Friday, July 9, 2021

Why our church flies a BLM flag

This week at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Los Gatos, we got a voicemail from a concerned citizen, expressing their dismay that we would choose to fly a Black Lives Matter flag.  Since I may not have a chance to sit down and speak with this neighbor in a constructive way, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pen a few thoughts in hopes it could be a teachable moment for us all.  




Our neighbor expressed two main points in their call, I’d like to address them both.  They were:

  1. All lives matter, not just black lives.  And

  2. BLM has done “atrocious things” and nothing to contribute any good to our cities.


To the first point.  I agree, dear neighbor, all lives DO matter! 


In fact, as Unitarian Universalists, our first principle is about honoring “the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person.”  You don’t get more concerned with “all lives” than that!


What’s the problem then?  It’s that we’re creating a false dichotomy between ‘All Lives Matter’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’.  The slogan doesn’t say “Black Lives Matter Exclusively”, it doesn’t say they matter more than anyone else’s.  It just says that they matter.  To state that Black Lives Matter in no way contradicts the fact that all lives matter.  All lives do matter, but not all lives need the same kind of attention, because all lives are not under the same type of threat that black lives are.  


I think there’s some misunderstanding about what this slogan represents.  The phrase gained viral popularity in response to police and other violence against African American people.  It is a decentralized movement with no hierarchical organization.  To align oneself with the sentiment that Black Lives Matter is not to sign up for a political view that demeans other kinds of lives, but to hold up the reality of systemic inequity so that it can be addressed.  


The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Los Gatos is an anti-racist organization.  That means that we cannot support any slogan that demeans any group on the basis of their race/culture/skin tone.  Fortunately, the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ does not demean any group, but rather holds up the inherent dignity and worth of a group that has been systematically demeaned for the majority of our nation’s history.


To the second claim, that BLM has done “atrocious things,” and nothing to contribute any good to our cities.  I’ll first remind us that while there are organizations that use Black Lives Matter in their name or materials, this is a decentralized movement, with no one holding a trademark to that slogan.  In this sense, we cannot say that Black Lives Matter has done anything.  


I think I know what you mean here though, dear neighbor.  The news coverage of widespread protests throughout the summer of 2020 was very scary.  It certainly looked like a group of violent “thugs'' were bent upon widespread  destruction.  A more careful review of the data though will show that these protests were overwhelmingly peaceful.  According to the Harvard Radcliffe Institute’s report, “our data suggest that 96.3% of events involved no property damage or police injuries, and in 97.7% of events, no injuries were reported among participants, bystanders or police.”  https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news-and-ideas/black-lives-matter-protesters-were-overwhelmingly-peaceful-our-research-finds


The research shows that contrary to the scary images, these protests were remarkably peaceful. The above figures don't even include the opposite side of the story, the high degree of force used by police, and the unmarked van tactics employed by Trump’s secret police. These numbers also likely do not represent how much vandalism or violence was perpetrated by individuals not associated with the protests for black lives, or agents provocateur intentionally inciting violence in order to smear the public view of protesters.  


I think we can put to rest the false idea that expressing concern for the welfare of black lives is equivalent to committing atrocities of any kind.  


Whether this slogan and its associated movements have made a “positive contribution” to our cities will have to be a matter of personal opinion.  If you believe that increasing awareness of police brutality is a positive contribution, then BLM has definitely made one.  If you believe that expanding understanding of systematic racism in the USA is of benefit, then BLM has been of benefit.  If you believe that widening interest in anti-racist work and a more equitable society for all lives is a positive contribution, then BLM has certainly made one.


To conclude, I think that we can see that “Black Lives Matter” means different things to different people.  It’s a social media hashtag, a rallying cry for equality, a decentralized movement, and a Political Action Committee.  Some also incorrectly believe that this slogan means that some lives matter less than others, this belief is the product of fear and misinformation.  As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we believe that no lives matter less than others.  Our principles hold up “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;” as a way of expressing our first principle of reverence and respect for “the inherent worth and dignity of every person”.  (read more about our 7 principles here: https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles)


Our neighbor stated their opinion that we should be ashamed, as a religion, to be flying that flag, but the opposite is true.  As a religion committed to creating a society where all lives truly matter, when some lives are treated with disrespect, or callously thrown away, we must hold up the inherent worth and dignity of those lives even more.  We are not ashamed to say that Black Lives Matter, we are proud, because it means we are committed to living in just, kind, ethical, and equitable ways - including redressing injustices against lives that have been told they don’t matter for far too long.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Post-Pandemic Boundaries, Consent, and Communication

Well, it's official California, we've REOPENED!



Some of us are happier about this than others, but I feel a lot of folks taking a collective sigh of relief for what this might mean - perhaps the worst is over!

Let us keep this spirit of optimism alive in our hearts, while at the same time recognizing that the pandemic isn't quite over yet.



Because of this, I believe looking into some special ethical considerations might be very valuable for us as we go forward with our in-person, human relating! 

While the numbers are going down and many families and individuals are feeling very safe, other families - like those with young children, or higher-risk individuals - might be feeling more cautious.  Some who are vaccinated might be feeling cautious about breakthrough transmission or emerging variants - because there's still so much we don't know.



My own opinion is that it would be great to be able to show our own boundaries and respect one another's needs - without always having to have what might be a long or triggering conversation about it!

We need a way simply state our choices and have them respected by one another.  We can then save conversations where we try to learn from one another's perspectives for more convenient times.   In the meantime we can just get down to having safe, respectful fun together!



In this way we can truly model a culture of consent.  It's a lesson that communities outside the norm of traditional relationships have been navigating for a while: How to honor our great diversity, and the power that it brings - while still being respectful of everyone's safety.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to safety, and my own aim is toward safety of the most vulnerable


I read an article the other day which was in alignment with what I was already thinking to try out at our upcoming service at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Los Gatos.  This Sunday we're doing our first in-person service since last April and it's something of a trial run!   

I had thought to give people name-tags where one could write their preferences like - "vaccinated and open to all hugs" or "hugging only vaccinated individuals" or "our family is social distancing" - 

...but I realized that you'd have to get pretty close before you could even read the note!  :)




In the article I read, folks were using little bracelets and a simple Red, Yellow, and Green light system to indicate what they're open to.  

Greens are open to it all - hugs welcome, let's mingle!

Yellows are being a bit cautious, or have specific standards - inquire with care!

they might want an elbow bump instead of a hug, or to only get close to those vaccinated, or hang with you near their kids but only if your mask is on.  Ask them and find out!

Reds have firm boundaries - approach with your mask on and keep a healthy distance!

The great thing about something simple and visual like this is that it gives us the ability to show one another the respect we crave quickly and easily.  

It also doesn't require any judgement - if your'e green and I'm red, it's not really your business why I'm red, it's my choice, and you can respect it because it doesn't mean compromising your own boundaries.  WIN/WIN!  

We don't have to get into long, drawn-out convos by accident (when we may or may not have had enough rest, caffeine, or breakfast) before interaction can occur.  We can get right down to living our values together, in ways that respect us all - and engage those deeper inquiries on purpose when we've decided to.

However you manage reintegration or re-opening, I hope it happens for you with ease and grace.  I pray that we may create a culture of enthusiastic consent where we respect each other's values and boundaries.  With this sense of responsibility and care for another, I believe we can facilitate true freedom and create a loving society who's diversity is its strength!



Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Secure Attachment, Save Us All!

Our most recent sermon, on 5/17 was all about Secure Attachment, and how it might just Save us all!

Check out the entire video here!




Main Points:

  • Secure attachment provides us with many of the inner qualities we need to face our human challenges on planet earth right now
  • Sadly, a large percentage of our population does not have this basis of comfort and curiosity because they have another attachment style covering up old wounds
  • Our Nature is compassionate and open, but when we tense up, we get defensive, irritable, and anxious
  • It is our duty to make sure that all humans have equal access to their inherent worth and dignity - this calm and secure base within.


Quotable:









Extensive Notes/Transcript

"Life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base" - John Bowlby


Premise:

1. When we’re insecurely attached we have trouble trusting, relating, and regulating our own emotions

2. These are the exact capacities humans need to grow through the challenges that face us as a planet right now

3. Through learning the right skills we can not only change our own ways of being attached, we can also create environments in which others can grow into greater safety and openness!

What do we mean “‘attachment”?

Buddhist Vacuum cleaner joke!

That’s not the type of attachment we’re talking about!

Begun in the last 20th century by Bowlby and rounded out by his colleague Mary Ainsworth

  

According to Bowlby, the attachment system essentially "asks" the following fundamental question: Is the attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive? If the child perceives the answer to this question to be "yes," he or she feels loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviorally, is likely to explore his or her environment, play with others, and be sociable. If, however, the child perceives the answer to this question to be "no," the child experiences anxiety”

Jeremy Holmes

Why do we need to know about secure attachment?

The good news is that 60% of pop is securely attached 


In a study from Sutton Trust, 4 out of 10 youth lack strong emotional bonds. = 40%


Symptoms of insecure attachment

60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby’s needs. Such actions support children’s social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write. These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school.


The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school. This effect continues throughout the children’s lives, and such children are more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training, the researchers write. Among children growing up in poverty, poor parental care and insecure attachment before age four strongly predicted a failure to complete school.

https://www.princeton.edu/news/2014/03/27/four-10-infants-lack-strong-parental-attachments



Secure attachment all boils down to feeling FELT,

Put this way, it sounds very similar to “Empathy”, or “Belonging” in Brene Brown’s research, or how we recover from trauma.


Attachment wounding leading to insecure attachment is basically a form of trauma - our discomfort overwhelms our capacity to integrate it

When a caregiver soothes us when we’re in distress, it teaches our lil nervous sys that someone is with us, and that it won’t last forever.


When this doesn’t happen we learn that we’re in it alone, and soothing isn’t coming.


Insecure attachment styles basically develop as a trauma response in an attempt to regulate our emotions.

In avoidant attachment, we shut them down

In anxious, we ramp them up.


But we’re not actually regulating or integrating our discomfort, we’re engaging in patterns of tension to cover our dis-regulation.


Is it any wonder, then, that the downstream effects of insecure attachment look a lot like the symptoms of unresolved trauma?  These include things like: addiction, depression, denial of feelings and fears, rampant projection.


And when I read that list, it reminds me wayyy too much of an internet comment thread, or a discussion in congress.  


Jeremy Holmes writes:

“A securely attached child will store an internal working model of a responsive, loving, reliable care-giver, and of a self that is worthy of love and attention and will bring these assumptions to bear on all other relationships. Conversely, an insecurely attached child may view the world as a dangerous place in which other people are to be treated with great caution, and see himself as ineffective and unworthy of love. These assumptions are relatively stable and enduring: those built up in the early years of life are particularly persistent and unlikely to be modified by subsequent experience.”

Comes a point in everyone’s life when we have to ask.  Is what I’ve been calling my “personality” just a trauma response?

The good news is that we are built to heal from trauma, and attachment wounds can be repaired at any age!


Framing it in terms of empathy and feeling felt makes this abundantly clear.  

It’s likely that when traditional therapy works, it’s because of this kind of healthy attachment relationship

The client knows that their therapist is feeling it with them.  The therapist is providing that soothing openness and compassion from outside to help them learn how to generate it within - just like a parent would have under ideal circumstances.


This is how mindfulness works - another standard recommendation for remediating early attachment wounds.  Here, you’re generating this open and loving state within yourself.  Training the mind in how to self-soothe.


Having relationships with the securely attached has been shown to really help.


And of course, the best trauma therapies we know all work with creating this sense of safety and peace within, so the discomforts can integrate.


Maybe the best part about being human is that we’re not stuck, we can almost always learn and transform and grow.

But another amazing part about being human is that it might just be the case that the fear, distrust, polarization, shaming, and blaming we’re so used to is not really Who WE Are, but merely a wound we’re trying to protect.


Inherent Worth and Dignity

In working with this very Universalist principle in modern times, I’ve begun to understand it through the lens of Daoist and Buddhist practice.

In Daoism they speak of your Original Nature, i like that phraseology because we can sometimes feel it when we’re in Nature.  The healing effect of mountains, canyons, and stars.  They’re just uncontrived and we can become open in their presence.

This sort of uncontrived openness, they say, is who we can be if we’re not tensing up around these traumas.  


The answer Bowlby gave us was that we’d “feel loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviorally, [be] likely to explore [our] environment, play with others, and be sociable.


Now won’t you please imagine a world filled with people like this?  The ancients - like our Universalist ancestors, and my Daoist and Buddhist lineage masters - have taught us that this loving, confident, and playful being is all of our potential.  Research, it seems, may be beginning to confirm this idea.  


A moral imperative

If this is the case, it provides us with a moral imperative.  Something very hard to come by in this age of moral ambiguity and complexity. 


If it is the case that we all have the potential to feel this loving, curious, open, and playful nature, then our work should be to make sure it is available to as many as possible.  If this is what it means to be human, then to deprive anyone of it would be to dehumanize them.


This not a passive “honoring of the inherent worth and dignity” in us all, it’s active.

Because it means eradicating poverty

It means making mental health care widely accessible and de-stigmatizing things like addiction.

