Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Day 6: A paradox in the effort to encounter reality

Linda here. Difficult day for me to follow the conversation. If this feels repetitious, it is only because we are always talking about one thing. 

Reality: What is it and how might we experience it?

In the last couple of weeks, there has been an invitation to "encounter what is there, reality." 

Of course, this is a big question…what is reality?  Someone asked about the difference between REAL and REALITY.  What is real? Well, we might say that we we experience in this world is as real as Harvey's model of circulation was in the 1700s. That was very "real" to them at the time.  Is it then reality?  It seems not.  

Is the genocide and suffering in the world "real?"  Roger's disposition is that it is "produced," rather than something that exists on its own, independent of human investment of energy in some kind of activity. 

Let's say, for the sake of this blog entry, that reality is.  That is, it is what IS.  (Perhaps this is a reference to the "now". Do we actually exist in any other moment than the "now?"). 

This is different than "our" realities, the stories we tell ourselves about what is. In this way, "our" realities are not a whole lot different than fantasies--they are stories imbued with personal meaning that are more or less correlated with factual information.  Roger provided a technical distinction from Heidegger, that fantasy is a turning away from what is; imagination is a turning into what is. 

One of the things that was reported about an attempt to encounter what is,  was that thinking about how to do it resulted in a brain overload, where one's brain "turned off."  Roger commented that that would be an excellent way ("brain turned off") to encounter reality. 

The dilemma that we seem to be in is that our minds are active, like a gerbil on a wheel. Their incessant work is producing something, but this something is not generally helpful to our experience of what is.  Roger asserts that all this activity is the thing that gets in the way of encountering reality in general and our solidarity in particular. 

What we are exploring, this encounter with reality, doesn't involve "doing" anything.  We imagine that we need to manipulate ourselves to encounter reality. Instead, it is the case (says Roger) that we are constantly manipulating ourselves to encounter a "produced" reality that we often conflate with what is.

What is "produced" reality? Does it require an investment of your energy to keep it in existence? If so, it is produced. What is there when one stops adding energy to this produced reality ("my" reality)?

I digress. I have been unsuccessfully attempting to encounter reality without the interference of my mind. Allegedly, attempting to do so will reveal the places where we are actively producing something. I have noticed a couple of things.  One is that when I can, for a moment, encounter people from a different place of being (with the gerbil resting), there is so much more "there."  One can feel people and there is a richer exchange, a connection.  This works best for me with strangers, like at the grocery store. 

Secondly, what I have noticed is that the activity of my inner gerbil is most obvious to me when I first wake up in the morning. My first thought is something that "needs my attention"--some problem that needs fixing. What I can see in this mind activity is that I am feeding an egoic identification with "self" as "reformer." I think I see now what Roger means when he says our minds are busy in the "active production of self. "  I am in a constant state of reifying my egoic identity of reformer, agent of change, 'fixing' things. What if I gave the gerbil a rest? What then would I experience?

Why is it hard to experience reality? 

At some point, Roger presented an image of himself, siting at the edge of a beautifully-inviting, clear and deep pool of water.  His sitting at the edge also involves him clinging to a fetid sack of crap which he acquired through a lifetime of "Getting his shit together." (Mission accomplished!).  
We are holding onto this sack "as if" our life depended on it; our life, little "l," does.  Our Life, big "L", requires that we relinquish the sack and dive in.  

We see a gap between the liberty and health that we might experience in letting go of the crap and diving into the pool. But of course, our clinging to the sack is a park of the sack itself. 

It is this fear of impermanence that keeps us clinging to the sack.  We think that letting go means the end of us, means losing. When we let go, a different landscape of being becomes available.

We want assurances before we let go of the sack, but that desire is of course, part of the sack itself.

In the end, it is very hard to encounter reality or even another human being in the process of clinging to that sack.  

Our next meeting is the "Monday-Tuesday, May 27" at the usual time and place.  (This is, of course, not to be confused with "Maunday-Tuesday."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day 5: The production of our identity in an age of separating

Linda here again. If ever there was a day that I couldn't follow my notes, it is today. I am sure a lot will be left out. My apologies.

Experiencing solidarity and unity: A look at the homework

Last week's homework was an invitation to encounter the world from a "felt" position, rather than a cognitive one or an emotional one.  In doing so, you might be able to see what it is that is creating a feeling of separation between you and an "other."

The theory beneath this invitation is that the nature of reality is that of "prior unity".  The word "unity"  means a state of being whole. The word "prior" implies that this state of wholeness is prior to the arising of "forms."

You might now wonder what a form is.  A simple definition is "the visible shape or configuration of something."

So, prior unity describes a state of wholeness that exists prior to things and beings taking on a visible shape.  If this were then the nature of reality, like the ocean being a whole body of water, it seems that the arising of forms--like the arising of waves--would not negate the wholeness of the body of water. Could we actually sense and feel that wholeness, even though we have taken on the form of an embodied consciousness?

That was the homework.

We already have access to this unity, but if we don't feel it, what is it that is disallowing us to experience our (theoretically) true nature of oneness?

We must be actively producing this condition of "non-oneness" that destroys our access to the oneness.

Someone answered this by recalling an experience they had at a debate about nuclear power. They found that as one person spoke with impassioned inaccuracy about the science of nuclear power, they were highly offended. Their offense from what occurred as the wrongness of the speaker's statements was accompanied by a suite of thoughts and feelings that created a distance between themselves and the speaker.  They also added that when they could locate empathy for this person, it dissolved some of that distance.

