Philosophy Tuesday

Sometimes, it is a big, massive, sideswiping thing that knocks us into a tailspin.

Other times, it is a series of smaller things that will send us into the downward spiral.

Those things can happen all at once.

Or maybe they pile up over time.

And sometimes there is a multitude of background poop that is so ubiquitous we don’t even recognize it is there anymore, we’ve become so accustomed to it.  And then all it takes is a small nudge and vwoop!  Down we go.

It can be so tempting to belittle those breakdowns and, more harshly, to make people wrong for losing it over such “small things.”

But we can do much better for ourselves, and for others, than to fall into that reductive trap and consider only large things or events as “worthy” or “proper” or “justifiable” causes of great malaise.

We can cast our empathy and mindfulness nets wide and know that we’re not seeing the whole picture.*

We can grant a bit of space and compassion and create a clearing for resolution and peace of mind.

We can pull ourselves out of the tailspin, regain our heading, and plot a course for sunnier skies.

 

* This, of course, is especially true in the case of other people, since we’re not there in their head and in their experience 100% of the time.  Especially when they’re at the outsized effect of outside impacts, limitations, and burdens due to social, economic, racial, gender, familial, and etc factors…

 

Philosophy Tuesday

It’s rather remarkable how adaptive we (as human beings) are.  I’m not speaking only about our geographic reach, as expansive as that is.  I mean just about anything and everything.  All so quickly, things, situations, systems, dynamics, societies, and etc all begin to feel normal.   And not just normal, but everlasting, intrinsic, and even right.  Like that’s how its supposed to be.  And like how there’s no way it could be any other way.

It’s reality.

Which, of course, is caca.  If there’s one thing for certain, it is that things change.**  We are always, ongoingly, creating ourselves, creating our communities, creating our systems, and creating our culture.  When we get lost in that feel of normalcy, that’s when we can get stuck creating the same thing over and over and over again.  Perhaps inadvertently doing so, but the effect is the same.  Inside the rut, possibility is greatly stifled.

That said, again of course, it’s not bad that we are so adaptive!  It’s great that we don’t smell the sewer after a few minutes.  Or that the lake stops feeling cold after jumping in.  Or that great shifts soon feel much less disruptive.***  But, like just about everything else that comes with being human, there are aspects of it that are empowering, and aspects that are disempowering and even destructive.

By remembering this great capacity of ours we can remain mindful to see where we’re letting something slide.  Where we’re giving things that are harmful, or don’t work work, or aren’t right or just or equitable or verdant, or anything of that sort, giving them the automatic pass and thinking “well, it’s just how it is.”  Or, worse, getting caught up in it all and doubling down on it.

Here’s where we can step out of the adaptiveness ruse.  Nothing is inherent.  Nothing is intractable.  We hold the agency for ourselves and who we are being, for our relationships, and with the communities and societies we ongoingly build.

 

*  From the frigid arctic to the intense deserts, all without the use of what we consider “modern and necessary technology” – which is a whole avenue of exploration in of itself!  But to quip shortly about it here, we have done a lot and even thrived with just our wits and less fragility… AND that’s just it, isn’t it?  It’s the same main thrust of this post:  we’ve become accustomed to and thus adapted to a very narrow temperature range, and anything outside of those bounds feels like death.

** Not always for the ‘better’, which is another reason why this feeling of normalcy can be so deleterious, for it will allow the ‘little’ normals to become ‘big’ normals very quickly, and if those little normals are not great, then the effects and harm also spread and become widespread.

*** To whit was how, in short order, the way of working, remembering my mask, new ways of communicating, and etc all due to the pandemic started to feel most normal.

Philosophy Tuesday

“Some of the thoughts you have inside your head aren’t even yours…”

Abigail Thorn

(A great reminder about how much of our world view, our reality (which we experience as capital-R Reality), is formed by inherited contexts, picked up through osmosis because that’s just what’s “normal“.  Our brains are amazing pattern-making machines and are always reading between the lines and determining what’s “true “and what’s “real”.  And what we’re immersed in we tend to become and believe.  And thus, we thought it out all the time.

But it isn’t ours.  We didn’t create it.  We didn’t examine it.  We didn’t even realize there was anything to examine — so seamless was our automatic adoption that it seems to come fully formed, as real as the hand in front of our face.

Except it isn’t real, in the way gravity or rocks or water are.  It’s just a context.  And because of that we can examine it, reflect on it, meditate on it, and bring mindfulness to it.

If it’s useful, we can keep it.

If it’s not useful, or productive, or nurturing, or empowers us and those around us, we can put those thoughts and views and beings aside, and, in that clearing, create new possibilites.)

