jump to navigation

To See In A Special Way (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) June 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Helen Keller, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Philosophy, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This post-practice post for Monday, June 27th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

“A healing story is my term for the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it. They can be as simple as ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or as sharp as ‘How come nothing ever works out for me?’ Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

*

– quoted from “Introduction: The Mind-Body Relationship in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

What Matthew Sanford wrote about his personal story is true of all our stories: They are full of healing stories. These stories are intertwined with the stories of others and we often find ourselves in the intersection between the mythology and the reality, fantasy and fiction, the constructive and the destructive. This could be the “silence” of which Sanford also speaks – or it could be the shadow of the myth. Either way, we grow up in this in-between space and, at some point, we may realize that we can step out of the shadow. At some point, we may realize that we must step out of the shadow of the myth in order to move forward. Stepping out of the shadows of our personal mythology, however, often requires us to recognize that very little is as black and white as we thought it was and the only reason things seemed simpler “back in the day” was that we lacked awareness.

Of course, awareness can be painful, because it can lead to uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, as well as uncertainty. Awareness comes with the knowledge that no one is as perfect as they are portrayed in the story. The hero (or heroine) sometimes use their greatness to do and say really horrible and detrimental things. The anti-hero or the one that was demonized may actually save the day. Awareness can allow us to see cause-and-effect, in the past and (on a certain level) in the future. However, both hindsight and foresight require us to “see” clearly and to understand what we are seeing, which can sometimes be problematic. True hindsight and foresight require us to look at the facts (and the fiction) as if we are simultaneously viewing two sides of the same coin – something we can only do under special conditions and using a special tool.

Studying history can be the special conditions, but not everyone loves diving into a biography or a chronology. Even when we do appreciate history, we may only view it from one side – which means we still lack knowledge. Furthermore, our vision may still be impaired by our perception, which itself may be impaired. This is where the mind and mindful awareness come in, because paying attention to how we think (and why we think the things we think) creates the special tool we need to distinguish the difference between the mythology and the reality, fantasy and fiction, the constructive and the destructive.

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

*

– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

Yoga Sūtra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]

On a certain level, perception is one area where philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism dovetail with the physical sciences. All agree, in theory, that most of what we perceive is based on what’s happening in the mind and what’s happening in the mind is mostly based on past experiences. What we see/comprehend is based on what we have previously seen/comprehended. When there are gaps in our knowledge (i.e., where there is ignorance), the mind-intellect fills in the gap. What fills in the gap may not make sense to anyone or anything other than our mind-intellect. It may not even make sense to us, on a conscious intellectual level. However, we (often) accept what comes from our mind even when there is some part of us that says, ‘That doesn’t actually make sense, when you really think about it.’

The point is we don’t necessarily think about it. Or, we think about it in a way that makes it make sense – which is how confirmation bias works: we look for a reason to believe. We can say we all believe in the truth, but the truth is that we are all looking for something in which to believe – which is why philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism (and even some religions) have practices that revolve around being, rather than thinking.

Being and breathing, with awareness.

Vipassanā is a Theravada Buddhist meditation technique that has also become a tradition (meaning there are people who practice vipassanā, but no other aspects of Buddhism). It literally means “to see in a special way” and can also be translated as “special, super seeing,” “inward vision,” “intuition,” or introspection.” In English, however, it is usually translated as “insight.” This insight is achieved by sitting, breathing, and watching the mind-body without judging the mind-body. Part of the practice is even to recognize when you are judging and, therefore, recognizing when you are getting in your own way. It is a practice of observation – which is also part of our yoga practice. It is a way to parse out fact and fiction, myth and reality, and that place where they overlap like a wacky Venn Diagram.

I have heard that in Theravada Buddhism there are eighteen (18) stages or types of “insight,” which bring awareness to eighteen (18) pairs of opposites and create the opportunity to eliminate attachment to those dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns which lead to suffering. In some texts, this is how “opposites” are engaged, which is also a practice recommended in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. A connected technique in the Yoga Philosophy is svādhyāya (“self-study”), which includes the practice of bringing awareness to how one feels within a certain context. For instance, we can pay attention to how we feel – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually/energetically – when we learn different elements of someone’s story, as well as when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes: be it the hero(ine) of the story or someone inspired by them.

The following is a revised version of a 2020 post.

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

*

– quoted from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

Keller’s mother, Kate Adams Keller, learned about Laura Bridgman (who was a deaf and blind adult) from Charles Dickens’ travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. The Kellers were eventually referred to Alexander Graham Bell who, in turn, introduced them to Anne Sullivan (who was also visually impaired, due to a bacterial infection). Keller and Sullivan would form a 49-year relationship that evolved over time. Even when Sullivan got married, Keller (possibly) got engaged, and illness required additional assistance from Polly Thomson, the women worked and lived together. Keller would go on to learn to speak and became a lecturer, as well as an author and activist. Sullivan would be remembered as an extraordinary educator whose devotion and ability to adjust to her student’s needs is memorialized in school names and movies like The Miracle Worker and Monday After the Miracle. Keller (d. 06/01/1968), Sullivan (d. 10/20/1936), and Thomson (d. 03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

All of this is part of the mythology of Helen Keller and also of Anne Sullivan. All of this is part of the “healing story” that have inspired so many people, some of whom are considered “able bodied” and some of whom are considered “disabled.” And while these are the most well-known facts, they are only a handful of facts. They represent an oversimplified version of a complicated story about complex people, their convoluted relationships, and their controversial legacies.*

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.”

*

– quoted from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912) [referencing St. Clair McKelway, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle]

Helen Keller is notable for many reasons, but she was (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about her family history and some of her views. Her father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, a woman who was blind and deaf publicly wrote and spoke in favor of the idea that humans could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Eugenics has been scientifically debunked and is rife with basic humanitarian issues. At its core, it also exhibits a lack of faith in humanity and human potential. Still, history continues to show us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics. But/and, one of those mind-boggling examples is Helen Keller: someone who used their very public platform to support a theory that, in practice, would not have supported their own existence.

Again, that’s just one side of the coin. Just as no group of people is a monolith, no individual is one-dimensional. Hellen Keller herself pointed this out when she referenced the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich. She wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that each of us is connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside ourselves. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us in a functional/skillful direction – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

That’s the lesson of “insight.”

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

*

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel”]

*NOTE: Radiolab recently aired a podcast episode entitled “The Helen Keller Exorcism” (dated Mar 11, 2022). While I wrote the aforementioned details about Helen Keller a couple of years ago, with minimal context, this podcast featured the perspective of fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, who is persistently resisting people’s limited perceptions of her and the myth of Helen Keller. (It also provides some of the backstory about Helen Keller’s most controversial views.)

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us… Happiness is a state of mind, and depends very little on outward circumstances.”

