Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Look Ma! No Stories!

Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of work on myself and figured out some really cool and simple truths. The one that is hitting me most right now is that the events in your life and your THOUGHTS about the events are two different things. I think this comes from my practice of doing The Work (from Byron Katie’s book and The whole idea of that practice is to teach yourself to step back from whatever is going on and sort out the difference between what is really happening (the event) and what you are thinking and believing about it (your stories).

Guess which one of those things makes your life miserable or ecstatic? Need help deciding? Here’s my current example: In two months, I am losing my job, again. My position is being eliminated because a new VP came in with a different vision than the person who hired me and I’m apparently not part of that vision. That’s an event set in the future that I was told about last week. However, right now as I look out my open window at the tree swaying in the breeze and listen to the birds chirping in the sun, what’s the problem? Right now, I have a job, a house, etc. The weather is gorgeous too. Right about now you ought to be reading this and thinking about a million bad things that can happen to me financially and otherwise after I’m cut loose. Me too! However, those are the stories. The layoff is the event. The stories in our heads about how I might lose my income and all that goes with that, and how I have no real goals or direction in my life anymore are just that, stories. They are not true right NOW. The sun still shines and the tree still sways in the breeze whether I’m thinking about those horrible things or whether I am just looking at the tree. That’s what is true.

Unfortunately, events are hard to change especially if they happened in the past. I still have time to alter the course of my employment with this company (which I like), and I am trying but I have no control over any of it. However, my emotions about this are also not something I can control. Emotions are like weather, and that’s a great thing because when was the last time you saw a thunderstorm last forever? The sun always comes eventually, and so does the rain. Neither of them stay for long.

There is a lot of freedom in that. Whatever I am feeling will pass. All I have to do is feel and understand. Questioning the stories that arise about the event also helps dissipate the negative feelings much more quickly. Neither the events nor the emotions can be avoided forever. Shit is always going to happen. It’s how you deal with it that matters.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We have met the enemy and he is us

A lot has been going on in the world with the US elections and human evolution in general these days. Philosophers and Psychologists for generations will study this time period and subject it to endless analysis. Heck, the anthropologists will probably even get in on the action too. I am only sad that I do not have an advanced degree in one of these areas so that I may contribute meaningfully to the discussion. If someone gave me half a million bucks to live on for the next few years, I would find the rest of the money and quit my job to get a PsyD degree so I can look at human development clinically. It fascinates me. Like most people who study it, I am taken by the relationship between human development and whatever the definition of spirituality is in a given moment. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Alas, as near as I can predict, that is not in the cards for me, however. I am relegated to finding material on my own and trying to get through it.

Even with my limited knowledge, I can still see a lot going on with various current events such as the US elections (which I will talk about in the next couple posts.) Studying Integral Theory has given me some perspective on the matter which seems absent among most groups (unless they are groups that also study Integral Theory.) The problem with Integral Theory, unfortunately, is that it is extremely didactic and pedagogical. Can't understand one of the words in that last sentence without looking it up? Then you will need a dictionary nearby to get through any works on Integral Theory. (I am constantly looking up their jargon and terms too.) In plain English, the theory is frick'n complicated. In slightly better English, Integral Theory is just really inaccessible to laymen without some knowledge of Psych or Philosophy. That is why it stays in its own bubble and does not venture out, which is kind of a bummer because it is damned useful for explaining pretty much anything.

As someone who has read maybe 20 books on the subject over the last 10 years, and various journal articles and blogs, I can form my own opinion about the utility of Integral Theory and raise what I think are some of its limitations. Here are a few:

  • The leaders of the movement say they "are not in the transformation business". Here they have a wonderful tool at their disposal to change the face of business, art, entertainment, literature and a host of other things, not to mention human personal growth, and yet they only pay attention to or cater to the "bleeding edge" of human consciousness, or who they think is at that edge. That is really a shame. Some of their leaders opine that it is a waste of time to interact with those who cannot understand their inaccessible theory. Why? I make a great living translating complex biomedical information into bite-sized chunks that people with English and Business degrees can understand, and they LOVE it. It changes their outlook on the world, at least regarding their jobs. These leaders don't think that doing the equivalent thing for translating complex psych concepts into something a reasonably intelligent BA degree holder or High School educated plumber can understand is not valuable? I disagree.

  • There is a penchant for navel gazing in the movement. Much analysis goes into why people are fucked up and doing the things they are doing, and there are a lot of suggestions about how those people should think and feel and what they should study or read. However, once someone suggests a practical solution to implementing an Integral perspective, WOAH. We can't go applying the theory now, can we? The analysis pretty much stops at social action, or really any action. Now to be fair, there are some authors that do give step by step examples and even create small companies that implement some integrally minded business solutions, but they only do it for companies that are ready and willing to take it on anyway, i.e. the bleeding edge again. I really think that this work has so much potential for getting down and dirty and using it to relate to people who are at less broad stages of development, if it is done right. However, one time I was even accused of co-opting theory and taking it out of context by doing so. (I had suggested implementing dictatorships back into the Middle East to get it stable again because the inhabitants were proven not to understand Democracy yet, and needed something they could grasp.... a point which I argued from a wholly Integral perspective, by the way.)

  • Just as I (with a biomedical engineering doctorate) have no real education in Psychology or Philosophy and am pontificating about those very same things right now, the Integral community has Psych and Philosophy doctorates pontificating about matters of hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology who really should not be doing so either, at least not if they want to have their information be correct. This tends to cause some basic misunderstandings in the theory, especially regarding evolution and chemical reactions. Now, if we had some experts in those fields getting together with the soft science folks, which we actually do have right now, it could really be a good thing and the theory can grow. I think this is being remedied and will just take time.

  • Long ago, my old teacher, Draja Mickaharic, once told me, "The legitimacy or true practice of a movement drops to zero after pi human lifetimes." Now, Draja spewed a lot of fun crap in his day, especially if you take it as gospel. However, regardless of his numbers he did have a point. Integral Theory is in its infancy and its founder is still alive, so we have a long way to go before it becomes completely fogged out as to what the intent is. However, there are times when you really need to check yourself and make sure you are not in a cult. The way to do that is to keep questioning everything and shining the light of academic discussion on it, and that is being done most of the time, but some great points have come up lately (by my friend David Long) regarding the personification of whatever the baseline of all existence is, often referred to as The Ground of Being or Oneness or God, even. The discussion (much of which is beyond my ability to understand right now) is over whether or not this ultimate thing that exists has any qualities at all which can be described. Some of the founder types claim that it does, and folks like David point out that if that is true it needs to be proven definitively, not empirically. From there, it becomes a mess, but given all that I know, I tend to side with David, yet think I have not read enough to see what the other side says.

    Overall, I like that the people involved with Integral Theory for the most part have the ability to question themselves and look inward instead of demanding acceptance of their beliefs like common members of a lower level movement (or even a religion) would do. I do wish the movement would work to get more involved and become more public with its solutions while adjusting the amount of "woo woo" accordingly to the audience. My intent here is definitely not to complain, and in honor of that, I do have a few suggestions and ideas that can further the movement and the use of its perspective:

  • Make seven websites, one for each stage of development in the UL quadrant. That would give a website for Purple, Red, Amber, Orange, Green, Teal, and Turquoise. Each website would present Integral Theory from that particular angle to people of that particular stage. It would give practical examples of how to use their own beliefs to become more healthy in whatever those are. It would also give clues and insights that are slightly above-stage, so as to create a small amount of tension for growth, while also referring them to groups of people that are like-minded, but guided or coached by someone at a higher stage, preferably Second Tier.

  • Create videos in the same vein, and even put them on these websites. In those videos, talk about worldly things such as politics, relationships, sex, parenting, and academics, but from those particular stages and in an Integral context. Most current material only talks about things from higher stages and just uses the lower ones as examples of how NOT to be or as ways of understanding people who are. They don't address the people who are in those lower stages.

  • If you are a teacher of any subject, fashion your teachings differently for different receivers at different stages. It is not as hard as one might think. I teach martial arts from an Integral perspective (see Integral Martial Arts, and for the most part the students in the class are all at Amber and Orange so it's not too huge a spread to deal with. That will be just as true in a high school History classroom.

