Forgiveness

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by DCH Park

Consider forgiveness. Story Corps recently featured Oshea Israel in a very powerful story about forgiveness. Israel is a young man who recently completed a prison sentence for second degree murder. The woman featured with him in the story, Mary Johnson, is the mother of the boy whom Israel killed as a teenager. Together, they recount the challenges they each faced in coming to terms with the murder and their respective journeys from bitterness and blame to acceptance, forgiveness, and love.

It is clear from their dynamic that they have come to respect and cherish each other. They have adopted each other as mother and son. Theirs is a remarkable story of healing and transcendence. It can be accessed at http://storycorps.org/listen/stories/mary-johnson-and-oshea-israel/.

Their story is a potent reminder of the power and importance of forgiveness. In order to come to true forgiveness, it is necessary to transcend blame and drama, which are characteristic of the ego. Ego definitively casts us each as separate individuals, irreversibly alone and apart. In the illusion ego creates, we see ourselves as being separated from each other by an unbridgeable gulf of imposed isolation and supreme aloneness.

According to this ego-illusion, it is impossible to really know someone else and equally impossible to fully share yourself with anyone. From this perspective of isolation, it seems quite natural to hold another person accountable if that person does something (or fails to do something) that causes you pain, loss, or injury. Consequently, concepts such as blame, vengeance, and punishment seem quite reasonable. The “eye for an eye” perspective is thoroughly rooted in ego.

Forgiveness is another way. It has been said that forgiveness is divine. Great acts of forgiveness are often taken as demonstrations of the evolved or divine character of the one who brings forgiveness. Any number of sages and saints from traditions from the world over have practiced forgiveness. One of the best known examples is probably that of Jesus on the cross, interceding on behalf of those who put him there, asking for their forgiveness, but this is by no means the only example.

Throughout history great leaders – those with great spirit – have demonstrated the power of forgiveness. The benefits made possible by such forgiveness are many, however the process of forgiving has remained mysterious for the most part. It is commonly seen as something available only to evolved or enlightened individuals, but in fact, it is available to everyone.

One historical example is the attitude and policies that were adopted by the United States toward former enemies after World War II. Although most wars in history that ended so decisively were followed by protracted periods of prejudice and exploitation, the US chose instead to send aid to former enemies and build them up.

To be fair, there were many complex political and social considerations that also bore on these policies at the time. Nevertheless, the fact remains that instead of exploiting and oppressing Germany, Japan, and Italy, against whom vicious and ugly stereotypes had been cultivated during the war, the US chose to forgive them and help them heal. In doing so, Americans opened the door to forgive and heal themselves, too.

It seems odd at this point to even consider the possibility that the US response after WWII might have been punitive, however that has happened before, both in other countries and in the US. Recall what happened after the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, for example. A wise man once observed that it was miraculous that the American response after WWII was so enlightened and that because of it, the US must surely be blessed. Perhaps this notion of the US being a just nation with a relatively evolved sense of justice is part of that blessing.

Acts of forgiveness can indeed be miraculous. Forgiveness can open the way to redemption, as the historical example above illustrates. But forgiveness is available not only to nations and saints. It is available to everyone. The act of forgiving can heal not only the one being forgiven but also the one offering forgiveness. This is clear in the story that Oshea and Johnson share. Through forgiveness they have healed themselves and each other very deeply. Perhaps they have even healed beyond what they would have experienced had their lives not been tied together so violently and tragically.

Forgiveness is not particularly difficult or demanding. It does, however, call for transcending the ego’s illusion of separation because that is where the pain, outrage, and anger are rooted. These emotional reactions can form seemingly unbreakable snares but that adamantine aura is only part of the illusion.

As an illustration, grasp something. A pencil or pipe will do. Set the intention to hold onto it tightly and not release it. Then, without changing or lessening your resolve, try to pry the object from the first hand’s grasp with the other hand. This may seem silly, but it aptly illustrates where the apparent strength of the ego’s illusions comes from.

In order to practice true forgiveness, the ego and its illusions of separation must be transcended. In transcending the ego, one inevitably returns to an awareness of largeness and connectedness which many refer to as divine. From this expanded awareness, forgiveness is easy and instantaneous, yet no less profound.

Transcending ego is a process of remembering that you are infinitely larger and more powerful than your ego. The stories and illusions that ego plays in have power to hold you only to the degree you grant it to them. Remember the pencil in your grip. Let it go.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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What Irritates Me About Others

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by DCH Park

Anyone who has been connected to the self help, spiritual growth, twelve step, or related communities for any significant length of time has probably heard at least once or twice that “What irritates you about others is a reflection of what you don’t want to see in yourself.”

It used to irritate me greatly when I heard people saying this to me. In looking back at times when people told me this, I realize it’s possible that some of them meant well and were sincerely trying to remind me of something I had lost sight of but that they saw very clearly – some mannerism or attitude that I had that matched what I was complaining about in someone else – and they were trying to give me a clue to help me find it on my own. Others were perhaps less clued in and were only parroting an aphorism that seemed appropriate. At the time, though, I found them all irritating.

This reminds me of a game from childhood in which one person would hide something and then give clues (“hot,” “burning up,” “warm,” “cold,” “ice cold”) to indicate if the other person were getting closer or farther from the object in his search. I recall what playing this game was like. As the searcher, it was at times like stumbling around in the dark in a strange place and at other times like tackling a logic puzzle – trying to deduce where the person might have hidden the object from what I knew about the person and the object and what I could see of the available hiding places.

As the hider, there was a sense of power and superiority that came from knowing something the searcher didn’t, giving honest clues to help him or her find the object, and watching him or her struggle with the challenge. The clues were specific enough to keep the search focused and intense and vague enough to be infuriating.

This sense of frustration might partly be where my irritation with friends who reminded me about “what irritates me about others…” is anchored. Nevertheless, I found that once I let go of the irritation, the idea of looking at what was annoying about someone else and asking myself how I did the same thing was always helpful in recognizing that I was indeed doing the same thing. This opened the possibility of owning the behavior and the irritation and then healing the place from which they sprang.

Along one route to such healing, I find that it can be helpful to ask why I am doing this thing. What is it that I am doing, wanting, or resisting? What am I trying to change, hold on to, or control?

I find that when this happens, I am generally focused on something or someone outside of myself. There is some aspect of the external world – some person, thing, or situation – that I have connected to my own happiness. I become invested in the person, thing, or situation because I see my sense of happiness as being dependent on what happens with the external world.

This can take many forms. Sometimes it manifests as trying to control factors in the external world. Sometimes it takes the form of trying to create for someone or something else. Other times it shows up as deliberate or even concerted ignoring. Many other forms are possible, but they all share the characteristic that they focus attention and energy on the external world in order to effect a change in your own internal experience.

For example, most parents wouldn’t think twice about rushing out to soothe and comfort their small child who had just fallen down. Likewise, defending their child from a dog or another child, especially if the dog or other child were big, would seem perfectly normal and appropriate. However, the same behavior “defending” a child playing soccer from the other players or the official who made a controversial call would generally be considered inappropriate.

Similarly, I may want my parents to be happy, but if I begin to focus on their choices and trying to force or willing them to make choices that I believe would make them happy, then I am trying to control them or create their experiences for them. Even if it is motivated out of concern for my parents, my attitude and actions are inappropriate.

I may have a long string of arguments (which I may think of as “reasons”) that my choices are superior to theirs. I may be able to cite numerous examples from the past in which their choices were wrong or my choices were better or right. I may be clear that if only they would make the right choices, my relationship with them would be greatly improved and everyone would be happier.

However, none of that would justify my efforts to control or create for another. Nor would it make my attempts to control or create for them successful. Furthermore, the nature of the string of “reasons” fits the profile of an ego drama and in fact, to the extent that I become immersed in the effort to change someone or something in the external world to fix something in my internal experience, it is my ego drama.

Rather than being outwardly focused, release attachment to the externally defined outcome and be aware of your internal experience directly. There is no need to speak of and manipulate your internal experience through the external world. Feel it and work with it directly. In the example with my parents, I can be much more effective and respectful if I focus on my relationship with them and what I want to feel in my relationship. I can let go of how they feel and what they are doing to focus on how I feel and what I am doing.

