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

We have many ways of determining, and testing, “what is real.”  Or, more fully, “what is reality.”  We use these, mostly unconscious, tests to shape our world view.  Which in turn shapes who we are being and even how we experience life, leading to our behaviours and reactions.

One of these tests, and perhaps one of the most hidden of them all, is the one of agreement reality.

As social creatures, we are very much in tune with what’s being expressed around us by our current groups, and how people respond to what we profess and do.  Get acceptance and agreement, and that reinforces our reality.  Find dissonance or disagreement, and it creates impetus to review, re-evaluate, and shift.  So the more agreement we get to our reality and how we express it, the more real it becomes.

This is why the common concept of an echo chamber is such an insidious thing.  The circular yes-ing and concurring between those within creates a massive agreement reality that can become all encompassing, especially given enough time.

And then… enter the internet.  One of the wonders of the ‘net is that we can find and connect with all sorts of people of all stripes from all over, almost all to easily.  The problem and pitfall of the ‘net is that we can find and connect with all sorts of people of all stripes from all over, and in this case, it really is all to easy.  Anyone who has a particular view (and reality) can find at least a few more who share that view.  Therefore incomplete, inaccurate, harmful, malice driven, and similar views can easily gain agreement reality traction.

Worse, this is further aided by the underlying website algorithms that are designed solely to drive us towards that which it thinks we will engage with.*  It does not know, nor care, whether what it’s bringing together is bountiful or baneful.  It just sends everyone that way.**  Which means those with the thinnest of realities can be brought together to form an agreement reality.

There isn’t really a conclusion here; this is more of a jumping off point.  To becoming aware, and mindful, about this reality test both in ourselves and in others.  To exploring it as lens on our disunity and of our isolation.  And as a foundation a of how we engage, of what we press for, and of how we can break cycles.

 

* This is even to the level that a search engine will, even if you visit it in private mode so you are a blank slate, use your IP address to pre-determine what it thinks you will want to see.  It is pre-shaping the agreement reality for you….

** And, worse, in the interest of engagement (and therefore our revenue-generating attention) it increases the intensity of the content it is directing towards.

Philosophy Tuesday

We humans get good at stuff.

The problem is that we get really good at it.

 

Sometimes too good.

 

Which then often ends up causing imbalances and more.

 

Our greatness/efficiency becomes unproductive,

Leading us away from creating what we want,

And even causing harm.

 

It’s up to us to get real good at knowing when we’ve gotten too good,

And recognize when we’ve gotten such strong tunnel vision

That our abilities have led us astray.

 

Dial it back a notch,

And watch everything blossom from there.

Philosophy Tuesday

“I don’t have to run faster than the bear…

I just have to run faster than you.

While the above is not the actual quote,* it is how I first heard it.  You’ve might have heard some version of it as well.  And through its dark humour it speaks with a kind of seemingly unexplainable profoundness.

Whether there’s any truth to it in the physical realm (whether you live someplace where there are bears or not), the thing is that is does point to how we often relate to certain aspects of our life or of our behaviour.  Especially when it comes to the realms of morality or ethics.  It is quite easy to stop examining ourselves about whether we are living up to our ideals who we profess ourselves to be – including whether we’re being productive or unproductive, whether we are creating possibility or causing harm and hurt, whether we are working towards our common desires or running roughshod over others – and instead begin comparing ourselves to others, with one single metric.  To put in the same context as the above:

“… I just have to be better than you.

The game is no longer mindfulness, or self examination, or creation, or self-actualization.  That all gets short-circuited by the easy way out of comparison.  It’s a way to assuage our guilt.  Comparison smooths over the dissonance and discomfort that comes from stepping over our authentic self and its morals, ethics, ideals, values, and any of the bits that run counter to who we say we are.**

And it does a great job of it!  Inside the Bear game (aka “not as bad as…” game) we don’t gain peace, but it does move aside the confusion and unease and ache, at least temporarily.

But it will only ever be temporary.  Because we’ve got a break in our word, and a break in our world between our authentic self and how we’re being and behaving.

When we recognize the Bear game, we can put it aside.  We can let ourselves see those disconnects so that we can do something about them.  We can take action, do the work, create new clearings to step in to, and align ourselves with who we truly want to be.  We gain access to peace of mind, wonder, connection, and fulfillment, while also creating spaces where we can all flourish.

 

* The original, by Jim Butcher, is not presented as a punchline to a joke, being much more straightforward:  “You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.”  It was meant as encouragement towards perseverance (specifically in becoming a writer) as well as a good reminder to stop focusing on our imperfections and that we don’t need to be perfect or the ultimate best in the world at something to enjoy fulfillment and success.  However, the version I’ve got stuck in my head, with its more pointed nature, is more perfect for delving into the inquiry at hand…

** Unless, of course, who you say you are is a jerk or tyrant or conniver or schemer or the like… in which case, there’s a different conversation that needs to be had to transform that!