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Archive for September, 2021

With my last posting I concluded my brief exploration of some ‘Humanist’ Disciplines; this morning I will begin to explore some ‘Spiritual’ Disciplines.  As a reminder, following are both lists:

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

Theists are rooted in and nurtured by spiritual disciplines.  I have yet to discover a theist tradition that is not rooted in these four spiritual disciplines: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service [these are not the only spiritual disciplines; they are the ones that I have found to be common to all of the theist traditions I am familiar with]. 

Meditation/Solitude.  ‘Solitude’ = the state of being alone.  Solitude is not the same as ‘isolation’ (which is also defined as ‘the state of being alone’).  The solitude I am attempting to describe is a solitude of the heart; it is an inner quality, an ‘attitude,’ that does not depend upon physical isolation in order to be experienced.  Solitude, for me, equates to inner peace; isolation, for me, equates to loneliness.  Solitude enables me to perceive, understand and embrace the world from a place of inner peace – from a rest-full place.  When I feel isolated I am focused on myself – on my own pain, my own loneliness.  I am not in a rest-full place; I am in a rest-less place.  I am not at ease; I am dis-eased.  For me, ‘meditation’ requires ‘solitude.’

When I was eighteen, I spent a year in a monastery and one of the spiritual disciplines I was introduced to was meditation.  Meditation is rooted in reflection, not study.  It involves listening more than thinking.  It involves ‘letting go’ more than either ‘hanging on’ or ‘grabbing for.’  It involves ‘clearing’ and ‘opening’ – we make ‘space’ for and we become ‘open to’. . .   The theist makes space for and becomes open to the ‘whispers’ of God; to the guidance of the Spirit of God.  For the one who is searching and seeking for a meditative process that will serve him or her there are many excellent resources available and many theist traditions have web sites that can help the searcher and seeker.  I have found that it is crucial to find a meditative process that deeply resonates with you; this often requires some searching, seeking and experimenting. 

Prayer.  In the monastery we prayed five times a day; I still pray four times a day (this is my discipline).  Upon opening my eyes in the morning, my first words are words of prayerful thanksgiving.  As I close my eyes at night my prayers are prayers of both thanksgiving and requesting of healing energy for those I love.  I am in awe of devout Muslims who stop and pray five times a day; not just at ‘any’ times but at five ‘set’ times – now this is discipline.  For me, my main purpose of praying is to develop, honor and sustain my relationship with God; as I pray I often image God walking with me in a wooded glen (the form that God takes varies; actually, more often than not, the image God takes emerges as I walk and talk with God).  When I am fear-full, or full of dis-ease I quickly move to prayers of ‘begging’ or prayers of ‘deal-making.’  What is important to me as a theist is that I purpose-fully stop, step-back, and take time for prayer each day.   For me, there are prayers of thanksgiving, honoring, forgiveness, healing and begging (some call it ‘requesting’ or ‘asking’).   If it were not for my year in the monastery I might not have developed a daily meditation or prayer discipline.  I am thankful each day for all the gifts that my time in the monastery provided me.   

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Beginning with my last posting, I began to briefly explore some ‘Humanist’ and ‘Spiritual’ Disciplines.  As a reminder, the short list for each includes:

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

Today, Gentle Reader, I will continue with the ‘Humanist Disciplines.’

Advocacy/Inquiry.  In our culture we tend to stress ‘advocacy’ over ‘inquiry.’  Advocacy = the act of pleading for or supporting a cause or principle.  Consider that we also tend to believe that in the act of advocacy that we are rooted in ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ and that more often than we would like to admit we are rooted in emotion [at this point I am not ‘evaluating’ either position; I am just ‘naming’ what I have observed for 50 plus years].  Because of this ‘rooting’ advocates tend not to be interested in what the other has to offer; advocates are not open to the possibility of being influenced by the other(s); advocates do not seek to ‘understand’ the other(s); advocates tend to become defensive and entrenched rather than open and inquisitive.  Advocates tend to see ‘persuasion’ as the key skill (and too often are seduced into employing ‘coercion’ or ‘manipulation’ when ‘persuasion’ does not seem to work for them).  The art of persuasion is rooted in ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ and when an advocate is rooted mainly in ‘emotion’ then persuasion is replaced (what it is replaced with, in addition to coercion or manipulation, ranges from ‘demand’ to ‘you must’).

Consider that if one balances ‘advocacy’ with ‘inquiry’ then one is more likely to avoid the ‘emotional’ traps that come with being an advocate.  Inquiry = a seeking for truth, information or knowledge via questions in order to ‘fully,’ ‘deeply,’ ‘truly’ understand.  Inquiry requires the other(s) to affirm that I ‘fully,’ ‘deeply,’ ‘truly’ understand; it is not an affirmation if I (the one doing the inquiring) say ‘Oh, now I understand,’ the other(s) need to affirm that I understand.  Inquiry also means that I hold an attitude that I might be influenced by your truth, by the information or by the knowledge gained; holding this ‘attitude’ is crucial for the inquiry process. 

