Restitution and Responsibility – I

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by DCH Park

When I was a Boy Scout, at one point I was an assistant Den leader for a group of younger Cub Scouts. I don’t recall many details of how or when I started working with the Cubs or what we did, but I do recall very clearly one horrendous incident which, in retrospect, I realize probably led directly to my being quietly and gracefully dropped from the Den.

There was a festival or celebration coming up and each den had to put on a skit, song, or presentation before the entire Pack and their families at the upcoming monthly Pack meeting. The meeting would be held in the elementary school auditorium and each Den had to perform on stage.

In the weeks running up to the big celebration, my Den were struggling with what they could do so I suggested a variation on a gag that I had once seen in an old movie. The boys would start onstage, pulling a rope that led offstage right, obviously in a game of tug-of-war. They would struggle and strain but gradually win as they inched offstage left, leaving only the rope visible as it stretched from wing to wing. Then the same group of boys would struggle from offstage right as they were pulled across the stage (by themselves (presumably offstage left) and off into the wings.

There were no lines to memorize and the sight gag of the Den struggling with themselves in a tug-of-war was clever and sure to elicit a good response. However, we did not plan well and we failed to even rehearse. On the evening of the performance, we tried it for the first time in front of the whole Pack and everyone’s family. In our confidence from the apparent simplicity of gag, we overlooked having someone standing in the wings offstage left to hold the rope while the boys scrambled behind the backdrop to stage right.

However, that wasn’t the critical failure. As soon as the curtain rose and the boys started to tug (with me offstage, holding the other end of the rope), I snapped into a kind of automatic pattern and forgot all about the skit. Perhaps it was the lack of rehearsal, perhaps it was the nervous energy combined with the feel of the rope in my hands and the tug-of-war scenario, but I lost all context and started to pull against the boys in earnest. I even asked a friend who happened to be backstage with me to help!

I remember a few laughs from the audience as we pulled the confused and angry Cubs off stage. I beamed in pleasure over “winning” the game. I didn’t realize how seriously I had misfired until I saw the scowls and heard the angry comments from the Cubs. They had very reasonably surmised that I had perfidiously tricked them. To all appearances I had deliberately made them look like fools to get a few laughs from their families.

As shocked realization rushed into my awareness, I was at a loss to comprehend or convey my bewilderment or ruefulness for what I had done. In the emotional swirl, even my apology, which was the one thing that I was clear about, was lost. I could utter nothing, which naturally did nothing to propitiate bruised Cub Scout egos.

What can be done to heal injury like this that results from actions by another or that someone else suffers because of your actions? Apologies and philosophies like “forgive and forget” seem empty and fruitless, even disingenuous. Indeed, popular “wisdom” views such things as admissions of weakness and recommends against them altogether with aphorisms such as “Never let’em see you sweat.”

But this attitude seems harsh to everyone, including yourself. It certainly has no room for any kind of healing or growth other than the “school of hard knocks” variety, which tends to lead to a hardened, cynical attitude that only promotes further immersion into the ego-drama of a hostile world characterized by a dynamic of “injure and be injured.” Might there be a way to deal with such transgressions in a more open and honest way? Is it possible to heal such injuries so that they don’t fester with guilt, remorse, anger, or worse? What alternative is there to repression or actively ignoring a transgression, especially if it was unintended and/or something that happened many years ago?

There is a prescription for healing the wounds caused by such transgressions, whether they were deliberate or not. It can be initiated as either the wounded party or as the transgressor. It can even be performed if the other party is unavailable due to distance, time, or death.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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A New Way

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by DCH Park

As I write this, what is perhaps the biggest story not in the news is the one about the Occupation of Wall Street. Interestingly, very little if anything of real substance has filtered through the established media in spite of the fact that the occupation has been completely peaceful and has grown to include thousands of people in cities across the nation. My first assumption was that this was because the media owners saw their interests as being at odds with those of the occupiers. However, I have come to sense that although this initial assumption may not be wholly unfounded, there is also a deeper, more profound challenge facing the media in covering the occupation. They don’t know how to talk about it.

In what may be the earliest cogent report on the intent and practices of the occupiers of Wall Street and sibling occupations springing up in other cities, NPR’s Planet Money reported from the field to interview some of the occupiers on the street and get a flavor of what they are doing. The podcast of the episode, titled “What Is Occupy Wall Street?” can be found at The first half of the podcast is very illuminating although I personally found the second half to be less helpful.

What strikes me about this most poignantly is how thoroughly grassroots it is. Many political and economic movements paint themselves as grassroots even though they are actually well-funded and controlled by established interests. However, the Occupy Wall Street movement feels wholly different. For example, NY police didn’t want the occupiers to use mechanical amplification. So at their nightly general assemblies they created the “peoples’ microphone,” which uses no electronic or mechanical amplification at all yet allows the hundreds of assembled occupiers to hear everything said by a speaker.

The occupiers don’t have a central authority or agenda. They reflect a broad spectrum of the American people, including labor unions, recent college graduates who can’t find jobs, grandmothers, and ex-marines. All of this naturally makes it difficult for the mainstream media to talk about the occupation intelligently since they don’t have any of the handles that the media use to categorize and color people. They don’t fit into the closed structure through which the media view and present the world.

