Philosophy Tuesday

In conversation with a friend recently, I said, out of the blue, “Identity sure is one hell of a drug.”  It was meant as a throwaway line and as a bit of a joke… but as I thought more about it, it’s not really a bad model to use.  Identity isn’t exactly like a drug, but in many ways we are indeed kinda addicted to it.  We believe it to be us, we want it to be us, and we do all we can to keep on it and to keep feeling that identity high.  When we’re deep in it, there’s a certainty there. (Strangely, that’s true even when it’s unproductive!).  When it’s threatened to be taken away, we fight back hard.  (Indeed, as noted before, our brains can’t tell the difference between a threat against the body and a threat against the identity – defend with equal vigour.)  We organize our lives to reinforce that identity so we get more of it, and we avoid things that would cut us off from it.  And in that way, much like an addiction, it leads us around by the nose while distorting our views and stifling our freedom.

So, yeah… in a lot of ways, as an analogy, it works.  And often looking at something through a different lens can give us new insights on it and, even better, give us new access to gaining agency over it.  And when the analogy starts to break down, not a problem, we can set it aside and carry our newfound freedom and peace of mind forward into the next stage of self-cultivation.

Philosophy Tuesday

One of the things that we learn* in our kung fu training is this:

Not everything that feels powerful actually is.

Just because we put in a lot of effort, or engage a lot of tension, or become super fierce, or stoke the fires in our belly…  and just because it feels so much like we should be able to resist a mountain and even be able to split it in two… despite all that… when actually test the move we collapse like a house of cards, with nary an ounce of power there.

And then we get angry!  And we double down on it!  AAAAARRRRGH!  Which only ever serves to make it even worse. **

Fortunately, we also (eventually) learn to not force the point*** and to let it go, delve deeper, and adjust our form such that, remarkably and suddenly, it not only works but it works without almost any effort at all.

Like so many things in kung fu, so too does this apply with our ways of being and in the way we live our lives:

Not every emotion or attitude that, again, feels strong is actually strong.

As we interact with the many areas of our lives, we have so many ingrained and automatic responses and views and ways of being, and we often go forth thinking that they are strong, that they are necessary, that this is the way, and that anger and harshness and hostility and posturing and fierceness and downright hostility to the world and everything around it is the way to make our way and, more importantly, to get what we want.  We think they make us strong.  And wow does it ever feel strong!  And right!

And yet, it isn’t.  And we aren’t.  All that acerbic-ness ends up being unproductive.  We expend a lot of effort, and we may move the ball a smidge, but it takes a supreme toll on ourselves and others, and the results rarely stick.

Like with kung fu, we can let it be for a moment,**** set it aside, and bring to it a new level of mindfulness.  Within that clearing we can adjust and create a new context, choosing other ways of being that will bring forth what we want with velocity and without effort.

And that there is true power.

 

* And re-learn and re-discover over and over and over and over again…

** Which, like the above, we do it again and again even though we know it never works…

*** Also fortunately we learn to laugh at our stubborn silliness….

**** And laugh!

***** One corollary to all this is that when we see someone who is all fire and aggression and sees the world through metaphors of attack and destruction and always seems upset by everything, it’s the same thing:  It is not strength, they are not powerful people, and they are not paragons to laud.  They are all bluster and performance, with little to show for it, no peace of mind, and continually having a lousy experience of life to boot.

Philosophy Tuesday

Wise tiger, that Hobbes!  Our actions are always perfectly correlated with who we are being, and our being arises from who we have created ourselves to be (whether by choice or by defaultic happenstance).

When we let ourselves be present to our own actions, we gain insight into who we are being as a person, no matter what we may say or insist.

When we see with eyes unvarnished our actions in the collective, we gain insight to who we are being as a group/community/nation, no matter what our slogans may be.

by Bill Watterson

Philosophy Tuesday

I assert that it is time we ceased using the term “unskilled labour.”

For one, I don’t think such a thing really exists in any great capacity.  While there may be certain trades and tasks that take more or less time to grasp and to be able to perform at a bare minimum level, every undertaking done well takes skill.  If you’ve seen a toilet cleaned to the minimum versus a toilet cleaned with skill, you know the difference.  And the same holds all over, be it in service, carpentry, line work, farming, cooking, or any of the like.  In addition, there are things such as communication, attentiveness, or even just being a team player, all of which are skills, developed over time, and which really muck things up when they’re not there.

For two, the term is generally used only to denigrate, equated with unintelligent, unsophisticated, or of lessor importance.  More importantly, the term is used as an excuse, an excuse to treat others poorly in all sorts of ways:  poorly in value, respect, and appreciation; poorly in attention and care; poorly in attitude and politeness; poorly in compensation and wages.  Unappreciated and seen as a cog, whether in the home or in the workforce, the “unskilled” are paid a pittance (be it in terms of regard, respect, and appreciation or be it in terms of actual wages) and regarded as though they should be happy for their miserly sum.

