Friday, November 8, 2013

God - The Greatest Whole 2, 11/15/13

I want to re-iterate that I do not think what I wrote in my post titled, God - The Greatest Whole,  is inconsistent with most of today's major religions, or at least not more inconsistent than they are with themselves. I am not at all trying to convince anyone to leave their own religion.

For me though I need to see, hear, feel, or experience God here and now in today's world. I simply cannot believe strongly in what did or did not happen thousands of  years ago.  I cannot and then I get worried about the fact I cannot, and if then I can fit in with this group, and it keeps me from others and therefore God. If this was the only way I might still try it, and I did stick with it a long time, thinking it was the only way. 

Then I finally got desperate enough and found God in today's world. At that point being in a religion that said they were the only way to God, just seemed wrong or inauthentic or against what I had found that was so real and wonderful. Again though, I am not suggesting others leave their religion or that religions are wrong or bad. Certainly, if you feel your religion is keeping you from finding God here and now, like it was for me, then find a place you do find God here and now and pursue that. If your religion is helping, by all means stick with that and maybe augment it some if you feel that is wise or prudent.  

Above all, be honest with yourself.  By this I mean listen to what is coming from deep down inside yourself and have the courage to follow it.  You cannot do it alone though.  Find a person or group that is not threatened by what you may find.  This is harder than it may first seem.  For most religions common beliefs are what hold them together, and it feels like a wide open search is off limits or against the rules.  This is somewhat true, but most permit real exploration or at least you can find a person or two that will allow it.  Of course depending upon what you find deep down within yourself, you may have to move on to be true to yourself.  Actually, this is also the only way to be true to God.  

Hopefully, you will not have to get as desperate as I did.  I remember vividly being pissed off that I had a child because it meant suicide was not an option.  I was in bad enough shape that I could convince myself that everyone else in my life would end up being better off without me, and I did not want to be here anymore.  But I could not convince myself that my son would ever get over it, and I could not do that to him.  At the same time I was completely convinced that whether I was clean and sober for many years or numbing out with drugs and alcohol that I was going to keep screwing up and hurting those I cared about, which then meant I could not live with myself.*  

That is what it took for me to be willing to try the desperate Hail Mary of being true to myself and following what I found deep down within myself.  At the time I was our church's leader for faith forming relationships, and about a year into a self imposed discernment period before planning to go to seminary and become a pastor.  I knew that my favorite thing and the thing I wanted and needed most was to spend time with myself and others in the places that we connect to each other and God.  So being a pastor seemed like the thing for me.  However, after a year of talking to a lot of people about it and trying to find the denomination I might fit into, or at least not feel like I was fighting myself to fit in or fighting others to adopt my beliefs, I realized this was not possible for me.

I needed to be free to follow whatever I found deep within myself and share that with others, whether that was consistent or inconsistent with accepted doctrine for a particular denomination or religion.  Time spent trying to fit myself into any particular beliefs was rejecting the best evidence I had of what God had made and was, which was me and my connections to him.  Time spent trying to get others to adopt my views or beliefs was rejecting that sacred place in them where those beliefs reside, as well as in a round about way the same place within me.  Most people never do the wide open search because they are deathly afraid of what they will find out, basically that they are just rotten at the core or that God is not really a God of love or because it threatens their important relationships.  The first 2 are never true, unless the person is unable to continue and has to turn back.  The 3rd can be, and it is almost impossible without some support and friends who you feel will be with you no matter what you find.  

Fortunately, I have found that if I am connecting to that place within myself that connects with things beyond myself, I am connecting to God.  I have even found that I am connecting to the eternal because I am connecting to everything that has shaped me or my world from the past and everything my actions have even the tiniest influence on in the future.  Most people seem to prefer God to be a little more mysterious than this.  I do not have a big preference other than I like and need to experience my Creator and Provider.  To do that I have to realize God is everywhere, ready and willing to be experienced.  Then, I have to remove the things within me that block me from being ready, willing, and able to experience that Great Reality that is God.  

*Of course the main reason that this deep visceral belief, that I would keep screwing up and hurting those I cared about, was true was because I had the visceral belief in the first place.  I had seemingly always had it and desperately tried all sorts of things to get rid of it or suppress it.  To get rid of it I had most commonly tried worldly success and material things, but also religions, therapy, etc.  To suppress it I had tried alcohol, drugs, food, diet, exercise, and various distraction techniques.

Often these things did a good enough job that the visceral belief and associated feelings were primarily just a nagging emptiness and unease, that kept me a little depressed and constantly some degree of overwhelmed.  However, at times of perceived failure, whether real or not and whether major or not, the visceral belief and associated feelings would become completely overwhelming and cripple-ling, basically major depression.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Continuums and Degrees

In anticipation of a post in the near future (hopefully) on the broad contours of my psychological perspective for why we do, think, and feel the way we do, I want to add another disclaimer of sorts.

Most things and all the problems and solutions I will be discussing occur on continuums or to different degrees in various people at any given time.  Even though I know this I still state some things as though they do not have exceptions or degrees and other times I add qualifying words, such as generally, typically, normally, etc.

It turns out both ways are problematic.  We generally want certainties and adding the qualifiers or acknowledging the continuum makes us uncomfortable and often reject whatever the idea is without further consideration.  It can also get us so distracted on the continuum that we lose sight of the big picture where all the different things on continuums operate and come together.   Whereas denying the continuum in order to have the certainty we seek denies reality and often keeps us from seeing how a general principle applies to us, because we know it is not absolute in us.

My point with adding this post is to say that there is no perfect solution to this problem.  So if when you are reading something I write you think, he should have acknowledged exceptions to that or that it is not absolute like he acts like it is, know you might be right and go ahead and make that change for yourself.  Likewise if you are reading something I qualify with words like, generally or often, and you are uncomfortable with the qualifying, again go ahead and make the change for yourself.  That may be more helpful to you at that point.

Helping ourselves come to some workable understanding of ourselves and having some peace and hopefully a little happiness is the goal for all of this.  Adjust it and find what works for you and then go with that.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

God - The Greatest Whole

Most of my answers, both as my life has been changing for the better as well as looking back trying to understand what has happened, have come to me in what I would consider to be meditation. As such they come as something like spontaneous insights or revelations. I would now like to share some of the most significant ones and what I think they mean.

I do this in the spirit of the last post, believing that there are many valid angles from which we get glimpses of God, and one of them does not necessarily negate another. I do not believe what I share is inconsistent with Christianity or what I understand of native american spirituality, Buddhism, or Hinduism.  I do not know enough about any other religions to even consider if what I will share is consistent with them.

The biggest revelation I have received is that God is everything put together, the sum total of everything. God is The Entirety. God is the Greatest Whole. We and everything else in the universe are small parts of this Entirety that is God.  This means that my connections to my surroundings (whether they be to people or otherwise) are in some small way a connection to God, that the best I (we) can experience God is in the connections, and that the part of ourselves that connects to others is at the same time connecting to God.

A related revelation that somewhat seemed to grow out of the, God is the Entirety, revelation, is that I am a unique and wonderful part of this Entirety that is God, and that you are a unique and wonderful part of this Entirety that is God.  All we have to do is stop fighting it and claim our spot in the Kingdom or Entirety that is God.  This goes back to what I previous discussed with one of our greatest felt needs being to feel connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole.  Again, the fact of the matter is that we already are connected to and a valuable part of the Greatest Whole, which is God.  We just have to realize this and then develop and use methods to allow us to experience this great fact.  (Those methods are something I will spend a lot of time on later.)

Another related revelation was that evolution is God's plan.  Basically the revelation came to me something like, "Stop trying to figure out if I (God) messed up in creating you and the world or if humans messed up in the Garden of Eden or otherwise.  Nobody messed up, things are exactly the way they are supposed to be and your key to understanding that is evolution."  I must say it took me a while, maybe 1-2 years, for further insights to clarify what this meant.  I never really doubted it because of how clearly it initially came but it took a lot of pondering in meditation and struggling with other issues before it became more clear.  

One of the main issues that still needed sorting out in order to find clarity with the, evolution is God's plan, revelation, was the idea of a personal God that cared about my wants and needs and happiness.  For quite a while I think needing to hold onto the idea that I had a personal God that cared specifically about me, kept me from being able to see clearly.  Most of my insights or revelations bring a sense of relief and comfort immediately, but when I received the revelation that God did not care about my needs or wants separate from what was good or best for the Whole or Entirety, I was unsettled and thought I must be misunderstanding something.  