Of course, this is exactly the point of the movement. If any one thing unifies the occupiers, it is that they each feel disenfranchised by the current political, economic, and media infrastructure. They haven’t felt heard or counted, so they have come together to form a community in which they can be heard and valued. As one of the people who has facilitated discussion at a general assembly affirmed, the point of the movement is to create “a venue, not a movement. Standing around discussing what they want – that’s what they want.”

This is a purer form of participatory democracy than we have come to expect in America today. Is it any wonder that it is so mystifying to the established power structure?

This raises an interesting question. Earlier this year, when the debt ceiling crisis was being forced to a head by the radical minority in Congress, pundits seemed pretty uniform in saying that historically, Americans have always been remarkably good at finding ways to survive crises that seemed to threaten the nation’s doom and go on to become stronger and more prosperous than ever before. They were also uniform in saying they did not know what form such a creative, transformational solution might take, but they were confident that it would happen. Could Occupy Wall Street be a foreshadowing of such a change? Could it in fact be more than just a harbinger of what may come, but the leading edge of a new zeitgeist?

Another historical pattern is that the established power structure always lacks the perspective and openness to recognize or even clearly see radically new patterns of behavior and expectation, perhaps especially at times when these new ways are critical for the survival and evolutionary transformation of society. Is Occupy Wall Street an example of this kind of evolutionary shift unfolding in the world right now?

It is said that we are now in the transition from darkness to light in the world. In the Vedic tradition, the Kali Yuga or 10,000 years of darkness yields to the Satya Yuga or 10,000 years of light, in which it is said that nothing will be beyond the grasp of the minds and heart of humanity. Is it an accident that the Vedic tradition, astrological predictions about the Age of Aquarius, and the end of the Mayan calendar, to name a few, all point to the present era as the time of significant change in the world? Could Occupy Wall Street be nothing more than the latest, most visible sign that we are not alone is seeking to create positive change?

Perhaps Dali was right in his implication about the origin of the enlightened future of humanity depicted in Geopoliticus. Perhaps the peoples of North America have a pivotal and as yet unrealized role to play in the emergence of humanity into a new age of enlightenment.

It is worth noting that there is precedent for this. When America was a new concept and nation, the established nations of the world had trouble understanding what it was all about. They could sense that something was different and that it might be important, but they could not understand how or why. This prompted Alexis de Tocqueville to study America during his trip here from his native Europe. It is historical record that he spent only 9 months here. Nevertheless, he produced an enduring classic about Americans and their curious and remarkable form of participatory democracy. Interestingly, much of Tocqueville’s description of democratic process in Democracy In America captured in the early 1800s the same flavor as Occupy Wall Street does today.

It is ironic that quintessentially American democracy should be as baffling to the American political, economic, and media establishment today as it was to the European aristocracy 200 years ago. Yet, as noted above, that is often the way of truly new or original paradigms and sometimes even of powerful, revived or reinvented paradigms.

What is true on one level is true on others. How often have you felt that you were not understood or accepted personally by others because you chose to honor your own sense of what is right instead of going along with everyone else? Perhaps you were even ridiculed by others. If nothing else comes from Occupy Wall Street, it is clear that your experience of being different was not a unique one. The number of people who seek to live in accordance with their inner truth is vast and we are creating new communities and new ways of honoring ourselves and each other. We are the rising tide that promises to flood the world and wash it clean – to open a new dawn of truth and enlightenment.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Nature of Evil

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by DCH Park

Evil has become a mainstay in modern society. It is common for leaders and pundits to characterize those who oppose them as evil, especially in times of war or elections. To be fair, this is not new. Religious traditions exuberantly embrace notions of evil and demons, although it is interesting to note that historically, the demonic angel who came to be identified eventually as the source of all evil in Judeo-Christian traditions was originally seen as a loyal servant of the divine creator – a kind of royal prosecutor who brought cases against humans during their life’s reckoning. His task was to keep things honest.

The image of Satan and other demonic angels as irredeemably evil only developed slowly over centuries. Of course, now it is a staple in movies and books. It is a convenient concept because once a villain has been revealed to be evil, the reader or filmgoer knows that no further energy has to be devoted to understanding or sympathizing with that character. He or she is evil. It is OK to relax and enjoy the absolute decimation of the character because he is evil.

Perhaps the characterization of one’s opponents as evil serves the same purpose in life beyond books and movies – in politics and business, for example. By defining your opponent as evil, you automatically gain the moral high ground and justify anything as long as it is done to combat evil. Of course, returning from such extreme positions to civil interactions can be very difficult.

Does it have to be this way? Especially in light of the historical fact that evil as a concept did not always exist in its current form, it seems clear that people were able to get along and deal with very complex matters perfectly well without extreme characterizations of evil. Do we need them at all or worse, do they end up balkanizing us as a people – setting neighbor against neighbor for immediate term political expediency? If the latter is the case, who stands to benefit if the whole society is diminished or brought down altogether by entrenched infighting?

What is the nature of evil? Is there such a thing as evil and if so why does it exist? In contemplating these questions, one thing seems clear. As you accept that evil exists and expect to find it, you will. Once this concept is accepted, the only reasonable response is to either embrace evil fully or reject it completely. In other words, to join the war on one side or the other and battle ceaselessly until one side or the other is completely destroyed.

Naturally, this is exactly where many traditions that embrace the notion of evil end up – with a final, cosmic struggle between forces of good and evil. Of course, these same traditions place a great deal of importance on which side of the struggle survives and tend to strenuously emphasize the importance of aligning oneself with their chosen side. But different traditions identify other traditions as evil while also identifying themselves and their friends as good.

How can anyone be right in claiming that everyone else is wrong? Is it possible that they are all wrong and also all right? What possibilities would open up if we entertained for a moment that they are all right – they are good – and let go of the notion of evil? After all, one view is that what we call evil is really nothing more than someone or something that is out of place in some way.

For example, in the body, a malignant tumor is generally considered bad. It might be seen as evil or malicious if it is particularly aggressive and invasive. However, the same traits that make the cancer seem fearsome also characterize a fetus or young child as it grows and a healthy response to injury – rapid growth. In the cancer, this growth is unchecked and out of place, so it becomes problematic.

Socially, the spread of Europeans across America was problematic. Natives often characterized colonials as white devils and colonists saw natives as red devils. Neither saw themselves as evil. Living on the same land, dealing with the same weather and conditions, they probably had much in common, yet, they failed to realize this in part because understanding stops once you define another as evil.

Alternatively, when you find yourself dealing with something or someone whom you do not understand and forebear branding it, him, or her as evil, you hold open the possibility of coming to mutual understanding. From such understanding, anything is possible. Possibilities other than annihilation resolve in out of the mist of uncertainty and opportunities for choice appear.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Easy Discipline

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by DCH Park

What is discipline? Very simply, it can be characterized as exercise of will. In this regard, it seems to be clearly related to choice and personal power. However, in most popular notions of discipline, there is also an element of overcoming or obliterating opposition, particularly resistance or opposition arising from personal desires.

Thus, exercising discipline in following a diet or doing work, for example, is commonly seen as a struggle between what you “know” to be true or best and what you might prefer to do in the moment. Discipline in this perspective is a matter of denying yourself “for your own good.”

Two things become immediately obvious in this respect. One is that such discipline rarely works. It can feel like locking yourself into a straightjacket to slavishly follow whatever routine or course you have accepted as the right thing to do. No wonder that diets usually fail. The part of yourself that you deny only grows stronger and more insistent with continued denial.

Ultimately it can (and usually does) completely overwhelm the discipline, at which point the relief of getting out of the metaphorical straightjacket combines with the relishment of indulging in foods or activities that have been denied to make the sense of exuberant relief and freedom at least momentarily intoxicating.

In contrast, if discipline is not overwhelmed, opposition to the adopted routine is ultimately crushed. Along with the opposition, of course, the spirit of that opposition is crushed or disowned as well. This doesn’t sound like it is a problem until you recall that the opposition or resistance that you crush is coming from you. It is the part of the self that you deny in exercising discipline. In crushing that spirit, you are crushing a part of yourself. This can lead to a pervasive feeling of hopelessness and despair that drains the sparkle and savor out of life.

Between these two extremes, there lies constant struggle. As long as this struggle goes on, the march toward ultimate loss of soul continues and the prospects for orgiastic surrender to rampant desires amidst the ruins of your aspirations or joyless victory in the sterile landscape of discipline loom larger and larger.

By setting yourself in opposition to yourself, you set yourself up for defeat one way or another. Either your discipline succeeds and you decimate your intuition and flow in the name of crushing uncontrolled impulses or your discipline fails and you lose your intention in the avalanche of pent-up desires. It’s an interesting game in which, like all of the games of ego and illusion, the only winning move is not to play. By deigning to play at all you accept that the principle part of the illusion – that there is separation, for example between what you do and what you are – is real and important.

It is in your acceptance of this illusion as fact that you accept the notion that you cannot trust yourself and thus lose yourself. Instead, consider that your passions are valuable instead of annoying distractions. Trust yourself. If you feel drawn toward a certain food or activity, trust that there is good reason for that. Either it is an expression of your deepest being or it is an expression of something that blocks your deepest being.

If it is the latter, then as soon as you gain clarity about what it is and why you have put it in your way, you can recognize and exercise the freedom to release it and heal the wound it is connected to. In healing the wound, you increase the level of freedom you have to express and enjoy your deepest truth.

Of course, distinguishing between pure expressions of your being and expressions of blockages can be tricky. However, in both cases, the expression itself is an important key to unlocking the truth and your connection to it. To be sure, tools and support are available to assist anyone who sincerely wants to become free and clear and many of the most useful begin with honest expression and exploration of whatever is present.

As blocks are recognized and expressed, a remarkable thing begins to emerge. It slowly becomes clear that the things your deepest being calls you to do and enjoy are the things that are best for you. In other words, as you clean up yourself, the conflict between what you “ought to do” and what you want to do disappears. It becomes apparent that you are drawn to eat certain foods, engage in certain activities, and associate with certain people (for example) and not others and that the things you are drawn to are good for you.

Discipline is no longer an issue at this point because doing what is good for you is the easiest thing to do. Things that are not good for you are not attractive, even though they might have seemed alluring in the past. Even contemplating doing them is difficult because to do them, you would have to actively ignore the awareness that you don’t want to do them and that you are not having fun.

A path to this happy state lies through awareness. Notice what you are feeling and what those feelings remind you of. Let go of expectations, attachments, and judgments. As you bring greater levels of pure awareness to whatever is present in each moment, your ability to distinguish between your truth and your blocks will grow. As your discernment grows sharper, your ability to choose grows with it. Eventually, you come to recognize that doing the right thing is the easiest thing you can do.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Trust Your Connection

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by DCH Park

Last time, we considered two common ways that people use to validate the truth of something. One was social trends and behaviors and the other was intellectual validation. Although they look very different and exercise different ”muscles,” it became clear that in both cases, the truest test for whether or not something has value is in whether it makes sense to you. Personal experience is the ultimate basis for validating a proposition.

This is fine for situations that resemble or can be logically connected to previous experience, but what about wholly new situations or those which call for original insights or creative approaches? What can you base a decision about the validity of a proposition on when you have no previous experience to proceed from?

The sober truth is that sometimes, there simply isn’t enough information or previous experience to rely on. In such instances it is helpful to be able to relax into the unknown. This can feel uncomfortable but it is the basis of all knowledge. Before we learn enough about the world to form expectations and preferences, we are open to new experiences. We have to be because everything is new.

By relaxing into the unknown, we become familiar with it through experience. We learn its colors and moods. We form expectations that B follows A because we notice that sequence often. If we are observant, we begin to perceive nuances that can signal important variations. The more familiar we are with something, the more such nuances become apparent.

For example, several years ago, several soldiers were captured overseas and held hostage for an extended period. During their incarceration, they were tortured and forced to read statements denouncing US policies and admitting their personal guilt in committing illegal operations in support of these policies. However, in reading the statements, they were able to introduce variations in pronunciation and idiom that made it clear to their families and colleagues that the statements were being coerced. Their captors, who did not know them well, did not notice these nuances.

This level of familiarity with something or someone develops over time only as a result of living with the unknown. In the previous example, the customary speech patterns of the captured servicemen would only become familiar after an extended period of contact with them with an open attitude toward their speech patterns. Only by relaxing with an open attitude would it be possible to receive or perceive their natural rhythms and patterns of speech.

In exactly the same fashion, learning any new thing is only possible with an open attitude and a willingness to receive whatever might come. This is the attitude that distinguishes a great scientist or any truly creative individual from a dogmatist – the willingness to relax into the unknown. All knowledge comes from the unknown and it is through openness and relaxing into the unknown that we can make it known. In other words, to create (or discover) new knowledge, we must first soak in the unknown.

This is an attitude that is somewhat alien or out of place in a social context of making money and gaining advantage. It has been said that the smart business person does not take unnecessary risks. The smart business person focuses on minimizing risk and eliminating it whenever possible. In this way, he or she can assure a profit. A guaranteed profit of modest size is greatly preferable to the possibility of a large profit combined with a probability of losing everything.

From such a perspective, the most difficult risk is one that is completely unknown since there is no way to determine ahead of time how much profit might be had or what the chances of losing everything might be. This helps to make sense of the observation that, in spite of the popular idea of the so-called first movers’ advantage, it is actually the second mover who often benefits the most. There are numerous examples of industries that are dominated by big players who were not the ones who created the industry in the first place. After the first movers created the industry and had defined certain avenues to success, second movers were able to nimbly move in and take advantage of their predecessors’ mistakes and take the lead. In other words, by making the unknown risks known, the first movers made it easier for the second movers to move in.

For someone concerned primarily with minimizing losses and maximizing profits, an open attitude toward the unknown and relaxing into the unknown sounds crazy. There is no way to reliably quantify risks or potential rewards, so there is no way to evaluate unknown “opportunities.” A business-minded person naturally shies away from such situations and favors well understood scenarios.

If everyone were to adopt this attitude, it might ultimately lead to loss of cultural and economic vigor as everyone “played it safe” and no one dared to explore, discover, or create anything new. It is similarly true individually that operating from fear of loss of anything constricts your ability to relax into the unknown. It can have other consequences, too, including timidity, anxiety, and emotional breakdown. What causes such debilitating fear?

Consider that fear of loss is rooted in a belief that you are absolutely separate and alone in a universe that is capricious or at best, indifferent. Fear of loss only makes sense if it is possible to lose. If someone expressed fear of losing a limb from crawling into bed, your reaction would be different from your reaction to hearing them express the same fear upon jumping a motorcycle over a row of cars or walking across a busy street.

Is fear of going to bed really different from fear of jumping a motorcycle or of crossing the street? What makes one fear seem more plausible than another is the beliefs that we have about them, which we can explore by noticing the scenarios about them that we entertain in our imagination. Crossing the street can be extremely hazardous but most Americans do it every day without hesitation or a second thought.

They cross the street successfully because they don’t focus on the danger. They focus on the process of crossing the street. If instead, they focused on the possible dangers, they might never step off the curb and if they did, they might actually precipitate the accident that they fear so mightily.

It sounds strange to someone wrapped up in a perspective of separation and fear of loss, but there really is no separation between you and God or the universe. Divine love and wisdom is infinitely loving, powerful, and patient. It never tells us what we should be or do. It never insists on being heard, but it is always present. As soon as we release expectations and attachments and open ourselves to whatever may come, divine love, wisdom, and healing make themselves manifest.

They can be most clearly heard and felt in the open silence that follows a question. This open stance is the same as that used to relax into the unknown. Just as we can become familiar with someone’s speech patterns, the shifting moods of the sea and sky, and the nuances of a garden through relaxing into the unknown, we can become familiar with the ever present fountain of love, light, and wisdom that surges within our deepest selves.

