Philosophy Tuesday

In conversation with a friend recently, I said, out of the blue, “Identity sure is one hell of a drug.”  It was meant as a throwaway line and as a bit of a joke… but as I thought more about it, it’s not really a bad model to use.  Identity isn’t exactly like a drug, but in many ways we are indeed kinda addicted to it.  We believe it to be us, we want it to be us, and we do all we can to keep on it and to keep feeling that identity high.  When we’re deep in it, there’s a certainty there. (Strangely, that’s true even when it’s unproductive!).  When it’s threatened to be taken away, we fight back hard.  (Indeed, as noted before, our brains can’t tell the difference between a threat against the body and a threat against the identity – defend with equal vigour.)  We organize our lives to reinforce that identity so we get more of it, and we avoid things that would cut us off from it.  And in that way, much like an addiction, it leads us around by the nose while distorting our views and stifling our freedom.

So, yeah… in a lot of ways, as an analogy, it works.  And often looking at something through a different lens can give us new insights on it and, even better, give us new access to gaining agency over it.  And when the analogy starts to break down, not a problem, we can set it aside and carry our newfound freedom and peace of mind forward into the next stage of self-cultivation.

Philosophy Tuesday

One of the things that we learn* in our kung fu training is this:

Not everything that feels powerful actually is.

Just because we put in a lot of effort, or engage a lot of tension, or become super fierce, or stoke the fires in our belly…  and just because it feels so much like we should be able to resist a mountain and even be able to split it in two… despite all that… when actually test the move we collapse like a house of cards, with nary an ounce of power there.

And then we get angry!  And we double down on it!  AAAAARRRRGH!  Which only ever serves to make it even worse. **

Fortunately, we also (eventually) learn to not force the point*** and to let it go, delve deeper, and adjust our form such that, remarkably and suddenly, it not only works but it works without almost any effort at all.

Like so many things in kung fu, so too does this apply with our ways of being and in the way we live our lives:

Not every emotion or attitude that, again, feels strong is actually strong.

As we interact with the many areas of our lives, we have so many ingrained and automatic responses and views and ways of being, and we often go forth thinking that they are strong, that they are necessary, that this is the way, and that anger and harshness and hostility and posturing and fierceness and downright hostility to the world and everything around it is the way to make our way and, more importantly, to get what we want.  We think they make us strong.  And wow does it ever feel strong!  And right!

And yet, it isn’t.  And we aren’t.  All that acerbic-ness ends up being unproductive.  We expend a lot of effort, and we may move the ball a smidge, but it takes a supreme toll on ourselves and others, and the results rarely stick.

Like with kung fu, we can let it be for a moment,**** set it aside, and bring to it a new level of mindfulness.  Within that clearing we can adjust and create a new context, choosing other ways of being that will bring forth what we want with velocity and without effort.

And that there is true power.

 

* And re-learn and re-discover over and over and over and over again…

** Which, like the above, we do it again and again even though we know it never works…

*** Also fortunately we learn to laugh at our stubborn silliness….

**** And laugh!

***** One corollary to all this is that when we see someone who is all fire and aggression and sees the world through metaphors of attack and destruction and always seems upset by everything, it’s the same thing:  It is not strength, they are not powerful people, and they are not paragons to laud.  They are all bluster and performance, with little to show for it, no peace of mind, and continually having a lousy experience of life to boot.

Philosophy Tuesday

I assert that it is time we ceased using the term “unskilled labour.”

For one, I don’t think such a thing really exists in any great capacity.  While there may be certain trades and tasks that take more or less time to grasp and to be able to perform at a bare minimum level, every undertaking done well takes skill.  If you’ve seen a toilet cleaned to the minimum versus a toilet cleaned with skill, you know the difference.  And the same holds all over, be it in service, carpentry, line work, farming, cooking, or any of the like.  In addition, there are things such as communication, attentiveness, or even just being a team player, all of which are skills, developed over time, and which really muck things up when they’re not there.

For two, the term is generally used only to denigrate, equated with unintelligent, unsophisticated, or of lessor importance.  More importantly, the term is used as an excuse, an excuse to treat others poorly in all sorts of ways:  poorly in value, respect, and appreciation; poorly in attention and care; poorly in attitude and politeness; poorly in compensation and wages.  Unappreciated and seen as a cog, whether in the home or in the workforce, the “unskilled” are paid a pittance (be it in terms of regard, respect, and appreciation or be it in terms of actual wages) and regarded as though they should be happy for their miserly sum.

It is a crappy way to treat others.  And one that belies both the value of what they take on and accomplish as well as the skill and hard work it takes to do it well.*

Everything is a skill.  Everything can be learned and improved.  Even seemingly simple things can take a lifetime to master – including the very art of living.

Let’s honour it all.

 

* For the briefest of moments this year we called them what they are:  essential workers.**

** The term “frontline” has now replaced “essential” and it is another obfuscation and denigration: frontline allows the vested interests (who wield the term unskilled like a club) to believe they are the generals, doing the actual important work by leading the incapable masses.  It’s a falsehood and a farce, and I recommend not falling into that trap.

*** Oddly, Walt Disney, who harboured a lot of a type of skilled/unskilled contempt, actually recognized this on some level.  One story in particular can be used as a guide for ourselves:  When Lillian Disney heard Walt wanted to open an amusement park, she said “Why would you want to do that?  They’re so dirty.”  To which Walt replied, “Mine won’t be.”  There it is: the (typically denigrated, ignored, and maltreated) janitors are the key to Disneyland’s success.

 

Philosophy Tuesday

We all have these its in our lives where,

Whether in the foreground

Or in the background,

We cannot escape it,

No matter what ground we go to.

 

We often say,

 “I’ve put it behind me…”

Yet when it comes up,

we react,

we resist,

we avoid,

we cry.

