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14

Jan

Situationism vs. Dispositionism

beachkidsThink back to the last time that you can remember disagreeing with someone else’s actions. Perhaps they acted like a jerk or a fool. Perhaps they were mean to someone else or spewing anger at the room. Perhaps you can think back to a time that you saw someone being wasteful or seemingly unconscious in their actions?

Did you feel that? Did you feel the judgement? The self righteousness? Did you hear your mind say, “I would never….”? Did it feel healthy? Did it feel true? Might your thought be nearly as counterproductive as their action? Might there be a way to reframe the situation that is both more loving and more productive?

I was reading Charles Eisenstein’s latest book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” this morning when I came across this distinction between dispositionism and situationism. Perhaps you see where this is going? In a chapter titled “Judgement” Charles brings up the body of research that demonstrates that ‘good people’ in difficult circumstances act like ‘bad people’. Essentially, what an objective perspective seems to say, time and time again, is that we all do the best that we can given our resources at the time and the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

The example Charles offers is of the 1973 experiment by John Darley and C Daniel Batson where seminary students are sent off across their campus to deliver a lecture on The Good Samaritan story, a biblical tale about the one man who pauses to help a stranger moaning by the roadside (after a priest and a priests assistant do not). Along the way to their lecture they will have to actually step over a man in distress, collapsed in a doorway. These students are, quite literally, dedicating their lives to becoming ‘good samaritans’. They have also had their intention brought to this story. In their shoes, would you stop to help the moaning man? Would this tell me something about your character, your core disposition?

There is a twist. The students are broken up into three groups. Those in the first group are told that they are late for their lecture and better hurry. Those in the second group are told to hurry, their lecture starts in a few minutes. The third group is told that they have plenty of time, but should head over.

Can you guess who tends to notice the man in distress and stop to aid him? 10 percent of the first group and 60 percent of the third group stop. Clearly circumstances played a major role in their actions. It was not these students core disposition that determined their actions, it was the situation they found themselves in. Still telling yourself that you are different?

Any time that we judge someone we are saying that based on our observations we can tell some core truth about their disposition; who they are. In essence, we are saying that if we were in their exact position we would have acted differently. But what can we ever truly know about another’s exact position? Do we understand their entire upbringing? Do we understand the dreams or nightmares they had last night? Do we know if they are feeling nourished, loved and whole in their body mind and spirit? Do we know if they just received a crushing blow that has them crying on the inside, but lashing out on the outside?

Clearly we do not ever know the entirety of another’s truth.

So what happens if we instead work from the default assumption that someone’s ‘stupid’ actions are something that we might do as well given the exact same situation? What happens if we switch our default judgement from being dispositional, judging a person, to situational, looking at them as a product of circumstance? Might we approach others with more compassion? More patience? More understanding?

This does not mean that you must condone their actions. It does mean that you begin to make a distinction between their actions and them as a human being worthy of your love. It means loosening your belief that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people as well as the idea that you are ‘one of the good ones’. It means reconsidering your partisan beliefs that Republicans or Democrats are idiots at their core. It means relaxing your judgement that the violence in others is a product of some innate insensitivity that you could never be guilty of. It ends up meaning that a lot of the self-righteous congratulations that we give ourselves at the expense of others need to be reconsidered with a lot more humility and compassion for just how much others have had to struggle through things that we take for granted.

You may be asking what the point is. What is this effort worth? Why give up the my high horse? This is something I have struggled with. I was an angry, self-righteous young man with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to ‘set the world right’. How do you think I felt as this young man who knew better than those around him? I felt lonely and I felt judged. When we project judgement out into the world it finds resonance and it is the very thing that we then feel coming from others minds as we assume that they are judging us. But when I choose to search for understanding and offer acceptance as my default perspective I feel held, understood and appreciated in almost any situation. The simple truth is that judgement creates separation where there is always an option for compassion and understanding. If our intention is truly to right perceived wrongs and bring light to darkness it is worth questioning our assumption that people have a default disposition that is fundamentally different than our own. As Charles says, echoing saints and mystics, “you and I are one; we are the same being looking out at the world through different eyes.” “Moreover, situationism says that the “I” in every situation is bigger than the individual. The subject, the actor, the chooser, is the individual plus the totality of his or her relationships.

