I have so often been told to visualize the future I want. “Send out positive thoughts. Invite the universe to present it to you.”

I’ve always figured it doesn’t work because I’m too much a skeptic. Perhaps it’s because, as this article suggests, having once visualized what I want, I stop trying. My brain – that so-easily deluded brain that we all trust so implicitly – has decided I’m already where I want to be, so it encourages me to stop trying to get there.

Visualizing the worst seems counter-intuitive at first, but there is much to be said for it. If nothing else, you are planning ahead, even if unconsciously, what you might do if things don’t work out as you’d hoped. So you are better prepared for whatever result eventually arises.

It’s not seeking failure. It’s accepting that you need to be open to learning, to new approaches and new ideas. Turning all life experience into an opportunity to develop yourself, not to stagnate on one only-possible path.

Failure, even if only acting foolishly in a social setting, is an indicator that you are acting at your current limits. The key is to see failure as an opportunity to expand those limits.

From:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/15/happiness-is-being-a-loser-burkeman

Ennui of the Cat

April 15, 2012

Profound philosophy of the gloomy sort, while ” the white idiot writhes on his chair, begging for cheeseburgers.”

 

Whimsy

January 14, 2012

Even in the darkest times, a tiny touch of whimsy can bring a smile.

The god botherers were out at the university yesterday. What makes these rude bigots think they have the right to tell the rest of us how to live? If we want to hear their narrow-minded hatred, we’ll seek out them and their cult. This assumption religious people share, that they have rights denied the rest of us to preach and impose their point of view. I cannot like it. It devalues – dehumanizes the rest of the world. And certainly, it devalues their god. If their god was real, and had omnipotence, it wouldn’t need humans for anything – except abject, worshiping slaves. What a horrible creature that would be.

No, when I hear the god botherers’ rants, all I can think is “#@!!# sadist!” Anyone who had the power to heal, to help, to restore and chose not to use it … no words games needed. That being – person or god – is a sadist.

Apparently the gay rights crowd set up a rally right beside them. Good on them! I missed that. I don’t really regret it, though. I am not fond of altercations. Hence my lifelong commitment to hanging my head and enduring and enduring and enduring rather than speaking out.

After learning about various systems of spirituality, I’ve long wanted to think of myself as water – smooth, life-giving, but powerful in its endurance and determination. Foolish fancy. I have lived more as packed earth – with, to be fair, an occasional sparkle of gemstones. (why am I always so determined to put myself down?) Lately I’ve begun to wonder if there’s not quite a bit of fire in me. I feel the stirrings of it now and again, but am not sure how much of it is due to specific emotional states.

Transitions times are tough. I do understand why people seek the comfort of religion. To be able to step back and say, with conviction, “I’m being taken care of. I don’t have to worry about what I do, what I need, who I am. God will take care of everything.” How blissful. I respect people who can hold onto a belief – any belief – and use it to cushion the upheavals of life. (We all hear me adding the proviso “As long as they don’t impose those beliefs on others”, don’t we?) And I admire how much practical charity and kindness comes out of many religions ( see above parenthesis). But I cannot seem to hold onto that illusion. I want to see what’s real.

I am confronting a dilemma I hadn’t thought to. I am a skeptic, in the sense that I ask questions, withhold judgment ( not that you’d believe that after my complaints about god botherers, but I allow them their rights – IF they allow me mine. Break that courtesy, and you put yourself outside respect), but, most importantly, seek information. I don’t knee-jerk respond to things, and I’m actually pleased when my beliefs are challenged by new information (yes – skeptics have beliefs. We all do We just need to recognize them, allow for their influence, and try to work around them).

Right now, my beliefs in how the universe works – physics and all – are being undermined. It is surprisingly hard to say, “Maybe this is real” when it goes against the apparent reality that works in experimental and practical life. (total tangent. Am working in a coffee shop right now. The people next to me are physicists, arguing over quantum stuff. A scathing voice says, “So on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it’s a particle and on other days its a wave” Wonderful!)

But I know what I am experiencing. And it doesn’t fit.

