Tag Archives: mindfulness

The Power Of Doubt

Doubt1

I have gotten into a bit of a funk since a recent David Suzuki article: Caribou science denial cripples conservation efforts (20180628). It underlines the power of doubt for me. The story links to a research article From Climate to Caribou: How Manufactured Uncertainty is Impacting Wildlife Management and discusses the many agencies (well beyond wildlife management, starting with tobacco and psycho-pharmaceuticals) that “employ a ‘multi-pronged strategy of denial’: deny the problem exists, deny its key causes, and claim that resolving the problem is too costly.”

What it raises for me is: Whom do I trust? And what is the nature of Doubt?

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed the nature and limitations of meaning, noting in particular that information is not the same as meaning and that too much information interferes with meaning. And as indicated earlier, one of the major ways we deal with this is to seek corroboration from a trusted group (the TIC process).

Another way we deal with meaning is by doubt, critically assessing the information as to whether or not it is consistent with what we already accept. Skepticism (specifically methodological skepticism) is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out truth from falsehood. In many respects, getting uncomfortable and willing to be uncertain, to not know, to ask questions, to err and to fail, is the best and only way to learn, and move forward. It is so much easier to be certain, and for some, being uncertain is a major source of anxiety — the underlying issue of fundamentalism of any kind.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes “Doubt is often defined as a state of indecision or hesitancy with respect to accepting or rejecting a given proposition. Thus, doubt is opposed to belief. But doubt is also contrasted with certainty.” Both aspects, belief and certainty, are fundamental to my concern. Doubt has been a basic structural component of the major ways by which we as a species have valued knowledge, especially in the past 400 years, that of reason (philosophical study) and expiricism (scientific investigation). Doubt was also a major vehicle whereby Socrates sought wisdom, and thus doubt as a useful process has extended throughout our recorded history.

The major difficulty however is that doubt require honesty! The essential problem of dishonesty is that it grossly exaggerates doubt, and thus the deliberate creation of doubt can become a weapon of discouragement. In our current Age of Information (and Duplicity), doubt fails us when our premises are distorted by dishonesty. We become overwhelmed by too much information, at the very least by the inconsistencies inherent in the processing of dishonest information.

I know of no way through this dilemma. I have also found it incredibly difficult to encapsulate this blog — an expression of how doubt impacts.

doubt2

I will fall back on two people:

  • Voltaire: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd!
  • Christian de Quincey, especially his book Radical Knowing where he talks of other ways of knowing beyond rationalism (the way of philosophy) and experientialism (the way of science): that of participatory feeling and direct mystical experience.
    • Both of these other ways are disparaged in our culture of scientific materialism, yet for me, both offer a way of knowing beyond doubt and certainty.
    • I highly recommend the writings of Christian, a philosopher of great integrity and wisdom, and like those who step out of the box, not well recognized.

Enough.

The Busyness Of Life

The Busyness Of Life

Anxiety3As is obvious, I have not been doing a lot of posts in recent weeks. Partly, I’m lacking inspiration, and partly, I’m unclear what else to add to what I have already written. I strongly believe that the many issues within global warming are simply the tip of the iceberg of our cultural immaturity and expanding world population, but until we recognize this, little will change. So I have been pondering what else to write, with little clarity.

For now, I have decided to do a weekly post (more or less), with brief comments on various links that come across my desk. This is the first of such posts, noting:

  • books I’m currently reading
  • social movement victories in the first 100 days
  • recent examples of global warming
  • the age of stupid

Books I’m Reading

A major component of who I am is that I seek an integrated worldview — I’m constantly assessing my experiences and my sources of information for consistency. I am not per se interested in accummulating knowledge; rather I want to experience and live more authentically. I strongly believe that:

A science that does not incorporate spirituality is dehumanizing;
a spirituality that does not incorporate science is delusional.

As part of this ongoing search, I am always reading multiple books at a time, largely because I get saturated with one book, and shift to another to clear my mind. Currently I am reading (I recommend them all):

  • BlindSpots: 21 Good Reasons To Think Before You Talk, by Christian deQuincey[1]
    • Christian was my research advisor for my PhD, and I have a deep respect for his clarity of thinking. BlindSpots is an excellent overview of the many ways in which we become confused about basic issues such as consciousness, energy, time, healing, et cetera. It is somewhat repetitive, but otherwise excellent.
  • Scotus For Dunces: An Introduction To The Subtle Doctor, by Mary Beth Ingram[2]
    • As part of my current exploration of meditation and contemplative practice, I’m studying the Christian traditions, especially the Franciscan traditions. John Duns Scotus was a brilliant theologian of the early 14th century, especially focused on a profoundly mature understanding of the relational character of God. In particular, he illustrates for me that human beings of other centuries were not stupid; they simply did not have our technological sophistication (nor, in many cases, our hubris).
  • Musicophilia: Tales Of Music And The Brain, by Oliver Sacks[3]
    • Oliver Sacks is a neurologist who writes about the many human issues that occur with neurological defects; other than his strong bias to equating mind and brain, I always find his writings to be very insightful. I’m especially interested in this book because, with my own neurological issues, I have little awareness of music — I have almost no response, cognitive or emotional (a point of sadness for me).

