Thursday, August 13, 2020

Critical Thinking Hack: Find the thesis!

A thesis is: "a position or proposition that a person advances and offers to maintain by argument."  according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

One of the most painful and challenging aspects of the debates I find myself witnessing or participating in lately is that there are times when you can't even quite figure out what the debate is about!  This is a standard conversational tactic that we use unconsciously.  It's natural to change topics intuitively during a casual conversation.  The problem comes when conversations aren't casual - these same tactics become the basis for confusion rather than intuitive rapport.

When the thesis we are arguing over isn't clear, it makes it easy, even natural to utilize all sorts of rhetorical fallacies.  The 'Red Herring' fallacy is quite suited for this because if you haven't clearly delineated what you're even talking about, then you're not breaking any rules by side-tracking off somewhere else, sliding into a different subject.

The problem here is that we're not just meandering through topics in a friendly way, in times such as the ones we inhabit today, we're usually trying to figure something out together.  When serious topics are approached in a casual way, rather than bringing us together, it seems to make us sloppy.  Instead of being able to drill down into on thesis, which we could prove or disprove, we're now faced with an onslaught of topics - some related, and some unrelated - and we're trying to manage them all.

Compounding the problem is that we're quite sophisticated on a subconscious level when we're under the sway of cognitive dissonance.  That means we might unconsciously resort to tactics like the Red Herring fallacy to get away from a focus on our thesis if we sense our position might be weak.  Without even knowing it, we'll start to dodge into a different topic.  Now our debate partner has to answer that question and we've diverted attention from the first.  

Perhaps you've had this tactic used on you lately?

A final challenge that is provided by debating topics on social media is that we can deliver an entire monologue that contains *multiple* theses at once.  When we do this, a debate partner has to be really committed to compassionately searching for truth with us if they are going to persevere.  To go through our monologues and discover the unstated theses and answer each of them with clear logic and compassion takes time, patience, and emotional intelligence.  You may have noticed that such inner resources do not seem all that abundant these days!

We can go a long way toward creating a culture of compassionate and lucid debate by incorporating just a single principle - that of finding the thesis!

If you know your own thesis, you can state it clearly so everyone knows what you're trying to prove!  You can also be considerate to only present one thesis at a time!  When listening, you can make it your first order of business to seek and clarify the thesis.

This deeper listening is very compassionate, can be a way of generating rapport. It requires/allows you to pause your desire to give your counterpoints immediately and to simply ask empathic questions until you discern what the other person's position is.

The final benefit of this above tactic is that you may find, if you really ask and dig deep, the thesis at the core of what an "opponent" is presenting is quite different than what you originally thought they were arguing for.  You may have been about to start a fight about a totally different issue!  By asking, you may find that you're in greater agreement than you originally thought.  I often find I share much common ground with my perceived opponents.  But even when we disagree, when I find what their thesis is, I start from a place of understanding, rapport, and mutuality.  I find that this is the very best place from which to have a difficult discussion.

Finding the thesis statement is not only a crucial step in any formal process of logic, but it can be a potent practice of compassionate listening - discerning what the other person really wants you to know so that you can work from common ground together.  [note: this is the thesis of today's blog] 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Recruiting All Empathy Warriors

 Um...  these are some wild times

I'll admit to you right now that I've been feeling pretty fatigued.

I'll admit, too, that I lost sight for a minute of my commitment to Empathy First.

It's easy to do.  We're a great big world community and there's pretty much nowhere you can go that you'd escape the ramifications of others' beliefs and behaviors.  With the sense of intensity and importance this interconnection brings up, it can be hard to remember to listen and connect primarily, rather than jumping right to trying to correct another and giving them a taste of how defensive we feel!

But in these times (and all times, really), connection goes MUCH farther than correction.  Haven't you noticed yet that when you get louder and more condescending, people listen LESS?  Meanwhile, while we're involved in the game of "who's right?" our own nervous systems get more and more wired up and stressed out.

Personally, I know exactly where my recent fatigue comes from - it's been from my adversarial relationship to the people, perspectives, and energies I'm meeting each day.  

Ok, but what do you mean "Recruiting Empathy Warriors" then?  What's a warrior if not someone engaging in adversarial relationships?  Here, I'm using the term as my spiritual teacher and martial arts master, Steven Baugh used it - "warrior," in our tradition essentially means "to be brave."  The tradition of 'Spiritual Warriorship' is an ancient and honorable one in almost all of planet earth's cultures down through history, and it can offer us tremendous benefits today.

The concept of spiritual warriorship, I find, helps cut through a dichotomy that can leave us un-balanced if we followed only one of the two extremes.  On the one hand, you have the idea of fighting, which isn't by itself very "spiritual," and on the other you have the idea of spirituality, which isn't always very effective.  But what if these two were not exclusive of each other?  What if there was a way to be brave and effective without compromising the principles of integrity and openheartedness we value?

The reason I say recruiting all empathy warriors in the title is because I don't just want to talk about this as a cute philosophy to make you feel better.  I of course want you to feel great, but that's not the point here!  The point I'd like to make is one that many trainers make to their warriors - that somewhere your enemy is training.  Somewhere, someone who opposes the values you stand for is working tirelessly to undermine them.  If we want to be a match for these adversaries, we can't think about our own discipline, bravery, and action as casual.  

We are not living in casual times.  The forces of entropy are always operating - working to tear complex structures apart.  Working to erode what integration and peace we may have found.  A warrior learns to come to terms with that, we contemplate death and impermanence and strive to live a good life in the time we are given.  In this moment especially, it feels like the forces of destruction and disintegration have turned it up a notch, working harder than ever to make chaos from order.  

A powerful insight can arise here: when you're working to stave off disintegration and disharmony, being a force of division only helps your enemy along.  I don't mean some edifices shouldn't crumble, I don't mean one should try to oppose impermanence itself, but dis-integration is optional.  You can choose to be a force for integration, and its human embodiment integrity.  You can be an agent of creating more harmony and unity out of our beautiful (and often very difficult) diversity.

But you can't do that casually.  To try to be a casual empathy enthusiast on the weekends is not enough.  In fact, if your heart is open to empathy and you don't act, you'll suffer from more anxiety, fatigue, and stress than if your heart was closed or checked out.  For me, heart closure, or checking out through drugs, TV, or even meditation are not an option.  The option is to move forward and recruit myself as an empathy warrior.  With this reframe, the immensity of the task before you is not a stimulus to collapse, but to engage.  Facing down insurmountable odds is just what warriors do.

Being non-casual doesn't mean being unrealistic.  Maybe you're working 50 hours per week and you don't feel like you've got the time and energy to build emotional bridges on the internet.  Maybe you've got PTSD and going to a protest march is not going to be sustainable for you.  I don't mean to say that you must do more, that you need exit the comfort zone in order to enter a zone of self-harm.   I do mean to say that no one is going to do the work for you.  There's only us.  If you don't act in alignment with your values, that's one less person on the scene showing up for integration, for peace, for equity, and humaneness.  Meanwhile, entropy, disintegration, hatred are easy.  They don't require recruitment, just a few appeals to fear and the whole body-mind organizes itself ready to sow more discord.  Violence is a virus.

But there is good news.  People of good heart, when exposed to these appeals to anger or fear usually wilt, but you could reframe your experience, you could retrain your mind.  Instead of seeing yet another act of violence/discord/misinformation and allowing the empathic distress of it all to overwhelm you into collapse, you could take on a warrior's attitude, you could think "ah, a sparring session,"  "ah, my opponent has disclosed is location,"  "ah, I know exactly what weapons you're bringing to bear now."  And you could let this rouse you to bring the fire of your values to an even brighter blaze.  I don't claim this will be easy, but I do put forth that when you do so, it will feel right.  You'll have come home to right relationship with yourself and instead of asking "what can I do?" and "shouldn't someone be doing something?" you will be doing something.

Hopeful too is the knowledge that in complex systems like our bodies and societies, even tiny changes can make profound differences.  The forces of chaos, dissolution, and entropy are not the only ones who benefit from this sensitivity to tiny changes.  The forces of integration and negentropy are also furthered by complex web of inter-relation.  Because we're all connected, because each act puts out ripples into this pond, or vibrations along the web, that means anything you do is potentially very powerful!

And so I make my request to you today: Recruit yourself as an Empathy Warrior.  Neither give in to the trance that says sowing chaos and division is the only way to "fight", nor to the trance that says hiding away to find your own peace is enough.  Learn to fight with your heart.  Be willing to show up as a vulnerable healer again and again and again.  Be strategic, learn your talking points.  In a world where fallacies and rhetoric are the rule of the day, grow ever better at pointing them out with compassion.  Step in to defend the oppressed every time.  Vote, and get others to do so to.  Take whatever time you can and research where legal or illegal groups are working to erode freedom, peace, and equality, and stand up to them again and again.  

And every time you stand, do it with love in your heart.  As Dr. King taught, nonviolence means not only being unwilling to kill a man, but being unwilling to hate him too.  It's not easy, but it's right.  If you recognize the warrior within you and recruit her to the cause you will tap into unknown resources you've never accessed before.  These are resources our world desperately needs!  The "enemy" - the forces of de-humanization and destructiveness know how to bring all their energies to the fore - shut down the heart, marshal a burning hate and the body-mind will burn hotter than ever until it burns up itself and all those in reach.  It's time for the forces of love and unification to learn how to bring all of their selves to the fore.  It's the same inner congruence, the same alignment, the same wholeheartedness, but aligned toward peace, toward harmony, toward making our values manifest in the world.

It's time to bring yourself fully to the fight.  Like the great teaching of the Bhagavad Gita teaches, the real fight is happening in the heart/mind/spirit.  There are times when we'll need to block violence with our physical bodies, but there's much to be done in our relationships inside and outside ourselves.  Our relationships are the primary battlefield, just ask any propagandist! 

I recently read that the overseas activities of the Peace Corps are currently suspended due to the pandemic, but peace is not suspended!  I call on you to form a corps for peace in every home, every city, every social media site, every church and yoga class.  We're recruiting empathy warriors to the cause, starting a nonviolent un-militia.  Get out and sow the seeds of peace with as much vigor as others are sowing the seeds of hate - you'll be surprised and fulfilled at the bountiful harvest we'll all share.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Buddhist Emptiness, for Troubled Times

Ok, I'm a little late for it, but it was just recently the celebration of one of the most important Buddhist holidays - the commemoration of Buddha's first teaching, Turning the Wheel of the Dharma.

In honor of this, I'd like to share one of the most powerful Buddhist teachings there is with you.  The teaching on Emptiness.  There are probably some scholars out there who could do a much better job of explicating all the nuances of emptiness philosophy from different historical perspectives, I'll leave that to them, because what I want to share with you today is what I've found to work, both for myself and for others.

And I want to share with you this practical philosophy of "Emptiness" because it's a perfect antidote for the frustration that comes with times such as those we're living through now.  

First, on the word.  "Emptiness" is a translation of the Sanskrit word "Shunyata," and from what the scholars tell me, it's not a bad translation.  But for our practical purposes, I like to use the term "openness" to get the feel for how we might use this notion.

When you read the scriptures that talk about emptiness, you can sometimes get a nihilistic vibe.  It's all about negation - you have no self, the world doesn't exist.  Some people use this to make Buddhism into a way of spiritual bypassing: "the world doesn't exist, so nothing really matters!"  Others see this philosophy, and they're just turned off, the don't give it a second look.  But I was taught that these two responses mean that you didn't receive the essence of this teaching, because any good recognition of "Emptiness" should give birth to compassion.  Instead of feeling turned off or like nothing matters, a teaching on emptiness should empower our awakened hearts to love more deeply.

How can it do so?  Because at the heart of it, Emptiness meditation breaks up the core of our assumed certainty.  The scriptures use strong energy of negation to help us shatter the fortresses of solidity that we've built around our ideas.  Emptiness meditation is an assault on cognitive dissonance.  It can effectively disarm the pain of being stuck in cognitive dissonance because that's all wrapped up in this thing called "grasping to a self."

It's a big topic in Buddhist philosophy, but for our purposes here we can just say that because the universe seems chaotic, mysterious, constantly changing, and unpredictable, often we respond by trying to create an island of solidity called "me."  Now, of course, "you" are also mysterious, unpredictable, and yes even a little chaotic!  But our ego-constructing defense mechanisms ignore that and try to pretend that there's a solid, unchanging "me" here.  In modern terms, this is the action of the Default Mode Network, and can be how we encode habits of depression, anxiety, and other painful waus of limiting ourselves.  We don't just stop at grasping to a self of "me", but then we go on to grasp to solidity "out there" too.  We try to make things that are constantly shifting into something we could pin down and hold onto.

There are a few problems here.  Of course, as part of maturation, we need healthy ego development.  We need to develop a sense of self who has a place in the world.  It helps if we have safe environments and loving families too, to do that process.  But if our sense of "me" becomes too rigid, it can lead to encoded patterns of trauma or stress that become part of an identity locked in to our self-sense.  Even more challenging is when we begin to see the world through these rigid filters.  In attempting to narrow down the world in order to gain a sense of safety, we block out a lot that is beautiful, new, and awe-inspiring.  Rather than living into the possibilities of the future, our mind replays home-movies of the past. 

This, then, can be where cognitive dissonance comes into play.  One of the best explanations for why we may have full on fight-or-flight-or-freeze reactions when our ideas are threatened, is that we've somehow merged that idea with the sense of "me", so if you threaten my economic philosophy, you've threatened "me" - them's fightin words!  Not only does this kind of understanding give us a clue to how to heal many of the terrible breaches in our personal relating, but it also brings with it a key to the much-sought peace of mind.

It's not just that we're taking our ideas and sharing them with others as if they were the one true answer, we're also relating to them that way ourselves.  It's so attractive to part of us to act as if we know exactly what's going to happen, what everything means.  This is what the fictive "me" craves most - to have that certainty that will finally make it feel safe (by being a tiny master of the universe).  But universe doesn't work that way, "safety" is not something that's guaranteed here, and it gets LESS likely the more rigid you are. 

While safety isn't guaranteed, we do have the option of Openness.  A fabulous old joke asks "why can saints levitate?"  answer: "because they take themselves so lightly!"  When we drop the addictive attachment to being right, to having all the answers, to creating a rigid island of control called "me", what we actually drop is a lot of tension.  The certainty and control we were desperately clinging to is something that was never really there - we don't lose anything by letting go, nothing except tension!

