Posts Tagged 'mindfulness'

Conservation of Energy

conservationofenerty

In physics, the law of energy conservation states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant. It can’t be created or destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Our understanding of the universe relies on this principle.

It often (not always) applies to people and relationships, too.

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. The problem with taking offense is that it’s really hard to figure out what to do with it after you’re done using it. Better to just leave it on the table and walk away. Umbrage untaken quietly disappears. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.

You can ‘win’ a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can’t handle. But of course, they’re not your opponent and you don’t really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado. Winning isn’t the point.

Is Truth Relative?

truthwoman

It depends on what you mean by “truth.”

There are only about three possible scenarios for how the universe works.

  1. There is an objective reality that exists, but not one human in all of history has ever witnessed it. Everything, EVERYTHING, is processed through the human system of perception. Our perception is our reality. It has been proven time and time again that our perceptions, and therefore the beliefs that stem from them, are faulty. We are easily fooled or tricked into believing things are real or accurate, when they can be shown not to be. We also have tons of evidence that shows similar individuals in similar circumstances perceive things differently. They may resemble reality to some extent, but there are many – perhaps an unknowable number of – flaws or discrepancies between what we see and believe is going on and the way the world “is,” versus the objective reality that may actually exist.
  2. There is no objective reality at all. There is merely the sum of our thoughts and beliefs, and all that we invent therein, which add up to something that seems objectively real to us. Taken to the extreme, this theory goes toward painting us as ‘only’ a consciousness. Seems far-fetched to me, but we have to admit it is possible.
  3. There are many objective realities. Each one existing in its own universe, with its own history and distinctiveness. There is evidence to support that these different universes occupy the same space, but are simply out of phase with each other in a way that allows them to overlap without interacting. In any case, the embodied consciousnesses that occupy each one of those may or may not be able to process their relative realities the way they actually are. Certainly, in the universe where we exist, there is ample evidence to show that we at best perceive a facsimile of our surrounding reality.  See #1.

So, truth? Yeah, my truth and your truth can be a bit different. Or a lot different. The answer to this is almost certainly not knowable by man, at least until maybe we might possibly someday transcend into some other, much more enlightened state.

What do we do about it? Nothing. As far as my perception can tell, we can’t do a bloody thing, and the exercise itself is nearly pointless. We have the lives we have and the perceptions we own that go along with them. That is the reality we must work within. We simply have to do the best we can there, because anything else would appear to defeat any possible purpose or joy in life for us. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.

But, be mindful of what this normally concrete term really implies. Your truth, no matter how iron-clad it may seem to you, is absolutely faulty (i.e. wrong) in some ways. May we all learn to operate within the humility of that reality. Minimally that means being cautious about what you think, feel, believe, and remember. More profoundly it means questioning it down to the core of who you think you are, and why you are that way. These are extremely tough questions to genuinely grapple with, in part because it’s all tied up in perception and our programming. Any conclusions you may come to are suspect.

Since it’s not really knowable, does that mean that we’re just as well off with whatever makes us feel good? Probably. And that’s awesome for those who don’t get wrapped up in the doubts or can just feel good enough about whatever they believe. Some people are naturally able to hold their beliefs in a way that to them seems nearly iron clad. What is the answer for those who don’t? Modify our beliefs? Yeah, how exactly does one go about that without some satisfying justification (i.e. compelling evidence)?

How do you convince yourself? I asked a qualified friend once if hypnotism works. Her answer (paraphrased): “It can if you believe it.”

Damn.

 

 

 

More Perspective

 

Is perspective something you can have more of?

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The seventh post ever penned in this blog dates back to a time when it seemed the message could be powerful and clear enough when presented succinctly. It was about perspective. As with this one, and some others, it highlights that seeing things differently is at once something we understand, but don’t always really get. Thus the decisions others make sometimes seem like major head-scratchers to us.

One man’s junk is another’s statement. One man’s friend is another’s enemy, one’s debilitating frustration, another’s challenge, one’s psycho-bitch girlfriend another’s soul-mate, one’s insensitive asshole another’s hope for change and progress, and one man’s moral corruption another’s necessity.

There are very few bad people in the world. There are plenty of people who don’t see and process the world the way you do. How hard is it really to put yourself in another’s shoes and genuinely try to understand their perspective? When the distance between our sensibilities seems far enough apart, the effort wanes because we don’t perceive a compelling need to do it. We have enough people around us who are like us that we feel validated; it rarely even occurs to us that those other weirdos (assholes) are like us in some other, maybe not as easy to identify ways.

We can accept it academically. But add a feeling that they want something of mine, and now it’s a big problem.

Our perception is our reality, until we stop long enough to realize it’s all just perception.

 

When You Can’t See…

speedbump

This is part of a church parking lot near my residence. It is on a route I commonly run as part of my fitness routine. Due to my schedule, I often get up at 0-dark-thirty, braving the cold to run in the morning. There are some lights around, so it’s not completely black. I discovered one morning they had added this feature to the road connecting two lots. I didn’t see it. Imagine running along in the solitude of your thoughts, listening to an old Boston record, then suddenly finding yourself face down on pavement! That fast it jumped up and grabbed my passing foot. (I realized later these had replaced some that were there before, but had been painted with stripes so they stood out in low light.)

My iPhone took the brunt of it. I am nothing if not determined, so I got up, shook it off and ambled on, the inconvenience of darkness suddenly transformed into a protective cloak preventing anyone from seeing my dumb move.

It occurred to me later that when you’re unable to see them, mere speed bumps become stumbling blocks. Getting blindsided is emotionally taxing in the moment, but generally illuminating as we get some distance and reflect. Never one to pass up a good metaphor, I thought about some ways this impacts our lives.

  • An automobile accident – Even the person not at fault will play it back to see if there could have been a way to be more observant, to avoid it. Maybe more alert next time.
  • A hurtful word or phrase – spoken in haste, without proper regard to for the message the hearer takes away. Slow down and think it through before letting emotions carry you too far.
  • An unwanted business or political outcome – Were you wrong, incompetent, or apathetic? What can you do better next time?
  • A breach of trust – Was the trust well grounded?
  • A personal setback – We you trying to leap beyond your means, or was it other circumstances you should have been able to see?

Getting back up and getting on your feet is the easier part. The real key is in taking the lesson being offered to you. Not just during the time of heightened awareness produced by the emotions, but in an embodying, long-lasting way. Some would call that wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

Religion is More than Belief

snowroad

Religion, spirituality, and belief have often been lumped together over the years, even though they have some inherent incongruities.

I recently made a comparison between religion and spirituality. As a quick follow up, it’s worth mentioning that my declaration about religion being based on belief in a supreme being was necessarily narrow in order for the very valid contrasts to be simple to understand.

I stand by the statement. That is the basis of it, at least with respect to the spiritual kind of religion (as opposed to one who has a religion about some secular thing like exercising). But that’s not all there is to it. Its main value may not be in its propositional content. Religion (in loosest terms) is not necessarily a set of scientific, objective claims about the universe. It’s not just beliefs. It’s a set of practices and rituals that have stood the test of time.

Things that have endured for a long time are, by probability, likely to endure – otherwise they would have died out already. It is hard to see The OdysseyThe BibleThe Iliad and similar works being forgotten, whereas last year’s bestseller is unlikely to be remembered in 100 years, let alone 1000. Time may refine things by getting rid of the bad parts & keeping the parts that humans have found valuable. Because religion has stood the test of time, we must acknowledge that with respect to probability, it must be valuable to humans in some essential way. In other words, it’s probable that if there were no human value, it would not have withstood the test of time.

Taken further, we could assume that when there is something in nature we don’t understand, odds are it makes sense in some deeper way that is beyond our understanding. So there is a logic to natural things that is superior to our own. What Mother Nature does is rigorous until proven otherwise; what humans and science do is flawed until proven otherwise.

