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

“It taught me – it gave me greater appreciation and understanding for the present moment. By that, I mean not being lost in thought, not being distracted, not being overwhelmed by difficult emotions but instead learning how to be in the here and now, how to be mindful, how to be present.

I think the present moment is so underrated. It sounds so ordinary. And yet, we spend so little time in the present moment that it’s anything but ordinary.

“I remember getting told off once at the monastery. So I was a very naughty monk.  I can’t even remember now why. I think I’d read a book or something in the library that I wasn’t supposed to read or something. And I was given a task to do, and it was to cut the grass. And it was to cut the grass with a pair of scissors. Now, at the time when I was doing it, at least for the first kind of hour or two of doing that, in my mind, I was just busy talking to myself. This is ridiculous. This is crazy… So stupid, la-la-la-la…

And really kind of just building up a lot of frustration and anger. It was entirely my own kind of doing, that stuff. And I was kind of creating this tension in the mind and in my body. And at some stage, I think I remember just kind of just laughing to myself at the absurdity of it. But through having let go of that storyline and having let go of that tension, all of a sudden, I was kind of released from that story.

And all of a sudden, it actually became quite a pleasant activity. So it’s a really good example of how, look, the activity is what it was. I got to define the experience of that activity by how I was relating to it with my mind. And so in the monastery, you’re constantly kind of challenged. You know, if you’re sweeping the floor are you sweeping the floor whilst thinking about something else that happened in the past or looking to the future, hoping something will happen in the future? Or are you simply present with the sound and the sensation of the broom?

And it’s such a simple idea. But if it’s done sort of repeatedly over time, then it has a really sort of transformative effect on the mind.”

—-

“And I sometimes think that, in our search for happiness, we make so much noise – if not externally, in our own mind – that actually we miss the very thing that we were looking for and we realized that, oh, actually it was here all along. So I sometimes worry about this kind of search for happiness or trying to be more happy. And that, for me – I can only speak from my own experience – but the framework of meditation was so useful where there isn’t really this idea of trying to be happy. It’s more simply creating a framework where we let go of all the things that bring us unhappiness.”

Andy Puddicombe (emphasis mine)

 

(Lots of great stuff, and I especially like that last bit – searching for happiness or trying to force happiness is often not particularly all that useful or productive.  It’s throwing happiness icing on top of a mud pie.  There’s still so much mud there, that it’s nothing but a fragile veneer (that, probably, creates more mud of resentment that lies on top of the icing).  What mindfulness, being present, and ontological inquiry and discovery allows is to recognize and let go of that which is making the mud within us.  To get rid of the mud.  Clear the plate, and allow the happiness (and joy, fulfilment, etc) to rise up naturally – and authentically – from our own self-expression.

Also, I very much like and it totally deserves being doubly highlighted: “And yet, we spend so little time in the present moment that it’s anything but ordinary.”)

Philosophy Tuesday

Often, we don’t really want the things we want.  The things we covet.  The things we obsess over.  All the various things, be they items or jobs or vacations or even fame or riches.  We don’t want the thing.

We want what we think those things will get us.  What those things will provide for us. All the ways of being that we can inhabit inside those fulfilled fantasies.

Unfortunately, things cannot give us that.  They may – quite usefully! – grant us a stage, an opportunity to generate it or have it show up, but it won’t get us it.  It does not come bundled in the package.  And it can never be the salve we are looking for.

So we try to get more.  It’s never enough.  We try other things.  Not enough.  We change things around.  Still not enough.  We may get distracted, amused, or even entertained, but only fleetingly.  And never those ways of being we crave.  We get trapped in the hamster wheel.  Always searching, never receiving.

It is not by having that we can generate being.  Or even generate doing.  It is from deeper within.  It is from intention, building upon a clear slate grounded in mindfulness and being present.  The creation is internal, not external.  The being begets the being.

From that starting point, things then become an amplifier.  We truly can enjoy the things we have, do, or partake.  Rather than being sought for mistaken purpose, things now can build on and further support the ways of being we have generated.  We appreciate the things for what they are.

With our being in the lead and our things at our side, we can lead ourselves to joy, fulfilment, love, excitement, and gusto.

Philosophy Tuesday

If you want to draw water,

You do not dig six one-foot wells.

You dig one six-foot well.

