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.

Philosophy Tuesday

“… a lot of people think or believe or know they are being – but that’s thinking or believing or knowing, not being… almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to be.  Why?  Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you are being a lot of other people,  but the moment you are being, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

—  e.e. cummings

Philosophy Tuesday

I heard something on the Freakonomics podcast the other week that was fascinating and added a whole new dimension to something in a way I’d never considered (or would even be likely to consider).  It had to do with the notion of individuality at the level of society, ie, whether a particular society was, as a whole, more or less individualistic.  While I’d always envisioned the gradient between (and let’s for the moment not get hung up on these specific terms) individualist and conformist, individualist has it’s own gradient: vertical and horizontal individualism.

In a horizontally individualistic society, people are encouraged to define themselves, seek independence, be expressed, value privacy, and be creative.

In a vertically individualistic society, the above is true, but (and this is the big but), they are very competitive in their individualism.

Huh!

In the vertical societies, it isn’t just seeing other people as individuals, it’s about seeing them as individuals with whom we are in competition with.  Though, it’s likely more accurate to say that it is about seeing them as individuals with whom we have to be in competition with.  It isn’t “hey, this is me”, it’s “hey, this is me, and this is what makes me superior to you.”*

Which is fascinating!  And opens up new avenues of exploration and mindfulness.  As a hidden context it would shape our experience and views and behaviour in all sorts of ways.**  Just to start, it would seem that the constant comparing and jockeying for position would create an equal and continual sense of instability and insecurity… the game is always on, and we have to be ready to play it at any time.

I always love getting a new lens and angle to see both new things and see things newly.  I’m know there’s plenty more to discover, and I’m keen on what will open up and what I’ll see out of exploring this distinction.  Even more so for the barriers I can put aside towards greater connection and peace of mind.

 

* Right down to the practice of religion, which, given the tenets of certain religions, is rather contrary…

** As this is a societal distinction, there are also some strong outcomes across the society, where the more vertical individualistic the society is, the more inequity and hardship there is, and the poorer the commons.

Philosophy Tuesday

File this one as an expansion of “Yesterday’s Transformation is Today’s Ego Trip.”  Because while philosophy and ontological concepts and insights can create great openings and oodles of possibility for us and those around us, when our identities and world views are challenged, these critical tools can also be repurposed.  Rather than being mindful and doing the work and practice to remove our blind spots and barriers using our transformational knowledge, our calculating selves can instead pull a switcharoo and instead wield them as a weapon against that which challenges our world views and “truths.”

It’s paradoxical, perhaps, but the very same transformational knowledge is used instead to try and annihilate the incoming information, and it does so in the most efficient way possible:  by tying into our unrivaled capacity to be dismissive.

We turn our deep philosophical understanding (and groking) into dismissal missiles.

It’s foolproof, really.  With our smugness and certainty into our awareness of these concepts, we can brush away any incoming flak as just others falling for those traps.  “Yes, yes, it’s not us who has the blind spot; it’s clearly them.” *

As it turns out, no.  Anytime we’re engaging dismissiveness we’re not being mindful, present, or engaging with what’s so.  We’re not being aware and sage; we’re being resistant. And, in a way, we’re not even there – our authentic self is not in the driver’s seat.

We can learn the feeling of when we’re being smug, we can learn the feeling of when we’re hooked by something, and when we notice that rise we can learn to let it be and to engage our mindfulness.  What is it?  What’s so right now?  What might we need to let in?  In those moments we can then engage with our wholeheartedness and self, avoid arming our dismissal missiles, and explore what’s possible.

 

* The one I see most often is once people begin to understand the concept of Cognitive Dissonance (understand, not necessarily get or grok it).  Maybe it’s because CD is widely disseminated and easy to come across, and so by default it is most prevalent, but it otherwise seems especially prominent as a tool to shut down and dismiss someone else.  And then be used by that same originator over and over and over and over… (and I’ve never seen someone stop, realize, and say, “Wow, there’s so much CD going on, I wonder where I’m being susceptible to and falling prey to it?”)

Philosophy Tuesday

This question of maturity, so intimately tied to forgiveness, is the subject of another of [David] Whyte’s short essays. Echoing Anaïs Nin’s assertion that maturity is a matter of “unifying” and “integrating,” he writes:

“MATURITY is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts; most especially, the ability, despite our grief and losses, to courageously inhabit the past the present and the future all at once. The wisdom that comes from maturity is recognized through a disciplined refusal to choose between or isolate three powerful dynamics that form human identity: what has happened, what is happening now and what is about to occur.

Immaturity is shown by making false choices: living only in the past, or only in the present, or only in the future, or even, living only two out of the three.

Maturity is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom, but a living elemental frontier between what has happened, what is happening now and the consequences of that past and present; first imagined and then lived into the waiting future.

Maturity calls us to risk ourselves as much as immaturity, but for a bigger picture, a larger horizon; for a powerfully generous outward incarnation of our inward qualities and not for gains that make us smaller, even in the winning.”

Maturity, Whyte seems to suggest, becomes a kind of arrival at a sense of enoughness — a willingness to enact what Kurt Vonnegut considered one of the great human virtues: the ability to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Whyte writes:

“Maturity beckons also, asking us to be larger, more fluid, more elemental, less cornered, less unilateral, a living conversational intuition between the inherited story, the one we are privileged to inhabit and the one, if we are large enough and broad enough, moveable enough and even, here enough, just, astonishingly, about to occur.”

Excerpt from an article on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova