Archive for December, 2016

I continue to learn that in order for me to develop more fully a ‘limber state of mind’ (think: a ‘mind’ that is awake, aware, intentional, purpose-full, curious, receptive and open to being influenced) that it is crucial that I strive to remember that the other will have (or might have) excellent reasons for behavior that I consider negative.  Holding onto this becomes more challenging for me when the other’s reasons for doing so are difficult for me to discern.  I do believe (mostly anyway) that folks are rarely intentionally stingy, grim, choosy, rigid, secretive, slothful, rash or judgmental.

For example, I do not believe that folks sit around intentionally striving to cultivate unpleasant or negative qualities.  It helps when I imagine myself being ‘rashly judged’ by another – I don’t like it.  For example, when I purchase a gift for someone and I seek to find one that is on sale I see myself as ‘thrifty’ not ‘stingy’ and I do not want to be judged by others as being ‘stingy.’

I remember when my kids were in elementary school and I would call the school and request that I take one of them on a business trip with me the Principal would send me a signal that I was not being a ‘responsible parent’ – of course I was being a great parent and a responsible one.  By the by, almost all of their teachers were supportive for they saw it as a learning experience for my kids.

Virtually all behavior can be – and is – cast in a negative, positive or more tolerable or justifiable light.  Even after many years of striving to do so I am still easily trapped by my own negative interpretations (my prejudices, my stereotypes, my ‘righteous’ attitude, and my beliefs).

I have found that the consequences (intended and unintended) of my experimenting with different perspectives are important.  First, I gain more choice in how I might respond – I am not locked into an automatic reaction which negates my response-options.  In addition, when I seek to understand that the other might not really be so different from me enables me not only to expand my range of responses it enables me to be empathetic.  I also find that I am less likely to become entrapped in an internal polarizing struggle with myself.

Second, I continue to find that when I embrace an open-minded attitude to my own behavior, change becomes more possible.  Am I willing to ‘see’ myself as being ‘both’ impulsive and spontaneous, as being both flexible and rigid, as being both emotional and rational?  To the extent I am able to see myself as a living paradox I am more able to discern in what ways I might develop or shift or change or even transform.

I have found that being aware of and embracing paradoxical views of myself actually increased my sense of ‘self-control’ and enabled me to shift, change or even transform (I did not have to ‘lose’ anything – I simply expanded one of the polarities).  This has been quite liberating.  Embracing myself as a living-paradox has enabled me to develop AND maintain my identity. Our ‘loss of identity’ is one of the great fears we have.  How often does one lose his or her identity in a ‘role’ – that is, the person becomes the ‘role’.

Who am I is perhaps the most essential of all questions.  The author Erik Erikson reminds us that: In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.

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When I embrace diverse views it means that I strive to be open to and to become aware of a number of possible perspectives – in a sense the number of possible perspectives will never be exhausted.  We can view this on a macro and on a micro scale.  For example, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl was portrayed (continues to be portrayed) in a variety of colors: It was a ‘heroic sacrifice to the benefit of mankind,’ and it demonstrated ‘gross and destructive negligence.’

On a more personal note.  When my mother was alive I would call her twice a week; I did this for years.  My goal was to be ‘regular’ and ‘predictable’ as to the day and time of my call.  My routine of calling and of being ‘a good son’ was called into question one day.  I drove ‘home’ in order to spend a few days with my mother.  When I arrived ‘home’ my mother was being visited by her best friend.  After we greeted one another I sat down to join them.  My mother then said to her friend: ‘On Monday’s and Wednesdays I have to plan my morning in order to make sure I am home when Richie calls.  I feel tied down.’  My ‘view’ did not match my mother’s ‘view’ – my perception did not match hers.  I changed my ‘routine’ – we emerged one that we both agreed to.  All went quite well after that (as I recall).

Now I am recalling Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall.  The husband and wife were sitting with their individual therapists.  The husband was asked how often he and his wife made love.  ‘Hardly ever,’ he said, ‘no more than three times a week.’  The scene switched to the wife and her therapist.  Same question.  In response the wife said: ‘Constantlyat least three times a week.’

What is important to note is that as ‘Observers,’ we judge behavior according to whether, as ‘Actors,’ we could or should or would behave the same as the other.  I love to play golf.  I will take a shot that others might deem to be ‘risky’ – it was not the smart or safe shot.  What this means is that my perceived competence exceeded someone else’s estimates of his (or her) own competence.  It does not mean that I took more of a risk than someone else would have, had he (or she) felt as confident as I.  I took the shot because I believed I could make the shot.