*

– quoted from To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller by Helen Keller (with Forward by Jimmy Carter)

*

### OBSERVE YOUR OWN SELF – BODY AND MIND ###

Still Here (Even When You Don’t See) – a “renewed” post June 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Today is a tricky day, because we are going to celebrate. We are going to celebrate love and diversity even as some people seem to be on a mission to make it harder to show that love and harder to be a diverse society. Still, we are going to celebrate being human. The following is a revised excerpt from a 2020 post.

Making contact

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having

is

to be seen by them,

to be understood

and

touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is

to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

*

– from the poem “Making Contact” by Virginia Satir

For those of you who missed the memo: I am a huge fan of the work of therapist and author Virginia Satir. Born today in 1916, she is known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” and placed her work in “family reconstruction” and “family sculpting” under the umbrella of “Becoming More Fully Human.” She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, which was adopted by corporations in the 1990’s and 2000s as a change management model, and the Human Validation Process Model. Similar to other existential therapist (although I’m not sure she ever used such a label), Satir found that when people came into therapy the presenting, or “surface,” problem was seldom the real problem. Instead, her work revolved around the idea that the real issue was how they coped with situations in their lives. Additionally, she documented that people’s self-esteem played a part in how they coped with conflict and challenges. So, here again, the issue comes down to functional versus dysfunctional thought patterns and how those thought patterns manifest into words and deeds that alleviate suffering or cause suffering.

When Satir worked with patients she would utilize role playing as well as meditations. The role playing was to get family members to consider each other’s perspectives and, in doing so, cultivate empathy and better understanding. The guided meditations were a way for people to recognize that they already had (inside of themselves) the tools/toolkit – or abilities – needed to overcome challenges and obstacles within their relationships. They also empowered people to use the tools that were inside of them, and to cultivate those tools. However, Satir did not see her work as being limited to “traditional” families; she believed that if her work could heal a family unit, it could also heal the world. They key, again, was offering people that “greatest gift” and figuring out what people really wanted and/or needed.

“It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”

*

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Satir was born on the anniversary of the birth of the award winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who was also known as Sai Zhenzhu. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892, Buck spent most of her life in China. Her experiences in China, both as a young child of missionaries and as an adult, resulted in a plethora of novels, short stories, children’s books, and biographies that exposed Western readers to the people, culture, and landscape of China. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck was a humanitarian who wrote about everything from women’s rights and immigration to Communism, war and the atomic bomb. Her work was a form of activism, but she didn’t regulate her actions to the page alone. When it came to Asian, mixed-race, special needs, and international adoptions, Buck was more than a writer – she was a parent. In addition to advocating against racial and religious matching in adoptions, Buck adopted six children of various ethnicities and nationalities. (Previously, she had given birth to one special needs daughter. So, she was a mother of seven.)

“I was indignant, so I started my own damned agency!”

*

– Pearl S. Buck explaining why she started Welcome House in 1949 (after multiple agencies told she could not adopt Robbie, a mixed race 15-month old boy, because his skin was brown)

Pearl S. Buck co-founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, inter-racial adoption agency (with author James Michener, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, and interior designer and decorator Dorothy Hammerstein); established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to support children who were not eligible for adoption, and opened Opportunity Center and Orphanage (aka Opportunity House) to advocate for the rights of orphans in South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Buck believed that families formed from love (as opposed to blood, race, religion, or nationality) and that they were living expressions of democracy – something she felt the United States could not unequivocally express during the Jim Crow era.

In 1991, Welcome House and the foundation merged to form Pearl S. Buck International to continue Buck’s legacy. However, like so many historical figures, that legacy is complicated. She was (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about her family history and some of her views. Buck was described as “a thorn in the side of the welfare establishment” and her award-winning novel The Good Earth is considered by some to be literary propaganda.*

“What lingers from the parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”

*

– from Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Take another look at the poem at the top of this post.

No, don’t read it… just look at it.

What do you see? More specifically, who do you see? Granted, your device, your eyes, or even your brain may not see what I see. But, consider what you might see. What if you saw yourself? What if you saw someone you loved? What if you saw someone you didn’t like? Even if you don’t see what I see, the underlying meaning is the same: Right in front of you, there is an individual, with open arms, wanting, needing, and waiting to be seen.

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

*

– Virginia Satir

*

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

*

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 26th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “0626022 Satir & PRIDE”]

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

*

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

### STILL HUMAN ###

Celebrating(,) Being Humans (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Monday, February 7th and Tuesday, February 8th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Over the years I have developed a picture of what human beings living humanly are like. They are people who understand, value, and develop their bodies, finding them beautiful and useful. They are real and honest to and about themselves and others; they are loving and kind to themselves and others. People living humanly are willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, and to change when the situation calls for it. They find ways to accommodate what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.

*

When you add all this up, you have physically healthy, mentally alert, feeling, loving, playful, authentic, creative, productive, responsible human beings. These are people who can stand on their own two feet, love deeply, and fight fairly and effectively. They can be on equally god terms with both their tenderness and their toughness, and can know the difference between them.”

*

– quoted from”1. Introduction” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

What does it mean to be human? That’s not exactly how I phrased the question on Monday night, but my meaning was the same. What makes our individual and collective experiences distinctly human – as opposed to something else? Great minds throughout history have given a lot of thought to such answers and come up with some of the same answers that people offered on Monday night:

  • Part of being human is being in a community.
  • Being human means we make up stuff, tell stories.
  • Compassion is part of being human, but…
  • Holding grudges is also human.
  • Being human is complicated. (Shout out to Sheeren Marisol Meraji.)
  • Humans are imperfect; we make mistakes.
  • Messiness is part of being human.

We can add to this list all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis (“powers”) that are described as “unique to being human.” But here’s the thing; I often question if any of these things – on their own – are distinctly and uniquely human. Perhaps, what truly makes us human is all of these things combined into a sensational package. And, by “sensational package,” I mean a container full of sensations or feelings. Additionally, we can’t deny that all of these things are combined with the ability to do things that are not in our best interests.

There is another aspect of being human – one that circles back to that second bullet point (that came courtesy of my yoga buddy Dave). Part of being human is asking those existential questions (like “Who am I?” and Why am I?”) and questions about the nature of the Universe. I’m not sure that other animals on the planet do that. Even if they do, I’m not sure their suffering is connected to such pondering. And, even if I am wrong, there is no denying that those questions and our quest for answers is one aspect of being human.

So, too, is our propensity to believe the stuff / stories we “make up” to answer the questions.

“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world. How we manage survival, how we develop intimacy, how productive we are, how we make sense, how we connect with our own divinity——all depend largely on our communication skills.”

*

– quoted from”6. Communication: Talking and listening” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

Matthew Sanford calls them “healing stories.” Virginia Satir included storytelling (and role playing) in her work around “Becoming More Fully Human.” How ever you see them, we find stories that explain things all over the world, going back to the beginning of recorded history. One common element among cultures is a story (or multiple stories) about how the world came to be and how we came to be in the world. There are even stories about how we relate to each other and the world. To be sure, the stories are not the same; however, the existence of these stories is a common thread. Another common element – and, therefore, another part of being human – is how we take those stories and use them to justify our very best and very worst behavior.

Let me insert a quick clarification here. First, I am not an anthropologist. Second, in this situation, I am using words like “story,” “legend,” and “myth” as direct synonyms – meaning I am not defending or denying the validity or veracity of any story. From an anthropological stand point it is not important whether or not a culturally specific idea can be supported via the scientific method; what is important is whether or not people within the specific culture believe the idea. Ergo, for the purpose of this contemplation, I’m not making a distinction between the truth of the Biblically-based creation story (as found in the Abrahamic religions); the truth of an even more ancient creation myth; and/or the truth of the Big Bang theory (which, need I remind you, is a theory – in part, because none of us were there and can confirm the truth of it).

“In Middle Sinitic and Old Sinitic , the wa of Nüwa and the wa meaning “frog” were near homonyms. Most telling of all is the fact that many Neolithic and Early Bronze Age representations of birthing, fertile women (goddesses) in East Asia depict them as froglike, often with fins, and sometimes even with tails.”

*

– quoted from “Chapter 6: Erotic and Ferocious Female Figures of South and East Asia – The Frog Woman” in Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Figuresof Eurasia by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair

In China, as well as in other parts of Asia, there are creations stories that center around a mother goddess named 女媧 (Nüwa, sometimes written as “Nü Wa,” “Nü Gua,” or “Nü Kua”). The first part of her name (女) designates her as a young female (sometimes translated as “girl”). The second part of her name (媧) can be translated as “lovely” or “frog.” In addition to the different her name can be translated, it is interesting that (according to Wikipedia) the second part of her name uses a traditional Chinese character that is unique to her name. That unique character provides a root for words like whirlpool; a depression, pond, or puddle; a water-worn hole; a hiding place; and snail. In fact, several novels (and even some ancient texts) refer to her as the “snail-maid.” In one novel she is even mistaken for an actual snail! That root also points to something with a spiral or a helix and/or something that spins, rotates, or spirals. (Interesting, to me, is how often the concept of spiraling or spinning is related to creation stories that may not be culturally related.)

In most versions of the stories about Nüwa, her upper body is that of a woman and her lower body is that of a snake or dragon. In art where her lower body is a dragon, the tail end is the dragon’s head. More often than not, however, she is depicted with a snake’s tail. Notice, again, the coil relation and how the idea of a snake as something divine – some times as a divine woman and other times as something with negative connotations – comes up again and again in various cultures. In art where she is paired with a male counterpart, their snake tails intertwine like a double helix – the very picture of DNA.

There are a lot of stories about Nüwa. There are stories about how she saved the world from a great flood (by fixing damage to the sky) and stories about her relationships to others. There are stories about leaders being powerful because she gave them some of her power and stories about her relationships to others. Many of the stories where she is the sole creator of humans date back to at least the early Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE/AD). While her association with a male counterpart is apparent in the later part of the Han Dynasty (~206 CE./AD.) and throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E./A.D.), the connotation and emphasis of their relationship to humans changed over time. Some of this evolution (from a creation focus to a death focus) may have been political and as a response to the change in culture. Regardless of why the stories and rituals changed, one thing that has survived is the tradition of celebrating specific birthdays on each day during the first week the Spring Festival. This tradition is directly tied to stories that depict Nüwa as the first creative deity.

I say “stories,” because there are different versions. In the variations with which I am most familiar, the heavens and the earth already exist. There was also a variety of flora and fauna on land and in the waters. Somewhere in the heavens, there were also other divine entities, but, Nüwa was lonely and possibly bored. So, one day she decided to create something.

According to this variation of the story, Nüwa gathered some clay or mud from the side of the river and molded what we think of a chickens. Still lonely, she made what we think of as dogs the next day. Each subsequent day she made a different animal: boars or pigs on the third day; sheep on the fourth day; cows on the fifth day; and horses on the sixth day. Then, on the seventh day, she molded beings in her own image. It seems she got excited as she molded the last of her creations. These human beings were entertaining. They could sing and dance… and tell stories. So she made more and more. At some point during the day, she realized that it would take her all of eternity to create as many as she wanted. So, she dipped some rope in the mud and started twirling around, flicking clumps of mud everywhere.

“Nüwa could not stand seeing the decimation of the humans and other creatures she had created. She was determined to rescue them. Facing such a large-scale calamity, Nüwa did not panic. Instead, she prioritized what she was going to do. She decided that the damage to the sky was the cause of everything, so she took to the task of mending it. She collected a great number of mulitcolored stones from a riverbed, built a furnace in the Zhonghuang Mountain, and, after forty-nine days, melted the stones and created a huge piece of colorful slate. Embedding the slate in the hole, Nüwa managed to fix the leaking sky. Her action produced an unexpected side effect: the shining colors of the slate added to the sky a moon, a rainbow, and numerous stars.”

*

– quoted from “The Origin of Human Beings in The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese by Haiwang Yuan (with Forward by Michael Ann Williams)

As I mentioned before, we humans have a propensity to use stories to explain how and why things are the way the are and work the way they work. For example, some people have used this creation story to explain people are born into different socioeconomic conditions. According to this idea, the rich and/or beautiful are descendants of the first humans created by hand; while the poor and/or those perceived as not beautiful are descendants of those humans created from the mud-dripping rope. In some variations of this story there is even a distinction made between the “clay” she used for her sculptures and the “mud” in which she dipped the rope.

Nüwa and her relationship with her male counterpart have also played into people’s understanding of marriage. In some of the mythology she and her spouse use a fan made out of grass to preserve their privacy when they are intimate. In some variations, she marries her brother and uses the fan because “she is ashamed” of the incest. Again, we can sometimes trace changes in a story to changes in social mores. We can also see how these stories are directly connected to the tradition of a wedding fan.

Similarly, during the first week of the Spring Festival, people celebrate the birthdays of each animal created by Nüwa. Granted, people don’t seem to make as big of a deal about these daily birthdays as they do about some of the other daily celebration); but, there is an acknowledgement of the seventh day as the birthday of all humans. People will make human-shaped paper cut-outs; compose poems; and go for hikes (as Nüwa herself might have been doing when she decided to start making stuff).

In some regions of South China, people will eat a seven-vegetable soup full of vegetables and herbs meant to ward off illness and evil. In Malaysia and Singapore, people may eat a vegetable dish or a raw fish salad. Either way, it’s the day when everyone gets one year older. It’s a great day to express gratitude for our collective existence.

It’s also a day that makes me think about what it means to be human.

The following is abridged version a 2021 post. Links have been updated, as needed, and an extra video appears at the end.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

*

– Martin Buber

Martin Buber, born in Vienna on February 8, 1878, did not consider himself a philosopher or a theologian (because, he said, he “was not interested in ideas, only personal experience, and could not discuss God, but only relationships with God”). Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest existentialist in the modern era. He was, specifically, a Jewish existentialist and professor of Chasidic mysticism who grew up speaking Yiddish and German at home and would partially earn a reputation as a translator (even translating the Hebrew Bible into German) and for his thoughts on religious consciousness, modernity, the concept of evil, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics.

Known for his philosophy of dialogue, he was concerned with all the questions of existential philosophy – Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning / purpose of my life? – but, he came at the questions from a distinctly theist point of view. To Buber we could exist in a purely transactional manner, without any real connection – or we could live, really live, which required another…a “du.”

In his seminal work, Ich und Du, Buber describes a state of being that relies on relationship to have meaning and purpose. However, said relationship must be based on an equal meeting; one that requires authenticity and acceptance rather than projection and conditions. The relationship must be real and perceivable, as opposed to being something created in the mind. The classic examples of this type of encounter are two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, or two strangers on a train. For the sake of the New Year, we can even consider a person and their in-laws or a rich person and a beggar.

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is the possibility of engaging with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality in a purely transactional manner that relies on mental projection and representation – which Buber would describe as “Ich und Es” (I-and-It). However, there is also the possibility of true dialogue, encounter, or meeting whereby the two entities connect and merge – which Buber describes as “Ich und Du.” The difference between the two experiences or states, however, is not always obvious on the surface.

Martin Buber’s concept of “Ich und Du” is a particularly tricky for an English reader because there is no single English word that carries all the connotations found in the German “Du.” Translators can, as Ronald Gregor Smith does, use “Thou” to represent the kind of reverence one would have towards God. Or, translators can, as Walter Kaufmann does, use “You;” because it is personal, colloquial, and intimate. The translation by Ronald Gregor Smith is the one that was completed during Buber’s lifetime (and under his supervision) – and it would have been the one on the mind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and at least one of his sermons. However, either translation is still tricky for English readers; because the “Du” Martin Buber intends is simultaneously personal, colloquial, intimate, and reverent.

“Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.”

“All real life is meeting.”

“All actual life is encounter.”

*

– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translations by Ronald Gregor Smith and Walter Kaufmann, respectively)

Consider that we can clearly see how falling in love with a stranger on a train – one to who we have never actually spoken – is not the same as falling in love with someone we have known all our lives. Yet, it is possible to grow up with someone and not actually know them. It is possible to live next door to someone for years and be surprised by their actions. So, it is clearly possible to marry someone and know as much about them (or as little about them) as the person who sits silently across from you during a meditation retreat – in that, we know some of their preferences and values, but we layer our impressions on top of that without knowing the inner workings of their heart and mind. Similarly, someone can marry into our family (or we can marry into theirs) and there is always an invisible barrier which prevents them from truly being family – or, we can love and accept them (be loved and accepted by them) in much the same way we love and accept someone to whom we are related by blood.

Another example would be how a parent feels about a child they adopt versus a child born from their body versus a child born to their spouse. Sure, there are less than ideal situations where there is always separation and distinction. Ideally, however, the difference a parent feels is based on personality not legality – and even then, ideally, there is love and acceptance.

Keep in mind that my examples are oversimplified, because there is more to truly knowing another than time and space. We could still objectify someone and be objectified by them, no matter the time or proximity. According to Buber, moving from an “Ich und Es” relationship (to “Ich und Du”) cannot be forced. According to Buber, the change in relationship requires grace and a willingness to open to the possibility of a seamless merging, an absorption, of sorts.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

*

Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

*

Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Samādhi, the eighth limb of the Yoga Philosophy, is sometimes translated into English as “meditation” or “perfect meditation.” However, many traditions refer to the previous limb (dhyāna) as “mediation.” Additionally, throughout the sūtras, Patanjali distinguishes between different levels of consciousness, which he also refers to as (lower) samādhi. To distinguish the different experiences in English, some teachers will describe (higher) Samādhi as “Spiritual Absorption” or “Union with Dvine.”

No matter how it is translated, the final limb is not something that can be forced. It comes from a steady and consistent progression through the other limbs and especially through the preceding five – in that mastery of āsana (“seat” or pose) prepares one to practice prāņāyāma (awareness and control of the breath) which, over time, leads to pratyāhāra (“pulling the mind-senses from every direction to a single point”) which becomes dhāranā (“focus” or “concentration”) which, over time, becomes dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”) which ultimately can become Samādhi: a seamless merging of the seer and the seen.

This union between the seer and seen, is the similar to – if not exactly the same as – Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” experience. According to Buber, life is holy and to really know one’s Self requires really knowing another and, in that knowing, one can know God / the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

More often than not, to better understand the “Ich und Du” relationship, I think of Nara and Narayana, identical twins in Hindu mythology. Nara and Narayana are almost always depicted together and they are identical, but one is in a physical body and one is in a spiritual body. Nara-Narayana is referred to as “the spirit that lives on the water” or “the resting place of all living beings;” it is the ultimate goal. However, until the twins become Nara-Narayana, it is Nara (in the physical body) who does the earthly work that allows for the spiritual connection. Once that connection is made, the soul is liberated and no longer burdened by the ignorance (avidyā) that leads to suffering.

“The basic word I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You/Thou to become; becoming I, I say you.”

*

– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translation by Walter Kaufmann)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (from Monday, February 7th).

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*

Here’s another example, straight from current events, that illustrates one of the many reasons why we need to stop objectifying each other!

*

“We find, in studying history, one fact held in common by all the great teachers of religion the world ever had. They all claim to have got their truths from beyond, only many of them did not know where they got them from. For instance, one would say that an angel came down in the form of a human being, with wings, and said to him, ‘Hear, O man, this is the message.’ Another says that a Deva, a bright being, appeared to him. A third says he dreamed that his ancestor came and told him certain things. He did not know anything beyond that. But this is common that all claim that this knowledge has come to them from beyond, not through their reasoning power. What does the science of Yoga teach? It teaches that they were right in claiming that all this knowledge came to them from beyond reasoning, but that it came from within themselves.

*

The Yogi teaches that the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge, beyond reasoning, comes to man. Metaphysical and transcendental knowledge comes to that man.”

*

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

*

“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

*

– quoted from Chapter 1, “Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

*

*

### As they say in Zulu, “Sawubona!” [“I see you!”] and “Yebo, sawubona!” [“I see you seeing me.”] ###

Nom de Destiné (the “missing” Sunday post) January 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Football, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Happy 2022 to Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

– quoted from the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

A couple of months ago, I posted about the difference between fate (what gives us this present moment) and destiny (our next destination in life). At the beginning of each year, on January 2nd, I invite people to consider what name that would pick if they were choosing a name to reflect how they want this year to proceed. This idea is based on the story of the first pope to change his name to indicate how things were going to be different under his papacy and it’s a nice way to consider the changes ahead. Think of it as a nom de destiné, a name of destiny. There’s just one problem… and it’s a problem some folks are not ready to hear/see.