So as we face the trials of this time - pandemic, mass disinformation campaigns, racism, and ever widening divisions - it's tempting to grasp to one answer.  It's easy to tell ourselves that the pandemic means our job prospects are hopeless, or that widening social divisions mean that the dream of a just society is ground to dust.  It's easy to create nightmare fantasies that our brains replay and torment us with - because the torment feels like a type of certainty!  

The Buddhist alternative is to let go of the fantasies and be with the arising situation - resting in a sense of openness as one's identity rather than a fixed or rigid notion of "me," or set of beliefs.  When we do that, we're actually MORE capable of making good decisions - because we're not confusing a set of hallucinations and projections for reality.  And beautifully, we're more capable of compassion too - we've stepped back from our rigid sense of "me" and something in this has been shown to widen our sense of Who we are so that includes other "mes."  The mind relaxed through emptiness meditation is as much likely to identify as We, or as All, as it is to identify as it is to identify as "me".

A quick note on practicality.  Just in case you still think this sounds a little formless or nihilistic or removed from reality, I should tell you that Emptiness never gets taught by itself, it's always paired with teachings on Karma, or Interdependant Origination.

Karma here could just mean Cause and Effect.  In ancient times it meant a law of reciprocity where what you do comes back to you, and you can see how that could stave off the nihilism factor - "yes, things aren't fixed, but if you hurt someone, you'll get hurt too, so act right!"  You're given a moral compass with which to navigate the formless, changing universe.   In modern understandings, we might just think of this as the laws of physics.  While it is silly to fixate on our pet ideas and get all cognitively dissonant about them, we also must note that actions have equal and opposite reactions, 2+2=4, and so on.  What's wonderful is that when we set the mind in a state of openness that doesn't have to grasp and create addictive fantasies or catastrophizing trauma replays, we are more likely to see how the laws of cause and effect operate.  We're not meditating ourselves into an anti-science stance where thermodynamics disappear, we're just surrendering our projections - best we can - which may allow us to see what would be the most effective.  We've moved from trying to figure out what's "Right vs Wrong" and into the much less fanatical realm of "what are the facts?"

Finally, Interdependent Origination brings us into advanced "karma" - asking what happens to cause and effect in recursive systems comprised of many nodes and links.  Causes are causing other causes which in turn influence the "original" cause (which was caused by other causes).  Understandings of chaos and complexity can clue us in to why Emptiness meditation can be so important for our thriving.  Because in chaotic and complex systems, there's great "sensitivity to initial conditions".  This is the old Butterfly Effect - a tiny change can cause a big hurricane down the line.  So when it comes down to our world, our choices, the outcomes of our actions, complexity - Interdependent Origination - can help us to remember that we'll never have ALL the answers, but can guide us back to the understanding that in such systems every participant and every act is IMMENSELY POWERFUL.  

Rather than feeling disempowered or like nothing matters, Emptiness meditation can clue us in to our deep importance - an importance dependent solely on our relationships.  Rather than a claustrophobic sense of "me" constructed to withstand an unfriendly universe, and a set of "rules" set down to limit the chaos, we emerge into a field of dynamic change, and even beauty.  As we let go of the need to know and be right, the openness created can allow for the emergence of insight, of poetic meaning, and of deep relating and compassion.

With Emptiness we empty out nothing but what we don't need - the elaborations of tension protecting a non-existent "me" and all it's pet strategies and beliefs.  With Openness, we open our heart to the life in all its wildness, and give our heart's gift as we can only do when we've lain the armor down.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

On "Reopening"

Reopening?  Oh, I'm definitely for it!

I want us to open our hearts again and again!  I want us experiencing wonder and community that leaves us incapable of closing, and then I want us to spread this outward through ever greater service.  

Yes, may we reopen and again reopen!

Oh, you mean resume in-person meetings?  Hmm... about that I'm not quite so sure.

You see, I've spent so long as an environmentalist touting the "precautionary principle", that it's hard to go back to throwing caution to the wind.  I've gotten into a good deal of momentum in practicing: "If there's a possibility it will harm someone, let's not do it right now.  Let's do something else."  And the thing is that there's great possibility for harm from COVID-19, and I think it deserves some healthy respect.  

It's not just unrelated people I don't care about who might sicken and die, it's members of at-risk populations within my congregation.  Even those at a distance from us are still part of the "interconnected web" that we Unitarian Universalists respect.  We work for justice, equity, and compassion in our human relations.  That means while we cannot control all the harm we might do by mistake, we should try to reduce the harm we can influence.  None of us are unconnected, for a UU, no one is outside the "family".  As my spiritual teacher taught us from his spiritual training in the Lakota tradition, we honor "all our relations."

The good news is that we as a Fellowship do not need to think of reopening - WE WERE NEVER CLOSED!  True, we are taking space from each other physically and listening to the best science we can find - holding it up all the while to the light of our reason and compassion - but the work, the mission of our community is alive and well!

What is that mission?  It includes helping each other thrive through the many changes life brings us, honoring our transitions, and attempting to live our shared principles in a way that brings about the more beautiful world we know deep down is possible.

