Philosophy Tuesday

While our group classes and gatherings have been completely kaiboshed during these unusual times, I’ve continued to Kung Fu it up in my backyard (including weapons and all).  It has been a pleasantly productive time, with growth and new avenues opening to explore and with a wonderful handful of delicious insights.

But there’s an interesting thing about insights:

You never know when they will show up.

You can’t plan for them.  You can’t predict them.  And you can’t force them.  All you can do is go out, practice, practice, and practice some more.

And, of course, that means to practice with intent.  Be the force that is pulling for it.  Create the conditions for it to show up.  Lay the foundation and do the digging and look inside and be mindful and keep looking for what’s missing, what’s next, make the adjustment… and then put it into practice, practice, and practice some more.

Until, without any preamble, there it is.  Something new arises!  An insight, an epiphany, a shift, a transformation.  It might be accompanied with an “Ohhhh,” or a “That’s interesting, what’s that?” or maybe it’s so grand the skies part and the angels sing.  Whether it’s low key or a glorious emergence, it’s nevertheless unmistakable.

And it’s yours forever, to move forward into the world with that new understanding, new vision, and new ability, and to enjoy all that comes and flows freely from it.  All the while, being ready to lay the groundwork and to continue practicing, practicing, and practicing some more towards the next one.

This is the veracity of Kung Fu, as it is the veracity of any art or skill or ability, including the realms of philosophical transformation and even that of societal shifts.

It is also a counter to resignation and capitulation, taking solace in that uncertainty.  It rarely looks like somethings progressing until it moves.  And then it does.  And it’s glorious and totally worth it for the great days ahead.

Philosophy Tuesday

It wasn’t long ago that I was again mentioning this… but it’s very much worth a revisit right now:

For one:  We often (as in, nearly always) talk about “the economy” in the same way we talk about gravity, as some fundamental physical and organizing force in the universe that we have no choice but to follow its laws.  Yet, from the grandest galaxies to the humble quarks that form all matter, the economy is not present.

For two:  Therefore, the economy is nothing but our invention.

For three:  We invented the economy to serve us.  Not the other way around.

For four:  In other words, money is all pretend.  People are real.

For five: “When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character.  This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor.  But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw.  Stigmatize those who let people die, not those that struggle to live.”  — Sarah Kendzior  [To which I add, especially those who do so to enrich themselves.]

For six:  Continuing from the above, our belief about meritocracy has some serious downsides.  Namely that when we believe so much that things are, currently, truly, meritocratic, then it becomes easy to moralize and demonize people.  Especially since things are, currently, absolutely not very high on the meritocratic scale, especially when it comes to wealth and wellbeing, and even if things were, chance and happenstance play so much a role (compounding into the future) that it is still highly erroneous to ascribe saintliness or rottenness or slothness based on that metric.

For seven: If a system isn’t working for creating what we want in the future, then – remembering that we are the authors of it – we ought to alter the system.

For eight:  If we do think the system is working correctly, then say out loud how it operates in reality and what its results are, to be sure that it does indeed match our rhetoric.  If it does not, then we have a break in authenticity.

For nine:  We are the authors.   We often forget, and we often abdicate our role, but we are.  When we participate, when we create, when we make our presence and our mark known, when we work to building a community and the ideals we say we stand for, then we are mighty.

Philosophy Tuesday

Einstein is reported to have been very much enamoured with compound interest.  While it is unlikely that he – despite the memes floating around – ever proffered any highly quotable declaration on the subject, compound interest is quite a potent thing.  When the growth of something builds upon its previous growth, which then builds further upon that growth in turn, the results pile on real fast.

So it goes not only in the world of finance and savings accounts but also when it comes to all realms of self-cultivation, and in several ways.  For starters, as we develop our mindfulness and work to create clearings from old (and usually unintended) patterns, views, and straightjacketed ways of being, it becomes easier to do more of the same.  With less crud in the way we move more quickly, discover insights more quickly, and develop ourselves more quickly, further compounding our skills in mindfulness and in the arts of living and being in the world.

Even greater are the specific, measurable, as lived results that, as we create those clearings and unleash our agency, power, freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind, naturally show up in our lives.  All those things that we want build up on themselves, creating a compounding train of ever greater results and ever more of what we want.  And when something goes awry – for that is inevitable – we’ve got both the mental/spiritual clarity as well as a nice foundation upon which to remain mindful and thus able to deal with it with proper equanimity and while never denying our humanity.

And humanity is the pinnacle of this compounding greatness.  For just as easily as we can see how the positives in our lives can and do compound, we can easily recognize, get present to, and be willing to confront that negatives can also do the same.  A bad break here can all to readily lead to further bad breaks and downward spirals.  It may have happened in our lives, it may be happening now, but even more than that, it can happen to any of us.  And with that realization we can forestall our judgement about ourselves and, especially, about others.  When we see people down on their luck or struggling or acting out of sorts, who knows what paths were compounded from years ago?  Who knows their starting place?  Who knows what compounded itself downward?  And the same goes in the other direction too.  A single break or a position of privilege quickly pushes these two realms apart.  Neither our nor any one else’s position on the economic/social/etc ladder is ever a pure reflection of either morality or worthiness.

