" and have
“the spaciousness to allow any quality of mind, any thought or feeling, to arise without closing around it, without eliminating the pure witness of being. It is an active receptivity to life.” Stephen Levine

    We get into & easily remain stuck in adversarial relationships - involving even siblings, parents vs children, intimate partners, co-workers, ideologies, races, religions, countries. Our conflicts can & do lead to horrific, prolonged, unnecessary blood-baths 


    A short excerpt of Gabor Maté MD from a wise, compassionate recent interview:  

    So what’s the way out? Self-examination is the first step.
    Krishnamurti said that action has meaning only in relationship. And without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breathe conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.
    It's so true, if we want to understand something, let's at least begin with the willingness to look at our role and our own contribution to that relationship in which we're suffering.

    Again, that doesn't justify any particular action but at least it provides a context and it's not about taking the wrong path.

    Robert Sapolsky talks about the absurdity of hating any person for anything they have done, given that in his view, everything we do is determined by the past. And he also says there's no such thing as free will, and blame & punishment are without ethical justification.
    No, I don't I don't agree with him. I think it is possible to get to a position of free will, but I don't think most of us have free will most of the time.
    To get to free will, it takes extraordinary effort to become conscious. To be conscious means you're aware of what's inside you.
    So there might be rage inside you, perfectly understandable. There might be hatred inside you, perfectly understandable. There might be a desire for revenge inside you, perfectly understandable. Understandable? Absolutely. But they're not guides for action.
    The only guide for action is when we're in a non-defensive state. An emotionally non-defensive state is where the prefrontal cortex, the mid-frontal cortex, whose job is to have insight, empathy, self-regulation, compassion, is online THEN we might talk about free will.
    But when we're regulated by our emotional reactions
, collective or personal, there's no free will.

    The Buddha never told his followers ‘not to feel’ hate, or not to feel angry, or not to feel grief, not to feel sadness, or fear. He said you will notice when there's fear in you; you will notice when there's hatred in you; you will notice when there's grief; you'll be aware of it, so that it doesn't rule you.
    Those are just human emotions. They're going to happen. The question is, what's going to govern our actions?

    Dan Siegel a psychiatrist, and Stephen Porges a psychologist, both point out that at times of pressure & fear, our perspective narrows. And the part of our brain that takes over, is more the fear-based & defensive-based, fight-or-flight, so we lose the governance of our pre-frontal cortex, which is capable of taking a broader view.
    An Israeli friend with a daughter, who lives in the North of Israel, where as a result of recent events, they had to evacuate some communities, owing to the threat of further violence not just in the South, but also in the North of Israel
    And she wrote to me very honestly, she says, ‘Dear Gabor, I really appreciate the things you wrote. The days here are unbearable. We moved in with friends because we live in an unprotected ground floor, surrounded by gardens so beautiful usually, but home no longer feels like a safe place for millions right now.’ And she’s talking about Israelis. She’s well aware, by the way, of the Palestinian situation. But she’s describing her own situation
    ‘The rest of the time I work at a mental health center, and we collapse under the referrals, and the meetings, and the frantic courses we take to treat ongoing trauma. I’m exhausted. The 
(words of support) you wrote are beautiful, but perspective expands when people are not under physical threat. And so, those close to me, and my point of view is very narrow.
    That’s a very honest statement. She’s making no apology. She’s not taking a political stance. She’s saying, right now my perspective is very narrow. She doesn’t want to identify with that narrow perspective, but she understands that under the pressure, that’s what happens. Now most people are not that self-aware. Peoples’ perspective narrows of course, and it becomes subsumed in group identification, and thoughts of revenge, and thoughts of hurting the other.
    Under threat, or what we perceive as being under threat, we go into this narrow place. That’s a place of slavery – when we’re enslaved to our unconscious. Where we’re governed by our emotions and where the heart closes down

    And if there was ever a time for people to actually open their hearts, to not get stuck in a narrow place, to not repeat the past, to not perceive themselves only as victims, but in relationship with the other, and have the willingness to examine my role in that relationship, which is all we ask for in any marriage or in any relationship. ..."
A Call for Healing: Gabor Maté on Palestine / Israel : 

“The words of the Buddha offer this truth:
Hatred never ceases by hatred
but by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.’ ”

Jack Kornfield

A Walk to the Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith