Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 24, 2018 - Ah, to Be Open

Ah, to be open. To be free. What must it feel like to be unrestrained by our past, our fears? How does one behave when balanced? Of whom are they not afraid?
I wonder about my fears. I wonder what purpose they have. My first leap of faith growing up was the adoption of the belief that everything happens for a reason. What if it were true? I’ve lived my life by that thought for as long as I can remember, longer even than understanding it was really my faith I was declaring in the concept.
I ask again. What if it were true? What if everything happens for a reason? Then what? Where does that thought take us? Shall we decide that by ‘reason’ we mean ‘purpose?’ I have decided that for myself, but you should decide your own opinion on the matter. Not all reasons are good. What have you decided about the nature of purpose? Is the purpose good? Decide.
Could you live your life as if literally everything you see, touch, know, understand and misunderstand has a purpose? What does that change about how you feel? About what you do? How does one behave when balanced?
How does one? I have only my imagination to guide me and the teachings of people I admire. The many-faceted voice of the greater village around me nudging and cajoling and prodding my understanding of how the world works and why. It’s all a wave to be surfed.
I have always assumed that meditation is what I need to answer the question. A regular diet of steady stillness and it’ll all come to me. I’ll understand what balance looks like, and then work toward it, if only I sit down for a minute and close my eyes and breathe. Maybe it would. I wouldn’t know. I am an irregular meditator at best.
I choose to infer that if everything has a purpose, and a good one at that, then love must be at the center of it all. If love is at the center, then there aren’t two side to this coin. There is only one. I think perhaps that might very well be the first thought of the concept of balance. Balance isn’t a physical accomplishment achieved against the force of gravity, like a coin rolling on its edge. Balance is the recognition and attention to the implications of no gravity at all.
Now what the heck does that mean? I ask as I write. I ask as you ask.
When we think of the world and how it works we imagine it to be about the forces of good versus evil. Every coin has two sides. We see life in terms of yin and yang. This is the rudimentary way we begin to conceptualize balance. We can’t forget that gravity plays an important part in our metaphor, even if it doesn’t serve us. But perhaps this too has purpose. Enlightenment is running. Walking comes first.
We’ve done enough walking. Let’s shift humanity to at least a canter.
We’ve outgrown the old metaphors for the concept of balance. It is a misdirection to conclude that darkness and light exist in equal measure. Darkness is not a thing of its own with an intelligence and an agenda. Darkness is merely the absence of light. Even a birthday candle would banish it utterly. The old metaphors are giving darkness too much power over our decision making and our progress as a society.
How does one behave when balanced? When open? The problem is the word balance. There is no lack of gravity to the word balance. It is inherently weighed down with meaning that no longer serves us. Let it go. When we open a door some things leave as well as enter.
What we seek when we use the word balance is a state of peaceful neutrality. We are yearning for a lack of pull in either direction even for a moment. Just float. Use your mind to direct the flow. Don’t fight the current with your arms and legs. Become one with it and trust your thoughts with the rudder.   
Balance may be the fuller acceptance of the idea that everything happens for a reason. We fight against it. It feels like the relinquishing of pride, submitting to defeat. The Islamic concept of submission is useful here. Submission in the Muslim world is not about achieving a state of powerlessness and servitude before God. It is a willful absorption into the Greater It.
A deliberate openness to the experience and flow of what we attract to us might be the “work smarter, not harder” path to personal peace. I guess I’ll just have to be open to it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 17, 2018 - The Happy Difference Between Morals and Ethics

What is the difference between morals and ethics? A look in the dictionary provides no meaningful distinction. Various entries for the word ‘ethics’ often utilize the word ‘morals’ in their own definitions. Philosophers describe each in nuanced, often poetic ways.
Since the definitions themselves are moving targets, I’ll offer my own based on their word origins. Morals are human. Ethics are humane.
Cultures tend to define what is “moral” for their own purposes. Sometimes these purposes are truly beneficial, sometimes they are primitive, or restrictive beyond prudence. It might be helpful to think of the term moral by contrasting it with what we consider to be immoral. Literally, the word immoral means non-conforming to standards. Early uses of the word referenced the importance of manners far more than the value of goodness.