    Ok, so there is three things and I could probably come up with more. My underlying point is I think the Integral movement should really get its hands dirtier and relate directly to people of all stages, changing its message and appearance for them as needed. The Sufis do this even to this day, and they are really good at it minus their own secretive nature. Thank you for reading and comments are always welcome.

  • Saturday, January 2, 2016

    Understanding context of Byron Katie's Work

    I recently read an article by Morten Tolboll found here, which discusses the pitfalls, drawbacks, and dangers of "The Work", which is a method advocated by author Byron Katie for working through personal issues. I am not familiar with Mr. Tolboll's background, but he seems proficient in the mechanics of therapy and has authored several books that deal with gurus and abusive therapies.

    Regarding my background, I am not a therapist, but rather a reader of many books and a practitioner of self-development for around 35 years who has used (and continues to use) various methods for working through that thing we call Life. With respect to The Work, I have used the technique and still do, for about three years to date, and I began such activities under the care of a licensed psychiatrist during a time in my life when I was experiencing a high degree of mental pain and anguish and required someone other than myself to help me sort things.

    Now to the meat of the critique! The lion's share of Mr. Tolboll's article rests on the fact that Katie's method is not original even though she claims it is. I will not enter into the fray of who is original and who is not, except to say that rarely is any idea original. Instead I will offer the counter point of: who cares? Certainly, it matters if for some reason Byron Katie is being deceptive or dishonest and roping people into abusive circumstances. Mr. Tolboll has a point there, if that is his point. However, the method can be separated from the person and looked at in isolation. So, as an unoriginal pre-existing method, The Work can serve as a tool in a toolbox. I think the detractors of The Work need to separate their critiques of the method vs. the person behind it.

    When it comes to a method such as The Work, the idea of a tool in a toolbox is important. As the old saying goes, "when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail." Mr. Tolboll's points about psychological damage and use of The Work by people with mental illness could hold a lot of merit if those people intend to drop all other therapies or tools for their care. Even in my own care for run-of-the-mill therapy without diagnosed illness, I saw other things along with The Work, such as talk therapy, Robert Keegan's method in Immunity to Change, and other sorts of personal inquiry. The combination of techniques is what produced lasting shifts, and The Work (for me) functions as an excellent maintenance program.

    What I want to convey here is that just because a method is bad (in the therapeutic sense) in certain circumstances for certain people, that does not mean it is a poor method in every situation. My claim here is anecdotal with n=1, i.e. just me, but I am putting it out there for those who may benefit from it. If you take care of yourself properly and you get the professional care that you need, I see no reason why supplemental use of The Work is dangerous, and quite the contrary, it can be (and has been for me) helpful.

    Having said that, I want to draw attention to a foundational principle in The Work that makes it what it is, and I think Mr. Tolboll misses this completely in his article as he pontificates about the possibilities of practitioners condoning violence, genocide, and abuse while turning it around on themselves. The foundational principle is that The Work only deals with NOW.... not the past, not the future, and not some larger world-wide Now that encompasses all of humanity. No. It deals only with whatever is in the practitioner's awareness, right Now. So if you cannot see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, touch it, etc., it does not exist for you in the present moment. What does exist for you in the present moment, however, are your thoughts as an never-ending stream of babbling in the background and often the foreground too. This is what The Work addresses, and it addresses them by making a person notice that the thoughts are just thoughts, and that without them all that exists is everything else in your perception right now. 99.9% of the time, all that other stuff in your perception right now is just fine and dandy. Waking up to that and enjoying it without worrying about the thoughts that keep kicking you out of the moment is what The Work can accomplish.

    This however does not mean that a person's way of dealing with the other 0.01% of the time when the shit really hits the fan will necessarily change. When your Now truly sucks, you deal with it. When someone cuts you off the road and you nearly go into a ditch, you swerve and try to gain control of the car. All of your being is awake to that and working toward it. In that exact moment of freakout, you are not thinking about past or future or how it's really your fault that the accident happened, if it even is. Nope. You are trying to stay alive. For all those times when practitioners of The Work are documented in Katie's books talking about The Holocaust or other horrible events, those events are not Now, and that's the point. You can be stressed about an event that happened 70+ years ago and wind up producing cortisone which will mobilize fats from your cells and begin to clog your arteries, or you can realize that the stress is a thought and that the event you are worried about is not happening right Now, in your perception.

