I find myself wonderfully infused with a wealth of fantastic sources of input over the last few days. I’ve started reading the book pictured above: You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney. I watched a really good talk given by an OI member in Thay’s tradition at Google on the nature of self-compassion. And I watched another talk given by someone my husband has been getting into lately, an author, speaker, and neuroscientist named Sam Harris. Three powerhouse gents, I would say. Each one taking his own slant on helping to support the human collective.
From the good to the bad to the ugly, we are each an assembly of the scattered sources of input fused together into one collection we call the self. And it’s easy to forget the importance of closely monitoring what’s coming in through our sense impressions. Because it all matters. Every single drop of it. It all makes a difference in how we show up in life – and how we continue to show up in life.
Here’s an excerpt from the book I mentioned and picture above, which I found so glorious that I read it aloud to both my husband and 18-year-old stepson on separate occasions:
You see, being smart is a much more complicated and misunderstood state than you believe. Most of the time, you are terrible at making sense of things. If it were your job, you would long since have been fired. You think you are a rational agent, slowly contemplating your life before making decisions and choices, and though you may sometimes falter, for the most part you keep it together, but that’s not the case at all. You are always under the influence of irrational reasoning. You persist in a state of deluded deliberation. You are terrible at explaining yourself to yourself, an you are unaware of the depth and breadth of your faults in this regard. You feel quite the opposite, actually. You maintain an unrealistic confidence in your own perceptions even after your limitations are revealed.
– David McRaney from You are Now Less Dumb
From OI member Tim Desmond’s talk at Google, published on February 23rd, 2018:
“There’s a capacity that we can develop that allows us to stay human. To be able to stay present. To be able to care and stay connected in whatever situation we find ourselves in.”
He goes on to talk about how this capacity is that of generating mindfulness. Later, he speaks about how we must pair both qualities of compassion and equanimity together, in order to be in balance. Compassion without equanimity leads to burnout and compassion fatigue. Equanimity without compassion leads to lack of empathy and indifference. To pair both together means to say: Whatever is going on is okay, and I’m here for you.
If you’re interested in checking out Tim’s talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV9VeNE_R1g
The portion of Sam Harri’s talk that my husband cued up for me to watch was from one he gave at an atheist convention, entitled on youtube: Sam Harris On the Danger of Atheism. A quote from his talk that I penned in my journal states: To judge the claims of contemplatives, we have to build our own telescope. He referenced astronomy in his metaphor to contemplative, spiritual practices as a way to identify the large obstacle that exists in the way of developing a deeper understanding of the inner workings of self as it relates to connecting with a different plane of being. Imagine if we had to each build our own telescope in order to observe the outer workings of the sky. It would be a colossal undertaking.
Another bit I jotted down was a quote/paraphrase from his talk stating that “we’re a myth infatuated people.” And now here’s the ad-lib part: To convince that love and curiosity is enough is a monumental task.
In summary, what I take away from these three sources is the critical nature of our self-delusive prowess and how it creates false views, which ultimately is what manifests all of our forms of struggle and difficulty. Transformation is possible AND the path of transformation is fraught with extremely large obstacles, many of which are self-constructed. While we are all capable of healing and changing and growing, many of us don’t and won’t and can’t. Many of us will remain stuck glued to our own matters of self-occupation, unable to extend ourselves outwards to others in any real capacity.
I think one of the greatest uses of our time and energy would be to figure out how to get and stay on board with the nature of non-duality – how to hold two seemingly contrasting and contradictory notions at the same time. To not get caught in thinking that things/people/situations can or should only be like this OR like that, verses what’s more in line with the truth, which is a pairing of “this” AND “that”.
For example: Our distaste for certain citizens of our human collective often eradicates our ability to absorb all the goodness taking place, hampering our capacity to emit kindness and love outward to those around us. We would be well-served in learning and slowly mastering how to hold both realities in delicate balance. To hone the two sets of powers, as I’m choosing to call them here: stability & fluidity and compassion & equanimity. In either set, one without the other will cause us to become unstable and wobbly. And eventually it will create havoc, leading to a breakdown of our mental reasoning, emotional well-being, and spiritual practice.
If we were able to rest in the seeming dichotomy of life itself, our experiences and relationships would improve dramatically. Too often we find the “fatal flaw” in regards to someone or something and we throw out the baby with the bathwater, as the saying goes. But no one and nothing can be painted in such stark opposing colors of black and white. Everyone and everything consists of both elements of being skillful and unskillful, depending on the context and situation at hand.
I think the ultimate foundational answer is to love more. To open up more. To awaken more to our own potential for growth and transformation. To keep learning how to engage more and more and more skillfully, for the benefit of all beings (our self included). To be kind, no matter what’s going on. To prioritize the tending of the wake we leave behind, in such a way where we are able to leave people better off for having encountered us.