Roger reported having many amusing thoughts about us doing our homework.  He said from a theory of prior unity, there is then nothing to do to be able to feel solidarity with someone else. Solidarity is the natural state and already available.  It is the case that we need to stop doing the things that we are doing that prevents us from feeling that.

A simple way of saying this is: It is hard to encounter someone else when you have a whole lot going on. In the example of the debate, the listener was unable to encounter the speaker because his attention was taken up by her wrongness according to the produced model that the listener had inherited.

We are taking action, doing something, but we pretend that we aren't. What is it that we are generally doing that prevents us from feeling solidarity?  We are engaged in what Roger calls "the production of identity."  What does this mean?  Well, it often takes the form of saying, in our heads "I'm not like that," when "that" refers to some characteristic we imagine that another person has.  These are negations ("I'm  not..."), said to ourselves to differentiate our "selves" from "others."

An aside: Who is this "self" that we are producing?  And who is the "we" that is producing the "self"? This question kept nagging me while "I" was attempting to take notes. 

Someone then offered the observation that she tends to engage in the story of her identity when she is feeling insecure.  In those moments, she notices that she defends herself and confuses things with herself, mixing the story of accomplishments with who she is.

Severe confusion for the notetaker...Who is the "she" who feels "insecure"? Is this the same "self" she is defending?  And unsafe about what?

As I hear this, there are two people in the story, the consciousness who "is" and the "self" that needs security [in its existence?], who isn't the consciousness. 

I feel my colleague has identified a pattern that all of us experience, but never before have I noticed the somewhat oddness of the actual statements, that there are two different entities in the story--the "self" that needs defending, is insecure about its "self", and the "she" who is the consciousness apart from that "self." 

Identity: Exactly who are we?

All this talk about the self created reflections on the notion of identity, which we seem to be quite loose about, frankly.  That is, we seem to take on a great number of things as who we are, as illustrated in the phrase used to describe where one parked a car, "I am parked over there." (Are you, really?)  "I am the CEO of ____," implying that the essence of their being is in fact a role.  This is where one's identity gets conflated with a story that has meaning to that person. Eventually that story becomes his-story, and we define our "selves" according to his-story (I am intentionally using "his" and not "her" story, to reflect whose stories actually get recorded).

What does it mean to have an identity and do we actually define these by our "selves"? Or, as someone suggested, do our identities co-arise out of the interaction between or "selves" and our social milieu or other societal dynamics?

Someone posited the question of whether we are anything but free to be, without bounds?

Another answered "No. I am not a six foot tall man."  Of course, Roger then pointed out that that person was drawing the bounds of her identity around her organic self.  But that is a choice.  If I upload my consciousness somewhere, does my organic self matter?  (There is a movement called transhumanism, or h+, which is a futuristic consideration of the post-human condition. We won't get into it here).

This was a radicalizing question that was followed by this observation: I, Roger, am thoroughly persuaded about something of my existence, but have no credible evidence of it. The only place to look is memory. I cannot prove my existence as such in any place else. In that condition is the question of liberty or freedom. This circles back to the idea that access to freedom is the ability to choose what IS, not choosing what is NOT.   Choosing what is not ("I'm not like that person.") is the activity of the ego, creating the "little me", as Eckhardt Tolle says.

Oh my, any reasonable person would be confused at this moment. So it is a good time for a story about two waves, shared by dear Regina. 

There once was a big wave and a little wave.  They were happily headed toward the shore and the big wave said to the little wave, "There is something I'd like to tell you, but I'm not sure I should because it might affect how you feel about things."  Little wave responded, "What is it?"  The big wave said, "Well, when we hit the shore, we will no longer exist."  After some thought, the little wave said, "There is something I'd like to tell you as well, but I'm not sure I should because it might affect how you feel about things."  The big wave said, "What is it?"  Replied the little wave, "Well, we aren't waves, we're water."

With the benefit of now looking back on my notes, I think I am seeing (backwards) what Roger was saying. I think that he was saying that the thing that we typically think of as our "self" is not the consciousness that is aware of this "self". Using Regina's story, what we typically think of as our "self" is the stories we tell about the wave, thinking it is "us." So, Roger's observation might look like this:

I, Roger the big wave, am thoroughly persuaded about my existence, but have no credible evidence of it. The only place to look is memory, where I see the stories I tell about my wave-ness. I cannot prove my existence as such in any place else, and in fact, I will hit the shore and be gone. In that condition is the question of liberty or freedom for "me," the water; I am free as the water to choose what is--my apparent wave-ness, my real water-ness, and all that these imply.

How does this make any difference?  The asserted "self" has two qualities: It asserts that it exists and yet it is impermanent.  Even the point of view that asserts the "self" exists is impermanent.

This impermanence contrasts with love, which is not impermanent in the same way.  Love is outside of form (says Roger, yet there was a flurry of assertions and questions after this statement...we will likely need to devote a future conversation to understanding what LOVE is, since there was clearly a great deal of bewilderment about it).

Suffering, on the other hand, comes from attachment to form and desire for the form's permanence.

The asserted "self" is "form" (the wave). Every human tradition posits the existence of a "self" outside of conditional reality--this is the soul, the spirit.  What is this soul?  One theory is that the soul consists of the consciousness of prior unity participating in this world having forgotten that prior unity, yet still has love of that prior unity. In oder to participate in this world, the consciousness has to first see it as separate.