However, as I struggled along in the haze of uncertainty and thinking I did not want what I was being told, things started to coalesce from different points to make sense of it all and help me realize it is what I wanted all along. You see wanting a personal God that cares about my wants and needs separate from what is good for the Whole is childish or immature. That would mean God favored some people over others, which when I really boiled things down would mean God was a jerk, careless and cruel to a lot of people. How could I call that God a God of love. Believing in such a personal God is childish or immature because it either means I have not really thought through what it means (immature) or I want different rules for myself compared to others (childish).  Wanting or trying to have a God that favored me over others was actually the opposite of what God was really about.

This was happening about the same time that I realized that what I most wanted was to feel connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole. I did not need to be extra special or get extra special treatment, what I most wanted and needed was to know I was a unique, valued, and wonderful part of the Greatest Whole.

Another part of this revelation was basically me asking, what about all these religions that seemed to think you favor them because they have things correct?  The answer I received was something like:

each does have a lot correct in their ways to connect with Me, experience Me, and from this be good and caring towards each other and the Greater Whole, but do you really think I am so shallow or petty that I care what name they call Me by?  When Jesus said the only way to the Father is through Me, He meant through His message of self sacrifice for the greater good, and through all of the Law that basically boils down to being good and caring towards each other.  He did not mean you had to know a special code word or secret word, his name.  

With this resolved I think I was finally able to start to see the wisdom behind the, evolution is God's plan, revelation.  Evolution is the perfect plan for the Whole and is probably the only plan that allows everything to work for the benefit of the Whole without constant manipulation or tinkering by God.  And again, any tinkering or manipulation of the system by God, would ultimately be God playing favorites, and therefore God acting careless and cruel towards a lot of people, as he favored some over others.

Evolution is a rough plan for a lot of the individuals in the system, whether human or another species, but it makes sure that ultimately everything is used for the good of the Whole and creates a magnificent Whole.  And when an individual aligns themselves with the Whole, they experience a sense of freedom, peace, and well being they could not even imagine beforehand.  It truly is unbelievable.  This is basically what all religions teach at their core, that selflessness is the way to what we are all looking for.

So why are we given selfishness if the goal is selflessness.  We are given selfishness because that is what is good for the Whole.  This is the great paradox of what evolution as God's plan teaches.  I consider selfishness plus our cognitive mind* to be the curse of humankind, but it is only a curse as long as we do not understand the paradox.  Selfishness pushes ourselves and others to be productive and work for the greater good, whether we are trying to work for the greater good or not.  Yet the only way we ever get to feel the way we want to feel is when we settle into selflessness.  That is why it is the perfect system, everything works for the greater good or the good of the Whole, but we only get to experience and feel what we really want and desperately crave when we align ourselves and act generously and graciously.

Acting selfishly becomes fools gold from our own individualistic perspective.  It makes it look like we are achieving what we want, but we do not actually experience what we want.  Even acting selflessly because we want to feel better only works a little.  The only thing that really works is truly wanting what is best for the Whole more than something specifically for us.  It takes a lot of work and quite a bit of grace or luck to even start to get there.  I would guess I might be about 5% there on good days, and yet as I keep saying, whatever percent I am at has helped change my life much more for the better than I ever even dreamed was possible.

That and feeling that the whole me, good and bad, is connected to and a valuable part of greater wholes and the Greatest Whole.  This is where most of the freedom, peace of mind, and sense of well being has come from, but it naturally leads to at least a little less selfishness, and makes possible a great deal more selflessness, which can snowball in a good way if I allow it.

There is a lot more that could be said and I will certainly come back to these revelations and thoughts throughout my writings.  For now I would like to leave you with the challenge to help each other believe and then claim our spots as unique and wonderful parts of this Greatest Whole.  We do that by embracing reality, the messiness it involves, and realizing we find connections and the Great Reality in the messiness.  We do that by allowing others to explore with us; themselves, their beliefs, feelings, yearnings, etc, without being threatened by them and telling the other person in some way that what they are finding is unacceptable.

I hope most of what follows from me involves ways to remove the things that block us from realizing our spot in the Greatest Whole or feeling connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole and the Greatest Whole.  Of course the most common of those ways are prayer and meditation.  Please do not think I am suggesting that those are not helpful because God does not play favorites.  We are all connected, whether we see it or believe it or not.  We all have a part of us that connects to others and things beyond ourselves, and making those connections with prayer and meditation does lead to real changes in us and beyond us.

 *Defined previously

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Many different angles can be valid at the same time

Hopefully, this one will be quick. It has been painful and tedious trying to discuss my own lingo and other preliminary matters. I would imagine it has been at least as painful to read, if anyone has gotten this far.

What I would like to briefly suggest now is that many different explanations for something can be true at the same time, even if our initial inclination is to think it must be one or the other or that explaining something from one angle negates the truth of explaining it from another angle. To an extent I am referring here to the moral of the elephant in a dark room story.

In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side, the leg, or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. (From Wikipedia)

However, even more so I am referring to what would happen if the men were not even using a common sense (touch) to describe the elephant. Maybe one was using his sense of touch, one his sense of taste, one his sense of sound, etc.

The reason I bring this up is that I will be describing things from multiple similar perspectives, such as from religious/spiritual/metaphysical perspectives as well as describing the same things from a psychological perspective and at times from a biochemical/physiological perspective. I am hoping you will fight your urge to think only one of the many perspectives can be true, and spend some time in the initially scary uncertainty where multiple perspectives merge and provide greater clarity.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My own lingo - Learned Behaviors (LBs)

Learned behaviors are our default or typical reaction to life in general and to specific situations.

Learned behaviors are what we have decided is our best strategy for getting our felt needs met in the circumstances we have found ourselves in.  They are not necessarily the best strategies we could have come up with, but they are the best we have come up with and most of the time were somewhat reasonable choices at the time we adopted them.

Again most of this occurs on a level deeper than our cognitive mind and when I say chose or decided here I do not mean that we thought of the various options and chose or decided on one.  Rather I mean that given our inherent tendencies*, felt needs, visceral beliefs, emotional programming, and environment we followed what seemed like the best path.

If whatever we decide upon seems to have generally fulfilled the felt need we had for it, we tend to use that same or similar strategy or behavior for a variety of issues.

Now this happens on both a fairly simple level of responding to certain situations with a certain type of response or learned behavior, and it also happens at a more generalized level with us adopting broad patterns or approaches to life.  All the examples of how our feelings or emotional programming (EP) drive our behavior from the last post are examples of learned behaviors.

Additionally, just about any injurious (to ourselves or others) behavior turns out to be a learned behavior that seemed like the best option at the time we started it, and still seems necessary or we would not keep doing it.  Generally we cannot see this though until we develop another way to get the felt needs fulfilled that the injurious behavior fulfills.  Once we develop or even just believe in viable alternatives for those felt needs we will be able to see the injurious behavior for what it is and often drop it.

This is often how religions can be so helpful.  If we can really believe what they are telling us, that treating others well leads to what we are looking for, and we can join a group actually practicing that and therefore where those rules work, then we can often be free of our injurious behaviors and even the desire for those injurious behaviors.  Unfortunately, in reality the people in those religions (like us) often struggle to believe what the religion teaches and continue to practice their injurious behaviors, which often prevents us from believing.  At the same time, if we can deeply believe and practice it, no matter what others are doing, we will find it to be what we are looking for and we will be free.

*By inherent tendencies I mean our predisposition to fight or withdrawal, process inwardly (introvert) or outwardly (extrovert), blame ourselves or others, be guided by our emotions or try to suppress them, etc, etc.  Inherent tendencies could also be called genetic predispositions.  Fortunately, it is not too important to determine for a particular behavior we have, whether it is primarily an inherent tendency or a learned behavior, and for most they are so intertwined it is impossible to pull them apart.  Furthermore, inherent tendencies are actually a form of at least somewhat successful learned behaviors, that have been passed down to us from our ancestors.

My own lingo - Emotional Programming (EP)

Emotional programming is how our feelings guide how we act.  This includes if we are constantly struggling to ignore, suppress, or avoid acting upon our feelings.  Whether we realize and admit it or not though how we act is primarily driven by how we feel.  This often occurs in subtle, hidden, and round about ways, which makes it hard to see or grasp.  Nonetheless it does happens.

Most people seem to successfully avoid realizing that their feelings are guiding their behavior.  They seem to believe that their cognitive mind has considered the alternatives and determined the best way to act.  If they really considered the question of why they do a particular thing for a long period of time, they might realize that in one way or another they seemed to have picked it up as the best way from observing and interacting with others, especially caregivers or other leaders of some sort.  Likely though they would still ascribe it to a decision their cognitive mind made as opposed to being guided by their feelings or emotions.

