Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Monday, October 20, 2014

99 Problems But Resilience Aint One of Them: 4 Takeaway Insights From Rick Hanson's "Stress-Proof Your Brain"

You are reading right now about my experience with Rick Hanson's audio program, "Stress Proof Your Brain."

Now, you might have a bunch of other problems right now, but freedom, food and physical safety probably aint three of them. You might have financial, vocational, relational problems. You might have physical ailments that are unhealable by conventional means. You might have emotional, spiritual problems, things that cannot even be adequately defined AS a problem. You might even have existential problems (which, contrary to popular belief, are not luxury issues resolved by a lifetime supply of kleenex, but are genuinely painful spiritual realities!), and you're looking for something, anything to distract or amend your awareness of that sting of wanting-it-to-go-away.

But one thing is sure: it takes enormous courage to admit that you aren't very resilient to the slings and bows of outrageous fortune. I grant you that you may be resilient as hell. But I doubt it. Because - well, let's look at our situation here, as I best understand it, and see how courageous admitting to problems really is:

I imagine that you who are reading this have a pretty good quality of life problems. Resilience won't be likely to be high on the list of priorities. If you have internet connection, as of October 2014, then congratulations: you are the top wealthy third of humanity. We who are connected suffer a astonishing quality of problems, but lack of resilience isn't one of them, right? Right?

Especially in the West, and the privileged enclaves of India, China, and the other small outposts of the middle classes and up-and-coming middle classes, the kinds of problems we suffer from are chronic and persistent. And as Rick Hanson gently explains using the metaphor from Buddhism of training the mind, the human soul is designed to deal with immediate and transitory stress.

We can cope with agony and triumph. We can deal with intensity. Cataclysm is a no-brainer. But put us, the middle classes of the world, in an environment where stress is invisible, chronic, persistent, and emotional/relational in nature, and we simply fall apart. Short term or long term, we interpret threat as the sabre tooth tiger of our ancestral evolutionary heritage, and everyday sniping wears us down. We die of a thousand cuts.

So these words are intended as a kind of Cliff's Notes of resilience. I want you to find empowerment from reading these. Not the kind of new-age empowerment that involves dramatic big changes, but the empowerment of your will and heart to become inspired to practice, grow strong, and be good. Because virtue is a just matter of practice, right?

Let's look at the nuts and bolts of Rick Hanson's audio program, then.

First, (and simplistically) we have three nervous systems, not one. We have:

A. Social instinct. We have a brain which connects and affiliates with others. This is a need. Without connection and love, human babies die. And likewise adults. Hanson calls it the affiliative system.

B. Security instinct. We have a parasympathetic nervous system and limbic system which avoids danger. Hanson calls it the avoidant system. This records all trauma and problems and brings them up as needed.

C. Sexual and creative instinct. We have a sympathetic nervous system and primitive brain which pulls us to nourishment and what is good for us. Hanson calls this the attractive system, but this system is the connective tissue of society, family, business, mastermind groups, and lovers - when they work well! And this attractive system is modified and adapted by the affiliative and avoidant system.

So we have three basic instinct. The secret to stess-proofing your brain, then is to pacify and nourish these systems. By "pacify" I mean, to tone down their extreme reactions. By "nourish", I mean, to prime them with positive emotions and focus of perception.

Hanson suggests, then, we do the following:

1. Engage and pacify the social instinct with forgivenness and lovingkindness.

2. Engage and pacify the sexual/creative instinct with contentment, appreciation, gratitude, and (again) lovingkindness.

3. Engage and pacify the security instinct with feelings of being loved, secure, trusted, safe, respected, honored, and (also) lovingkindness.

The takeaway insights?

First, lovingkindness is the master pacifier for negative emotions. This much is clear.

Second, the social instinct is the visible expression or face of our nature, and it is greatly modified by security feelings of fear/trust, and sexual/creative feelings of craving/disgust.

Third, most people don't really know what they want, because their sexual/creative instinct is hyped up on craving and disgust, rather than balanced with contentment and appreciation. Furthermore, this suggests that the key to creativity is the cultivation of appreciation, contentment, and gratitude.

Fourth, feelings of being unsafe and insecure completely shut down the human personality and make expression of the other instincts (sexual and social) inhibited or impossible. So the primary focus of resilience is cultivating feelings of being loved, secure, trusted, safe, respected, honored, and stable. Furthermore, stability AS an inner sense of safety is the foundational assset of a good childhood. If one feel stable and safe, one will seek to create, have healthy relationships, and affiliate wisely.