    Once again, I am not a therapist, but I will venture to assert that all mental trauma in "normal" people arises from thoughts about things outside of current perception, and the resulting symptoms are due to people stressing over and believing in those thoughts. Existing in the present moment does not mean that you stop thinking and refuse to deal with those thoughts. On the contrary, it means you DEAL with them, right Now. You look at them and study them with respect to the present moment and then see what merit they hold and if they are real or not.

    The article by Mr. Tolboll also talks much about the abuses perpetrated at Byron Katie's School for The Work, a 9-day intensive retreat where practitioners work through their issues. Having never attended that event, and not being what Tolboll would classify as a "follower" of Byron Katie, I cannot attest to the accounts he gives. I have no reason to disbelieve them, and they seem disturbing as read. It is good in any sense before getting into a group that you look for and understand the signs of cults and make sure you take care and act cautiously if you see signs. I found it to be a good warning before getting into one of those retreats, but once again, The Work as a method is not the retreats, nor is it Byron Katie, nor is it the only such tool for personal development and care.

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    Acknowledging All of Existence

    If you read the earliest articles in this blog from five or six years ago, you will notice some posts that deal with fairly esoteric stuff. During that time period, around 2008, I was trying to work out some of the leftover trappings of my juvenile and young adult years, when I was what Ken Wilber would describe as embedded in a Red or Magic Stage of thinking. Even into my time at the next Stage, which is Blue, I clung to many of the items described here, and it was not until my major crisis that took me to the Stage after that, Orange, which I divorced myself from all matters esoteric. I swore by what could be seen and determined scientifically.

    It was a healthy separation. My life was not good in the days when I paid attention to esoteric matters. It improved several-fold once I just denied everything in those "realms" and simply existed in the Now. I put a much-needed separation between me and those things. I understood that some people still needed them, but they were at a different place, albeit an equally valid one. That was my Green Stage.

    It was this article by Ken Wilber that recently hit me. It's one of those things that you've read a hundred times, but you never actually "see" it until you are ready. In this article, Wilber talks about the stages of meditation that are experienced when people practice regularly. The overall theme is that in open meditation you observe and take into account all of existence at once, and then you detach from your identity and witness everything. Well what struck me this time is that the Subtle level of existence, where all your garden variety ghosts and ghouls reside, is part of that totality of existence! If you separate yourself from it, or deny that part of existence, you are denying a real part of it.

    The interesting thing is that as I come back around to this again, I am seeing it differently. No longer am I embedded in the horrors of that Subtle world. Instead, I see it as part of me. I AM that world, just as when I look up at the sky and the clouds drifting lazily by, I am that too. How can you be all of the physical things in the "real" world and not also all of the things in the "dream" world? The witnessing presence encompasses everything. Oneness includes everything, and nothing.

    Saturday, August 10, 2013

    Personal value: What is it?

    As I struggle with this question lately regarding my own value, an interesting thought opened up a new avenue for me. I thought I would share. Keep in mind I'm not talking about monetary value here, but rather I am speaking about someone's value as a human being.

    You know how when someone puts a tiny baby into your arms, you instantly love it, or at least charmed by its utter baby-ish-ness? Why is that? What is it that we are loving? The baby hasn't done anything. It hasn't earned any grades or money. It hasn't gone to medical school. It hasn't saved any lives or ran for political office. At that point, the baby really hasn't done anything except doing what babies do. It is a tiny lake of consciousness unaware of itself.

    So what value does it have? What is that spark of something in that baby that we value? Why does nobody ever say, "I hate this baby because it won't pull its financial weight by working at McDonalds!". The baby is PURE value, inherent value. It has value just because it does! It has potential, like a coiled spring waiting to be unhitched. You never know what it can do, and you may never. It is a mystery.... a tiny infinity. In that sense, the baby is a little window into the deep underlying ocean of the unseen part of the Universe, which has unfathomable value.