The observer, however, would not have risked the shot and deems my perceived level of self-competence to be at best an ‘illusion’ and at worst a ‘delusion of grandeur.’  My golfing companion saw me as a ‘risk-taker’ and I saw myself as a competent shot-maker.  By the by, I enjoyed my playing companion’s compliment – I did not argue with him.

Here are some quotations by famous golfers about risk-taking:

Of all the hazards, fear is the worst. –Sam Snead

Take risks; if you win you will be happy…if you lose you will be wise. –Bobby Jones

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. –Ben Hogan

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An important feature of being awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full is ‘Openness.’  What am I ‘Open To’?  When I am at my best I am, among other things, open to more than one ‘View.’  I am open to a variety of ‘points of view.’

Social Psychologists study and write about many topics.  One of these topics involves exploring the differences between the perspective of the ‘actor’ and the perspective of the ‘observer.’  For me, each of us is capable of being what I call a ‘Reflective-Participant-Observer’ in his or her own life.  Too often, I neglect the ‘Reflective’ role – and I do not believe I am alone when it comes to this neglecting.  Here’s an example that might help clarify this idea.

How many times do I blame my ‘circumstance’ for my own negative behavior?  ‘My alarm clock did not function properly and that’s why I am late.’  How many times is my response a radically different one when ‘the other person’ uses the same excuse?  How many times do I blame the person and not the circumstance?  ‘Fred always finds excuses for being late.’

One experience – two diverse views.  There are, of course, as many diverse views as there are diverse people.  The police, for example, often find dramatically conflicting views provided by folks who have witnessed the same event (descriptions of ‘suspects’ often vary dramatically).

On the other hand, my awareness that there are multiple views because there are multiple and diverse ‘observers’ can be a liberating awareness.  I remember that many years ago a good friend of mine told me that ‘You are one of the most rigid people I know.’  Now, up to that point I had always viewed myself as being very flexible; I took pride on the ‘fact’ that I could see and embrace multiple perspectives.

Being the open and flexible person that I was I denied – quite vehemently – her ‘view.’  She just looked at me.  After ranting a bit I noticed (reflection does help us) that I was demonstrating to her how ‘rigid’ I was.  I blushed.  We both laughed.  We then engaged in a long conversation about her ‘view’ and my ‘view.’

One of the important learnings for me was that we were both right.  As a living paradox, I am both – in this instance, I am both ‘flexible’ and ‘rigid’.  If I cling to my own ‘view’ I become ‘blind’ to the other’s ‘view.’  By the by, in Afghan the verb ‘to cling’ is the same as the verb ‘to die.’  It seems that we do not like others’ views – often they are less flattering of ourselves than we are.

At one level it seems as if it is easier to observe that any single gesture, remark, or act between two people can have at minimum two interpretations: spontaneous versus impulsive, flexible versus rigid, demanding versus persistent, etc..

The list is almost endless.  There are, potentially, as many ‘views’ as there are ‘observers’ and ‘actors.’  A steer is a steak to cook at Outback and is a sacred object to a Hindu, and a collection of genes and proteins to a molecular biologist.  ‘Views’ involve ‘Both-And’ more often than ‘Either-Or.’  Again, ‘Reflection’ helps.  I embrace the discipline of ‘Reflection’ in order to ‘understand.’  I seek, at minimum, to ‘understand’ the other’s ‘point of view.’  At maximum I seek to learn so that I might shift, change, transform or evolve – to grow and develop.


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I was stopped at a stop-light yesterday and all of a sudden I heard the high pitch squealing of tires; I looked up into my rear view mirror and saw a car attempting to stop…it did not…my rear bumper took the hit (poor bumper)…. The harsh reality of life woke me up.  In an instant I realized that I had been not been fully present – my mind was ‘lost in thought’ (there are many ways we can help get ourselves ‘lost’ and this is one of them – to be ‘lost in our thoughts’).

In spite of our best efforts we humans keep bumping again and again into life by life (sometimes in the form of ‘cars hitting cars’).  In spite of our best efforts we humans keep ‘getting lost’ in our thoughts or, worse, we ‘go to sleep’ and we sleep-walk through life (it is no accident that there are so many T.V. shows about zombies running amok in the world – an on the airwaves).  Some of us, it seems, rarely wake up, we travel through life zombie-like.

‘Getting bumped’ awake helps and yet there is another way: to listen.  This type of listening has nothing to do with ‘agreeing with the speaker.’  Agreements and disagreements have to do with concepts and theories and ideas; they do not have much to do with ‘truth.’  Much of the time ‘truth’ is not expressed in words.  ‘Truth’ is sighted suddenly (like getting bumped awake by reality).  ‘Truth-seeking’ is rooted in a certain attitude.  So, you could be vigorously disagreeing with me and still ‘see’ the truth.