Now, I understand you will find this a lot to take in. Rick Hanson guides us through these ideas experientially using guided meditations. This makes it easy to listen to but hard to practice without the audio, and it's important to process these ideas rationally and verbally in order to integrate them. For me, by writing about these ideas, I clarify them in myself. For you, reading about these ideas, which are basic to human nature, will remind you of what you already know to be true about yourself.

I hope you have read this and said to yourself "Wow, I am really emotionally secure, creative, and resilient! That is so cool."

But if you've read this and said "Wow, I have some work to do!" then you are not alone. I am becoming more deliberate, disciplined and resilient every day, thanks to these practices. And because I find them to be good for me, I now share my understanding of them here with you.

May you be free of problems.

In the immortal words of the Buddhist tradition:

May you be well.
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be at peace.
May you know lovingkindness.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why Some Books Are More Important Than Others (Sorry, Oprah's Book Club!)

Sorry Oprah - you don't make the grade. Because some books are more important than others and yours are not them. Here's why:

Often readers of the great books react defensively or shyly to the slander of being elitist. The universal, generous, life-affirming views of readers of great books are disregarded as old-fashioned or simply mis-informed. So the readers of the great books are few and silent, not because we are few and silent readers (far from it! we are the majority), but because we do not believe in our own narrative.

Readers of the great books do not believe our own story about reality. When some misinforned douchebag pops up and tells us that we are ethnocentric or homophobic or racist or patriarchal for being practicing liberal artists, we quail and evade the shameful ruse. We pretend we have no story. We disappear from the noise and superficiality of culture.

Worse, under the onslaught of vicious and mis-informed positions about reality, we actually re-define liberty as "the right to be left alone", because the illiberal falsehoods of the popular culture us are defining liberty as the right to interfere in other peoples' thinking and lives.

Bottom line: we liberal artists are hypocrites. We do not believe our own story. We liberal artists do not act like be believe the basic ideas of a free human being:

- that reality is founded in natural law,
- that nature, not culture, is our primary limiting factor on every endeavor,
- that history is the record of inquiries into the advance of liberty,
- that civil plurality of opinions based in reason, fact, and evidence is the function of politics,
- that personal responsibility and accountability is the basis for trustworthiness and esteem in public discourse;
- and that good character in action is the primary function of citizenship.

We don't act like we really believe that, otherwise we would speak in a way that demonstrates that.

And perhaps the clearest expression of our lack of clarity about our story is the failure to admit that some books are better than others.

It seems that what we affirm as true ("some books are better than others"), we also fall into the error of denying the false ("some books are not worth reading"). But this is not the case. All books are considered worth reading by their creators, just as all speakers have the right to be heard once. But in the case of all narcissistic speakers, the right to speak freely then comes with the need to practice the additional responsibility to sit down, shut up and listen to what others have to say.

Similarly, some books have the right to spread ridiculous nonsense. But with that right, then, comes the additional responsibility to be put down unread half-way and justly compared with the great books and found lacking.

Is it "unfair" to compare bad or mediocre books to the great books, and find the bad books wanting? Well, let's look at the question another way:

Is it unfair to put a highly intelligent PhD student in charge of a science lab over a retarded student with development difficuties? Of course it is unfair. But it is also just, right, practical and effective. We can ideally say that the retarded student has "equal rights" to run the science lab, and in a weird idealistic way this is true; but we can also say that ultimately the educated PhD student is the one actually really qualified to run the science lab.

Similarly, when we say that some books are better than others, we are not saying that certain bad books do not have the right to exist, and are not "equal" as books (in some weird hypothetically idealistic way). Rather, we are saying that the great books are uniquely suited to the living of a free human life in a way which bad, mediocre, or merely good books are not.

The error in our story about the great books is that we have allowed the dialog to move purely into the realm of rights, which concern fairness, and unjustly neglected the realm of suitability, which concerns justice. We have allowed idealistic but unreal imaginations to pass and ignored realistic and sensible practicalities. And this omission is a failure of great book readers and liberal artists, not of the uneducated folk who cannot or will not dedicate themselves to discovering the liberal arts.

Allow me to put it in a syllogism:

First, the great books are better for liberal artists than any other books to be read.

Second, the most free and full flourishing possible for all human beings requires securing inner freedom of mind, heart, and person, and to establish an objectively free society, and this is the function of a liberal artist.

Therefore, finally, the great books are the best books for all human beings to read to become subjectively free and to preserve and increase our objective political liberty.

So, sorry Oprah. Sorry publishers. Sorry kindle. Sorry supermarkets. Sorry TV. Sorry bloggers. And sorry you guys. But we have something more important to read today, and it will not be you.

Please visit again for part two of this talk, showing some practical examples.

follow me on Twitter