It is true that most of what we do comes from our interactions with others, especially caregivers or other leaders during our formative years, whether we act in accordance or contrary to how those leaders acted.  However, most of this occurs at a level much deeper than our cognitive minds.  It occurs at the level of feelings.  Not necessarily at the level of simple reactionary feelings, like being happy or sad, but on the level of our conscience, where things feel right and wrong, safe or dangerous, smart or dumb, etc.  And often at this level these emotions feel important to our very identity and security.

Generally our feelings and emotional programming are determined by an interplay of our felt needs, inherent tendencies*, visceral beliefs, and the environment we find ourselves in.

If you do not believe me that what we do is guided by our deep emotions, try to think of a really important decision you made and how you made it.  Was it done by trying to play out the most likely outcomes of each decision and deciding which was best.  If this is the case you probably used your cognitive mind more than most, but even then wasn't the judging of which outcome would be preferred done at a deeper level of what would make you feel preferred feelings.  Even if it was a "selfless" act, wasn't it because that is what makes you feel the way you want to feel.

If you still do not believe we are primarily driven by our feelings whether we realize it or not, here are a few ways it happens in a less that straight forward manner:

When we are fighting ourselves and acting against how our feelings tell us to act.  (Our feelings are still driving our actions if they are the reason we are acting, whether or not we are acting the way the feelings might suggest we should act.)  

When we stay busy enough that we do not have time to be still because then we would experience our feelings and not know what to do with them.  This might seem like or even be the ideal from a societal perspective, and this being busy and productive often makes us feel good.  So if it does not get out of hand it may be good for all involved.

Maybe we are not busy or productive, but still find ways to distract ourselves from our own feelings with things like facebook, browsing the internet, watching TV, etc.  Again here it might seem like we are not acting upon our feelings since we are fairly successfully avoiding them, but the fact is that if we are being driven to avoid them we are being driven by them.  And generally each of these things, and lots of others like them do give us tiny little hits of desirable feelings of some sort.

Of course there are plenty more examples of ways people are driven to act by their feelings even if they are not acting with immediate obedience to their feelings, and I would imagine I will explore a variety of them at a later time.  

There are also plenty of examples of people acting more directly on their feelings with anger, withdrawal, fear, joy, etc; or more directly to modify or augment their feelings with drugs, exercise, altruism, gambling, thrill seeking, etc. 

Finally, please note I am not saying the cognitive mind does not have an important role to play.  However, when we deny or do not realize what is going on at a deeper level we often end up with only bad and worse solutions, which often leads to harmful behavior and/or misery.

*(By inherent tendencies I mean our predisposition to fight or withdrawal, process inwardly (introvert) or outwardly (extrovert), blame ourselves or others, be guided by our emotions or try to suppress them, etc, etc)

My own lingo - Cognitive Mind

By cognitive mind I mean the part of us that thinks about things.

Our cognitive mind basically evaluates our situation the best it can by comparing ourselves to others, our group to other groups, or really anything to something else, and then makes conclusions that it will generally stick with until they are proven wrong.

Our cognitive mind never acts completely alone.  It is always taking into consideration how we feel and what we have been taught and then comes up with the best conclusions it can.  When we do not like our lot in life or the way we have been feeling our cognitive mind tries hard to figure out how and why we have gotten to this place and how to get to a better place.  If this goes on long it often leads to racing thoughts as it gets more desperate for a solution.  When our visceral beliefs lead in two very different directions it can also set up the proverbial devil on one shoulder and angel on the other or what some people refer to as a committee in their head.  

Anyone who tells you that they have considered an issue without any bias or prejudice (pre-judgments) really does not know themselves very well.  Our cognitive mind's frame of reference must always be the experiences it has witnessed, the things it has learned from others' experiences that have been shared with it, and its previous conclusions about those experiences.  

Our cognitive mind is likely the biggest thing that distinguishes humans from other animals.  It gives us consciousness, which I will define for my purposes as the ability to view ourselves as separate from our surroundings, evaluate our place in an ecosystem, or even to evaluate the somewhat separate but connected parts of ourselves.

For example I do not think a wolf sits around and thinks about why he feels the way he does or why the alpha wolf always gets to eat first or gets the best female wolfs or has the best den, etc.  We as humans of course do this sort of thing and it can be very motivating as well as productive for ourselves and society as a whole.  However, it also has its problems since we can get stuck in this evaluation process, which can cause us to feel poorly about ourselves and others, which can then lead to all sorts of problems for how we related to ourselves and others.

The last point I would like to make about the cognitive mind is that it tends to want certainty, and in striving for this it generally simplifies things too much and attributes too much to a particular event or idea.  What I mean by this is that when two people are arguing over something there is normally some truth on each side, but each person is trying to take their little bit of truth and extrapolate it too far.  In reality, the truths on both sides normally fit together in a messy way that leaves uncertainty, which is uncomfortable and therefore avoided.  

Again this post is not meant to have much meaning by itself, but I want to have a separate post defining key words or concepts so that when I am referring to them later people can easily check back to see more specifically what I mean.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What's the Point?

This started as a comment to someone else’s blog. I have changed it some from my original comment, but kept the format of responding to someone.

I write to offer encouragement and suggestions. This may be arrogant of me, but I guess your humanity touched my humanity and having greatly struggled with some issues you write about I felt maybe I could provide some fuel for your very worthwhile quest.

You are the first person I have reached out to that I do not know in the real world. I do this because, as you say, it is the right thing to do, and just as importantly because it is absolutely essential for me. If I am not actively and consistently connecting to that part of myself that connects with others in a benevolent way, then I am depressed and lost (as I was for most of my first 30 plus years).

I certainly do not have time to try to explain it all, but again I was hoping to share a little on why you are correct in a lot of what you say.

First as you are moving towards, I think, the overall goal should be wholeness, whether that be wholeness within yourself or the greater whole (world) generally. The reason why few people of his time or since really get Jesus’ parables and teachings are because they are viewing it from their own individual perspective. If viewed from the greater good of the whole (again world) they actually make a lot of sense.

I too am not sure I want to be called or should be called a Christian because it seems to have so many different meanings to different people that all it mainly does is illicit prejudices (pre-judgments) that are likely not accurate and yet may still be damaging. I do not plan to talk a great deal about Jesus’ message either because it has so many different interpretations, but I will say that it seems consistent with what you and I are saying. He mainly railed against the people of his time who put their focus on rituals and outward appearances or even proper interpretations of scripture, and said you are all missing the whole point. The whole point is to be good and caring to each other, as you say.

So again it all comes back to wholeness. The world is quite often a nasty place for the individual, but for the whole it is an absolutely amazing, beautiful, etc, place. This is mainly because evolution is rough on the individual but perfect for the greater whole. Of course evolution is a controversial topic, but it should not be. It is some of the best evidence we have for God’s plan and way of life, because it is real. And to the extent the individual aligns their focus with the greater good it becomes great for the individual also, provided a few steps are taken to protect oneself.

Most people spend all of their time trying to figure out how reality (the world) can be fit into their current beliefs with possibly being open to having their current beliefs tweaked a bit, rather than looking at reality and formulating beliefs from it or being open to radically different beliefs. Now it is not really their fault, that is how we are made, but if you can understand this and then try to look at things without all the pre-judgments, great things appear and things make a lot more sense. To some extent, I think this is what you have done with saying, I do not want to worry about labeling what I am being, I just want to be. And I am saying that sounds like a great idea.

Also it is important to note here again that viewed from the perspective of the whole this being resistant to changing our current beliefs is an efficient process, but it often leads to internal torture for the individual. However, even that often has its own benefits for the whole.

Moving onward to applying the wholeness philosophy to ourselves individually. Most therapy these days, drugs, talk therapy or a combo, try to get us past our bothersome feelings. The bothersome feelings are viewed as the enemy. Unfortunately the best that can leave us is better able to cope with them and getting slowly and incrementally better, but always still at war with ourselves because our feelings are a part of ourselves. The only real way to the freedom and happiness we all seek is through wholeness and embracing all of us, as well as those around us. However, again that is not really our default mechanism for handling things because we do not want to feel the bothersome feelings and they are also bothersome to those around us who try to get us to stop feeling them.

The answer turns out to be that if we embrace the bothersome feelings and what I call the visceral beliefs behind the feelings we can learn that they were legitimate feelings from our perspective of our experience at some point and the feelings keep coming back because, again, that is how we are made. The feelings and visceral beliefs are trying to teach or warn us about our present from what they think they have learned in the past. As long as we just try to get rid of them, they basically just hang around saying, you really ought to listen to me or you are going to be sorry.

Where as, if we embrace them we can learn that they were legitimate feelings based upon our perspective of our experience. After we do this we can truly realize if the visceral beliefs behind the feelings are needed in our current life. In other words, if they are still applicable and we should keep them. If they are still applicable we can often at this point see how to change our current life and relationships to make them no longer needed or applicable. Once we get deep enough to learn from our feelings what the visceral beliefs are behind the feelings, and we realize if the visceral beliefs are still necessary in our current life, and then change our current life if necessary, we will be free. If the visceral beliefs are no longer applicable in our present life the feelings will at that point go away or change.

Unfortunately, as long as we just try to suppress, avoid or otherwise distract ourselves from the bothersome feelings, they linger because they at least think they have something very important to tell or teach us. Additionally, until we embrace them or torture ourselves for many many years trying to fight them, the feelings and visceral beliefs often create our current life such that they are still necessary or applicable. In other words our visceral beliefs often perpetuate themselves and become self fulfilling prophesies.

Now most of these feelings are too overwhelming to tackle on their own and therefore you need a person or people to help you that are not threatened by your feelings and associated visceral beliefs. Essentially this means it normally cannot be someone close to you. If they are threatened by your feelings, that will generally prevent you from being able to really explore it with them because the threatening will put the important relationship at jeopardy, not allowing the necessary exploration and adding to the overwhelmingness of things, rather than detracting from it.

It also must be a person or people who have had some success with their own similar bothersome feelings and visceral beliefs or someone who never had the issue to begin with. If the other person has similar feelings and visceral beliefs and has not at least somewhat successfully dealt with them, they will subtlely not let you go there because it will illicit the same feelings in them or more importantly challenge their similar visceral belief. Either way the other person who really is trying hard to help you will often guide you away from the answer instead of closer to it because that is where the other person’s feelings and visceral beliefs will lead both of you.

 Unfortunately, this happens a lot with paid therapists as well as other acquaintances.  Another problem with paid therapists is that they (or the method of therapy they subscribe to) does not trust the patient to be able to discover these visceral beliefs.  Of course this can often come from the patient not trusting themselves and expecting or demanding the therapist provide the answers.

At some later point I will discuss a number of things that can be helpful for discovering and starting to modify our visceral beliefs.  The only thing I have mentioned so far in this regard is finding a suitable person because that is almost always necessary to some extent.  Other things that can be helpful include writing, music, exercise, and a few others not worth mentioning until I can explain them well.

I would guess I lost you with a lot of this. In fact I think it has to be that way because it can only become clear as you successfully go through it or learn it yourself. However, my hope is that maybe it can encourage you to continue on your current path. You might also see why I labeled my blog obnoxious psychobabble and blasphemy, ha ha.

So my suggestions to you are:

Find a person or more who will allow you to embrace your bothersome feelings, explore the visceral beliefs behind them, and learn from them what they are trying to teach you. Then they will become valued and cease being what they were or you can then at least choose to change your life at that point so they are no longer necessary.

Find people who share your spiritual leanings and are acting upon their spiritual leanings. There are lots, although they can be hard to find since uttering anything other than accepted views in whatever group you find yourself can illicit such strong and negative reactions. Be sure you find the ones that want wholeness and freedom and not to just spend their time complaining about the wrongness of parts of religions or others in general. There are lifetimes worth of legitimate criticism, but it is a futile path. If we spend most of our time or energies on these criticisms we are also missing the “whole point” of all the great spiritual teachings because we are not being good and caring to each other, but rather tearing ourselves and each other apart. There is a place for some of it if done in the spirit of being good and caring towards others, but if it consumes us we become part of the problem. In the grand scheme of things it is really not that big of deal though if we miss the whole point because everything IS used for good, but it keeps us at war with ourselves and others, which is a miserable place to be.

Most of all continue to be brave and find what your truth is and follow it and share it with others.

And if none of this is helpful to you it was valuable for me to embrace my own better parts of my humanity and spend a little time there. So thank you. I am honored to be a grain of sand on the beach of your journey.

My own lingo - Visceral Beliefs (VBs)

It may be best to skip this post until I start to discuss visceral beliefs in relation to other things.  I needed to go ahead and post it though; again, as part of the foundation or framework I will use later to explore why we think, feel, and do the things we do. 

The next concept I would like to introduce and begin to define is visceral beliefs. This concept is nearly impossible to define in any specific or definitive ways. Therefore, likely the best I will be able to do is to give some of the contours of what I mean by visceral beliefs, and hope that others will intuitively sense what I am striving to describe, a little bit now and more and more later as I apply them to areas of our lives.

The best way I can explain visceral beliefs is that they are the somewhat undefinable or undescribable assumptions or beliefs behind our feelings, especially our intense gut level feelings. In some ways they are like a book of rules underlying our feelings or emotions that we do not know that we have. They come from our quest to best fulfill our felt needs in the surroundings we find ourselves in. As such they are determined by our innate qualities and tendencies (nature) as well as our environment (nuture), and which factor has more greatly determined our own visceral beliefs may vary from person to person and from visceral belief to visceral belief.

Many of our visceral beliefs are fully formed and in place before we reach the age of reason or use our own thinking or cognitive ability to consider how we should act. It is not really important to determine exactly what age this is, but it is around the age we stop believing in Santa Claus and similar things. Visceral beliefs are constantly changing slightly to incorporate all of our life experiences, but for most people they stay relatively constant throughout life. Sometimes they change drastically on the negative side with traumatic events or on the positive side with religious or spiritual experiences that leads to a very different outlook on life or sometimes with the love for a partner, child, etc, but most commonly they change slowly and grudgingly without intense guided effort.

Visceral beliefs are not a result of thinking, and in fact we do not initially choose in any way what our visceral beliefs will be. Similarly, Visceral beliefs do not come from things that people tell us that sound like good ideas. The exception to these two generalities is that if we receive an insight from our own thinking or from what someone is telling us that modifies how we view things at a deep intuitive or feeling level.

Visceral beliefs are in some ways primitive or animalistic. This does not mean they are something to be avoided, suppressed or matured past, and that is not really possible anyway. Visceral beliefs can be modified or even replaced, but in their old or modified form they will always be with us and determine how we feel in a particular situation.

It's all Blasphemy

Most things are blasphemy to a majority of the world's population.

(We might actually do well to figure out the few core beliefs that are common among the world's most popular religions and just stick to those things.  Of course we would have to remove the specific names each religion uses to understand their own beliefs and come up with a common language, but my guess is that if this could actually be done it would provide a sufficient framework for that part of our lives.)

However, my point with my opening line here is that because each religion has its own terms and to a lesser extent beliefs, almost anything anyone can utter in this realm is considered blasphemy (or something more benign but similar to blasphemy) to the vast majority of people on this planet of ours.  

Most people practice the religion they do because of where they were born and what culture they grew up in, rather than that they explored the various offerings and decided upon the one they thought was best.  If someone was going to explore various religions to pick which one seemed best it seems to me that they would be looking for the one that seemed most true or that produced the most desirable results.  To really do this someone would have to actually practice the religion for at least months and probably years to see how true it seemed and what results it produced, and yet I have not met anyone who has done this with more than 2-3 religions, even though I am sure there are a few.

I am not suggesting that people should actually practice various religions for a few years each.  What I am suggesting is that it is hypocritical to think my religion is better than someone else's religion unless I have tried their's for quite a while.  Likely, some people avoid this realization by focusing on the objectionable parts of other religions and comparing that to the admirable parts of their own religion.  Likely other people avoid this realization because they assume there can only be one truth in this realm and their religion explains things well.  So it must be the one true religion.  Any which way it is still hypocritical.

My hope is that if more and more people come to realize this as the world is getting smaller and more people start to get to know people from other cultures, that we will naturally develop more compassion and tolerance for each other and various cultures.  It takes a while for this process to play out and the opening of the globe to the exchange or ideas and cultures at the general population level is still in its early infancy.  

My own lingo - Felt Needs

Felt needs are things like food, water, companionship, community, sex, physical security, physical activity, sleep/rest, etc. Falling under the broader categories of companionship and community is emotional security, which includes feeling useful, important, and a part of a larger whole. Obviously these are all things very necessary to our survival and it would seem to make complete sense that from an evolutionary standpoint we have been programmed to feel these needs in order to guide our behaviors and survive.

Initially, I would like to point out a few things. First, it is not by accident that I am focusing on felt needs rather than actual needs. Second, our felt needs vary greatly by what stage of life we are in, and more importantly, how we interpret and try to articulate our felt needs is greatly influenced by family and societal expectations and norms. Finally, when we have a plan or way of life that satisfies our most important felt needs we feel peace of mind and a sense of well being, and when we do not have such a way of life we experience a wide array of uncomfortable feelings and harmful behaviors.

Hopefully we all know that a direct pursuit towards fulfilling our own immediate felt needs becomes a disaster in no time. Fortunately if we truly understand our most important felt needs, as well as a lot of other things about ourselves and human nature, we can develop a plan or way of life that satisfies our most important felt needs and leads to peace of mind and a sense of well being. Reassuringly, this plan or way of life turns out to be consistent with all sorts of age old wisdom, as well as, contemporary psychology, biology, and other sciences.  Or at least with my brief exploration of these fields of study, it seems that way to me.

Before moving on I would like to briefly discuss why I am focusing on felt needs rather than actual needs.  I would guess many read, felt needs and think those are really wants and not needs.  For instance I keep thinking of my wife asking my kids (or sometimes me), "do you need it or just want it" when the kids or I say we need something.  Of course my wife is correct and we generally do not need whatever it is that we want at that moment.  However, in the long run we really do need all sorts of things or we consistently and predictably become a mess in various different ways.  My point is that we do not need to immediately fulfill our felt needs of the moment, but we do need to learn to develop a way of life that in the long run satisfies a decent portion of our felt needs or we will end up turning to all sorts of behaviors to covertly satisfy some of our felt needs.  

In fact, this is where most of our objectionable behavior comes from, and often why we are such a mystery to ourselves and others.  We generally try to get our felt needs met without admitting we have felt needs.  And unless we have spent a long time really exploring ourselves and how that relates to what we do, most of the time we do not even realize we have the felt needs or that we are covertly trying to satisfy them.  Generally people like to deny, suppress, ignore, and distract themselves from their own felt needs and shame or otherwise shun the felt needs of others.  We do all this because our felt needs make us vulnerable and uncomfortable.  They also make those around us uncomfortable.  Furthermore, we intuitively know they allow others to manipulate or exploit us, and actually we are made or have evolved to do exactly that to each other.  

So there are very good reasons to avoid this vulnerability, and also very good reasons to carefully choose who we might share it with.  Now is not the time to go into details about solutions, but I do want to mention that I am not proposing that we should go around admitting and discussing our felt needs and being vulnerable all the time.  It is often necessary to find a person or two that we can share it with, and doing this can go a long way towards satisfying some of our biggest felt needs.  But most importantly, if we can see our own felt needs and the crazy ways we try to fulfill them, we at least have a fighting chance of buying into new better ways to get them met that are less harmful to ourselves and others.  

Additionally, I want to remind you that mainly what I am doing at this time is developing the foundation and framework for understanding ourselves and what we do, think, and feel.  I am giving the underlying details to demonstrate it all does add up and that one particular suggestion or belief I may share is not an island to itself.  It is not necessary for others to understand, believe, or adopt these underlying details in order to grab some useful suggestion from myself or others and run with it for a while, which is what I recommend for people looking to make positive changes in their lives.  Doing just that and repeating it over and over with a little reflection on what is or is not working is generally successful.  Unfortunately, many people forget the reflection and repeating it part and just assume whatever they tried failed and other things will also.  

Introduction to my own lingo

First, I should admit that I have not read or been exposed much to psychological or philosophical theories about why we as humans do the things we do. So I am not really sure how divergent or consistent what I will be trying to describe is to the views of others.

I have thought about studying the topic more, but I have been concerned that it would contaminate or muddy my own thoughts and beliefs before I was even able to sort out or articulate what my thoughts and beliefs were. Furthermore, the few times I have started to look into the topic the theories did not seem to help me understand myself or why I did what I did or how to change what I was doing. So it did not seem useful. Honestly it seemed like whoever came up with the theories was just guessing and did not actually have any idea. I would imagine what I am proposing will also sound like that to many who might read it, but nonetheless I am going to give it a shot.

The following few posts will be a framework for what drives us and dictates what we do and how we feel. While I realize it will merely sound like theories or guesses I have conjured up, I would like to reiterate that it represents my best description and explanation of what has already happened to me and why. It is not something I have prospectively thought up and that I then try to apply to get where I want to go. This does not mean that it all has to be exactly right because I am certainly still blind to where I have been and where I currently am. Furthermore, even when I do understand I may not be able to articulate it well, or how I articulate it may not be how others receive it. At the same time I have gotten to know myself and a lot of other people at a deep level and I am fully convinced it is accurate and reproducible for a wide variety of people.

In order to explain the foundation for how we act and what we feel I am going to introduce and attempt to define 5 new terms or concepts. Please be patient with me. I am purposely choosing my own terms and trying to define them from scratch rather than try to fully understand and adopt contemporary or classic psychological or religious terms. I have decided to do this so that I do not unknowingly imply things associated with established terms and concepts. I will do my best to articulate a working definition of the new terms I propose as I introduce them, but in all likelihood their true meaning will not become clear until they are repeatedly applied to specific aspects of life in future writings.

These 4 concepts are:
1- Felt needs
2 - Visceral beliefs
3 - Emotional programming
4 - Learned behaviors
5 - Cognitive mind

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What drives us 2

My previous post suggesting that a primary drive for us is to feel connected to and valuable part of a greater whole was written to a specific person regarding a specific question.

Before moving on I would like to ask anyone who is following along to consider how this drive to feel connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole influences human behavior, such as

  • the cohesiveness of families and desire to have a spouse, kids, etc
  • people joining churches, the military, sports teams, sororities/fraternities, gangs, cults, etc (I am not saying these things are all bad or equal.  There is a reason for the drive and better and worse ways to satisfy it.)
  • people staying in bad relationships, harmful families, oppressive organizations of all sorts, etc
  • teenager activities with coupling and grouping and showing off or trying to show supremacy, etc
  • desire to engage in hobby type activities: hunting, fishing, gardening, woodworking, rooting for a sports team or things like fantasy football, etc. (Obviously these are male oriented hobbies.  I would imagine there are female corollaries if I took more time to consider it.)
  • desire to create or just enjoy different types of art, including singing and dancing
  • urge to pray and meditate as well as the felt benefits of prayer and meditation

I of course believe that this drive to feel connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole or the inability to feel it is a primary reason for most of the above, but I do not plan to go into a lot of details on each at this time.  I will likely spend considerable time on how it influences some of them in the future.

Before moving on I will note that feeling connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole is necessary for peace of mind and a sense of well being, but often the inability to feel these things is also great motivation and drives a great deal of success and productiveness.

For instance I was unable to feel these things for most of my life.  I had almost no friends during my K-12 years.  Others did not seem to view me as an outcast or treat me poorly, but for the most part I just could not even bring myself to try to have friends or relationships.  I would fantasize about making and having friends or girlfriends, but fear and anxiety almost always kept me from actually even trying.  Along these lines for all 13 years I always went home for lunch because it was too painful to be alone among other people.  Ironically actually being alone was such a relief.

For most of my first 30 years, I told myself that people were jerks or something like that and therefore I did not want to be close to them.  The truth was that I felt unable to be close to them and it was more palatable to blame them than me.  And of course there are plenty of things to find objectionable about most people and even most relationships.

Where I am going with this though is that this inability to connect and feel valuable served as great motivation to achieve and be better than others.  I also was not overly successful in really convincing myself that my inability to have relationships was not my own fault or failure and this needed to be compensated for with success in other areas.  So I stuck with and kept going back to what was the easiest and surest way for me to feel at least somewhat successful and ended up with a couple doctorate degrees.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why change is so hard 2

However, it is also something most of us have to try and find out for ourselves. And that is generally true (I think) for most things, that we have to find our own path, hopefully with the help of others. (Without the help of others it is misery whether or not we are successful.) But since we have to find our own path it normally involves slowly trying new ways of approaching things and finding which ones work for us. Then hopefully at some point along the way we figure out that we have found enough of new and better ways that our old self-injurious ways are no longer necessary. At this point we realize we have a new freedom and happiness and peace and sometimes we wrongly attribute it to one event or idea when in actuality it was a long time coming and the build up of the constant struggle and slowly trying to do and find better ways that led to it.

Anyway, my point with all this is that I am glad you are trying in whatever ways you are trying. If you keep trying, even if you screw up a lot or do not take the best or straightest path to where you and all of us hope to go and get, you will make it and you will be amazed. (Lord knows my path has been full of one screw up after another.) So try to resist the urge to say "fuck it, I cannot do this" because the truth is that at that time you might not have found yet all the ingredients to the life you are hoping for or really want, but if you keep pushing forward and looking for them, you will find them. Of course, like all of us, sometimes you will essentially say "fuck it, I cannot do this" but try not to stay there too long or believe it too deeply or for too long. Just realize that you need a few more ingredients or answers or solutions for it to all come together, and that you will find them if you keep looking and trying, as long as that involves in some way connecting to others and the world around us.

Now I would guess you might be thinking, well most people do not seem to have found this which you say is possible and even inevitable if someone continues to seek it. That is true, but I think it is because they stop looking and pushing forward trying to find what we are all looking for. They also look around and figure that what they are really looking for is not available and stay in the, fuck it this is probably as good as it is going to get so I guess I'll try to survive and eek out whatever enjoyment I can. It is also because it is nearly impossible to find it without mentors who have found at least a little bit of it, and unfortunately there are not that many of those mentors around. And even the mentors that are around and ready and hoping to help are often drowned out by the majority that say it is not possible.  And it is almost impossible for the person searching to determine which is truly the enlightened path.  Therefore, again generally we just have to start trying some new things and keep the ones that work and drop the ones that do not.  With time we get better at determining which are better for us.

Doing that sort of thing I think can and does completely change my life. I think it is because of what I discussed about at the deepest levels we really only believe (or at least most strongly believe) in our own experience and prior subconscious interpretation of (visceral beliefs about) our experience. So even if what we might feel up to doing today is vastly short of what may be necessary to permanently change what we do, it can and does at least slightly change us internally and makes it more possible at some future time.

Which brings us back to the what a spiritual adviser or mentor of mine often comes back to:
do not to let the fact that I do not have the energy/time/ability/etc to do something just right keep me from doing what I actually can do today, however feeble that may be.

My mentor credits the idea to Edward Everett Hale when he wrote
I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What drives us (last modified 12/2/13)

I received your post card asking how to explain your thirst for travel to others. This may have been a rhetorical question from you, but I am going to try to answer it anyway.

It is my opinion that beyond our very basic needs for food, water, shelter, etc our greatest want and need as humans is to feel connected to and a valuable part of a greater whole. Some people get this from a marriage or children or other family relationships. Some people get it from church or AA or other organizations. Some people get it from work or even a hobby. From what I know of you it seems that you may get it most in your travels, meeting new people and connecting with them as well as sharing with them. Of course it is not an all or nothing thing and many of us get some of it from lots of places. At the same time we are generally drawn to the place we get it the most.

So then why India? I have never been to India although I have met and known at least a few from India who have come to the US to live and I have had somewhat of a ringside seat through your emails and then blogs as you travel and meet and connect with others on your travels. Anyway, it seems to me that maybe the people of India that you meet and connect well with have a certain humility and gratitude not as easily found other places. This humility and easy gratitude are obviously very spiritual traits and generally allow for deeper or more full connections with others such as yourself.

To go more deeply I think that most relationships in families, marriage, work, AA, church, etc involve at some level some degree of hostage taking or blackmail.*  At the very least they require compromises and trade-offs. Many people seem to get comfortable with this and it does not hamper their ability to feel connected and valuable to the greater unit. And maybe in a certain perverse way it transiently enhances this feeling of connection and valuableness, if the person has a position of power in the unit and gets to set the terms of the hostage taking or blackmail. Here I would note that I think that often what we call or equate to mental health is the ability to go along with this system and “fit in” or feel good or OK about it.

However, for some people (maybe such as yourself and certainly myself) with our own inherent tendencies and past experiences (especially in childhood) we cannot become comfortable with the trade-offs (to put it nicely) or subtle blackmail and hostage taking (to probably put it more accurately). This is called in some way a lack of mental health because it rocks the boat and is uncomfortable for everyone, even if what we refuse to become comfortable with or accept is itself subtlely manipulative and not necessarily an ideal or great system. And of course it often does cross a line into an overt lack of mental health where we can be very harmful to ourselves and others.

Part of what I am saying though is that what is referred to as a lack of mental health is often seeing or feeling things more clearly than others and then not being willing to continue to go along with the status quo. You had a blog post not too long ago that I am reminded of regarding I think something similar when you said sometimes you feel bad for all those people with out mental health issues. Personally I think you were onto something. I think most people satisfy themselves with the decent and do not generally get to see the spectacular that we sometimes get to see and feel. Of course they also often miss the lows and probably more importantly do not require the constant vigilance to avoid great danger.

Anyway it seems to me the best answer involves 2 things

(1) Doing the slow, tedious, and hard work of addressing and improving our existing relationships. In my case this might be slowly and consistently addressing the areas of my relationships with my wife, kids, parents, brothers, etc, that prevent me from feeling connected to and a valuable part of the greater family unit. This always starts with internal work, such as inventory, prayer, mediation (a lot of meditation for me) and then at some point generally requires directly addressing areas with the other person. It seems to me a lot of people try to skip that last part. That is unfortunate because it is in directly addressing it (in hopefully a humble and calm manner after a lot of internal work) that the new or different connection can begin to form and be built upon, which is really the ultimate goal whether we realize it or not.

Essentially, here I guess I am trying to reduce or remove the parts of the relationship that feel like the hostage taking and blackmail I mentioned earlier. Many might think I am paranoid or seeing things that are not really there, but if I am honest with myself I realize that I have often done this hostage taking and blackmail myself. In fact that used to be most of what I did in relationships. In many ways I was fairly good to those around me, but when I am honest with myself I realize a big reason I was good to others was to at least potentially hold it against them to get what I thought I wanted or needed.

Of course the fact that I do this some now and unfortunately used to base my few relationships on it does not mean others also do so. However, my experience with others makes me believe it is very common, especially in familial relationships. My biggest reason for thinking it is so common or pretty much the default situation is that people get so defensive and emotional when even something fairly minor is directly addressed, as I am saying is part of the key to moving to healthy fulfilling relationships. I also think it goes a long way towards explaining the very few truly happy and fulfilling relationships there seem to be, especially between couples. Instead it has a tendency to set up a covert (it certainly cannot be spoken or admitted or even seen for that matter) contentiousness in a relationship where each party is keeping track of what they bring to it to potentially hold against the other.

One caveat to all this though it that who am I to say that is not how it is supposed to be. It may not be how I would like things to be, and I definitely try to choose to live differently, but if I look at human history for a few thousand years or maybe even a million years this basic dynamic has probably served humans fairly well. And it has probably only been in the last 100-200 years where there has been any real choice. Before this there was no way to choose your own relationships. You were stuck with your own family, normally even when considering what you did vocationally. It is my opinion that we evolved from this type of system (no choice) and some of our current problems are related to being stuck with these tendencies even though they may no longer be consistent with our current needs and circumstances.

(2) I think the second part of the solution is to seek out new relationships that do not require the slow, tedious, and hard work to remove things that block a connection, but rather can often start from a healthier place and hopefully with some continual care (generally the same internal work and directly addressing problem areas) can remain fulfilling.

Part of your thirst for traveling may also be that traveling encourages you (or maybe even forces you) to be in the now or present, where life actually happens and connections are made. For “thinkers” like us (as you called us) with at least some tendencies towards mental instability, being pushed towards living-in-the-now can be very beneficial. Since spending too much time in the high country of the mind can be a dangerous thing, and if we are not involved in things that push us towards living in the now, it takes constant discipline to try to get to the now and stay there.

I think along these lines my best gauge for my current spiritual fitness is how well I can be present and enjoy my kids. If they are mostly an irritation my spiritual fitness and ability to live in the now is poor. Whereas if I can really enjoy them and even their quirks and borderline bad behavior and hopefully join in with them for some goofiness then I know my spiritual condition and ability to live in the now or present is in good shape. This takes discipline for me to try to get to this and stay there, but fortunately when I become irritated with my kids I often realize it is time to simplify and prioritize in order to allow myself to become present. Nothing is more harmful or snowballs more quickly on me in a bad way than being irritated with my kids and not being willing or able to pull myself out of it.

*Many will likely object to my characterizing the give and take of relationships as manipulative learned behaviors. However, if you expect someone else to act a certain way in response to how you act, then your act is at least somewhat manipulative. It may be more of a loan than a gift. There really is nothing wrong with this and much of humanity’s success is at least partially built upon it. Most people though do not want to admit this is what is behind their own or other people actions. They would much rather believe a fairy tale version of what is behind their and others’ actions.

I am not saying that all actions are manipulative, but much more are than people generally recognize. The best way to know if one of my actions is manipulative, especially my generous ones, is to consider the degree to which I expect others to act a certain way in response to my actions.

Finally before leaving this topic for the time being I want to reiterate that I am not saying I should avoid any behavior where I expect others to act a certain way in return at some point (manipulative behavior). It is very helpful though to understand what I am doing and have increasing honesty about it, as opposed to dressing it up to look like something better than it is. 

I should be as selfless and truly generous as possible. Additionally, I would be wise to hang out with people who are somewhat selfless and generous and trying to be increasingly so. I would also be wise to hang around people who are willing to honestly and with specificity look at and admit where they are less than this ideal. It generally is only from this candid place that the so called win-win can occur and two people (whether spouses or friends) become greater than the sum of their parts. This place of humility is often also where we feel the connection to another that we so desperately seek, which I believe is a piece of God’s presence.

Why change is so hard

So the next question becomes, how to start to believe in a new course of action that may provide benefits, when generally we do not believe it or we would have already tried it. It seems to me that there are normally 2 main ingredients. First, we normally must get pretty desperate, or in other words our normal ways of handling things and dealing with life must not be working very well. Second in our desperation we grab onto some new ideas or beliefs about how things work and what would be best for us. I think the most reliable way for this 2nd thing to happen is that someone who has been through similar stuff shares some of that and it resonates deep within us to the point that we at least start to believe it on a deep level.

(I am not going to try to define it well here, but I want to make it clear that when I am discussing beliefs here I mean to some extent what we think and our minds tell us about ourselves and the world, but more importantly I am referring to something much more abstract and hard to define. Something I will call visceral beliefs, that are basically what our gut tells us and is deeper and more powerful that our thinking. These visceral beliefs in some ways are animalistic and definitely pre-language, meaning they originated before humans had language. As a result our language is not very good at describing them.)

So getting back to what I was saying before I went off on the tangent about beliefs, I think that the most efficient and likely successful way for myself and others to have our visceral beliefs changed is to hear the experience of others that we believe at a visceral or gut level. In order for us to really believe it (at least for a skeptic like me) we generally have to know the person well enough or get to know the person well enough to realize what they say or changes that have occurred in them are real. I am hoping that our prior relationship and you knowing at least a little of my struggles and hopefully viscerally believing some of the stuff I try to describe regarding what I think has happened to me, will be useful to you.

Before dropping this topic of changing our visceral beliefs, which are closely aligned with our gut/intuition/feelings, I want to mention that while getting together with others who are trying similar paths I think is the most efficient and likely successful way, this does also occur in other ways. Some of us are lucky enough to have little epiphanies or revelations come to us seemingly all of a sudden and amount to an internal shift of some sort. In my own case they normally seem to be revelations out of the blue, but I have come to believe now that they are generally a long time in the making and generally involve some sort of coming together of things I have read and heard, all of sudden making sense in a very new way at a deep level.

I know all of this might be too abstract to be helpful. I wanted to reply with something though and trying to explain how I think the process of change occurs was what started to come out when I started typing.

Why I named this blog Obnoxious Psychobabble and Blasphemy 2

A good friend was troubled by the name of my blog.  Here are some of my parts of the correspondence.

In other words I guess the reason I like my blog name is because I really do think that all this stuff I talk about seems like obnoxious psychobabble and blasphemy to those who have not found much freedom in their own lives from the struggles we all deal with. It is to those people I am trying to relate.

To people that have found some freedom, but are not sure how it came about or where it came from I would guess most of it still sounds like obnoxious psychobabble and blasphemy, and maybe the title can help them consider it with a little levity (or reduced prejudice) long enough for them to realize it could be onto something and give it a real shot.

To those who have matured more in their pursuits and had more success I hope that either they get a little chuckle from the title and move on to the content or that again if they are set in their ways that it reduces their prejudices (pre-judgments) enough for them to actually consider some of it (with me not taking myself too seriously).

Again, I appreciate your comments and concerns and will further consider it. Feel free to continue our discussion of the topic with further thoughts you might have.

My friend was still concerned ...

I think likely we are going to continue to disagree on this topic, but I will continue to consider your thoughts and I appreciate them.

To some extent it might be a George Carlin type statement that we give words too much power, especially in these areas where words are generally inadequate to convey what is really happening, and yet people will almost stake their life on a word.

However, my experience is actually quite a bit different that you might guess. I have had many family members, including my wife, and many close friends that know me well basically tell me that they were happy that I seemed to be doing well, but my explanations (or theories) for how it occurred and what was going on seemed like wild guesses or unsubstantiated (maybe) interesting theories. It has been in these conversations that I realized that a lot of what I say sounds like obnoxious psychobabble to others, and when I have mentioned that it was clear that (while most of them were too polite to come right out and say it) they were thinking, yep.

It actually has been quite the surprise to me. Here on my insides I know that things have changed drastically and I have found freedom, peace of mind, and a sense of well being to an extent I never even considered dreaming was possible for me. And I think I might even have a real gift for seeing and explaining what has occurred. (Obviously the jury is still out on this.)  At the same time people are so set in their own ways and what I would call their visceral beliefs, emotional programming, and learned behaviors (someday soon hopefully I will have defined all those things on my blog) that they are not really open to considering things that might challenge their visceral beliefs, emotional programming, and learned behaviors.

In other words everyone I have gotten to know really well has already tried desperately hard to come up with a way of life that minimally satisfies them and others or (as we often say or hear said) they are doing the best they can do or come up with. This is often obscured by the fact that having tried this they have found it still insufficient and have subsequently basically given up and are just trying to survive the best they can.

From my own experience and exploration of myself (again often in meditation), and my observation of others I have gotten to know well I think that at our deepest levels we really only believe our own experience. I think this explains a lot of things like denial and why people, obviously including myself, continue down paths that are obviously going the wrong direction and giving terrible results. They (we) just do not believe that anything else is possible. It may also explain how the saying that pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth is often true. Typically (at least in the beginning) we have to be beaten down quite a bit to change at a deep level. It is also likely why it is a dilemma to really try a spiritual way of life even when our life might be such a mess.

The reason I bring up all the stuff about how at a deep level we really only believe our own experience is because I think it explains why even if the things I believe and try to articulate are accurate and very helpful most people still see it as obnoxious psychobabbble. Obnoxious psychobabbble might be a little of an exaggeration, but wild guesses or unsubstantiated (maybe) interesting theories I do not think is.

Part of my point here is that I think people get very tired of and disenfranchised by others telling them that to recover or solve a problem they must do this or to achieve whatever they must do whatever. The person that says it normally believes it was necessary for them and it would be necessary for someone else. This may or may not be true, but even if it is it may not be necessary for the other person right now or as the next step.

And if you ask 10 different people who have seemingly found good working solutions to their own problems, what you should do about your own problem, they will likely give you 10 different answers. Even if all these people were from AA or the same religion or the same school of psychology, you would likely get fairly different answers when you got down to specifics. And if you asked how or why this happened or worked the opinions would likely diverge much more. So how is anything supposed to sound like anything more than wild guesses or unsubstantiated (maybe) interesting theories.

My answer to others regarding this today is to suggest that they try whatever seems to resonate for them and see what the results are. If it works keep doing it and if needed add something else in a similar manner. If it does not work discard it for now and try the next thing that resonates and that they might be motivated enough to actually do. However, the absolutely crucial thing to try to drive home if advocating this approach is that if someone is going to pick and choose like this (which most of us do regardless of what others say or we think we do) that they do not fall for the belief that all of it does not work for them or that they are truly hopeless, if what they try does not work or work well enough from the start. Rather they need to realize that all they really found out is the limited thing they tried did not work or even more likely that what they tried by itself was not sufficient.

I guess what I am mainly saying is that while obnoxious psychobabble is definitely an exaggeration I do think something along those lines is what it commonly seems like to many others, including much of what I think my target audience may be. As I tried to explain I actually do not think that is avoidable. I certainly do not think it is obnoxious psychobabble and I think that becomes clear quickly and easily if people actually read some of it. At the same time I truly believe there are many different paths on the road to where we all hope to go or get. I happen to think mine is a wonderful and fairly direct path, but I have no desire and feel no need to try to pound it into others or take it or myself too seriously.

I do not mean it as a put down to myself or feel the need to put myself down. Certainly some people may think that. However I do not think they would think it long if they read much of it.

As always (unless I specifically tell you otherwise on a topic, which I do not foresee) feel free to continue our dialogue on this topic if you feel compelled.

Thanks and smiles,

My long Hiatus from this blog

I have obviously not posted much here for quite a while. Mostly this is because between trying to be a good husband, father, friend, son, sibling, etc, as well as taking care of my emotional/spiritual, physical, etc, needs, and have a somewhat successful career working full time, I have not found much time to write. I also like to vacation a lot and do not much of anything, like sit in the hot tub, a lot. Life is very good but it is always a challenge balancing everything and maintaining the feelings I so greatly value, like peace, freedom, and a general sense of well being. And being an alcoholic, addict and a lot of other things it is vital that I do maintain some sort of balance because the stakes are high if I get far off track.

I had hoped to try to discuss things in a fairly organized manner, kind of like a book. However, one of the reasons I initially decided to start the blog was to avoid feeling like I needed to do things in an organized manner like a book. Since I have not found much time to do the organized thing and have thus not done much of anything, I have decided it is time to treat it more like a blog and just post whatever I come up with when it happens. At some later point I will hopefully more fully organize it, bring it together, and articulate how it is all related.

A spiritual adviser or mentor of mine often says not to let the fact that you do not have the energy/time/ability/etc to do something just right keep you from doing what you can do, however feeble that may be. So in that spirit I will post a few things I have written to others, removing any identifying elements, and then see where things go.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why I named this blog Obnoxious Psychobabble and Blasphemy

Why I named this blog Obnoxious Psychobabble and Blasphemy.

I initially and mainly chose the name because I would imagine that is what a lot of the things I say sound like to most people.  I think theories about why we do the things we do almost always sound obnoxious and rambling because deep down we know that we are not really as complicated as those theories would make us out to be.  There have been times in my life when I tried to buy into some fairly elaborate or complicated and convoluted theories for individual things I did or for the totality of who and what I was because it was obvious that I was a conundrum to myself, and I was ready to try anything.  However, none of the theories really seemed to fit.  I was always having to try to twist and contort myself and my experiences to fit myself into the theory rather than all the pieces of me fitting together neatly for the first time - like should happen with a good and accurate theory.  At least from my vantage point my own theory or theories are fairly straight forward and uncomplicated when applied to myself or an individual.  Throwing all the individuals together to form the societies we live in introduces a lot more uncertainties and complexities, but that is not my focus.

I added the Blasphemy to the title because I wanted to warn people in a somewhat joking manner that I would be freely considering, and for myself sometimes adopting unorthodox views of God.  I do not believe it is important for others to share my particular views of God, but I do believe it is important to engage in the struggle to settle upon what it is that you really believe at any given time.  And my hope is that my sharing my views may spur others to be open enough to explore what they believe and be OK with whatever they find.  Being settled on something that feels right in this regard is a nice place to be, even if it is sometimes only temporary.

Finally, I chose the tittle because it felt right from the perspective of adding a little humility into the equation.  It feels very odd and at least somewhat wrong for me, a person who has made a ton of mistakes and a mess out of their life many times, to be offering up with confidence answers or solutions to some of life's toughest and trickiest problems.  The normal solution to this problem seems to be to say that it is God working through me and not me.  That only somewhat jives with my current beliefs regarding God and man though, and beyond anything else I am committed to being as honest as I can be, even at the risk of pushing people away.  And I do believe strongly in owning up to and claiming all of ourselves; the good and the bad parts and not separating them from ourselves to ascribe them to God or the devil or whatever.

Certainly though none of my insights or answers or revelations would have been possible without my connection to God.  As I previously discussed almost all of my answers have come during times of what I would consider meditation.  Additionally, my felt need to share what I think I have found also comes from my connection to God.  So maybe I am just splitting hairs.

Any way if you are still with me, thank you for being patient with me while I discussed all these preliminary things I felt were necessary.  If it has driven you nuts - my need to discuss so many preliminary things - you are in good company.  It drives my wife nuts regularly, and she is probably the most instrumental person in helping me get to where I am today.  She recently told me I have a long wind-up.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why the underlying details

Now I am going to discuss why I plan to go into great detail regarding how I believe human nature works and results in mental health problems or conditions.

Often people and professionals who might try to help with the sort of problems and concerns I am discussing do not try to explain why they recommend doing the things they recommend doing.  This may be because they do not think it would be helpful, which may very well be true, or it might even be because they really do not know. In some ways we have become such a results oriented culture that we have lost the basis for why we do the things we do or what the main goals of our efforts really are.  This can lead to uncoordinated patchwork that might help a little with one problem but not really do much for a persons overall benefit in the long run.

I am by no means talking only about medications use for mental health issues, but this would often fit into this category and is a good example of what I am talking about.  I am not saying that there is an evil plot to sell medications that has led to our current circumstances where the main thing a person struggling with a mental health issue will receive for their condition is medications.  Rather it has developed much more innocently with most people involved having very sincere and good motives - to try to help those afflicted.  However, in reality what has happened is that there has been relatively little research into non-medication treatments for mental health conditions because it is virtually impossible to raise the money necessary to do the research or to recoup the money even if you find a successful non-medication treatment.

As a result most of the quality research and evidence for mental health treatment involves medications.  So professionals doing what they are supposed to do recommend the treatments with the most evidence for benefits.   It is also much easier to prescribe a drug for someone than to get into their very messy issues, which are often unresolvable with our current approaches and resources.

The problem is that with this approach at some point we start to get further away from the real and ultimate goals rather than closer, and I think we might be getting to that point.  Before going further though let me be absolutely clear.  I am not against medications for mental health conditions.  I am against viewing them as the sole solution or main treatment for most people for most mental health conditions.  

In my opinion we need a whole new understanding of human nature and behavior, and from this mental health conditions or problems, before we can really make significant progress.  My initial plan was to write mainly about addictions since I have been greatly affected by them, but then I realized my ideas on addictions would not necessarily make much sense without at least briefly explaining the underlying framework of human nature and behavior that these ideas are based upon. 

Therefore, I am going to attempt to briefly describe what makes us as humans act the way we do and feel the way we do.  I will be trying to do this from a variety of different perspectives, such as psychological, biochemical or physiological, and spiritual.  The exciting thing to me is that I think all these different perspectives point to the same answers. 

Another reason I will be trying to provide a fairly comprehensive framework for understanding human nature and our problems goes back to something I mentioned earlier.  I am not interested in arguing or debating about my beliefs and ideas.  However, it would feel unfair to me to simply throw out controversial ideas without their surrounding foundation, and whether I like it or not all ideas about human nature, addictions, and God seem to be controversial.  The controversy seems to be due to our tendency to grab onto a belief that is true, but then apply that true belief too broadly.  I will go into much more detail on this tendency later.

Finally, I will conclude with an idea I first heard from and therefore attribute to C.S. Lewis where he discusses the fact that if you are going in the wrong direction the answer is not to push harder in what you are doing but rather to turn around.  And the only way to know if you are currently going in the wrong direction is to have a big picture map that describes the landscape of human nature and where different paths lead.

A mentor of mine described it another way.  If you are baking a cake there is a certain order you must do things.  If you do not add things in that order and bake it at the right time you will not end up with a cake.  Obviously without at least a broad framework for what is going on with us, there is no way to determine a decent path to start on.  As a result we often end up working really hard trying to implement good ideas without finding or producing what we are striving for or looking to achieve. 

Being Successful and Productive

This blog is about finding peace of mind and a sense of well being.  It is not about being successful and productive.  These things are not mutually exclusive, and for most of us peace of mind and a sense of well being will lead to some measure of success and productiveness.  It is also true that to have peace of mind and a sense of well being most of us have to try to give something to the world and therefore be productive.  However, my point is that it is very important to prioritize what you are really after, and if the answer is that success is more important to you then you are reading the wrong material.

In fact many of the things that keep us from peace of mind and a sense of well being are actually very good at driving us to be successful and productive.  My inner turmoil and feeling inadequate and hopelessly defective led me to get a couple doctorate degrees and be successful everywhere I have worked.  Well except for getting fired twice for drugs, although I was relatively successful even during my drug use, until it was discovered.  

It is also important to understand that if you believe in evolution or even something fairly similar to it, our make-up is geared towards survival and success rather than happiness (or having peace of mind and a sense of well being).  

If you do not believe in evolution or at least something very similar to it, I would suggest you are likely similar to those who believed the sun revolved around the earth and could not let go even when the evidence was very clear.  I do not pretend to be an expert in biology or evolution, but from those who are and from my own somewhat limited investigation it appears clear to me that evolution does explain how we became who we are, and if it was not evolution it was something very similar.  

I do not bring this up to pick a fight or alienate people.  I would prefer to not alienate anyone, but in my opinion it is one of the most important things to know and understand about myself.  The fact that I have evolved from animals and still share a great deal of similarities with them is extremely valuable information.  Indeed it was one of the main catalysts that brought everything together and gave me my freedom.  More on that later.

For now let me say that believing in evolution is not inconsistent with my belief in God.  In fact I would go even further.  This may sound very odd and I have never heard anyone else say it, but I believe that evolution actually is one of the greatest secrets humans have discovered to give us a glimpse of God's playbook or methods.  Additionally so that you do not get the wrong idea, I will tell you that I believe God made this world perfect, it has always been perfect, and it will always be perfect.  And I completely reject the idea of a vengeful or angry God

Beyond that I will leave the topic of what God is and is not alone for now.  If you are good with your relationship with God that is wonderful, and if you are not I might spark some non-traditional exploration that could be useful, but like everything else I will be discussing, you will have to work it out within yourself and hopefully with friends and mentors or advisers of some sort.

The only thing you need to be willing to at least consider might be possible in order to go along with my answers is that we are actually very animalistic, that human nature is very animalistic.  Soon I will try to explain what I mean by this and how it is true even when it may not seem to be the case.  But first I will discuss a little of why I believe it is important to try to explain a lot of the underpinnings or foundations or roots of my answers.