Archive for July, 2010
Someone pointed out to me the other day that he thought my hierarchy of needs was missing something.
And in thinking about it, I realized that the hierarchy of needs is more specifically the hierarchy of needs for growth.
So while conflict is a very real force in life, it’s not actually a force that is necessary for growth itself. In fact, it’s the opposing force that inhibits growth.
And that’s totally ok!
It’s ok because the conflicts we face in life are what make us different, unique, snowflakes, as they say. Each unique conflict we face – from our parents being distracted by a friend just at the moment that we start to fall off the climbing structure at the playground, to the challenges we face in our marriage when the upstairs neighbor blocks the path to our backdoor with her car, to being gossiped about on someone’s blog, to being sued in court by people who you love, to having slugs eat all your cucumber plants – all form our self into a particular shape that is not like any other individual’s shape, because their conflicts are always at least somewhat different than our own. Even with identical twins, the minor conflicts in life can create significant changes to their shape, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. And those unique shapes are the puzzle pieces of the universe, which all fit together to create one very complex pattern that puts us humans in complete awe when we look at it all from above and beyond.
This diversity of conflict is what creates art in all it’s many forms. The variety of conflict that different individuals experience allows us to have songs such as Simon and Garfunkle’s Cloudy, as well as Lateralus from Tool. Conflict gives us both da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Guernica. Conflict gives us both the Frog Prince and Hamlet.
Conflict gives us Ghandi spinning cloth and Batman the Dark Knight.
So while conflict isn’t at all a need for growth, it is, quite clearly, something that exists, and it does give us a chance to create something of value, when we are getting what we need to grow reasonably healthfully.
We don’t need conflict, just as snowflakes don’t need to be unique, and anyone giving us conflict intentionally is definitely not helping us grow (no matter what the “tough love” people want to believe), but conflict can be used to our benefit, when we approach it with creativity.
In other words, when we are generally taken care of by the world, including being given the freedom to express ourselves, we can learn to appreciate and embrace the conflict in our lives as an opportunity to turn the negativity into positivity by expressing our unique selves in some creative, artistic way, so that the world becomes even more awe inspiring.
And when we focus on creative approaches to responding to the conflict that is most universal to the people we care about, we make the world a much better place for everyone.
Slaying the dragon isn’t a metaphor for harming another individual who you don’t happen to like, instead slaying the dragon is a metaphor for overcoming your fears enough to stand up for what you believe in and move forward – over, under, around, or through any obstacles that are in your path. The point of the mythological story is that the dragon isn’t real. The dragon is really just your irrational fear, which can be easily sliced through once you begin to believe that you are your own hero.
How you interact with the other individuals you meet in life depends on how you see your needs as compared to the resources that they appear to offer. If you believe that they have something that you need and can’t easily get anywhere else, you will be likely to take it from them.
And if you believe that other individuals might welcome something that you have in excess, then you will be likely to give it to them.
Often this works out splendidly, with everyone getting something that they need, input-wise or output-wise.
But conflict can often happen when our our perception of someone else’s intentions turns out to be very different from their their perception of their intentions. When someone isn’t really freely offering something to you, or when your offering to them isn’t welcome, then they tend to react negatively, physically, emotionally, and/or intellectually pushing you away, as they try to protect themselves from you and your perceptions.
This is completely normal and healthy for living things. Sure, it’s sometimes frustrating, obviously, but it’s the way things are supposed to work, as it gives us the feedback we need to learn about how the world works.
But there is another level of conflict that can cause even more problems than a simple misunderstanding between individuals (which itself can spiral so far out of control as to cause wars if not investigated with healthy curiosity and reason). And that even more difficult level of conflict is the “inner conflict” that sometimes happens when my own thoughts turn out to be unwelcome to me. When I believe that I am “wrong” about my assessment of someone else’s intentions, I might decide that my own perception isn’t a welcome offering to myself, and I might react negatively to the thinking part of my mind, and push myself away from me (!) to protect myself from me and my perceptions. And because of the passion and intensity that this most personal kind of conflict causes, it can create an even more insipid and subtle form of “war” that seeps out from individuals and infects whole cultures, and can take on the form of white collar crimes, political messiness, all kinds of discrimination, and the all too common mini-battles of road rage and the highly dramatic internet ranting as seen on many, many web communities (culminating in the ultimate negativity of 4chan/b).
When I am mad at myself, it makes everyone else’s lives less joyful and peaceful.
