Saturday, August 11, 2012

A separate self?

To join in a collaborative effort can be a sublime experience! It is capable of giving rise to feelings of satisfaction, exhilaration, sweetness, joy, and pride. (The good kind.) What makes it sublime is that we know, even as the experience progresses, that it is possible only because of the involvement of the other individuals. We are involved in creating something significant which we could not do alone. While this experience is unfolding, our ordinary sense of a separate self is eclipsed by the perception of interdependence.

Perhaps, ultimately, there is only "we."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why can't we all just get along?

Is there anything more morally complicated than armed conflict? Both sides believe in their cause. Both mourn the sacrifices their young men and women make in their effort to defeat the other side. Both may even believe that "God is on their side" and will help vanquish the other.

The people I've met who devote their lives to military service are motivated by noble principles. The live their lives in the service of noble ideals -- honor, duty, country. Those in command are keenly aware of their responsibility to those who serve under them. Everyone works to achieve something they can only accomplish together. In the case of the armed forces, it is putting into effect the foreign policy goals of the country they serve. Whether the policy is misguided or not they will, acting honorably, still put it into effect.

It is a horrible thing to be on the receiving end of military power and, as individuals, we wouldn't wish that on anyone. But as citizens of a country engaging in the use of military force we are powerless to prevent or promote that use of force except in the indirect way of the ballot box. Once events are set in motion by our representatives, they seem to take on a life of their own. Heaven help those who get in the way.

It perhaps seems simplistic to suggest that aggression will only stop when we disarm our reactions, defuse our own anger, and create a society that values tolerance more than its own righteousness. But it has been done before. India is an independent nation because of its people's nonviolent non-cooperation with its British rulers. Eventually the British did just leave. Mahatma Ghandi made that happen.

On a smaller scale, religious communities model the ideal of cooperation for the benefit of all in a very straightforward way. As one Buddhist monastic community in eastern Washington state has said, "All of us — Friends of Sravasti Abbey, benefactors, residents, and guests – are creating a network of spiritual community that is dedicated to creating peace in a chaotic world. We do this by helping each other to transform our minds into the very peace we seek."

All of us pursue that which we think will bring us happiness and avoid that which we think will bring us suffering. We just need to get better at it. Ultimately, our own thoughts and motivations determine whether we will be happy or not. We can transform our thought at a time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?

I've asked myself this question a lot lately.  Having missed cashing in on the dot-com bubble and also missed cashing out before the precipitous collapse of 2008, what was I thinking?  Over the years of managing our personal investments with a goal of financial security and eventual retirement -- while it was relatively easy to maintain awareness of my motivations, plan trade entries and exits scientifically, and manage money carefully -- it seems that in the grand scheme of things, I blew it.  In my case, I discovered that getting into something (with due consideration) was always easier than getting out.  This particular flaw caused me to delay acting decisively ("Get out NOW!) when the bottom dropped out.  "Live and learn" doesn't seem very comforting at the moment.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Framing the question...

What's out there? It depends on what we're looking for, or looking through. The set of assumptions we bring to a problem, a scene, or a relationship will influence how we interpret what we are seeing or how we make sense of conflicting information. Those assumptions act much like a frame, defining a particular view. They also limit the view if we aren't aware of them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How big is our world?

I wondered early on if other people saw the world as I did, and if so, was their experience the same? I had a feeling that each of us carried around an internal construction of "the world" based on our own point of view in a theatrical sense, i.e., we were the main character in our play and all the people and events in it were filtered through our perceptions and our interpretations of our perceptions. That was it...for each of us...individually. So how could our experience be the same?

But even if our experience is unique to our point of view, it is clear that we can and do learn from each other. I find the thought that our world is as big as our own perception of it a hopeful one. It seems that we can expand our capacities to the extent we are willing to explore their limits. The examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama give me an indication of how much we can grow in our capacity to help others, and develop inner qualities of generosity, compassion, patience, and tolerance.