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

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!

I Am Published – Again!

Yes!  After much intense writing and wrangling, Volume 2 of the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu series that I co-wrote with my Sifu is now available for all!

As before, I might be a bit biased*, but this book is a fabulous addition to your Kung Fu library, whether you practice Northern Shaolin or not.  There is so much great insight and wisdom from my Sifu that has been distilled into this tome, covering Northern Shaolin’s advanced concepts, the generation of internal power (and what that even means), the principles of application and fighting, the exploration of all ten of the core Northern Shaolin hand forms, a multitude of advanced weapons, and even more.  Coming in at 50% larger than the first volume, this thing is packed with great stuff!

You can order your own copy (and check out Sifu Lam’s other great books as well) here:

Northern Shaolin Book Vol 2 by Sifu Wing Lam

And as a bonus, I’ll be hosting a live streamed Q&A session on August 22nd (at 430p EDT/130p PDT).  If you order the book before August 12th 2020 we’ll send you an invite to the livestream!

I am thrilled (tempered with the trepidation with something so personal being released for all to see) to have the book released to the world.  After nearly 20 years of practice I still love the art, and this book is stuffed with everything I could think of from all that I’ve learned from Sifu and from what I’ve gleaned through all that diligent practice.  I worked closely with Sifu to gather the material for the book and get it captured for posterity before he passed.  This is most definitively part of his legacy, and I am humbled to be able to be a part of it.  I hope it illuminates and teaches, and I hope that our passion for the art and – even more so – for sharing the art comes through its many pages.

 

* And as before, natch, I am very biased since I wrote it…

Philosophy Tuesday

While our group classes and gatherings have been completely kaiboshed during these unusual times, I’ve continued to Kung Fu it up in my backyard (including weapons and all).  It has been a pleasantly productive time, with growth and new avenues opening to explore and with a wonderful handful of delicious insights.

But there’s an interesting thing about insights:

You never know when they will show up.

You can’t plan for them.  You can’t predict them.  And you can’t force them.  All you can do is go out, practice, practice, and practice some more.

And, of course, that means to practice with intent.  Be the force that is pulling for it.  Create the conditions for it to show up.  Lay the foundation and do the digging and look inside and be mindful and keep looking for what’s missing, what’s next, make the adjustment… and then put it into practice, practice, and practice some more.

Until, without any preamble, there it is.  Something new arises!  An insight, an epiphany, a shift, a transformation.  It might be accompanied with an “Ohhhh,” or a “That’s interesting, what’s that?” or maybe it’s so grand the skies part and the angels sing.  Whether it’s low key or a glorious emergence, it’s nevertheless unmistakable.

And it’s yours forever, to move forward into the world with that new understanding, new vision, and new ability, and to enjoy all that comes and flows freely from it.  All the while, being ready to lay the groundwork and to continue practicing, practicing, and practicing some more towards the next one.

This is the veracity of Kung Fu, as it is the veracity of any art or skill or ability, including the realms of philosophical transformation and even that of societal shifts.

It is also a counter to resignation and capitulation, taking solace in that uncertainty.  It rarely looks like somethings progressing until it moves.  And then it does.  And it’s glorious and totally worth it for the great days ahead.

Philosophy Tuesday

Hubris.  A great and interesting human capacity we all share (and that I’ve spoken about before here) that is responsible for 94% of all downfalls.*

And one of the ‘best’ hubristic follies we pursue is the belief that “I’m not human.”  Not literally – at least, usually not literally – but more along this flavour: “Other people might be tricked, or swindled, or taken in, but I can’t be.  Other people might be susceptible to advertising, or social media, or disinformation campaigns, or the addictive ways companies manipulate the base of our brain stem, but not me.  I’m too smart/careful/clever/advanced/enlightened for that. I’m better than them.”**

Of course, that is not only not true, but that very arrogant certainly makes us all the more susceptible to all of that… because when we’re certain it can’t/won’t be happening to us we are totally not present and miss all the signs that it is indeed happening, or, even better, that would warn us away before it starts.

It’s like one of my former roomates, who prided themselves on being a pretty good manipulator.  Putting aside the oddity of being proud about that kind of thing, the ‘joke’ was that instead, they themselves were often manipulated.  And they didn’t realize it.  To someone more skilled at manipulation (again, not something to be proud of) they were an easy target, and someone aware of their manipulative attempts could diffuse it to no advantage, again without them realizing it.  Like my theory of the Tai Chi Push Hands Skill Differential Exponential Experience Factor, all that bluster of certainty only got them into way more trouble than they could feel.  They found themselves on the floor without even realizing they were there, let alone how they got there.