The self has no independent existence. Consider what that statement implies. Abstracted from its relationships to the world, the self is not itself.

So who is there to judge?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service.

Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

30

Apr

How to Be Creative

the emergence at cosm

Do you consider yourself to be creative? Do you have a strong critical mind? What connection do you think there is between these two? Which has your education helped develop? Which does the world need you to have more of right now?

Reading the first chapter of the book Presence today I came across the words of Stanford business school professor Michael Ray. Mr. Ray teaches very popular courses on creativity. His courses start with three assumptions:

  1. Creativity is essential for health, happiness and success in all areas of life, including business.
  2. Creativity is within everyone
  3. Even though it is in everyone it is covered by the Voice of Judgement

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Ken Robinson. Sir. Robinson has written some wonderful books on creativity, the modern education system and finding your purpose or “element”. I wrote about “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” earlier in one of my posts on FLOW. In his previous book “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” Robinson raises the very pressing possibility that “we are educating people out of their creativity.”

In an article on the Huffington Post Robinson writes, “First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them. Second, it is increasingly urgent to cultivate these capacities — for personal, economic and cultural reasons — and to rethink the dominant approaches to education to make sure that we do.”

Years ago I came across a popular story, perhaps from Robinson, about what happens when you ask school kids who in the room is an artist. The story starts out in a kindergarten class. The question is asked and every hand goes up. Then the question is asked again in the 1st grade classroom, then 2nd grade and on up through senior year in high school. In elementary school the number of hands going up quickly drops towards half and then less. By high school there are only a few hands and by the end of high school a room is lucky to have one hand go up. Often all of the other students agree and say “yes, she is the artist.” What happened? Is school to blame? And does this narrowing of identity really have an impact on our health, happiness and success?

Mr. Ray tells the authors of Presence about “a study by Howard Gardner’s Project Zero at Harvard that involved developing intelligence tests for babies. The project also tested older subjects. The researchers found that up to age four, almost all the children were at the genius level, in terms of the multiple frames of intelligence that Gardner talks about – spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, mathematical, intrapersonal and linguistic. But by age twenty, the percentage of children at genius level was down to 10 percent, and over twenty, the genius level proportion of the subjects sank to 2 percent.

Everyone asks, ‘Where did it go?’ It didn’t go anywhere; it’s covered over by the Voice of Judgement.”

The solution offered by Ray? Become aware of the Voice of Judgement, the voice that tells you “that’s a stupid idea” or “you can’t do that” and choose to disregard that voice. In a sense we must practice willful disobedience within our own minds. The key is simple awareness. Much of what he describes sounds just like meditation, albeit meditation with a specific intention. The first, hardest and most powerful step is simply deciding to notice this voice and label it. That’s it. As I am found of saying, consciousness is curative. When we decide to bring awareness to something with the intention of loving and healing ourselves the solutions do become apparent. We don’t have to be fearlessly creative to begin. We simply have to open up to the possibility that deep within us there lies an immense capability to be creative. We must consider the possibility that our education, training and cultural conditioning has been unbalanced and has favored critical reasoning (the Voice of Judgement) over creative imagining.

If you would like to re-invigorate your creative side and are having a hard time doing so perhaps it is time to look for, label and summarily dismiss your Voice of Judgement. The Voice of Judgement relies 100% on the past to determine what it thinks is possible or reasonable. Being creative, being an entrepreneur or an artist is an unreasonable act. It must be. It is about bringing into being something which does not already exist. All great creators are unreasonable in the eyes of those who did not share their vision. There is a playfulness, a childlike naivety, in all acts of creation. What would you do if you were suddenly free from your Voice of Judgement?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

04

Apr

Gratitude

Gratitude Wall

Do you always want more? Do you always feel like you are one accomplishment away from happiness? What if I told you that this striving, this desire for change, for growth and transformation can become an expression of your satisfaction with the way things are right now?

You would likely ask me what I am talking about.