Just to make it a little more palatable (and a little less personal), I’ll just make it about me: Somewhere between the end of March 2020 and the summer of 2020, when my mother died, I stopped expecting things to “get back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong, like a lot of people, there was a time when I wanted to “get back” to some parts of what we had. After all it’s totally normal and human to seek the familiar. As has been pointed out again and again, long before people like Marcel Proust, José Ortega y Gasset, Virginia Satir, Dr. Irvin Yalom, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Charlie Harary (who all also pointed it out), the brain likes the familiar… and the brain likes the familiar (again). The brain finds comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is uncomfortable.

All of this means that we primarily live in the past and the present, because even our visions of the future are (primarily) mirrors of our past and present. People rarely imagine living in a future – let alone an immediate future – that is completely foreign and unrelated to their past or present. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive situations and/or repeat patterns (even when they are not overtly abusive or detrimental). It’s one of the reasons (neurology notwithstanding) that people numb their pain with their addiction of “choice.” More often than not, we expect the unknowns in our future to be different versions of what we encountered in the past. When we recognize that fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat then we can also start to recognize why fear of the unknown is such a strong and paralyzing experience.

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

The unfamiliar threatens the status quo, but it also threatens our life. It threatens our life as we know it which, to the lizard brain, is the same thing as a very real and tangible/physical threat. That perception of threat is why change is so hard, especially when we are not prepared to change. To make matters worse, the unexpected changes that struck the world at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, were extra threatening, because they came wrapped together with an actual medical threat. To add insult to injury, almost everything that’s been recommended as preventative measures (against the medical issue) over the last two years has also taken a physical, mental, psychological, energetic, and emotional toll.

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

And, every day, we see the effects of those tolls.

A familiar refrain when I was growing up was, “{Insert person/people} has/have lost their mind(s)!” Over the last few years, some people have lost their centers. They have lost their connection to what they value and what is important to them. They have lost their sense of being grounded – in themselves and in reality. Some people have allowed their disagreements with others to consume them and, in doing so, they have lost what it means to be alive. Some have even allowed their beliefs to suck them into a vortex that is contrary to life.

I said, “the last few years;” because, let’s be honest, certain changes have been happening for more than two. And while I said “some people,” I really mean all of us, because the statements above could be applied to any of us at one time or another. All of humanity is like that drawing of a person desperately clinging to a crumbling cliff.

“’Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference,’ is the way [Virginia Satir] expressed it at a 1986 meeting of 600 Los Angeles-area psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

*

‘I think if I have one message, one thing before I die that most of the world would know, it would be that the event does not determine how to respond to the event. That is a purely personal matter. The way in which we respond will direct and influence the event more than the event itself.’”

*

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times obituary “Virginia M. Satir, 72; Family Therapy Pioneer” by George Stein (dated September 12, 1988)

The drawing I mentioned was based on Virginia Satir’s “Change Process Model,” which details the following progression: old status quo, foreign element, resistance, chaos, transforming idea(s), practice and integration, and new status quo. It can be very nicely laid over the “Hero’s Journey / Cycle.” People have also overlapped it with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief,” which I think only makes sense if you draw a labyrinth as switchbacks on a mountain. (But, I digress.) Some illustrated versions of the the Satir Change Process Model show a person running headlong toward the edge of the cliff – as if, with enough momentum, they can jump over the gap and land on the other side (thereby skipping the chaos). Then there’s a “foreign element” and the fall towards chaos. Other versions just start with the foreign element and fall. Either way, there is resistance. Very few people consciously hurtle towards chaos – which, if we are going by chaos theory, is simply the result of a change we don’t understand (because we don’t know where to start). Here’s the thing though, change is happening; we know change is happening; we can engage the change (or not).

Engaging change is the one recommendation that isn’t getting a lot of (proverbial) air time. We’re all still talking about “getting back to normal” – and, yes, yes, I know, “the new normal” is one of those phrases on Lake Superior State University’s “2022 Banished Words List. But, since I’m being honest, sometime after the summer of 2020, I started getting ready for a “new normal.” Not necessarily the one based on my engrained habits developed while I was waiting to get back to normal. No, I wanted a better normal – better even than what I had before lockdown.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

As arbitrary as the annual marker is, every calendar new year is marked with some kind of celebration and hope and people talking about change and turning a corner. But, the reality is that some things don’t change. Studies consistently show that the number of people who keep their resolutions steadily declines after the first week of the new year. The decline is so steep that one study indicated that less than half of the people who made them (~46%) successfully kept their new year’s resolution for six months and only 4% of people with similar goals, but no resolution, felt they are successful in achieving their goals after six months – which seems to make the case for setting resolutions. However, a 2016 study indicated that only about 9% of the people who made resolutions felt they are successful at the end of the year.

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

We bother because we have desires and a basic desire is to have less suffering. Pretty much all the Eastern philosophies (plus Latin, the language) agree that the end of suffering is directly tied to the end of desire. Yet, our desires persist. It’s human nature.

People who study such inclinations indicate that whether or not we succeed or fail in achieving our goals is based on several variables including (but not limited to) how realistic our goals are; whether or not we have calculated the appropriate (baby) steps along the way (which is also whether or not we appreciate the little things along the way); whether or not we have too many goals; whether we keep track and/or have someone to keep us accountable;  whether or not we have reminders/prompts; and how much resistance we encounter along the way. A few years back (December of 2018), I posted a football analogy about resistance, intention, and achieving goals. In thinking about that analogy in relation to now, I think about how much our resistance to change keeps us from achieving our goals. Spoiler alert: turns out, we’re the team we’re playing against.

I can’t speak for you, but I am ready for some transformational ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything new, fancy, and shiny. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. It’s probably better if it’s something that we know works; which is why the sankalpa (“intention”) I’m using this year (for my personal practice and the Saturday practices) is an old one and why I added a different framework to the New Year’s Day practices this year.

The sankalpa (see below) was developed by Émile Coué (b. February 26, 1857), a psychologist and pharmacist. (I hesitate to use the word “developed” in reference to a sankalpa, but stick with me.) Years and years ago, I practiced Yoga Nidra with Shar at 5809 Yoga, in Minneapolis, and a sankalpa she used has really resonated with me over the years. When I dug into the origin, I came across the the Coué method and, after sitting with it for a bit, decided that aligned with my focus for this year.

In framing the New Year’s Day practices, I started the way we always start: centering and grounding. Then I considered that so much of our resistances comes from not allowing things to be what they are and not allowing people to be who they are, which brought my focus to allowing and being. Of course, as René Descartes pointed out, we think therefore we are. As José Ortega y Gasset pointed out, because we are (in that we exist), we think and (as Patanjali and other philosophers have pointed out), our beliefs shape our lives. Ergo, the last part of my framework was a compound: being-believing.

This year, my goal resolution intention is to be centered and grounded, to allow (reality to be what it is), and (given reality) to be (i.e, exist) in a way that my thoughts, words, and deeds accurately reflect my beliefs. Feel free to join me, here and/or on the mat.

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

– quoted from the I’m Getting Better and Better: My Method by Émile Coué

Sunday’s  playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

### Centering, Grounding, Allowing, Being-Believing ###

The Sum of the Whole Is Our Behavior (a Monday post) November 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the post for Monday, November 15th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly. But if we are afraid of them or if we show our disliking to them, they behave in the same manner. These are simple truths which the world has known for ages. But even so, the world forgets the people of one country who hate and fear the people of another country because they are afraid, they are sometimes foolish enough to fight each other.

.

Children should be wiser. At any rate, I hope the children who read this will be more sensible.”

.

– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed “Yours lovingly, Chacha Nehru

As I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and blog post, we’ve all been children and, as children, we were given a world/society and taught different ways to understand that world/society. We were given culture (or cultures) and raised to understand our culture(s) and other people’s culture(s) in certain ways. On a certain level, we could say, that we begin life as “passive recipients.” However, children are curious and children play, experiment, and explore in order to learn and grow. With ourselves, our peers, and our toys, we begin to accept and/or reject the world and culture(s) that were given to us and the understanding that was taught to us. That’s part of being a child: questioning our environment; even pushing back at what we are taught about our environment; and creatively considering other possibilities. In other words, part of being a child is figuring out how we fit into the world.

Do we continue to exist as a “passive recipient” or do we become a “co-creator” of our culture and environment?

I don’t remember ever hearing the terms “passive recipient” and “co-creator,” as related to culture, until I met Merrick Rosenberg. He is a consultant, keynote speaker, and personality expert who often works with companies undergoing change. He is the co-founder of Team Builders Plus and Take Flight Learning; the co-author of the parable Take Flight! (Master the DISC Styles to Transform Your Career, your Relationships… Your Life) and Personality Wins: Who Will Take the White House and How We Know; and the author of the parable The Chameleon: Life Changing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has A Personality Or Knows Someone Who Does and the children’s book Which Bird Are You? (recommended for ages 8 – 12). He is also a black belt who practices yoga – which is how we met and how I ended up reading and recommending his first book.

I was already interested in change management; had already looked into Virginia Satir’s Change Process Model and was fascinated by what it takes to shift culture – on an individual, corporate, and global scale. But Take Flight! (which I highly recommend) and my conversation with Merrick Rosenberg about his work caused me to dig a little deeper into the roles we play when it comes to change and the beliefs we hold that, inevitably, shape those roles. As evidence by his books, Merrick likes a good parable and, so, it’s not surprising that when I searched his work, I found more stories.

Just as I shared one of those stories towards the end of Monday’s practice, I’ll share that story towards the end of this post. But first, a little back story. It’s actually several stories, that converge around behavior, belief, culture, and personality.

There seems to be a single starting point for psychology, exactly as for all the other sciences: the world as we find it, naïvely and uncritically. The naïveté may be lost as we proceed.

.

–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

Wolfgang Köhler, PhD, born January 21, 1887, was a German psychologist whose field of expertise included phenomenology, the study of subjective experience. Along with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka, he was one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, which focused on the human mind and behavior as a whole, rather than on individual elements. (Since November 15th is National Tree Planting Day in Sri Lanka, think of a Gestalt psychologist as someone who would focus on the whole forest rather than a single tree, or on how the whole world is affected by planting trees in a forest.) Dr. Köhler is remembered because of his research with chimpanzees, which provided insight into human behavior, as well as his lived experience as it related to human behavior during Nazi Germany.

After completing his PhD at the University of Berlin and working with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka at the Psychological Institute in Frankfurt, Wolfgang Köhler moved to the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, and became the director of the anthropoid research station at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. There, from 1913 – 1919, his research included the problem solving skills of chimpanzees, which he choose to study specifically because their brains were structurally similar to humans. In 1917, he published The Mentality of Apes, which described chimpanzees using “insight learning” to access some fruit that was out of reach, rather than trial-and-error.

Remember, when we think of insight from the perspective of Buddhist or Yoga Philosophy, we think of it as wisdom that comes from “[seeing] in a special way” and this is exactly what Dr. Köhler observed. When the chimpanzees realized their food source was out of reach, they paused for a moment and (according to Dr. Köhler’s research) came up with a solution that relied upon an understanding of cause-and-effect. The chimpanzees in the experiments realized that they needed tools to reach the fruit that was too far away or too high and either connected sticks or stacked boxes to make up the difference.

In 1920, Wolfgang Köhler returned to Germany and (eventually) succeeded one of his mentors (Carl Stumpf) as the director of the Psychological Institute at the University of Berlin. He was there as the Nazis came into power in 1933 and while one of his mentors (the physicists Max Planck) criticized the effect Nazi Germany’s policies were having on the field of science, Dr. Köhler was publicly silent for many months. Towards the end of April 1933, however, he wrote an article criticizing the Nazi Party and the practice of dismissing Jewish professors. Then he attempted to organize a resistance movement within the scientific community – but his colleagues erroneously believed the fascist regime would largely leave the universities to their own devices. On November 3, 1933, the Nazi government announced that professors were required to start their lectures with the Nazi salute.

Dr. Köhler refused to passively accept the culture that was being handed to forced on him. Within a month of publicly explaining his refusal to follow the edict, his class was raided and student’s leaving his lecture were forced to show their identification. By May of 1934, he had concluded that there was nothing more he could do and announced plans to retire. By that summer, his interactions with students and other faculty and staff was under investigation. Unable to effectively teach or conduct research, Wolfgang Köhler immigrated to the United States in 1935, where he taught and conducted research at Swarthmore College and (in 1956) at Dartmouth College. He would also eventually serve as President of the American Psychological Association and as a guest lecturer and faculty advisor at the Free University of Berlin.

I know, I know, that’s already a lot of information. So, here are the highlights: Dr. Wolfgang Köhler believed (a) that subjective experience matters; (b) that the human mind and behavior have to be considered as a whole (and that whole includes subjective experience); (c) that, like chimpanzees, humans are capable of problem solving through insight learning; and (d) that people could – and one can argue should – stand up for what they believe to be right and, in doing so, actively co-create the world in which the live.

Problems may be found which were at first completely hidden from our eyes. For their solution it may be necessary to devise concepts which seem to have little contact with direct primary experience.

.

–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

Fast forward to the 1960’s, and we find generations of researchers standing on shoulders of scientific giants like Dr. Wolfgang Köhler. One of those researchers was Dr. Gordon R. Stephenson (at the University of Wisconsin, Madison) who, in 1967, published a paper entitled “Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkey.” The paper detailed research that involved 4 male and 4 female “lab-reared rhesus monkeys… about 3 years of age,” a variety of plastic kitchen utensils, a test cage, and air that was blasted on the monkeys under certain circumstances. (NOTE: I’m just highlighting here. Dr. Stephenson’s paper and experiment are more detailed than my summary and include the fact that the monkeys “had much play experience with each other;” were considered “socially normal;”  and had no conditioning prior to the experiment.) 

According to the paper, the monkeys were assigned unisex partners and then one of the pair would be placed in the test cage with one of the plastic objects. Observations included “passive contact,” whereby contact between the monkey and the object was not intentional, and active engagement that ranged from intentionally moving the object to playing with it and/or mouthing or chewing it. For the most part, the interactions were consistent between each group based on the different objects and all subjects tended to manipulate the novel objects more than the familiar. Higher and lower manipulation trends were experienced by all the monkeys during the same periods of time throughout the multi-week experiment. Although, there were some statistically differences in manipulation rates between males and females when they were alone (in general the male rate was twice as high in the first block); between males and females when they were with a partner; and between objects (regardless of sex).

In the first part of the experiment, an individual monkey that intentionally manipulated an object, was “punished” with an air blast. In general, the monkeys stopped manipulating the objects after two or three blasts. Later, when the conditioned monkeys came back to the test cage for the second stage, they avoided the objects without any air blasts. In the third part of the experiment, the (now) conditioned monkey was brought into the cage with its naïve partner. and the plastic object. In the fourth part, the naïve partner was brought into the cage with the plastic object. 

Dr. Stephenson wanted to see if (and how) the conditioned learning would be transferred. He observed the following:

(a) many of the naïve monkeys were cautious about the plastic object when they observed the behavior of their conditioned partners;

(b) most of the conditioned male monkeys (in various ways) intervened when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects and this sometimes altered subsequent (fourth stage) behavior*;

(c) most of the conditioned female monkeys did not interfere when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects; and 

(d) some of the conditioned female monkeys approached the plastic objects when their naïve partners were not blasted with air (indicating that they learned through observation that the “punishment” was not being applied).

Later experiments, conducted with different monkeys and under slightly different – including some that used food, showed a higher (baseline) manipulation rate with the female monkeys, but similar results in the interaction between conditioned and naïve pairs (i.e., male monkeys were more likely to interfere when their partners tried to manipulate the objects). Some of these later experiments found that female monkeys with infants were more likely to pull their offspring away from an object than a naïve peer.

*NOTE: Later experiments also found that the level of interference, with regard to male monkeys, may make a difference in the naïve partners interaction with the test object in the fourth stage. 

I regard culture as the constellation of behaviors characteristic of a single social group, behaviors which are transgenerational and socially learned by individuals as members of the group. The present report describes an attempt to apply controlled laboratory methods to a social learning situation suggested by the above field and laboratory observations. My particular interest was whether the learned avoidance behavior of a conditioned monkey toward a conditioning object could induce a lasting effect on the behavior of a second toward that same object.

.

–  quoted from A. Introduction” in Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeyby Gordon R. Stephenson, Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Fast forward again, to 2011, when an article entitled “What Monkeys Can Teach us About Human Behavior” appeared as a Psychology Today post. The post was written by creativity expert and author Michael Michalko, who served as an officer in the United States Army and worked with “NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods” and then applied those methods to problem solve. He has since extended that knowledge about problem solving into the corporate and public sphere. In his 2011 post, he described the now infamous “5 Monkeys” experiment, which is the story I came across some years ago after meeting Merrick Rosenberg. And, maybe, it’s a story you’ve heard.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment goes like this: Researchers placed 5 monkeys in a cage with a set of steps placed underneath bananas tied to the top of the cage. Whenever the monkeys started using the steps to get to the bananas, the researchers sprayed them with ice cold water until they stopped. Once the monkeys were conditioned to not go for the bananas, the researchers replaced one of the conditioned monkeys with a naïve monkey and observed the four conditioned monkeys intervening, sometimes violently, whenever the naïve monkey headed for the steps. Once the new monkey was conditioned, the researchers replaced another conditioned monkey with a naïve monkey and repeated the steps until the cage contained the steps, the bananas, and 5 monkeys that had never been sprayed with water – but had been conditioned by their peers to not go after the bananas!

It’s a great story. It’s a really great story, especially if you want an easy-to-follow, scientifically-supported business lesson about culture and conditioned behavior. It’s a really great and inspiring story if, as one CPA and Controller stated in 2019, you’re “not a big fan of fiction.”

There’s just one problem.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment, by all indications, is fiction.

In a comment on Michalko’s blog post, primatologist Frans De Waal expressed some skepticism about the experiment and asked Michalko if he had a scientific reference for this study. In response to the comment from another reader, Michalko posted the following:

.

‘FIVE MONKEYS. This story originated with the research of G.R. Stephenson. (Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.)’ ….

.

… His research inspired the story of five monkeys. Some believe the story is true, while others believed it’s an exaggerated account of his research. True story or not, his published research with rhesus monkeys, in my opinion, makes the point.’

.

–  quoted from the Psychology Today blog post What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Human Behavior: From Facts to Fiction – When creativity crosses the line.by Dario Maestripieri Ph.D. (Reviewed by Ekua Hagan), posted March 20, 2012

By his own words, Michael Michalko knew the published details of Dr. Gordon Stephenson’s experiment  and knew that that experiment did not use food, a ladder, water, or more than two monkeys in a cage at a time. Neither did it include a naïve/community-conditioned monkey that “took part in the punishment with enthusiasm!” as he described. Although, that description kind of parallels Dr. Wolfgang Köhler’s observation that once his chimpanzees came up with a solution, they executed their plan with “unwavering purpose.” Given the similarities and his work in the Army (and specifically in Germany), I think it’s safe to assume that Michael Michalko was familiar with Dr. Köhler work – and most (if not all) of the significant research in the same area. It’s also possible that he knew a little bit about Dr. Köhler’s experience with the Nazis. At the very least, he knew German history and (I imagine) he knew about the papers of Drs. Köhler and Stephenson and the experiments they cited in their work. Regarding those citations, it’s important to note that Dr. Stephenson’s introduction specifically references experiments and field observations that theoretically imply that the conclusions of the hypothetical “5 Monkeys” experiment could exist in a real life scenario. (In fact, those implications were part of Dr. Stephenson’s inspiration. You know, they established a hypothesis.) Finally, we know, based on Michael Michalko’s work in the public and private sectors, that he knows how to communicate and teach ideas.

So, it makes sense, that he would tell the story that he told. It’s a great story and we can easily see the truth of our lived experience with regard to violent conditioning in our own society. The thing is, while some people might focus on that lived truth – and others might focus on the fact that there’s no evidence the experiment ever happened – my focus today is a little different. I’m looking at how and why the story came to be; how it’s become part of some people’s culture; and how the belief that the story is verifiably true plays a part in our actions.

