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

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

 

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!

Philosophy Tuesday

“In an abusive relationship, your virtues get turned against you: ‘Don’t you want to be patient? And forgiving?’ ‘Isn’t it good to listen?’ ‘Don’t you want to provide for your girl?’ ‘Don’t you want to be faithful?’ ‘If you love someone, you don’t give up on them.’

In an ordinary relationship, those virtues will shine.

With an abuser, you will die waiting for them to be reciprocated.”

Abigail Thorn

 

(I think this is a seriously important thing to learn, get, and remember.  Not only for relationships, though, of course, it is supremely crucial there!  Because it is easy enough to get bamboozled, hoodwinked, and browbeat into thinking that you are not in an abusive relationship.  That the faults are all yours, that you should get your act together, that you’re not good enough, and that if you do anything different you are a bad person.

It is so very much a part of the DARVO play, especially the RVO part.

It is 100% manipulative maliciousness.

Which is where it also crosses over into territories other than relationships:  The same manipulative maliciousness is often brought into discussions or debates.  As we engage in far-reaching conversations about policy, about morality, or about our views on the wider world, whether these conversations happen on the interpersonal or on larger levels/stages it is important to learn, get, remember, and recognize when these same techniques are brought to bear.

It is, naturally, the ultimate in bad faith arguing.  For the vicious manipulator does not care one whit for the values and virtues they are levelling against you and that they are using to accuse you.  They are using them simply as a tool because they know you care.  They are weaponizing your values and virtues.

Again, it is abusive.  They do not hold to those values or virtues.  They are employed only as a technique with which to “win.”  Though, as Abigail notes above, when conversing and discussing with someone acting in good faith, all those virtues and values will shine, and great things can occur; with an abuser, it’s more that everyone loses.)

Philosophy Tuesday

To add to the Opposing Diapoles I mentioned a few months ago, there was another construct I discovered that had been hemming me in:  my Evil Triumvirates.*

Unlike the Diapoles, these weren’t contrarian landmines on either side of me into which I was guaranteed to step on no matter which way down the path I went.  Instead, these were views/truths/realities that worked in unison, albeit surreptitiously.  While, together, they formed a big barrier that affected me in a big way, each also had their own angle or flavour to it.  They were variations on the same barrier, sneaking up from different directions and linking to form an interconnected mega-barrier.

This meant that even if I managed to diminish or even remove one of the barriers, the other two still remained to maintain the constraint.  I remained trapped.

Even more insidiously, they were so splendidly interwoven that even when I removed one of them, the other two’s roots could still nourish whatever fragment that remained, allowing it to regrow and return.  Gah!

Which was pretty vexing!  I’d seen the thing, I’d done the work, I’d moved it to the side… so why wasn’t I freer?  Why was I still tripping up?  Why were my possibilities being stunted?  Why did I keep getting snarled?  Gah, again!

By bringing mindfulness to the fore, I could let it just play out while remaining present in the inquiry, and I began to catch glimpses of the Triumvirates.  I began to see their triple Neapolitan nature, how they operated on me, and of the way they linked together.  How fascinating they were!

I gave them their name.  And with that, I could begin to untangle them.  I could see them for what they were and learn how to complete them and move the barrier to the side while preventing them from recreating each other.

Of course, as with everything else in the art of living, it’s an ongoing project, and new barriers arise all the time. But this is no longer one of my blind spots, and with that comes new freedom, choice, and joy.

 

* Of course, they weren’t evil per se… they just were.  And had an unproductive impact on me.  But, like with the Diapoles, making it fun to say was important, both to keep it present and also to disarm them.   Making them out to be hilariously melodramatic and almost cartoonish evil shadowy figures hanging out near the margins immediately decreased the likelihood of me taking them too gosh darn seriously, which automatically diminished their hold on me.

** And the poorer experience of life that went along with it.  And, also, the lesser results that came from acting within that/those constraint(s)…

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.)