Philosophy Tuesday

I’ve spoken a bunch on this blog about our identity/identities.  No surprise – it’s perhaps the most fundamental way we understand and interact with ourselves, and, as such, perhaps the most fundamental way we interact with and understand the world (through the filter of how it relates to us).  The three-part series that starts here is the big primer on our “identity of identities”, but later posts cover even more facets, including this one on the benefit of diversifying our identity/identities as well as this highly important bit about how our brains cannot tell the difference between an attack on our body or an attack on our identity.

All of which means that what we incorporate into our identities is vital, lest we lash ourselves to a narrow set of views and options (often leading to unproductive results) or lest we lash out in all sorts of deleterious ways when they are threatened (leading to further unproductivity).

But one thing I hadn’t really done before is to consider that there might be differences between the ‘intensity’ of our identities.  That is to say, I have been treating all of the identities we have as equal in their enforced rigidity as well as in their fervency.  But that doesn’t exactly fit with my lived experience, nor with the philosophical concepts of the gradient and the middle path.

And so, perhaps it’d be good to introduce into this mix the idea of “tiered” identities, where our Tier 1 identities are the most intense identities that govern our behaviour the most rigidly and to which our calculating self reacts the most ferociously if it feels threatened.  Tier 2 identities are less so, Tier 3 even less so, and our Tier 4 identities are, in many ways, only tenuously an identity and mostly are of the ‘for fun’ type relating to a casual hobby or interest.*

By looking at and recognizing our identities within this framework of Tiers allows us, for starters, to focus our mindfulness on those of the higher Tiers, as those are the ones most likely to lead us astray.**  It also opens flexibility, reminding us that we are always at choice and even something like our identity is malleable.  And it lets us have more fun!  We needn’t, even accidentally, tamp down our lower Tier identities for concern that they may run amok.*** We can be playful with them and let them lead us to be playful with others as well.

I’m intrigued to see what opens up for me as I begin to explore this more.  If you were to list your identities, what would you say they are, and, of those, what Tier would you assign to each?


* For sure, your hobbies or interests very much CAN be a higher Tier identity – for some it is their LIFE and they’ll twist everything in their lives for it and will react very harshly to anything that threatens it, whether external (someone speaks ill of it) or, perhaps, internal (an injury that removes their capacity to do it well or altogether).

** And when, by being present and mindful, we can notice that the default, already, always ways of being that live within those identities crop up in situations where they would not be productive and thus interrupt them before they cause undesired outcomes.  Remembering that our identities are a creation, we can set them aside and be another way or engage another more appropriate identity here.  (And, if it happens often enough, swap out that identity entirely).

*** Again, not to say they won’t or can’t run amok, but the chance is lower, and realizing they’re of lower intensity also has us realize they’re easier to interrupt and redirect ourselves before they go too far.

Philosophy Tuesday

“This morning, I’m thinking about this Wallace Stevens poem that begins, “Twenty men crossing a bridge into a village is twenty men crossing twenty bridges into twenty villages. The bridge is different to each of us, as is the village beyond.” I guess I’m thinking about this poem because I’m remembering a walk I took ten years ago with my friend Esther [across a bridge].

The bridge had a grated floor so that you could see through to the teeming river below and I’ve never been super enthusiastic about heights or, for that matter, bridges, and Esther, whose empathy dials were always turned up to 11, noticed there was something wrong. She told me that we were almost across the bridge and that I could take over pushing her wheelchair if I wanted something to hang on to. She knew my bridge was different from hers.

And so, the true observation is never ‘this bridge is terrifying’, instead, the only thing you can say with any certainty is ‘my bridge is terrifying, how ’bout yours?’

And then, this is real trick of living on a planet that contains many other human souls that are as valuable and multitudinous as your own, you must find a way to really listen to this other person’s answer and to believe in their experience as fully as we believe in our own.”

— John Green

(Ah, this whole piece is powerful and a delight all at the same time! If you have four minutes go hand have a watch/listen… It takes the idea of the river, of the cathedral, and even a bit on how every person you encounter meets a different you, and blends them all together into an uplifting call for empathy, not only for others, but for ourselves as well.  Is my bridge terrifying?  Do I feel as though it shouldn’t, and, more over, that I’m re bad for it feeling that way?  How fascinating!  I can let that be, for that is where I am right now.  And if it isn’t some place I want to be, I can forgo what’s wrong and look for what’s missing.  I can reach out and hold onto something and begin the work of transformation and possibility from there.)