Current Comments on Global Warming

A recent article on CTV News Central and Eastern Canada face heavy flooding (20170505) describes the unprecedented rains and flooding occuring on the East Coast of Canada and the US. For me, it highlights the strange weather that is occurring — likely due to global warming (no one weather event can be proved to be due to global warming; it is on the trends of climate that are the main impact). Here, on the West Coast, our spring is very delayed — normally the streets are ablaze with flowering trees and shrubs, but currently theay are very muted or just beginning. For me, all this is simply the beginning of changes, many of which will be very difficult to accommodate.

It is so necessary that we respond to climate disruption in emergency fashion (see Blueprint For A Climate Emergency Movement), and I easily lose sight of progress. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the many articles about the Trump administration that simply incite anxiety — most of them are so illustrative of the need of the media to be theatrical, but some articles are important. The Top 10 Resistance Victories in Trump’s First 100 Days (20170427) identifies that progress is being made, especialy that groups are banding together to have a greater impact. For me, it remains a chaotic morasse without clear focus, more against Trump rather than defining a solid vision of the future, but it is much better than no response. The title ‘It can’t just be a march. It has to be a movement.’ What’s next for climate activists? (20170430) sums it up for me.

In contrast, I note the rise of populism (ant-intellectual political movements that offer unorthodox polices, frequently those that foster some kind of discrimination). Especially good is WATCH: Populism’s ‘backhanded service’ (20170505).

But it remains very difficult to get good information, the internet is so fraught with misinformation. As illustration, David Suzuki’s Research sheds light on dark corner of B.C.’s oil and gas industry (20170504) emphasizes how little I trust government these days. Currently we are in the midst of BC provincial elections, and I simply shake my head at posturing, and promises that likely will never be fully realized.

The Age Of Stupid

In Busy Is The New Stupid (20160720), Ed Baldwin notes I’ve found that the most productive and successful people I’ve ever met are busy, but you wouldn’t know it.  They find time that others don’t.” He notes the many difficulties that occur when we are too busy, and especially emphasizes “We’ve all been tricked into believing that if we are busy we are important.” From my perspective, much of this busyness also occurs because we are overloaded attempting to manage data (emails, reports, et cetera), rather than knowing how to organize information effectively.

Why we need to slow down our lives (20170430), Pico Iyer notes this massive influx of data, and proposes that we need a secular sabbath (given we so seldom keep a religious sabbath in our culture), “if only to regather the sense of proportion and direction [we will] need for when [we] go back online.” He also references an excellent TedTalk How Technology Evolves by Kevin Kelly. Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and an avid enthusiast of technology, yet notes “I continue to keep the cornucopia of technology at arm’s length, so that I can more easily remember who I am.”

In conclusion, I am reminded of a Zen story of the farmer who needs a horse. He is getting old, and now requires a horse so as to plow his fields. Bemoaning his life, he goes to the village master who says, “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.” So he goes home, somewhat dissatisfied. Yet the next morning, a stray horse shows up in his field. He goes to the master to express his thanks, and the master responds, “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.” Puzzled, he returns to his farm, plows his fields, and goes to bed. The next morning, his teenage son sees the horse, and attempts a ride, only to fall and break his leg. In misery, the old man goes again to the master, who again answers, “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.” Again dissatisfied, the old man goes home, to find the local army commandeering all the young men and boys for its battles. His son, with his broken leg, is spared. The old man is elated, and again goes to thank the master, who only replies “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.”

The single most important skill here, from my perspective, is that of mindfulness, just being present to what is.

So in the trials of life,

“Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.”

[1] deQuincey, C. (2015). Blindspots: 21 good reasons to think before you talk. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press (Kindle Edition)

[2] Ingram, M. B. (2003). Scotus for dunces: An introduction to the subtle doctor. St Bonaventure, NY:Franciscan Institute Publications (Kindle Edition).

[3] Sacks, O. (2007). Musicology: Tales of music and the brain. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf Publications

What To Do? (Part 2)

Suicide3This is the second post as I reflect on the issues of what to do about the complexity of global warming and the insanity of our culture, especially the increasing incidence of suicide in our culture. It is in response to two articles sent to me by a friend:

I strongly advocate that we are capable of greatness as a species, but we have much growth to do before that will occur — and since culture/society are simply a group of individuals, the change must begin at the individual level. So, in the meanwhile, here are my thoughts.