The word ethics, however, has a different provenance. Ethics derives from the Greek word ethos. It’s a conceptual term regarding our character. Centuries later, its Middle English descendant, ethik, took on a new duty-oriented meaning as the study of morals.
From these we see that a “moral story” is an ethical observation of a character’s character. It is an exercise in attention. It says, “Look here. Pay attention to what the character does when faced with an ethical dilemma. Observe and learn and remember.”
It puts into perspective that morals are always subjective. They are an attempt by an individual or a society to reverse-engineer a route to ethical enlightenment. They are human constructs, mostly well-intended. Yet they are vulnerable to abuse. Be mindful.
I find that morals are fascinating sociological curiosities. Every culture and subculture has its morals. Every street gang has an honor code. Every orthodox religion has a dress code. Each reveals what they consider to be not only what’s most important to them, but also in what they place their faith.
Every moral rule has a source and an intended purpose. Looking at them objectively is the best way to extract their intrinsic meaning, their universal value. Modesty often plays a part in the development of morals. Is modesty bad? No. But each culture defines what it considers to be modest for itself according to the direction of their society’s intended focus. Look up, not down.
Religions are especially regulatory in this regard. Their interpretation of scripture often leads to the development of moral laws with sexuality firmly in mind.
Religion knows that we are biological and human. It seeks to nudge us to look past our fleshy humanity through the religious action of covering up our physical bodies and their demanding physical desires. Modest clothing is an action of intent to focus on something higher.
I am not in judgement of anyone for their clothing choices. Merely pointing out that some cultures use clothing as a tool for achieving higher thought. Some accomplish the same through nudity.
Judgement is both discouraged and of course widely practiced by religion. But there is value here as well. Notice what you judge and wonder why. Notice the same about others. Be compassionate and open minded as you observe. There is gold here to be found.
Morals teach us to nourish rather than feed. Ethics teach us to do our best to nourish others. Knowing this can help us develop our own individual morality guidelines. Where do we feed our lusts rather than nourish our souls? What “moral code,” essentially, must you place on yourself to walk past the Twinkie aisle in the grocery store without indulging?
Ethical standards do not vary. They are uniform to all humanity, all life. Our morals are culturally-specific tools intended to reveal the universal ethical standard within us. Equality is ethical. Health is ethical. Empowerment is ethical. Respect is ethical. The happy truth is that it’s simpler than we give it credit for. Be good. Be fair. Be curious. Be well. Namasté.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 10, 2018 - Healing the Pain of Being Human

    The struggle is real. It’s not in your imagination. You have not failed at anything. You are not being punished. This is a universal experience. Being human is painful. A faithful heart feels the pain while sensing the purpose. Nothing is in vain. No time is being wasted. All shall be well.
    We addict ourselves to things and people and circumstances to forget the pain of being human. To obliterate it from our cerebral cortex for just a few moments at a time. That bliss. It’s false, but so close. It’s junk food, not veggies. But the drive to forget can be so strong, the fear so profound, we make tragic choices in the effort to just taste — however briefly — our connection to Source. When we suffer, we seek it even more.
    On some level, I feel we know we are more than we appear. We are larger than we can see. Science understands electromagnetic fields at least to the point where they can detect them and see them interacting as they overlap. The human body is electromagnetic. Is our field part of us? Am I really 5’10”? Am I taller? What does my field do when I am near someone else? Is it having a conversation with their field? Though I know not what it all does, there is more to me than me.
    Why does over 80% of humanity believe in a higher power or unity theory of some kind? When do people ever agree that much about anything? Some could conclude that we are having a collective delusion. I’d prefer to think of it as constructive delusion, if delusion it be. Something which improves the quality of my life just to ponder it. Statistics agree.
Frankly, I find it harder to believe that all life is somehow not connected. But why? I don’t know. Somehow, something in me nudges me to believe in certain things unseen. I am not alone, far from it. The vast majority of humanity feels the same in one form or another. We conclude there is more to us than us.