On one hand the desire for growth is an incredibly powerful force for positivity. On the other it is a potentially destructive force that posits happiness as that ever elusive next step. What is the difference?

GRATITUDE

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation, of thanks; the essence of grace. Cultivating gratitude changes the entire experience of striving. People with gratitude may work far harder than those without it, but the effort is more joyful and less tied to a specific outcome. When we accept and appreciate what we already have the effort to grow and to change becomes more of a celebration and less of a competition or struggle. When we root our life in gratitude we judge both ourselves and others with less negativity. We are more likely to see potential and less likely to focus on lack.

Many of my clients end up with a gratitude practice at one point or another. There are many reasons to practice gratitude and many more benefits of doing so. For many life is an experience of constant low level anxiety that occasionally erupts into a full blown panic attack. For many such as myself there is a tendency to slip into depression. Cultivating gratitude will help with both of these. The key is to realize that gratitude, like all emotions, is not something that only happens to us, it is something that we can choose to feel more often.

For most of us there are two times when we really feel gratitude naturally. One is when we get something. The other is when we almost lose something, but then manage to hold onto it. Have you ever met someone who had a near death experience? If not, I am sure that you have heard a story or two. When someone comes face to face with a potential loss of life or limb, but then, at the very last moment, recovers or is saved, there is a very real, very beautiful and potent gratitude that permeates even the most mundane of experiences. Flowers smell fresher. The sun shines brighter. Getting to see a friend or even talk to a stranger is a gift. In the moments right after a brush with mortality simply taking a deep breath can fill one with wonder, awe and appreciation for the gift that is life.

What has changed for these people? In all honesty, the only difference between them and you, right now, is that something truly terrible almost happened to them. Think about that. By this logic, the only thing standing between you and feeling joy just for being alive is something terrible happening to you. Is that why we spend so much time thinking about what might go wrong? Are we wishing for disaster so that we can learn to appreciate life? Or does a brush with disaster help us to realize that this moment, right now, is an incredibly precious event that will never occur again? My money is on the latter.

We can start appreciating life right now. If this is not your default mode, and for most of us it is not, then it will take a bit of practice. You will have to deliberately choose to seek feelings of gratitude. And note what I just said. I did not say “thoughts” of gratitude, I said feelings. This is the key. It starts with a thought and then becomes a feeling. Here is a VERY quick exercise that I have been offering to a number of clients recently. It takes 5-10 minutes a day and it can change everything. There are two steps:

1 – LAST THING AT NIGHT: Write down 3 things that you are grateful for and FEEL the gratitude in your body. Let the thoughts and sensations that you fall asleep to be full of appreciation for what you already have.

  1. One thing about yourself
  2. One thing about someone else
  3. One random thing

2 – FIRST THING IN THE MORNING: Read the three things that you wrote last night and FEEL grateful for them. Let them run through your mind and your heart. Root your morning in them. Let them become a mantra. When another thought arises push it aside with gratefulness. Let the mood of your morning become gratitude.

For every client this practice is a little different. I suggest that some focus on specific areas of life. Some keep these notes in a gratitude journal, others put up a giant poster board and create a gratitude wall full of gratitude that they see last thing before they go to bed and first thing upon waking up. The picture above is a sheet of plastic that I hung on the wall in my apartment so that my Hana and I can write on the wall with a dry erase marker. I sit by this beautiful energy every time I write a blog post or notes to a client. It roots me in positive feelings for the many ways that I am already truly blessed. I feel so good about my current situation it is only natural to want to encourage my life to grow, to evolve and change and continue in new directions.

Do you see how this shifts the energy around wanting change? Do you see how seeking growth and transformation can stop being about what you lack and become a celebration of what you do have? Hating what you already have is the energy of death. If you hate a child for being small you are not encouraging growth, you are punishing youth. We are all young. We are all naïve. Recognizing a place where we can get better should be exciting. It should generate an appreciation for what is and the fact that it can be improved.

I used to be terribly depressed. I spent years thinking about all that I hated about life. I was great at finding things to dislike. I could barely sleep. I was practicing disgust. It was deep in the fabric of my being. Every where I looked I saw it reflected back at me. Now I practice gratitude and guess what I notice when I look at the world?

