Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Holiday Communication Tricks!

 Well, it's that most wonderful time of the year again!

I think in an ordinary year, there's plenty of stress to go around during the holiday season: Who's parents do we visit for Thanksgiving, and how do we keep the other ones from feeling jealous?  Should I just bring my own organic food to the communal feast, or slight my own values to be part of the community vibe?  How do we honor our environmental goals while still giving the kids a fun Christmas?  

And those don't even start to get into feelings of tension around things like the actual history of "Thanksgiving", or the awkwardness of the "War on Christmas" that pagan liberals like me are perpetuating every day!

On top of that, it seems we're entering an even bigger COVID-19 spike than we've seen yet, and this might make holidays even trickier than before!  I wanted to offer one communication hack that can change everything for you - streamlining awkward processes into one, easy-to-remember principle!

That simple hack is "complete avoidance of trips"

No, I don't mean avoid traveling (though that seems pretty dang prudent right now!) I mean the 70s and 80s jargon like "don't lay a trip on me, man!"

If you want the simplest way to cut to the heart of clarifying your communication challenges it is simply this:  Don't lay trips on others, and don't let anyone lay a trip on you.

Another way to say this would be to stay away from "shoulds" - like, don't "should" all over your relationships.

Why might this be so powerful?  Well, just think of how it feels when someone tells you how you should live.  Or worse yet, how it feels when they tell you how you should feel!  The thing is, "should" doesn't really exist - it's just a socially accepted way we have of emotionally manipulating each other.

Sometimes "should" is a short hand for our best guess.  Like "you should wear a mask and wash your hands to prevent germ spreading."  When people say this they're saying "my best guess for how to keep us safe is to follow these recommendations.  But with "should," it comes across as a character judgement - and people respond accordingly.  

It works the other way - with shouldn't.  You "shouldn't live in fear and keep your kids from seeing their grandparents for the holidays."  It's expressing the person's best guess 1) letting fear limit us has bad consequences, and 2) kids will suffer if they don't see the grandys.  But it's laced with a hefty dose of "do it my way because I'm right and you're wrong."

Now, the epic trick here is that when people give you this right/wrong bait, you don't have to bite the hook.  Because there's something about "should" that we need to know - it's actually a way we're all just trying to express our values.

When the person says you should wear a mask, they're offering the best strategy they know for creating safety, health, and cooperation.  When the other person says you shouldn't live in fear or keep the kids home, they're offering their best strategies for creating more freedom, connection, and openness.  

Here's the magical part - we (who have been taught this trick) can choose to relate via values, and disregard "shoulds" entirely!  Now, this may not ensure that the other will understand you, it may not make them stop trying to lay trips on you, but it DOES instantly relieve you of any duty to continue fighting.

When we fight -in these ways that create so much tension- we're basically flinging "should" at each other.  We're knuckling down on who's trip is the right one.  But about most things in life, we don't know what's "right".  We can find data about a lot of things, but no one knows for sure the exact outcome of any strategy - the best we can do is life from our values as fully as we can.  When you do that, the feeling is much more of a calm sense of what you must do from your heart - rather than a struggle to make the other see your point, or to prove them wrong.  Truth is we cannot make another see our point, we can only offer to share it with them.

While there is no guarantee that refusing to bite the hook of a right/wrong "should" battle will create harmony on the outside, it creates A LOT on the inside.  Even more heartening is that it often does allow another to see your point of view, because you're not busy trying to make their perspective wrong.

If both of you are fully engaged in the testing ground all-or-nothing battle of "who's right?!" it's obviously going to be very hard for anyone to open their heart and listen.  But what happens if one of you refuses not only to be manipulated, but also to manipulate?  What if you play a different game entirely, of sharing your values as an offering from the heart, and listening through their "shoulds" as an offering from theirs? 

I know when someone listens to me in this way I'm much more likely to open to them and hear where they're coming from.  We may not end up buying each other's strategies or interpretations of the situation, but we don't have to leave the conflict with our hearts harder - sometimes the conflict can even deepen the connection between us!

The whole method comes down to the basic principle: refuse to lay trips on others, or to allow them to be lain upon you.  We give up the sense that we can somehow make the other understand us, or that this is even important.  We leave the cult of the mighty "should" and we come down to living from our values.  When we do that, we recognize that most everyone is trying to do the same - just sometimes they do it in ways that hurts themselves and others.  When we hold a bottom line of not manipulating our selves and others, we can be an potent pattern disruptor in this ongoing cycle of emotional re-injury.

So whatever you do for these unique holidays, have fun, come from your values, and listen to the values others are expressing.  At the very least, you'll have wasted less time in conflict, and spent more of your life living from the heart - and at best, you might find your relationships become places of greater understanding and connection than ever seemed possible!

Good luck out there!

If you'd like to learn more hacks for this very unique moment in our lives, check out my free, two-talk series coming up Dec 1 and 8 called 'Biohacking the Apocalypse'!  Here's the link to register if you're interested https://templestyle.mykajabi.com/offers/fG7BbPx6

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Emotions Need Not Be Shamed

 Emotions Need Not Be Shamed

One of the most powerful things I ever learned came through the study of Non-Violent Communication and it was this: While our stories about the world may differ, may be factual or fictional, and while our strategies toward life are wildly diverse - we all *feel* and *need* the same things.
What's more, feelings are never right or wrong, they just ARE. Feelings are actually our psyche/somatic responses to whether our needs are being met. I believe that in a healthy heart, no feelings are off-limits, evil, or denounced. Similarly, there are no human needs which are not seen as holy.
The way we try to *meet* our needs can be deeply unhealthy though. How we *act out* our emotions, this can cause great harm to self or others. But the emotions and the needs are not themselves to blame.

This post is a follow up to the great deal of writing I did yesterday on learning to separate the feeling of hatred or ill-will from the desire to protect oneself or others. You see, I don't want it to sound like I'm saying that anger, or even hatred are "bad".
That's a type of shaming, moralizing language that I haven't found to be very useful relating to my own inner life, or with others.
So that writing was meant to open an inquiry to folks who felt *conflicted* about feeling happy when someone who has harmed you comes to harm themselves. I don't propose to be offering the "right" answers, just contributing to the exploration.
A truth seems to be that when one has endured abuse, it is *natural* and *healthy* to feel rage. To try to stifle or judge that feeling would be to create inner divisions and repression, and likely stifle the energy of life that was attempting to move you toward safety.
Similarly, if one's abuser or perceived abuser comes to harm, it is natural to feel a sense of relief unfolding within. Universal human needs for freedom, for fairness, for safety all appear to be being met - our bodies respond to this with joy.
As a yogin, I've been taught that feelings are not to be judged, repressed, or even encouraged, but *accepted* - they're a natural, healthy part of our animal being. There are no "acceptable" and "unacceptable" feelings, no good or bad ones. There are "unpleasant" feelings for sure, but all of them are natural, and can ultimately be a source of healing.
The same goes for our needs - we need freedom, we need bliss and altered states, we need connection, food, water, and air too! None of these needs are unholy - even if you get your altered states through sex and drugs like Nancy Reagan warned me against - the need is universal and natural.
WHAT WE DO WITH OUR FEELINGS AND NEEDS seems to make all the difference. When we take our feelings and react to the world with hostility, we set up certain chains of consequences. When we repress our feelings, we tap a different domino-path. Our strategies about what our feelings should cause us to do are the source of the real-world consequences - in our bodies, our relationships, our communities.
This is why in wisdom cultures around the world, deep practitioners have always chosen to LIVE BY VOW, not by emotion.
Rather than react to what's going on out of the intensity of our emotional response, rather than letting our longings blindly drive us on, we focus on our *values*, and we let them inform our strategies every step of the way.
In reality, Anger is a tool - it can be used effectively to create greater safety for self, others, and world, or it can be used in ways that cause harm for all involved. The same is true for happiness, grief, inner conflict, fear. When we refuse to repress or judge our emotions, they become a wellspring that can empower our CHOICES.
And *choice* is really where it's at. We don't live in a world of "should" and "shouldn't", I personally no longer believe in a fixed binary of mythic Good and Evil, but I do believe in CHOICE.
So when we look at our own emotions and how we relate to them, are we empowering ourselves to CHOOSE on behalf of our deepest values? When we speak with one another, are we using our language to invoke the other's freedom to act on their deepest values, or are we using our words to shut down, to judge, to blame?
The power is in *your* hands, your feelings are a manifestation of this great power of the LIFE-FORCE within you rising up to meet your needs. It's what we DO with that power that matters.
So drop the shame, lift the sanctions! Let every feeling know they're invited to the table. But above all, *stay human* - don't let the intensity of emotion or unmet needs cause you to surrender your capacity to CHOOSE, and thus feel that you are tossed about as a victim - capable only of reacting - "I had no choice!" By a policy of complete and total acceptance within, we create the peace that we can then go on to spread into the world - intentionally, strategically, and with great dedication.

Friday, October 2, 2020

So You Want to Be a Wrathful Yogi?

There's a lot of great discussion going on right now about whether one should wish harm upon their enemies.

Or amongst my closer friends, if one should feel conflicted when we inevitably wish harm on our enemies.  (we are, after all, only human)  

This is a powerful contemplation to be in, and I think the fact that we feel the need to ponder it at all bodes well for the state of our hearts and minds.

Another inquiry often arises at the same time that is equally messy - are we supposed to take "wrathful" actions in the face of tyranny or "evil"?  Is it ethical to strike out?  It certainly doesn't feel ethical just to stand by!

I think an important thing to note is that this point of inquiry often comes up in the discussion on ill-will or hatred because we may be getting near to convincing ourselves that hating another does no good, but rather harms our bodies and often makes us less effective.  But it feels so right!  So mustn't that feeling mean there's validity to it?  We want to argue "maybe I should feel hatred for them, maybe that's the best course of action."

I wanted to offer some perspectives from Buddhist ethical thought, because at some point in the convo, educated people will often bring up Trungpa Rinpoche's advice not to give into "idiot compassion" or even invoke a famous myth about a Bodhisattva who killed a criminal out of a spirit of protection.

Let's do the punchline first actively protecting others and averting harm has nothing to do with hatred and ill-will.  Protection doesn't depend on ill-will, it isn't strengthened by it, in many cases, it's actually harmed by it.  Hatred is not necessary to act on behalf of others.

I think it's important that the punchline come first because usually the issue is coming up in the conversation at this point because ill-will and hatred grab us so strongly, that its tempting to find a way to believe, "yes, this emotion is important, this wish for harm to come to another is important."  But the truth is, the ill-will we feel, and the desire to protect are two different things.  They're often interlocked, but they're not bound together by destiny or by nature.

Imagine, for example, an army who is truly and honestly trying to help another country, or subjugate harmful enemies.  We do not do well when we train that army on hate.  It is not required for us to demonize the enemy, to dehumanize the enemy.  This type of dehumanization is usually what results in excessive use of force and war crimes.  It may even be what we see in the rampant use of excessive force in American Police - a training which emphasizes fear and aggression, and which results in overreach and harm.

If we're against dehumanization and violence in these contexts, then we should also be against their causes in ourselves.  We must learn to detangle, to disambiguate, the will to protect vs the desire to harm within ourselves.

In Buddhism and in yoga, the mind is trained through vowed morality, the practitioner takes a number of commitments and endeavors to the best of their ability to uphold them.

The most common list, shared by all Buddhists is the "10 Nonvirtues" to avoid, it's similar to the Yamas/Niyamas in yoga, and even the Ten Commandments.

These include: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, harsh speech, divisiveness, wasteful speech, envy, malice, and wrong views.

The point of note here is that while the first 7 are meant to be held to the best of ones ability - i was taught - only the final three are absolutely non-negotiable.  No matter what else we must do, we never give in to a mind of violence toward others.  This is why in the famous myth of the "Bodhisattva Ship Captain", he found out that there was a murdering robber aboard and he calmly took the murderer's life before great harm could be done.  According to the teaching tale, there was no other way to avert harm than to slay this person, but there is another part of the story that is less well-known.

I was taught the primary motivation of the ship captain was to save the robber from accumulating grievous karmic harm to himself.  In yogic thought, by killing and robbing all the people on the ship, this thief would accrue horrible recompense, and the captain felt that it would be most compassionate to stop him by any means necessary. 

I think this is a totally different way of looking at using force than we're used to.  In the myth, this bodhisattva intentionally kills someone with the thought that the karma of killing will ripen upon himself, in order to save the evildoer from his own ignorance!  So weird!