Well, hooray! and all that. A new test of my reasoning abilities and open-mindedness. Unfortunately, I also, like, I suspect, most people, prefer certainties. That’s another thing religion offers that so eases the turmoil of human existence. The certainty that even if you can’t know, can’t understand, can’t see clearly, there is an entity who can do it for you. Ah … bliss. No responsibility for understanding myself or the world, let alone other people. Nope. I can’t let go of my self like that.

Long tirade. Sorry. Yet, despite the uneven tenor of the words, I am quite pleased with life right now. Oh, I am confronting decisions, realities, challenges that sometimes overwhelm me. I can’t see a clear path anywhere to the future I envision so clearly. I get despondent at times.

But a new element has entered my life. Not new – a returning of something that never actually left. Just lay quietly out of conscious thought most of the time, with occasional resurgences. Now it is active again. And it is a catalyst in my writing, my thoughts, my self, my life.

It brings uncertainty, eagerness, mental and physical reawakening. I have been inert for so long. I was waking up – have been waking myself up. But now – a flame has been ignited, and I know I am alive again.

I like being alive.

Swearing

October 31, 2011

My son has been trying to teach me to swear. Also to drink beer, but that’s another story. Although I won his surprised respect when the one beer I thought I might be able to learn to like was a very hoppy dark local brew (always buy local!) that he thought too intense for my so novice tastes. My daughter, too, thinks I should loosen up on swearing.

I’ve been practicing. The last time the cat escaped (she’s a rescued stray, so unlike my raised-indoor cats, she covets the outdoors) I actually said sh*t. Very deliberately.

I don’t know that it made me feel any better.

So why learn to swear? Because I’ve come to suspect that not swearing, like several other behaviors of mine, was a pattern I adopted to ‘be’ someone, rather than a true choice. I’ve written about / questioning who we think we are /. Not to change ourselves, necessarily, but to ensure that the beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world really are what we think right, and not just habits.

Swearing is one of the ways I’m testing who I think I am versus who I might be, if I strip away some of the possible illusions I’ve wrapped myself in.

It may be that I find I don’t see the point of swearing. (Although I’ve always felt Terry Pratchett got it exactly right when he wrote that, after hitting your thumb with a hammer, a rational, well-considered “Oh random fluctuations of an indifferent universe” doesn’t have the same satisfaction of a simple, short Anglo-saxon epithet.

You can see, then, why I thought this so delightful:

Self vs. Selfish

October 27, 2011

There is a certain wry amusement to be had in that the moments I feel most blindingly insightful are almost inevitably followed by an awareness of blithering stupidity. Every flash of wisdom must be learned for myself, I know, but why on earth can’t I learn from others?

For a couple of days now I’ve been pondering the difference between being true to self and being selfish.

What hit me this morning (watering plants is a generative act) selfishness only arises when you act in a way that’s contrary to what others have a *right* to expect of you.

So then I ask, what rights over myself and my actions have I given to others, and why? Did I assign this power consciously? Is it built into my culture’s social contracts? Was it implicit in other agreements? Or am I seeing it as a right when it’s not?

The reverse is also to be considered. Why do others assume they have rights over me? And, for that matter, who do I hold rights over?

Okay. I should have thought of that one sooner. The only rights I have over others are that I expect to be treated with respect. To be acknowledged as a person with feelings, needs, and yes, duties — to a point.

Example time. If I have agreed to meet someone for a walk and I decide I don’t want to go, I have an obligation to contact them as soon as possible so they aren’t standing at the trail head waiting for me. If I don’t want to go, but keep the engagement anyways, I have an obligation to be an agreeable companion for the duration. But I do not have an obligation to go if I don’t want to.

However, my decision to go or not must also factor in what I know of their needs. Do I know that they are depending on me to show up, not just for company, but because they needed to talk about something? That they are afraid to walk alone? If I have agreed to join them, knowing this, then I have an obligation to honor that agreement, and mere whim must not keep me from that meeting.

Again, though, if my situation has altered such that meeting them would be a true hardship, then I have a right to cancel.