Fear blocks awareness of this fountain but it doesn’t touch the fountain itself. It can’t. All it takes to renew awareness of the fountain is openness sans expectation and attachment. With practice, awareness crystallizes into access and then solidifies into ready connection and trust.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Trust Yourself

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by DCH Park

How do you decide whether or not to accept something as true? Without delving into a protracted discussion of epistemology, it’s easy to see that there is a small number of general strategies that people use to decide if something is true. Two of the most common are appeal to intelligence and appeal to social norms.

Who hasn’t heard the snarky parental advice that if all of your friends are rushing to jump off a cliff, that doesn’t make it a good idea? “Yeah, yeah, dad (or mom),” we think. “We know about lemmings.” No one thinks of him or her self as a lemming, yet in a surprisingly wide array of situations, this is exactly how people tend to act.

For example, fashions and trends are nothing more than what “everyone” is doing, saying, thinking, wearing, eating, etc. It becomes trendy precisely because that is what other people are doing. In business and finance, it’s even considered sexy to ride such lemming tides to turn profits.

The finance industry is fond of its image of hyper-rationality. Theories of market dynamics and price behavior are popular and even though there are notable and impressive theoretical models that describe complex dynamics like the price action of derivatives, even these Nobel-caliber models are only able to approximate what the actual price will be. The theoretical model can get them close, but ultimately, in order to come up with actual decisions for what price to expect, investors and advisors offer their best guesses. Often, such guesses are based on careful observation of past market behavior and/or the decisions of other market participants, in particular those of very large investors.

In other words, even in the hyper-rational world of finance, recommendations by respected advisors often boil down to the same kind of thinking that your parents warned you against. The same kind of thinking can be found in real estate, where value is determined by what other people are paying for similar deals. This is one dynamic underlying market crashes. Everyone is so busy watching what everyone else is doing and copying other people, that they don’t notice the edge of the cliff until they’ve crashed on the rocks below.

As the current global economic crisis was brewing, a few investors managed to follow their parents’ advice and see what was going on for themselves. They invested accordingly and became exceptionally wealthy as a result. By trusting themselves more than the crowd, they found a better way.

If socially derived norms are not a reliable way to discern truth, what about intellectual tests? There are two things to weigh in considering intellectually based validations. One comes from the observation that not having all of the pertinent facts or not understanding how the facts fit together can lead to erroneous conclusions even if your reasoning is impeccable. Consider the following:

Time flies.

You can’t.

They go too fast.

Each line completely changes the context and meaning of the lines that came before it. Stopping after any line feels complete. There is no indication that more follows, so it might be very easy to stop. Yet if you did stop, you would have a very different impression from the final one that results from reading all three lines.

Intellectual puzzles are often like this. The history of science is characterized by development of theory after theory, each one of which is well suited to account for known facts. Yet, as new facts are learned, each theory must be altered to accommodate the new facts or, if it can’t accommodate the facts, must be abandoned in favor of a theory that can.

Interestingly, these new theories are not derived as rational products of careful observation, logical deduction, and inference, as high school science class may have led us to believe. They are the results of startling, intuitive leaps of creative imagination. The mathematical modeling and painstaking experiments come only after the creative leap. (The science program Horizon showed several examples of this in a segment called “Parallel Universes,” which can be found here,

So even science does not progress through logical, intellectual means. Science progresses through a discontinuous, non-rational, creative process in which personal insight yields access to truth and this truth is verifiable in the physical universe.

This is the second point to consider in connection with intellectual validations of truth. Every logical chain of reasoning, unless it is flawed somehow, attempts to connect the proposition being considered with personal experience. If the connection is successful, the proposition is considered valid, if it is not, it is not considered valid. I know from personal experience that 2 + 2 = 4. The totality of my education in mathematics has been a process of connecting this and other “facts” based in personal experience to each other and to more and more esoteric “facts.”

I have confidence that the body of mathematics is sound because I have followed these chains of reasoning to some extent and verified that they do connect to these basic facts or axioms. However, if my personal experience of basic facts is lacking, then my confidence in the rest of mathematics falters, regardless of the impeccability of the logic.

Ultimately, everything that I “know” to be true through intellectual proof is true only to the extent that I accept my own experience to be true. In other words, personal experience, in appeals to intelligence as well as in appeals to social norms, is the ultimate ground or test for truth. As a Nobel Laureate in physics once said in a lecture to my freshman class, “It doesn’t matter who says it or what source it’s from, even me. The only reason that you should accept anything as true is if it makes sense to you.”

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Friendly Banter

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by DCH Park

Recently I caught Demolition Man on cable. This is getting to be an “old” movie. It was released in 1993. It had fun with a lot of modern challenges and societal crises like violence, overcrowding, breakdown of society, and economic warfare. It stars Sylvester Stallone as a Dirty Harry archetype and Wesley Snipes as his criminal nemesis who were each sentenced to “cryo-prison” in 1993 and later reanimated into a reconstructed, sanitized society in the future.

I was delighted with how contemporary this film looked and felt. Almost all of the jokes and conceits in the film still played well. One thing that stood out for me was a bit between Stallone’s character and an old policeman with whom he had been friends before he was frozen. Upon meeting, they engaged in an exchange of light-hearted insults and put-downs that bewildered those around them. In this future society, negative thoughts are strongly discouraged and use of foul language is punished with fines meted out by ubiquitous automated language monitors.

The intended joke is that the future people are really naïve in not understanding how adults – and in particular men – talk and bond. However, is it true that men – and adults in general – must talk and bond this way? Is it possible that we are taught to bond this way, that it isn’t natural at all?