What it points out, in grand mythic form, is the worldview of "wrathful actions" in a yogic context.  If you have to lie to protect someone, you must break that ethical commitment against lying - you misdirect an abuser and you say "she's not here, I haven't heard from her."  If you have to kick someone in the knee who's chasing down an innocent to harm them, you violate ahimsa (non-violence) and you kick away.  But the most important ahimsa is the one within, while engaging in these physical or verbal acts as a last-ditch effort, the mind never gives rise to hatred or ill-will.  Rather the yogin's heart aspires toward the famous sentiment of Jesus on the cross, "forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."

Why is the Yogin so concerned with what goes on in their mind?  Because they see the mind as the most precious possession.  We moderns may not believe in karma in the same way that the ancients did, but one thing holds true - the mind shapes itself to the conditions we expose it to.  When we expose the mind to hatred, we gain a hateful mind that primarily lives in a world of enemy images.  But when we expose the mind to things like love, equanimity, and compassion, it takes on those perfumes as well.

For a transformational practitioner, tending the garden of the mind is the utmost priority, we would never plant the seeds there of things we don't want to grow.

And so, what about being a Dharma Protector, a wrathful yogin?  A simple test is taught: if your mother, or someone you care for deeply, went insane and began to act like your enemy does, how would you treat them?  Would you vent your hatred and rage upon them.  If your grandma, best friend, your son, your husband, your 3rd grade teacher came at you with a knife, having lost their mind, would you give rise to rage and intentionally harm them, or would you see them as sick and try to protect yourself and others while also protecting them?

Thinking this way is a tall order, but it is not far off with a little practice and inquiry.  The yogic view of what makes people harm others is that they're overwhelmed by ignorance.  They literally are sick and have gone mad - happy, healthy people don't act that way!  It is crucial to protect others from harm, but if you want to claim Dharmic inspiration for your protectorship, you cannot love only the innocent and hate the perpetrator - everyone in the situation is suffering and you might have this one rare opportunity to alleviate some of that suffering, rather than adding more fuel to the fire.

So feel relieved, giving up hate does not mean you can't tackle someone should they need it!  I train with my kung fu students every week in various ways to tackle dudes just in case!  But the Code we follow is that we tackle them the way we would want to be tackled - say if we'd been slipped PCP, or had a traumatic brain injury, or otherwise couldn't control ourselves.

The energy of hatred isn't necessary to empower us to engage in heroic protection - it's a fickle energy anyway.  Not only were hate and protection never coupled in the first place, we can gain vastly more empowerment from a greater source of fuel - that of love.  Not just love for the haters in the world, but love for those we're protecting, love for the values we fight for - there's plenty of power there that doesn't require me wasting another moment of my precious life stressing myself out over evildoers.

And of course, "love thy enemies" is perhaps a stretch on some days, so I'll leave you with one of the points of Buddhist morality I use on a regular basis: If you can't help, at least try not to harm - if you can't actively love and feel compassionate, just hold your mind back from dehumanizing.  Draw that firm line for the sake of your own humanity and note that rather than disempowering you, it helps you rise to the potential of your heart, and become an even greater resource for us all.

How to Pray For Those Who Persecute You

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matt 5:44

Ok, easier said than done, JC!!!

Something deep in our human nature resists this instruction.  The words aren't just talking about those who annoy us, they're talking about those who persecute us!  It seems terribly natural and even smart to hate those who persecute us, doesn't it?

And yet, for some of us, we can't tell why - but willingness to hate strikes a dissonant chord in us.  Our enemies suffer and part of us wants to rejoice, but at the same time another part of us is disturbed by our rejoicing.  We feel right, vindicated, righteous, and at the same time like we're somehow not living up to our deepest values.

There are plenty of metaphysics we could explore around this hard-to-swallow-pill from the Master from Nazareth, but i think there's a quick contemplation the injunction can inspire that shines a light in the darkness of what can be a major inner conflict.

The simple contemplation is that suffering is not the cause of learning.

and when we wish another harm, what we're really wishing is that they'd learn

Go ahead, take a minute to let this percolate in.  It's going to confront all the cultural-trance hypnosis that says the way to get people to act right is to punish them, make them hurt.  But the truth is that those who are imprisoned longest are not those who necessarily have a change of heart.  Those children who are hit or deprived are not the ones with greatest strength of character.  Countries bombed, impoverished, and wracked by sanctions rarely become less warlike.  