  • First of all, I applaud Goutham Kumar of Hyderabad for quitting his corporate job to use his skills to develop a series of organizations to provide for the needy. He has truly learned that the nature of service is joy, both for the receiver and for the giver.
    • However, I believe that there is a trap in this story. We have created a cultural myth of heroes who do the hard work of change in our culture, and while to a major extent, we applaud such action, we do not do the much harder work of correcting the systemic issues that necessitate the hero in the first place. It is like attempting to fill a bucket with water, meanwhile failing to repair the large hole in the bottom.
    • And for the many who do not find the resources within ourselves to initiate such change, either the stance of the hero or the underlying work, it can be a major place of discouragement. I suggest that such discouragement is a significant factor in the actions of those who choose suicide.
  • Second, we need a narrative that allows meaning and purpose. Ideally we need a cultural narrative that fuels our maturity as a species, one that will allow us to move towards a civilization that honors humanity (not power), while utilizing technology to supplement our needs, rather than dictate to our needs.
    • As we listen to one another, perhaps we can get beyond the fractious argument between science and religion, hopefully to recognize that both scientific materialism (SM) and religion have growth to do, that both contain truth, and we must learn to have power over power, not just talk about the issues. Commitment to authentic action is needed.
    • Unfortunately our fractiousness fuels much, if not all, of our difficulty to love our enemies.
  • Third, our culture of SM has placed us in untenable positions. We must give up this paradigm. There are other paradigms.
    • Most of us know that there is a problem with our civilization; however, The Climate Lie (that all is well) is active in many ways. It is very difficult to find honesty in the face of our cultural acedia and the duplicity of many political systems. Undoubtedly this fuels the despair that underlies much of the suicides encountered by my friend.
    • At the same time, the paradigm of meaningless requires that we, as individuals and as a species, must do something about the issue, when we have almost no power to initiate change. This imbalance of responsibility, accountability, and authority is very destructive to who we are as individuals.
  • At this point, I run into my own limitations, previously written about in a series of posts: Being a resource looking for a need. I have spent my entire therapy career attempting to influence the growth of others. I have learned some things thereby.
    • The most important stance is that of high intentional; low attachment. I can only do so much, and even there I need a supportive community to achieve change. I do what I can, and trust the process (im my case, I turn it over to StarMaker, my word for creator or God).
      • To the best of my ability, I learn from the outcomes I encounter.
    • I begin somewhere. We need to work our way into any problem — wherever is relevant. Again, I trust synchronicity will define where I need to go.
      • I accept that there is only so much I can do; I have my limitations, and I know when and how to say No.
    • I attend to my own self-care (this requires two-three hours per day usually). I often appreciate the caring of others, but if I do not care for myself, I am unable to care for others.
      • I do a daily exercise program (my yoga practice).
      • I meditate daily (mindfulness is an essential tool on life journey).
      • I write often (my blog is my major place for reflection).
    • To the best of my ability, I am a good follower. If I can support and contribute to the growth of others, I do so willingly.

 

What To Do? (Part 1)

Suicide2I have not made any entries for a while (aside from the anger emails); overall, I have been busy reading about the complexity of global warming and the insanity of our culture, and reflecting on the issues of what to do. I’m prompted to write now because of two emails from a friend who works for a university health service. In each, he provided an interesting reference, and also asks questions about what to do. I’m writing this post as a response to his questions, because I believe the questions (and my responses) need to be distributed to a larger forum.

In the first, He Quit His Corporate Job To Help His City’s Needy, my friend asks how do we get the message of community service across to our sleepy culture, mainly to the student population who will have to carry the work forward. Especially he is concerned with the increasing incidence of suicide within the student population. In the second, Love Your Enemies. What Does It Mean? Can It Be Done?, he reflects on the need to leave bitterness and hatred behind, wherein the author (Brother David Steindl-Rast) suggests a number of practical steps to circumvent entrapment in pain. In particular, the author notes that the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference (acedia in my language).

From my perspective, both enquiries are major comments on the immense immaturity of our species. Together we have created a civilization of vast technological brilliance, and one that is also intensely dehumanizing. As I have said on a number of occasions, “as individuals we are capable of immense greatness, but as a species we are psychotic.”

Two maxims stand out for me as to their importance.

  1. The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable (James A. Garfield), and then it will trap you our tendency to self-righteousness).
  2. We have found the enemy, and he is us. (Pogo, Walt Kelly).

I also fall back on a set of premises I learned when first at univerity:

  • If your conclusions are wrong, examine your premises.
  • If your conclusions are right, don’t trust your premises. They can still be inaccurate.

One of my truths is that we are a contentious species — we love to argue! (Frequently we call it discussion.) Sometimes, if we listen to each other, it leads to major advances. But most of the time it leads nowhere.

So a second truth for me is that we must learn to listen to each other. We all have a small part of the truth. And especially if we do not listen to each other, we often end up miserable. So my first response to my friend’s questions is that we need to develop systems of authentic listening — likely small groups meeting frequently where we learn to trust each other (Kumar notes that it was “not uncommon for him and his team to bond with those they rescue”). This requires some skill, offering a combination of listening and short-term resolution that satisfies the need for purpose — not an easy combination to develop in our fractured litiginous world. We must develop mechanisms for providing authentic hope.

As I have noted in previous posts, we have made power as the basis of civilization (two posts), not human needs. This has culminated in a society currently based on consumerism and neoliberal politics. Our paradigm of Scientific Materialism (SM) has identified a universe of incomparable beauty, but labelled it meaningless. From my perspective, it is no wonder that those who become lost between the cracks then commit suicide as an escape.

We have also created a world currently on the brink of disaster, including the possible extinction of the human species. We are engaged in a super-wicked problem of global warming and over-population, and as such, our engagement will often seem like two steps forward, and three steps back. We need to support each other in moving forward, not argue about moving back.

Can we recognize that paradigms are belief systems that coalesce to provide a vantage point for understanding reality? (Note: belief systems are not provable — they can be proven false, but never proven correct.) SM is not the only possible paradigm. It arose largely because the scientific method, principally initiated in the 13th century, proved more effective in explaining the mechanics of the universe than did the Ptolemaic methods of earlier days. More importantly, scientific materialism likely developed from the work of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), who dreamt of the “scientific conquest of nature for man’s welfare.”[1] (Note the theme of power!) But neither science nor scientific materialism disproved older belief systems; it merely provided better explanations, and unfortunately paved the way for the ill features of our modern civilization.

I am a strong advocate of the scientific method; I also strongly disagree with the assumptions of scientific materialism. In order to function well, human beings need to have a sense of meaning that gives them purpose. I have previously noted that my preferred paradigm is Panpsychism, but I cannot prove that it is a better paradigm — however, it does give me a vastly more comprehensive understanding of the nature of the universe. I have also noted that panpsychism suggests that:

God exists (as the totality of sentient beings), and that (as a component of this totality) each individual sentient being possesses free will. We each makes choices about how we live. In addition, God provides the opportunity (e.g., possibilities) for us to live well. Even if God does not exist or even if the universe is eventually found to be meaningless, each individual still has the option to act as if it is meaningful, and to create a myth that will allow him or her to live within what life offers—in a stance of love, in contrast to acedia.

So my second suggestion for my friend is that these small groups must also tell the truth — not that God exists, not that SM is wrong, but that SM is only a belief system, one that is currently trapping us on a path to extinction. That we must find ways to support people as they struggle to develop their own belief systems, ways that validate their ability to support themselves and each other while challenging the powerful forces that sustain SM and its consequences (and meanwhile stepping out of bitterness and anger at how our civilization has developed). Again, not an easy task.

To be continued.

[1] Tarnas, R. (1991, p. 275). The passion of the Western mind: Understanding the ideas that have  shaped our world view. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Living in A Mature Culture, Part 7

Glitzy and exciting, but  urban sprawl has major disadvantages.
Glitzy and exciting, but urban sprawl has major disadvantages.

Daily life in a mature culture — now that we have looked at the possibility of a Victory City, what would daily life actually be like in such a city? As noted, I am proposing that the high-rise buildings would consist of a large number of village-like settings, where people would actually live much of their day-to-day activity.

A reminder: these postings are simply my thoughts on what it would be like to live permanently in a mature culture; I present them mainly to stimulate your thoughts.

  • Each “village” would consist of three floors within a high-rise complex, each complex perhaps holding approximately 30 “villages.”
    • As such, there would be a communal living floor sandwiched in two floors of private living/sleeping quarters.
      • Much would be modular, both for efficiency and minimal environmental impact.
    • Most food preparation and eating would be within the communal space, or in more central cafeteria-style buildings within the city.
      • There would be an emphasis that such food be both nutritious and of very high quality (not at all like the typical cafeteria of modern life).
    • Each village would consist of about 200 people, likely about 50 families, interacting with each other. There would be about 125 adults (including late teens), and about 75 younger children.
      • There would be extensive day-care facilities for child care (approximately 25 per village, or 625 per high-rise); essentially the village would raise the children, and children would be able to attend every process of village life.
      • school-aged children (approximately 2000 per high-rise) would attend school in the high-rise common area.
      • late teens would attend some kind of college or university, of which there would be 5 – 10 in the city, with the possibility of outreach to other cities.
    • The “adults” would meet several times per week in small groups, perhaps 10 people each, for personal development. Each week, there would also be a variety of local governance groups planning the needs and development of the village community, and a number of meetings with other groups outside the “village,” planning governance on a broader level.
      • The adults would be engaged in work activity 25 hours per week, 5 hours per day, approximately half of which would be virtual meetings or some kind of activity that could be performed without leaving the local village.
        • Children of all ages would be welcome at all activities.
      • Given that the cultural narrative would be that of a permanent state of sustainability, then perhaps most of adult life would be lived out in these environment.
        • We would no longer live the current cultural model of continuous improvement and discovery (such living is not compatible with being the dominant species of a finite planet).

Your thoughts? Would this be too commune-like? Would this be too sterile? Both Rupert Ross (Dancing With A Ghost) and Louis Herman (Future Primal) have a lot to say about this.

Ross, when reflecting on “primitive” native culture, notes (pp. 103-108):

Each generation’s turn at the wheel might include performances better or worse than the last, but they would be essentially the same performance, with the same set and script and plotting. . . .

We post-industrial societies, in contrast, seem to run a cross-country relay race, passing the baton to a generation that will never set foot upon the ground we have covered . . .

There is a temptation to conclude that such a repetitive existence would be boring in the extreme, that it would feel binding and imprisoning.

I suspect . . .  no such sense of limits. . . . they [native peoples] may have perceived their lives as holding a virtually limitless scope for challenge and accomplishment. . . .  their lives did not center on building things, but upon discerning things. Life’s challenge lay in observing and understanding the workings of the dynamic equilibrium of which they were a part, then acting so as to sustain a harmony within it rather than a mastery over it. One aspired to wisdom in accommodating oneself

. . . they sought that wisdom not only to better ensure survival but also as an end in itself, as something in itself exhilarating.

Herman notes (Kindle location 7130):

Our wilderness origins fashioned our creative self-consciousness, which is both expanded and balanced by following the primal dynamic: face-to-face communication within a caring community of individuals, passionate for living and learning in a mutually enhancing resonance with the natural world. This is the truth quest, and it is our primal inheritance. We can ignore it, or we can cultivate it in all our endeavors and bring it into a creative engagement with the reality we find ourselves caught up in: a civilization rushing to self-destruction while displaying tantalizing possibilities of a more beautiful, joyful way of life.

As a therapist of 25 years’ experience, centered largely in my own emotional growth, I know that exhilaration. Personally, although such “village” life as I am describing would have challenges, it could also be immensely satisfying.

To be continued.

The Threshold of Anxiety in Global Warming

As anxiety diminishes, people engage more.
As anxiety diminishes, people engage more.

So what are the factors that block engagement in global warming?

In a recent podcast The Big Man Can’t Shoot, journalist Malcolm Gladwell identifies the need for social approval as a major factor in effective choice. Gladwell tells the story of a legendary basketball player with only one flaw: his success rate at free throws from the foul line was only about 40%. He was coached by a colleague whose success rate was 93%, and was able to improve himself to 87% — a huge advance and one that could make him almost unstoppable. The catch: he had to make “granny shots” — underhand throws rather than overhead shots, that are the standard of the league. And he wouldn’t do so — because he would look “silly.” Nor would other players, again because they would be breaking the unspoken norms of play — even though they would be better players!

What Gladwell identified was what I call the threshold of anxiety that must be overcome when one’s behavior does not match the common deportment of the peer group, the so-called peer pressure that exists within any group, even when unspoken. The threshold level varies from person to person, but always is a factor in the decision to act. This means that for any individual, a certain number of their trusted peers have to act in a certain way before they themselves will undertake the action.

Translating this to the need for massive mobilization in response to global warming, there is potentially a large body of the public waiting for others to act before they themselves will engage significantly. Many of these people will be those I identified in my last post as those people who are chronically overwhelmed by too much stuff. Salamon in Living In Climate Truth goes into more depth as to how individuals use intellectual denial, emotional denial, and tokenism to avoid action to maintain the Climate Lie that all is well, and someone else will resolve the issues. Or the individual believes that nothing can be done, and settles into low-grade cynicism, contaminating others in major ways.

Potentially when enough others have shifted into effective action, there could then be a snowball effect in response. But when? Will it occur soon enough to forestall disastrous effect?

I suspect not. To use myself as example, I started hearing about environmental issues in the 1960s and 1970s, and had enough background in science (degrees in physics and biophysics by that point) to know that we humans were doing significant damage to the environment. But I was “too busy with other issues” in my life. Fast forward to the 1990s when I had a small acreage in Ontario, land that I actually regarded as sacred — I knew “activists” who were challenging government regulations, but “I wasn’t an activist.” Then in 2009 when I finally got it, I was in deep despair for months, and only in the past year did my resolve crystallize. So if it has taken me this long, what chance do we have as a species?

Yet, if I accept this line of reasoning, it is likely that nothing effective will happen. I must act into the assumption that many are waiting in the wings simply for the snowball effect.