I remember being bewildered as a child by this behavior. I was raised until about the age of 12 without significant exposure to this aspect of culture. Perhaps growing up as a child of immigrant parents who very consciously studied how American culture worked and how to be successful helped to set my stage for this response. Perhaps it was always there but until I reached a certain level of development I simply didn’t notice or understand it.

For whatever reason, I recall first encountering it and realizing that people saw it as a way to bond with one another and to express affection for the first time at that age. It bewildered me. I didn’t understand it so I assiduously studied examples of it from real life, TV, and movies. I practiced the banter and insults, first alone, then with friends.

To the best of my awareness the only reason I embraced this behavior was that adults all around me did it. That was enough to carry me through the early stages of discovery and practice until it became a habit that I no longer questioned. It then became a part of the fabric of personality that I presented to the world and even to myself as my actual self.

Just as in the movie, when getting together with friends, I would fall into mutually denigrating banter. In the popular culture this kind of mutual abuse is seen as a way to be self-effacing and friendly but it is actually very damaging (perhaps self defacing would be equally accurate). As my awareness of the importance of my word and my personal integrity became more clear to me, I became less comfortable with this kind of banter. Eventually I began to forgo it altogether.

If my word has power and my acceptance of other people’s word has power, then what am I giving power to in negative banter? Am I damaging or confusing my integrity by embracing these negative characterizations? Even if I tell myself that what is being said is not true and is only said in “good fun,” does my essential self understand or even perceive these subtleties? How does saying things that are not true affect my sense of my personal integrity? Does it matter that laughter or good feelings are there? If you sugar coat a cyanide capsule, does that negate the poison?

In feeling into this dynamic it becomes clear that perhaps the humor is not central. Perhaps the good feeling comes from a sense of acceptance. If your friend is strong and steadfast, he or she will be able to be present and loving and accept you even when you are abusive and insulting. If they don’t close down and retreat when you are abusive, then perhaps it’s safe to be warm, loving, and vulnerable.

Perhaps this pattern of abusiveness is rooted in a fear that the world is not a safe place and that being open and loving carries the risk of being vulnerable and hurt. By testing your friend and being tested in turn, you prove to yourself that you can be trusted and you can trust that you are safe. You will be caught if you fall. You won’t be stabbed in the back.

You also demonstrate to the rest of the world that you are not to be taken lightly. Your show of insults and abuse echo with the clash of swords and the threat of death. Thus, you carve out a safe haven in the leering, predatory world for your affection for each other. You can show love without fear of being seen as weak.

This attitude is clearly rooted in fear and misunderstanding. Love and its open expression are not solely the province of young mothers, old nurses, and little children. It takes significant maturity and strength of character to take a stand for yourself and be truly open and loving in the world. In order to let go of limiting fears and the bravado they give rise to, you need to fully realize your own strength and inner being.

This is not an easy path, but neither is it difficult. It is exactly what you make it for yourself. No matter how hard or easy it seems in the beginning, it has challenges and as challenges are met and released, succeeding challenges are more easily handled.

If negative banter is a natural phase of development, it is certainly nothing more than a phase. There is no reason to hold on to it for your entire life and there are rich rewards for growing beyond that phase and letting it go.

In this culture at least, we’re so practiced in abusing ourselves by complaining, commiserating, and suffering together that we don’t even notice what we are doing to ourselves. Consider that only enemies and good friends abuse and insult each other so thoroughly and persistently.

When we do this, we enlarge the illusion of separation, lack, and threat and immerse ourselves in it. We become lost in ego, whether we are consciously focused on friends or enemies. Metaphysically, there is no difference in this case. Both enemies and friends become props in our personal dramas about separation and struggle. Let go of the props. Let go of the arguments, complaints, and insults. Let go of the attacks, whether you see them as going out or coming in. They are all the same.

Relax into yourself without props, shields, or bristles. If you feel love, express that love directly and purely. Receive love openly and joyfully and enjoy how the world unfolds.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Defining Beliefs

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by DCH Park

Some people speak of limiting beliefs with good reason. Beliefs that we carry with us can limit our sense of what we can do, who we can be, and what is possible. For example, how likely am I to be successful if I don’t believe that I can be? How likely am I to win the big race if I honestly believe that the other guy is faster or deserves to win more than I do?

However, I have recently come to realize that beliefs and how they can affect us is subtler, more complex, and more powerful than the term limiting belief implies. In fact, these beliefs are defining. Defining beliefs are usually centered on ourselves, our families and friends, society, or the world and our relationships and interactions with them. As such, they can certainly be limiting. However, beyond embodying limits, defining beliefs shape the fundamental nature of the world and our roles in it, as we experience them.

There are at least two different types of defining beliefs. Let’s call them personal and existential. They are distinct but strongly interrelated. At times, the distinction may even seem arbitrary, especially for beliefs that lie on or near the border between them. Nevertheless, as will become clear, the differences are significant.

Personal defining beliefs are those that relate directly to the way of the world and how we have to be in the world to get along. They might take any of several different forms, such as: “The world is safe/unsafe;” “The world is unreliable or impermanent;” “The world is hard and unyielding;” “Life is struggle/joyful;” “Making money is hard or requires sacrifice;” or “Societal hierarchy is real and important.”