Religion is more about trust, or faith than about the objective, predictive claims that science deals in. The belief in religion is ‘epiphenomenal’, i.e. follows from practice, not the other way around. It’s about practice such as going to church, fasting, celebrating holidays such as Easter, various dietary restrictions, collective prayer, and so on.

If something like religion (or wine, or cities, or biological organisms, etc.) has been around for a long time, you may think of it as antifragile – otherwise it would have died out. If religion has endured for this long, it probably encodes a bunch of practices that – even if we can’t see the point of some of them – are likely to be right for humanity in some way. At least instrumentally, and maybe more.

 

 

Yield

Asian culture does a better job of fostering the idea of asymmetrical trades – yielding. Humility.

A maneuverable motor boat yields to a sailboat because it can more easily recover from the turn.

A bicyclist going downhill yields to one struggling uphill, because he can get back up to speed more quickly.

The senior executive invests a little bit of time helping the junior one, because no one else has the skills to do so, not because reciprocation is the goal.

Asymmetrical trades are a key to getting society to work. It starts with giving.

Yield has two meanings, and one leads to the other.

Stuck

ManandWomaninCupEverything that happens to us is generated from something we did, something someone did to us, or just a chance occurrence. Regardless of which it is, the ball is in our court to act, or wait until someone or something changes things. We generally would prefer to take action, but sometimes we can’t see the way out. We are stuck, unable to move forward, or to move it off center. It happens to nearly all of us on occasion. We get stuck for a variety of reasons. Three that come to mind are:

  1. We can’t see the forest for the trees or just don’t see the problem for what it really is.
  2. It’s scary to change our current situation because it’s serving us in some way, or there is a fear of the unknown. What if the change makes things worse?
  3. We are in a double bind, which means we feel damned if we do or don’t.

To get unstuck, there are a several techniques to try. I think these are somewhat obvious, but seeing it in writing can help provide clarity.

  • Play out the fear of change all the way to the worst case scenario and then evaluate if it’s really all that bad or if there is anything good about it. If there is some good (this is the key), move towards it. Just try it and feel good about your courage to grow in the most positive direction possible. You will work the rest out.
  • Ask what the costs are if you stay stuck, and play it out to the worst case scenario. If nothing changes, who will be hurt and how bad can it get? You may be able to continue to be dissatisfied, though it’s not good for you, which probably means others are being negatively affected.
  • Ask yourself what someone who truly loves and wants the best for you would advise. Sometimes, we aren’t as compassionate with ourselves as we are with those we love. Hearing and trusting their voice in our head can be used as a guide for what to do. But be cautious. This can easily turn into you choosing what will make others happy. That’s not the point. And keep in mind…they are afraid, too. Not objective. You have to weigh the agenda of the source, but it is worth considering.
  • Look at how the current situation is serving your needs, even at low levels. Sometimes we settle for low level fulfillment instead of going for the thing that will really fill us up because it feels safer to stick with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t. Consider the positive benefits of raising your standards. I was once told that “it’s never a bad thing to raise your standards.” This goes for yourself and for who you’re with.
  • Ask yourself if you have a true commitment to growing. If you do, and you recognize that if you aren’t growing, you’re dying (inside), then consider what you’ll do to grow. Will you take a chance and try something new, even if its scary and there is no guarantee it will work out? Can you feel good about yourself for being brave enough to just try it and course correct later if need be? (Hint: Yes)
  • Consider that there is a life lesson in this situation, and determine what it is. Ask yourself if you are ready to learn it now, and if not, why. Are you hoping the Universe will take over and make the change for you? Not choosing is still a choice. And if you don’t make a change, something happens that’s not your choice and you have to deal with it anyway. Isn’t it better to make the choice on your own and feel like you have some semblance of control over the situation? When you don’t, you open yourself up to something happening that takes the control away from you, requiring you to put the pieces back together and move on with your life, the hard way. You also open yourself up to the problem repeating until you show up for it and “walk through the fire” by making the choices that are authentic to you.

As with many things in this blog, it’s easy to say. Easier to read and understand. Hard to do. Sometimes you have to push harder.



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