Dialogue.  Consider that a dialogue is a ‘searching conversation.’  We search together for ‘truth’ or ‘meaning’ or ‘understanding’ or ‘options’ or ‘ways’ or ‘possibilities’ or ‘common ground’ (there are others that we might search for but this provides us with some possibilities).  Dialogue is rooted in inquiry more than advocacy.  It is also rooted in the belief that we each have ‘wisdom,’ or ‘insight,’ or ‘knowledge’ to offer.  It is rooted more in ‘doubt’ than ‘surety’ (‘surety’ is a major block to inquiry and dialogue for if I am ‘sure’ I have no need to search with you).  Dialogue is not conflict free.  At times during the dialogue process conflicts of ‘needs’ or ‘values’ will surface (for an introduction to Dialogue please read and study David Bohm’s ‘On Dialogue’).    In PART III, I will begin to briefly explore some of the ‘Spiritual Disciplines.’  I conclude today’s posting with a quotation from David Bohm.

A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue.

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‘Discipline’ = an activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves a skill, an ability, or a capacity.  Recently I have been considering two ‘Disciplines’; I call them ‘humanist disciplines’ and ‘spiritual disciplines.’  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to consider these as descriptive categories as a number of them are embraced by both humanists and theists.  The disciplines that I offer us to consider  are not the only disciplines available to us; however, they are, it seems to me, essential [essential = indispensable; as in ‘these disciplines are indispensable for humanists and theists’].  Some disciplines can be ‘integrated’ such that they become ‘second nature’ to us and some disciplines need to be consciously embraced for a life-time; once we ‘stop’ engaging the discipline we lose the benefit of it and it requires more of us if we decide to re-engage it.  For myself, I have learned that almost all of the following disciplines require commitment, constancy, and consistency from me; I must be intentional and purpose-full about them.  So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider the ones I have to offer and also to be intentional and purpose-full about the disciplines that are essential for you (for your well-being and the well-being of others). 

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

Let us continue by briefly exploring the HUMANIST DISCIPLINES.

Reflection.  At times it is crucial that I ‘reflect’ before I act and at other times it is crucial that I ‘reflect’ after I have taken action and still at other times it is crucial that I reflect both before and after I act.  Reflection informs and supports my learning.  My time of reflection can be brief or it can involve some significant time (each of us has to define both ‘brief’ and ‘significant time’).  With ‘discipline,’ over time, I will develop the skill, ability and capacity for reflection.  For example, before I speak I might well reflect on the impact my words might have on both myself and on the other(s).  If I am going to engage in a difficult conversation I might take time and reflect on both the intended and unintended consequences or outcomes and I might take some time to ‘image’ the conversation; the clearer the image the more likely the conversation will fit the image.  After I have engaged in a difficult conversation I might take some time to reflect as to the effect and affect the conversation had upon me and upon the other(s). 

Listening.  I listen in order to understand not in order to agree.  I listen intently and with undefended receptivity.  I listen first (before I act).  I listen to what is emerging from within me and I listen to what is emerging from within the other(s).  I listen in order to seek ‘common boundaries.’  I listen in order to understand the other’s ‘truth.’  I listen intently to myself in order to understand and affirm my ‘truth.’  I listen with the attitude that what I hear might well influence me (for example, I hold an attitude that I am open to the other’s ‘truth’). I listen with my ears and my eyes for I know that I pay more attention to a person’s non-verbal cues than I do to a person’s verbal cues.  In listening I seek to close the ‘gap’ between the words I hear and the nonverbal communication that I experience (I help us – me and the other(s) – close the gap via ‘inquiry’).

I close today’s posting with words of wisdom from Clara Barton: the surest test of discipline is its absence. 

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MY LITTLE BLACK BOOK

My father kept a ‘Little Black Book.’  He would keep notes in it – professional and personal notes.  When I was in my late thirties I began keeping notes in my own ‘Little Black Book.’  A few months ago I began transferring some of the notes in my many little black books into a ‘Large Black Book.’  A few days ago, as I was transferring notes from my little black book into my large black book I decided to enter some of them into a blog posting.  So, Gentle Reader, what follows are a few of the notes I entered into my a few of my little black books these past ten years or so.  There is no particular theme although some are connected or are complements of others.