So, I can choose to not meet with my walking partner and not be selfish, as long as I have taken into account all those factors, and made a decision that is as rational as is (humanly) possible. It would not be hypocrisy to go for the walk even though I didn’t want to be there. I was honoring a prior agreement and respecting them enough to show up — and be pleasant about it.

Fine mutations, dependent upon so many subtle signals and assumptions.If I were expecting my companion to show up for a walk, and they called before hand to tell me they weren’t coming, I would not see them as selfish. So why do I tell myself I’m selfish if I do that to them? Again – if they knew I was depending on them, and they cancelled for no reason, or for a frivolous reason, then I would call them selfish. But if I knew that they were abandoning me because of real need — I would support their actions. Because I care about them.

If I want to be true to self, I have to be certain I am not deliberately using others, and that I act with thought and care, not whimsy.

Society does impose expectations. Why else are women who don’t want children or people who don’t want to be married told they’re selfish? It is true that they are more likely to become self-obsessed, but selfish? Not at all. People who have the courage to recognize who they are, what they need and want, even if it’s different from societal norms — especially if it’s different from the norm — should be respected. It takes courage to defy the oppressive weight of society.

So I conclude with my oft-repeated one certainty: never treat others as objects.

As long as you strive to recognize that different is not bad, that you have no rights to tell others what to do and how to live, that you do have an obligation to treat others with respect, then you are not selfish.

And now I just need to make myself believe that.

People who dominate.

People who are dominated.

Who belongs in which group? Think about the people you know and how they relate to you or to others. Many people fall into both groups in their interactions with different people. In charge, subordinate, superior, smarter, older, younger, indifferent. Wives, husbands, siblings, students (except for what directly affects their grade), children.

Not listening is aggressive. I do not need you, I do not have to regard you as equal.

Not listening is passive aggressive. I do not find you worth listening to, but I don’t want to say so openly.  Or, I am being discounted by you, so I will retaliate quietly, by ‘not hearing’ what you say whenever I think I can get away with it.

I’m not putting friends in either group, you see, because that is how you know someone, whether they’re related to you or not, is your friend. They listen to you. They accept that what you say is valid. They act with what you say as a factor in their decisions.

People who listen are the people you want in your life.

Do you listen?

Thoughtless Cruelty

October 5, 2011

“The thoughtless cruelty of the young.”

I don’t recall where or when I read that phrase, but it stuck for some reason.

I do not by any stretch of credulity imagine that only the young are thoughtlessly cruel.

I experienced this act today. I think it must be the first time, as it affected me strongly. Being me, I immediately set about analysing why.

It seems that there are two distinct requirements for this category. People are rude, say hurtful things, do hurtful things all the time. Deliberate or inadvertent, but it’s part of life. Cruelty is deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. It also carries a connotation of power against a victim. Even the weather can be cruel: an apt metaphor at times.

Thoughtless cruelty, then is an unintentional act or speech that causes great harm to its victim. Thoughtless in both senses: without premeditation, but also without any consideration of consequences.

It is distinguished from ordinary rudeness by the obliviousness of the agent. They do not intend rudeness. They are only making an observation, or performing an act — one that they see as harmless. They are without intent to harm; they do not consider the effect of their act.

The cruelty is determined by the reaction of the target. What seems cruel to me might be laughed off by another. It is highly personal.

I suspect the phrase originated in the arrogance — at times endearing, at times maddening — of youth,  before the responsibilities and realities of life temper enthusiasms, shrink the amplitudes of their emotional ups and downs.

Generalizing. I don’t like it, but it has some use as a starting point for considering an issue.

Youth are, by their very freedom from responsibility, as a group, more likely to speak their thoughts without stopping to speculate consequences. Just as they are more likely to be activists, passionately devoted to causes and  perceived imperatives.

We need that enthusiasm. Again, it is not that energy, that tight-focused world-view I am criticising. In fact, I’m not criticizing anything.

I’m only commenting that I have learned what thoughtless cruelty means. And it was not a pleasant lesson.

Philosophy Humor

September 27, 2011

I quite like this article. Let us bring philosophy into the real world, both through concrete extensions of mind into matter, and into the daily conflicts that beset us.

