Thinking About Thinking

I’m still not sure you get it!
It seems so simple to me, and yet I sort of understand, and even empathize. I was brought up to believe it was important to get other people to like me. And it wasn’t hard. I even enjoyed it. But somewhere along the way, I was able to experience the joy of true freedom — the freedom to bare myself completely in front of others! Not even caring if they believed me or not! I’m not even sure I believe myself what comes out of my mouth. It’s like taking a good shit, particularly after a spell of constipation! Gets rid of the waste matter, and frees my mind to be filled with new stuff!

I enjoy the act of thinking. Sometimes, it’s sparked by an original insight, but often it comes from running across something an author writes. A particularly important example for me, was when I first found a quote of Mark Twain: “Life does not consist entirely, or even mainly, with events that happen, but rather with a stream of thoughts that go through one’s mind!” It struck me immediately as a very profound truth — a truth which most would probably acknowledge as true, but ignore in reassessing its implications on our behavior. I was studying psychology at the time, and began questioning the wisdom of how we treat psychological problems. Perhaps we were spending too much time trying to change behavior, rather than helping us “get over the hurt” simply by changing our thinking. A child falls and skins his knee. It bleeds, he cries, it heals, and, hopefully, he learns something useful about dealing with life’s mishaps! But it’s also possible that adults, by applying their own standards to the mishap, cause the child to think more about its importance, and embedding a life-altering belief that comes more from the reaction of others than that of one’s own.

At the time I ran across the quote, I used to create my own Greeting cards, usually by adding my own quotes to pictures I would find in movie books — especially of the old silent movies! I found a picture from one of the “Laugh In” TV shows with a silly-grinned Dan Rowan strapped to a chair with electrical wires going to his head like Frankenstein. As a Xmas card, I added the above quote to the picture, and inside wrote my greeting: “May your thoughts of the season and during the new year be happy ones!”

At some later time, I happened across a very similar, but much older, quote of a Greek philosopher: “People are bothered not by what happens to them, but by their thoughts about what happens!”. For several months after, I tried unsuccessfully to remember the source of that quote. Then, one Sunday I heard it repeated by a speaker at a Unitarian Universalist church. His talk was about “The Work” of Byron Katie, which, he said, was based on this very quote of Epictetus. Immediately after I got Katie’s book, “Loving What Is!”. Practicing her exercises had such a wonderful effect on me, I was amazed at its simplicity. Simply writing down the thoughts that brought stress into my life, and then writing the answers to the simple questions she asked. I was able to be my own therapist simply by discovering my own answers — mainly that many of my thoughts were not even really true, and what bothered me about other people was something I realized I was doing myself. Much easier to find fault in others! Also, that arguing with reality it always a losing proposition. I devoured her next book as well: “I Need Your Love, Is That True?”. When I found on the Internet that she was giving one of her 9-day workshops, I decided I had to meet this amazing person. Driving down to Miami, I didn’t even feel as though I had any personal problem I needed to work on. I just felt compelled to meet and watch her.
I was not disappointed. Some amazing experiences. Particularly, watching her work with two opposing people with opposite opinions screaming at each other, and ending up in tears and lovingly hugging. One can watch her on http://www.thework.com . One of my favorites is with a gay guy, who’s very angry at homophobic people. Answering her simple questions, he ends up smiling at himself, for realizing his problem is that he is homophobic himself, and doesn’t have to be!

So, it was through Byron Katie that I learned about her husband, Stephan Mitchell — another amazing person who helps spread love and tolerance in this crazy world!

Rethinking the Bible – Whole vs Parts

I have far too many books, and really need to get rid of at least 75% — many still unread – very few that I’ve read from cover to cover. But, much like the photographs I still haven’t tossed, the process of scanning for final execution revives my diverse interests which motivated their original purchase. I told myself I should put aside my religious books arguing various positions, retaining only those for reference == maybe 2 or 3 bibles, one Torah, one each on the major religions, a few of Karen Armstrong’s religious history, and copies of the Bible History and Baltimore Catechism No.1 used in my Catholic grade school, as well as the 1994 English translation of Catechism of the Catholic Church sanctioned: “A sure norm for teaching the Faith” — Pope John Paul II. (Starting at age 7, I was taught by the nuns to memorize the answers to questions in the Catechism. Question #10: “How shall we know the things which we are to believe?” Answer: “We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church, through which God speaks to us.” Other answers we memorized included: “God had no beginning; He always was and He always will be. God is everywhere. We do not see God, because He is a pure spirit and cannot be seen with bodily eyes. God knows all things, even our most secret thoughts, words, and actions. Adam and Eve did not remain faithful to God; but broke His command by eating the forbidden fruit. Through the disobedience of our first parents we all inherit their sin and punishment, as we should have shared in their happiness if they had remained faithful. Baptism is necessary to salvation, because without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The priest is the ordinary minister of Baptism; but in case of necessity anyone who has the use of reason may baptize.”