Remember, what we believe bridges the gap between what we conceive and what we achieve. This is true on an individual level and on a community/cultural level.

Some people tell the “5 Monkeys” story as a cautionary tale. Some people use it to underscore the importance of examining why they – individually and collectively – do the things they do. But a lot of people tell the story because they think it’s true. And, given the truth, I find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story highlights perceived male monkey behavior, but not the wisdom of observation exhibited by the female monkeys in Gordon R. Stephenson, et al, experiments. I also find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story doesn’t highlight the insight exhibited by the chimpanzees in Wolfgang Köhler’s experiments.

In the real life experiments, the chimpanzees and monkeys recognized that things change, from day to day and moment to moment. In the real life experiments, the primates were curious about their environment and their culture. They weren’t ever (really) passive, even when they weren’t directly engaging. Which brings me back to where we started: with childhood and the fact that we’ve all been children who inherited culture(s) and cultural understanding about our individual and collective communities.

Whether we like it our not, our lives are a reflection of our beliefs. Not, I might add, a reflection of what we say we believe or what we want to believe, but what we actually believe. And our beliefs are built around the stories we’ve been told and the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories… that sometimes aren’t actually true.

If we wish to imitate the physical sciences, we must not imitate them in their highly developed contemporary form. Rather, we must imitate them in their historical youth, when their state of development was comparable to our own at the present time. Otherwise we should behave like boys who try to copy the imposing manners of full-grown men without understanding their raison d’être, also without seeing that intermediate phase of development cannot be skipped.

.

–  quoted from Chapter II: Psychology as a Young Science” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” ~ Rosa Parks ###

 

It’s There (Even When You Can’t See It) June 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Helen Keller, Hope, Life, Love, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Making contact

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having

is

to be seen by them,

to be understood

and

touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is

to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

 

– from the poem “Making Contact” by Virginia Satir

For those of you who missed the memo: I am a huge fan of the work of therapist and author Virginia Satir. Born yesterday (June 26th) in 1916, she is known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” and placed her work in “family reconstruction” and “family sculpting” under the umbrella of “Becoming More Fully Human.” She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, which was adopted by corporations in the 1990’s and 2000s as a change management model, and the Human Validation Process Model. Similar to other existential therapist (although I’m not sure she ever used such a label), Satir found that when people came into therapy the presenting, or “surface,” problem was seldom the real problem. Instead, her work revolved around the idea that the real issue was how they coped with situations in their lives. Additionally, she documented that people’s self-esteem played a part in how they coped with conflict and challenges. So, here again, the issue comes down to functional versus dysfunctional thought patterns and how those thought patterns manifest into words and deeds that alleviate suffering or cause suffering.

When Satir worked with patients she would utilize role playing as well as meditations. The role playing was to get family members to consider each other’s perspectives and, in doing so, cultivate empathy and better understanding. The guided meditations were a way for people to recognize that they already had (inside of themselves) the tools/toolkit – or abilities – needed to overcome challenges and obstacles within their relationships. They also empowered people to use the tools that were inside of them, and to cultivate those tools. However, Satir did not see her work as being limited to “traditional” families; she believed that if her work could heal a family unit, it could also heal the world. They key, again, was offering people that “greatest gift” and figuring out what people really wanted and/or needed.

“It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Satir was born on the anniversary of the birth of the award winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who was also known as Sai Zhenzhu. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892, Buck spent most of her life in China. Her experiences in China, both as a young child of missionaries and as an adult, resulted in a plethora of novels, short stories, children’s books, and biographies that exposed Western readers to the people, culture, and landscape of China. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck was a humanitarian who wrote about everything from women’s rights and immigration to Communism, war and the atomic bomb. Her work was a form of activism, but she didn’t regulate her actions to the page alone. When it came to Asian, mixed-race, special needs, and international adoptions, Buck was more than a writer – she was a parent. In addition to advocating against racial and religious matching in adoptions, Buck adopted six children of various ethnicities and nationalities. (Previously, she had given birth to one special needs daughter. So, she was a mother of seven.) She also co-founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, inter-racial adoption agency (with author James Michener, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, and interior designer and decorator Dorothy Hammerstein); established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to support children who were not eligible for adoption, and opened Opportunity Center and Orphanage (aka Opportunity House) to advocate for the rights of orphans in South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Buck believed that families formed from love (as opposed to blood, race, religion, or nationality) and that they were living expressions of democracy – something she felt the United States could not unequivocally express during the Jim Crow era. In 1991, Welcome House and the foundation merged to form Pearl S. Buck International to continue Buck’s legacy.

“I was indignant, so I started my own damned agency!”

 

– Pearl S. Buck explaining why she started Welcome House in 1949 (after multiple agencies told she could not adopt Robbie, a mixed race 15-month old boy, because his skin was brown)

 

“What lingers from the parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”

 

– from Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Take another look at the poem at the top of this post. No, don’t read it… just look at it. What do you see? More specifically, who do you see? Granted, your device, your eyes, or even your brain may not see what I see. But, consider what you might see. What if you saw yourself? What if you saw someone you loved? What if you saw someone you didn’t like? Even if you don’t see what I see, the underlying meaning is the same: there is an individual, with open arms, wanting, needing, and waiting to be seen.

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

 

– Virginia Satir

 

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, today in 1880, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us… Happiness is a state of mind, and depends very little on outward circumstances.”

 

– from To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller by Helen Keller (with Forward by Jimmy Carter)

 

Keller’s mother, Kate Adams Keller, learned about Laura Bridgman (who was a deaf and blind adult) from Charles Dickens’ travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. The Kellers were eventually referred to Alexander Graham Bell who, in turn, introduced them to Anne Sullivan (who was also visually impaired, due to a bacterial infection). Keller and Sullivan would form a 49-year relationship that evolved over time. Even when Sullivan got married, Keller (possibly) got engaged, and illness required additional assistance from Polly Thomson, the women worked and lived together. Keller would go on to learn to speak and became a lecturer, as well as an author and activist. Sullivan would be remembered as an extraordinary educator whose devotion and ability to adjust to her student’s needs is memorialized in school names and movies like The Miracle Worker and Monday After the Miracle. Keller (d. 06/01/1968), Sullivan (10/20/1936), and Thomson (03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.”

 

– from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912)

Helen Keller, like Pearl S. Buck, is notable for many reasons, but both women were (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about their family histories and some of their views. Buck was described as “a thorn in the side of the welfare establishment” and her award-winning novel The Good Earth is considered by some to be literary propaganda. Keller’s father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, history has shown us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics, the idea that we could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Besides the basic humanitarian issues, one of the problems with eugenics is that at its core there is a lack of faith in humanity.

In referencing the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich, Keller wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that you are connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside one’s self. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us right – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

 

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

 

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

 

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

Please join me for a little discernment in the form of a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 27th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This playlist is dated 06032020.)

 

 

### STILL HUMAN ###