Philosophy Tuesday

I just saw an interview with Stephanie Hsu (and Ke Huy Quan) from Everything Everywhere All At Once, and she expressed something quite cool:

“I’ve always been drawn to films that have sort of big philosophical cores but are really about a small slice of life.”

Which is a great description of EEAAO; it’s got a massive philosophical core and resonance while, at the same time, it is about a very narrow and intimate slice of life.  It is about the places and spaces where we all live, and that is what makes it universal.

Her quote also speaks to something that I absolutely love about exploring ontological philosophy:  just like the film it too explores huge and amazing things, with insights into the being part of human being that are profound and deeply fascinating.  And again, just like the film, all of those grand things are things that are having an impact on us on a moment-by-moment-by-moment basis, touching us and every single aspect of our everyday, “mundane” lives.  The more we unconceal and get, the more our lives can transform.

And in there is a great reminder, for it can be all too easy to get hypnotized by these grand ideas and think we’ve gotten it and that we are especially clever… without ever doing the actual work to bring it into our lives and to have it make the impact in those everyday ways.  In a sense, we can eat the menu while thinking that’s the meal.

Perhaps even more often are the times where we may intellectualize it all and to relate to it only in an abstract manner… in order to avoid looking at ourselves and our lives and to avoid where these insights could reveal things that our calculating selves would rather not look.  All, in the end, to avoid discomfort and to avoid doing the work that will bring us closer to whom we profess we want to be.

Stephanie’s observation about EEAAO is a great one, a reminder that there is always a personal side to being human, even when and especially when we learn and uncover more and more about what it is to be human.  And if we want to create that more perfect experience and expression of who we are, it’s a reminder to bring it down from the lofty clouds and to do the work and to apply it to ourselves, all the way down into those small slices of life.

Philosophy Tuesday

It is often said that “change is hard” but… I’m not really sure that’s the accurate or complete picture.

Instead, I’d say that a good chunk is really about our attachments.*  For when we go to change, we often need to chainsaw our attachments, and that is what can be hard.

Except… that’s not exactly accurate either!  For while it feels like we need to break out the chainsaw, instead, once we realize we have an attachment we can choose to just let it go.  We can choose to stop clinging to it.  Then, even attachments become more facile to let go of!

And in letting go of our attachments, we shift from change resistance to one of flow, where we can begin to dance gracefully within the vortices of life.  All while bringing with us mindfulness and practice to continually watch for automatically falling back into habit (something that, compared to change, is really easy to do), interrupt it, create who we want to be, and act.

 

* The other big chunk is about shame.**

** I might also say our identity, but identity often is a combo of attachments, shame, and habit, not to mention that often what we are trying to ‘change’ is a part of our identity… (though really here it’s more effective through transformation***)

*** Which is what makes transformation so powerful and effective, is that it bypasses these change bits altogether.

 

Philosophy Tuesday

This weekend I heard a story on This American Life that reminded me of another story I’d also heard on TAL (and also wrote about it here).  The story from this weekend was about a version of the game of telephone (if you’re not familiar with the game, an explanation is below*), except that this was a more full-blown storytelling version of the game, run as a loosening exercise for people about to appear on a podcast.  The first person told this short, concise, real-life story about a romantic relationship of someone in their friend group, it’s unexpected ending, an even more unexpected twist, ending with a quandary for the friend group.  The next week’s guest listened to the story, then told it in turn for the next week’s guest, and so on.

Not unexpectedly, the story changed.  And boy did it change.  But while that it changed was not a surprise, what was most interesting about it is how the story changed.  It got more dichotomous.  It injected villainy and malice.  It amped up the stakes.  On the whole, it became more dramatic, with both a good guy and with a bad guy acting with definite intent.  It became a plot (in both the nefarious plan kind of way and also in the narrative plot of a novel/etc sense of the word).

All of which all but obliterated the complexity, messiness, and humanity (including sadness, misfortune, and chances for empathy) of the story.

Which brought to mind that previous show on TAL where Ira had made the very astute observation, “And I think what that’s about is, I think, when we encounter something inexplicable or mysterious, our imaginations, we are such hacks. You know? We go to the most standard, stock, seen it in 100 TV shows version of what something probably is.”

Yep, it’s our storytelling minds being such hacks, taking something nebulous and turning it concrete, and often in a most nefarious direction.

And it’s important to remember that none of the participants in this game realized they were doing it, nor did they intend to do so!  They had the same sense we all have:  we hear it like it is, we understand it fully, and we disseminate it accurately, and while others may have problems sorting things out and keeping things straight and seeing things properly, or to keep their bias out of it, no, no not me, no, I tell it right.  That might be the sense and experience we share, but it’s one that’s unfortunately caca.  And the more we believe it, the more susceptible to our hack selves we become.

We’re not bad for this, of course.  Storytelling is one of the greatest gifts we have as humans, and is perhaps the thing that makes us human.  The idea is not to stop being storytellers or to become Vulcans.  It’s just a great reminder to us to practice mindfulness and work to expand our awareness of ourselves, and a reminder to practice being present to and with what’s so.  To develop our deep listening skills.  And to pay attention to the story and not just the plot, representing the depths of the situation and of all those within it, including generosity and empathy, embracing complexity, and to be fascinated with the way life sometimes goes.