Variations on this phrase have been attributed to many great philosophers and thinkers over the years (be it Sufi or Buddha or some other), but no matter its origin (which I’d wager is more likely to be pedestrian rather than profound), it remains a lovely little didactic parable that nicely encapsulates a number of philosophical hooks to leap from.

For one, it can be taken as a tale of intention and perseverance: “To flit about and abandon things quickly may not always yield that which will slake your thirst.”

It may also be taken as a tale of collaboration and unity: “When we dig only for ourselves, we come up short; when we dig together, we can reach rewards of superabundance.”

And for me, the most profound comes when I take it this way: “Remember that there are many valid paths, and everyone ends up drinking from the same water.  We don’t need to divide ourselves based on the specific well.  The important part is that we are digging our well, that our well aims true, and that we dig deep enough to reach the water of spirit and enlightenment.”

In both martial and philosophical arts, I have found that any “style” or “method” or “philosophy” developed to a high level begins to sound the same.  They start talking about the same things.  They have to.  Because we are all the same human body, and the same human being.  They may talk about things differently, or have different conceptual frameworks, but ultimately they are all pointing to the same thing.  The same water.

Search to find a good spot for a well.  Set yourself down.  And start digging.

When you find another drinking from a different well, revel in the water below.  Look down their well to see what new things might reflect back for you.   Share the experiences of the waters you have reached.

When we cease our flitting, begin our digging, work together to bore downward, and support each other in our well building efforts, we can all reach and revel in that sweet, cool, water below.

Philosophy Tuesday

That recent rescue of the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand is remarkable many times over.

For one, the sheer drama of it, no question.

For two, the amazing display of humanity, of generosity, of what truly lives deep within our souls wherein hundreds mobilized and gave their time and their action and their sweat and put themselves into harms way (with one Thai diver unfortunately dying) to rescue these thirteen people.  The display of striving together, of aligning and unifying to drive towards great depths and first reach, then stabilize, then rescue the boys and their coach.  The teams of volunteers who came from around the world and worked as one.  Beautiful example of human nature and who we can be.

But for me, the most amazing aspect of it all is the trapped boys themselves.  To be entombed in darkness in a tight cave with water lapping nearby… and to not completely lose it well before the rescuers could reach them.  Thanks to meditation.  Their soccer coach had studied at a Buddhist monastery for a decade, and he led the boys in mindfulness meditation so that they (and himself) could be with it and to face the ordeal with a certain peace of mind.  Including for sure the rescue itself, which I can imagine would be quite a frightening prospect.  They meditated for an hour before each was brought out of the cave.

Sometimes the upshot of mindfulness is hard to fathom.  And sometimes, like this, it’s quite plain to see.  It allowed for calm to rein, it allowed for energy to be conserved, and it allowed for great protection, a lasting effect that dampens any potential trauma from the ordeal and, going forward, for facing the trials and tribulations of everyday life with greater and greater equanimity.

In the midst of heartwarming excitement, it’s a great reminder of why mindfulness, and why possibility.

Philosophy Tuesday

There is a difference between mental health, and mental illness.

Our bodies can be in poor health without an actual illness or pathogen acting up on us.  Poor eating, stress, lack of sleep, overwork, exhaustion, rough environmental conditions, all of these can sap us of our vitality and wellbeing, leaving us weakened.

There’s nothing “wrong” to treat.  We’re just weakened.

So too it is with our mental (to which I am encompassing whole wide realm of mental/emotional/’spiritual’) health.  It is very possible to be in a weakened mental health state without a physical/brain impingement acting up on us.  Stress, environment, lack of sleep, social atmospheres, interactions, exposure, messaging, stories, all of these can sap us of our mental vitality and wellbeing, leaving us weakened.

It is, perhaps, an apt description for one of the ways Buddhism describes the term Dukkha, or dis-ease.

And when we are weakened, we are, in all manners of ways, not going to perform our best.  Our thoughts, feelings, judgments, decisions, and actions are all going to be impaired.  We can act out in ways we truly don’t want to, be rash, get into arguments, make logic errors, buy the wrong things, say terrible things, make poor choices, overreact, get into accidents, be violent, all manners of ways and actions that are far from the noble truths of our authentic desires.