We have an instinct built into us to hurt those who hurt us or those we love.  This makes us think that wishing suffering on our enemies is helpful.  The truth is, causing another pain as a discouragement only works in the most immediate circumstances, and operates in a model of power-over, rather than power-with.  In the complexities of our human relationships, these basic instinctual drives almost always cause more harm than good when untempered by our higher faculties.

What we truly long for is for our needs to be met, our values to be manifest.  If this were happening, we wouldn't waste another second on enemies, haters, or persecutors - we wouldn't let them take up that real estate in our minds.

We give them so much space in our heads because some old instinctual trigger thinks that: a) making them suffer will force them to learn and change, and b) by wishing and reveling in the idea of their pain, we can somehow contribute to it.

What would be best for all involved is if our persecutors would learn.  And when we understand that suffering is almost always anti-learning it makes it easier for us to drop the hate that is primarily harming us, and sometimes harming our cause, but rarely harming our persecutors.  

So as Buddhists, there's a trick we use.  We too are advised to pray for our persecutors, and it's not natural for meditators either.  So to get around these instinctual triggers and into the state of mind we want to cultivate, we think to ourselves, "If they were not afflicted by suffering, ignorance, and hatred, they would not be persecuting me or others.  It's their afflictions that cause them to perpetuate pain on others."  With this thinking, we pray that their afflictions swiftly be removed - because it means they'd swiftly be less of a jerk!

The Buddha famously said "Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed."  Hating the haters is nearly as oxymoronic as the "war on terror," and about as effective.  Instead of poisoning ourselves with stress-chemicals while giving our enemies valuable space in our minds, we could pray for peace, for learning, for growth, for safety for all.  It would make us more efficient in achieving these ends and cause us to spend less time thinking about persecutors.

This only refers to our "prayers" - our inner life.  Persecutors must of course be blocked in actions that harm others, but we can do so in ways that don't close our hearts, dehumanize us, or continue to spin the wheel of retributive violence and division.  We can put our bodies in the way of harm, and restrain those with violent intent.  We can use our voices to shout down vitriol while never becoming vitriolic ourselves.  We can be the change we long to see even when taking dramatic action.

We can also always pray, "may this obstacle be removed" - and the obstacle to peace and equity may be your persecutor, that's not for us to decide.  We can pray for our values to swiftly manifest: May the most vulnerable of us be protected, may our planet know peace, may equity and sharing become the rule of the day, may we treat one another with civility and nobility.

While some of you may not use the word "pray" like I am above to relate to the scripture - the same principle holds true for our thoughts.  We have to find a way to be with our minds that lets us stand strongly for the values we hold, without stooping to the level of those who would threaten those values.

There's a reason to take the high-road like the wisdom holders have always exhorted us to do.  While this type of anti-violent stance has all kinds of beneficial effects on societies, relationships, and movements, the greatest benefit is to you.  You can live with a heart that is free from hate, while not surrendering the fire of your values driving you to act.  You can hold to your code to see the dignity innate in humanity, and not normalize dehumanization in your thoughts, words, and actions.  And when you do this, you can feel the power of inner congruence, rather than inner conflict.

It's a tall order to refuse to wish suffering on anyone, but it is immanently practical - and if it is how your heart calls you to live, it is achievable.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Thawing From The Freeze Of Learned Helplessness

 Honoring and getting in touch with the "mobilizing energy" in our bodies is the antidote to learned helplessness.

"Learned Helplessness" is a term coined by Martin Seligman - one of the founders of the positive psychology movement.  I won't repeat the details of the experiments he witnessed that influenced development of this theory, but he found that animals subjected to hardship - who did not have a path of action that would benefit them - eventually just gave up. They didn't try to escape difficulty because they'd become conditioned to believe that they had no agency.  

He extrapolated this finding to human beings, theorizing that we too can develop a kind of learned helplessness after being subjected to the different hardships of life and internalizing a lesson that "there's just nothing I can do about this."

These days I'm noticing a good number of people expressing a similar sentiment that, "I just feel so powerless." Of course, not everyone reading this will relate, some people have integrated a grounded sense of personal power - those seem to be pretty rare individuals.  Others have a sense of personal power that amounts to something more like aggression, they were conditioned in a different reflex: to get angry at unwanted circumstances.