Listening in this way requires that I embrace a certain attitude – an attitude of openness, an attitude of curiosity, and an attitude of being willing to be influenced.  This is, to generalize, an attitude of ‘searching and seeking.’  If I hold an attitude that ‘I have found the truth’ then I am not open to searching and seeking – there is nothing to search for, there is nothing to seek out.

Do we listen in order to ‘confirm’ or in order to ‘learn,’ or perhaps to ‘unlearn’?  Do we seek confirmation to what we already believe to be true?  Do we listen in order to defend ourselves from that which might influence us or challenge our truth?  Are we so fear-full that we are unable to listen in order to understand (seeking to understand is one powerful way of listening).

For thousands of years the great wisdom figures spoke the ‘good news’ and some listened and others rejected their words and then, often, rejected them.  Their words were not rejected because they were ‘good.’  Their words were rejected because they were ‘new.’  In order to consider their words, folks had to hold an attitude of searching and seeking or others had been bumped awake and hence were open to the ‘good news.’  ‘Good news’ does not necessarily bring comfort and solace.  ‘Good News’ is often quite disturbing.

A spiritual director once described ‘faith’ as being openness to the truth, no matter what the consequences, no matter where it leads you and when you don’t even know where it’s going to lead you.  That’s faith.  Faith is NOT Belief.  Our belief provides us security; our faith is rooted in doubt and in insecurity.  Faith does not involve simply accepting one’s words (say the ‘Good News’) without a challenge.  Faith promotes challenge and protects us from becoming gullible.  One challenges from an attitude of openness.

The Buddha helped us with this idea when he said to a few of his followers: ‘Monks and scholars must not accept my words out of respect, but must analyze them the way a goldsmith analyzes gold – by cutting, scraping, rubbing, melting.’

When we do this we are listening; we are taking another step to helping ourselves wake up – we are, in essence, bumping ourselves awake via listening.  Of course we can always count on the squealing tires of reality to prepare us for the bump of reality – the reality that will, indeed, wake us up.

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As I settled in at my favorite coffee-bakery shop this morning my mind was sorting through a number of potential topics for today’s posting.  What emerged with clarity into my consciousness were the words from Yeats’ powerful poem, The Second Coming.  More specifically, what took center-stage in my mind was Yeats’ first stanza.  Yeats is speaking to us today:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. 

We are living in a world where the centre cannot hold.  We human beings can no longer hold the growing contradictions and paradoxes that we are continuing to emerge from within.  The chaotic forces lying within us, individually and collectively, are being loosed upon the world.  In a sense we have not chosen this, for few choose this path, yet it is a reality that we cannot any longer afford to deny-avoid.

For thousands of years the great faith and humanist traditions and their wisdom figures have cautioned us – or powerfully warned us – that we humans are susceptible to ‘spiritual depletion.’  More recent prophetic voices have declared that we are now in a profound global spiritual crisis and this is the root cause of our dilemma.

Our spiritual crisis is manifested largely in desperation, cynicism, violence (especially self-violence), conflict, self-contradiction, ambivalence (think: What is ‘truth’?), paradox (think: fear and hope; doubt and belief; creation and destructiveness; progress and regression; and evolution and devolution, etc.), our growing attachments to images, idols, and slogans (think: seeking to treat the complex simplistically) and programs that do not sharpen but dull our capacities until our core begins to crack – the centre cannot hold.

We are immersed in a growing confusion.  We do not know if we are building a ‘better world’ or if we are destroying the world we have been entrusted with (think: pipe-line in the Dakotas).  We are immersed in powerful forces of good and evil, of virtue and vice, of light and darkness.  We are striving to save ‘our world’ while we are contributing to ‘our world’s destruction.’  We are seeking ‘peace in our time’ while we are supporting and encouraging world-wide violence (in the state where I live our state government is seriously considering allowing anyone who wants to buy a gun and openly carry it to do so – no checks and no gun-license needed).

In this scenario, evil pretends to be good as it reveals itself in the most dreadful atrocities, justified and rationalized by the purest and most ‘innocent’ intentions.  The great temptation in a spiritual crisis is for us to think of ourselves as god; to believe that we are all knowing, that we are all powerful, and that, worst of all perhaps, that we are all light.

Our spiritual sickness is the sickness of disordered love – the self-love that is, paradoxically, rooted in self-hate or self-loathing.  When turned inward our self-love suffocates our inner fire of love (the love that all great faith and humanist traditions talk about; the fire-love that nurtures rather than consumes) and we suffocate from within; when turned outward this adulterated love becomes a major source of universal, indiscriminate destructiveness – a destructiveness perpetrated, ironically, in the name of love.

I conclude this morning with the last few lines of Yeats’ poem:

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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