Often personal defining beliefs originate in the aftermath of a significant, surprising trauma. (Please note that I am using trauma in the theosophical sense – a change in a love relationship so that you can never experience that love in the same way again.) The natural response to such trauma is shock and pain (and possibly a sense of betrayal) over the loss coupled with bewilderment as to exactly what happened and why.

When this happens (especially when we are young) the emotional pain can be quite intense. As much as we might like to reverse events and unmake the trauma, we don’t know how. The only thing we can do is try to understand why it happened so that we can protect ourselves from similar pain in the future.

Of course, these post facto decisions about what must have happened are usually flawed, but that doesn’t stop the process nor deter ego from grabbing the decision and installing it as a rule. In this way, such decisions are used to define how the world works and how we must be in the world to be safe, effective, or loved.

In addition, the emotional energy stirred up by the trauma is usually channeled into the decision and resulting rule(s), making it very strong and deeply rooted. Of course, the deeper the original trauma, the more significant we believe the decision to be and the more imperative the derived rule becomes. Some decisions like this can have effects that last an entire lifetime.

For example, a child who suddenly loses a cherished toy as it flies out the car window and then sees his father pull the car over and run out into traffic to retrieve the toy, dodging traffic the whole time, might be impressed and decide that there isn’t any loss that can’t be healed with love. If the father instead yells at the child for being so careless, he might decide that the world is basically a cruel and unsafe place where even those he loves the most can turn on him at any time through no fault of his own.

The decisions that the child makes about the way of the world and the interpretations that he draws from those decisions can lead directly to beliefs about how the world operates and who he must be to be safe, loved, and happy. Thus, personal defining beliefs can be understood as beliefs about the rules of the game – how it is played, what the different pieces are, how game pieces are moved, what strategies are best, how to win, etc.

In contrast, existential defining beliefs are about the limits or the container that holds the game. Whereas personal beliefs focus on how to play on the game board, conceptually, existential beliefs focus on defining the board. They are more philosophical in nature, but are of no less importance than personal defining beliefs. In fact, although they seem to be more abstract, in fact they deal with more fundamental questions about existence and experience.

Examples of existential beliefs include: “Evil exists;” “Good is eternally at war with evil;” “Cosmic laws/rules exist;” and “Cosmic laws are inviolable.” They define the boundaries that limit the scope of play. They are not unlike the mythical edge of the world that sailors used to fear.

These existential limits tend to be like the edge of the world. They are absolute and discontinuous. Humans have no choice but to stay away from the limits, safely immersed in the game on the board. Any attempt to cross or even touch the limits of the board result in annihilation or madness.

Interestingly, when we do come across a discontinuous limit, it is taken as a signal that what we thought we knew is wrong. This has been shown over and over throughout history and invariably leads to great discoveries, new knowledge, and heroic achievements. In art, reaching and breaching impervious limits is a defining characteristic of a hero. Examples abound. Harry Potter and The Truman Show are two.

In science, running into and transcending discontinuous limits often herald paradigm shifts that allow for radically new and exciting possibilities. The notions of the double helix structure of DNA, the failure of Newtonian physics and the emergence of Quantum Theory, and the shift toward plate tectonics in geology are three examples.

In life, as in science and art, meeting and overcoming defining beliefs of either type can precipitate huge spurts of growth and creativity. What beliefs do you have that define the world, who must be, or the limits of possibility?

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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To Heal the World, Heal Yourself

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by DCH Park

The widely quoted proverb, “Physician, heal thyself” is commonly taken as advice or an admonition to tend to your own defects rather than criticize defects in others – another way of saying “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” However there is another meaning to the quote – one that you may find empowering rather than limiting or restrictive. Instead of critically telling us what not to do, it suggests a broad perspective that honors and emphasizes personal power. Perhaps healing yourself does heal others.

This may sound crazy or magical but throughout history it has been shown over and over that what looks like magic is nothing more than something we don’t yet understand. A compelling example is the Pacific islanders who encountered aircraft and radios for the first time when American troops landed on their islands to build airstrips during World War II. When anthropologists returned many years after the war to study the effect that the brief cultural contact had had, they found the natives worshipping effigies of airplanes. To the Pacific islanders, who had no frame of reference for technological miracles like flight and radio, the most logical explanation seemed to be god-like magic.

Is it possible that the suggestion that by healing ourselves we can heal the world only seems fantastical because we don’t understand how it could work? From the perspective of our great, great grand children, are we not as primitive and silly as those Pacific islanders, or the sailors who feared falling off the edge of the world if they sailed beyond the edge of the map are to us?

Can we not adopt the spirit of Columbus and other heroic pioneers and practice willing suspension of disbelief in favor of clear-eyed realism? When faced with a choice between accepting the reality of the green-eyed dragon smoldering in front of you or rejecting your own experience because the popular belief is that dragons don’t exist, what would a reasonable person do? What would a heroic pioneer do? What would you do?

In pondering this choice, one question you may want to investigate is, “Does this actually work? Does healing yourself heal others?” Setting aside questions regarding how it could work, does it? There is a surprisingly large body of evidence that it does indeed work. Energy workers from many different traditions have known for a long time that the complaints their clients bring to them can cluster and reflect things they have within themselves. Teachers from various wisdom traditions have noted that “we teach what we have to learn.” There is at least one documented case of a psychiatrist healing an entire ward of criminally violent patients by doing nothing more than cleaning himself up.