It is a crappy way to treat others.  And one that belies both the value of what they take on and accomplish as well as the skill and hard work it takes to do it well.*

Everything is a skill.  Everything can be learned and improved.  Even seemingly simple things can take a lifetime to master – including the very art of living.

Let’s honour it all.

 

* For the briefest of moments this year we called them what they are:  essential workers.**

** The term “frontline” has now replaced “essential” and it is another obfuscation and denigration: frontline allows the vested interests (who wield the term unskilled like a club) to believe they are the generals, doing the actual important work by leading the incapable masses.  It’s a falsehood and a farce, and I recommend not falling into that trap.

*** Oddly, Walt Disney, who harboured a lot of a type of skilled/unskilled contempt, actually recognized this on some level.  One story in particular can be used as a guide for ourselves:  When Lillian Disney heard Walt wanted to open an amusement park, she said “Why would you want to do that?  They’re so dirty.”  To which Walt replied, “Mine won’t be.”  There it is: the (typically denigrated, ignored, and maltreated) janitors are the key to Disneyland’s success.

 

Philosophy Tuesday

When we see someone (including ourselves!) exhibiting hypocrisy, especially that of the jaw-dropping kind, it’s not uncommon to wonder, “Wow.  How can they shift and switch their values and beliefs so drastically?”

But here’s the thing:  they didn’t, and they aren’t.  The truth of it is that they never held that value or belief in the first place.

No matter how much or loudly they professed, no matter how dramatically they thumped on it, no matter how righteous they were about it, no matter how insulted and disgusted they acted, it was all just theatre.  It was all an act, using their words and indignations as weapons all uttered in bad faith as a cover up to their real intent.

There’s an ‘in order to’ happening here, something behind the supposed value or belief that is the actual driving force.  A different value or belief, one that is usually non-virtuous in nature and that does not lead towards possibilities of a just, equitable, and loving world.  Instead it is a value or belief or ‘truth’ that is mired in identity, biases, and in rigidly narrow views about the world and those within it.

And often they themselves may not even be fully aware of it.  Cognitive dissonance, the fact we are rational vs rationalizing creatures, the whole nature of hidden biases (that’s why they’re called hidden, after all), all of these can be in play to keep it obfuscated from everyone involved.*

Of course, some are fully aware of it and just don’t care.  They willingly bear false witness to further their aims, trying to hoodwink everyone into missing their actual intent and harm(s).**

Regardless of its exact flavour, rather than get bogged down in engaging with their current value/belief of convenience we can instead step back and look at what their actions are accomplishing, and through that see what’s really going on.  We can discover what is the actual guiding force.

And then we can engage directly with that.

 

* Which is why it would be so refreshing if they were at least aware and honest about it, especially when it’s trying to justify really shitty behaviour.

** And it might be a combo of being partially aware and partially not – rationalizing it so supremely well for themselves that they feel it right even if they don’t fully realize or fully own what’s actually driving it.  Especially if this clashes with one of their morals that they also wield as a cudgel elsewhere!  Again, it’d be preferable for the pretense to drop and just say what’s actually there and actually going on.

Philosophy Tuesday

We all have these its in our lives where,

Whether in the foreground

Or in the background,

We cannot escape it,

No matter what ground we go to.

 

We often say,

 “I’ve put it behind me…”

Yet when it comes up,

we react,

we resist,

we avoid,

we cry.

 

If we haven’t done the work

to complete it,

It is still there,

Like a monkey on our back,

Guiding us,

Hemming us in,

A barrier we constantly run into.

 

Even though we don’t think it is.

Philosophy Tuesday

On What’s So

What’s so is always just what’s so. What’s so doesn’t care what you think, feel, intend or wish; it will not bend. You can be freaked out or driven over what’s so, and it won’t change what’s so. If you’re late for an appointment, getting freaked out about it won’t have you arrive any earlier. If you’re having a bad day, being freaked out won’t change what’s so. That which you seek will not bring you satisfaction – aligning with what’s so will. When you’re upset, you’re never upset over what’s so. What’s so is just what’s so, and you’re upset.

If your house burns down and you get upset, does it bring your house back? What’s so doesn’t care if you’re upset; it’s up to you how you handle what’s so. There is no confusion in what’s so. When you don’t know you just don’t know – there is no confusion there. There’s nothing right or wrong about what’s so. What’s so is always open to different interpretations. There’s always just what’s so, and then you have an interpretation. What scares you isn’t what’s so, it’s your interpretation. The interpretation is never true; what’s so is real, the interpretation is not.