Rather than having the activity of our spiritual community suspended at this time, our work is MAGNIFIED.  Now, more than ever we can support each other in knowing we're not alone in traversing our trials.  Now, more than ever we can get creative collectively about how to help those who need us most.  Now, more than ever we can turn our minds and hearts toward the goal of a world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Our "spiritual practice" as UUs does not depend on an ancient ritual, a consecrated space, an ordained charismatic leader- it focuses solely around living our values in the world.  Staying home from church is how we practice our faith.  (please keep coming to the zoom meetings though!)

There are many questions and real problems to be wrestled with in this global crisis.  Let us not minimize or fail to empathize with any of them.  But in terms of gathering, as for our house of worship, we shall honor our sacred interconnections.  We'll do this by doing our best to protect each other.  We shall re-open each day within, and keep our physical doors closed until we can open those in good conscience.

Let ours be a voice of faith that calls toward human-heartedness and global fellowship.  May we lead by example, and take good care of each other in these trying times.

Bless you always and in all ways,

Rev. Fa Jun

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Resurrection: from Rex Mundi, to Lux Mundi

It's hard to know who Jesus really was.

With the way information was passed in those days - mostly as rumor - we can't know for sure that such a man even existed.  It's not hard to see how we co-opt the life of a great figure like this in support of our own dearly held views.  

Jesus the great pacifist can be used to justify war against "the unbelievers."  Jesus the rebel can be used to exhort submission to religious or temporal authorities.  I, obviously, see Jesus as an anti-wealth liberal, and holistic-thinking-peacenik!  (and master yogin, of course)

But the truth is, all of these interpretations will always say more about US than they say about HIM.

I'd love to explore the mythic Jesus for a moment, on this Easter morning.  The tale of his death and resurrection presents a powerful mythic theme that can inform all of our lives and help us navigate our way in anxious times.  

The death and rebirth myth of Jesus signifies the sacrifice of Rex Mundi - the "King of the World" and the (re)birth of Lux Muni - the "Light of the World".  These themes are presented all throughout his teachings.  Perhaps most clearly is when Satan, the Adversary, brings him to look over all the kingdoms of the land, telling him "all this could be yours." if he only switched his allegiance from the Divine, over to the ol Father of Lies.  He could be King of Everything, and all he'd have to do is give up his innermost Heart.

We may not all agree on whether there be mystic beings of evil out there to tempt us, but in the lives of many holy people, this testing process has occurred - the temptation to just let go of the Path of the Heart, and settle down into a more comfortable life, even perhaps use their considerable gifts and charisma to gain great personal power.

What's wrong with this, though?  Isn't it fine to long for a little comfort, a little safety?  Do we all have to be some kind of renunciate or ascetic to live a life from the Heart?  I don't think that's the message.  I think rather it's about knowing where we have influence, and knowing what our priorities are.

Thing is, we can't control the world.  The point of view of Rex Mundi is that somehow we could become so powerful that we could master all circumstances, never be surprised again, have it all figured out.  From our own side, we'd finally be "good", and on the world's side, we'd finally be "safe".  

But we know that this dream of control is just that - a dream.  Our best laid plans are always subject to surprise, and even if we get everything we want, we still have to die at the end.  Those who have come to have an identity that doesn't rest in their possessions or accomplishments have an easier time when that great transition comes than those who struggle in vain at the dimming of the light of this life.

So I think Jesus was regularly telling us that the worry, the anxiety, the frustration that can plague our lives comes from placing our focus too much on things that we don't really get to be in charge of.  That doesn't mean don't vote!  We're still going to brush our teeth, kiss our children, spay and neuter our (rescued/adopted) pets.  But these are acts that come FROM our hearts.  We're doing them as an expression of the values we hold most dear.  We are radiating these values forth into the world.

When we spread our petitions, call out injustice, water our lawn from the thought that we can somehow control what is happening, it always means we bring a certain degree of tightness and upset to the situation.  Not only are we more uncomfortable, but we make other people uncomfortable too! Misery loves company!  Upset breeds more upset.  This is the life of Rex Mundi - the one who would be King - going through the world manipulating circumstances so that all shall be according to her whim:  All shall love me and despair!

Fortunately, this is not our only option.  Jesus tells us of the life of Lux Mundi in an exhortation to his disciples in the book of Matthew: "“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others"

We can't micro-manage everything and always have it our way. But one thing you always can do is your best. I haven't seen the political prediction expert, astrologer, or meteorologist who can predict ALL the changes - if we're operating out of a need for control, we'll live a life of frustration and anxiety.

On the other hand, we can vow to live from our Heart. We can listen to the longings, values and inspirations from deep within, and we can manifest those in the world for all to see. It is then that Rex Mundi is put to rest, and Lux Mundi is born. It's called the Light of the World because its orientation is fundamentally Radiant. It shines out the values from its heart, rather than seeking value from outside. It brings the value to the situation.