This last point (about who can baptize) made important history about 150 years ago. At the time, the Vatican was a separate city, independent of Italy, the country surrounding it. Within that city, the law allowed Jewish people to raise their own children Jewish, but the law forbad them to raise Catholic children. A Catholic teenager who was baby-sitting for a Jewish family claimed she baptized their very sick baby boy, not expected to live. She wanted the boy to enter heaven. When the boy recovered, and the Catholic baby-sitter revealed that she had baptized him (making him no longer Jewish, but Catholic), the boy was taken from his parents and raised by the Pope’s staff. This caused an international uproar. But by the time the case was processed by the law, the boy wanted to stay with the Pope against his parents’ wishes. He not only became a Catholic priest, but came over to New York, with the specific mission of converting Jews to Catholicism. U.S. bishop refused to support him in any way, and appealed to the Pope to get him ‘out of here’. N.Y. had a large Jewish population, and we just don’t do things like that in America. I might have remembered some of the details wrong, and I can’t remember the name right now. But I got most of my information off Wikipedia, which is usually a fairly reliable. My point is that this kind of religious behavior is not ancient history. Some scientists are still trying to find a “God Gene”, because it might help explain humanity’s persistence in the God search. Personally, I don’t think it’s all that complicated. I suspect most people simply choose the same religion as their parents, with basic beliefs accepted without question. And sometimes, even in my life-time, it’s a survival question. I wouldn’t doubt that there are German Jews who became Christian just to stay alive. In Galileo’s time, it was the Inquisition. Many Americans may not even know about the Crusades, but you can be sure people in the Middle east are taught about it. Religious Wars throughout history! Protestants and Catholics killed each other. And our Native Americans were robbed of their homes and treated as savages needing to be converted to Christianity.

Got side-tracked a little, there! The point I wanted to make about books, is that, rather than a quick scan, I started reading Steven Mitchell’s “The Gospel According to Jesus — A New Translation and Guide to His essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers”. Reading only the first 20 pages, not only makes me want to want to keep it, but to also get his “The Book of Job”. I also have his translation of “Tao Te Ching”, but mainly because I’m a great fan of his wife, Byron Katie. She lovingly mentions him occasionally in her workshops and books. i want to write a few blogs about my experiences with her work. ( http://www.thework.com ) I had rejected my belief in the all-too=human Christian God, specifically because of my dogmatic early education, and some of the teachings in the Bible. But it turns out I’m far from alone. Mitchell writes: “No good scholar, for example, would call the Christmas stories anything but legends, or the accounts of Jesus’ trial anything but polemic fictions…No careful reader of the Gospels can fail to be struck by the difference between the largeheartedness of such passages and the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church. It is not only the polemical element in the Gospels, the belief in devils, the flashy miracles, and the resurrection itself that readers like Jefferson, Tolstoy, and Gandhi have felt are unworthy of Jesus, but most of all, the direct antitheses to the authentic teaching that were put into “Jesus'” mouth, doctrines and attitudes so offensive that they “have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust.” I’m reconsidering ‘rejecting the whole’ because of the parts I cannot bring myself to believe.

Steven Mitchell continues “Once the sectarian passages are left out, we can recognize that Jesus speaks in harmony with the supreme teachings of all the great religions: the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Buddhist sutras, the Zen and Sufi and Hasidic Masters. I don’t mean that all these teachings say exactly the same thing. There are many different resonances, emphases, skillful means. But when words arise from the deepest kind of spiritual experience, from a heart pure of doctrines and beliefs, they transcend religious boundaries, and can speak to all people, male and female, bond and free, Greek and Jew.”
Such thoughts give me pause!

 

Reevaluate Yesterday’s Thoughts

“Don’t waste your thoughts today trying to justify what you thought yesterday, when it is much more productive to reevaluate yesterday’s thoughts in the light of what you learn today!”  W.G. Kienstra Sr.

I’m not any kind of scientist, and don’t have the brain to be one, but it seems to me the above thought needs to be emphasized  in “true scientific” research.  Seems to me, the pseudo-scientists  don’t so much need new discoveries, as to at least hesitate , before doing research on memes that have never been proven to actually exist.  I’ll blog about some specific examples in forthcoming blogs.  But this was my A.M. mindful insight for today, and I wanted to capture it while fresh!