It means re-thinking things like our military and police philosophies.

It means overcoming systems of oppression like racism and misogyny


And it also means obstructing abuse wherever we can find it, for the abuser deprives themselves and their victim from tapping their inheritance of feeling worth, and behaving with dignity.



That’s a tall order.  It’ll probably take a while to restructure our societies based on the notion of original human goodness rather than original sin, but we can start today.  


Even if only a little bit, we can each become islands of secure attachment, empathy, and belonging amidst the ocean of trauma and pain.  When we commit to honoring that inherent worth and dignity we provide people with the ability to feel felt.  In the right circumstances, this can make ALL the difference.


Behind the mask of indifference is bottomless misery and behind apparent callousness, despair.

John Bowlby


What if we were able to respond to these cries for comfort with compassion?


So imagine a world with me, where we get to participate, not as way of desperately trying to regulate our discomfort inside, but because we’re excited about what we can do together!

Where we create, not just to get the leg up on the competition so we can somehow earn our belonging, but where from a spirit of love, we feel the innate drive to play well and see what we come up with!

Where we provide to all the safety to build together the world of our dreams.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU - Jedi Mind Tricks

Our most recent sermon was all about common "Jedi Mind Tricks" we're doing unknowingly everyday!  We studied the concept of Limbic Resonance and how this relates with a related issue, Cognitive Dissonance.

Check the whole talk out here!


Main Points:


  • We're influencing each other subconsciously all the time - one name for this is 'Limbic Resonance'
  • Cognitive dissonance involves tying your ideas to your sense of self, when the idea is challenged, it activates a physiological "fight-or-flight" response, or "amygdala hijack"
  • You can't disarm cognitive dissonance using force, people just dig in further, but you can use THE FORCE - our subconscious empathetic resonance.


Detailed Sermon Notes/Transcript:


"Each time we meet another human being and honor their dignity, we help those around us. Their hearts resonate with ours in exactly the same way the strings of an unplucked violin vibrate with the sounds of a violin played nearby. Western psychology has documented this phenomenon of 'mood contagion' or limbic resonance. If a person filled with panic or hatred walks into a room, we feel it immediately, and unless we are very mindful, that person's negative state will begin to overtake our own. When a joyfully expressive person walks into a room, we can feel that state as well."


Jack Kornfield 




You might remember the famous scene, it’s in Star Wars.  Released in May of 1977… i was about to be born a few months later, so I didn’t get on board until Return of the Jedi in 84!


In both of these films, main characters are able to use “Jedi Mind tricks” to influence the thoughts or emotions of those near them.


I don’t want to convince you today that you are capable of this type of mental magic, no something even more extreme - that you’re already doing it all the time!


I remember first reading of a strange study in McGonigal’s “Science of Compassion”, in which a person in a waiting room did not know when the other person was “beaming” them compassion, but their stress response changed anyway.


On some subconscious level, we pick up emotional cues from one another.  These are generally not being delivered to our conscious mind, but the whole process unfolds in an invisible dance from subconscious to subconscious.


I’m not aware of research on olfactory cues in humans - outside of romantic situations, that is - but there’s a great degree of research by people like Paul Eckman and the Gottman Institute on how we’re affected by each other’s micro-expressions - tiny, fleeting facial expressions that we don’t consciously pick upon.  All this micro-level info adds up to create a sense of vibe.


Some specialists can learn to make these subtle cues conscious - translating tiny signs of danger into an accurate assessment of a situation requiring action.


Naturals at emotional intelligence have an opposite ability - the capacity to put almost anyone at ease.


One name for this wordless communication is “Limbic Resonance” -  This term was pioneered in a book called  A General Theory of Love, where the authors describe it as:


"— a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other's inner states."[


Another term for this is “Empathic Resonance”, and sometimes “Empathic distress”, which is an important aspect of this in the study of compassion.  This is the ability to feel the hurt of another as if it was your own.  It’s  a prerequisite for compassion, but one cannot stay there, one has to then be able to distance  their self from these feelings and offer help from a sovereign sense of separate self-hood.


As mammals and hominids, this empathic resonance is our great strength.  The Limbic system is the “emotional part of the brain” and this allows for mammalian bonding and mutual care, the social instincts which Darwin thought of as Homo Sapiens’ greatest strength.  


We can see this in the necessity for close relationships for an infant to thrive, and we can see it in the intensification of laughter if others are laughing at a comedy show - which led to the development of laugh tracks on TV.  We see it in contagious yawning and contagious smiling.


