14 January 2007

It is just when I feel most confident of my position that I remind myself to express it with understatement and humility.  If it turns out that I am correct, my posture may help the person at the other end of the dispute to open his mind to new thinking.  And, though it hasn’t happened yet, it just may someday turn out that I am mistaken, and the modesty of my posture will mitigate the embarrassment of my subsequent retreat.

– Josh Mitteldorf

13 January 2007

Meditation: love as a posture which we may carry with us always. 

“Feel the consciousness of each person as your own consciousness.  So, leaving aside concern for self, become each being...

“In deep love, it happens that two persons are not two.  Something between the two has come into being, and they have just become two poles.  Something is flowing between the two.  When this flow is there, you will feel blissful.  If love gives bliss, it is only because of this: that two persons, if just for a single moment, lose their egos.  The ‘other’ is lost, and oneness comes into being.  If it happens, it is ecstatic, blissful, a paradise.  It may be just a single moment, but it can be transforming.

 “This technique says that you can do this with every person.  In love, you may do it with one other, but in your practice you extend oneness to every other.  Whosoever comes near you, simply dissolve into him and feel that you are not two lives but one life, flowing... Once you have done it, it is easy.  It is only about moving past fear...so it will be good if in the beginning you try with something you are not very scared of.

“You will be less afraid of a tree, so it will be easier.  Sitting near a tree, just feel the tree, and feel that you have become one with it, that there is a flow within you-tree, a liaison, a melting.  Or, sitting near a flowing river, feel that you and the river have become one.  Lying under the sky, feel that you are the sky.  In the beginning, it may just be imagining, but by and by you will feel that you are touching reality through imagination.

“And then try it with persons.  Start with someone you are not much afraid of, or with a person you love – a friend, a beloved, a lover – with whom you can be really intimate without fear.  Two energies met into each other...

“And then try it as a practice, one hour each day.  Be in empathy for at least one hour every day...

“This was once the meaning of prayer, in the beginning of every religion...Put the self aside.  Know what it is to become the other.

Feel the consciousness of each person as your own consciousness.  So, leaving aside concern for self, become each being."


12 January 2007

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks us silently from the night.

These words we hear as from afar:

You, released to wander 
a life commissioned by your senses:
Seek the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make great shadows in which I live.

Surrender to beauty and terror.
You must just go.  Let no feeling be the end.

So fear not separation.  The land
called life is close. 
By its seriousness, you will know it.

Give me your hand.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

11 January 2007

The “mind/body problem” poses the question, how is our consciousness related to our physical brains?  There are New Age-y ideas that mind creates matter, and then there are scientific ideas that consciousness is something that happens when you get enough computing power in one place.  

I don’t know which is true, but I find it refreshing when scientists refuse to accept the dogma of the latter view as gospel, and acknowledge the deep truth: that consciousness is the realm of our primary experience, that physical ‘reality’ is a construction.  

Donald Hoffman, a psychologist at UC Irvine, is one person who recognizes that the mind/body problem has not gone away, let alone been ‘solved’ by fiat.  He is confronting the problem with fresh thought, while humbly recognizing how far he is from a solution.  Our present ideas are ‘not even wrong’, he quips, (quoting Wolfgang Pauli).  

“The multimodal user interface (MUI) theory of perception states that perceptual experiences do not match or approximate properties of the objective world, but instead provide a simplified, species-specific, user interface to that world…  

To ask how consciousness arose in a physicalist evolution is mistaken. Instead we ask how the dynamics of conscious agents, when projected onto appropriate MUIs, yields current evolutionary theory as a special case. To ask how consciousness arises from brain activity is also mistaken. Brains are complex icons representing heterarchies of interacting conscious agents. So instead we ask how neurobiology serves as a user interface to such heterarchies. Conscious realism, it is true, dodges some tough mysteries posed by physicalism, but it replaces them with new, and equally engaging, scientific problems.

(from a presentation at a Tucson, AZ conference last year)

10 January 2007

Martin Seligman tells an irresistible story of how, at the beginning of his tenure as president of the American Psychological Association, he decided to found the field of Positive Psychology.  

“I’m a rose gardener, and I was weeding with my daughter, Nikki, who had turned five a couple of weeks before that, and I have to tell you that even though I write books about kids, I’m really not very good with kids. And, like most of you, I’m goal oriented and time urgent. And I was trying to get the weeds out, and Nikki was throwing weeds in the air and running around and dancing, and I yelled at her, and she sort of looked at me and she walked away, and she came back and said, ‘Daddy, I want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Yeah, Nikki?’ She said, ‘Yeah, Daddy, you may not have noticed, but do you remember that before I was five years old, before my fifth birthday, I was a whiner? I whined every day from the time I was three until the time I was five. And, you know, Daddy, on my fifth birthday, I decided I wasn't gonna whine anymore. And that was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I haven't whined since. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being so grumpy.’ This was actually an epiphany for me.” 

Seligman’s speech at Lincoln Summit

A University of Kentucky study correlated the essays written by nuns when they applied to Notre Dame with their life span 60 years later, and found a dramatic correlation between positive attitudes and longevity. 

9 January 2007

The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels.”
Simone de Beauvoir, born this day in 1908

“Science is an inherently subversive act. The scientific ethic — stubbornly following your nose where it leads you — is a threat to establishments of all kinds.
Freeman Dyson, quoted in a NYTimes Book Review of this week of The Scientist As Rebel

“Let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of the passions.”
J. B. S. Haldane, (“one of the great rascals of science—independent, nasty, brilliant, funny and totally one of a kind.)

8 January 2007

Carl Rogers, born this day in 1902, pioneered an approach to psychotherapy founded on respect for the client, his instincts and his insights.  He broke from a Freudian tradition in which the patient was regarded more clinically.  

In my early professionals years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth? 

Rather than simply treating psychological ailments, Rogers saw the therapist’s role as promoting growth.  His vision of a fully-functioning human includes:

1.  Openness to experience.  This is the opposite of defensiveness.  It is the accurate perception of ones experiences in the world, including ones feelings.  

2.  Existential living.  This is living in the here-and-now.  Rogers, as a part of getting in touch with reality, insists that we not live in the past or the future -- the present is the only reality we have

3.  Organismic trusting.  We should trust ourselves, do what feels right, what comes natural.  

4.  Experiential freedom.  Rogers felt that it was irrelevant whether or not people really had free will.  We feel very much as if we do. The fully-functioning person acknowledges that feeling of freedom, and takes responsibility for his choices.

5.  Creativity. ...in the arts or sciences, through social concern and parental love, or simply by doing one's best at one's job.  Creativity as Rogers uses it is very close to Eriksons generativity.