 

More A.M.Scattered Thoughts

Remembering a project in a college design class when I was studying Architectural Engineering!  The project was to create an abstract wallpaper design.  Each student sat at his own large drafting table with a big roll of onion skin paper, an artist’s brush, and a bottle of black india ink.  We were to dip our brush in the ink and then use the brush to make lots of marks on the paper playing around with the brush and making hundreds of ink marks on the paper, rolling out as much paper as we wanted.  I felt like I was a kid in a kindergarten class, and this was college!  Then the professor told us to stop making marks and put away the paint brush and ink. Then we were told to look over the marks we made, and tear off the section of paper with those marks, choosing the ones we liked, and throwing  away the rest.  Then we played around rearranging the abstract blots to choose which ones looked the best next to each other, and finally narrowing the marks we wanted to use on our wallpaper design, which would consist of repeated patterns of about 10 blots.  We then used different colors of paint to fill up enough of a canvas to display what the wallpaper would look like.  I was surprised at what beautiful works we students were able to produce using this creative process.

Much later, when I was attending a management workshop at General Electric, we were taught to use a similar technique for brain=storming ideas in problem-solving.  The class was given a problem, and then we were given a period of time to blurt out whatever came to our minds, without any criticism anyone, but one person wrote on the blackboards each of the thoughts.  Then, as in the design class, we examined each idea, discussing its value in a more practical way.

I could see the value of such a creative process.  However, in actual practice in an office environment, the weakness was in taking too short a time period between the brain-storming and the decision making.  Really good ideas sometimes come only after a my mind has had considerable time to mull over the possibilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Of course, the urgency of the problem and the costs of the solutions are a big factor.  But often the slow thinkers have the best solutions, and there’s a tendency to think quick-thinkers are more intelligent, as well as under-estimating the importance of living with the answers.

Perhaps the best thing about mindfulness exercises are the “insights”, which don’t necessarily come during a meditation.  The meditations are just the exercises needed to strengthen the mind’s ability to provide the kinds of “insights” needed.  For me, they are most likely to occur in the morning just after awakening.

 

 

 

Warning — Scatterbrain On The Loose!

My favorite time of the day is when I first wake up!  Especially, when I realize it’s earlier than I thought, and I can go back to bed and let my childlike brain play wherever it cares to roam.  However, I can quickly get trapped into adult thinking — like I need to write that thought on my blog.  This morning, I decided I would just quickly write bits of those thoughts so that I can remember to write more later.  Today’s notes:

  • It’s nobody’s job to fix it!  It’s to nobody’s benefit to fix it!  Wrong! That’s what’s wrong with U.S. Post Office, and too much of government.  There are some crazy happenings, but the only ones that have the ability to fix them, are people who would be hurting themselves by doing so.  Behind the 8-ball!
  • There’s more than one way to ‘skin a cat’ (fix the problem)
  • Practicing Mindfulness while sitting in doctor’s office while he’s checking out samples of my skin cancer.  Everything in the this office is so neat, clean, everything needed and in its place.  Why can’t I keep my house this way?  Easy to find anything needed, because it always goes back to its place.  New rule: No new stuff, without removing something no longer needed.  Good rule for our government laws.  Too many laws.  No new ones until we get rid of at least one old one.
  • Let churches enforce their own moral beliefs, rather than get government to do it.  Strict separation of Church and State!  Example: Marriages.  If you like the some church’s stand on who can and cannot get married, join that church and support it with your money.  I understand people not wanting to pay for enforcing laws that conflict with their religious views.  I happen to believe in “doctor-assisted” or “right-to-die- with-dignity”.  At my age, I think it’s a rational decision.  Why, in a free country, should the politicians have the right to ell me I can’t.  Give me liberty or give me death!
  • But what are we going to do with all the lawyers.  They make the laws, and want to make them obscure enough to keep them in business.  Again — behind the 8-ball! In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, why should we need a lawyer to explain what the law is?
  • Secrets!  I hate them!  They’re childish, and emotionally unhealthy!  For adults, even surprise party’s are like discounts of adults who are considerate enough to realize that some adults like to make plans ahead of time.  To surprise them with “This is what I want you to do, and your plans are not as important as mine!  That doesn’t sound very considerate to me! Furthermore, I don’t think secrets are psychologically healthy!  They involve hiding the truth of what I’m thinking, which may well be: “I don’t think you can handle the truth!”  I suspect even children are much more capable of handling the truth than we give them credit for. I believe in protecting them from physical danger, but too often we’re simply implanting our erroneous thinking into their formative minds.  In many cases, they are probably much better at accepting the real truth of the world we live in, than our biased adult brains allow us.