---------


Cognitive dissonance, on the other hand, seems like the exact opposite of Limbic Resonance.


Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone mired in cognitive dissonance?  It can be a dreadfully tedious exercise of willpower to persevere through!


Cognitive dissonance is simply the tendency to hold onto one’s position despite evidence to the contrary.  Even worse, cognitive dissonance can bring with it the “backfire effect” and this is where you’re almost better off NOT bringing up contrary evidence because the more alternative points of view or debunks you offer, the deeper one digs in to their position.


How does this work?  Well oddly it’s all wrapped up in your survival circuitry.  This point is crucial for us to understand.  Cognitive dissonance happens when we become so identified with an idea that we associate it with our sense of self.  There is then this amazing misfire that happens in our brain where if someone attacks our philosophical position, we experience it as if they’re attacking “me”.  What ensues is a full activation of the “fight or flight” response.


Here’s another opportunity to learn some terminology about the limbic system, the “amygdala hijack”.  This is Daniel Goleman’s term for when the emotional/survival system takes the controls away from our advanced pre-frontal cortex.


It makes sense then, doesn’t it, why someone in cognitive dissonance can go from an apparently reasonable modern human, to cornered animal unwilling to explore other perspectives.  In the worst cases, raising their voice, using name calling, or even becoming physically violent.


It seems as though there’s no emotional resonance going on here, but there’s a surprise!


-----------------------------


It turns out that a big portion of cognitive dissonance is all about limbic resonance.


This is why experts tell us that if you want to help someone out of cognitive dissonance - like the work people do to help people deprogram from cults - you need to treat them gently.


This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  If cognitive dissonance is related to fight or flight response, we would want to make sure that we’re not giving a person signs that they’re under threat.


This is actually well known in terms of education - our brains work better to pick up and store new or complicated information when we’re relaxed, at-ease.  Perhaps like our ancestors would be hearing teaching stories around a communal fire?


Unfortunately, while this makes sense conceptually, creating an open and soothing environment is usually the last thing on our minds when confronting cognitive dissonance.  Why is this so?  Because the type of things we get cognitive dissonance about are often religious or political belief systems that might cause one to harm their self or others.

It makes sense that we’d feel a sense of urgency when we try to communicate with someone expressing these views - they’re triggering our survival circuitry - we’re worried about the good of the tribe, our own safety, or even the safety of the one expressing the dug-in view.  



From Neil Degras Tyson’s Masterclass on scientific thinking and communication:

Crystal example - cultivating effective skepticism 

If got this crystal that heals you with energy

  1. Great, I’ll buy it!

  2. You’re crazy

Both are intellectually lazy.   Instead, try questions:

  • What type of energy is it?

  • What diseases is it known to affect?

    • How do we know, has there been research?

  • How is this “energy” perceived?

We have a chance here, through questioning, to practice a master tool of communication.  To shift out of trying to get the other person to see things our way, and instead work to be able to see together.

In this case, the outcome might not be they are convinced that their crystal has no healing power, and you may not be convinced that it does

  • But you can come to understand each other’s perspective MUCH more clearly

  • Why’s that important…. Keep listening!


2nd practice!

Think of a dug-in uncle and practice crafting your argument

Ask them questions rather than just saying they’re crazy

Name-calling doesn’t contribute to expanding scientific literacy

Climate change - well, how do you feel about sea-level rise?

Would you move to a place where hurricane incidences have increased?

What do you think is the cause of that?


-----------------------------------------------------------


What it boils down to is the Limbic Resonance thing - we’re more attuned than we know. Dr. Dan Seigel even refers to it as “interpersonal neurobiology”.  What this can mean is that if you come into the conversation with a need to prove yourself right or bring the other around to your way of thinking….. Guess what they’re likely going to be most concerned with!!!


On the other hand, some of us have had those miraculous experiences where we managed to change our own state to a more open and accepting one, and saw how our conversational partner followed suit.

It’s happened to me often enough for me to become convinced that there really is a science to it we could learn to master!


My hope is that we can make these “miraculous” occurrences commonplace.  We can train so that instead of making our differences something that leads to stonewalling, backlash effect, and greater division, we can make it an opportunity to understand each other more deeply.


Even when our viewpoints don’t get any closer, we’ll at least have done our part to share from the heart.  The truth is that the most effective form of teaching is always by example.  When we try to shout another down and bully them to our side, they don’t learn our arguments, they learn bullying.  If we want our arguments to have any room to land, we must first teach the primary lesson - that it’s safe to let down our guard and learn together.