Philosophy Tuesday

So much of our lives seem to revolve around zero-sum games.  Certainly, many of the actual games we play reinforce that idea, that there is a single (even if it’s a team) winner and everyone else falls short.  Or as we get caught up in the false-gravity game of money and the economy of scarcity.  Or when we were young and told to share our toys or treats with a friend or brother or classmate – that was super clear, wasn’t it?  If I gave you half my cookie, then I had less for me (and certainly no more cookie was coming).

To be sure, there are zero-sum instances and games around, both the real and the ones we play (often inadvertently) as though they were real.  But it is well worth remembering that not everything is one, and it is even more fruitful to live as though zero-sum games are the exception.

Love, happiness, generosity, wellbeing, joy, passion, satisfaction, vitality, health, performance, productivity, laughter, kindness, fulfillment, peace… there are so many areas in life where the things are not finite, are not created and destroyed in equal measures.  They are abundant, never-ending, available to be pulled from, always gushing forth to allow us to drink from the proverbial firehose.

True, we may need to get over our own barriers to do so, and those barriers may be mighty indeed, but through this world of abundance and generosity we gain oodles of support and care, buoying us as we work our way to overcome or, even better, dismantle the barriers.

In this realm we get to play whole different kind of games, ones that have us build and grow and feel big and great and happy.  And while the Buddha never really said the following, it’s a fine place to remind us of this non-zero-sum place in which to stand and live from:

Philosophy Tuesday

To make it very, very, clear:

“Yesterday’s Transformation

Is Today’s Ego Trip

That is to say that just because you know something about how our brains operate – whether about fallacies, or cognitive dissonance, or ontology, or psychology, or sociology, or ANY of those – just because you KNOW that they exist, and that we can fall prey to them, does NOT mean that you are IMMUNE from them.

And I want to make this hyper clear, because I have seen far too many posts recently from people who I think would “know better”, who are not only falling prey to these very things but are also accusing others of it. Using their knowledge as a cudgel* while simultaneously through its use exhibiting the very blindness they claim against the other.  They are using their knowledge to ensure they don’t see their own foibles and failures of the very same thing.

The knowledge makes no difference on its own. Quite the opposite. It’s just a tool, one that can be used well and properly, or, not well and in the most destructive fashion.

Being present is the key, using the tools on our own self, our own views, and our own actions.

That’s when the truth can begin, and the delusion(s) can end.

Along with the lies, and hurt, and ruin.

 

* In a completely ignorant, stingy, vindictive, harmful, division-inducing, and worldsuck-creating kind of way.  The kind of way that doesn’t create a world that works for everyone, the kind of way that instead seeks to perpetuate harm and, moreover, inflict pain and suffering on others.

Philosophy Tuesday

Knowledge is great.*  And informational learning super useful.  It lets us do all sorts of really great things.  Without it we can’t tie our shoelaces, we can’t cook up a great meal, we can’t learn the rules of the road, we can’t invent smartphones, we can’t fly to the moon, and so on.  Great stuff, that.

But there are certain parts of our lives where knowledge makes absolutely no difference.

As in, knowing how to lose weight, and losing weight, are two totally different things.

Likewise, knowing that being nervous doesn’t help, and then not being nervous, are worlds apart.

Or knowing how to ride a bike, and being able to ride a bike, also are two completely separate.

And it doesn’t matter how much we learn about them.  All the diets and the physics and the methods and the theories and the techniques and the tricks and the nuts and bolts and yet… there is that gap.  The gap that – frustratingly – cannot be filled – though we may try and try and try – by gaining more knowledge.

And this becomes especially true in those areas of life that are the most meaningful to us and that dig into the really big questions like, “How can I open myself fully?”  “How can I feel comfortable in my own skin?”  “How can I be confident?”  “How can I love and be loved?”  “How can I be fulfilled?”  “How can I gain peace of mind?”  “Or just peace?  Detox from stress?  Freedom from worry?”  “How can I be present and happy and full of vitality?”

All of the areas of life that are truly important to us.  That really matter to us.

Here is where transformational learning comes in.  The realm of ontological philosophy that gets at the root operating system of what it means to be a human being, a deep inquiry into that “being” part of human being.  Rather than give more knowledge and ideas, this kind of learning gets out of the way what’s in the way of us being powerful with what we’ve already got, both in the realm of what we know** but, more importantly, in the realms that gain us access to answering those big and meaningful questions.

Mindfulness, philosophy, ontology, Socratic inquiry, they’re all pathways into transformational learning and all hugely important in being able to integrate every glorious thing that make up our human beingness, from our emotions to our logic to our feelings to our physicality to our creativity to our expressions to our very presence of being and the wonderful dance between all of those and all that surrounds us, day in, and day out.