But I wanted to speak to the first group, those who upon being barraged with unwanted circumstances are feeling a little worn down.  This is a point that many involved in long-term social justice work will reach, because this work is always about the underdog fighting against entrenched systems of institutional power.  That type of power concedes nothing without a fight - but because of the power-differential, the fight is usually going to be a protracted one, a fight that requires endurance and cleverness more than bursts of strength and speed.

In these long-term struggles that call upon all of one's resources, it's hard to note one's wins, it's hard to see where the needle of justice has moved forward and change has taken place.  Part of this is because of our innate negativity bias - a short cut in the human brain meant to help us stay aware of danger.  When we're trying to keep up our spirit to continue to Work on behalf of our values, negativity bias can become a major obstacle.  Instead of being able to feel our longing within and know that we're making progress toward the goal, we instead look at all the setbacks, all the pain, all the roadblocks, and we think "maybe what I'm doing doesn't matter."

Just like Seligman noted in the lab while in college, the sense that we have no recourse, no agency in the situation is what can give rise to learned helplessness.  This also seems to be related to trauma.  The trauma that stays with us, unresolved, seems to often be about where we went into a "freeze" response.  Where the body could not take flight away from danger, and didn't have the resources to fight, and so it did the only thing it could - play dead and maybe they'll go away, or trance out and maybe I won't feel the pain.

This is directly related to what some of my loved ones are experiencing - chronically or cyclicly.  With the outbreak of a pandemic and vast social division about how best to respond, with intensifying natural disasters and still no coherent plan to reverse catastrophic climate change, with outbreaks of violence across the USA, and more, it's EASY to feel powerless against such an array of bad news!  And so some of you readers will have experienced a day where you just can't get out of bed, don't want to hear any news, can't seem to get motivated... or if you were able to get out of bed, you just feel terrified and immobilized by every new assault from the news.

A helpful thing to know is that these are natural responses of your nervous system to threats.  Smoke fills the skies in California and the whole bodymind goes "RUN!"  People are being harmed and you see it on the news and the whole system says "FIGHT!"  But those people aren't here in front of you to protect in the moment, and unless you're being evacuated, you're not going to run, you're just going to close the windows and stay inside.  The system is calling for ACTION! but there is not direct course of action for you to take - apparently.

If we think about things like voting and politics, the same problem confronts us, the mind says "someone's got to DO SOMETHING!"  And the nervous system orients for that... but we don't know what to do and there's too much to do, and we know what to do but not how... and lacking a path to fight or fly, we freeze.

There's a quick trick I want to share with you today to help thaw us from the freeze of learned helplessness.  That trick is quite simple and all it is is to do something, anything, on behalf of others!

I once read a mystical fiction book where the characters were given sacred dreams, and the trick was that you have to honor your dreams and act on their wisdom or else your dreams would start to get murky or unrecognizable, or go on repeat or even turn to nightmares.  I think a similar thing can happen in our emotional being. We're CALLED to act upon our values, but if we find no path of action we freeze up, and this subtly dams the flow of that mobilizing survival energy within.  We feel a little less alive and empowered.  Not surprisingly, the next time our values call upon us to act, we feel even less empowered to do so.  This can continue until the call stops - we no longer are goaded within to act, we just feel anxious and helpless.

Fortunately, this process can be run in reverse.  If we do something, anything, on behalf of others, we're literally putting our body-mind energy in motion and signifying to ourselves that there is something I can do.  It doesn't even matter whether it relates to the stuff that worries you most, we're hacking our inner mechanisms here, what's important is that you feel resourceful.  

The stance is a little like the story where the starfish have all washed up on shore and someone is walking down the beach tossing them back in the ocean one by one.  Another person sees the gargantuan task and says "you can't possibly help them all!" to which the first person tosses another one back and replies, "yeah, but I helped that one."  That attitude of resourcefulness is empowering to us, and the good news is that if we do want to help more than just the tiny bits we feel capable of now, the thing to do would be to get our systems optimized, the biological energies flowing.  When we take one tiny action, we catalyze that flow and it can lead to even more resourcefulness as the ice begins to thaw, as the dam begins to break.

My church will be participating in a "clean up the creek" day this weekend and this is a great example of this type of action that promotes resourcefulness - it may not solve climate change or pollution, but it does help someone.  When you're finished with this dedicated activity on behalf of your values, you'll likely find that your confidence, motivation, and compassion have increased.  Rather than a downward spiral of frozen confusion, we can start an upward spiral of empowerment leading to further empowerment.

