Archive for November, 2017

Odd One Out

November 19, 2017

I’m vacillating between two topics, Michelle Obama’s recent concise advice to “focus on what you can control”, and a rather more controversial reflection on color discrimination across species. I sense there’s a linkage underlying the two subjects which may emerge as I write. We’ll see.

We have two mother goats of the Boer breed (white with brown and black markings around the head and neck) who were each impregnated by a handsome white billy and each produced twins. One set of a male and a female are shades of brown, the other of two males are opposites, one all white like his daddy, the other all black like none of the rest.

Knowing nothing more, if you were required to bet on which kid is the odd one out, how would you place your money?

Years ago when there was only one main prison facility in the state and I was teaching psychology in the New Mexico Penitentiary, an albino Black man in my classes wrote a paper about the unique discrimination of being an “oddity” within his culture. I’ve read that in some African cultures, albinos are considered to be evil, and are persecuted and driven out, if not killed shortly after birth. Albino individuals in Caucasian society are also at risk of suffering from humanity’s’ general intolerance for differences.

Have you now concluded that, as is the case, the pure white kid is the one who is pushed away from food, isolated and scorned, and the only one whom our dog actively harasses? Was the white one also your first bet?

I can discipline my dog to refrain from attacking and harming the white goat. I can do little about its isolation by the rest of the herd, beyond assuring that it gets enough food which, given the large pasture they all inhabit, is fairly well guaranteed.

By extension, does that mean I am right to focus my energies these days within my own world where I can have some influence, perhaps make small changes for the better without wasting energy on much of the larger political scene? I sign the petitions to those I think will listen, or who may be influenced by sheer numbers; I don’t bother with the ones I am certain will fall on deaf ears.

And I continue to wonder about the evident cross-species tendency to exclude, ostracize, put down and otherwise do harm to those perceived as “different”. Have we any hope, as thoughtful human beings, of altering on a large scale what appears to be a fundamental biological motivation? Is the current atmosphere of intolerance and defensive anger perceived in many countries around the world, simply a resurgence of basic human nature rather than a “swing to the right” or some other philosophical trend?

I have no answers. I do take comfort from following Mrs. Obama’s advice to “focus on what you can control”. Anything else is just a waste of energy.

The challenge, of course, is discerning what one can – and one one can never – succeed in controlling!20170727_092225

Hope Less, Be More

November 12, 2017

I’ve been trying to decide if I can write this reflection meaningfully, without first including the whole of Leslie S. King’s latest post, “Give up Hope” on The Inner Adventure. Finally I’m just going to start writing, refer to the lines that are most relevant to me at the moment, and encourage you to read her poem/post in its entirety for the images that may be more salient for you.

I have felt, of late, like the proverbial round peg in a square hole. Inundated with unpleasant, incessant, noisy and noisome news, arrogant attitudes, and pestering financial demands to support every cause that is under attack, every candidate promising to make things different/better for someone, somewhere. Trying vainly to balance quiet reflection and inward focus with the persistent shaming of “we have to resist”, “we have to fight back”, “we cannot afford to be cynical, or tired, or detached” from what is happening in politics and society, on TV and in sports, in all the venues that take place out there in time and space.  

How does one not react to outrageous public events? How achieve living fully in the present, when that present is perceived to be so ugly that one’s only wish is to escape it, shut it out, be other-where?

Enter Leslie’s poem, and the line that has echoed in my mind as the key to reestablishing balance, “When you quit hoping the rain will stop, you pull out your umbrella.” 

Hope entraps the attention into the time track, pushing us into living for a future that, one hopes, will be different and better than the present one is experiencing. Hope immobilizes. When I hope the weather will be fine tomorrow so I can exercise outdoors, I do not seek means to exercise on this damp and windy day, indoors.

Sitting and reading, instead of exercising, I come across another line, this one in the novel The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, an extraordinarily skilled writer I’ve only recently discovered. “I just sit where I’m put, composed of stone, and wishful thinking.” Two very different sources giving me the same message – wishing and hoping are not the positives they are so often presented as being.

A pessimist, expecting the worst, does not escape the immobilizing effect of seeming to live in an as yet unrealized future. An optimist can appear by contrast to be in a better space – but that is an illusion. Our minds may expect the best, or the worst, but in either case they are ignoring the present, the only moment where Being exists. In Being is freedom, wisdom, love, infinite capacity for anything and everything to manifest, and also an open umbrella, sheltering and protecting from adversity.

Knowing this Truth does not mean I am able to make it my everyday reality. I get caught, distracted, tugged into the noisy flow of mental concepts, wound tight and held fast by hope, anticipation, expectation – choose a word, they all essentially mean being dissatisfied with the present moment. Moment after moment of dissatisfaction turns into a life of regret, broken only rarely by flashes of contentment. Not how I want to perceive my life, whenever the end of it looms imminent and it becomes time to make final assessments.

The standard advice for countering discontent it to count blessings. Quite a fine thing to do, certainly, but still a mental exercise often accompanied by trips into the past and renewed hopes for the future. Back on the time track, no longer present with the moment that is here, now, pure essence without any overlay of mental constructs.

And they are so subtle, those mental constructs! What can be wrong with aspiring to______? (Fill in the blank with any achievement you choose). How conditioned we are, from earliest childhood, to think in future tense. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask of even the smallest of nursery schoolers. Rarely do we say to them, “Are you enjoying what you are doing in this moment, right now, right here?”

The Brutal Telling also quotes Pascal, “Most unhappiness comes from not being able to sit quietly in a room.” Sitting quietly, mind still or focused closely on what is immediately present, is a surprisingly rare skill, at least in the busy West where “doing” is given so much more respect than “being” (Yes, I hear you singing dear friend, doo be doo be doo). Despite the spread of various forms of meditation and Buddhist practice, despite the growing number of participants practicing contemplation on my spiritual program MasterPath, despite the Quakers who do sit silently in a room seeking “that of God within”, the predominant direction of attention in our culture is outward, looking back to learn lessons, forward to aspire for a better life.

I can’t help but feel that we are, collectively, rushing directly toward unhappiness and away from the only place where lasting joy can be found – right here, right now, in this moment. I know what it is to feel the joy of now, I have learned to expand now into what the clock measures as periods of time, but I recognize how limited my skills are, how much I still have to learn if I wish – and I do wish it – to remain permanently in that joy, permanently in now.

The first new skill clearly involves learning to revel in, instead of fear, the instruction to “abandon hope all ye who enter here”. Abandon hope, not because I am doomed but for the positive goal of knowing my Self as divine in this moment, complete and splendid right here, right now. Safe and sheltered whether I am in glowing sun, or serenely under an open, shining, divine umbrella.


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