With this in mind we get to synthesize and compound all of the above, taking agency and working on self-cultivation to build ourselves and our lives (and the lives of those around us) while never losing sight that chance and happenstance is never far away, influencing outcomes and ready to put a thumb on the scale.

When we look at our designs for ourselves and the world and when we look at what we want to create and leave behind, we can ask “what do I want to compound?” and go from there.

Philosophy Tuesday

“When I give a job interview, I always ask after past mistakes. Several reasons for this. It’s genuinely informative about how they handle adversity, yes, and it shows if they can learn. But also, it shows if they can acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes.  Having no stories of mistakes (or mistake stories that immediately blame other people) are yellow flags. Not red because I get that some folks are scared to “screw up” the interview out of inexperience, but it becomes a direction to investigate.  But if It seems they can’t admit fault, I’m a fast thumbs down. Such a person, no matter how good, can never learn and will make things steadily worse for everyone around them.

Now, I should add, I love mistakes. And not just because of my VAST COLLECTION of them. A mistake can be IDENTIFIED and corrected or learned from. Clear problems are a GIFT.  This is because in most situation, the opposite of clear problems is not no problems, it’s obscured problems. If there are no mistakes in anything beyond a certain size, the only reasonable conclusion is that the problems are hidden.

And it’s hidden problems that get you. Failure may sometimes come from too many known problems, but even then you can regroup and adapt. Disaster comes out of the unknown ones.

Which is why the folks who won’t acknowledge mistakes are so toxic. Not only do they hide and ignore problems, they normalize that behavior and encourage others to do the same. And if those problems harm others? Hoo boy.

So, yes, failing to acknowledge mistakes (to say nothing of outright wrongdoing) is pretty harmful. But, and I say this with sympathy, it’s EASIER.  Admitting fault is scary as hell. It triggers all the “BEAR ATTACK!” Parts of our brain which scream at us to hide.  Worse, since so many of us have our identity tied up in our capabilities (“you’re so smart!”), acknowledging mistakes can feel like we’re denying that label and therefor ourselves and everyone who we perceive as valuing us for that thing. Faced with the choice between right action and self-protection, it’s not shocking which way people jump.

This is why this skill needs practice. It is something which genuinely gets easier as you do it more, and one of the (many) virtues of transparency is that you quickly discover this is nowhere near as scary as it seemed (though it can still be scary).  In a work context, it may feel counterproductive to draw attention to problems that might reflect on you or your team, but if that’s the PRACTICE, your team gets better because they’re FIXING those things (and that’s visible too).  In a personal context, it helps you form more genuine connections with people as you speak to things that really matter and can spend less bandwidth on pushing them off to maintain a facade.  The other alternative is to just get better at hiding problems and blaming others. I won’t pretend that’s not a path to success. There are enough toxic environments and spiky tribal groups that you can 100% find success that way. You just have to live with it.

Because, ultimately, you know what you did, even when no one else does.

Rob Donoghue

Philosophy Tuesday

Another reason to practice being present is that if you’re not, you’re going to miss shit.  Shit that you do.  Moreover, shit you say you don’t do.  That you don’t want to do.  That you’re immune to doing.  That doesn’t represent who you are.  And yet, there you are, doing just that or those things.

And wow then are you ever wide open to some rather hypocritical shit.*

If you say you are committed to learning and mindfulness and philosophy and being a great human being, and yet you don’t practice it, yet you do not want to hear about it when you’re not, yet you are not even willing to be present to when you are not being present, then you are, quite simply, lying.

 

* And I, for the record, am completely fascinated by our human capacity for hypocrisy.  And I’m not being facetious here… I am genuinely fascinated that we can oh so easily flop around and speak out of both sides without even noticing it.  And that’s the kicker; we can so easily, readily, unintentionally, and automatically do it and that we are pretty much always completely oblivious to the fact that we have even done it.

We can and will and do proclaim and defend and argue and run up the ramparts about something on the one hand and then – sometimes even almost immediately – do the same for something that is completely the opposite.  And as above, this is even for things we say and vehemently assert that we hold fundamental to our core – beliefs, morals, theories, history, stories, ‘truths’, actions – they are all immensely and readably fungible at a moment’s notice.

Last week’s post is a prime way this can happen, but so too is this very much tied into our identities as well as various other things.  They all engage our rationalizing engines such that what we – unless we develop our mindfulness and bring being present to bear – say and do shit that in the moment feels ancient and pure and rock solid yet is anything but, born of the moment and as nebulous as vapour.  And in those moments, we undermine our authenticity, our integrity, our morality, our ideals, and our humanity.

As I said, I am fascinated by this capacity of ours… and inspired for when we, through mindfulness and being present and self-cultivation, interrupt it and instead create who we want to be, and live by our authentic, central, selves.

Philosophy Tuesday

It is not a matter of either/or.  It is not a matter of rational versus emotional.  For is not that one is bad and the other good.  They are not the antithesis of each other.  True, that is often how we do present them:  pitted against each other, one scorned, the other lauded.

But we are human.  Awesomeness and capability come from integration.  Not separation.  It is about being knowledge intelligent as well as emotionally intelligent.  For without the two holding hands in tandem we are all too easily led astray.

Remember – we can rationalize anything.  Our consciousness and awareness come to us already pre-filtered.  Without integration, we don’t realize when we’ve been hooked and we hoodwink ourselves into beliefs and actions that, while we are ready to viciously defend them, are unproductive and even counter to that which we profess.  Sometimes even beliefs and actions that run counter to the very logic altar at which we claim we worship.

Remember – we can feel anything.  All sorts of things.  And that emotions and feelings come and go.  And that is great.  It is a delicious part of being human.  Without them we wouldn’t feel joy, delight, wonder, gratitude, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, lust, love…  Even better, shaped by our past, in any given moment emotions also provide to us valuable signals.  They are an indicator that something’s up.  That we might want to pay attention.  It is a signal, however, that can get very intense.  Without integration, if we give them full control of the wheel, it can lead to some pretty wild driving indeed.  Fishtails, spinouts, burnouts, and crashes easily follow.

With that we can step into the practice of integration.  Intertwining.  Letting our knowledge intelligence, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and indeed all of our various intelligences speak to each other, collaborate, and operate together.  And together, in harmony, choosing the best mode to be in the moment, giving us being and actions that move us forward in the best of ways.

And to cap it off, we get to enjoy it all.

 

(I still blame Descartes…)

Philosophy Tuesday

“Resentment is a fire that burns with more light than heat.”

— Shakespeare (Well, not really, but kinda)

There is much to commend in that quote.  Resentment, animosity, bitterness, rancor, anger, malice…  these can all be powerful motivators.  As in, they can really propel us to get a lot done.  Channeling them pushes us into action and make us productive.  Sometimes even very, very, productive.

The thing is though, just as there is a difference between being efficient and being effective, there is a difference between being productive and being fruitful.  Resentment may get a lot done, but the results are often crap.  It doesn’t produce outcomes or works of weight and worthiness that we can be proud of.

So, while it may give us that burning rush, it’s all just a light show, with nothing left to actually drive the engine.  It doesn’t move us forward.  Worse, we may well, unwittingly, instead lead ourselves backwards.

It can be work to find a fuel that burns warmer than that of resentment and its ilk, but it is worth it.  It may not churn out things as fast, and it may feel less viscerally intense, but that which it produces endures… solid, authentic, beautiful, and worthy of who we truly are.

 

* For an additional take on this, here’s a video by John Green

Philosophy Tuesday

As we go through life – and this is doubly so when we are young, for it starts very early on – we hear things, see things, and learn things about the world and about living in it.  Things that we ourselves are years away from having to actually live through or to deal with.  Even in the cases where we experience some aspect(s) of it directly, like being a child of a parent, we are not on that end of it yet.  It is still some other world that lives out there in our, potential, future.

But we’re still getting ready for it.  Not deliberately… no, our minds are simply always vacuuming in all the data it can and vacuuming it in from everywhere.  Some comes from directly observing those around us, some comes from hearing what they say and describe, some comes from education, and a surprising amount comes from the stories we hear.  Just by the sheer amount and presence of media (be it books, movies, TV, etc) and, especially, due to the narrative structures they use to make it compelling, the stories we consume play a big role in what goes into our vacuum.

And like that our minds continue to pull it all in, cross-referencing, checking which ones agree with each other, bolstering those that are repeated, and all the while forming its model of the world.  A model that turns out to be invisible to us and that is, to our day-in and day-out lived experience, simply reality.  It’s how things are.

Until that one day when BAM!  In an instant we cross that bridge and are now confronted with a whole ‘new’ situation.  BAM, married.  BAM, a parent.  BAM, in the workforce.   BAM, an adult.  BAM, (fill in the blank here).  All of a sudden, we’re thrust into it.  We’ve never been there.  We’ve never done this.  We’ve never been in this position before.  There’s nothing for our prediction engine to guide us on how to behave/be/act.

Except, of course, for those realities, all those things about the world and living in it that, for years, our mind has dutifully been storing and crafting.  And so we immediately pull from it, and likewise immediately begin living it out.  We perpetuate it.  It becomes a self-fulfilling story.  Even if the outcome may not be great or bring us or those around us joy, freedom, love, or peace of mind, it’s how it IS… we’ve even got all this evidence for it.  How could we act or be in any other way?  It’d be like breaking the laws of physics, right?

Not at all.  No physics breaking required.  Just being present, mindful, and remembering that many of the ways we experience things and many of the ways we be in life are not intentional on our part.  We weren’t squeezed out of the womb with it.  Rather, we are just repeating a pattern that we automatically cobbled together over time.  And, most importantly, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor do we have to be that way.  It is interruptable.

And with that we instantly gain a measure of freedom and choice.  In that clearing, we can reorient ourselves towards new and glorious possibilities, possibilities that enliven us and all those around us.