We've got some BIG jobs to tackle here on planet earth, we're going to need our best social and creative selves online to do it.  Our first step then is to learn to take the reins of this mobilizing force and use it for what it was meant for - start tackling the small acts of kindness that are available to you and remember what a powerful and resourceful being you are.  Then you can remember that it's not all a litany of obstacles, but rather an ecosystem of activism - each of us plays only a tiny part but we all matter this adds up to make a big difference!

Answer the call, what can you do TODAY?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Mourning is the path to power. Blessings to RBG

I was just polishing off what I feel is going to be an amazing Sunday Sermon over here - about taking action when hope is hardest -  and I popped on the social and witness the sad news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has passed away due to complications from cancer.  I am heart-rocked.

My heart is alive with honor for this long-time warrior for civil liberties in the highest court of our nation.

I know, too, that many of my liberal friends will be grieving.  Not the grief that comes from merely losing a social icon, but the grief that comes when you lose someone who pushed her body as long as she could to stand as a bulwark against the erosion of democracy.

At this time, when fairness seems so hard to come by, any breech in the line can seem catastrophic.

Our hearts may fill with worry and with fear.  It is important that we mourn, that we give those feelings their say.  

It's important too that as we let the waves of feelings fill us, we recognize what they are - they are the voice of our deepest values.  We feel so strongly because we long for equity and self direction for women, for marginalized peoples, for the protection of voting rights which lead to a thriving democracy.  We feel so strongly because we're uncertain that our values for care and compassion will continue to be reflected in the nation we call home.  We grieve all that has come before, and we grieve preemptively the dangers and losses we imagine in the future.

But the crucial point I long to share with you is that knowing we're hearing the voice of our values is what turns fear into power.  We have two choices when we're rocked by shocking and disheartening news: We can let it collapse us, or we can let it catalyze us.

We collapse because we've been encouraged so powerfully and for so long toward learned helplessness that the trauma of past losses can crash down upon us so heavily we cannot even think to move.

Hearteningly, we could also choose to be catalyzed by remembering that there is always SOME action we can take, SOME movement we can make.  There will never be a day where we say "ah, the likelihood of my preferred outcome is low, so I guess I'll just stop trying."

Rather, the lower the likelihood of outcomes aligning with our values, the HARDER we must try.  Not only harder, but SMARTER too.

In mourning we learn, over and over, that nothing is certain.  Our best laid plans for creating change, protecting ourselves and those we love are always subject to chance, entropy, and the law of unintended consequences.  When this happens, when the source of protection you sought is taken from you, it's not time to abandon the quest, it is time to adapt.

You may be called upon to act in ways you did not prefer.  It may require more deprivation, energy, engagement than you believe you have, and yet, you can always find some path forward.  It may not be the path that goes from where you are to where you want to be in a single step.  But direction is everything.  Your job is to move the needle even a micron toward your loving goal - because sometimes that's all you've got.

If you've never engaged in a direct action, this may be your year.  If you've never put your body in the path of violence to protect another, it might finally be time.  If you have been itching to deprive the government of your tax dollars for ethical reasons, you might just be gaining an opportunity now.  If you've been slow to bring your most vocal skills of compassion to the fore, to share your love of caring community with those who need convincing, this could be your moment.  Obviously, vote.  Obviously sign a petition.  Obviously donate to those who will work on your behalf.  But when our structural hopes seem in danger of shattering, build a network of local resilience as well that doesn't depend upon them, boycott all the harder.  Find your plan B, C, and so on until you run out of alphabets! 

The people who got us where we are were fighting much stiffer odds than the ones we face, and somehow they found a well of motivation and paths of strategic action that have allowed us to crawl forward to the moment we find ourselves in today.  We can step in to that long and arduous struggle with the strength of our hearts.

Today, we honor the life of someone who constantly worked to move that needle of justice forward, and we recognize that now this job has passed to you.  It is a time to mourn, but also to let mourning rouse you.  It is a time for practicality - not a vague sense of impending doom and that "someone's got to do something" - but a time to ask "what is mine to do?"  And having asked this, to calmly and with great inner strength, with great love and with steadfast persistence, tackle one job at a time until the work of justice is complete.

With great prayers of blessing to notorious RBG the dissenter, and to all of you, amen.  

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]