Keep These In Your Pocket

Life can be tough to navigate and deal with sometimes.  For my money it’s a good idea to have some tools & tricks to deal with the bugger when it goes pear-shaped, or gets weird.

I once read that the reason why Buddhism is given in lists (4 noble truths, 8 fold path, 3 root poisons, etc) is because the Buddha taught before such things were written down, and it is easier to remember lists.  Being as I have a terrible memory, I can really get behind the idea of keeping it simple.

To that end I think there are a few things everyone could use to keep handy.

A way to keep fit that you enjoy. For me that’s Aikido and Tai Chi.  Those have the added bonus of keeping me a bit safer too.  Tai Chi is awesome for its portability.  I also collect odd body-weight exercises that I can always do should I need a quick workout.

Some level of knowledge of how to keep your system fueled. Here I am thinking about a modicum of knowledge about food and how to make healthy choices.  I also have a simple food-plan I picked up from my active time in OA – three meals a day, no snacks, no sweets, no peanut butter, no pizza.  That combined with a basic fear of fast food keeps me well fueled.

A philosophical model/modality that helps you get through life. I keep a few basic truisms close to hand – “The map is not the territory”, “Opinion is not fact”, “We all see through our own distinct reality-tunnels”, and my personal favorite, “All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.”  I also like, “Don’t be that guy”, and (thanks to Diane) “Just be cool, dude.”  I also like Buddhism for compactness and a basic strong grounding in psychology, Taoism for simplicity, and the Integral Model for catch all applicability/orientation.

A way to connect to the truth. Atma Vichara and Meditation are my mainstays here. Atma Vichara you can find out about (my take on it) here.  For Meditation you can poke around my tagged posts here.  The vichara gets me zeroed in on the basic truth of what I am, and by extension since there really is not-two in this reality, the truth of everything.  That may be a bold statement, but luckily the truth cannot be spoken so i don’t have to bother to try.  😉  Meditation helps me develop equanimity and sharpens my awareness.  Two very useful skills for dealing with this wacky world.

What are some of your tools for getting along in life?  I would love to hear them!


The Three Faces Of Connection

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I am a big fan of the Integral Philosophical Model, or AQAL (short for All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types). It’s a large framework philosophy that claims to be able to hold just about all phenomena and fluctuations of reality. As far as I can see, it succeeds. It is easy with AQAL to examine something in a way that reveals interesting facets that might otherwise be hidden. One of my favorite facets is to look at something from the three major perspectives of I, We, and It, or first-person, second-person and third-person. With that in mind, I wanted to share something that I think is a fundamental spiritual practice that occurs in a great many traditions, namely: connection.

Connecting consciously and purposefully has a profound effect on one’s experience of a situation and goes a long way towards healing and promoting wholeness, or harmony. It is basically a fully acknowledged transmission, reception and acceptance between “self” and “other.” This act crosses the bridge between “self” and “other” in a flash and can create a space and opportunity to penetrate and influence each other to mutual advantage.

The category that pops immediately to my mind is second-person connection, or connecting in the “we-space.” In this case, we, as the “self,” connect with another as the “other.” This is where we take a moment to “get behind” the view of another, making space for their perspective and opening to an exchange of understanding. This can be a simple hug, a knowing nod, a smile on the street, letting someone cut in front of you in traffic, or sitting down to an honest and embracing conversation of depth with a loved one. It can also be the silent-timeless mind transmission between teacher and student.

No less profound is connection in the first-person, or the “I-space.” In sitting meditation, you open fully to the raw suchness of the moment. This “inner gesture” of Dr. Hubert Benoit is where we take up a position at the very core of ourselves and open to what we are experiencing in this moment with a sentiment of, “Speak, I’m listening.” Creating a great allowance, we settle at our very heart and let ourselves simply be with acceptance and attention.

Lastly, there is connection in the third-person, or the “it-space.” Here, we come face to face with the great system, Indra’s net, the web of life. We do not simply examine the physical world as we find it. Rather, we fully confront and engage what is, setting up a resonance that leaves an indelible mark on our soul and the cosmos at large. In a quiet walk in the woods, we are doing more than simply walking in the woods, but are instead walking with the woods.