Trying to control and manipulate the external world to get a specific result in order to change your internal state is like trying to pick up a quarter using chopsticks while wearing oven mitts, all the while working behind your back and watching through a mirror you hold over your shoulder. Why bother? Just lay down the chopsticks and mirror, take off the mitts, turn around, and pick up the quarter.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Flow

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by DCH Park

I remember learning in high school ecology class that it is helpful to view the interactions of various parts of the system in terms of the energy flow through the system. As different organisms absorb energy to sustain life processes, they also store energy in the form of body tissue and molecules that are used specifically for energy storage. Other organisms then consume these tissues, absorb the energy they store, and use it in turn to power their own life processes and growth.

Looking at ecology in this way brings the whole system into view, not just individual components. It promotes understanding each component, both environmental and biological, within and as part of the overall context. Focusing on individual organisms or environmental factors tends to sharpen your view of that component at the expense of your cognizance of the whole context.

For example, understanding the biology of lions on the Serengeti might help you appreciate lions better, but may lead to critical misunderstandings. If your goal was to help increase the lion population, for example, you might ban hunting or strictly control human intervention into their breeding grounds. However, the resulting increase in the lion population might lead to over-predation of their natural prey, causing a population crash as their food stocks become depleted. In trying to help, you might actually make things much worse.

Understanding instead how energy flows through the lions’ ecology would promote appreciation of the overall balance and how the lions’ health and robustness is just one expression of the health and robustness of the interconnected whole. Promoting any single part of the overall system upsets the balance and ultimately produces serious consequences for the system and its various components.

This same principle applies in other veins as well. For example, consider water. Seen as an isolated body of water, a single lake or stream may not seem very important. In fact, the potential economic benefits from using the lake or stream for industrial waste might seem very appealing.

However, viewing the lake or stream as part of an overall system that includes humans changes this somewhat. Consider that the water in the stream flows through all of the organisms in the ecology, including humans, as surely as it flows in the stream to the sea, through the ground, and through the air and clouds. Like the lions, humans are part of a larger system whose overall health is expressed in the degree of human robustness or fragility.

In fact, humans are parts of many such systems. Understanding and insights from one system can be fruitfully applied to others. For example, one way to understand the current global economic situation is in terms of balance, just as in ecology. One or two segments of the world economy began emphasizing their own economic growth at the expense of the rest of the system. As the overall system fell out of balance, it became increasingly unstable until the whole thing began to fail, just as too many lions can throw the whole Serengeti out of balance.

On a more personal and immediate level, I find that it can be helpful to recognize the flow rather than the thing. It is more helpful in understanding the overall system to view the flow of energy through an ecology rather than the different things that various plants and animals “eat.” Similarly, instead of focusing on time, solving problems, money, health, or whatever you feel is in short supply, try focusing on the flow that these things are a part of.

For example, if you feel squeezed financially, focus on the flow of money, not the money. This flow is like the flow in a rushing mountain river. It is clear, cold, and invigorating. It can feel refreshing just to be near it. If you are thirsty, there is more than enough to drink streaming by every second. In fact, there is more than enough water streaming by every minute to meet all of your needs for an entire day.

It doesn’t make sense to worry about this cup of water or that drop or spill because a thousand more are coming every second. It doesn’t make sense to try to hold onto the cup of water in your hand because water held stagnant for too long grows stale and unhealthful. Drink it, use it, or give it back to the river.

The same principles can illuminate your relationship with money, time, or anything else you feel is in short supply. Recognize that it flows as part of a mighty stream and in myriad ways through the system, just was water flows as a river and as rain, snow, and fog. Let go of striving or grasping for any particular thing and relax in your connection to the flow.

There is a sense of undeniable inevitability to the flow of water in a river. This same sureness is also characteristic of the flows of money, time, solutions, etc. through the world. You just have to be open to the flow.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Releasing Blocks

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by DCH Park

A friend recently reminded me of a simple and powerful truth. She put it in a way that I had not heard before and very much appreciated. – There is a difference between doing what makes you happy and being happy with what you are doing.

It can be easy to lose sight of the second when we’re busy working on the first. But it is no less important or valid a practice than understanding and creating your ideal job, home, or family. In fact, while living in the world it can become critically important to practice being happy with what you are doing.

The alternative is to grumble and resent what you are doing or to avoid what you don’t enjoy. Neither leads to greater freedom or flow. One woman was stressed about her financial situation. She had studied success principles, including Abraham Hicks, and recognizing that she did not enjoy dealing with or even looking at her finances, chose instead to watch DVDs. She was trying to focus her energy on things that she enjoyed in order to be a better match for her desired state of financial freedom.

The net effect of many months of this was that her financial situation became worse than ever. She was finally forced to deal with her finances and by the time this occurred, she had far fewer options and resources than she had had to begin with.

Sometimes, rather than being task or situation dependent, things that we don’t enjoy come into our experience attached to another person. Perhaps someone is annoying, needy, or manipulative. Perhaps someone is angry, vindictive, or mean. For some reason, the other person is unpleasant. When that person walks into the room, it can ruin the whole day.

One option might be to simply leave the room. If that works and you are always able to leave the room when that person comes in, then that may be all you need to do. However, it is often the case that you can’t simply leave whenever the other person shows up. You may have to work with that person or he or she may be a family member. Even if you can leave the room, perhaps you continue to brood and grumble long afterward.

In such cases, rather than stew and grumble and complain about him behind his back, it is far better to notice your reaction and remember that the other person has as much right to be who he is as you do to be who you are. In this way, resentment and friction can at least be contained and focus can be directed to tasks at hand.

However, merely containing something is a form of resistance. It does not heal the rift out of which annoyance springs. Thus, over time, the annoyance is likely to grow. Simply recognizing the other person’s choices and reaffirming boundaries can a gentle way of creating distance and separation. There is no sense of enjoying contact with the other person. At best contact is tolerated resentfully until it can be ended. As such, containment and reaffirming boundaries can be a path into ego and drama.

If this annoyance is part of a pattern – if wherever you go you find one person who inspires the same sense of annoyance or if you are instantly annoyed with anyone who reminds you of the other person in any way, for example – perhaps the most fruitful place to look for a common cause of the annoyance is in the common factor. You.

In my personal experience, the practice of being happy with what I am doing often begins with recognizing what I am feeling. Long-standing patterns and triggered emotions can be traced back and resolved but only after stepping out of the ego’s story. By stepping out of the drama, even by only a tiny bit, it becomes possible to truly notice what is going on. This is often the first step in letting go of what is holding us back.

How much of the world goes by with only the slightest amount of recognition? When someone says something to you, do you look at him or her or do you simply reply with your head down, not wanting to look away from what you are doing? At such moments are you really present with either the person speaking or your task? How much do you really notice of your drive to work or morning coffee?

Be present with yourself and what you are doing. Take time to really notice what you feel, see, taste, or smell. If it is unpleasant, ask yourself what about it is unpleasant. You may find that in being present and open enough to fully experience it, it is not really unpleasant at all. The unpleasantness may actually result from an expectation that also precludes being fully present with the experience. As you release the preconceptions that get in the way of the experience, you may simultaneously release the expectations of unpleasantness.

In Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards makes the point that when you really look at a face, noticing all of the parts and how they fit together, how they interact with each other, you notice that every face is beautiful – not at all the impression gained from common, everyday observation. This same truth applies to all experience. Be fully present. Heal what presents for healing. Enjoy the rest.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Releasing Blocks

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by DCH Park

Lately, I’ve been noticing people have been feeling frustrated or stymied by blocks to progress. For some, old patterns that have been dormant for some time have been resurfacing. Others are recognizing new patterns that nevertheless resonate with or remind them of things from the past. Triggered emotions and memories have been taking them back to defining events in their lives that they haven’t consciously thought about in decades.

I find that when this sort of thing happens, it is a signal that something is presenting, providing an opportunity to heal. As we have discussed here before, triggered emotions, especially emotions that feel out of proportion with current circumstances, are often tied to recurring patterns that are rooted in a decision or assumption that we have made about the world, how things are, and who we need to be.

Tracing the emotional glow back to this anchoring decision or assumption can lead to deep healing and release. Sitting with the triggered emotion without judgment and noticing what it is reminiscent of can lead to surprising and useful insights. This is a way to avoid sinking into the patterned story and cut through to what it is that can be healed, much as you focus on cleaning the house and not the mess you make along the way.

Others have been finding their forward progress blocked by an unexpected obstacle. Forward momentum, which had been building for a while, seems suddenly stopped as the obstacle is realized. Like a boulder that drops into a stream, the obstacle suddenly blocks all avenues for continued progress.

Just as the water is cut off from its customary channel by the bolder, you are cut off from continued progress in the customary or expected manner by the block. How can you deal with this? It can be very frustrating to suddenly find that what you had planned and expected to do is not easy or possible.

Some would, no doubt, dig their heels in and redouble their efforts to drive on to a conclusion, intending to demolish the obstacle in the process. This might be likened to the water in the stream forcing its way through the boulder so that it can get to the open streambed on the other side.

Notice how hard that would be for the water and how poor the results would be. Even if the stone were porous enough for the water to seep through, it seems very doubtful that very much would reach the other side very fast. – A lot of hard work for very meager results.

In fact, this is the case in life, too. Whenever we find ourselves blocked by a difficult obstacle, there may come a time when trying harder to work around it or with it is self-defeating. It is like trying to flow through stone.

At such times, it can be helpful to remember the water. What does the water do? It pools up in front of the stone. It continues to grow deeper until it finds another way to flow. It has no connection to the erstwhile streambed. It flows wherever it can.

In the same fashion, we can sit with our blockages. As we sit with them, growing deeper in our presence with the block, the block and any associated triggered emotion reveal their natures to us. We can see the block for what it is and how it is anchored in our experience, either as something that we created stemming from a long standing pattern, or as an obstacle spoiling our plans.

In either case, it is helpful to always remain nonjudgmental and to be open to releasing plans and expectations for exactly what and how you will (or “should”) make progress. The water doesn’t care about the streambed. It only wants to flow downhill. It is completely unattached to how it flows or even where it flows, as long as it is downhill.

What attachments or assumptions do you have to plans, expectations, ideas about what should happen, or how it happens? To what extent are you attached to a specific outcome? Are your assumptions about your plans or even about other people’s reactions tying you to a particular route? What would happen if you let go of the streambed and simply flowed downhill toward your goal?

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Possibilities

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by DCH Park

One of the most common and subtle ways that we learn to stand in our own ways is to close ourselves off to possibilities. When we do this, we close ourselves off to success because we limit the ways in which we recognize forward progress toward success or even success itself.

This is ironic from a success point of view because this closing off often occurs as a result of trying to improve our chances of realizing success, even though we achieve the exact opposite. One friend recently described the process that he follows to achieve success. He begins by carefully researching his goal and available routes to getting there. He then weighs different options and chooses the one that appeals to him the most – either because of cost, practicality, probability of success, humorous appeal, or some other constellation of factors.

He then commits to his chosen course, forsaking all of the others, and proceeds to execute on his plan, step by step. Certainly this approach seems reasonable. It is after all how many who grew up in American culture were taught how to be successful. And although strictly speaking, it dos not preclude success, it does tend to restrict how success may be achieved and may actually slow it down if it is achieved at all. Every time success approaches from an unexpected direction, it will go unnoticed or even be actively blocked because it did not come according to plan.

Nevertheless, for many, there is a feeling of safety in a thoroughly researched and considered plan. Following the plan may not be exciting, but it feels safe. However, if something happens to derail progress and block the plan from succeeding, this sense of safety can suddenly flip. Instead of safety and progress, you feel stuck, lost, or exposed. Panic can set in.

Thus, the sense of safety that comes from following the plan can be seen as the obverse of fear, feeling stuck, and feeling lost. It is a product of ego, born of the belief that things will go wrong if you don’t do something deliberately. Without control (says ego), you have chaos and chaos is bad. It is unpredictable. It is unknown.

The void seems terrifying but it is actually simply that – a void, emptiness. In itself, the void simply is. It is the ego which projects all of the worst things imaginable onto or into the void. Imaginary catastrophes and monsters seem to creep in every shadow. It is this projection of the ego and its accompanying fear that the plan offers solace from – the same plan that ego has invested itself into.

So the ego projects fears into the unknown and then offers a way to feel safe from the feared projection. The fear offers an opportunity to cling to the ego’s plan quite passionately.

However, is it true that the universe relentlessly takes every chance to make things worse? Is the universe like a maladjusted child gleefully destroying its toys or a vast machine relentlessly pulping anyone who gets caught in its clockwork mechanism?

As comforting as the latter supposition may be to the intellect or the ego, it fails to account for the repeated observation that attitude and attraction matter. Cultivating a positive attitude and practicing principles of success attraction make a difference. According to various experts who have studied this question and anecdotal reports of numerous individuals who have achieved success, it not only makes a difference, it makes all the difference.

Thus, to the success-attractive person, the universe is not a scary place, full of monsters or clockwork gears. To the success-attractive person, the universe is a place full of vast possibilities, both in terms of what we desire and in terms of how it can come to us. The void is full of possibilities for surprise, success, and delight. The possibilities are so vast that they extend beyond what we can imagine our limits to be.

The chaos that those who plan and control try to eliminate is actually a direct experience of the open territory within which new possibilities emerge. It is the void that opens new creation, the nothingness that precedes being.

Open to possibility where none seems to exist. It is an illusion that possibilities seem to be absent. What assumptions, expectations, and definitions do you think very often that support these illusions? What would happen if you unwound these thoughts and dropped the illusions? What becomes possible?

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Recognizing Ego – Why

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by DCH Park

We have touched on concepts and practices that are useful in recognizing ego in this series in the past.

As you may recall from these previous discussions, emotional reactions of struggle, fear, exhaustion, and numbness (also described as nothingness or disengagement) are all signs of being immersed in ego drama. When we are immersed in the drama, the limits of the ego seem to be undeniably real. They can feel constricting, which commonly results in frustration over the sense of confinement.

Often there is another, subtler ego drama waiting to trap those who are present enough to recognize that they have been triggered. This second layer of ego is reflected in the question, “Why?”

The drama is different. It is a drama of a quest. Its emotional flavor is different but it effectively distracts us from the original triggered emotion and its structure by drawing us into the chase. Naturally, pursuing the quest occupies the intellect and draws focus and energy away from the original triggered reaction, giving it a chance to cool. This, combined with the intellectual distraction of the puzzle, draws us into the quest story. Ironically, in our pursuit of the answer to why we are triggered, we don’t even notice that we have left the original trigger far behind, still intact.

The quest itself is an illusion. Since the trigger is still in place, it is ready to be triggered all over again at a later time. Thus, the trigger has actually been reinforced, since anything that we practice grows stronger.

To better understand the nature of the quest drama, notice first that it is a puzzle – a mystery that we are compelled to follow and solve intellectually. The story of the quest is that by bringing sufficient logical reasoning to bear, we can solve the problem once and for all, like a mathematical problem asking us to compute the time when two trains traveling in opposite directions will pass each other if one leaves New York at 10:00 going at 60 miles per hour and the second leaves LA at 11:00 traveling at 80 miles an hour.

However, this quest is a trap. The desired solution does not exist. It is an illusion, as are all of the creations of ego as well as the ego itself.

We can experience and describe the truth. We can express and illuminate the truth. But we cannot explain the truth. The truth simply is.

When someone holds a ball and then releases it, we observe it drop to the floor. However, the stories that we tell ourselves and each other about why the ball hits the floor have no more bearing on the truth than stories about why the floor was drawn up to hit the ball.

Any such quest to explain why you feel triggered over something is likely to end in unanswered questions coupled with a loss of connection to the trigged emotion or a blanketing sense of frustration because your questions are not yielding answers, no matter how persistently or creatively you ask them.

Instead of asking yourself, “Why is this happening?” or “Why do I feel this way?” notice what is triggered and ask, “What does this remind me of?” Look for patterns rather than blame (or someone else to push blame on to).

What patterns do you notice in your reactions and expectations? When you feel triggered, what does the triggered emotion remind you of? When you notice yourself asking, “Why?” recognize that as an invitation to dive into the ego drama of the quest and instead refocus on the triggered emotion and the pattern it reflects. Be open to recognizing the fears, decisions, and beliefs that the pattern is based upon. And be ready to realize the freedom to let those things go and to choose a different response.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Importance of Integrity

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by DCH Park

It has been said that as you progress in your personal and spiritual development, there comes a point when you realize that personal integrity is of central importance. This is an interesting idea. Why should this be so?

Isn’t it clear from business, social, and political interactions of all sorts that lying works? Examples are rife. For instance, I once worked with a couple of people who shared the view that only small children and fools are honest. They believed that mature business people understood that lying was part of the game and that advancement and money were made by gaining an advantage over others. One was a manager who had made a career out of stealing other people’s ideas. The other was hitching his wagon to the first one’s rising star.

This same attitude can be found in sports, where players work to fool officials into calling penalties against the opposing team by faking fouls and injury. It can even be found in popular entertainments, in numerous examples of “reality” programming that rewards duplicity with prizes and notoriety.

Must things be this way? Exactly this same question motivated the Twentieth Century mathematician, poet, and philosopher, Jacob Bronowski, to write a book of essays about morality called Science and Human Values. In it, he considered the question of whether concepts found in basic human morality, such as admonitions against lying, could be derived from simply living life or if some external factor, such as a religious edict, was necessary.

He took the approach summarized in Occam’s Razor and defined the simplest explanation that accounted for all of the observed phenomena to be the best. He further noted that primitive people were natural scientists. They had to be in order to gather together the discoveries and insights that allowed them to build fire, make clothes and tools, and hunt large prey. In other words, the very process of surviving required them to observe and discover how the natural world works – to be practicing scientists.

Since a natural and necessary part of the process of furthering scientific understanding involves sharing discoveries with others, there is not only a strong incentive to be truthful with others, there is a built-in method for detecting liars – by verifying claims in the natural world. Thus, if Og the caveman tells the other members of his clan that he has discovered a new way to make fire, those other clan members will be able to tell if Og lied by trying his new method.

If the clan finds that Og is lying, they have a strong incentive to cast him out because a liar can’t be trusted to help get food, only to consume whatever food the clan already has or that is procured by other members. If the clan allows Og to stay in spite of his disingenuousness, the vitality of the whole clan suffers. Over time, a clan that tolerates liars will be unable to compete with other clans who value honesty more highly, since the honest clans will have far fewer freeloaders.

In this way, Bronowski reasoned that derivation of basic human values can be seen as a natural consequence of surviving in the world. In a sense, the natural world inherently favors the development of morality as we understand it. From this perspective, the preponderance of lying in the modern world can be understood as an artifact of our success as a society. We are so rich and our economy has grown so complex that there is enough surplus capacity to allow liars to survive and thrive without impairing the whole society too much.

Such liars are like ticks sucking the blood of a dog. The dog is so huge that a single tick is not likely to impair the dog. Even many scores of ticks may go unnoticed. However, such blood loss will inevitably become a drag on the vitality and robustness of the animal and will, if left uncorrected, bring it down.

In exactly the same way, loss of integrity impairs your personal functioning. Even if no one else detects your lie, each lie is a message to your subconscious and your spirit about the true value of your word. After many lies, the impression that your subconscious has is that your word is not true. Thus, when you declare something that is important to you, such as something concerning your health, your family, or your career, your subconscious will have very little reason to believe your declaration any more than it did the other lies that you have told.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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“The Importance of Integrity” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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True Humility

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by DCH Park

In the popular consciousness (if that term is not an oxymoron), humility is seen as a virtue and is often characterized as the opposite of pride or vanity. It is often seen as a close relative of modesty and is understood to imply adopting an unassuming or unobtrusive manner. The church mouse is a humble creature.

In this view, humility is characterized as an attitude of not claiming exceptional accomplishments and, even beyond this, of not accepting compliments or acknowledgement for anything at all. Even deserved compliments for things that you have worked hard to achieve are habitually deflected or minimized for the sake of humility.

There are many tactics that people use toward this end. Some try to redirect attention back to the person who offered the compliment in the first place or toward someone or something else. Some minimize or deny the value or significance of the feat. Others simply refuse to accept praise or recognition.

For many, this is no doubt connected to a wish to avoid being vain or prideful. Pride is one of the classic “deadly sins,” and thus, something that is probably better avoided.

This also makes sense in spiritual and philosophical terms. If you were to claim ownership of an accomplishment that was not, in fact, yours, you would be lying. What’s more, this lie would presumably be told in order to gain praise or some other benefit. In other words, the lie is valued because of some external benefit that it leads to.

However, the benefit is being gained through deception. Thus, humility can be seen as a personal integrity issue. In telling the lie, you compromise your integrity and thus negate the value of any benefit that comes from the lie. In telling the lie, you give up something of yourself. You compromise yourself. You literally sell yourself (your integrity) through the lie to gain the external benefit. You “sell out.”

When seen as an integrity issue, it also becomes clear that denying what you have done is no better than claiming something that you haven’t done. In both cases, the truth of your accomplishments is hidden. In both cases you present a false picture of what you are capable of and who you are. In both cases the lie is told to secure some external benefit, although in the case of false humility, the benefit is often intangible.

True humility is an aspect of personal integrity. Seek to honor yourself with the truth of who you are and what you have done. Don’t deny the truth of who you are to yourself or to anyone else. Don’t accept praise for things you have not done. Don’t deny ownership for the things that you have done.

These are two faces of the same coin. You can’t have heads without also having tails.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Never Alone

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by DCH Park

Last week we considered the fact that energy and emotion that we share with others creates a recursive loop that effortlessly grows in strength. As each person receives or resists energy transmitted by the other while sending the same energy back to the other, the energy builds. This works with distrust, anger, and hatred as well as it does with openness, joy, and love.

It is a fundamental principle that can be observed in operation everywhere. Wherever there are two or more people interacting there is the potential for this principle to come into play. It is one way to understand the phenomenon of group or cooperative creation – what some call brainstorming. Napoleon Hill called it the Master Mind principle and recognized that it can be a powerful way to bring desired outcomes into your experience.

A successful Master Mind generates far more energy in much less time with much less effort than a lone person working in isolation can. Attitudes of openness and mutual support allow creativity and insight to deepen as the whole group enters a virtuous spiral that can carry them to great heights.

Of course, the same mechanism is also in operation when mutual distrust, antagonism, or one-upmanship is in play. Unfortunately it is currently common for people to find themselves in downward spirals. They often don’t even recognize the nature of the spiral that they are creating together. As this changes, and people realize that they have a choice, these downward spirals naturally become increasingly less prominent features until they virtually disappear.

Beyond this, though, notice that you don’t even need another person with whom to practice such mutual sharing and reinforcement. For example, notice the dynamic that a person shares with a beloved pet. Dogs are particularly well suited for this but just about any mammal and many non-mammals, especially some birds, do it very well, too.

For example, if the person feels agitated or excited, the pet will pick that up and begin to exhibit the same emotion. Then the person may feel it more intensely, emotion building as focus on the interaction sharpens. This serves to reinforce the pet’s behavior, which ramps up, and so on.

Even more interesting, it is not even necessary to have a pet or other animal to practice with. For example, spend some time in the woods, go for a walk in a safe place at night, take in the stars or moon, notice a pretty painting or flower, or sit alone in a quiet room. Notice how the sense of connection and ease of flow increase. After a while, the flow opens to reveal an ever finer structure of joy and love.

This is the nature of existence. All things are acts of joy and love. When we seek to create a new experience for ourselves, the universe or source does not simply bring the thing that we seek to us. It resonates with our desire and becomes the thing we seek. All things – including other people and pets – are made of the same divine essence.

That is why mutual sharing is so powerful. We reflect in however small a way our divine nature in becoming what is asked and shown. How could that be anything but powerful?

This also why, in truth, you don’t need another person to practice with. Another person can help in providing a convenient focus, but you are never far from your own divine nature nor the divine nature of everything. Even the most mundane experience is in essence divine and full of wonder and beauty. Allow your awareness of this beauty, wonder, and joy to be felt. Notice how your appreciation of these things can form the foundation of an upward spiral whose boundaries are potentially limited only by the extents of existence itself.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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“Never Alone” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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