flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘philosophy

Leaving adolescence

It’s interesting when we start to take control of our lives.  We make a plan.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  And we resign ourselves to being powerless.

Encountering adulthood

Then we get a bit older and we resolve to make things work.  And we do. When a plan threatens to come apart, we jump around and keep it altogether.  And feel very good for it.

Muddling through middle age

It’s only much later that we realize that we weren’t really keeping things together. We were feeling better. We were exploring other stories about ourselves in the world.

Not confronting the experiences of middle age

I see the converse too.  I know people who are brilliant at retelling a story as if the world does it’s bidding.  They can’t countenance a notion that sometimes the world really is not on your side.

They’ve never made the transition from that early stage of needing to be in control.  They’ve just learned to divert their strong need to be in control to a story that convinces .  .   . well, them.  It doesn’t convince anyone else. They are still aiming to feel better and they are willing to pervert reality to regain that feeling.

Living honestly with our lack of control

I can’t believe that this self-deception is a good thing.  Misreading the world is dangerous.  The world simply doesn’t do our bidding.

Our best bet is to position ourselves in the river and go with the current, steering lightly but not fighting.   It’s tough though. I still don’t like being washed along.  I have to reverse attitudes I worked so hard to learn.

But maybe I can achieve more through inaction?

There!  I still want to achieve.  Maybe by promising myself that prize, I can experiment with inaction and simply enjoy the river in all its tumultus chaos?

Yikes, our psychology is old fashioned

Here we are close to 2010, wrestling with philosophy and physics that was well documented half a century ago.

Let’s look at what most of us think of as science.

If I throw a stone, in theory, I can predict where it will land.   I like that. It is certain. I like that I know exactly what is going to happen.

But, of course, I don’t know where it will land.

  • I am no good at throwing stones.  It could go anywhere.
  • My ability to calculate the physics of the trajectory is limited (I’ve forgotten and can’t do it in my head in real time).
  • And other factors kick in such as the wind.

All in all, that stone becomes unpredictable. Oh, I don’t like that.

I don’t like the idea that what I thought was certain is not. It’s as if the earth shook under my feet.

Let’s look at what we think of as weakness of character

I hate it even more when I become unpredictable.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking a project was hopeless.  By the evening, I was so excited about the exact same project that I could not sleep.  My judgement should not swing about like that ~ at least if I am a person of substance, or so we are brought up to believe.

The truth is that nothing is predictable.  Least of all us.

So why do we persist in believing the world is under our control?

This is how it works. We have is a few factors under our control.  When we focus on those factors, we feel calm.  We feel efficacious.  And therefore we persist in whatever we are doing.

It doesn’t mean that we are effective.  It just means that we are willing to persist.  We pay attention. We are more likely to do what we are thinking about than what we are not thinking about. So we get done what we are thinking about.

In a circular fashion, we think we will succeed, we feel in control, so we persist and therefore we try, and sometimes we do succeed.

There is still a huge factor of chance involved though.  There is  so much else happening around us that can affect an outcome.   We’ve simply narrowed the range of outcomes by paying attention.

Is it a good thing to control our attention?

It’s interesting that in the western world that we put such a high premium on predicting results.  We really want to feel in control, of course.  Not be in control, feel in control.

We aren’t really in control. We are just ignoring what is out of our control. We are just writing a story of us in control. It is the story of being in control that we love! Take that away, and we really feel helpless!

You don’t believe  that we just like to think we are in control?

Let’s look at the west. It is more successful than the rest of the world. It is richer.

Yes, it is. And dirtier. Where do the emissions come from? How much energy is used to make this life style?

We are richer because we consume. That’s what wealth means in this sense. We have learned to consume a lot.

And if that is a marvellous thing, then aren’t we are being silly ~ we are destroying the world’s ability to sustain the thing that we say is so important.

Aren’t we just behaving like a person who barges to the front of the queue? It is true we get there. But at the expense of becoming very unpopular.

The point is that we barged to the front of the queue, not because being in the front was important, but because we wanted to feel in control. Now we are in the front, do we feel in control? No we don’t. All those people behind us will get their own back at the first opportunity! We’ve reduced our control.

High control needs

Now I am an in control type of person. Anyone who knows me, knows that. I like being in control. I look for ways to understand the world. I think we do more when we understand the world

But I shouldn’t mistake

  • My desire to be in control
  • The mechanisms that explain the behaviour of plants, animals, things and other people
  • My ability to control all these things

These are three different parts of the system.