It’s been said that we fear what we don’t understand. If so, our reaction to that fear is made even more intensely painful and dangerous when what we don’t understand is our own selves. Which is why many of the main elements of Buddhist meditation, especially the process of focused, compassionate, non-attached, observation of one’s own thoughts and feelings, are so valuable to the whole world. Having the opportunity to appreciate, welcome, understand, and accept all of oneself allows one to defuse any old inner conflicts and simple misunderstandings, which allows one to be more peaceful, both on the inside and on the outside. This way simple misunderstandings stay simple, which makes it much easier for you to get past the confusion and reach clarity and healthy understanding of yourself and others, so that you can better function with the reality of life, and be more effective in taking only what you need from what is freely offered, and offering what you have more than enough of to anyone who needs it. :-)
And, of course, ultimately, we will all be better able to see clearly and understand when our environment offers us what we need to be physically healthy, because our brain is a part of our body, and needs nourishment to function well enough to create the most realistic perceptions possible, and be able to react most compassionately and positively with forgiveness and understanding when our own perceptions differ from other people’s perceptions.
So, yeah, I’m going to eat more kale, so that the world can be a little more peaceful. :-)
When it comes to the idea of free will – specifically the independent ability to make choices disconnected from the reality of one’s own nature (internal biology) and nurture (external environment), even the most seasoned experts are divided on whether or not it exists. More and more are agreeing that it most likely doesn’t exist, but there is still some doubt in many well trained minds, so it’s safe to say that there are good reasons for believing that you have free will and good reasons that you haven’t got free will.
Which is why I suggest that the most successful approach is to believe that you have free will as long as that belief allows you to be healthy and positive with yourself and others, and that as soon as that belief causes you to be unhealthy and negative towards yourself and/or others then it’s time to dismiss that belief as being useless, for the time being at least, and instead look at things as if one’s actions are fully a product of all the matter and energy one has been given in life by one’s parents and environment, and that the story of life has already been written and is playing out on some four dimensional movie screen in front of you for you to be titillated and entertained and maybe educated by. And that if you haven’t been enjoying a particular scene, you can believe that there is probably some really interesting plot twist coming up any moment now that will change everything. And, naturally, when neither of those beliefs allow you to be healthy and positive towards yourself and others then it’s probably time for a little nap. :-)
Thinking about the second law of thermodynamics, if the natural order of things in the universe is to be disordered (the high entropy of a natural balance of things) then isn’t what we commonly call order (the low entropy of a highly unstable thing such as life) really DISorder?
Because the human mind is extremely creative and clever and excels at making connections and finding patterns, we humans are capable of believing pretty much anything and everything, at least for a while.
Which means that if what you’ve believed up to now isn’t allowing you to really enjoy your life, then you have the power to see how something else is at least as true and take that new belief out for a test ride for a while to see what it does for your quality of life.
Think of some truth you know that has disturbed you in the recent past, and phrase it in the form of if X then Y. For example, “If my partner ignores (X) me then they don’t love (Y) me.” Or “If I don’t have a normal full time job (X) then my life will suck (Y).” Then insert your X and Y statements into the following reversals to see how true they are, as compared to your old idea. This process and my explanation might not be totally clear and obvious, and that’s ok. Just keep playing and trying different things, and see what happens.
Starting out with your old idea that you believe is true
if X then Y
use the following list to create your new possible ideas to see if you can find the evidence of them being at least partially true. (Note, the negative sign ( – ) means to make that part of the statement into the opposite of the original, so a positive statement becomes a negative, or a negative statement becomes a positive):
if X then -Y
if -X then Y
if -X then -Y
For the previous examples, these would give us the new results of:
if X then -Y
“If my partner ignores me then they DO love me.” The evidence I can find where this would be true is that when someone is feeling destructive and they don’t want to hurt those they love they might choose to avoid their loved ones to protect them from possible harm. Also, when someone is overwhelmed with taking care of their own problems they don’t have the ability to pay attention to their loved one, even though they want to.
“If I don’t have a normal full time job then my life will NOT suck.” The evidence of this being true is that people constantly complain about their job, and vacations are highly valued, and people are always saying “Money can’t buy you happiness.” so not having to go to a job all the time can give you the freedom to do more of what you love and that makes you happy, at least for a while.
if -X then Y
“If my partner DOESN’T ignore me then they don’t love me.” The evidence I can see is that when someone spends ALL of their time paying attention to someone else it’s usually called obsession, and that’s usually thought of as unhealthy objectification rather than healthy love.
“If I DO have a normal full time job then my life will suck.” Clearly there is plenty of evidence of this! Lots of people who have jobs are miserable. And often the more they work the more miserable they become.
if -X then -Y
“If my partner DOESN’T ignore me then they DO love me.” This one often seems similar to the old statement of if X then Y, but it’s not always exactly the same, so try it out anyway to see if you find any surprises. For example, “not ignoring me” includes the set of actions such as yelling at me, lying about me, and “stalking” me, and it is true that people who love each other do sometimes yell, lie about each other, and follow each other around. :-)
“If I DO have a normal full time job then my life will NOT suck.” Again, remember that “not sucking” isn’t necessarily great, as “just kind of boring” is in the set of things that don’t suck, but also isn’t really what you’re aiming for, is it? Having a normal full time job doesn’t guarantee a great life, but it is definitely possible to have a non sucky life with a normal full time job, as evidenced from some people I know who really do love their very normal full time jobs.
So now that you have a general idea of the possible truths available to you when considering what to believe, you can try to find even more, based on your own previous beliefs, especially the ones you’ve been complaining about the most, lately.
Also, for even deeper exploration, consider the other factors in your statements. In the first example I’ve given here, you can also define X as “my partner” and Y as “me/I” so that -X becomes “me/I” and -Y becomes “my partner”, for the possible new truths of “If my partner ignores me then they don’t love themselves.” and “If I ignore me then my partner doesn’t love me.” “If I ignore me then I don’t love my partner.” And you can look at how and when these things might be true. You can do the same for the second example, except use yourself for X and your boss for -X!
In general, inverting the I/me/we vs. you/they/them factors in a statement is often really interesting when it comes to thinking about the complexity of the various relationships in your life.
If you enjoyed this and you want even more of this kind of exploration, check out Byron Katie’s inquiry process called The Work, or NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), or even some math and logic. And if you want help with reordering some of your own truths, feel free to contact me, and I’ll see what I can come up with for you.
The reason that words are like magic, in that they can directly affect our internal state, including our emotions and even physical health, is because words communicate information about the health of our environment, and the health of our environment is what determines our present and future health.
Our own physical health is our primary priority, but, because we rely on our environment to be there for us when we need to take in matter and energy that makes us grow (when we have a deficiency), and when we need it to accept any matter and energy that we have more than enough of, and need to output (when we have a toxicity), the state of our environment is always a major factor when it comes to our own long term health. So while we are naturally and necessarily selfish, we are also naturally and necessarily inclined to extend our sense of self to all other living things, and possibly beyond, because everything is connected. To everything else. Including us!
So when we hear the words of someone else who has been finding it difficult to be healthy, we feel a similar pain, frustration, and motivation to act as they do. Their internal state can be magically transferred to our internal self just through the power of words, and our emotional health becomes entwined with their physical health. When it’s someone we are intensely intimate with – our partner, for example, or our child – who is struggling to get their needs met, then we feel an exceptionally strong emotional pain, because we are effectively a major part of them and they are a major part of us, in a sense, as the connection is so strong in our minds that much of the time the brain labels us and them as “one and the same”. (Which is also why we tend to treat our partner as we treat our self, even down to the “self” criticism that we learned from those who raised us.) Sometimes, when others are hurting we might hurt even more than they do because we don’t feel like we have as much power to help, while they might see the solution as being very easy to do (which is why it’s useful to ask questions about what others believe is possible for the future, rather than assuming the worst and making a mountain out of someone else’s mole hill!). But, when the words we hear are from someone who is finding all they need and more, and are overflowing with healthy abundance, we are magically transformed, internally, as we start feeling the same intense joy and satisfaction that they feel, as well.
And, as I’ve mentioned before, and you probably have also noticed in yourself, the healthier you are physically, the more capable you are of being resilient and helpful when others around you are hurting and in need. And that’s a great thing because your own words are just as magical for other people, and reflect the health of you – a crucial part of their environment – which they rely on for their own health.
On the next higher level, intellectual health, we feel smarter and more able to understand the world when those in our communities (at all levels from our friends, to our next door neighbors, to our country, to even people in other parts of the world) express words of health and healing. Thus, news of how people are making political and scientific progress in taking care of people’s physical needs – of whole food, clean water, fresh air, warmth and light, and the freedom to express oneself – makes that left prefrontal cortex of the human brain practically buzz with electric excitement and the happy chemicals that come from “problem solving” on a grand scale.
And, of course, on the level of spiritual health, we feel more connected with life itself when we hear the magic words that express the power of any form of life to physically grow and survive and thrive in diverse environments, from the depths of the ocean, to the peaks of the Himalayas, to the dusty surface of the moon.
So, when Neil Armstrong walked out of the Apollo lander and onto the moon for the very first time, his physical self felt relieved that he was still breathing, his emotional self was probably happy that his wife and kids were safe on the Earth, and his intellect might have said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” as a way to let the world know that humans had amazingly learned how to stay alive well enough to walk onto what is essentially another planet, while the spirits of every individual watching and listening to that NASA broadcast, both at the time and ever since, heard the highest power magic of Armstrong’s words and felt that that one step was so much more than just a leap for humans, and more like a leap for the evolution of life itself, similar to that momentous leap from single celled organisms to multi-celled organisms, as life made it’s first jump from the individual cell that is the Earth, out into the rest of the universe, possibly getting ready to evolve something entirely new and even more wonderfully adapted for space travel in the same way that those single celled organisms evolved to travel on land, sea, and air.