Philosophy Tuesday

This one’s a two-shot tonight, the first is a little quote I came across recently:

“Victory doesn’t always mean you get what you want.

Victory sometimes is just making progress.”


Which can tie nicely into:

“Don’t let perfect,

Be the enemy of good.”


But the real part two of this post is arises from personal experience:

“When you imagine success only as a particular and singular outcome,

(Even more-so when you plan each successive stage to accomplishing it!)

Then you have one single path to victory

And a million paths to be unsuccessful.”


Which is totally something I have done and will still do when I’m not mindful about it.  It’s also a place where both my vivid imagination and integrative training can lead me astray, for I can picture an outcome, see how different facets might affect it, refine and aggrandize it in a cycle, all until I’ve visualized a totally lofty success!  Even better, I can walk through all the steps to get there until I’ve got a Plan(tm).

But, alas, turns out I’m not actually omniscient.  Not only are there multiple paths to get there, but there exists many outcomes that could be as good, or perhaps even better, than what I’d projected.  Which is great!  But with that vivid image and path I’d created, tunnel vision can quickly lead me to not being present, not seeing opportunities, and therefore avoiding any of those better paths that could lead to a victory.

The grand vision tunnel has another downside:  even if it ended well, if it didn’t turn out exactly like I thought it should then it can still feel like a letdown or failure.

Leaving behind the metaphor of branching paths we come, of course, to the one of a middle path existing here, a middle path that does indeed have a destination in mind and a route and plan to get there, but one that firmly remains as a and in the realm of a possibility (an intention of which there are multitudes of ways that could be satisfied) while also remaining present and able to flow and adjust to what comes along.

Traveling forward in that way, rather than a 1:10000 ratio of win:nope the odds become much more favorable, and any undesired end never seems as final.

Philosophy Tuesday

There was a concept and a technique that I learned early on during my philosophical training:

Don’t look for what’s wrong.

Instead, look for what’s missing.

A clever little distinction there, for the former tends to hang us up, raise our hackles, and generally bog us down through muddy terrain as our ego and calculating self and identity and shame and all sorts of things gets involved.  It also can sometimes (often?) lead us to a dud prize: Congratulations, you know what’s wrong!  Now what?

Even more meaningful is the insight that often nothing is actually, truly, capital-W, wrong.  It may be unproductive or detracting, and may have deleterious outcomes, but perhaps Wrong isn’t actually there and/or isn’t so binary.  And so Wrong isn’t the best place to look.

Looking for what’s missing sidesteps all of that.  What’s missing looks for what, if it were present, would alter how things occurs for us and what would create new possibilities.  There are many avenues to display there, but the most fruitful place to look is often in who we are being in those moments.  When we shift our being so too do our actions shift, and thus so do the results also shift.  When we add in what’s missing the rut is broken and we get ourselves in gear in ways that may have seemed unfathomable before.  As a bonus, our experience also shifts to the better!

All of which is all great in the realm of mindfulness and philosophy.  But I also want to expand this into the realm of art, and specifically in the realm of critique.*  Because looking for what’s wrong not only can blind you to the work you’re exploring, but expressing a series of what’s wrong is often unproductive at either improving the work or the growth of the creator.**  What’s missing can provide way more valuable and actionable feedback and builds up rather than undermines.  Relate what caught your attention and was memorable, review your impressions, and express what was missing that would elevate the work and its impact even further.

With what’s missing our possibilities are opened, our art (including the art of living!) is strengthened, our excitement grows, and, above all, our spirit soars.


* As you might already see, this also works great for other critiques, be it performance reviews at an employment, coaching sports, and etc.

** If the foundation of the work doesn’t resonate with you, or if you think there’s something problematic, then that’s a thing too and certainly worthy of expressing, but both express it in that way and also you can still critique the rest of the work from what’s missing to elevate the craft.  Even if this particular work itself is discarded due to those primordial issues, what’s missing has helped to strengthen the creator, and the next work they create will be grander because of it.

Philosophy Tuesday

“It is good to remember that love is (also) a verb.”

— expressed by many

A great reminder indeed.  Especially since, in many of the stories we hear or watch, love is presented as a thing that is either found, or that descends from upon high, or that is either there or not there and thus no different than an object, like a rock.  It becomes is a passive noun.

Hence that reminder that there is another side to love, a love that is active and agency-filled.*  Love is a way of being, and like all ways of being it is therefore capable of being created and brought forth in the moment, moment by moment by moment.  We can be present to love and can go further to be loving.

It is a practice!  And the more time we spend being loving, the richer and more resilient our relationships become, the less contempt we peddle, and the grander (and delightful and happy and…)  our experience of life becomes.