It is the path of self-cultivation that can lead us to the clearest views, greatest performance, and the highest delights of living.

 

* And as a geek, knowing things forms a big part of my identity…

** Which is one of the unexpectedly exciting results about transformation, that not only is the daily experience of life so much grander but holy cow does performance shoot up immensely at the same time!  Instantly get way better in just about everything (and without having worked on it).   Crazy weird, but undeniably cool.

Philosophy Tuesday

Watching the spectacular return of the Crew Dragon capsule over the weekend, reminded me of a few things I love about the space program.

First is the amazing appreciative and acknowledgement culture that exists within NASA.  Back when the ISS was under construction and a friend and I would watch it happening live, we would often joke with each other to say, “they’re thanking each other again.”  And they do thank each other, often and in self-effacing ways, always claiming that the other team or partners “had the hard jobs” and “made our tasks easy.”  It’s really great.  I spoke about it here under the vastly different context of movie credits, but in a way it is the same thing:  Everyone in the program knows, deeply, that they are part of a larger whole and that it takes everyone in that whole putting in maximum effort to pull off a successful mission.  Space is hard™, and things can go awry very quickly (and often have, with visibly disastrous consequences).  And so they value everyone’s contribution and, even more so, celebrate the amazing thing they are accomplishing by working together in a collaborative fashion.  They remove the “but” out of a phrase like “I am but a…”, and instead recognize that their role, and everyone’s role, is vital.  They take no one for granted and they acknowledge it and each other with profuse thank yous.

Second is that within the various space programs a glorious blend of newness and traditions.  For certain, space is the new, with sci-fi rockets and slick technology and exploration to be had and discovery to be made and so much learning.  But the whole thing is also coupled with deep, and fun, traditions, whether they be wholly enclosed within the space program, such as a traditional pre-launch meal (or peeing on the wheel of the transport vehicle), to something with even deeper roots, such as the ringing of the bell at the docking or departing of a ship.  Neither the new nor the old is better than the other, nor is one less or more necessary, both from a technical as well as a human standpoint.  And it is just that – as humans, we can and are often at our greatest when we synthesize the two, bringing forth that which empowers us and others and leaving behind that which does not and causes harm.  We exist in multitudes, and this is one of them.

And lastly is that multitude, that of the international, global, and humanistic endeavour that is slipping the surly bonds of earth, to dance among the stars and the glory of the universe we inhabit on our tiny blue mote of dust.

Philosophy Tuesday

There’s an additional side to the quasi-Shakespearian quote,

“Resentment is a fire that burns with more light than heat.”

And it’s an important side!  And a side we rarely think about or engage with, despite, perhaps paradoxically, the impact it has on us.  Sure, as we spoke about already, we can look at the quote through the lens of being productive and what leads to better outcomes.  But the other side of it is what smacks us in the face every day: our experience of life within.

Because resentment, bitterness, malice, harshness, nastiness… well, turns out being in those states is just not pleasant.  For sure, we may get that little charge that comes from being righteous*, but overall?  It’s not great.

And it can be very hard to notice that!  Just as we cease to notice how cold the lake is after we’ve been swimming in it for a few minutes, the lousy experience of the moments spent in resentment and spite and anger just becomes the water we’re swimming in when we do it more and more, day in and day out.

Doubly unfortunate is that, when this becomes the water level we float on, even great moments are dampened.  When our baseline is a 1 or a 2, even an amazing +4 event only registers as a 6.  And the reverse is worse, for a terrible -4 event really sends us into the negative doldrums.  And when things are the status quo?  Well, we and our experience float along at that not-all-that-pleasant-or-nice-feeling of a 1 or a 2.

That lowly experience becomes invisible to such a degree that when we are able to give up those harsh, automatic, already, always, consistent ways of being and begin breaking out of it/them for the first time, many (myself included!) describe the feeling in this manner: “Suddenly I felt good in a way I didn’t even know was missing.  Or that even existed.  Or that was even possible.”

Best of all, when we stop draining our lake with resentment et al, and as we begin to float along at a 7 or 8, those +4 events push us high into the lovely double digits.  And those terrible -4 moments?**  Amusingly they can’t even push us down to the level of our previous baseline.

When we bring mindfulness to our practice and give up (as in consciously, willingly, workingly, and ongoingly) our resentment and harshness, we gain access not only to a newfound effectiveness in what we authentically desire, but also to an enhanced experience of life where we can rise up, shine with vitality, experience joy, experience love and relatedness, soar high, and set forth with gusto.

 

* Something that, as a recovering righteousoholic, I am well familiar with…

** Which, nicely, with practice in mindfulness and equanimity, what used to be a -4 event may only register as a -2 event, further keeping our experience from crashing down.  Which, triply nicely, also allows us to be more effective in resolving it more quickly!