There is no question in my own mind that I am angry at the complexity and frequent ineffectiveness of my culture. I am not angry at individuals; I am angry at the systemic morass we have created — but if I allow my anger to take over, I will burnout. It’s a no-win situation. I’m very good at anger management, including my own. So, often I fall back on simple affirmations such as “Let Go; Let God,” or “High Intention, Low Attachment.”

What I don’t know how to do is how to get people to engage. Currently, I am reading Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga for some hints. Many days I’m convinced I am a slow learner.

Coming next: The nature of acedia.

Acedia underlies global warming

It's all too much.
It’s all too much.

Have you ever asked yourself how we have ended up with the problems of global warming? Or what stops us from solving these issues? We have avoided resolution of the issues for more than 50 year now. The superficial issue of global warming is technological, but what keeps us stuck is emotional?

First of all, the issues are incredibly complex; they overwhelm our political, economic and ethical systems (see Reason In A Dark Time: Why The Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — And What It Means To Our Future) — witness the repeated failures or only limited success of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change COP meetings, most recently in Paris, December 2015 — a non-binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C, hopefully to 1.5°C. Scientific American in April 2016 indicated “The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C” — and that does not include normal overshoot as the system stabilizes (see here for excellent visual representations of how all this has occurred since 1880).

But it’s only 1.5 degrees — so what. Well, look around at the superstorms and the changing weather patterns. They are only the beginning of potential “natural” disasters, at a temperature increase of less than 1.5 degrees. The earth is a very finely balanced ecosystem, with many feedback mechanisms to ensure stability, and we are exceeding the limits of these systems. It is likely that, by 2°C, we will have irreversible changes, including loss of at least 33% of all species on the planet (not yet us, though). By 3°, we could well be into run-away feedback loops that are not reversible, with almost certain loss of civilization for thousands of years, and perhaps our extinction.

But why? I know the issues are complex, and the propensity of modern life is to leave it to the experts. But why have we gotten to this dilemma in the first place? And why are we so passive about global warming? The scientific community is in agreement (at least 97% consensus), but the political morass wages on. Given all this, why do we not stand up and demand change? We actually do, in small ways: witness the Occupy movement, Avaaz, the many activists, but there is not the overwhelming process that we really need. Nor do the many small ways seem to be coming together in coordinated fashion.

So for the next few postings, I am going to be exploring what I believe is blocking us. Essentially I will propose that various features of acedia have been a major part of the problem.

It is possible that in the next few postings I will seem to be critical of almost every human being (including myself) in Western civilization. That is not my intention, but I do want to identify processes that affect almost everyone. Perhaps what I am identifying could be called “the elephants in the room that nobody talks about.” If you feel criticized, please understand that I have the deepest compassion for the struggles of living in the modern era.

The vast majority of people I know are good people — they do many good actions, but they are simply overwhelmed with too much stuff: too much information, too many demands, et cetera. In my book Acedia, I referred to a TED talk on apathy, and also suggested that the numerous subtle difficulties of modern life have become a form of trauma, constantly wearing us down. And in all this, to pay attention to the demands of global warming has just become another demand, especially when confused by the dis-information regarding climate change.

I believe that these people get on with their lives hoping that somehow the “experts” will eventually fix the problem, but I remain doubtful. Over time, I have moved to the stance advocated by The Climate Mobilization as noted in my previous post: the personal costs will be high, but the risks are simply too great.

I suggest there are three mechanisms at play:

  • collective behaviour of groups: in order to act (and overcome fear of criticism), human beings need to exceed a certain threshold of anxiety
  • acedia: a human characteristic is the risk of laziness, fearfulness, and/or self-righteousness as a way to avoid painful experience
  • evil: a more important human characteristic is that which deliberately sabotages movement towards health

In some fashion, acedia is part of all three. I will be commenting on each of these in the next few posts.

Coming next: The threshold of overcoming anxiety

Jamieson, D. (2014). Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — and What It Means for Our Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Global Warming: My Stance

I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.
I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.

I’ve been ill for the past week, still somewhat frail — it has given me an opportunity to think about what I really want, and why I am writing this blog. Succinctly, I believe that as a species we are on a suicide mission, and as a culture we are incredibly angry; you only have to look at the American politics to see how angry we are, and you only have to look at other situations to see how frustrated. I want to have a positive impact in changing all this.

Therapist: anger management

For almost 25 years, I taught anger management, and I was good. A judge would sometimes specify my weekend program as part of his judgments, to the exclusion of other better-known programs. A Probation Officer send me more that 60 clients for domestic issues over the years — he could only recall two who re-offended (after a while, he kept informal count, and eventually he gave me detailed feedback, published in my book Blowing Out The Darkness). Not all angry people end up with probation issues, but only two poor outcomes out of sixty is astounding.