Who you’re being is just who you’re being, and what’s so doesn’t care if you’re happy with it or not, so why should you? When you’re not being with what’s so, that’s also just what’s so. Why should you concern yourself? Other people should always be the way they’re being; if you think they shouldn’t, that’s your interpretation. Bring yourself back to what’s so about them. Until you can be with what’s so, you can’t be with anything or anyone. You may have control over other people’s what’s so, but none over their interpretation – give it up.

If you take action or not, it’s still just what’s so. If it works out well or not, it’s still just what’s so. You can never make a right or wrong decision, or take a right or wrong action. Whatever you do will always bring you more of what’s so, and then you have an interpretation about it. Whatever you don’t have, so what? Whatever you’ve done or thought in the past, again so what? Whatever happens in the future is not to be feared. It’s just going to be more of what’s so. The challenge is to spend as much time in what’s so as you can. The chatter in your head is more interpretation, and it has nothing to do with what’s so. There’s nothing wrong with the chatter, it’s just you listening to a fantasy.

The thought that there is something wrong is an illusion; there is nothing wrong, there is only what’s so. Notice when you’re comparing what’s so to some fantasy of how it should be. Bring yourself back to what’s so and it will be OK. Ask yourself what’s so, and align with that. Align with what’s so and it will not matter. That is the foundation of transformation and satisfaction. Not aligning with what’s so is the only thing that will ever bring you hardship or suffering. Life in what’s so will bring you harmony, grace, and balance.

Ask yourself – what’s so about your situation?

— Werner Erhard

(This is great stuff.  And a great reminder that we can never deal with anything powerfully or fully until we are straight with ourselves about what’s so, free from the bits of our interpretation, wants, judgements, stories, narratives, and etc.  We need to bone up, mindful, get present, and be straight with what’s so, right now, in a “just the fact’s, ma’am” kind of way.  Then we can breathe, centre ourselves, engage our central selves, grab the reins of responsibility, and make our choices on who we are going to be, out of which will spring our actions and steps to take all in line with and dealing powerfully with what’s actually so.)

Philosophy Tuesday

As it is, we are not ever, really, but a singular identity.  We are an identity of identities.  And, by default, we are attached to each one of them.

That doesn’t mean however that there is a minimum number of identities that make up our “complete” identity.  Nor is it impossible that we get particularly attached to a particular one or a subset of ones that the rest are rendered nearly superfluous.

All attachments are pathways towards misery and all manner of deleterious ways of being and acting.  But the intensity of our attachments can vary, and the stronger the attachment, the more greased the pathway becomes.

So it is that if we only adopt a few identities to form our full identity-self, or if we become so overwhelmingly attached to only a few, then those identities, and those attachments, become incredibly strong indeed.  And that is where our pitfalls open up mightily.

The reminder here, then, is this:

Diversify Your Identity/Identities

It is a prod to avoid wrapping ourselves up in a single flag and instead spread ourselves broadly, creating a rich and networked set of identities that supports and empowers us and those around us.  If one is challenged, then our auto-defense-weaponry isn’t as likely to explode with full force, for it isn’t the end of us – we’ve got other identities that will live on.  The attachment is less and our freedom is greater.

And if that identity gets challenged, and we see that it isn’t, in actuality, working for us and those around us?  How fascinating!  We can complete it, set it aside, and create anew.

 

(Also, it pays to remember this earlier reminder as well:  Avoid basing your identity on beliefs or things and instead base it on values or intentions.)

Philosophy Tuesday

Two stonemasons are hard at work.

The first, when asked what they are doing, says, “I am chipping away at this stone.”

The second, when asked, excitedly says, “I am building a cathedral!”

Both are engaged in the same task.  They’re literally doing the same thing.  Yet they are having a vastly different experience of life.  While the first works in the context of a job, a task, a simple means to an end*, the second is works within a context that brings grandeur and fulfillment and creativity and pulls for their pride and self-expression.

Same circumstances, yet to each the stone looks different, the chisel looks different, the process feels different, and through all those they each, very likely, produce vastly different results in terms of speed, quality, and overall excellence in their work.  Not to mention which one goes home ready to zone out and which one is still energized at the end of the day…

Same task, but different worlds.  Not by luck or anything inherent but brought into being through invention.  Their individual invention.**

Tasks are tasks.  We get to create how we relate to them, who we will be, and ultimately influence how our day will go and feel.

 

*  That’s actually hidden within a subcontext, that itself is and contains an “in order to

** And if they/we don’t do it consciously, then they’ll simply invent what they already know, what’s already around them and copy their inherited contexts, whether they are empowering or not.

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: