Gifts, unearned blessings


What do I get when I am looking too hard for something to love? I end up stirring up trouble and getting far away from my goal. Often, the things that I desire are not really good for me. I try to get an answer and it ends up that I just get more confused. The world doesn’t run to the song that I hope for and as a result I can get unhappy.

When I am patient and waiting, good things come to me. I get new qualities and I wonder where I had been to not see that I needed the grace to be happy again. The world is full of mysteries. Things that are not possible to understand are even less possible to predict. As the days go on, I find that the upward climb can be interrupted at times by an opportunity to rest. Days come and go and I remember that I have been getting stronger. The challenges of yesterday aren’t the same challenges that I have today.

Some of my blessings I don’t even notice. I am surrounded by people who care. I have people in my life that will help me grow. I forget that I have things to be grateful for… a house, my health, a loving family. When I forget these things, I stop seeing the beauty in my life. Without gratitude, I can’t remember that each day is a gift that I can build on with effort and faith.

A Great War: Scorched Earth

The first phase of a great war has begun: Scorched earth.

The jungle has been filled with unfriendly foes. Our allies started the first round. Everything in sight near the base’s borders has been killed.

The round up of the enemies has taken its awful toll on the jungle closest to the base.

No one has returned (yet). It’s a race between the foes and friends to see who will seed combatants first. I may have to invest in some mercenary reinforcements and plant interlopers where death is currently holding our vain hope.

A second front of the scorched earth campaign took down vines covering the foliage unchallenged. They had been hiding horrific mines planted with the help of enemy canine patrols. They were attacked with two or three salvos. Nothing but remnants have been left behind.

The second phase of the war has already started: Decimation.

Vulnerable

Thought bubble
In the book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other,” Sherry Turkle said “With some exceptions, when we make ourselves vulnerable we expect to be nurtured.” (p. 235) She’s referring Erik Erikson and the expectations coming from basic trust. That’s something that’s completely counter to the way that the Internet often works. For the most part, any time you put yourself out there, you’re at risk of being attacked or ridiculed rather than built up and comforted.

One place for this risk comes from places that encourage intimacy. It’s not always easy to trust people to begin with. Letting your guard down out there in the social media dystopia isn’t always safe. If one makes comments that might be too hard to share in person, it can still end up hurting.

One reason for this is that anonymity allows people to be more negative and exhibit the dark tetrad personality traits when, in person, they wouldn’t act out. To them, the idea that people have feelings or that they are afraid of being humiliated is alien. Often, the enemy only feels good by getting some lolz.

Sometimes you can find a community of like-minded people where you can be safe. This reflects Sherry’s comment “Communities are places where one feels safe enough to take the good and the bad.” (p. 238) I’ve found some, like deviantART, are different than most social media. One reason is that to belong there, you have to put in some work. You can’t just repost an inane meme and belong. A member of dA is a creator. A pretender just looks around and is lurking.

Every time you get in front of a computer screen and post something on Twitter or Facebook, it’s possible to misstep and be misunderstood catastrophically.

Imbalanced

The universal model for depression is that it a chemical imbalance in the brain. I have serious reservations about the value of that model.

The core problem with the idea is that it is disempowering. The message is “you can’t help yourself get better.”

What thoughts that follow once a person believes that their depression is due to a chemical imbalance?

  • I’m broken.” Since my brain is what I use for all of my thoughts and memories, I’m basically defective.
  • There isn’t anything I can do.” Chemistry is complicated; I don’t understand it, so how can I do anything to help?
  • It’s not going to go away on its own.” Since my brain is a bunch of microscopic neurons firing, they’re not going to fix something as severe as a chemical imbalance.
  • It’s a medical problem.” Doctors are the ones who treat medical problems, so I need a psychiatrist and medications.

When you cut your hand, you know what is hygienic. Rinse it in water. Keep it clean and cover it with a bandage. Watch for signs of infection or use an antibiotic ointment.

A person can be suffering and depressed. Today, the person learns very few tools for recovery. There isn’t any hygiene to practice; no prevention strategies.

A treatment plan might be little more than not to get worse. The tacit meaning of “chemical imbalance” is that a depressed person needs to look to doctors. Then, people with letters after their name can help make the best of it.

Although this can be an appropriate treatment, the model for a disease needs to be useful.

“Chemical imbalance in the brain” is glib. It rolls of the tongue so easily that it doesn’t get inspection. However, it doesn’t help anyone understand depression nor take action.

The almost empty glass of the Spectacular Age

Thought bubbleThe question of the day is “is the glass almost empty or is it almost full?”

The lens that identified a glass as half empty or half full hardly seems relevant. Such subtle semantic differences don’t matter in the Spectacular Age we are in.

I noticed a bumper sticker today. “Refugees Welcome” with the outline of Indiana. I suggested to a friend that it was really a good message. My friend was concerned that we’re running out and can’t afford such people.

It made me think about how much American perceptions are disassociated.

One can look at the glass and see that it is almost full. We have enough creativity, dedication, courage and hope to solve the problems facing the world.

Or, one can see an almost empty glass. The government is too expensive, the cost of doing business is excessive, society is about to collapse and only radical action can help.

I don’t know how to find a way to pour from my almost full glass to help relieve the thirst of the almost empty glasses. Do you?

Imagination Cuts Delusion

Jon Kabat-Zinn describes how people are trapped in a cycle of fear, hatred and delusion. If you look at front page news stories, you can usually find one or more of them very close to the surface.

clouds with a ladder leading to one of themIf these three are negative qualities, there must be counteracting positive qualities. There are obvious candidates like love to counteract hate, but I don’t think love has been very effective. Fear can feed hate and love has no power over that mixture.

In my past couple of blog posts, I’ve described the three qualities as elements of a game reminiscent of rock, paper, scissors. I claim that trust covers fear and curiosity smashes hatred. These pairs of spiritual qualities are mutually exclusive. They cannot exist together.

It is challenging to find the third element of a celestial elixir to replace the last element of delusion. One idea is understanding, another is knowledge. The one I like best is imagination, but none of these three are mutually exclusive to delusion.

A delusion is a fixed idea that stands up despite evidence to the contrary. The mind grabs onto a thought and runs with it. Paranoia which is supported by fear and prejudice that is fed by hatred are two of the strongest delusions. Since they’re both based on the other parts of the trio: fear and hate, it’s understandable that they have such power.

Consider whether imagination cuts delusion. A fixed idea is like the flowing of a river, it has deep banks and a straight path. Imagination looks around the landscape and can see that there are quiet pools and beautiful tributaries. A clump of dead leaves that follows the natural route will never find these bounties..

The application of spiritual principles takes work. If they were easy, people could accept and act on them continuously. Trust, Curiosity and Imagination are three qualities that are positive spiritual principles. They may not be spoken of in the church, synagogue or mosque, but they are still important.

Faith, hope, and love are necessary utensils for the spiritual kitchen. Trust, Curiosity and Imagination are like spices to keep in the cupboard. They can help everyone share spiritual feasts.

Original image: Access to Cloud / Ladder to Heaven. By FutUndBeidl [Image license]

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

The perspective of faith says that if God is all good, how could He allow something bad to happen to people? This can lead to the spiritual challenge that how could God have let X happen, he must not be there or may not love me or I can’t have faith in Him anymore. "God is good, All the time" David Woo

However, a different understanding on the classic question “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?” is that bad things don’t happen to good people. It’s that undesirable things happen to good people–just like undesirable things happen to anyone. It’s not easy (not promising I can always do it), but the events aren’t bad unless the participant calls them bad.

I may not want to have cancer, wreck my car or lose a family member, but that doesn’t mean that having those things happen is bad from the perspective of faith. When I had my heart attack, that certainly wasn’t something I wanted, but it’s led to many other good things. The perspective on the first day after the heart attack has evolved into a more accepting attitude. Since then I’ve been filled with gratitude. Also I’ve developed deeper relationships with my family and friends.

From a post-modern perspective, things are what we call them. If I say I’m depressed, I may be magnifying the problem when I’m just having a sad mood. I can get clinical depression, but if I don’t have any ambition on a given day, it may be just part of the ebb and flow of my life. The words I choose can give me the empowerment to overcome the difficulty with my own resources.

I’ve heard people call themselves lazy when, to my perspective, they are just procrastinating and labeling themselves unnecessarily. If they call themselves lazy, then they don’t have to challenge themselves because “that’s just the way I am” instead of working to break out of a pattern.

If I would call my child “shy,” that’s going to cement in my mind and in the child’s mind, that he or she is going to react to new situations a certain way. Then, these become self-fulfilling prophecies. The child folds up like a fan and stops exploring social possibilities and new experiences.

So along those lines, I’m not harmed unless I believe I’m harmed. Bad things don’t happen to me, undesirable things happen to me. Bad things don’t happen to good people. Life doesn’t always give me what I want, but I can move beyond anything that I face.


Original image: God is good, all the time. By David Woo [Image license]