During my career, I generally noted that my long-term clients fell into two groups. One group was very active in personal growth, and would change their lives in astounding ways; personal growth itself can be painful — these people would work through the pain, arriving at places in their lives where they were deeply satisfied.

My Acedia Clients

The second group was inactive. I came to characterize them as lazy and/or fearful. I am not intending to be pejorative, simply descriptive. By lazy I mean they would say they would do the work, and then produce no results other than excuses. By fearful, they would talk about how painful the work would be if they did it, and that they were afraid of the consequences (they were fearful — this was not fear!).

I eventually came to the conclusion that these issues were a broad reflection of their (unconscious) refusal to be authentic (so-called existential issues) and/or a refusal to engage in the profound beauty of life (one of my definitions of spiritual). I also know that I had no tools to offer — laziness and fearfulness were choices, and all I could do was to challenge the client to live authentically. (Actually, if the client accepted the challenge, the therapy became easy.)

PhD: Climate Change

After about 25 years, I recognized that I needed a break from my career, and the opportunity came for me to do my PhD at a university that emphasized authenticity. I decided that here was my opportunity to study laziness and fearfulness, and started on that journey. (I soon added self-righteousness, and subsumed all three under an ancient word acedia.)

Early in the course work, we were talking about the current state of our society, especially global warming. Given my first university degree was in physics, I easily understood the science and mechanics of global warming — I recognized we were on a suicide course, the extinction of the human species, no ifs! It is that serious. I was devastated, and it took me almost two years to get out of my despair (now long gone, but with residual sadness). So my dissertation became the relationship between acedia and global warming, eventually resulting in my second book Acedia, The Darkness Within, and the darkness of climate change.

Travels

For the next few years, I travelled, and saw a lot of the Caribbean, South America, and some of Europe. I also pondered one of my favorite expressions: “As individual human beings, we are capable of incredible greatness, but as a species, we are psychotic.” (Introverts, especially hermits, are very good at pondering.)

Global warming is a technological issue, but we do not resolve it. We have known about the issues for approximately 50 years, but we have continued on a path of denial and greed, such that now it might be too late. I hope not, and I intend to live as if it is not too late.

And global warming is simply the outcome of our hubris as a species. For perhaps millions of years, the Homo species has lived as hunter-gatherers. Ten thousand years ago (a drop in the bucket), we started to create civilizations through the dynamics of power. Eventually came scientific materialism, our marvelous technology, with hidden costs. And in our hubris, we did not want to pay the costs. Hence, we are where we are . . .

What I Want

About a year ago, after much vacillation, I decided this was not good enough. This is not how I want to spend my life, pondering. I have skills that are important to this whole struggle.

The world needs to mobilize its forces to deal with the ills of civilization. I can assist with this, although it is not my strong point. First, it must be mobilized to resolve global warming, likely at the level demonstrated in the States at the beginning of their direct contribution in the 1940s (see The Climate Mobilization). Second, we must create a more humane culture, one that honors the whole of the planet.

My skill is in being a resource to people who want to do the work. I believe there is a huge amount of anger in the world, even in the people who are doing the work. There is nothing wrong with anger, provided it does not lead to violation, but anger poorly managed leads to burnout, and burnout is not useful to doing the work. And I am very good at the management of both anger and burnout.

Next: What underlies global warming — the nature of acedia.

This post is part of what I am calling the core posts for understanding what I am attempting by this blog. For other core posts, click here.

The Power of Words

We are story-makers; we swim in language
We are story-makers; we swim in language

I value language; I value precision of language. I’ve often told people that “fish swim in water; human beings swim in language.” As such, language creates much of my world, and I need to be very careful as to what I am creating. Previous posts on sloppy language and shoulds were examples of such creating.

I’ve also said that if you want to change your world for the better, be meticulous with your language for six months. You will astonished by the changes that occur (and unfortunately, there will be some pain as well as great gain).

A colleague of mine, Janet Smith Warfield, is equally insistent of the power of words. She is the author of Amazon Best Seller: Shift: Change Your Words, Change Your World. She has graciously allowed me to re-publish one of her blog postings The Power of Your Words. Especially I want to note that, in a mature culture, we will likely return to valuing of the three ancient words she describes.

The Power Of Your Words

Janet Smith Warfield, 20131012

As a human being, have you ever noticed the words that come out of your mouth? If not, start noticing.

Your words demonstrate who you are. They can illuminate your character as fool or sage, lover or murderer, scientist or artist. Every word that comes out of your mouth has the power to heal or destroy. Sometimes, words do both simultaneously.

When you call someone a terrorist, you are not demonstrating your strength. You are demonstrating your fear. When you call someone stupid, you are not demonstrating your wisdom. You are demonstrating your low self-esteem. When you honor the beauty another has brought into your life, you yourself become beautiful.