* Of course, it’s not that love isn’t also a noun, and that our emotions are not involved.  Love arises much easier when the right context is present, often when who we are being aligns.  Not to mention the complexity of the different kinds of love, for which the English language, at least, is deficient in differentiating.  There’s romantic love, familial love, friendship love, and our overarching love for humans and humanity.  So the key here is to simply not forget that love is (also) a verb and to not live as though it’s only a passive noun or as though it’s only a verb.  It is big and encompasses all.

Philosophy Tuesday

There’s an amusing little phrase I heard recently that sheds some insight into our brains’ negativity bias, that is, the bias that places more weight/emphasis/concern/importance on and has us react or fret or ruminate more on things or events or news that are of a more negative or bad nature than things of a neutral, positive, or good nature. *

It’s quite simple, and goes like this:

“Life has to keep winning every day; death only has to win once.”

This is so good!  For what it speaks to is our calculating self and its survival-based (and thus evolution-narrowed) preoccupation and focus.  Whatever could be considered threatening** gets the calculating self all agitated and screaming in ways that rainbows do not.

Mindfulness and being present are what work wonders to counter this bias.  Letting our immediate reaction be, letting the calculating self sound off without becoming it, and listening to and even embracing our central selves as the voice to guide us forward, not only in our actions but also in how we get to experience our life with delight, wonder, and peace of mind.


* Of course, negative/neutral/positive are value judgements as well, so there’s malleability even there…

** And what we consider threatening can also be quite wild and out of place, especially in our current-day environment(s).***

*** Especially when we remember the way our calculating self cannot tell the difference between a threat to the body and a threat to our identity.  So much of the threats our calculating self sees and responds to are often only of the identity variety…


Philosophy Tuesday

In the last few years we got to train under Sifu an amusing scene would often play itself out.  One of us would ask him a question – usually about how we were trying to embody one of the concepts or apply one of the fundamentals – and he would respond with:  “Well….. yes/no.”

It happened often enough it became a running joke among us.

BUT! Within that humour lies some fundamental truth(s).  (No surprise, of course, given that it was Sifu…)

Take just about anything that’s deep and related and foundational, and as you explore it or use it or apply it or see it arise around you, very little is exclusive or binary.  Gradients exist everywhere. And elements that seem like opposites don’t always act in opposition to each other.  They may instead be differing sides of the same coin that work best when both are brought to bear in appropriate amounts.

Putting it a slightly different way, yes/no is the principal behind Yin and Yang and its notion of dualism where even seemingly contrasting energies not only are interconnected but they often contain (and, again, work best when they do engage) a little bit of the other in it.  In addition, there is a flow, with energies shifting and waxing and waning in differing amounts to respond to what’s appropriate in the moment.  When there is an unbalance, that’s when things fall apart.*

Which is something that we tested and experienced time and time again in our tai chi training!  Apply a particular concept or tension at 100%, and we would collapse.  But shift it a bit, even dialing it a little back by 10%, and then we would be strong.**  At our core, 60/40 was often the sweet spot, though at times 70/30 was a better split.  And we could be 90% at the point of application while maintaining balance within our core at 60/40, doubling the yin and yang to not only between differing concepts, but also between our active extremities and our rooted and originating core.

And while it manifests itself quite viscerally in the physical testing of our tai chi training, the concept of yes/no holds sway far beyond into all aspects of our individual lives to that of our families and communities and beyond.

Best of all, for me at least, I’m lucky that whenever I notice I’m beginning to stray from the middle path and set myself to wonder about it, I get to be guided back with Sifu’s voice echoing in my head with a delightful and amused “Well… yes/no.”


* To which, this yes/no idea also connects quite well to another of my favourite fundamental concepts, that of the Middle Path (from within the Buddhist tradition).

** Which is related to the concept of “Straight but not Straight” or as I called it “Shaolin Straight”.

Philosophy Tuesday

We are quite familiar with the idea of, and the distinction between, a physical trainer and a physical therapist.

When it comes to the realm of being and the art of living, however, that same complementary duo isn’t nearly as present or as familiar.  Therapy is most of what inhabits that realm, and while the stigma around therapy is (fortunately) reducing, it nonetheless gets conflated with the “treating injury” or “fixing something” context of physical therapy.  (Which itself reinforces the existing subtext that we shouldn’t need any training and should somehow be fully adjusted and ready from the moment we’re squeezed out into the world.)

There could be much to be gained in furthering the same duo in this realm as well.