Philosophy Tuesday

A coach once pointed out something to me, something that I’d been so skillful and slick at that she hadn’t noticed it for several months.  Which, of course, meant I was completely oblivious to it while it shaped (and perhaps even ran) my life and my art of living.  And it was this:  I had a lot of views and assertions and stakes and end states that were direct inverses to each other.  Which meant essentially this:  no matter what I did, I would, on some level, lose.

Absurd, but there it was, and with the light now shining on it I began to see it.  And to cement that new awareness, I gave it a name:  My Opposing Diapoles.*

They were everywhere, and they were certainly clever!  Insidious, to be sure, but deliciously clever,  crafted in such a way that whether I took action A or action B, or whether I achieved result X or result Y, or did nothing or did a lot… no matter what, in every direction, there was still some way my calculating self could let me know how wrong I was.  Some way for me to end up on the losing/incapable/messed it up/grrrr end.  Again.**

And just like when someone points out a particular colour of car, and you suddenly start to notice that colour of car everywhere, so too that I began to recognize all these traps I’d/my calculating self had laid out before me.  It was fascinating and even hilarious just how screwed I was inside of those perspectives.  It was guaranteed success… to fail in one way or another.

We certainly are funny creatures.

But armed with this new awareness, and by keeping myself present to it, I could begin to do the work to dismantle those barriers and all those landmines, clearing my way to take action towards not only successful results*** but also, and more importantly, satisfaction, fulfillment, and peace of mind.  Freedom to be, and freedom to savour my victories.

 

* Yes, the correct word is “Dipole”, or, at least, the real word is dipole, for even “Opposing Dipoles” might not really make actual and logical sense.  But giving it a fun name not only helped it be more memorable (and thus allow me to more readily keep it and thus myself present) it also brought levity and a good dose of keeping myself from taking myself too gosh darn seriously.

** All in service of keeping my context and my views of myself/my self-identity intact.  Empowering it was not!  But that’s not uncommon in the least…

*** Which I’d had before as well, just with this clearing there was room for even greater success.

Philosophy Tuesday

I used to think of myself as a pretty introspective person.  An earlier website of mine even had a section on it titled Miscellaneous Debris, into which I wrote longish dissertations that were intended as introspective.

To which, of a fashion, I guess they kind of were, for they plotted out in detail that which I was witnessing externally and noticing internally.  But – and this is the key – they were decidedly limited in what they saw and, hence, limited in their actual introspection:  I could only see what I already knew to see.

I could only witness, react to, and ponder on the already known truths that comprised reality as I perceived it.  I hadn’t yet learned that key little piece of information… no, that’s not strong enough, because of course I knew it but only within that realm/domain of knowledge and thus I hadn’t yet gotten it (or groked it) in that way that allows for profound awareness of it…. and so I hadn’t yet gotten that key revelation that my view was nothing more than a view, entirely created by me, and shaped by the views I already had and the truths I already knew.

My ability to reflect was limited as I had not yet been exposed to, and taught, how to be present, nor had I been walked through the process to begin to glimpse the heart of ontology and explore the being part of human being.  And, even more so, to begin to glimpse and get present to the, quite remarkable, frameworks that made up the frameworks that supported the frameworks of those views and truths.  To reveal what I term the fundamental operating system of being human.

Without that revelation, all I could see and comment on and be so aware of (and even arrogant about) was the results of the frameworks, without ever realizing just how far down the rabbit hole could go.

It was the intensive workshops I took and, even more importantly, the coaching afterwards that allowed my perception and experience to open up and blow through into these new realms.  It was only by discovering how circular and shallow my awareness had been, and how righteous hit had been, that allowed my practice to begin.

And through that, allow me to gain a deeper understanding of what introspection really is:  the being willing to go beyond and to see the gnarly bits underneath;  to be willing to give up the automatic, already, always present to see what’s actually there; to engage in thinking instead of thoughting; and, ultimately, to give up what we already know for what’s possible.

Philosophy Tuesday

I hosted a small mindfulness seminar a couple of weeks ago, and on the mind of many there were questions about dealing with these unusual times we find ourselves living in.  Questions about the toll of the disruption of the norm, about not being able to go out and do things, or, even more strongly, about not being able to meet with friends or family or mostly anyone in person.  What answers can mindfulness and philosophy provide here?

First is to not beat ourselves up about it.  Despite the common narrative, no one is squeezed out of the womb knowing exactly how to handle every single situation that comes at us.  Resiliency is a practice, fostered and bolstered through mindfulness and philosophy.  And even then it is no guarantee – I very much admit to having days feeling quite table flippy.*  It’d be easy to relate to that as a loss or failure, but at the same time, thanks to my mindfulness practice for all these years, no table did I actually flip.  It’s a bit like driving:  when we start out, we have to pay attention to everything and it’s really taxing, but soon it becomes so second nature that we can even arrive at our destination with no memory of how we got there.**  But when the unexpected happens, or we reach a bad road, or whatever, it, once again, takes all our attention and is taxing and difficult.  Our prior experience and practice helps, but it’s still not automatic or easy.  And so it is like that during these unusual times.  It’s a new road.  We have to work at it.  The best part is that, just like driving, after this experience our new practice will make for smoother driving whenever something like it comes our way again.