The age of separation

These same things are being said throughout human history, with the exception of the last 380 years. In the last 380 years, humans lived in a time where we asserted that objects are separate and self-occurring. This positivist point of view comes with a whole suite of beliefs about the nature of reality and the nature of knowing, all of which is socially constructed. The difficulty with this point of view is that it ignores the socially-constructed nature in favor of a belief that the point of view is factual "truth".

How did this happen?  It was Des Carte, the founder of the modern theory of knowledge, who had a series of dreams in which he concluded that some things represented "truth" another others, "error". Laura Rendon tells this story elegantly in her commencement speech Rendón, L. (2000). Academics of the Heart: Reconnecting the Scientific Mind with the Spirit's Artistry. Review of Higher Education, 24(1), 1–14.

Built into this frame is scarcity with competition as the means to the ultimate ends of growth. This paradigm is deeply embedded into our confused interpretation of the phrase, "Survival of the fittest," by which we take to mean "Growth through domination in a world of scarce resources."

Deconstructing the positivist frame is not a refutation of it, but a consideration of expanding the set of frames available to interpret what we encounter in the world.  An alternative frame:  "Synergistically thriving through collaboration in a world of abundance"

So here we are, back at the original homework. Our aim was to encounter the world as it is. In order to do so, we must suspend the positivist frame, since from within that frame, nothing outside of the frame exists.

And what do you do when you encounter the activity of activity creating separation?  One option is to choose it as it is.

Try it.  No need to manipulate anything about your state. What happens when you choose it as it is?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day 4: An invitation to explore the dynamics of discomfort & feel another being

Linda here.  

The oddly long and silent(-ish) check in

There was about a half an hour in which very little was said. There were large gaps of silence into which different people would say something. 

Roger asked, "What do people hear?"  "Is there a pattern to the check ins?"

People offered a few observations. Someone noted that even what people were offering was from a perspective that the individual was predisposed to, sometimes in a self-professed way. She wondered if our minds are so powerful a filter that we tend to see the internal state, regardless of what is happening. 

Roger asked about how we attempted to respond to his question. What we noticed was that people largely attempted to recall the words that each person said, then attempted to look for patterns in the content of the words. There were other observations about how one's internal state gets unconsciously and inseparably mixed with what is perceived and how it is interpreted, with an observation that "objectivity" is impossible, although often not believed to be so by those who are self-identified as "objective" in their points of view. 

Roger was fascinated with his own process during the oddly long and silent check in. When he asked,  "What did you hear?" he was really wondering about where our attention was during the oddly silent check in. Perhaps it was the entailments caused by the metaphor, "hear," but he noticed a prioritization of the cognitive content of what was said. There were many things going on, yet what we report is the stimulation of our tympanic membranes.  This is the thing we are comfortable with.  In the absence of these longitudinal pressure waves (i.e., sound), what is it that we do?

At that point, many people confessed their relief when Roger asked the question, thereby breaking the silence.  

Then several people offered an analytical look at what they were thinking during this oddly long and silent(-ish) check in. This detour (not really) also contained a question about what it means to express solidarity in the midst of someone else's suffering/oppression.  

Roger mentioned that he was really inviting people to watch the dynamics of comfort and discomfort; what might we choose to do in the face of discomfort?
  • Example: we can't stop thinking about "x" and "x" has no relevance in our lives;
What is happening?  He is interested in the things that we "turn away" from. 

Someone mentioned that the turning away was a coping mechanism to deal with the genuine heartbreak of all that is happening in the world. Roger noticed that we get a great deal more information about the heartbreak than we do about the joy.  He also noticed that we don't ever get our fill of "joy" and then find ourselves having to turn away from it. 

Roger asserted that we often don't feel things when we encounter them them.  

I will say that this struck a chord with me. I find myself suppressing a lot of what I feel when I first encounter things, particularly the heartbreak. That is, I spend energy doing what I imagine is "pushing it away."  I don't think this is working for me.  I am probably just storing the emotion somewhere as pent up energy in my being. When I slow down enough, the sadness is immediately accessible. But I find it funny that the joy and peace is not as accessible. Why? 

When he used the word "feel", he made a distinction that this does not just include the emotional content, but is more about apprehending something. 

Confusion about what it means to feel something

Then Roger confessed that at the beginning of each meeting, he goes around and "feels" everyone in the room.  (By the way, I realize this sounds funny in my re-writing of this). Then he "feels" the whole. There is a "being" to it. 

He said that the things that we say is not what is going on.  To illustrate, he said that people often report feeling "heard" by Roger. Paradoxically, it is not anything about him engaging in some importance of what they are actually saying. (That is the irony, they feel "heard," but this phenomenon of feeling "heard" has nothing to do with what was said.)

In the "feeling" of the moment, we often delete what is actually "felt" and have a structure in place that allows us to functionally delete it. (I'm not sure what this means, but I wish I understood it.)

Roger is wondering about "feeling" another person.  As an example, imagine you encounter a dog or a cat. Of course, you have no expectation of having a conversation with them, but it is clear that they "feel" a particular way as a being. 

However, in encountering one another, there is so much layered over our unprocessed "feeling" of their being. What would it be like if we could encounter each other more like we encounter a cat or dog? Our own mental activity  in our regular way of encountering people might become more evident to us. 

At this point, we jumped back to the conversation about solidarity and whether or not we felt solidarity with someone. 

There is a theory called "prior unity"; this is the idea that the nature of reality is unified, intrinsically without separateness. If this were the case, how could we in fact feel anything but solidarity with another human being? 

What Roger is suggesting is that we are actively creating separation between our "selves" and each "other" in our cognitive processing (e.g., "I am not like him.")  If you could stop all that, would you encounter things in a different way? 

This of course reminds me of that Ted talk by Jill Bolte Taylor where she talks about her "stroke of insight." If you haven't seen it, well, I feel it is highly worth the 19 minutes that it takes to watch it. She, having been a neuroscientist, had a stroke where she lost the functioning of the left hemisphere of her brain. She was conscious enough that she knew what was happening and could describe the experience. By perceiving the world only through her right hemisphere, she was unable to differentiate her "self" from the "world" around her. She felt expansive and deeply at peace. Her experience is consistent with MRI studies done on monks who meditate; they indicate that when monks are in a state of "nirvana", their is a high degree of activity in the right hemisphere of their brains. 

Her experience really calls into question that nature of human perception and whether or not we are somehow filtering out a greater reality of wholeness through the activity of the left hemispheres of our brains.

Put another way, and referencing the questions of solidarity, Roger is wondering, "What am I generating that has me in a state that I don't experience solidarity?"  The underlying premise here is that the universe is a continuous, interconnected whole. To experience it otherwise would require action on our parts.

Is there something I would suspend or fast that would allow a different ground of action? Suppose you were just sitting and "feeling".  What if you related to what was occurring based on that, interacting at that level of reality?  What would change, if anything, about how you were? 

Homework: Attempt to directly interaction with the being of a moment. Start where you are. Feel what you feel. See if you can encounter reality and whether you would make different choices. 

Pete remembers the homework this way: "See if you can identify a structure you invoke by which you are able to prevent solidarity."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day 3: How oppression is practiced and perpetuated at universities

Linda here again. Sadly, I had great trouble following today's dialogue. Below is my best effort to piece together my notes, but it leaves out a great deal. Regrets...

Homework: See if you can notice a place where you're contracted--you're in a state that is stimulated by  a feeling of necessity/urgency/demand in the world.   See if you can shift through following your breath.  See what happens.

Recalling last week's experience of homework. 

Our homework last week was to notice structures of oppression.  In what ways are you benefitting or participating in such structures?

Someone noticed that the classroom is such a structure of oppression.  There is a grading system by which some people benefit; there is a presumed (and shared) model that the "expert" has something more valuable to say than those who are taking the class. This is not exactly "wrong," but what was noticed is that by virtue of being the assumed expert, you wield a great deal of power; just standing in the room while people are sitting causes people to be quiet and pay attention (notice the act of what you might call "worship" or "sacrifice"--pay attention).  What does one do or not do with such power?

Incidentally, someone who is a recent alumna asserted that if you think you don't have power, you're wrong.

Even the act of not recognizing or naming something in a power dynamic, subtly imputes value.

This reminds me of the situation of an engineering colleague of mine at Purdue. Recently, an engineering student murdered (shot) another engineering student in a classroom. It was not clear where the gunman was in the building, but all went through a lockdown in case the gunman was in the building. This was an extraordinarily traumatizing occurrence for the entire engineering student body (~9000 engineering majors), as you can imagine. Oddly, some of her engineering colleagues simply held their classes the next day as if nothing happened--most of them said they just didn't know what to say.  They didn't mention it or refer to it. I wonder what the students in those classes took away from the silence. 

A faculty member confessed that they felt a pressure to get so much work done, yet didn't know how to make the students do the work.  He reflected that, students are "committing" themselves to learning what is in the course by virtue of their signing up for it.

As somewhat of a counterpoint, a current student (by the way, I'm rather artificially using these categorizations out of convenience, rather than anything real--I'm attempting to make clear something about their institutional point of reference) revealed that when she is signing up for a class, she doesn't really know what she is signing up for.  But the experience is that of being subjected to an oppressive grading system, much of which is experienced as not being chosen by her.

The general pattern in the institution is to treat the humans we call students as fungible objects in the assembly line of courses; we then ensure that our pre-determined set of nuts and bolts get attached to the "product," since we believe that these are all necessary to the proper functioning of the "product." Of course, we know very little about the "product" except that we have used a system of intake that is meant to ensure consistent properties between them (SAT scores, grades, etc.).

This disposition of prescribed assembly-line alternations does not leave room for the simple fact that the people we call students are not objects--they are humans with their own interests, values, and inherent impulse toward learning and freedom (autonomy).  It is our institutional habit to presume that the taking of a course is a transaction in which the consumer (formerly "product") pays for the experience of going though the assembly line and emerging with the necessary alterations, to include a quality certification (called a grade).

If students have interests outside the pre-scribed content, it presents itself as a great inconvenience to the faculty; someone proposed that one's interests outside of the class need to be kept separate from the class, as they are not part of the professionally-accepted scope of things.  Roger put it this way: "I don't want to encounter you as a human being in the act of our transaction."

Extending the metaphor of the factory model, we use statistical methods of quality control to "grade" the product (formerly the "consumer") in terms of its quality.  It is often the case that one's self gets conflated with the proxy indicator of their performance on a series of "tests", as revealed in the phrase, "This is the grade I received in that class."

Some departments, it was revealed, have a culture of expectation by other expert faculty that, on the average, the students' grades from a faculty members' course should adhere to a "normal distribution." Anything otherwise would be interpreted as either grade inflation or some other insufficiency on the part of the teacher.

What is interesting about the belief that every classroom "should" represent a normal distribution of performance, is the assumptions embedded in the math of normal distributions: all variation within the population must be random. The normal distribution arises from "common cause" of variation (i.e. randomness or "noise"). What this presumes is that the faculty member is assumed to have no influence whatsoever on the measured performance. In other words, the mean and spread in the performance is sourced in random variation within the population, not in their learning experience--an odd assumption.

Learning from Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Roger recalled the dynamic asserted by Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. But first, what do we mean by oppression? The primary quality of oppression is that it dehumanizes the oppressed--it displaces their vocation of freedom. Another way of saying this is that it objectifies the human, failing to recognize that they have interests, values, and possess the human need for autonomy (freedom). At this point, you may recognize the parallels between this description of oppression and the factory model of education.  

The means of oppression are taught and handed from one generation to another.  How does this happen? A slave working on a plantation is oppressed by virtue of his role as fungible object and means to someone's profit; his human needs are disregarded.  This same slave becomes the foreman. In a way, he has been "freed" from his oppression as a slave. But now his "freedom" is dependent upon that same system of oppression. Without the slaves, where does that leave him?  So, he is invested in the system of oppression as part of his own freedom. In fact, it is this former slave's experience that the means of freedom is the oppression by which he became a foreman.  Unless something happens to the foreman, he is replicating the system of oppression (to his benefit) and possibly amplifying it. 

Can you see the faculty in this? They are in a system of oppression (students/slaves) in which they work hard to create their own freedom--faculty/foreman. Their status of power (faculty/foreman) now relies on that very same system of oppression. 

The oppressive system looks like a state of nature--the way thing are.  To interrupt this system looks like heresy.  

Our inability to function in it usually creates a narrative that there is some inherent flaw in us that prevents us from doing so ("There must be something wrong with me that I can't pass this calculus course.")

What do we do when we see that the oppression is actually enacted, rather than a state of nature? 

Well, there were a number of responses to this question. One person described the five stages of grief, a la Kubler-Ross. This moment of insight, is of course an existential crisis, where one realizes that "things are not as they appear," or worse, "I've been contributing to the very thing that I detest." (As an aside, I confess this latter one happens to me a lot,...alas! )

Roger again reminded us of Freire who says that anything you do, absent a condition of solidarity with the oppressed is "false charity."  

Examples from the faculty vault: Imagine that I am a faculty member who is of course invested in the system of oppression because I derive a great deal of (assumed) respect and power from it. Of course, I have pity on those humans we call students, but am resigned to the fact that my role as oppressor is just the way it is. I make up for this through charisma.  I don't want you to be oppressed, but hey, what can I do? 

In my place of power, I must be genuinely willing to give up something (power? ). What is hard is that as the oppressor, you actually cannot liberate the oppressed through any acts that draw upon the power that you have in your role as the oppressor.  For example, by announcing that everyone gets an "A", you have just reinforced your powerful role, rather than liberating anyone from oppression. 

How do you act authentically in your role as oppressor? 

One process that you might try is this: do nothing. Fast.  Let your non-action allow impulses to arise in yourself so that you can see where you are enacting oppression and interrupt it. 

Often the first response in fasting is to use force (your power) to manipulate. 

I'll give an example from my harrowing (first world) journey of egoic dissolve. I began experimenting with student-centered learning a few years back.  What I noticed was that in the giving of freedom of choice, people not only gladly take it, they make choices that you would not want them to make. I found I really struggled to watch them make these choices and had to watch my own impulses to want to direct their behavior toward things that I believed would be more "productive."  Eventually, I have come to see that in the face of freedom, people actually accomplish FAR MORE than you would have set out for them to accomplish. Of course, this is not universally true. In fact, most traditional "A-students" accomplish less...it is almost as if they relax into the freedom from constantly driving themselves. In any case, it was interesting for me to see within myself that I wanted to reclaim my "expert powers". To me, this has been a practice of learning to accept diversity in all its forms. 

Another person described a process where she acknowledges what is happening and then asks, "Who do I want to be?" "What would that look like?" "Does it look like who I am in this moment?" For her, this is a principle that she is practicing--being loving in the world. 

Another person described the release of energy that comes from internally "aligning" with "what is."  This is an idea that Eckhart Tolle talks about and is distinct from "condoning" or "agreeing" with what is happening. She (it was me) likened this process to what happens to a magnetic dipole in a magnetic field. Oh, a simpler analogy is the flow of water in a stream.  You can get that if you are in that stream, with the energy of water rushing by you, it takes energy to misalign your body to the stream. Say there was a stationary pole in the stream. Imagine what kind of force it would take for you to misalign your body with the flow of that stream--this is equivalent to internally saying "No!" to whatever is happening in the moment. Your mind is working desperately to hold yourself at odds with the flow of the stream. 

If you instead remove the energy that you are applying to fight the tide, that energy then becomes free for something else: usually creativity. 

I recounted a story of a former student of mine who was being mugged in Massachusetts. There was a moment when he realized he was going to be punched in the face.  He said to himself, "Oh, I'm going to be punched in the face. Okay."  And that gave him the presence to simply and calmly step out of the way of the punch (probably several milliseconds, but enough to respond when his mind was free of fighting the idea of being punched). 

Both of these stories (the one on "Who do I want to be?"  and "Aligning with what is") are a way of optimizing "consciousness" rather than "force/power." 

And they beg the question---How does change happen, is it through the application of force?  Or, can change happen through conscious acts, freely chosen? 

This is probably not an either/or question, but a question about our own change models. 

Roger suggests that these ideas point to an exploration of "states" of being.  You can imagine being in a state of emergency or urgency.  This is a state where your being is "contracted." ...tight. 
To alter a contracted state to one of relaxation, you suddenly discover that there is more space, more time. 

You cannot think your way to another state.  (Ironically, thinking is probably the thing that produces contraction). 

In many traditions, following the breath is part of a state of presence.  Why?   Perhaps it is because the breath itself is the sign of the thing that is breathing us...we are not ourselves breathing, it is involuntary. So by paying attention to the breath we are paying attention to "consciousness".  What then? 

You are invited to try it out. 

Homework: See if you can notice a place where you're contracted--you're in a state that is stimulated by  a feeling of necessity/urgency/demand in the world.   See if you can shift through following your breath.  See what happens. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 2: The (no longer) hidden agenda & other not so hidden things

Linda here...I apologize ahead of time because this is likely to be a tiny look into what was experienced during our dialogue.  You'll notice that I mostly leave peoples' names out except my own and perhaps Roger's. I do this because I haven't directly asked people if I can report their responses.

The homework: Do last week's homework of noticing our state from the basis of feeling what's occurring v. thinking. Also, it would be interesting to go through the week and notice structures of oppression. See where you are identified with them, invested in them, benefiting from them. Also look for where you see structures that you are not hostilely directed toward, but might suffer.

During the check-in, someone revealed that they felt angry all day.  She was experimenting with the theory that anger was a natural result of unmet expectations, so was looking for places where an expectation had been violated.

Roger offered an alternative frame for anger: See if you can locate your responsibility in the matter and find where you experience an unwillingness to be responsible as the source of events. Ask yourself, "How am I participating in this?" "What am I getting out of it?"

It was reported that this alternative frame amplified the feeling of anger being experienced by the person experiencing anger.

An aside--I was thinking about anger as a "field effect" as in the previous post.  What if we were all simply bobbing in a field of anger and "animating" the energy of the water, but imagined that we "were" angry?  So, what if in fact anger is an energy in which we can resonate or participate, but it doesn't actually come from within us--we are not the source of it? 

Roger referred to a "culture of anger", where if you aren't angry, people get angry.

What is our agenda? (if previously hidden, it will not be now)

Curtis simply asked if we have an agenda.

Someone said that he was in an ongoing exploration about what it means to be human, to be embodied consciousness at this particular moment in history, when there is a huge thing happening on the planet. 

Planet earth is shifting from the Holecene era to the Anthropocene era. 

An aside--this reference to geological shifts, particularly the anthropocene, was started by Paul Crutzen, who used this phrase to acknowledge that the collective human activity on the planet was of a scale so great that it is disrupting planetary systems. This website tells the story in lay terms and is based on what I would call legitimate science. http://www.anthropocene.info/en/home

(continuing)...we are mostly collectively unconscious and unconscious individually which is creating the possibility of catastrophic events. It is happening. In those moments of collapse, resilience comes from localized events that are integrated across scales.  

I will admit that what was said here "integrated across scales" sounds like jargon.  I am not entirely sure I know what it means, but I will say it this way:  Our current state is one of great fragmentation--we are divided up in all sorts of ways, which causes us to experience life as fragmented, when life (reality) is arguably whole. So our resilience comes from integrating or weaving together the whole, to connect our individual actions (small scale) to the events on the planetary scale (large scale). For example, how is my daily latte connected to inequity, environmental degradation, and poverty in another country? In doing so, we become awake to our own participation of the planetary patterns.  By integrating across these scales, we can also begin to see that we have choices and that what we are choosing now has consequences (that we may or may not desire).

Our current version of living together "successfully" is producing inequity on the planet.

The agenda for this person (who is Roger, of course), is creating the possibility for compassion by creating the capacity for relationships that decrease the impact of collapse and decrease the experience of suffering.  He is working for (his client) the 7 billion people learning together to live within our means.  He has an agenda, but it doesn't have a form, a recipe, nor is he interested in using force for his agenda. He is working with education because it is a point of leverage in the system. 

Others reported a range of personal agenda's: personal growth and change; being in a place where one can pay attention differently than anywhere in their life; practicing being the change they want to see in the world; wanting to shine light on systems of oppression in a way that liberates people to choose benevolent alternatives. 

Doing v. Being in institutions

One person was recently thinking about the difference between doing and being. She sees herself as having identified all her life with "doing," and is now considering the "being"--being defined not by what she does but by who she is. 

The great irony in this is that thinking is doing, so you cannot exactly get to being by thinking about it; you can't do being.

Roger asserted that in an exploration of "being," you can sometimes notice the "doing" of thinking. 

Do institutions suppress what is natural for women to "be?" 

This was a funny moment in the room for me. It was funny because the women, who felt the answer was obvious, laughed.  For the men (3), one of them reported the confusion over why, if one doesn't feel that they want to be there, they don't exercise their choice to leave, that they are choosing to stay. There were some who attempted to make the case that the disposition of freedom of choice was one of privilege. Some feel they don't have a choice, but "need" the job that they have, despite the ways in which the culture feels oppressive to them.

Someone compared this to the movie, The Butler, in which, when the black staff questioned the fairness of the black staff being paid half what the white staff was paid, he was told, "If you don't like it, you can leave."  This is a case where it might be more obvious to people that not all people have "equal" opportunity.

Is it possible that the institution itself is male, a gender-biased culture?  

How would we know if an institution had a male gender-biased culture?  We might see a pattern in the system where, in a conflict between a male who has a formalized position of power and a female who is hierarchically below him, we see that the institution moves the woman because it is easier.  If the woman protests, she does so from a place of fear. Moving the woman doesn't actually solve anything about the conflict, but represents a "quick fix" to the "problem" (which appears to be the woman).  The institution believes that they have addressed the "problem" when in fact they have not changed anything about anyone's patterns of behavior.

Oddly, there are several such cases at Cal Poly.

I didn't say this in the room, but I couldn't help recalling a speech about Cal Poly and it's history by a person in a formal position of power. She was reflecting on the 100 year history of Cal Poly and what people report as a constant about the institution.  (Can you guess what it was?)  ...It was the P.  Not learn-by-doing, or serving society,... it was, throughout the decades,  its P-ness.

Someone asserted that we were are not living in a meritocracy (as an institution or as a culture). That is, one is not solely judged or treated fairly on the merits of their performance.

It is probably the case that if you believe that it is a meritocracy, you are part of the privileged caste who experiences it as such.

This also reminded me of a meeting that I was in, in which a senior white male faculty member was pointing out to Provost Enz-Finken, that diversity is good, but for each underrepresented group we need to provide services so that they feel welcomed. Did Cal Poly really want to invest in each group, given that each represented a diversion of resources? Was it fair to the majority to divert these resources? What this person did not see was the historical investment integrated over time such that people like him had all that they needed to succeed. It was invisible to him that all the current investments are for the majority.  It just seemed to him that this was the natural state of things and diversity is a cost to the natural state. 

It seems to me that there is something in us that makes us blind to the ways in which we are benefiting from oppressive dynamics, so the homework might be a good practice.

While the system is designed to consolidate and maximize profit, there is no evidence for that. The evidence in the U.S., at least, is that the supposed "meritocracy" actually amplifies inequity.

Someone pointed out that she feels that what is rewarded in her department was non-merit--doing nothing--not rocking the boat or upsetting the power structure.  This is evidence that many are invested in the current system, that some people actually derive benefit from the way things are, equitable or not.

The homework: Do last week's homework of noticing our state from the basis of feeling what's occurring v. thinking. Also, it would be interesting to go through the week and notice structures of oppression. See where you are identified with them, invested in them, benefiting from them. Also look for where you see structures that you are not hostilely directed toward, but might suffer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Day 1: Revealing of the "impostor" and Changing states of being

Hi. Linda here. As always, the things I am about to share are likely to be distorted, with missing information and gross generalizations, but alas...it's all I have.

If you've just tuned in, this is a humble record of the time that we sit together in dialogue. It's a place to encounter what is present for all of us.

I begin this post in a funny place: our homework for the week

Recall someone you love. Locate them in your felt sense of reality. Feel their existence.
[You may need to read the homework again in order for this directive to make sense.]

The impostor in our midst

Someone revealed that they had an experience that stimulated in them the sense of being an imposter, to which Roger asserted that we are all, in fact, impostors.

Several others revealed that they too felt (on and off) as if they were some kind of impostor. While I too have experienced this impostor syndrome, the word "impostor" stuck out to me. It rather implies that you are a counterfeit, masquerading as something "real."

I wondered about this--what is "real?" What is the real thing that we feel that we are pretending to be?

People had different versions of the real thing. For one person, the real thing represented a perfect or idealized version somehow collectively created through culturally shared expectations. For example, some may believe that a "real professor/professional" is one who never makes mistakes and knows everything or can perfectly deliver on commitments.  We can see that this model is a construct and might vary for people.

I might say a "real" person is one who is authentic. And what do I mean by authenticity? I think I mean someone whose external life matches something about their internal state and commitments in the world.

"Get real!" This might be a call to honesty, rather than fantasy.

Some wondered if there is such a thing as a non-impostor, perhaps someone who is "the real thing." (Again, I am wondering what this real thing is).  Another provided an example of someone having mastery---they can be the "real thing."  Really?  Roger posed the question, will that thing that they have mastery in be around forever?  How about in 3000 years?

At this moment, I laughed inappropriately, as is my pattern.

What was funny about this was the absolute mummery of all that we presently do, all that presently gives us anguish or even satisfies us. Some of us are heavily invested in our identity as experts ("Of course, you should address me as Doctor, I worked hard for that title.") But all of it is truly impermanent, despite our insistence that we are somehow "real" in our mastery.

In this moment, I saw that the meaning of the word real, at least for Roger, would seem to be:
real- (adjective) impermanent, transcending time and space--as in REAL-ity.

So, now, when we hold up this notion of impostor, the thing that is not real , we can see that "we" are not real, but truly impostors to something real (or possibly not); the interesting question is now, "who is it that feels like they are an impostor?"  "who is this 'we?' "

(I won't keep you in suspense). It is the ego, that little "me" who is so ever concerned about its own reputation. In fact, it is the part of our selves that makes up a narrative about our "self"--it constructs its own identity:
Dear Reader,  I am the happy person on this FACEBOOK page who does nothing but enjoys life and basks in the glory of my brilliant offspring. Listen to my story--Sincerely, My Ego

When something happens, such as we "fail" to meet some expectation--our own or others--the story of the little me, as Eckardt Tolle says, is threatened as "not real"--you counterfeit! you said (to yourself) that you were x, y, z, and now I see you're nothing of the sort!

What gets revealed, Roger points out, is that we have a fear of death...death of a projected reality, the death of our illusions of competency.

Again, I ask, who is this "we" who is so afraid?

Well, I already said it is the little me, the ego, but we could also call it "the mind"--the thing that is iteratively engaged in thought--producing thought, but doing it in a way that prevents us from seeing that it is in fact produced, rather than a self-occurring phenomena.

It seems that the main activity of this mind is to tell a story of "it self" by which it is attached to the form of some thing.  For example, "I am a competent professional, which means ...[forms: a bunch of stories and mental models, omitted here]...I am not like those unprofessional buffoons" This, itself is a buffoonery, the self-narrated story, spoken by the impostor, who has attached itself to the forms.  The forms might be, "I am always on time."  When we (the little me) prioritize these "forms" as "reality", we (our identity, the little me) then feel threat when faced with change of form.

The funny thing about being attached to form, i.e., having your self identity contingent on a particular formal expression, is that forms are always going out of existence. (If this doesn't seem true to you, imagine 200 years from now...will there still be the iPhone 5?) So we will always be faced with impermanence.

An aside: Last year I was entangled in this embarrassing conflict about equipment and space to which I had become attached. From my perspective, things that I had worked hard to "acquire" were being taken from me. Geeze this was so painful. There was a great deal of emotional content and process involved. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth (I kid you not).  Today it seems all quite ridiculous when I step back with the 3000 year view.  It was not really anything like a child dying in Rwanda.  It was an egoic struggle, but how very "real" it seemed (my, that impostor is a trickster).

---and we're back

States of being - how do we get there from here? 

Another thing we talked about was states of being.  How does one "attain" a state of being, for example, happiness?

One often practiced model is the formula, where we attach a STATE to a form (oh, that's that form again)
If I had __________, I would be happy. (fill in the blank)

What this model has embedded in it is the ontological assumption that happiness resides external to your "self." 

It is a model of acquisition: I acquire the state from the outside world (because it does not reside in me). 

Subtle, but you can see this model is a paradox: You cannot internally acquire something if the definition of that something is that it is outside of yourself.  Also, there is an attempt to achieve quality through quantity: I have 0=I am not happy; I have 1=I am happy. Roger says it can happen that you experience the qualitative state proximal to the quantitative acquisition, but this is accidental/random. 

sidenote: Roger reminds us at this point about experiments with laboratory rats who have been surgically altered so that the experimenters can willfully stimulate the rats' hypothalamus (presumably this feels good). The rats then discover that when they activate a lever, they receive the stimulus. The case where the stimulus is not reliably received, but received randomly, turns out to be the case where the rats become desperately addicted to constantly activating the lever in the hopes of getting the buzz. Alas, our lives are a giant Skinner-box, ...well, that is, if we are not awake....read on. 

What are alternatives? STATES as pre-existing

What if these "states"--happiness, peace, joy, ...exist prior to our "creating" them? What if it was the case that our mind was active in "separating" us from this natural state and the only thing required to recover the state of being was to stop the activity of the mind (iterative thought)?

How would you do that?  Your might simply try to see the activity and name it (like Pete's friend, "Oh, I no!  I don't know that answer, how scary!  What will I do?")  This sort of reveals the impostor in a way that makes the masquerading ineffective--if you can see the guy behind the curtain who is operating the illusion of the frightening Wizard of Oz, the illusion is no longer convincing as "real".

Another model--What if you consider the possibility that at any moment of conditional reality, you knew what it was like to be happy? That is, you could simply "go there" because you knew what it was like--you could recall it, embody it.  [This makes me think of Nelson Mandella in solitary confinement and whatnot, all those years.  How did he do it? ]  How would you do this?

Roger's hint: If it involves a great deal of effort on your part, that's probably not it. 

Another thing you could do is to simply attempt to encounter the world through another part of your being, such as your heart (this is a metaphor of course, but what isn't, really, when you get right down to it? )  When you begin to encounter the world without the process of thinking (cognitive activity), the thinking becomes more evident.  What you've done here is equivalent to stepping into a 3rd dimension of a previously 2-D world.  It enables you to see something that you couldn't before because you were "in" the frame that you were attempting to see. 

This way of encountering the world might be called contemplation or real-izing (vs. knowing--the mind). Another way of posing this same question is, "If cognition was not the container of your attention, what would you encounter in the world?" (or "If your attention could transcend your thoughts, what would you encounter?"). 

STATES as a field effect

Consider the possibility that when you notice a phenomenon around you--e.g., irritation, --that you are animating a state.

Animating is distinct from emoting.  But what is it?

I'm guessing that what Roger meant by this is the possibility that states are like an invisible field of energy. 

A metaphor for this is waves in water. They are a kind of mechanical energy.  Let's say we're all bobbing on the waves of irritation an thus animating it's energy.  Are we creating the waves? Maybe not. What if those waves are reality and our apparent actions are simply an animation of the waves? Or, what if we are reality and coupled to it so that what we see as our behavior is just an animation of the inseparable unity of which we are apart?  What if our actions along the same lines of irritation only add energy to the field and we experience it in even greater magnitudes in us and in those around us?

This would actually be quite wonderful if we used a positive energy field instead. 

Now, this might be a good time to go back and read the homework assignment:
Recall someone you love. Locate them in your felt sense of reality. Feel their existence.