The mystics of the world speak metaphorically that we forget that this radiant nature is available to us, and we then act as if life is for-getting. But when we recognize that life is actually for-giving, this allows us to be forgiving of things not always going our way. Who we are is not dependent on circumstances conforming to our wishes. Who we are can shine even more brightly when our world needs more light.

Just like the mythic Christ allowed the "King of Judea" to die to this life on a cross (symbol of "worldly concerns" in many ancient traditions), only to be born into a body of Light, we too can learn to put to rest the anxiety, frustration, and fatigue of trying to control an infinitely dynamic and changing universe. "Who, by worrying can add a single moment to their life?" Matthew 6:27

We can place our focus where it belongs - on the life of the soul - our "soul" being the deepest values whispering our heart. We can ask, as Christ did "what price can you put on that soul?" Even if we gained the whole world but had to lose our innermost Heart - it would be a bad trade.

On this Easter morn I pray that even while many of our plans are being cancelled, even though we might be facing loss, sickness, or death, there is a deathless presence of compassion that lives in the cave of our hearts. Let us roll the stone away, and let the Light of the World be reborn!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

From COVID Conspiracies to Worldcentric Cultures, and Integral(ish) Exploration

We live in a vastly interconnected world, I don't know if you noticed! It's a whole new world and we don't quite have the capacities to navigate it skillfully!

The conditions that brought forth modern, scientific thinking were a combination of safety and stagnation of the previous developmental wave - Mythic Membership.  The stability brought about through city states, division of labor, and agriculture was balanced by the stagnation of monarchies and religious hegemonies, and this forced human beings to give rise to a literal renaissance and explode into experimentation, democracy, and free markets all over the world!

We're at a similarly uncomfortable point in history now.  The Modernist-Achiever mythos has brought us a lot: advanced medicine, greater equality than we've ever known, and ever expanding convenience.  But the promise of making every man a monarch can never be fulfilled on a planet of finite resources while encouraging a mindset of infinite consumption.  Linear answers have proven unsatisfactory to complex problems, and each recalibration toward "business-as-usual" seems to be a slide toward greater chaos and claustrophobia.

We're ripe for the birth of the emerging wave of Worldcentrism and Pluralism.  Our most advanced sciences are already operating here - even though we're not always applying this knowledge.  The deepest understandings in ecology all note the profoundly intertwined nature of ecosystems, economic theory has had to learn how to deal with a globally interconnected world, psychology is waking up that no mental health or illness happens in a vacuum, and the technology of the internet is as lateral and interconnected as you can get.

But here we are in a world with the technology of post-modern systems thinking, while most of us are using the interpersonal "skills" of cave-people!  Ok, to be fair, we're probably sometimes as highly developed as mythic-membership zealots.  The problem is that we don't know we're looking at life through a lens - we just think our take on the situation must be the right one.

And there's a big problem here - because at our post-modern level technological development - we're INUNDATED with information.  There's so much info that we can't possibly digest and parse it all.  So what do we do?  We do a "gut-check" - we see how it feels intuitively.  The problem is this: our intuitions are mostly just made of our biases.  It's not that we're mostly made of the masterful intuitions of having long cultivated our craft as epidemiologists, or climate scientists, or sociologists,  military strategists, or communications specialists.  Rather, we're mostly made of the short-cut intuitive heuristics that allow us to excel at the Olympic sport of JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS!

The emerging Worldcentric wave of development has a couple of amazing capacities.  #1 it recognizes that we're all in this together.  I always think of Rev. Dr. King's statement that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Only a worldcentric intuition of our connection can let one grasp the importance of social distancing as a public health measure.  Only this wave of human development even starts to understand that we're all connected.  Anything less and you're likely to believe that these measures are too extreme for your business to survive and are thus probably a communist hoax.

At the same time, there's capacity #2. The Worldcentric wave is so tired of the ableist, privilege-enforcing, achiever hierarchies of modernism that it often grows allergic to hierarchies at all.  When you combine this with information overwhelm of our internet age, it makes sense why we find ourselves in a "post-truth" era.  The traditional structures of "authority" from mainstream science and journalism are under scrutiny, and it's an easy step from discounting those "narratives" to accepting equally specious claims because your confirmation bias likes them better.

And so out there on my bleeding-heart liberal social media feed I see all the cutest peaceniks arguing with deep pain and threats toward each other.   There are apparently two sides: one side who is SO READY to stay locked in their houses until an experimental vaccine can be shot into their children, and the other side who are SO READY to go out at night and tear down cellular towers to piss off the aliens running the government.  [yes, I totally did just ridiculously caricaturize both these fictional "sides", i hope you're not too badly triggered]

The first side keeps telling the second to calm down and read this article from NPR, and the second side can't figure out how to convince them that they're completely brainwashed.

And of course it seems logical that these two camps should fight like mad.  That's what we humans do when confronted with danger - we huddle down into our bunker, we circle the wagons, and we lob whatever weapons we have at anyone who gets close.

We're new at physical distancing for health, but we're PROFESSIONALS at emotional distancing, verbally dehumanizing, and socially ostracizing.

It would be one thing if these tactics improved the situation, but you know what these tactics bring about - only two results: an enhanced sense of self-righteousness, and increased cognitive dissonance.

The truth is that both these camps of peaceniks are working hard to figure out how to bring about the dearly-needed developmental wave of worldcentric systems understanding in our global society.  They're tackling questions that we have only seen before in science fiction like: What will our economies look like if we're not starving people and depriving healthcare as a form of motivation?  How do we continue to grow and expand our human possibilities while divesting from practices that despoil our habitat and harm other species?  How do we benefit from amazing innovations like the "internet of things" that might bring about levels of thriving we've never seen before, while also safeguarding ourselves from things like government (and commercial) surveillance of all our activities?

My friends who are quick to see secret and nefarious plots at every turn are extremely sensitive to the perils that come from a society that is ever more CONNECTED.  Being willing and able to think outside the box is a trait of every whistleblower and bellwether who has ferreted out environmental, political, or economic corruption before the rest of us were able to catch on.

My friends who are ready and willing to listen to the scientists and journalists who they have found to be authoritative are charting a course for us through the sea of mis-information we are drowning in. They are building rafts of verifiable facts, and using those to attempt to find some solid ground that we can all stand on safely together.

Each of these skills will be absolutely CRUCIAL to bring about the type of innovation our world - her people, animals, and ecosystems -needs now more than ever!  If we merely trust the authorities and never ask "who watches the watchmen" we may revert to the type of totalitarian states we're working to grow away from.  But if we don't have some standards about how we can test information, then we are likely to be led around by nefarious influences BECAUSE we are trying to avoid them.

There are serious manipulation plots out there.  Some actors are mastering the path of confusion in the internet age, and using it to overwhelm you with information and drive you to the fear and anger that make your brain its least functional and creative.  They don't even care who you vote for, or the type of hand-washing you practice or technology you use - as long as your choices and words bring division.  Because afraid and divided, we are easier to manipulate.

This is a time when we need to come together mentally, emotionally, socially more than ever - even if at a safe distance physically.  If we use cave-person interpersonal "skills" to try to bring about an advanced technological society that cares for all its members, we'll not only fail, but we will regress.

Instead, I call to you to develop the cognitive and interpersonal skills of this pluralistic age.  Learn to understand that "truths" are contextual - but there are FACTS to be found.  Learn to understand that calling people "stupid" or "crazy" doesn't convince them of your views - they're already thinking the same epithets about you.  Learn to patiently construct reasonable arguments rather than raising your voice or raising the frequency of your rhetorical devices (appeal to authority, appeal to fear, etc.).  Deepen your understanding of the relationship between inductive and deductive reasoning and have exciting conversations about it over a beer or coffee or water.

But even with all this, you'll recognize that your logic only goes so far.  Your patience will wear thin when you still haven't convinced the other person of the rightness (righteousness?) of your side.  And that's because the real skill you need is empathy.  The reason they're unwilling to listen to you is because you've refused to hear them.

You don't have to believe their story.  You hardly have to listen to their story.  But you do have to do an uncomfortable thing.  Instead of dehumanizing them because they believe a different myth than you do, learn to hear what the myth says about their deepest values.  Do you believe the myth that the CDC and pharmaceutical industry would never lie to you?  What needs and longings does this express?  Probably a longing for safety, health, clarity, a world that makes sense, a clear path forward, mutuality, and trust.  Do you believe that corporate elites are using technology to erode your freedoms and your immune system?  What needs and longings does this express?  Probably a need for freedom, health, autonomy, clarity, safety, a clear path forward, mutuality, and trust.

The truth is, concrete facts can be hard to find.  We're all going along with the best we've been able to come up with so far.  it only becomes a problem when we try to use our view as a bludgeon to convince the other of the shamefulness and idiocy of their way of seeing things.  Even if you're right, this way of interacting only hardens us into our thought-bunkers and leaves us more divided and more immune to change.

I believe there IS a more beautiful world coming.  We have to be able to envision it, we have to be able to get suspicious about the perils in it.  But most of all, we have to create it TOGETHER.  The thing about this emergent worldcentric, systems-based, pluralistic meme is that you don't get worldcentric understandings of our interdependence  by yourself.  By nature, we have to do it together.  If our deepening interconnection is going to lift us up rather than drown us, we must learn how to cooperate and put our minds on solutions together.

I'm calling you to engage in an experiment with me.  We're in a novel period of physical isolation - while we're all shook up and trying something new - let's try something really new:  while physically isolating, let's emotionally and intellectually reach out.  Grow the skills that make that possible.  If you feel like a caveman who wants to smash your phone or computer - this is a GOOD FEELING - you're stretching into the edges of your capacity to speak to those outside your tribe.  Learn a new language, become a pluralist, if nothing else, take comfort in that it will help to spread your correct truth.  But maybe, just maybe, learning these new languages might even let you learn something!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Relationship Survival in Tight Quarters

Not everyone is able, or willing to abide by shelter-in-place recommendations at this time.  But for the rest of us, this way of existing can bring up some unique challenges.  One of them is: how to live together with others when some of the ordinary avenues of escape are cut off???