Which dovetails a bit into the second point, which is to consider this:  that we’ve been relying, inadvertently, on some crutches.  Again, not in a pejorative way – nothing productive comes from beating ourselves up – but simply to look at where we may have been reliant on externalities to supply distraction, or meaning, or normalcy, or interest, or excitement, or joy, or etc.  To the point where, in a way, we’ve become addicted to it, and with all of those gone we’re now suffering from a double whammy of both withdrawal and emptiness/lack of stimuli.  It’s similar-ish to the ideas of dopamine detox I’ve seen floating about (learning to wean ourselves from the immediate/always/already available distraction of our phones/media/etc).  Because of the ease of distraction and etc through happenings and friends, it is often a matter that we never having learned how to generate for ourselves and/or, more profoundly, how to just be with ourselves.  And this pandemic forced the immediate removal of our/those usual crutches.  Like before, this leaves us with an opportunity, the opportunity to practice and build up our internal sense of self and begin to generate on our own, which is great in its own right and even better is that when we get back to our activities, friends, and more, we will enter them more fully and they will be even fuller and more powerful experiences for us.  The double bonus part here is also that, even while we begin to practice, the very act of knowing and naming this unease and strain and feeling of loss, and recognizing it’s just a result of our crutches no longer being there, can do wonders to keep ourselves from sliding things into the realm of suffering.

Which, again, dovetails a bit into the last point, which is to recognize the role that agency plays.  As I’ve written about in previous posts, agency is one of our prime desires.  And nothing kaiboshes our feeling of agency more than when not one, not two, not three, but multitudes of our ‘normals’ get cut off… further compounded with many unknowns, especially including how little we knew about COVID itself when this was just starting.  Having a lack of agency can drive us completely batty and have us do some very unproductive (and harmful) things to try to get it back.  Here, again, just knowing that’s what’s at play can be a great salve.  If we find ourselves going spare, we can check in and talk to our calculating selves to say, “I know my agency feels thwarted.  I understand.”

By being mindful of all of the above we can center ourselves and let our turbulent waters become still.  And from that place of stillness we can create, striving forward with possibility and peace of mind.

 

* Less, I think, from the disruptions and more so from the inequities, discrimination, and power plays that this pandemic put into stark relief…

** Which, to be clear, is maybe not the best state to fully slip in to.  Being present while operating several tons of metal is recommended!

Philosophy Tuesday

We are always piercing things together to form a reality.  Everything we experience, whether personally or through stories or through both passive and active observation becomes fodder for our automatic, unconscious, reality-deducing machinery.  We piece together all these bits of information and draw inferences, see cause and effect* and craft a strong sense of what things are.

This includes things that people can be or can become.  Even if we are not it right now, or don’t use it right now, and maybe don’t even see ourselves ever becoming it, we know it and know how it operates.

So that in that moment when we become it, all that ‘knowing’ comes to the fore, because our mind grabs what it already ‘knows’ as a predictor for how to behave and, thus, as the way to succeed.

And there are many moments like that in our life, where we weren’t something and suddenly now we are:  student, employee, citizen, on our own, driver, homeowner, significant other, spouse, parent… if it can be a label, it can be an it.

When that proverbial light switch flips and we find ourselves – suddenly! – in that new situation with that new label, being that it, we end up acting out just like things were done before.

Even if they’re not productive.  Even if they’re not helpful.  Even if they don’t represent the best expression of who we can be.

But we do it because that’s realityIt is how it is.

And then we laugh (or recoil) and say, “I’m just like my parents,” or we later say, “I understand what they were saying now.”

Except that it’s not really that way at all.  Instead, it is just that we’ve fallen into it by the virtue of not being aware of not being aware.  Instead we’re asleep with no agency, just repeating the past, ad nauseum.**

Bringing mindfulness to the situation (even years later) lets us interrupt that cycle and interject ourselves into the now of our it so that we regain our agency and choice.  We allow ourselves to be informed by what came before without needing to become it.  We get to think about things complexly, rope in our other experiences, and create.

By bringing our central selves to the fore, we can truly make it our own.

 

* I’m sure it goes without saying that we see cause and effect supremely often where no such relationship exists… yet we form our realities as though it is so.

** It’s important to get how insidiously powerful and prevalent this is, how much we become subsumed into that already always knowing to become the thing, that it, forever being perpetuated into the future.  We don’t even get to have our own experiences.  The experiences of others we’ve gleaned over the years are instantly our moment-by-moment experience of that it, shaping our behavior, actions, and experience going forward in a cycle.