The world is full of opportunities. Our perspective is primary. If you look down you see the ground. When you look up you see the sky. If your default frame is ruminating on what you don’t want, on what you lack, on why you are lonely or sad or tired then you will find 1,000 reasons for this. But if you break the pattern, if you choose to consciously look for things to be grateful for then you will find that this type of thinking creates a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle, a feedback loop, that teaches you to reach out for more simply because what you have is so wonderful. Who wouldn’t want more when they feel wonderful? Before long you may just find that you are overflowing and the only thing left is to want more for others as well.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

 

18

Mar

Do You Walk Your State of Mind?

prada-hickies

Are you a fast walker? A slow walker?

What does this tell you about your mind?

I was working with a client the other day when the conversation turned to his gate. He has been tracking down the source of his knee pain for quite some time. Recently, through work with a chiropractor and a structural integrationist he has been made aware of some basic distortions in his posture and the way that he walks that are contributing to his pain. Let’s call him Carl.

Carl is a fast walker. Carl lives in NYC and is well aware of the crowd. Carl charges forward and walks right past most others on the sidewalk. I am a lot like Carl. Occasionally I stroll, leisurely taking in the sites, but most of the time I am a man on a mission. I have somewhere to be and it is not here.

This is where consciousness comes into the equation. This is why the mind has a lot to do with how you walk.

Years ago I read the book “Slowness” by Milan Kundera. I love Milan Kundera. His insights into the inner workings of the human experience help him to create the most illuminating characters. I often put down his novels with a beautiful new appreciation for a subconscious process or previously unexplored habit. There is a scene in slowness, perhaps right at the beginning (it has been many years) that describes one of the characters walking away from something that just happened. Kundera focuses on the speed at which this character is walking. He points out that a key to understanding a persons relationship to what just happened is the speed at which they are walking.

Imagine yourself in the middle of giving a really embarrassing speech in front of a crowd of people. Pretend that for whatever reason this talk is just not going well. Your confidence is sapped. Feel the embarrassment in your body as you struggle to wrap up and get off stage. Do you want to hang out and mingle with the audience or do you want to leave quickly? Now walk away from that place and head somewhere completely different. Head to the comfort of your home. How are you walking?

I’ll bet you are walking fast. You want a distance between you and that place. More importantly, you want to move away from the feeling of being in that place. Kundera suggests that we walk quickly when we want to forget. It is as if moving faster might not only move us farther away physically, it might also speed up our metabolism and help clear these negative feelings from our system.

Now imagine the opposite. You have spent the night in your new lovers arms. Most likely in their bed. This night was bliss. You felt full, you felt seen, you felt respected and desired, you felt satisfied. You and your lover get up in the morning, kiss goodbye and you walk out the door. How are you walking now?

I’ll bet you are barely moving. You want to linger. You want this experience to last. Savoring a moment will cause one to walk slowly. The last thing you want is to have another experience too soon, to shake these feelings from your body. Letting too much in too quickly might just crowd out the sweetness that you just tasted.

The speed at which we walk is not only tied to the past. It is also tied to the future. Excited to get somewhere? You are walking quickly of course. Dreading a meeting? I’ll bet you are a bit slower.

But what does a nice, moderate pace communicate? What consciousness, what mood, is cultivated by walking at a pace that is not too slow and not too fast? What lies between a desire to leave the past and a desire to stay in the past? Between a desire to be in the future and a desire to avoid what is coming next?

Equanimity is one word for the complete acceptance of what is. It is a term often used to describe the state of mind that a life of meditation will cultivate. With equanimity comes deep joyful breathing and a lightness about all that has passed and all that is to come. Equanimity is a composure that even the most difficult situations can not disturb. Equanimity is not physical stillness, but it can feel like a stillness in ones thoughts. In many ways it is tied to being in a state of FLOW.

