Our Humble Science

It is a blessing to be happy in our humanity.

Have you ever awoke thinking of yourself as a scientist? Not like a mad scientist out of a B-movie (at least not on a good morning!). No, not awakening with that kind of scientific spirit but one of burning curiosity and gratitude that one can learn. This scientific spirit is more Goethe than Newton. To mix references a bit, this view always senses there is a large ocean of the real far beyond that which we capture with our knowledge, confined as it is to the human shore. And that ocean beckons us to come play.

In the morning we are greeted with a fresh opportunity to gather experience and ponder it. Core questions of worth and meaning stand steady in this inner sanctum of our waking awareness once we have firmly set our intention, our will. What has life taught us so far about being wise and compassionate? What can we share with others that will make us happy and be of benefit to them as well? How can I be of service to the earth? To find the answers we can don the helmet of a humble scientist, one who touches nature gently and with respect.

We of the collapsing age get to learn aspects of the ecologically traumatized soul with a precise knowledge unprecedented in previous generations. Our minds encounter globalized suffering ecosystems tracked by satellite. Scientists of the psyche, contemplating ecology humbles us before both the immensity of cultural evolution and the guiding wisdom that has, so far, kept our species alive yet now seems threatened on every side. Those of us called to contemplative practice have an opportunity to aid the extroverted Western culture with our introversions but more than that, I believe, with our deep dive directly into the wound in the psyche that creates such blindness. I believe it just might be that in our practice we change the probabilities of what kind of future our species is going to experience.

For the scientist the future is open ended. There is no pre-determined conclusions to the countless life-stories in play throughout all sentient beings, all beings with psyche. Nor is the final fate of the non-sentient intelligences in our rocks and rivers, planets and galaxies understood well enough to be anything more than a start of a sketch of a possibility. But oh how we want to know the future! Do you know that some of the oldest writing we have discovered are the questions and answers of fortune telling recorded by ancient Chinese ancestors on turtle shell? ‘Will the king’s son live?’, ‘Will we win the war with our neighbors?’

One day the human being wakes up in the midst of all of this fully interconnected emergent phenomenon, this universe. We didn’t ask for it, it is just there. We soon learn the one thing we can know for certain about this being human in this universe is that one day we will die and go to sleep within it again. Between those two days of intimacy with silence and emptiness every sentient being’s life unfolds. Personality arises around an awareness of self and world that just IS, that is just a given. Every night personality submerges again into what is, for itself, the welcoming rest of silence and emptiness. Every morning personality awakes again to its awareness of self and world, always self and world, never just self, never just world. That awareness that manifests itself to us each moment is sustained atop chemical complexities we can scarcely imagine, heirs as we are to the evolutionary mysteries in the kingdom of the flesh. That awareness grows over the course of a lifetime as naturally as the limbs of the body do. The awareness grows by learning more and more about the self and the world. With experience a light of understanding arises, we see it shaping sentient being’s actions and reactions to the events of their autobiographies. Awareness drives us to make hypothesis and test them against the real world. We need to do this, we are compelled to do this because our hearts drive us to know what is real and discard the delusional. If love is real, how else could we find it? If others are real, how else could we find them? Our lives consist of our unique character in dynamic relationships with others and the elements around us, questing for wisdom. Our lives are the laboratory in which psyche and flesh consummate their union.

Seeing through these eyes we know we can never have all the answers but are perfectly happy trusting that which is giving what answers we have. Not that we really have a choice, there is no magic path to human omniscience. However, if we choose to believe that love is real then the fact that such delight can exist sets the heart at ease. There is a peace that comes when you figure out it is rational to trust that which exceeds your understanding, that ocean of the real beyond our human shore. Call it faith, a belief in the unseen, but it is not blind faith since it comes from your consideration of your own experience and what it directly teaches you to believe to be most probable. It is not a castle in the sky faith but something solid, there to greet you each morning. It brings a peace that is not threatened by the huge unknown and unknowable which beset us on all sides every moment of our lives. “I trust this is not all a meaningless nightmare but I sure do not know what it is all about.”

Fundamentalists are used to feeling like they have all the answers. Often illiterate or dogmatically one-sided in their studies, they confront the world’s history of ideas as foolishness compared to their own special brand of spiritual wisdom. This is not to disparage the very real wisdom that comes to anyone open to learning from life, regardless of whether or not they ever read a book. We, however, live in a literate culture. To bypass the study time required to become acquainted with our inheritance and then claim superiority because of it is due to what is basically an act of spiritual magic. They claim to know everything they need to know because they have special knowledge, a gnosis denied the unwashed masses: I said just the right words in converting to my personal lord and savior and now I’m always right in arguments about social values; I publically state, just right, ‘I know this church is true’ and now can do no wrong so lie for god whenever asked, I’ve said aloud ‘there is no god but Allah’ and now can destroy the infidels who refuse to repeat the same magic words etc. after sorry etc. All this is just intellectual dishonesty. To point this out is not to be an intellectual snob. I refuse to admit to any part of that double bind framework the fundamentalists try to force such conversations into. (Claim to be a fool and I’ll agree, claim to be wise and I’ll call you a fool in the ways of god. It really helps to learn to recognize these noxious things whenever they rear their ugly heads.)

It is better to wake up each morning clearly recognizing you do not know all the answers but knowing you do have a few. It is also good recognizing that it is in the nature of our partnership with the unknown that today you will discover more answers as your understanding grows. The point of any mind training is to increase the skill by which our ego allows the growth to occur without undue interference so that it benefits from the process. To increase any skill the craftsman learns to cherish their tools. In the search for truth our tool is the mind. Scientists recognize the mind plays tricks on us, easily persuading us to believe what we want to believe and to refuse to believe things we fear. We must remain watchful, ever on the lookout for confirmation biases and all sorts of other categories of cognitive dishonesties. These are the costs associated with thinking’s benefits, costs built into our fundamental cognitive techniques. The mind uses heuristics as short cuts by chunking information about what has been learned in the past that might apply to the present. Fine. Heuristics is one thing, running around the cage of cognitive dissonance and double binds is something else entirely. So science: it is a method of collecting evidence and pondering over what it means using the thinking apparatus we have as it actually is with all its strengths and weaknesses. In this way the scientist seeks to assign various bits of data their proper weight in the grand scheme of things. Contemplatives are scientists of the psyche in this sense. Nothing more but also nothing less. This humble science is the fruit of Faust Part 2, born having learned the hubris science of Mephistopheles in Part 1 did not deliver the goods.

Being a scientist is how we are a student of the universe. Adults have completed their education and don their lab coats. The laboratory consists of this earth life, just as it is. In this life each of us will be challenged to find work so that our flesh may eat. The work will chafe our souls even as it refines them. It is foolish to deny the path of work for spirituality, as if they were not interdependently complimentary. In this life each of us will be challenged to find relationships with other human beings that are both trusting and intimate so that our souls may quench their thirst. In this quest too our souls will be refined, guided, tormented, and ultimately healed by the love we find in the ground of being. Healed? How? The wisdom of our ancestors is teaching us that there is a surprise hiding in the core of our DNA. We touch it when we open our hearts by respecting the best hopes and dreams of our ancestors, seeing how our own falling in love, maturing in love, being heart-broke by love, how all of it is the same and that for all it is equally beautiful. This timeless AHA! that has so inspired the psyche of humankind that it’s religious instinct became its deepest, what is it? I think it is simply a reconciliation. It is how peace is brought to the war of the elements: the war of the sexes, the war of flesh and fang, the war of the cold-hearted reptile and the warm-hearted mammal, and in the psyche this reconciliation manifests itself as faith, an end of the war of the mortal against the immortals. We need not be jealous of the gods like the Titans nor bewail our fate as do the Hungry Ghosts blinded by greed to the feast that is set out before them. It is a blessing to be happy in our humanity.

Reason’s Rudder

“To challenge your misery, try science. Give it a real chance. Work at thinking rationally, sticking to reality, checking your hypothesis about yourself, about other people, and about the world. Check them against the best observations and facts that you can find. Stop being a Pollyanna. Give up pie-in-the-sky. Uproot your easy-to-come-by wishful thinking. Ruthlessly rip up your childish prayers.
Yes, rip them up! Again – and again – and again.
Will the millennium then arrive? No. Will you never again feel disturbed? I doubt it. Will you reduce your anxiety, depression, and rage to near-zero? Probably not.
But, I can, almost, promise you this: The more scientific, rational, and realistic you become, the less emotionally uptight you will be. Not zero uptight – for that is inhuman or superhuman. But a hell of a lot less. And, as your years go by, and your scientific outlook becomes more solid, less and less neurotic.
Is that a guarantee? No, but a prediction that will probably be fulfilled.”
Albert Ellis, How To Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything Yes, Anything

“These new methods present a unique opportunity to assess the origins of a fundamentally human condition: the costly yet advantageous shift from a primitive “live fast and die young” strategy to the “live slow and grow old” strategy that has helped to make us one of the most successful organisms on the planet.”
A Long Childhood is of Advantage, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

“The god I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”
U2, Bullet the Blue Sky

 

The god I believe in is not afraid of science – to crib off U2 – nor reason, psychology, or engineering. Nor does the ground of all being fear the negative way of atheists, for they too see there is a real absence, and that that too is part of the mystery. There is nothing verboten to study, though not all things are equally of benefit to the cause of liberating the student from the shackles of thinking-too-small. All the details of the elemental molecular world are just so many signatures of the all-pervading intelligence that forms the ground of our being. Does that make sense? The truth cannot be one thing in the Sangha, Mosque, Temple or Cathedral, another thing in the laboratory or counseling office, and yet another thing in the streets.

God is a term with so many different possible connotations that without careful definition it is best if we comprehend it as our pointer word; it points to truth or being directly and as such is not a noun, verb, adverb or adjective in any ordinary sense. Eastern traditions are careful to include the emptiness features of any positive assertions when talking carefully about these ultimate things. We see this in Buddhism and in the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Apophatic traditions. I mention this because for some people the thought of allowing a rational, dare I say scientific, view to guide their daily lives seems to be a threat to their faith. In my experience that is not the case. Surrendering ourselves to what is real is the Way.

We are an incredibly complex psychobiological phenomenon actively interpreting and adapting to our environments. With physical bodies always needing to be protected we also use minds to position ourselves within the greater scheme of things that we encounter within our understanding of how the world works. The complex psychobiological phenomenon has evolved in an on-going quest to open to that which nourishes and avoid that which poisons, in fulfillment of life’s primary objective: its own continuous survival obtained by maintaining mental and physical homeostasis. Steer your complex psychobiological phenomenon incorrectly and you end up mad on the one hand or feverish and without immunity on the other. The point of homeostasis in the psychological realm of daytime consciousness is rational discourse.

When we talk with others we project an expression of our character. When we talk to ourselves we do the same thing. This inner dialog that spins around in our minds every day of our lives is a very important ingredient in determining the type of life experience we will ultimately have.

What type of life do you want to look back on when the day comes to lay it down? It can be helpful to ask ourselves what sort of influence we have had so far on the world around us and assess if we could use a course correction, large or small, while we still have the chance. The time will come when the choices for how we think, feel and act will no longer be our own to make. There will come a time when all our choices will have been made, at least for this life, at least for this personality.

When the day comes to lay our bones down in the dark earth, consume them in fire, or feed them to the mountain birds, we will become the summation of our whole life. For as long as breath lasts we have the power of choice. This leaves the future open, radically open. The whole story of an individual’s life cannot be known before the whole story has been played out – but once it has, it enters the domain of humanity’s inheritance. While we live, our lives are a whole piece with the generations around it and the society in which it unfolds. After we have passed, our lives leave ripples in the webs of cause and effect. Others will enjoy, or suffer, from the inheritance we leave in the same way we have when our generation was in the ever changing spotlight of psychobiological awareness. This is the truth. It is self-evident. It is spoken to us from the witness of our senses.

Our senses provide us with the gates through which our complex psychobiological phenomenon participates in reality. Our perceptual apparatus maintains an on-going physiological communion between our characters and their unique expression of the will to live and the worlds they find themselves participating in. They teach us there is no isolated self. They also teach that there cannot be a unitary self, for how could one compare the input of sound to that of sight or touch to that of smell? These are fundamentally different data streams, wholly unlike one another so that cannot be simply summed. Things are more subtle and complex than a simple summation. It is in the orchestration of many different parts that the on-going maintenance of our being takes place.

In Tibetan Buddhism the mind is considered a sense just like vision or taste. It too has the function of adapting ourselves to the environments in which we find our lives unfolding. It too has a data stream, one not of scent or color but one of thought. The words and images of the mind are the intimate arena where our choice making is most clearly expressed, for to some degree we choose what it is we will spend time thinking about. This is hardly the whole story however, as anyone who has spent any time minding the mind will know; things pop into our heads for often the most obscure of reasons. It is part of being a complex psychobiological phenomenon. Sometimes those winds of thought larger than our ego are pleasant and inspiring and other times they are terrifying and bring fear. However these bully thoughts appear, the power to make choices in the mental realm remains. This is an important point. When the bully thoughts arise our freedom to choose is not expressing itself in choosing what to think about but in how we will think about what has, quite literally, captured our attention.

Those things that capture us most deeply typically involve the interpersonal hopes and fears, loves and losses, and the most profound regrets and traumas we have experienced. We ruminate on these things in the process of adapting ourselves to our environment. For us social primates there is no environmental feature more dominate than our interactions with other human beings. Our complex psychobiological inheritance has seen to it that this is so, beginning with our long childhood and extending into our most intimate thoughts which are of necessity couched in a language we inherited and did not make ourselves. The result is that we have the images of the society’s roles and expectations within us. It is as if the mind sets up semi-automated puppets as stand-ins for the people we have met and the various roles they have played in the development of our psyche. We must deal with this internalized community just as surely as we must deal with the people we meet with each day. Most of them are quick to judge us and tell us what we must do at all times if we are not to be no-good bums tossed out of the tribe. Many of them cause exaggerated emotionally driven reactions in us before we even recognize our buttons are being pushed.

The start of wisdom in matters of mind seems to be when we fully recognize that our own thoughts might be wrong. It becomes possible to sit as a judge over one’s own thinking only when we lose the narcissism that fails to question our own cognitions with the same skepticism with which we greet other’s ideas. Some of what passes through the ever-changing thought streams is hardly worthy of entertaining at all and other bits are useful but packaged all wrong. In order not to get lost in the tides it is imperative that there be a place of reliable reference back to the real world associations the thoughts are involved with. This ability to stay grounded happens when the person’s innermost is able to trust reason as the rudder of the psyche. Reason is not the devil’s tool to trick us out of our faith in a good creation; reason is the expression of that faith by trusting in that which is.

The poetic turn of phrase, the emotionally colored perception of beauty, these and so many more of our cognitive experiences are obviously entwined with our emotional natures. In moments of emotional distress this harmony of heart and head is disrupted. The mind, as we say, gets carried away. Exaggeration and irrational conclusions can lead each other into loops that can spiral out of control until what the internal dialog is telling a person leaves them incapacitated for dealing skillfully with whatever is troubling them. Things in the mind will bully you around if you let them  by causing you to tell yourself all kinds of things about your sense of worth that just do not stand up to a rational examination.

“Oh I never do anything right!” or “People always take advantage of me!” are typical of the kind of thoughts that might accompany an emotional outburst or period of emotional pain. Peace of mind can be reclaimed to the degree we learn to recognize when our thinking is going off the rails like this. Looked at with a calm, cool and collected mind it is obvious that all of us have done some things right and other things wrong. The statistical odds against “I never doing anything right” are beyond astronomical. Additionally the definition of what is right for you implied by that first sentence is likely not at all what would actually express your true will but is nothing more than the mores of your family and culture. These are valuable but not the last word for you as you seek to work your way through the adventure of your own life. The second sentence is no less insane than the first. It is a willful blindness to all those other times when people extended compassion and aid to you in your struggles or celebrated with you your life’s sweet victories.

Perhaps a simple example will drive the point home. I hit my thumb with a hammer as I try to drive a nail. On some days I respond with a quick ‘Ouch!’ and carry on a bit more carefully. Other days, however, that same event might lead me to tears. On those days it is as if the pain found in this moment of working with the world has been lumped together with every disappointment and pain the world has ever inflicted on me. The world for me seems a mean and dangerous place which doesn’t really give a hoot about me at all. My mind echoes the sentiment that no one cares if I live or die or what it is like to experience things the way I do. This cognitive and emotional attack aims directly at our self-worth.

The hammers that really hurt are swung by tongues. We need to understand how hurt and frightened people strive very hard to control other people. To do so they develop a range of psychological manipulation techniques. These include the injection of guilt and threats of violence if the injection process is pointed out. It happens in families and it happens in nations. This temptation towards manufactured consent remains the dark underbelly of human interactions: ‘I am here to be satisfied’, this impulse runs, ‘you are here to be used.’. Ask yourself how often your speech involves getting others to change what they do and how they do what they do or otherwise dismisses their own style or character? Do you place the whole world into your personal boot camp and sergeant-over all you meet? Anyone who continues to look to others for a confirmation of their self-worth exposes themselves to these dark manipulations. It is in our resistance to their crazy-making that we come to find the path to our own personal best.

Once someone really understands that this is the lay of the land psychologically, they become capable of taking a-hold of the rudder for themselves. In every step we make towards that trusting in our own ability to live our own lives well, we become a more genuine human being. Instead of being little more than a spokesman for an institution, or a holy book, or a dead relative, we become a voice speaking up for our real selves and their real needs. These are needs for love and respect as much as they are needs for food and shelter. We can tear each other’s dignity to shreds by calling one another heretics and apostates, the lost and damned, populating our world with the anti-Christs and devils of our angry damnations but this will not change our need to be understood one whit. Each of us wants to be loved by those we love, though many a tragedy is rooted in the fact that we cannot force someone to love us. Love is a gift that can only be accepted, we can only yield if we are to know another’s loving-kindness, but to yield is to open oneself up to their rejection. These are the issues we confront in the judgment of the heart and the on-going dialog with our conscience it provokes. Our loved ones, as they say, live in our hearts forever. They are trying to teach us the lesson of compassion. At times it is a very hard lesson.

If we had to tackle the whole psychological meaning and biological substratum of these things at once we would be overwhelmed. Instead the psyche unrolls these things in its own good time. What we experience is the tip of the ice berg where thoughts haunted by exaggerations and irrationality come into our conscious awareness. When they arise in these forms we can be sure that under the surface some of these heart-issues are stirring. What is downright liberating is when we understand that our conscious minds are meant to be the guiding light for all these semi-conscious aspects of our dreaming and transcendent self. The daylight mind with its ability to reason can teach the irrational and exaggerated thoughts just where they have lost their way. It is a cop out to expect your dreams to reveal to you what you should do. Harry Wilmer in Understandable Jung captures what we are discussing quite succinctly: “By accepting our fate, that is, our present reality, we take the first step to change our destiny. Our destination is another matter. Dreams do not tell us what to do or where to go. If one attributes such knowledge to the dream, one abdicates responsibility.”

Peace of mind comes, in part, from recognizing how comforting it is to encounter the same molecular world each and every morning when we awake. Though the evening’s psychic experiences may be all over the map, the powers of conscious awareness return to greet a grand continuity when we wake up. Because the environment we find ourselves in is always there much as it was the day before, the daylight world offers us a chance to improve our skills in living the one life we have as it unfolds here and now. If the daylight world followed the same a-causal associations we find in the nighttime world this would not be the case. Here is the human middle way, difficult to find, but once found it cannot be perturbed by either gods or devils. The day consciousness learns to ride on the deep of the night consciousness as a talented jockey rides their great and powerful horse. The day consciousness can become wise and loving only with the cooperation of the denizens of the deep, if the wisdom and love are to be more than a thin veneer over a raging beast inside just waiting for a chance to attack others for the painful self-abnegation it has been subjected to. Force your ego into the straitjacket of a saint and you only invoke the beast. If instead you work with the spirit that moves across these deep waters in a patient alchemy ruled by gentleness, then, it is taught, another type of wholeness – holiness becomes possible. Not one that would castrate humans and turn them into angels who are forever gazing at visions of gods but instead a holiness born within our most genuine humanity.

We are here to carry on the mission of art, the art of living. This is the clay we are each working with for as long as we draw breath. In the slow leavening of the daily contemplative discipline we pursue a more spiritual life, yet hope to obtain, in the end, one that is more genuinely human. We are training not to fear what this entails as we come to recognize we are beings with cosmic roots dwelling in a sacred land.

Safe Containers

While we are watching the acceleration of the great clash of monotheisms in the Middle East it is a good time to be strengthening our triage skills. These can be worked with during times of lesser crisis to prepare us for what’s ahead. This is similar to the mind training that the eastern traditions teach. It is a way of practicing with our minds today so that when the day comes that things get difficult (classically in the east this is the day of one’s death) we do not find ourselves without any reserves to call on. Mindful Ecology involves mind trainings that are designed to strengthen a person when lesser deaths occur. These might involve the collapse of the economy, an ecological system, good will among citizens, integrity in government, authenticity among religious leaders, or any number of endings that cause an increase in suffering, anomie, confusion and loss.

No one’s life is spared the rough spots. It is not the case that the wealthy and powerful, or the poor and simple, live a life without serious challenges to keeping sane let alone keeping an open heart. It is not just because of our ecological knowledge that the skills we are talking about have relevance. These are skills that can aid us in any number of life’s arenas. The thoughts in the mind are the earliest seeds of what will become emotions and eventually actions. The actions we perform or refuse to perform are where we find our character reflected back to us from the world soul. Countless decisions over years are expressing something that can be expressed no other way, something about how we are in our innermost.

Along the path of expression from thought to action there is an element of choice. The will uses this element of freedom to express itself. Though circumstances typically constrain our ability to make this expression one that is fully in accord with our desire, there is never so little choice left to a human being that some sense of character cannot be made to dwell within the manner by which their actions are undertaken. I believe the prisoner on their way to their execution still retains some degree of freedom in how they will meet the event. How much more so than do each of us, who are not under such immediate threats, have an opportunity to make real in the world that which is part of our innermost. This expression of true will is always a question of degrees and that is where our training comes in. It is inescapable that each person actually will express their uniqueness, there is no way not to. It is, to put on the science hat, an expression of your parental DNA inheritance and as such a unique biological event. Add the uniqueness of each environment you have inhabited from childhood on and the one of a kind nature of your personality becomes even more obvious. It is important we learn to thoroughly grasp this, see the truth of it, and really hear what is being said. To the best of our human understanding it is a fact that throughout all of deep time and across all of deep space it is astronomically unlikely that the many contingent relationships between your DNA expression and the environment by which it was shaped will ever happen in just the way you have it happening right here and right now. This is it. You have a part to play in dreaming the dream forward, as Carl Jung used to say.

In our time of mass man, mass media, mass armies, and mass movements it has never been more important to understand the role of the other social polarity, namely that of the individual. It is not true for my heart that you could just replace my most beloved friends and family with anyone else. Though another person could play the role of my mother or father, son, daughter, or spouse, there is not the slightest chance I would find my body and mind responding to the newcomer in the same way that it has learned to understand the people that are in my life today. This is true for all of us. Keeping this truth in mind paves the way towards an ability to see the uniqueness of the world around us; to see a tree in the forest and not just so many board feet of lumber.

This is the skill that is lacking in our societies, this ability to appreciate the miracle of the life forms in front of us. We have been trained to fawn before the rich and powerful, presenting them with praises and constant reassurances about how great and awesome they are. Fearing social ostracism otherwise, often with real financial repercussions, it is certainly an understandable habit given the reality of our corporate dominated societies. Still, those are rather false expressions of an appreciation for another person because they are motivated by fear of what they can do to you if you earn their disfavor and the hope that by your flattery and attention they will come to gift you with some of their money and influence. This is very different than looking deeply into another sentient being just for the sake of witnessing their unique expression of the mystery of will. Too often, it seems to me, we cannot even do this among human beings. The way we treat those in our ghettos speaks volumes. It should come as no surprise that we are blind to the faces of the eagles, octopus, wolves, whales, and blue footed boobies. We have an interest in the ocean because it can provide us with food and those who fish it with money and power. If tomorrow a chemist invented fish in a factory, do you think we would do much to save the oceans for their own sake? What real value do we place on the lives of those who dwell in the depths? Just how much lower do we rank them then those many tortured lives in the world’s ghettos?

These are statements in the realm of values, not of facts. The facts are that the uniqueness of DNA expression is undeniable. Facts pass over into values when we recognize that the human mind is born with the potential to know compassion as the highest value but it takes education, real training, to realize that potential. This is another fact we have learned over long millennia in the school of hard knocks. Through our mythology and traditions we do our best to teach the value of compassion to each new generation as it comes along. Though the value of compassion runs counter to the hubris of our egos, it is the sweetest liberty the heart can know: to love others as one loves one’s self, and to love one’s self as one loves others. It makes life meaningful.

Pounding the living daylights out of someone does not make life meaningful; not in an alley and not on a battlefield. Stealing every last dime from the sick and the old does not make life meaningful; not in a hospital and not from a TV preacher’s stage. Deceiving the innocent and gullible does not make life meaningful; not in the most surreal CGI enhanced advertisement and not in the slickest air-brushed glossy publication. Do you know that most confidence men commit suicide or end up paranoid? Do unto others…

What intelligent, caring human being are confronted with in the neo-liberal value system is nothing less than a legitimacy of greed promoted through self-inflicted blindness to the needs of any and every living thing that might get in the way of profits. It stands to reason then that intelligent and caring human beings should work hard to find the types of things that will work effectively against this tendency to dehumanization inherent in a mass society ruled by neo-liberal values. This is what the mind training in ecological triage skills is all about.

Last week introduced one classification scheme for statements of fact. The categories lend flexibility to the mind by teaching it to become more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. These uncomfortable cognitive states are more easily allowed a place within our characters when their scope is properly restricted to those categories of thought in which they are inherent. Knowing certain types of statements can never obtain to 100% certainty is a good way to check our own thinking and to protect our sanity from those who use underhanded techniques to try and persuade us that this is not the case.

What this means in practice is captured pointedly in the schools of cognitive therapy. This is not the therapy of the unconscious mind that is explored by the depth psychologists. Pursuing meaning among the symbols of myth and dream is life-long task for students of the deep psyche. These cognitive therapies, in contrast, are designed to help people as quickly as possible. They seek a rapid recovery from depression, lack of self confidence, pain management, or whatever their client’s debilitating emotional issues involve. In my experience these cognitive mental health techniques have a complimentary role to play alongside personal researches into the deep. These cognitive insights are rooted in the philosophy of the stoics who stressed that while we are not free to control the world, we are free to some degree in choosing how we will meet that world. These ancient insights have been refined through therapeutic need into practical advice. These insights can act as a key that unlocks many of the mental manacles we are shackled with as good little consumers.

There are a number of names these types of therapies are known by but all share the same fundamental insight about the way our thoughts lead to our emotional experiences and how together they lead to the actions we take. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), invented by Dr. Albert Ellis, is the particular one I will use as I like his rather rascally guru approach. Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s material might be more appealing to others. Mr. Ellis is not for the faint of heart, quick to use the F word and call bullshit bullshit; he is a New Yorker through and through. For me that personality was a perfect delivery mechanism for the message, one that could be summed up as ‘get a spine!’ and ‘stop stinking thinking in its tracks.’ Interested readers should take a look at his over the top How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes, Anything. It delivers the goods.

What these cognitive therapists have found is that when we suffer emotional problems they have a corresponding mental vehicle. The emotions are considered problems because they are proving too extreme for the client to continue living a productive life. Without life events expressing one’s will a person rightly becomes depressed since depression is a signal that what you are doing is not working. You can throw a pity party and bemoan fate till the cows come home but happiness is never found that way, however far down that path you might want to travel. Happiness comes from our sense of competency. We do not need to be genius but we do need to be able to accomplish whatever it is that we consider necessary for our own self respect. What that is remains an on going journey of discovery. It is a lifelong journey of discovery that should, for the most part, keep us enthused to be alive and grateful for each day we get. All too often that enthusiasm is lost in the worries and cares which are rightly born from the tragedies in our lives. What cognitive health entails, then, is not a disregard for bouts of depression when those are needed but a leaning into the wind, setting our rudder by the joy of being alive that is our birthright. We need to learn how to discern between a true need for tears and an unhealthy indulgence in sadness. Cognitive therapy skills can teach us to be childlike, not childish.

What these cognitive sciences have discovered is that we have a set of irrational beliefs as the source of our emotional disturbances. It is not at all hard for those of us who have studied ecology to recognize our societies are currently chock full of irrational beliefs and that they cause us to make decisions as a society that are just down right crazy. Well, that same mechanism plays out in our individual lives as well. When we are disturbed there is some internal dialog that reflects or sustains the extremes under which we are suffering. We gain power over these things to the degree that we recognize how the issues unduly disturbing us are accompanied by thoughts characterized by exaggerations, statements couched in absolutes, or other cognitive errors. We learn to take our skepticism inside and ask our own thoughts, ‘oh really?’

Things are bad. They really are. Things are going to get worse. They really are. It is not the end of the world. It really is not. Our descendants will live in that world. They really will. What we do today matters. It really does.

We will talk about these cognitive skills in coming posts. In this introduction I want to stress how important this particular set of skills can be for those who are willing to contemplate ecological reality. I sit and consider the end of our existing harvesting of ocean stocks in the next few decades, a simple extrapolation from today’s trends in global overfishing. I allow myself to feel the implications and feel that it is a bad thing we are currently engaged in making come to pass. It is critical that I do not exaggerate if I am to remain bound to the truth of what I am contemplating. It is not likely to be the end of the future stocks centuries hence, or the end of all the different species, nor even the first and worst die off earth’s precious ocean has ever experienced or will yet again. Now I have provided a safe container for my contemplations. Now I have a good chance of grounding myself in my own knowledge, refusing to pretend I do not understand what I do about the world and our activities in it, yet at the same time refusing to give in to unmitigated despair.

Respecting Facts

We humans have a funny way of dismissing that which we do not like. We decide that it is not real, or does not apply to us, or perhaps, whatever it is that is troubling us is transformed through the magic of language into a battle of wits and words, leaving the real world issue far, far behind. Some facts from the real world, just to remind us:

World population has tripled since 1950
40% depletion in ozone above the Arctic in 2011
Waste is created at the rate of 13.3 million tons a day
1/3 of all land is at risk of turning into desert

These are taken from a colorful DK publication now available in the states, What’s Really Happening to our Planet: The Facts Simply Explained by Tony Juniper. The book hosts page after page of infographic descriptions of the numerous pressures coming to bear on us as we reach the end of the fossil fueled industrialized age. It is a very handy source for those who might be looking for a single book to provide a summary of ecological data and trends. There are a number of criticisms I could make, such as leaving out the concept of tipping points and including a bit too much of the green gee-whiz factor, but they are mostly minor. There is plenty of material here to provide the seed facts for ecological contemplations, particularly if supplemented with additional study.

This book is a good example of the type of information that lead me to think about what a mindful ecology might mean. After reading a book like this – then what? Am I supposed to just go back to business as usual? That was not an option for me, so I asked, what is an individual to do? For people like me, changing a few light bulbs and hoping ‘they’ will think of something, when the last few decades show ‘they’ most certainly will not, is just not enough of a response. Mindful Ecology tries to be proportionate to the crisis. It is a serious and big change to alter one’s life around a contemplative practice. Undertaken with the intention of healing the fractured relationship between our lives and our planet, we learn to embrace the limitations of our own lives – as they really are – and do what we can.

The art of contemplating a fact consists of turning it over and turning it around, giving it a slow and respectful examination in one’s mind. We look at the fact from many points of view, trying to sus out its relationships with other things we already understand in a search for the fact’s implications. This introduces us to the larger interdependent features which are often easily missed unless we are very careful in how we think about things. Facts never exist in isolation, nor do we ever bring an empty mind to our contemplations. System science insists that when we query our facts we ask ‘and then what?’ Have we accounted for all the inputs and outputs? For the side effects? Have we clearly separated the one way path of whatever energy is involved from the recycling of materials? Have we accounted for thermodynamics along the way, what we often encounter as the phenomenon of diminishing returns? These are means by which seemingly isolated ecological factoids, such as one finds scattered throughout works like this one from DK, are knitted into the larger understanding of the real world one’s mind has constructed.

It is important to recognize this model of the real world each of us has constructed within our psyches, it is part of recognizing that the psyche is real. The meaning of the world that we experience is a product of the unique understanding each of us has developed over a lifetime of experience. In the Bayesian model of inference this is captured in the prior. Parts of that understanding will have been constructed with right thinking about real things and other parts will not. We can all be quite sure that much of what we are quite sure about, is not so. There will be cases of right thinking being applied to unreal things or wrong thinking applied to real things, or even wrong thinking applied to unreal things. One role of the ego, among many, is to guide this gathering of information by which our understanding increases. Through an interplay of the gift of curiosity and the curse of needing to find an answer to relieve oneself of confusion and pain, we are each lead to learn more about that which our soul’s need, what our psyche’s need to fully integrate their experiences. Contemplation increases understanding but not if one spends all one’s careful thinking time thinking about BS. The horns of a rabbit visualized in exquisite detail, or documented in libraries full of scholarly volumes, or even delivered by the special effects department to every television in the land, do not gain one whit of real existence thereby.

Shadows remain shadows of that which is casting them, fantasy remains fantasy and confusion sews more confusion unless these things are transmuted in the alchemical vessel of imagination. In our fantasy enthralled culture the role of imagination is very poorly understood. The image making ability of the human mind is in service to the real human life one is able to lead out here in the environment of the earth’s molecular world, out under the blue sky and stars. The imagination concerns the heart’s deepest dreams – and wounds. It takes a strong imagination to perceive the possibility of happiness in the future, not as an abstract goal but as something you can actually strive for in your own life. We prefer fantasies about how our lives might be because our real ones are defined by limitations. Your actual life, the one that is really even now unfolding its precious few moments, is defined by the limitations your character will encounter along its path of fate and fortune. This real life you have can only be seen as valuable when it is clearly understood that you are living the life of a finite mortal who will one day die having had only a very, very small taste of all that human life has to offer. To take our seat as adults and claim our equality with other sentient beings requires seeing this clearly, recognizing it is the same for everyone else, and saying to these very limitations ‘yes’ and ‘thank you.’

Limits chafe the fevered dreams of ego’s ignorant beginnings. When we first set out on the long road of psychological development we are on our hero quest. We learn to build our ego to be strong enough to serve as a vessel for the raging winds of the life force animating our bodies. This is how the mind first grounds consciousness and gives us our sense of being our own point of view, our own self. The heroic ego dreams of becoming a god; it is foolish enough to believe it wants to be a god instead of love a god. This is what the hero learns in the Grail Castle, when the quest is completed and the happily ever after takes over. Not everyone has made it to the castle yet. Many still dream of being god-like instead of human. Many of those who dream of becoming gods cloak their hubris in a type of twisted faith; they claim simply to be serving gods of limitless power. They are but the humble true believers. The give away is in how, inevitably, a human voice somewhere along the line of authority assumes the mantle of that limitless power that rightly only belongs to god alone. Doing so, for a human being, is a suicidal act of self denial.

Limitless righteousness brings nightmares of cleansing fires and sacrificial lambs slaughtered by the hundreds of millions. ‘Great alpha male in the sky, god of thunder and war, have we not become equal? Was there ever a priest more holy than I, more important than I who push the red button?’ Some such bewitchment awaits anyone who ventures so far from home. It is one thing to be on a hero’s quest, quite another to be way-laid by Dracula.

Limitless money, limitless shopping, limitless sex, limitless knowledge, limitless war and conquest, limitless fame, limitless power, limitless holiness, limitless depravity, limitless ecstasy, limitless fresh water, limitless fresh air, limitless crop land, limitless time to address our problems, limitless oil, limitless ego – drinking saltwater, the hungry ghosts trying to slake their insatiable thirsts never find the satisfactions they so desperately seek. Ungrounded, they are torn apart by the star gods, becoming little more than limitlessness twinkling darkly in shells of human beings devoid of compassion, little more than mouths shouting ‘more.’ Why are the hungry ghosts taught to be ghosts? Because they have not become real by recognizing they have been given, in fact, what they need. And that that is enough. Are you breathing? That is the evidence. These false infinites are the dangers that haunt the mind untrained in the disciplines of yes and thank you which arise from the heart. These are what tempt and tease our minds, attempting to strong arm their way into how we perceive the world, draining it of all human sense. Soon the simple pleasures of sex, romance, love and children, shared food and drink, the songs we sing together while dancing in our colorful costumes, somehow all this and more is just not enough. The Buddha’s graveyard vision of the young maidens as disgusting as corpses and the world but one of sorrow, this is what haunts the minds of those traumatized by the modern world. These minds have yet to ride the rafts and visit the isle of non-duality, the nirvana of our nature. They are stuck in the Buddha’s ascetic extreme. They have yet to soften in acceptance of a grain of rice from the hand of a maiden, in acceptance of loving kindness from others.

The husks of understanding these mind parasites leave their victims to feed on make it seem that the best way out of our current ecological predicament is through an all out nuclear holy war. Out in these extremes, where exponential curves never encounter limits, are the howling winds of hell on earth. They can trap us in a prison of madness if we let them.

Your life, what is it in fact? Whatever you are actually able to experience, achieve, accomplish, perceive, absorb, understand, partake of, participate in, share with others, receive from others, and generally the way you carry your body, speech and mind throughout your life span. That is your life. Something larger than our day to day selves makes its appearance across the span of a life considered as a whole. This is what Carl Jung was referring to when he talked about the archetype of the, capital S, Self. The Self is a way of approaching discussion about a psychological fact, namely, that the unconscious mind or larger psyche contains an imago dei, an image of god. This archetype is a psychological feature of the inner world the ego must learn to relate to. As an image of how an individual encounters god, Jung found it played a central role in the healing or disintegration of the psyche which he observed in his patients. He taught that the Self is related to wholeness and integration, individuation and meaning or, when inverted, shows its flip side as dark authoritarianism, a possessing spirit, a numinous complex capable of over powering and bewitching the ego. This inversion is the psychological reality of the demonic as it is projected into totalitarian social movements and the mass sacrifices of life, dignity, and compassion involved in the brutalities of indiscriminant war. But if it was the image of god in man’s psyche that Jung wanted to draw our attention to, why did he name this archetype the Self?

Things that might seem the right things to do or think or feel today, may not seem to have been so wise from the perspective of tomorrow. We learn this as we age. In learning it we are to gain a more critical appreciation of the understanding we have at any given moment. We learn that our conscience, that still small voice, that it too grows wiser. In every moment of our lives we have been operating from the best understanding of ourselves and our world of which we have been capable of. Yet not one of us knows where the inevitable confusions still lurk. If we knew that, we would not still be confused. This teaches us to appreciate the real nature of the prior understanding of the world and our place in it which we bring to any new study we might undertake. Honest humility is the result. Ours is a limited understanding, one shot through with mistakes but not without worth because of that. The mistakes are, more often than not, motivated and not simply random errors. Psychological factors are at play when we deliberately or ignorantly misunderstand that which is real and allow fantasy to usurp imagination. Those threads of confusion lead our understanding further. This is hopeful but errors remain errors none-the-less, sins in western parlance. Knowing even our best understanding is bound to have errors, we would be wise to bring our very best to bear on our problems of critical importance. It does not help matters to deliberately introduce falsehoods, obscurations, distractions and stubborn denial of facts, all backed up by violence, when the real state of our prior understanding of ourselves and the world we live in does not jive with what we want it to be. Isn’t that, more or less, what we are doing today in our public discourse about ecological matters?

This is not academic. This is what is keeping our society from starting a sane discussion about our un-sustainability and what we might choose to do differently. Our understanding has changed, our prior in the Bayesian equation, yet we are not able to bring it to bear when we are called on to interpret the ongoing data stream of evidence from the ecological sciences.

Our understanding of the earth’s climate has evolved over the last century into one of the most impressive scientific studies ever undertaken by mankind. Today we know so much more about its defining characteristics then we did when we first started burning fossil fuels that it is a cognitive lie to pretend our understanding, because it necessarily includes mistakes, is insufficiently developed to support the alarming and terrifying conclusions of the ecologists studying these matters. The same could be said for so many other areas of our crisis from over fishing to drawing down aquifers and all the rest.

I think every important public discussion should start within the full acknowledgement that the facts are facts. That the ecological facts are, at least roughly, as laid out in summary form in works like What’s Really Happening to the Planet? As it states on the back of the book, “Now is the time to understand this heart-stopping subject.” Our way of life needs adjusting, it is un-sustainable and this is what that means. It seems the only question is whether or not the public is going to have any chance to weigh in on this at all, or not. So far the real discussion we need to be having has not even begun. Families throughout the earth’s many nations and our interests, when they conflict with those of corporations about what we should be doing right here and right now, are nowhere to be seen or heard.

We have got to grow the economy. Really? We need to shrink the economy, nothing less will begin to reduce the oversized ecological footprint that is our un-sustainability. We need to drive our cars less, worse, we need fewer cars on the road. The average car is contributing 5 tons to global warming gases annually. 5 Tons! We should start talking about how to pay people to stay home and how to stop making any more of these things. We need to decentralize our power generation, reduce the peak requirements it needs to meet and thoroughly re-create the daily life of those living in the overdeveloped world to use less electricity and transportation fuels in the process of acquiring what they need to sustain their daily life. These are just a few of the obvious conclusions ecological study suggests. That they are impossible to talk about seriously in the public square is a measure of our collective psychopathology.

Drawing logical inferences from limited data sets, reasoning, is not a free for all. To reason is to update what we believe in light of new evidence. The book we have been discussing summarizes, in about 200 pages, a boat load of serious evidence demanding our collective attention. Today we live in denial of the true implications of that evidence. We fear drawing the correct inferences. If we continue to refuse to use our reason in planning for the future, what will we use in its place when the shocks of ecological and societal collapse continue to grow in strength and frequency and things become, shall we say, more desperate? Blood and soil?

Shattered Respect

We should never lose an abiding respect for our own awareness, it is equal to any there has ever been. From a recognition of this equality a wholly natural ethic arises. Awareness in the universe is like the contained in a container. This contained and its container consists of an infinity of interdependent interactions, an infinity ceaselessly emerging from emptiness, an infinity like nested dolls. This is not like the fake infinity of mirrors reflecting one another, or words that mean nothing endlessly bouncing off the walls of our media echo chamber. This is an infinity of emergence in an open universe, meaningful emergence – we walk in a sacred world. The world we touch, see, taste, hear, smell and feel includes real boundaries around the right of we who exist, to exist as we exist. Self defensive aggression is the appropriate response to anything that would violate these boundaries. It is, quite simply, an evolutionary imperative to protect these life boundaries from the death dealing that threatens it.

One of the ways these boundaries are being protected are in the expose’s of the techniques of mind exploitation coming to light in our day. The neuroscience research into the role of trauma is another reflection of a new appreciation of the importance of these boundaries. I like to believe history’s bully, the enslaving pyramid builders, just might have finally made the mistake all bullies make eventually. They messed with someone who was stronger than they were. In this case it is the children who are proving to be stronger than the traumatic events of their upbringing.

Derek Jensen’s work is a good example of a bully taking on a child that proved to be much stronger than he. So are examples of those who have survived cult attacks and lived to tell the tale. In children such as Luna Lindsey, author of Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control, we see the same dynamic at play, the same awakening. The old enchantments are not working as well as they once were. Exposes like this would have not have been possible a decade or so ago. Not only is our understanding growing, but the appeal of the BS seems to be declining. It could well be that the very real threat to the real, molecular world which ecology reveals is taking the shine off many of the sadist’s convoluted justifications. The idols of our twilight, as Nietzsche warned us, are deafening in their clanging hollowness.

The poison of fundamentalism itself is coming to light. We have learned about the cycle by which abused kids become abusing parents creating abusing kids, how the panic instilled in the nervous system by trauma leads to the flashbacks and nightmares of PTSD, we have captured the neuroplasticity of emotional circuits becoming fixed when subject to imprinting and understand how such fixities are dissolved, we understand the mechanics of re-enactment of trauma (including war) and the projections and transferences involved, and the list could go on. We know what we do to one another when we allow violence and fear to dominate our lives.

And now we are learning what we do to the earth when we allow this domination by violence and fear to rule our societies. Allowing the alpha males to seek giantism has brought us to the brink of nuclear war and ecological overshoot and collapse. The age of war bands would normally follow where we are today in the cycles of history. I have to wonder about this new thing though, this shadow of our abuse staining our headlines yet also understood more clearly than ever. Our species has understood itself with a transparency that was not here before. The children are arriving crowned, conquering our hearts. Because their eyes see and respect the eyes of the woman and the child, the spider and the crow, they cannot respect what they see in the eyes of the alpha male that would violate the inviolate boundary. They see in those eyes that demonic hunger that seeks only the rape of the body or the mind of the innocent. A hunger that needs to take life after extended moments of suffering in excruciating tortures. An insatiable hunger.

The bully knows this. He knows that once the victimized women and children lose respect for him, there is nothing he can do to force it back into them. They can be made to fear him and pretend to respect his dictates but this is not the same. Once, as David Bowie sang, one knows one knows one knows, there is no turning back. Trauma shatters things that cannot be repaired. This is its tragedy. This, I suggest, is what more and more the children are coming to see in our eyes. They are waking to the subservience we have been willing to pay the pyramid makers. Now that the voices of the unborn have become a howl bearing down on us all, it is hard to not feel haunted and condemned in that glance. There is no helping it. There is a real choice to be made about how you are going to live your life and to what you are going to give your allegiance. Depending on how you choose to make that choice the reflection of yourself you see in another’s eyes will be one of beauty, a gift of the sacred world, or one of rage.

Shattered respect – once gone, its gone. The abusive father, mother or leader, once clearly seen as such, never again get the love and respect they were once offered when naivety and innocence ruled the victim’s mind. Once this disillusionment happens, an escalation of violence on the part of the abuser is never able to get that love and respect back, though that seems to be the way people react when they see the shattering has happened. A person can, perhaps, re-earn love and respect over time but that would require personal transformation on their part. It happens, but not often. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Knowing what is honorable among us, and what is dishonorable, it is not hard to live a noble life. The difficulty is that the honorable cannot be seen as long as our eyes are glued to the shiny things narcissistically seducing us. Consumerism tries to stamp us into being something we are not; ruthless competitors after status and power, red in tooth and claw, only kept from tearing one another to bits by strong law and order. We have learned to see in the human being what the economic and production systems of hyper-capitalism see when they look in the mirror. They have usurped their limited liability role to become the template by which we are supposed to view all of existence. Some marketing scheme.

The justifications for authority are crumbling. With the psychological insights such as those just mentioned dawning world wide, the alpha male’s appeal to the divine right of kings, the mystical mumbo jumbo supposedly making right of their might, is losing its ability to fool as many people as it once did. Instead of the dictator looking archetypally luminous, the hero of the people and savior of order from the teeth of chaos, these mass murders begin to look simply and honestly pathetic. And once you know you know you know… It has become evident that psychologically twisted individuals are driven to enslave others and hurt them cruelly anyway they can in order to try and satisfy some inner insatiable hunger for recognition and control over their world. It is up to us as a society to decide what role we will allow these individuals to play in shaping our ideas, institutions and customs.

We know where the great evil lies. After the death camps, after Eichman, there can be no doubt. It is that which allows an individual to shirk their moral duty under the banner of “just following orders.” That is what the banality of evil taught us. So we should do everything we can to encourage those traits that intelligently question orders. We need to support those things that encourages an individual to stand up for common human decency when all around them mobs are marching to a different tune. The greatest danger in massively industrialized societies is how quickly they can be turned into death dealing machines. They do this when war material becomes the be all and end all of a country’s reason for producing anything at all. Coal and pork, steel and children, potatoes and iron are all fed into the war making processes when, when what happens? When a monster takes the reigns and everyone else just follows orders, sir.

Today if a leader is not talking about adjusting the human footprint into a smaller size by using less of the earth’s resources, that leader is simply not leading. That leader is a spokesman for the giant Homo Colossus. There is no rational argument that stands up to critical examination that can justify any other conclusion, given the existing state of ecological knowledge and crisis.

The question of humankind’s ability to adjust to the constraints of the future with any kind of dignity intact is intimately related to what does or does not happen on the war front in this coming century. This, in turn, is related to questions of authority, specifically an individual’s relations to those claiming authority over them. Today our children are indentured servants, if not slaves, to the needs of Homo Colossus. Those currently doubling down on increased economic growth and its concomitant carbon fuel use are quite actively and consciously attacking our children, perhaps torturing them. They tell us it is sad and they are sorry but the earth just does not provide enough for everyone and this is how it has to be. This, too, is another lie the children are waking up to.