Several techniques and disciplines offer the possibility of effecting change in the world and in other people through the expedient of healing your own wounds and issues. Rather than automatically focusing attention and energy on things and people in the external world, they focus on internal reality. Instead of striving to change the world to make themselves feel better (by not being annoyed, for example), they emphasize healing the self of whatever is anchoring the negative experience (or annoyance) and allowing the world to change to reflect that healing effortlessly.

From a creative engagement perspective, this has definite appeal. If I create my own life experience, whatever is in my experience must be something that I created or attracted to myself. If someone is annoying me, there must be something in me that is attracting and/or creating the experience of being annoyed, especially if the annoying person just won’t go away or similar situations with similarly annoying people keep coming up over and over again.

Rather than a clever way to “blame the victim,” perhaps this perspective offers a way to address the deeper source of problems “in the world” directly and powerfully by working with and healing that part of the world you have the greatest direct influence over – yourself. As the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” So if you keep finding the same annoyances in different situations with different people, a good place to look for the common cause is in the common factor – you.

Consider that even situations that don’t repeat in obvious patterns may be rooted in your own expectations and attitudes. Remember Columbus as a young man noticing that ships always appeared to sink over the horizon and always seemed to rise as they returned. He noticed something that was plain for all to see. No one else noticed it because it didn’t agree with the accepted wisdom.

Accepted wisdom these days is that if something or someone in the world is sick or annoying, you must project influence out into the world and change it in order to experience relief. Is there something else going on that most people simply don’t notice because it doesn’t conform with the popular view of things? Is it possible that all of the apparently reasonable focus on the world is like the smoke and lights in the stage show distracting attention from the little man in the corner pulling all the strings?

If that is even remotely possible, wouldn’t it bear looking into? A good place to start such an inquiry, if you are inclined to consider it, is “What is it in me that is attracting or creating this experience?” After all, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Combing The Cotton

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by DCH Park

I am sometimes asked if it’s truly necessary to become aware of the workings of our own minds and emotions in order to transcend them. Isn’t it possible to simply avoid certain subjects and focus on creating success, love, harmony, or happiness and enjoy those creations without delving into the muck of unwanted anger, fear, comparison, etc.?

To be fair, there are disciplines that promise release of such emotional blocks without having to deal with them directly or even consciously knowing what they are. Many teachers, including Napoleon Hill and Abraham Hicks, have advocated doing exactly that – focusing on the positive creation of what you prefer in life and eclipsing focus on what you don’t want.

Both of these approaches favor putting new energy where we want it instead of continuing to blindly send it where we don’t want it This encourages the former and leaves the latter to languish. Eventually, as the positive grows, the negative will tend to diminish, either through starvation or the natural process of losing relevance as life circumstances change. As we grow older and more experienced, how much energy do we devote to the intrigues of our lives in fifth grade?

However, Hill admitted himself that the path he taught was slow, it being typical for someone to strive for 20 years or more before fully realizing goals and dreams. Abrahams’ advice is more subtle but it goes to the same place. Both simply ignore or resist focus on negative thoughts. Rather than dwelling on how frustrating it is that your desires haven’t manifested yet or how hard it is to continue to slog through the daily grind en route to the golden circle, more positive things are emphasized.

Of course, this makes perfect sense – “whatever you resist persists.” Avoiding or actively suppressing certain unwanted experiences or expectations will only make them stronger. But there is a thin line between choosing to focus on positive creations and avoiding (which is the thin edge of resisting) one thing in order to focus on something else.

However, those who embrace these approaches often find themselves confronted by the same issues again and again. Like a weed that grows back if it is pulled up but the root is left intact, the blocks that are handled with such indirect techniques often re-emerge. As long as such re-emergent blocks are smaller and more easily recognized and dealt with over time, progress is moving in the right direction. Is this the best we can hope for?

Perhaps more is possible. By developing a habit of witnessing the emotional roller coaster you find yourself on without resisting the ride itself, you can notice your experience of the emotion becomes less sticky. Eventually, you are free to release the emotion altogether. This can be the first step in witnessing the block and its emotional baggage very deeply – all the way to it roots. Releasing the block from its roots eliminates it entirely, just as digging up a dandelion by its roots will eliminate it from your garden forever.

Imagine raw cotton. Freshly picked, it is full of seeds, sticks, stones, and dirt. In fact, cotton was so notoriously full of foreign debris and hard to clean by hand that it was considered largely useless commercially without slaves to provide free labor. This is why the cotton gin was so important historically. By combing out the seeds and other debris, the natural softness and strength of the cotton fibers could be appreciated.

It might be possible to use cotton in some way without combing out all of the debris first, but it’s unlikely that you could use it to spin thread or weave cloth. If you tried, the result would likely be poor and unsatisfying. How many sticks, seeds, and tiny rocks would you tolerate in your shirts or underwear?

Combing the cotton allows the natural qualities of the fibers to come through, enhancing its beauty, versatility, and strength. In the same way, combing out your body, mind, and spirit to remove emotional debris uproots blocks and allows the full truth, beauty, and creative strength of your being to come through.

The natural state of a human being is joyful and creative. To witness this, you need only look as far as the nearest healthy child. When we don’t see this in ourselves it is because our emotional attachments and ego drama get in the way of our realization and expression of our creative power. One way to understand or characterize spiritual work or growth is in terms of combing out the cotton of our beings. Our creativity and power shine into the world naturally and effortlessly once the blocks are released.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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