Our body follows our mind, but our mind also follows our body. It is a chicken or egg cycle that we can impact from either side of the equation. Change your mind and your body will react. Change your body and your consciousness shifts. You likely know that I am a huge fan of using Breathing Exercises to shift your mind and your subconsciously controlled body systems (such as heart rate and digestion). Another, perhaps more easily tapped resource is the way that you walk.

Try this today. Next time you are walking somewhere notice the speed at which you are walking. Now notice your mind. Play with the speed. Try walking extra slow. Do you feel resistance? Can you enjoy where you are? Are you thinking about the past? Does your mind go to the future? Can you feel your feet hit the ground? Can you smell the air? Do you hear birds? Cars? Other people breathing? Can you hear your own breath. The speed at which you walk connects with the contents of your mind. It connects directly with your ability to connect with The Power of Now.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

10

Feb

Yoga May Increase Gray Matter in the Brain

Costa Rica Yoga

(This weeks Science post is coming to you a little bit late and from beautiful Costa Rica. Thanks Em for being my model for this shot)

Increasingly, scientists are conducting studies looking at how practices such as yoga and meditation effect the brain. For centuries in the east there has been a tradition of rigorous practice and acceptance of yogic techniques as being beneficial for people in innumerable ways.  For better and worse the west is not often convinced by anecdote or public consensus alone. We love to attempt to create a controlled environment and then adjust one variable and see what results. This is the basis for our scientific method. Culturally we may seem slow to adopt certain practices that others have trusted for centuries, but in the process we usually add a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind the results that others experience.

paper published recently in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine provides details of a study that looked at how the brains of practitioners of Hatha Yoga Meditation compare to those with no experience. They measured this difference by looking at the density of gray matter. Gray matter is a type of brain tissue. For our purposes you can think of regions of gray matter as processing centers. Our brain has many of these centers. The creators of this study hypothesized that practitioners of YMP would have a greater density of gray matter in a number of regions including the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. They also predicted significantly less self-reported cognitive failures in those who practice YMP.

Previous studies have shown significant correlations between a decrease in gray matter density in specific regions and smoking, aging and adolescent childhood abuse. The consensus seems to be that gray matter increase is beneficial and losing gray matter is detrimental. It is then a decent hypothesis that something which helps to build gray is beneficial for our health and well being.

Hatha yoga techniques, including physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation, involve the practice of mindfulness. This study refers to this as Yoga Meditation Practice (YMP). The 7 participants who were adept at YMP all reported having a consistent daily practice of 45 minutes or more for the past 5 years or longer. The control group consisted of 7 people who reported no current or past dedicated meditation or yoga practice.

From the authors, “prior studies have identified differences in gray matter volume (GMV) between long-term mindfulness practitioners and controls, no studies to date have reported on whether yoga meditation is associated with GMV differences. The present study investigated GMV differences between yoga meditation practitioners (YMP) and a matched control group (CG). The YMP group exhibited greater GM volume in frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital, and cerebellar regions.”

All participants were scanned using an MRI. As you are likely familiar, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) is a machine with giant magnets that is used to generate an image of internal organs, in this instance, the brain. It can be used to not only get a general image of internal organs, but also to determine the density of a particular area. This study is one of a growing number that look at the effects of mindfulness. Here “the state of mindfulness is characterized by a nonjudgmental and metacognitive monitoring of momentary thoughts, emotions, action urges, perceptions, and bodily sensations.” When meditators speak of equanimity, the state of composure, calm and level-headedness they are speaking of the effect of remaining mindful. We can learn to cultivate equanimity using mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is a focus practice involving “repeated placement of attention onto an object while alternately acknowledging and letting go of distracting thoughts and emotions.” To readers of this blog this should sound familiar. I have talked about how to focus before and the state of mind that this produces is also a good example of FLOW, of “being in the zone.

So what were the results of this study? “YMP exhibited volumetrically larger brain structures and fewer lapses in executive function in daily life. Structural differences were particularly evident in brain regions subserving higher-order control of cognitive and motor responses…. study findings suggest that the practice of hatha yoga is associated with enhanced cognitive function coupled with enlargement of brain structures held to instantiate executive control.” In plain english, yoga tones not only your body, but your brain as well.