    This begs a question: at what age does this value disappear? 6 months? When, as Bill Cosby put it, it gets to "the age when God puts odor in its poo"? Upon entrance to kindergarten? Whatever your answer, I ask you what exactly is it about that age which makes you say this value has receded, and that this person who was once a baby no longer has value or as much value as that infant did? Why?

    I think the answer is no age. I realize now that this value never leaves. I still have it. So do you. Inside, we are all still a lot like those little babies were. We don't need anyone to believe that or tell us that. It just is. Moreover, it's true whether we earn a million bucks a year, or whether we sit on our asses work at nothing all day. The mightiest business mogul and the most destitute quadriplegic have the same connection to that endless pool of inherent value. One of these people has more money and power and influence, but both were cute little infants once who had not done anything yet, and neither deserve less inherent human value.

    The things we do and the money we earn are trappings, much like the jewelry that hang from the neck of a Princess or Priest. They make us look shiny, and yes, some of us are much shinier than others, but it's a false shine. Some have trappings of evil and hatred, but they are still just the trappings, not the body beneath. It is the exact opposite of putting lipstick on a pig. You can put mud on it, but it's still beautiful. You can hang a price tag on it, but it's still priceless.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    Raising children without God

    There is definitely much value in this article for its logical approach. Lying to your kids is not the way to go because it betrays your core sense of values, no matter what they are. If you don't believe in god, it does more harm than good to tell your kids that you do, because they will sense the lie, and that will have other consequences for them.

    But if you do believe in god, or some other thing, it is important also to realize that children live in a world of magic and myth. It is part of human development. They have to go through that. That is exactly why human cultures have mythology, for teaching children the rules of society and how it functions, and for explaining the way things work in a non-scientific sense. That basis is necessary for the child to have in order to go on to a rule-based sense, and later an achievement-based sense of things.

    Many adults never leave the mythological stage of development, hence your religious nuts, but doing away with that stage of development all together will get people stuck. It's necessary, although unfortunate when development arrests there.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Perspective - Absolute stillness, or Becoming?

    Today I was reading some book reviews on Amazon. I will not say what the book was because I have not yet read the book and do have some doubts about it, but I read a very interesting comment in the reviews. The criticism was that the book talked both about the Absolute Stillness and unchanging non-duality of the Universe, but in the next few chapters it started describing how things evolve, and that there is an unfolding to the Universe. The commenter exclaimed that the book must be nonsense because it contradicted itself. How can the Universe be this stillness and at the same time be evolving?

    My immediate thought was, "This is a criticism?"

    It really all depends on what perspective you are talking about. Physicists rely on perspective all the time to talk about relativity. Is there any problem doing that with spiritual matters? I think it's essential.

    The Universe contains everything and exists everywhere so it exists both inside and outside of time. So I can think about the Universe from both of those perspectives. If I think about it from outside of time, the Universe is Absolute Stillness/non-duality. That non-duality contains everything there is. This includes time. Granted, ALL of time, from beginning to end exists in this non-duality as one eternal moment. Perhaps when thinking about it like this, it's more apt to call time a dimension, just like length, height, and depth. It's all there, all at once. It doesn't move. When I'm standing in the Absolute Stillness, that is Reality regarding time and the Universe. There is no change. There is no evolution. Everything just is.

    Now shift perspective to inside of time. Naturally, this is a much narrower perspective because it can only contain things that exist in time: things with beginnings and endings. Nevertheless, our minds live in this perspective so it's the easiest one for us to grasp. Within the perspective of time, the Universe DOES change and evolve. There is Becoming. There is an unexplainable urge to go somewhere and do something, to Become, to Change.... or to fight against those changes, depending on where you are. Movement through time is an effect. It is not an absolute. Our perspective creates the movement.

    Look up the Doppler Effect. You have experienced this when a car in oncoming traffic beeps its horn. As the car moves toward you, the pitch of the horn seems to go higher, and as the car moves away, the pitch of the horn drops. Is the pitch of the horn REALLY doing this? It depends. For you, from your perspective, it is. From the perspective of the person beeping the horn, it is not, because they are moving with the sound waves and they experience no change in pitch. Reality can look very different from different perspectives, even scientifically.

    The same is true about the nature of the Universe.