From The Onion:  http://www.theonion.com/articles/ask-the-concept-of-phenomenology-in-architecture-a,26178/

Does what we believe make us more vulnerable to belief?

I’m not talking about religion, necessarily, though that is a dominant belief for most people. It is not religion, but what we believe about religion; what we believe about ourselves within that religion, that political alignment, that career path: it is the beliefs we hold that cause problems.

Man is a myth maker. I’ve talked about that / with denialism / that we survive by denying what we don’t want to accept. Similarly, we live by creating a myth of ourselves that we live within.

An example: years ago I discovered backpacking. I felt so alive in the forests. I was filled with joy. It was outside my previous experience, and I thought I’d found the ‘true me’ in nature.

Shortly thereafter I took a career assessment test. Of course, I marked everything that reflected the outdoors as highly positive. And, of course, the test results showed I should be in forestry, or landscaping, or some other nature/outdoor career.

I would have been miserable. I do not like *having* to be out and about in all weathers. I do love curling up with a good book and a cup of hot tea and reveling in the comforts (luxuries beyond price by global standards) of my home.

I had let a new-found belief about myself override what (little) I truly knew about myself. Almost let it override. My new belief about myself had skewed the results.

If you see yourself as a person who is reasonable, flexible, open-minded; if that is your personal myth, how can you see that you can also be stubborn as a pig?

If you see yourself as compassionate, kind, generous;  how can you admit you are also selfish?

If you see yourself as a devoted parent, how can you recognize and accept the normal frustrations of child rearing?

The only way to avoid self-manipulation into belief-induced blindness is always to be examining not just your words, but your actions, your choices, and ultimately your beliefs. (see also on / what it should mean to be a skeptic / ) (no, don’t run. Being a skeptic, like being religious, is an umbrella term covering an entire spectrum of possibilities. Because a few loonies hijack a term doesn’t make it lose its credibility).

Ask yourself about your beliefs. Ask why you see yourself in this way and not that. Don’t try to rationalize. Instead, explore your beliefs, without judgment, and as much as possible without a predetermined goal in mind.

If you are a religious person — why? Admit, first off, that the religion you follow is almost certainly entirely due to what you were raised to believe. No, that doesn’t belittle your belief. It does allow you to step back and look at what you were taught about belief. Are those facets of religion truly what you think worthwhile, or are they habits?

Out of that examination, you can forge a belief centered in what you value, not what generations past, or other people tell you is true. Beliefs are personal. Accept that, and accept how what you believe reflects who you truly are. Use your beliefs as a key to unlock who you truly are, then work back and tailor those beliefs to express your truth, not obscure it.

This is crucial when we turn back to the first question of this post. What you believe you are is how you will act, and what you will say to others. It becomes your face to the world, and your filter for the world. Everything you see and hear and read is interpreted through the prism of that belief. New ideas, new beliefs will be admitted or denied based on how they reinforce your beliefs.

Ironically, the more rigid your belief, the more likely you are to act in opposition to it. The most fundamentalist religious people do the most evil acts. If you believe yourself to be a pure scientist, motivated only be provable reason, your own moods; your own need to demonstrate pure rationality will make you act without reason. It might manifest as scurrilous attacks on those who admit to belief, it might be that you adopt a cult, or even quack medicine like homeopathy or anti-vaccination. You will twist evidence, claim validity, and deny proof with the same logic you employ to deny every other shady claim. And you won’t recognize you are doing it because you can’t admit that you, too, live by beliefs in your world and in yourself. Your beliefs blind you to who you are and to what you are doing.

If you believe you are an artist, set apart from crass and common humanity, everything you see will be bent to reinforce that belief about yourself. How then do you honestly respond to both the beauty and ugliness of life? More importantly, how do you convey truth to your audience?

If you believe that only those who agree with you can be right, what happens to new ideas? How tolerant, how fair will you be to those who think differently?

But, if you accept that your beliefs are a nebula around your core, that they can shift and change with new ideas, new information, then you have the flexibility to be truly compassionate, truly tolerant, truly wise.

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