We are bombarded with missives and messages every day, both genuine and manipulative.  And for the latter, both directly with unscrupulous intent and indirectly through algorithmic chicanery that is designed only to hook our limbic brain and keep our attention hooked (for the purposes of making money).  And through this time of shelter in place we’re even more exposed.  To walk blindly forward like we are an unassailable fortress is just inviting all sorts of opportunities to render ourselves fools (and to maybe let the whole world know it).  Just like “I am human, therefore I have biases”, “I am human, therefore I am capable of being tricked, hoodwinked, and hijacked to ill intent.”

By keeping ourselves mindful and cautious, we can avoid being hooked, avoid spreading it far and wide, avoid harming ourselves and our wellbeing (financial, emotional, relatedness, etc), and avoid destroying the very structures, institutions, communities, and families we hold dear.

 

* Note, not a real statistic, but that doesn’t necessarily make the notion entirely untrue…

** Where ‘them’ in this sense is used pejoratively.

Philosophy Tuesday

One thing I really enjoy is asking people what they are passionate about.

It’s not a common question, and sometimes it can take a little bit of prodding before they are able to answer.  At other times though, people will launch into exuberant sharing even without being asked, talking for minutes upon minutes before feeling apologetic for having, they fear, rambled on.

But no apology is necessary.  It is a delight to hear.

“Whole-hearted listening is the greatest spiritual gift you can give to the other person.”

“…if we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard.”

— Harriet Lerner

There is a lot of talk “out there” about speaking strong and letting the world hear you and hear about you.  But there’s always the other side of the equation that isn’t mentioned or considered as often and yet we should and need to think about in at least in equal amounts.  Because for every speaker there has to be at least one listener.  More often it’s a whole group, which means that to really build passion we ought to spend more time listening than speaking.

It isn’t just a matter of speaking with passion – we need to listen with passion.

And it is that space that invites unexpected outpourings of enthusiasm and joy, no prodding needed.

It is a space we can create by listening for the gold and watching as vitality, possibility, and connectedness all blossom.

Philosophy Tuesday

“When I give a job interview, I always ask after past mistakes. Several reasons for this. It’s genuinely informative about how they handle adversity, yes, and it shows if they can learn. But also, it shows if they can acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes.  Having no stories of mistakes (or mistake stories that immediately blame other people) are yellow flags. Not red because I get that some folks are scared to “screw up” the interview out of inexperience, but it becomes a direction to investigate.  But if It seems they can’t admit fault, I’m a fast thumbs down. Such a person, no matter how good, can never learn and will make things steadily worse for everyone around them.

Now, I should add, I love mistakes. And not just because of my VAST COLLECTION of them. A mistake can be IDENTIFIED and corrected or learned from. Clear problems are a GIFT.  This is because in most situation, the opposite of clear problems is not no problems, it’s obscured problems. If there are no mistakes in anything beyond a certain size, the only reasonable conclusion is that the problems are hidden.

And it’s hidden problems that get you. Failure may sometimes come from too many known problems, but even then you can regroup and adapt. Disaster comes out of the unknown ones.

Which is why the folks who won’t acknowledge mistakes are so toxic. Not only do they hide and ignore problems, they normalize that behavior and encourage others to do the same. And if those problems harm others? Hoo boy.

So, yes, failing to acknowledge mistakes (to say nothing of outright wrongdoing) is pretty harmful. But, and I say this with sympathy, it’s EASIER.  Admitting fault is scary as hell. It triggers all the “BEAR ATTACK!” Parts of our brain which scream at us to hide.  Worse, since so many of us have our identity tied up in our capabilities (“you’re so smart!”), acknowledging mistakes can feel like we’re denying that label and therefor ourselves and everyone who we perceive as valuing us for that thing. Faced with the choice between right action and self-protection, it’s not shocking which way people jump.

This is why this skill needs practice. It is something which genuinely gets easier as you do it more, and one of the (many) virtues of transparency is that you quickly discover this is nowhere near as scary as it seemed (though it can still be scary).  In a work context, it may feel counterproductive to draw attention to problems that might reflect on you or your team, but if that’s the PRACTICE, your team gets better because they’re FIXING those things (and that’s visible too).  In a personal context, it helps you form more genuine connections with people as you speak to things that really matter and can spend less bandwidth on pushing them off to maintain a facade.  The other alternative is to just get better at hiding problems and blaming others. I won’t pretend that’s not a path to success. There are enough toxic environments and spiky tribal groups that you can 100% find success that way. You just have to live with it.

Because, ultimately, you know what you did, even when no one else does.

Rob Donoghue