Friday, October 14, 2005

A quote from the Dalai Lama

I have been thinking about change and it showed up today in my book of quotes for His Holiness.

Change only takes place through action. Not through prayer or meditation, but through action.

While we want to reflect on things, then ultimately at some point we must take some action. I applaud those online who are finding their voices and are beginning to take action in their lives.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Being Wrong

I think everyone hates being wrong. In fact in psychological terms when are feelings are not affirmed and are in fact, denigrated, it is called being made wrong and then we feel small. When I talk about being wrong, I am talking about the idea that we think we know something but our knowledge is faulty. We still hate it when that comes out, unless we are actively trying to make sense of something. When we are discussing things with others and we state something, we hate it when other people prove us wrong.

I'm a great one for that. I hate to be wrong. At the same time I realize that part of the problem with being wrong is that we become attached to the fact that our way of thinking is correct. When we are wrong about big things, it can force us to change our very world view. We become attached to that world view and we don't like the idea that it might be wrong. If it's wrong, then what else are we wrong about? Our whole theory of the way we, life and our world works can come falling down.

I think about the attachment part and realize that the Buddhists say that attachment is the source of all suffering. We think of attachments so often as attachments to things. Yet how much more do we suffer when we become attached to an ideal or ideal and that gets proved to be based on faulty information? Beliefs and ideas are rather amorphous and so we don't think about being attached to them, yet many of us are very attached to them. How then do we react when someone doesn't agree and may even present a point of view that goes against ours? We become very defensive and perhaps angry. We feel off balance.

We need to realize that an idea or belief is just that. It is something that we may have become to attached to and we need to let it go or let it change as it needs to as we learn new things. We are not our belief or our ideas. We are more than that. Learning to be at peace with ourselves means learning to accept that some of our deeply held ideas may get "proved" wrong by other people or by new circumstances. We suffer when this happens and we refuse to let go of the idea. If we can move on and move with the idea and incorporate our new found information into a larger world view, we may find that our original idea isn't gone but merely enlarged. If we try to hang onto it against all odds, we may find that we loose it altogether.

I think we often get so attached to ideas, more so than people, that it's unfortunate that we don't talk more about the problems associated with attachment to our own ideas and our own ways of looking at the world.

Next time we realize we are defending ourselves against being wrong, let's remember that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Conscience, Superego and Compassion

I am reading a book called The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD. Sociopaths are people, who apparently make up 4% of the population, who have no conscience. In an early chapter she starts describing the superego and then she goes on to talk about how it is different from conscience.

Stout descibes conscience as being that ability to be attached to another person or living being and to have empathy. It means that we can care that another person (or pet) is suffering. We try and avoid being the cause of the suffering.

Stout says the superego, as Freud described it, is more like the parental voice. It's the voice that says we should and we shouldn't do something because the early authorities in our life said that. It's the voice that tells us we are naughty or bad or ill tempered and should be punished. We could get the same results from a superego as conscience because we don't want to hear our internal voice telling us how bad we are. The superego's voice does not mean that there is an attachment or true emotional empathy that says we will hurt if we know another hurts.

In Stout's book it seems that the ability to form an emotional bond is the indicator of conscience. It is that emotional bond with another that allows us to act to prevent the suffering, which is indeed the ability to act with compassion. I suppose then to act with compassion towards all beings, we must be able to extend the bonds we feel with those close to us to include all humans and finally to all sentient beings.

It seems a big step, but if we take the concept of conscience as something we take for granted (although psychologists believe that sociopaths do not have one), it would seem our very being is gifted with the tool to allow us to act with compassion for all sentient beings. It does beg the question for me of what about those without conscience? What about those who can't feel compassion or empathy? What sort of existance is that? It strikes me that such a condition might be the equivalent of the Christian Hell.

Compassion has always seemed to be something that I could give and recieve but not something that is part of myself that I own, being more a characteristic of the ever changing, multi-hued personality. Conscience seems so much more concrete. It seems more a fundamental part of my being that goes deeper than personality.

I think it's a wonderful way to think of compassion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What is our Impact?

Last night I was reading the Dalai Lama's new book and he mentioned that from childhood he was taught to always consider his actions so that he could act with compassion for all sentient beings.

What a difficult task that must be. I have to reflect on all the things we do because we must. We must work for this company during these hours to afford to live. We must commute for an hour, using gas and can't possibly use public transportation because... We must eat here because it's fast and it's cheap.

The answers sound like excuses when you look at the impact of the action. If that company is polluting or harming the world, why would we support it with our action of working there? If driving an hour causes us (and others) more stress and pollutes the world, then why do we do it? We do it because we have to, we answer.

But what if we didn't. What if no one did? Who would work for that company? Who would make those choices to drive like that? Where would our world be?

It's an interesting way to look at that question, isn't it?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Knowing Yourself

Knowing what you love to do is important. Knowing those little things that push your buttons is also important. It's not that you can avoid everything that annoys you, but if you know what pushes your buttons, you can be aware and mindful of the fact that a situation is likely to set you off and mentally prepare yourself for it. I don't mean that you mentally get ready to be angry. Rather you look at the situation as a challenge for you. Realize that it will be uncomfortable and that chances are you will feel annoyed. Stay with the feelings as much as possible in the situation and just see where they take you.

The more awareness we have of what we like and don't like and the sorts of situations that set us off, the more aware we can be when we are likely to be less than our best. Knowing this allows us to create our own paths of escape so that we don't snap or create situations that are hurtful.

There are those of us stuck in situations where we seem to hate everything. That's a difficult place to be and one on one assistance can be invaluable in those situations. Our own mindfulness can be helpful but it's a difficult task at the best of times and not having a starting place to begin with or a place where we can rest without stress makes such a practice even more difficult. Acknowledging what we are beginning is a good place to begin being gentle with ourselves.

Acknowledging that we don't like certain situations is also a way to be gentle with ourselves. Even if life requires that we continue to be in those situations, acknowledging that and being kind to ourselves as we are mindful of how we are feeling can make changes in how we percieve the situation.

Next time you are in a situation that challenges you, remember to acknowledge those feelings and be gentle. Gentleness starts with ourselves and moves out to embrace other people. With gentleness, peace can follow.