First, my credibility statement!  I'm inspired to write this because over the past couple of years, my partner and I have managed bay-area rental rates by sharing a single room in a community house.  We are blessed by having a living room to spread out to, and I also have a training hall where I go do noisy kicks and punches.  But our personal space is the same room, and we're both people who really enjoy a sense of space that is just our own.  We've survived, and thrived, by using some simple principles that I'd love to share with you.

Last fall Marya went on a trip that she didn't at first expect to accompany me on.  I had rented a "tiny home" from airbnb for just me,  but  thought "it will be fine if I just keep this rental and we share it," when it turned out she could come along.  The house turned out to be very tiny, and it required all of our skills to navigate living in close quarters for that week!  Fortunately, by applying compassionate communication and personal inner practice, the experience ended up bringing us CLOSER together.

Here are three principles you may wish to apply!

1. Use the tech and life-hacks at your disposal!

One thing that really made our time in the tiny home together work was that Marya had recently invested in a set of noise-cancelling headphones.  When it came time to turn things down for the evening and I wanted to read a book while she wanted to watch a show, she could just put on her headphones and we had created a shared space without anyone having to compromise.

Similarly, when I wanted to go to sleep before her show was over, I made use of an eye-mask that I had purchased at the local coop to reduce light-disturbance.  I simply darkened my own space, and she could use the shared space to finish her chosen activities.

Is there simple technology you could use to make your situation easier for you all to manage?  A room divider, perhaps?  Maybe even build yourself a fort in the back yard or the living room as necessary!

One of the best internal "technologies" I know of is having an agreement on "Green, Yellow, or Red Light".  Green means, "go ahead, everything's normal and fun!"  Yellow means, "I need a little  more care right now - please be cautious."  And Red is, "Stop, please leave me alone so I can regulate myself."  If household members agree to respect each other's lights, a great deal of unnecessary stress can be avoided!

2. Employ the Gottman Ratio

The Gottman institute's research has shown that relationships thrive when there is a 5 to 1 ratio of five positive, enjoyable, nourishing interactions for every one challenging, painful, or negative interaction.

In human relationships, we're bound to have challenging interactions, that's just part of the deal.  It's an increased likelihood if we're spending more time together in unusual circumstances!  Instead of being worn down by the futility of avoiding challenging interactions, we can increase the positive interactions so that we can keep this ratio balanced.

How might you do this?  You could do something that costs you little - sweeping the floor when it's not your turn, making someone a coffee or tea, etc. - but which brings sweetness and value to your ship-mate's life.  If you do a bunch of these cute and little things during the day, it goes a long way to making your shared time together feel wholesome and nourishing, rather than like an ordeal.

3. Have methods of repair

Finally, I think it's important to know what to do when none of the above works, and things get really hard.  You've had to call "red light" on someone because you were being too much of a butthead, or they were.  It might seem easy to let things die down and go back to "normal" but usually this subtly injures the relationship and can add up over time.

If you've been a jerk today, you might want to go back and explain yourself (I had to with Marya already today).  Let them know why you acted the way you did and that it's not your intention to make their life harder.  This goes a long way to helping them keep the intention not to make your life harder! 

If they've been a jerk to you, perhaps let them know how that landed for you and what might make things feel right.  Be willing to do what would make it feel right to them when the roles are reversed.  Understand that we're going to make mistakes, but mistakes don't have to be permanent.

When we allow for and focus on relational repair in this way, we're aiming the relationship toward mutual thriving.  We're making a potent statement through our actions that we care for the other and want them to care for us - so we can get through this together.

What if I'm sheltering alone?
Well don't worry buddy, the same rules can apply to you.

What's your tech?  It's doing the right workout for your body's needs, it's having music that can help tune your mind, it's taking supplements and eating foods that keep you healthy and happy.  It's also knowing when you're in a "Red Light" and being willing to just give yourself a break - take a nap, watch a movie, unplug from everything for a minute and let the system settle itself.

What's your Gottman Ratio?  Focus on the positives.  Instead of waiting for the feelings of boredom or despair to creep over you, find 5 things you want to do today?  Do you want to accomplish a writing project, a reading project, a fitness goal?  Do you want to help someone else?  There are plenty of ways to have enjoyable experiences today - if you focus on those rather than on wondering what might go wrong, you'll be more prepared when challenges DO come up.

What's your repair?  It's all about staying out of guilt and shame.  If you reach the end of the day and realize you haven't been living your values for the last 18 hours, the worst thing you can do is to shame yourself.  The best thing you can do is ask within: "How can I make this right?"  And listen for the answer.  Usually the answer is just "try again tomorrow after a good night's sleep!"

I hope these suggestions give you some easy ways to survive tight quarters and face the interesting times we find ourselves in with curiosity, inner strength, and compassion!