It is vitally important to know this difference between mental illness and mental health.  Because when we focus only on the former, and get into binary “have/don’t have” mental illness thinking, we can greatly miss that which affects us and millions like us.  We can take what’s so and think it is the norm.  We can dismiss our own troubles and unwellness, rendering ourselves susceptible to the fallout of the unwellness while blinding us to the steps we can take to lead ourselves back to health.

Most importantly, without holding this difference out in front of us we can miss all the influences that are making us all unwell, and so miss having the conversations and taking the actions necessary to lead our collective selves back towards wellness and even strength.

And within a community, that strength is what we want.  When those in our community are well, we are well.  It is a foundation that supports individual lives, with greater freedom, peace, and peace of mind.

 

Philosophy Tuesday

A couple of years ago, during a mindfulness and meditation panel I was co-leading, one of the participants raised their hand:

“If attachment, so suggests Buddhism, is the root of all dis-ease… well, how do you know when you are attached to something?”

Hmmm.  That was a good one.  It can be fabulous and very empowering in life to be committed to something, but at what point can we tell its crossed beyond a commitment into an attachment?

I paused for a moment to let this percolate.

“I’d say that… if you find yourself righteously hot, fixated, uncontrollably going on about something, and you’re gripped by it… then it’s probably an attachment.  There’s a visceral component to it, one of those ones that defies neat and accurate description but if you let yourself be sensitive to it you get to know that grip.  Actually, you can probably think back to a time when something was said or done or you learned that just had you react with such recoil and fury that seemed to come out of nowhere… well, bingo, that’s the feeling, that visceral reaction.  There’s something there beyond just a commitment.

And this is really good to notice, not only because attachments can cause us such distress, but because it robs us of our freedom and, perhaps counter-intuitively, kills our performance and our power.  It also means that maybe we should check that commitment, because I’ll bet ya if we have that reaction we’re actually attached to something other than what we’re saying we are committed to.  And if our authentic self wants us to embrace that commitment, authentically, then we’re going to want to deal with that inauthentic hidden attachment.

Once we’re out of the grip of attachment, we are free to play and be who we truly want to be.”

A great question that had me distinguish something for myself that day.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

There’s a distinction that Sifu has brought up a few times in our training I call the “Olympic Distinction”.

Which is to say that at the Olympics, things are decided by the 1/1000 of a second.  That little extra oomph of training and effort often makes all the difference.

In that way it’s not an unfamiliar distinction, and one propagated on countless motivational posters. BUT!  In a very Niels Bohr-ian way, there’s an even more powerful distinction here, especially for those, like me, who can or readily do fall prey to streaks of perfectionism:

“1/1000 only applies at the Olympics.” *

There are many times in life when we can get caught in our own mental traps that drive us to over polished—and ultimately unproductive—excess. We push and prod and try to make perfect and fret and expend time and effort and sweat and oomph and get nervous and distraught and stressed and all riled up and lose sleep and then… either…

never finish the darn thing,

have to cut it short to finish on time thus parts are left ironically underdone,

have to make changes and the extra effort is lost,

or all that extra effort didn’t make a difference in the final result or even in quality.

It’s hard thing to grasp sometimes.  It’s even hard for me to type it out.  It sounds so much like “be sloppy” or “don’t try your hardest” or “everyone else is a fool they won’t notice anyway”, or “cut corners”  or “never improve” or…

But it’s not really that.  It’s a reminder that good enough is still pretty frikken good.  That perfection can be an illusion.  That not everything we participate in is the Olympics.  And above all to be simply present to the cost that comes with perfectionism.

Sometimes that cost is that we don’t even start.  We see the amount of work it would take to reach that level of perfection and we think, “I’m never going to be able to get to an Olympic level to do that, so why bother, it’s not worth even starting.”  And so we abandon all the joy we’d have in the learning, the doing, and losing ourselves deeply in that activity.

We can get trapped on both ends, never starting or never finishing.  We can hinder our enjoyment of the task, and we can hinder our time to enjoy other things as we burn it all into this moment of perfectionism.  And, in the most counterintuitive way possible, it can even hinder the work.

Finding that middle path, and walking it, is where we, and our work, can shine.  We can play full out and avoid the Perils of Perfect(ion).**

And turn out some quite frikken good stuff.

 

* In many ways, this sentiment is also captured in the more common phrase “Perfect is the enemy of good” (or the more original phrase by Voltaire, “Le  mieux est l’ennemi du bien” – “The best is the enemy of good.”)

** Hmmm… Beware the PoP?