Paradoxically, to be in control, I must give up control and join a system in which many mechanisms interrelate.

Oh, I can carry on being me. Enthusiastic, energetic, zestful. But that is just me being exuberant. Exuberant people are part of the universe. Take us into account in your calculations!

But my wish to control does not make things controllable. It means I will spend a lot of time researching what is controllable. I will not stop trying to make things controllable. But that does not make things controllable. I must distinguish my urge from reality.

The truth is that all the forces of the world exist because other forces exist and interplay with each other. I can learn what is humanly possible. I can learn as much as I can of the considerable knowledge of the world that there we have at our disposal. I can try to use the knowledge.

But I should never confuse my need to control with the ability to control. Indeed if I want to be effective, I should stand back a bit and not confuse the tunnel vision of will with the mindfulness when we pay attention to the world around us.

When we enjoy the world, when we celebrate everything around us, we get a lot more done.

Am I making any sense? This is hard to get.

Carpe Diem or Slow Down and Smell The Roses?

I think Alan Watts might have decried Carpe Diem.  Seize the day!  He would have teased us for being in hurry and not savoring the moment.

Living in The Now is So Very Hard to Do

Living in the now, living mindfully, is very hard for Western-reared people.  Though we are here, now, we constantly worry about what happened last year, last month, last week, yesterday.  And when we are not occupying ourselves with our past, we worry about the future.  I must do this.  I must prevent that!  We have no time left for now.

We are also pretty suspicious about living now.  It seems self-indulgent to just stop and enjoy my coffee.   I rather suspect that we in the West interpret being mindful to living what Seligman pleasurably, as opposed to living with engagement and meaning. We are obsessed with children eating marshmallows, or not, as the case may be.  The reality is that we are obsessed with marshmallows!

We Desperately Want to Live in The Now

Alan Watts’ philosophy challenges us because it is alien to us.  But we seek it.  The idea of picking three tasks to do a day in an agile sprint or a personal kanban is a bid, I think, to justify our deep need to pay attention to what we are doing.

3 Videos on Alan Watts Speaking about Play & Work

I was brought up within a Western frame of thinking so I will stop here and embed the videos.  Each is about 10 minutes long, so maybe budget 40 minutes.  Know that you are a child of this age and that you will find it hard to block 40 minutes and to sit still that long.  Make some coffee, find a comfortable chair, put a pen and pad next to you  for the extraneous thoughts that will pop into your mind, and take the opportunity to relax ~ to deeply relax in the company of a man who knew how to enjoy life.

Hat-tip:  These videos were posted on YouTube by Broodbox

Introverts often enjoy solitary activities lik...
Image via Wikipedia

In the west, we think about ourselves as individuals

We think of “individuals” as something real. Let me explain, what I mean.

You probably think of yourself as having a personality. You are introverted, or extroverted, for example.

And because that is “you”, you are always introverted or extroverted, wherever you are, and whomever you are with.  What’s more, because you are always the same, we can “measure” you, or your personality, with a test. And of course, psychologists do.

In other cultures, “individual” is not so central to thinking

It is quite hard to grasp, and quite hard to get our heads around the idea that people are not separate from their circumstances.

Where I grew up for example, people are described by their relationships to other people: mother of Jack, daughter of Sam, for example.  This not fuzzy thinking. It is very advanced thinking that we find hard.

People are not focusing on the person and the things around the person

They look at the space between the person and the things. Or, the space between one person and another.

Theory, philosophy, cultures, manners, all describe that space.

If you visit New Zealand, you will hear everyone, Maori and Pakeha, talking about Mana

Loosely, mana is a combination of status and respect.

Explained using our concepts, this is confusing. Mana comes partly from our character – who we are as an individual.  Mana also comes partly from our position, as a teacher, say.

Using our thinking, this seems untidy and undeveloped.

But mana, like concepts in other cultures, describes the space between people. When we we look at this space, mana makes perfect sense.

3 poetic phrases to explain mana for your new week

As a gift for the week, I thought I would share 3 phrases that I keep on my desk.   These quotations are from poets & scholars in the West who write about our need to look at the space between ourselves and others.

“put yourself inside the river”

“everything is waiting for you”

“strength is in contact with the environment”

Have a winning week!

And remember to look after your mana – the space between you and others.

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