  • If you want to begin to understand a Culture listen to its stories and uncover its lived (not espoused) metaphors.
  • Dis-eases always infect us when we are confronted by or engaged in transformational change.
  • It is not what the Vision is but what the Vision does that matters.
  • Rumi taught me that the Sufi emphasizes substance over appearance. What do I emphasize?
  • I am thinking that there are four pure radiances:
  • Compassion
  • Mercy
  • Truth
  • Love
  • A QUESTION: Am I able, am I willing, to recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith and/or ideals are different from mine? è If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing God to remake me in God’s image.
  • I continue to be reminded that: Reason alone does not dispel my prejudices.
  • We are changed not by what we receive but by what we do in response.
  • It is a challenge to get politicians to understand something when their re-election depends upon their NOT understanding.
  • Sadly, it seems that we are now living in the age of radical self-centeredness.
  • I became a conservative-progressive (a follower of Lincoln) by birth, by conviction and by revulsion.
  • A QUESTION: When does my routine replace my awareness?
  • The question that has not been asked cannot be responded to nor ‘held.’
  • As Citizens in our Nation we have ‘Rights’ – AND – they are not absolute ‘Rights’; our ‘Rights’ are rooted in ‘Responsibilities’ to self AND to the other(s).  We are challenged to embrace the polarity of ‘Person_____Community’ and the polarity of ‘Citizen______Society.’
  • We reason/think differently when we seek to understand than when we seek to take a position and defend it and/or when we seek to take action.
  • CONSIDER:
  • Teacher = ‘knowledge of’ – Puts In
  • Educator = ‘belief in’ – Calls Forth
  • Mentor = ‘perceives potential’ – Challenges via Inquiry
  • Guide = ‘lived experience’ – Shows a Way & Walks Along
  • Searcher-Seeker = ‘curiosity-driven’ – ‘Searches With’
  • Peter & Judas hesitated between two abysses – one in which one loses one’s self and one in which one’s self is saved/reconciled/forgiven. è Both betrayed Jesus and both wept bitter tears.  One embraced forgiveness and hope and mercy and one embraced despair and self-condemnation, self-loathing and death.  I have wept bitter tears and…

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You need to lead the examined life and question your assumptions and beliefs. –Martha Nussbaum

In my previous posting we briefly explored two of the four elements that are tap roots for critical thinking.  As a reminder, the first two of these elements are: Discerning and Naming Our Assumptions and Checking Our Assumptions.  Today we will briefly explore the other two.

Seeing Things from Various Points of View.  In order to do this I must hold an attitude of being open to the other’s point of view and I must hold an attitude that I will be open to the possibility of being influenced by what is offered to me and I must be open to the possibility that my assumption is not ‘true.’ 

I know, first hand, that being open in these three ways is far from being easy; I often become aware of my resistance when I check to see if I am open in these three ways.  If I affirm that I am open in these three ways I can then take the next step: to seek to see my assumption(s) from a variety of points of view. 

First I might approach them through the multiple lenses of ‘roles’ I play (parent, educator, philosopher, son, sibling, friend, companion).  Then I will seek out others that I trust to be ‘truthful’ with me and invite them to provide me with their views.

For example, I too often assume that the other interprets my assumption(s) as I do and when I check this out I discover that their interpretation does not mesh with mine; I recall speaking with a colleague a number of years ago about how ‘flexible’ I am (one of my major assumptions) and this person looked at me and responded ‘You are one of the most rigid people I know when it comes to this topic.’  I was stunned – my defenses went up.  It took me some time to ‘see’ and ‘understand’ and ‘accept’ what was being offered to me.  Today we can laugh at my ‘rigid flexibility.’  It is helpful for me to have others ‘confirm’ or ‘disconfirm’ my assumptions. 

Taking Action Rooted in Knowledge and Understanding.  The end goal of critical thinking is to take action.  Life is too short not to take this type of action (now that I am in my 77th year of life I can truly affirm the old adage that ‘life is too short’).  This type of action is supported by understanding and convincing evidence (I had to understand and convince myself that I was, indeed, quite rigid – no one could do this for me). 

Now, we also know that some ‘evidence’ can be misleading (‘so and so says this is true so it must be true’ – a certain person, a certain group, a certain philosophy, a certain religion).  I have a sense that most of us can be ‘seduced’ by the right ‘other’ into accepting ‘their evidence’ (perhaps it is their ‘belief’) without critical judgment (see ingredients 1-3). 

We must, all of us, be cautious when relying upon people with ‘authority’ or ‘credibility’ or ‘credentials’ regarding their telling us what to think (see Janis re; groupthink, or Fromm re: automaton conformity, or Gramsci re: hegemony); at worst some of these ‘a-c-c’ folks are manipulative, seductive or evil and at best they are prejudiced (believe it or not, we are all prejudiced). 

It is our obligation and responsibility and response-ability to ensure – to the best of our ability – that our actions have the effects we wish them to have; an action rooted in knowledge and understanding is one whose intended effect provides the results we had in mind (I am reminded of the advice: if you are not getting what you want from your actions then change your actions until you obtain the result you want).  I ask designated leaders: ‘Does the way you lead get you what you want?’ ‘What do you want?’ If it doesn’t then change the way you lead!.  Actually, these are good questions for each of us to ask and hold: ‘Does the way I_______[parent, teach, lead, follow, serve, care, etc.] get me what I want?’  ‘What do I want?’

Civilized discourse demands critical thinking. –Daniel Lubetzky

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