The power of words has been taught through the first three of the Seven Liberal Arts [of antiquity]: Grammatica, Dialectica, and Rhetorica. Developed by the ancient mystery schools of Egypt and early Greece, they remain a foundation of education.

When taught by teachers of ordinary consciousness, they become deadly school exercises learned only at a surface level by the hard work of rote and repetition. When facilitated by highly talented educators attuned to Logos—the divine principle of order and knowledge—they transform words into exciting, creative, esoteric doorways to Wisdom, inner discipline, and purification of the Soul.

Grammatica pertains to the structure of language, its history, and the underlying energy of an idea. Nouns (chair, table, apple, tree) are immobile and passive. Our minds bring together an experience that we perceive as an object. We give it a name. Ordinary consciousness believes the name is the same as the object. Expanded consciousness knows that the name reflects something far more complex. The name is a human-created placeholder for a continually shifting experience. It stops the moving picture at a single frame so we can analyze it, understand it, and feel safe.

Verbs (run, sit, walk, fly) are changeable and active. They can create or transform our perception of time. We ran, run, or will run. Verbs pertain to the human will, choice, and action.

Adjectives (beautiful, sad, dysfunctional, harmonic) and adverbs (slowly, quickly, passionately, smoothly) bring emotion into our speech. They add expansion, contraction, and rhythm.

Dialectica is logical thinking. It requires us to speak clearly and see from many different perspectives. It allows us to move quickly from the depths of hell to the heights of heaven. It enables us to build word bridges between what appear to be opposites. Like Socrates, it asks questions. Like Zen Buddhist koans, it poses mind-bending puzzles.

Rhetorica is beautiful, persuasive speech. It uses passion and tonality, questions and pauses. Sometimes it tells heart-rending stories. Other times, it speaks through poetry or drama. It is the intention and power behind our words.

Notice your words. Play with your words. Choose them wisely to create the effect you want. Notice the results. Go back and reshape them to make them clearer, more succinct,  more creative, more intentional, and more powerful. As your thought becomes clear and your words become powerful, notice how effective you are.

Dr Janet Smith Warfield

www.wordsculptures.com

September 5th, Janet will be the guest speaker in a series entitled WE Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For… Engaged Spirituality Comes of Age, presenting Dancing With Words; Dancing With Wisdom,. I recommend it, as well as the entire series.

Community in a mature culture? (Part 2)

How could we be satisfied in a mature culture?
How could we be satisfied in a mature culture?

We are now the most important species on this planet, dominant in our capability to sustain it, or to destroy it. Up to this point in time, our “civilization” has been that of domination, and essentially unlimited growth. If we want to survive and thrive as a species, we have no choice but to learn cooperation and sustainability — this is the fundamental basis of a mature culture.

For me, this means:

  • We must have a sustainable population, likely 1.5 – 2 billion, certainly less than 2 billion people (my personal sense is that of about 1 billion). Currently we have more than 7 billion; how we are to reduce in number is unclear, and if we do not have clarity, it will likely be bloody.
    • Our technological skill is of major advantage in high-speed communication and sustainable energy management; but we must temper the ways in which it leads to competition and consumerism.
    • We must be sustainable. That means that there will be no such thing as garbage — all goods and end-products must be recycled. Our environmental impact must be minimal.
      • We must give up our orientation to “growth.” It is likely that there will no such thing as “for profit;” everything we do will be “non-profit,” sustainable and resilient.
  • Our current civilization is orientated to newness, almost in an addictive fashion — we call it boredom. We must learn the joys associated with the growth of wisdom; this in itself provides a deep satisfaction and exhilaration of living.
    • Ross and Herman (both mentioned in the last post) note the intense gratification that comes to being open to the present moment in the quest for truth.
  • We are designed for living in small groups, somewhere in the of range 50 – 200 people. We name such groups villages.
    • It is in these small groups that, optimally, we practice the first three of Herman’s characteristics: the pursuit of self-knowledge, face-to-face discussion, and direct democracy in action.
      • It is in the interaction of villages that the larger narrative emerges.
    • We are both competitive and cooperative by nature.
      • We must learn the skills of non-interference. We must learn how to manage our anger when our cherished beliefs are challenged by the diversity of a global village, both within our small groups and in our interactions with other groups.
      • My personal skill is that I know how to do this, and how to coach others in the processes necessary for this to occur.

I suggest that the central aptitude in all this will be that of personal self-care. If I as an individual am unable to take care of myself, I am unable to gift to others in an effective long-term fashion. The predominant skills will be those of mindfulness and journal-writing, skills that are slowly developing in our current culture.

In my next post, I will expand these characteristics into aspects of daily living.

Your thoughts?

To be continued.