Games We All Play

In life, we need to make distinctions. It’s how we get by in life. It’s how we survive. The capacity to tell the difference between an apple and a rock is very important when one is hungry. Whenever a distinction is drawn, an individual naturally favors one side. For example: When hungry, an apple is different, and better, than a rock. We, each of us, fall on varying sides of these value judgments depending on the situation: When defending yourself, a rock is better than an apple.

These distinctions then become rules for determining behavior. With the apple vs. rock debate, there are certain rules for the use of each in certain situations. These rules then get built up into games we play without even knowing that we are participating.

From Alan Watts in the book, “The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are”:

Society, as we now have it, pulls this trick on every child from earliest infancy. In the first place, the child is taught that he is responsible, that he is a free agent, an independent origin of thoughts and actions— a sort of miniature First Cause. He accepts this make-believe for the very reason that it is not true. He can’t help accepting it, just as he can’t help accepting membership in the community where he was born. He has no way of resisting this kind of social indoctrination. It is constantly reinforced with rewards and punishments. It is built into the basic structure of the language he is learning. It is rubbed in repeatedly with such remarks as, “It isn’t like you to do a thing like that.” Or, “Don’t be a copy-cat; be yourself!” Or, when one child imitates the mannerisms of another child whom he admires, “Johnny, that’s not you. That’s Peter!” The innocent victim of this indoctrination cannot understand the paradox. He is being told that he must be free. An irresistible pressure is being put on him to make him believe that no such pressure exists. The community of which he is necessarily a dependent member defines him as an independent member.

In the second place, he is there upon commanded, as a free agent, to do things which will be acceptable only if done voluntarily! “You really ought to love us,” say parents, aunts, uncles, brother, and sisters. “All nice children love their families, and do things for them without having to be asked.” In other words. “We demand that you love us because you want to, and not because we say you ought to.” Part of this nonsense is due to the fact that we confuse the “must” expressing a condition (“To be human you must have a head”) with the “must” expressing a command (“You must put away your toys”). No one makes an effort to have a head, and yet parents insist that, to be healthy, a child “must” have regular bowel movements, or that he must try to go to sleep, or that he must make an effort to pay attention —as if these goals were simply to be achieved by muscular exertion.

Children are in no position to see the contradictions in these demands, and even if some prodigy were to point them out, he would be told summarily not to “answer back,” and that he lacked respect for his “elders and betters.” Instead of giving our children clear and explicit explanations of the game-rules of the community, we befuddle them hopelessly because we—as adults —were once so befuddled, and, remaining so, do not understand the game we are playing.

Society, and culture, are machines for perpetuating these distinctions for the purpose of confirming and guaranteeing the survival of the society and it’s members. That’s one of the rules we play by: when danger or hardship is present, more numbers are superior. Hence, we gather into families, tribes, states, and nations in order to have a better shot at winning the game of survival. These distinctions and rules are reinforced by how we think and the language we speak, which further plunges us into unconscious participation in these games. The very way in which we speak, and the emphasis we use, ensures that these rules are passed on generation after generation.

One of the most basic distinction/rules we have as sentient beings is self and not self, or self vs. environment. Operating with this rule, we participate in the game of Top Dog – doing our best to guard against all others (not self/environment) to make sure we win. That is, of course, if our determination of good value falls on the side of self. If it happens to fall on the side of other, then we participate in the game of Subservient Victim – always bowing down to the whims and vicissitudes of life.

The sobering thing is that these distinction/rules predate the formation of language. Long before we communicated in a sophisticated manner, or at all, we made these distinctions. In fact, it seems like these distinctions gave rise to language, which now serves as a transmission tool for the rules themselves. This means that these games have no conscious design. They arose without anyone able to ponder the best way to construct and use them. The games have no designer.

So, here’s my idea: Game designers should re-write cultural programming and language. I’ve been involved in the game design and enjoyment world for quite sometime. Some games are much more enjoyable than others. Some games have a more pleasant outcome for all concerned than others. That’s because of the thought that went into their design. If we decided to consciously acknowledge the games we play, and the unconscious rules/distinctions that drive them, we might be able to find a game where the conditions are win-win rather than win-lose. We might be able to come up with some that is very easy to win. We might even come up with some where those who are not consciously choosing to participate would win as well.

I think that would make quite a world – One designed at the rules/distinctions/value judgment/language level to skew the chances wildly in favor of a solid and easy win-win. It might not be as exciting, but hell we’ll always have chess and poker and boxing for that.