 

If we haven’t done the work

to complete it,

It is still there,

Like a monkey on our back,

Guiding us,

Hemming us in,

A barrier we constantly run into.

 

Even though we don’t think it is.

Philosophy Tuesday

On What’s So

What’s so is always just what’s so. What’s so doesn’t care what you think, feel, intend or wish; it will not bend. You can be freaked out or driven over what’s so, and it won’t change what’s so. If you’re late for an appointment, getting freaked out about it won’t have you arrive any earlier. If you’re having a bad day, being freaked out won’t change what’s so. That which you seek will not bring you satisfaction – aligning with what’s so will. When you’re upset, you’re never upset over what’s so. What’s so is just what’s so, and you’re upset.

If your house burns down and you get upset, does it bring your house back? What’s so doesn’t care if you’re upset; it’s up to you how you handle what’s so. There is no confusion in what’s so. When you don’t know you just don’t know – there is no confusion there. There’s nothing right or wrong about what’s so. What’s so is always open to different interpretations. There’s always just what’s so, and then you have an interpretation. What scares you isn’t what’s so, it’s your interpretation. The interpretation is never true; what’s so is real, the interpretation is not.

Who you’re being is just who you’re being, and what’s so doesn’t care if you’re happy with it or not, so why should you? When you’re not being with what’s so, that’s also just what’s so. Why should you concern yourself? Other people should always be the way they’re being; if you think they shouldn’t, that’s your interpretation. Bring yourself back to what’s so about them. Until you can be with what’s so, you can’t be with anything or anyone. You may have control over other people’s what’s so, but none over their interpretation – give it up.

If you take action or not, it’s still just what’s so. If it works out well or not, it’s still just what’s so. You can never make a right or wrong decision, or take a right or wrong action. Whatever you do will always bring you more of what’s so, and then you have an interpretation about it. Whatever you don’t have, so what? Whatever you’ve done or thought in the past, again so what? Whatever happens in the future is not to be feared. It’s just going to be more of what’s so. The challenge is to spend as much time in what’s so as you can. The chatter in your head is more interpretation, and it has nothing to do with what’s so. There’s nothing wrong with the chatter, it’s just you listening to a fantasy.

The thought that there is something wrong is an illusion; there is nothing wrong, there is only what’s so. Notice when you’re comparing what’s so to some fantasy of how it should be. Bring yourself back to what’s so and it will be OK. Ask yourself what’s so, and align with that. Align with what’s so and it will not matter. That is the foundation of transformation and satisfaction. Not aligning with what’s so is the only thing that will ever bring you hardship or suffering. Life in what’s so will bring you harmony, grace, and balance.

Ask yourself – what’s so about your situation?

— Werner Erhard

(This is great stuff.  And a great reminder that we can never deal with anything powerfully or fully until we are straight with ourselves about what’s so, free from the bits of our interpretation, wants, judgements, stories, narratives, and etc.  We need to bone up, mindful, get present, and be straight with what’s so, right now, in a “just the fact’s, ma’am” kind of way.  Then we can breathe, centre ourselves, engage our central selves, grab the reins of responsibility, and make our choices on who we are going to be, out of which will spring our actions and steps to take all in line with and dealing powerfully with what’s actually so.)

Philosophy Tuesday

As it is, we are not ever, really, but a singular identity.  We are an identity of identities.  And, by default, we are attached to each one of them.

That doesn’t mean however that there is a minimum number of identities that make up our “complete” identity.  Nor is it impossible that we get particularly attached to a particular one or a subset of ones that the rest are rendered nearly superfluous.

All attachments are pathways towards misery and all manner of deleterious ways of being and acting.  But the intensity of our attachments can vary, and the stronger the attachment, the more greased the pathway becomes.

So it is that if we only adopt a few identities to form our full identity-self, or if we become so overwhelmingly attached to only a few, then those identities, and those attachments, become incredibly strong indeed.  And that is where our pitfalls open up mightily.

The reminder here, then, is this:

Diversify Your Identity/Identities

It is a prod to avoid wrapping ourselves up in a single flag and instead spread ourselves broadly, creating a rich and networked set of identities that supports and empowers us and those around us.  If one is challenged, then our auto-defense-weaponry isn’t as likely to explode with full force, for it isn’t the end of us – we’ve got other identities that will live on.  The attachment is less and our freedom is greater.

And if that identity gets challenged, and we see that it isn’t, in actuality, working for us and those around us?  How fascinating!  We can complete it, set it aside, and create anew.

 

(Also, it pays to remember this earlier reminder as well:  Avoid basing your identity on beliefs or things and instead base it on values or intentions.)

Philosophy Tuesday

Two stonemasons are hard at work.

The first, when asked what they are doing, says, “I am chipping away at this stone.”

The second, when asked, excitedly says, “I am building a cathedral!”

Both are engaged in the same task.  They’re literally doing the same thing.  Yet they are having a vastly different experience of life.  While the first works in the context of a job, a task, a simple means to an end*, the second is works within a context that brings grandeur and fulfillment and creativity and pulls for their pride and self-expression.

Same circumstances, yet to each the stone looks different, the chisel looks different, the process feels different, and through all those they each, very likely, produce vastly different results in terms of speed, quality, and overall excellence in their work.  Not to mention which one goes home ready to zone out and which one is still energized at the end of the day…

Same task, but different worlds.  Not by luck or anything inherent but brought into being through invention.  Their individual invention.**

Tasks are tasks.  We get to create how we relate to them, who we will be, and ultimately influence how our day will go and feel.

 

*  That’s actually hidden within a subcontext, that itself is and contains an “in order to

** And if they/we don’t do it consciously, then they’ll simply invent what they already know, what’s already around them and copy their inherited contexts, whether they are empowering or not.

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!