    So what are we experiencing when we seek to heal the pain of being human? I suspect it is the desire to remember more lucidly that we co-created the tests we take. We are trying to remember that we are neither weak, nor powerless. We want to touch our divinity. Some are better at it than others. And the more desperate the desire, the more vulnerable we are to choosing a junk food path to find it. But the desire is still the same, addict to monk. Our need to tap into the greater part of ourselves we feel we know is there. Like wealth in a bank account with your name on it. If only you could remember what bank it was.
    The challenge I suspect we are being given is the opposite of what we try so hard to do. The pain of being human is our classroom. We just don’t see it that way. We feel as if life is something that is being done to us. A harm we are experiencing. A victimization. It’s logical. That’s exactly how our biology is designed to react to discomfort. Nearly all of religion from ancient gnosticism to modern Christianity reacts to the human body as a vile and regrettable vessel unfit for the glorious eternal beings we hope we really are. But what if we gave our higher selves a little more credit?
    What if we treasured our humanity as some cultures do? What if we recognized that our difficult human experiences are tied to something larger, something against which we are far from helpless?
    I posit this not because I have achieved some kind of nirvana of the body or have a peace over all that happens around me. My humanity is painful too. But when I put the many pieces of faith and science together it makes me wonder. If there is more to humanity than its humanness, what healing might take place if we stop resisting it?
    The practice of nonresistance here essentially challenges us to welcome our humanity with the intent of using it as the pathway to understanding all that is not human about us. The irony is typical of all life, isn’t it? It’s a fractal of nearly every human learning experience. The thrill of being on a journey. The surprise of irony.
    To heal the pain of being human we must accept our humanity. Let it be our textbook for the divine purpose. There can be no failure if love is truly at the center of it all.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 3, 2018 - Forgiving Ignorance

As much as we like to think of it in these terms, ignorance is not a crime. Nor is it a sin. Ignorance is a condition. A treatable condition, at that. It exists as a self-sustaining vacuum, which is, of course, unnatural. It has to be falsely perpetuated. Much like the idea of cigarettes being good for your health.
Humans are curious. More so than probably any other life form on the planet. We often give credit to our opposable thumbs for our progress as a species, but our ravenous curiosity far outweighs thumbs in terms of usefulness. As much as it is our strength however, curiosity is also our most profound vulnerability.
In service to our thirst for data we allow ourselves to be constantly filled with information and have nothing but our principles to filter it. But principles, ethics and values are in a tenuous position. They thrive only in the absence of fear. Once we have been triggered by fear, the fight or flight mechanism engages and our principles often fly right out the window.
Ignorance to various information on social issues, of healthy living, even basic common knowledge is a tool used by, and perhaps even perpetuated by, power structures to gain financial or political ground. The poor and uneducated should be recognized for the victimization they experience. Failure to do so only fuels the continuation of old and unhelpful ways. As a society we should know better than to forget them.
A compassionate heart is not offended by ignorance so much as alerted to its presence and need. This is the spiritual practice of nonresistance. Recognize ignorance rather than resist it. Don’t silence it. Forced silence creates a sense of victimization over time. Victims behave in predictable ways and are thus taken advantage of by those who cultivate power without integrity. We should neither vilify nor sequester them. To enhance the continuing arc of justice our society we must serve them.
Ignorance, especially hatred, should invite advocacy, mentorship, education, support. We should gravitate towards areas where proper education and the development of critical thinking are lacking. The people of this nation must remove its head from the sand and identify those who need our help.
As the Information Age grows, so too do our backyards. Our neighbors grow in number and with them, grows our awareness that we are an utterly interdependent species. We survive only as a single, unified tribe.
Our society has been described in films and literature as both a virus as well as an immune system. Which is it? Likely both. Humanity has spread out over the earth, arguably conquering it with both its avarice and its spiritual teachings simultaneously. They could be seen to be relying upon one another. Is there purpose here?
Perhaps the bell we are trying to ring throughout the universe is that of heavy lifting. The deep value we achieve by a difficult, but successful process. How much more profound is knowledge when it is given with integrity in the face of greed? How much grace exists in the act of loving — and empowering — both our enemy and our neighbor?
If we are trapped by the ignorance of ourselves or others only truth will set us free. Serve and receive the tired, the poor and the huddled masses as we have been taught to do. This has not been our national tradition to date, but still, we aspire. So mote it be.