 

* In case you are not familiar with the game, the simple rules are that you get a group of people, and one person whispers a phrase of some kind to another player.  That player then whispers it to the next player, who does the same to the next player in turn, and so on, until the last player receives the phrase and states it aloud.  Note that no one can ask for the person to repeat it; they must pass it on as best they understood it.  The surprising thing about the game is always just how different the last phrase often is… it can be downright astounding.

Philosophy Tuesday

“What do you define as success?” This a question sometimes gets posed in conversations with people of note or, perhaps somewhat bizarrely, in job interviews.  However, leaving aside the second one especially, and taking it on in a mindfulness context, this can be one of those laser focused questions that cuts through our everyday autopilot to prompt some actual reflection and thinking.

Because when we look at it, we often discover that we’ve never really chosen it for ourselves.  Often, we find we’re just living into the default view and measurements about success and what success is that we inherited from our context (including our upbringing, community, colleagues, etc).  Or if we did choose, we may have accidentally slipped back into those typical contexts after we’d suffered a setback or two while in pursuit of our desires.

So in giving it some reflection and thought, it’s common to notice that what we’ve been pursuing under those default contexts – often some variety of money, and/or status or fame, and/or control and/or some material items and/or some family/social unit or activity – isn’t actually aligned with what we truly want, such as love, connection, peace of mind, fulfillment, joy, excitement, making a difference, aliveness, beauty, gusto, wonder…

And sure, money and the like may provide some pathways towards that which we truly want.  But even beyond the long-held truth that money can’t buy happiness, when we focus on those reductive measures of success like money we can very much forget what we’re actually aiming for.  We get stuck on the default treadmill, aiming for the tool rather than the thing we want to create.  To bring back a quote from an earlier post, “It’s easy to confuse what is important with what is easy to measure.”

Which is also why when we attain those default measures of success, they rarely leave us fulfilled or satisfied.  And, rather nefariously, because we’re absentmindedly stuck on the treadmill pursuing those default measures, we fall into another pitfall of, to quote yet another previous post (one of the earliest!), “I gotta get a bigger hammer!”  In other words, we surmise that if these haven’t brought satisfaction yet (and everyone is saying they should), it must be because we haven’t gotten enough of “it” yet.

So we stay on that treadmill, our eyes firmly off the real prize.

Which brings us back to that laser-guided question we can ask ourselves “What do I define as success?”  With mindfulness and care and creation we get to choose that which will leave us delighted, radiant, and fulfilled.  And then we can align ourselves and our activities towards attaining that, including right-sizing our focus (or whether we choose to engage with them at all) on those default measures of success.

And with this clarity of success, we empower ourselves and those around us towards living the lives we want.

(And if we need a good starting point in designing our measures of success, Ben Zander’s “shining eyes” is a great foundation.)

Philosophy Tuesday

Transformation is a bit like folding space (in the science fiction faster-than-light travel kind of way).  It isn’t about changing something, it isn’t about shifting our views, it isn’t about moving things around.  Instead, it’s about opening up and broadening our (accidentally already limited) view to wide new vistas, and then creating a new way of being to live into.

Note that, in that moment, our circumstances don’t change.  We’re still the same person and we’re in the same situation and we have the same trials and tribulations and conditions and events and all of that ahead of us.

But, because we have shifted our view and, more importantly, who we are being, not only does our experience of life change – Actually, let’s pause here for a moment, because to be honest that is really important!  Our experience of life is in some ways everything, our experience of life is what we’re here for!

Getting back to it, not only does our experience of life change, but so to do our capabilities change.*  We approach things differently.  Our options expand.  Our agency and confidence grow.

While we face the same circumstances, everything feels and even seems different.  We step into paths that might never have even occurred to us before.  We travel towards those things in life which we all want.

Which in turn boosts our experience of life even more.  Joy, love, fulfilment, comfort, security, and peace of mind, all available to bask in.

 

* Our capacity doesn’t change… it already was pretty darn unlimited, we just had erected barriers in front of it.  With those barriers gone we can do the work needed to step into and develop our capabilities.

Philosophy Tuesday

The other evening I was speaking with a friend, and I brought up something about shame.

Or, at least, that’s what I was trying to do.  Instead, I misspoke and instead of shame what came out of my mouth was “Shane.”

Which, in of itself, was a bit funny.  But then I envisioned this guy Shane, leaning against the wall in the corner, dressed in a to cool to care kind of way, theatrically shaking his head at me.  And in that personification of my shame, I found it completely hilarious.

And surprisingly liberating.  Or perhaps not so surprising, for I’ve seen a bunch of exploration and research lately about this approach of personification.  Mostly it’s where you end up speaking to those unproductive bits of yourself in the second or third person.  With Shane here it might be a bit different, as I’m taking whatever bits of shame I’ve got and sticking them into this Rando McRandomson dude in the corner that I might never talk to.  But it remains fruitful because I don’t need to talk to them.  Firstly, the humour of it all is enough to reduce the significance of everything – as Loretta Laroche would point out, humour in of itself can be excellent at knocking things back into perspective.  And secondly, that kind of random scorn from someone isn’t something I’d likely pay much attention to in the first place.  All of which interrupt any downward spiral and allow mindfulness to return and either complete things or bring them to a place of productive guilt.

Right on.  It was an inadvertent and complete slip of the tongue, but it ended up granting access to a whole bunch of space to live and grow, and a whole lotta peace of mind.