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Archive for November, 2012


we tend to go about our days automatically avoiding pain. especially emotional pain. i know now that the ultimate act of self compassion is to do the opposite. when pain stabs me from an unexpected source, as it does many times each day, i have learned to turn towards the pain. to close my eyes for exactly the amount of time it takes to acknowledge and notice the pain. to get familiar with it. to not run from it any more. to say to it: “these thoughts, pain. these feelings, pain. these urges, pain.” doing this helps me be less pushed around by the pain. and the pain does not last as long as i used to think it would. more importantly: i learn to survive the pain over and over again. practicing my pain survival skills without objection or avoidance lowers my overall pain level because i gain confidence in my skills with every practice session. pain no longer freaks me out the way it used to.



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one could ask: why post anything online? why disclose one’s thoughts? why write a book? or a poem? an essay? a novel? or a research paper? i do these things to support my own problem solving skills. and with the hope that others might benefit from my efforts.



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I never met the daughter I never had.
I hope she would have been smart and successful.
And no doubt a little angry and sensitive.
                                    Most around me are.
In my life I’ve only met several kind of people.
Those who care and those who pretend to.
What’s to love? My life began slowly,
and picked up steam only in the last 5 minutes.
Prior to that memory kept me going.
To the daughter I never had I always wished I’d said
may you be strong and may you be happy.
May you have the courage to live the life you need.


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Our culture tends to value knowledge over skill. This is a habit learned from 2500 years of Neo-Platonism. The notion that the “truth will set you free” is as unshakeable from our social lexicon as the idea of some “special genius” as the motivating force behind fame, wealth and success. Yet contemporary psychologists have discovered that the success of experts in their field is not so much due to the possession of a superior intellectual problem solving heuristic as it is to the fact that they have practiced certain skills over and over again. Skillful performance is actually more valuable than truth. It adds a new slant to the old joke, “when in doubt, do right!”

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What this election says to me is that we are moving closer to something. That something is a world in which people are no longer evaluated by the color of their skin, the partner of their evenings, the impediments of biological accident. It is instead a world in which people are valued for what gives them joy each morning when they wake. It is a world in which we are not so inundated with the struggle to survive that we cannot reach out a hand to another who is also struggling. We used to live in such a world. A world where identification of difference meant the difference between life and death. A world in which political alliances based on marriage also were matters of life and death. But that world is fading away. Its customs are anachronisms. We need not live that way any longer. What we do need to understand is the responsibility we have to those who are still forced to do so. Those who do not yet have the luxuries that we enjoy. Those who still live in that older world. That more violent world. We can move beyond it. And we can bring others with us. Someday we will look back at the mountains we have moved and be pleased. Today, I have hope.

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Nietzsche’s myth of eternal return strikes me as a member of the same class of behaviors as Kant’s categorical imperative: a set of heuristics used by some people in certain cultures to attempt to induce liberal habits in others. The idea, if I understand it, is to see each action as weighty in the hopes that under the pressure of the weight all the cruelty will be squeezed out, leaving only pure good will. My concern for this approach is that I think we’ve forgotten that humans are animals. Just as we approach most animals in the wild with a healthy respect tempering our curiosity, why would we suddenly throw this caution to the wind in the case of our own conspecifics? I doubt very much if there is any heuristic that would guarantee any sort of purity of will in a creature subject to the learning history of a life filled with danger and deprivation. It’s just not practical to expect that we can ever realize such an idyllic existence. Why then do we persist in such an approach?



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I believe there is a real disadvantage in our culture’s tendency to privilege perceived successes over perceived failures. From the attention deficit, commercial driven, instant pleasure culture of daily life, to publication bias in our scientific community, we can see the drawbacks of our positivity addiction. What use, then, negativity? Well for one thing it gives us the opportunity to learn how to make lemonade out of lemons. And this is an important skill for a species with such large, emotion driven brains. Clever enough to figure out how to build nuclear weapons. Angry enough to create god in our image. The problem, I think, is that we don’t accept the challenge. We don’t understand that to turn bitter into sweet is a task that requires effort, care and skill. That compassion is the sugar in our lemonade.



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