Monday, April 2, 2012

The Evolution of Consciousness

"Just because you've been living this life the same way as everyone before you, your father and all these other corrupt politicians, that doesn't mean it's justifiable. Just because you can find examples all around you of people who've done worse and people who are doing the same things, that doesn't mean it's supposed to continue."

consciousness is the head by agnes-cecil
"It doesn't seem to be stopping with the evolution of culture. Our entire civilization is built on a foundation of unfixable bullshit. Our evolution—our cultural and social evolution—is so much slower than the evolution of technology....we have incredible technological capabilities but socially, we're just a bump ahead of where we were in the 50s."

"The life that leads you to be your dad—that's not where it's at. When you watch your dad drop dead of a fucking heart attack at 55 and you can scarcely remember him laughing 3 times, ever. And you go 'What? I'm supposed to be that guy? What the fuck is that?'"

"Our main problem as human beings is that we are in a stage of evolution; in an adolescent stage. We have potential to rise above that. To get to the top, to have just a little better view of what the world could be. And I think that's the potential that we have inside of us. We need something right now. Because the way we're doing it? We are just spinning our fucking wheels."
—Joe Rogan

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Social Constructionism and Personal Sovereignty

She said "I know what it's like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad"
And she's making me feel like I've never been born.

I said "Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I'm mad
And you're making me feel like I've never been born."
—The Beatles, She Said She Said


Reverse Engineering the Dissonance

"It's not what you look at that matters; it's what you see."
—Henry David Thoreau

For a long time I struggled with any number of limitations. I had feelings of incompleteness bordering on inferiority and a sick acceptance masquerading as a wistful remorse. In hindsight, I believe this had everything to do with a lack of introspection; I didn't think about thinking enough to understand what thinking really is.

To wit, thinking is merely a process of asking questions and answering them. Some thoughts empower us, many dis-empower us but they all start with asking a question and answering it. When you ask the same question enough times and come up with the same answer each time, you now have a belief. Our beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of absolutely govern our actions and any action taken on a consistent basis becomes a habit. Habits shape your life. Not any one thing you did but the things you've done time and time again, smoking a cigarette, playing a musical instrument, working out...who you are is largely defined by what you do on a consistent basis.





These days I'm at a very different place in life than I once was but still, at times, I catch myself asking the wrong questions. This of course only leads to terrible answers that lead to a state of anger, resentment, self disgust and a sense of stagnation. And I have to stop and ponder how I could still be asking such horrible questions, having such horrible thoughts and at times, taking actions so wildly out of step with those of the person I aspire to be. What I have found is virtually any time I catch myself thinking I am not good enough, smart enough or tough enough to face a challenge in my life, I realize the voice in my head imposing these limitations upon me is never my own. In fact, it's usually the ghost of a shockingly mundane experience in which I let someone else's perception of me become my own without even realizing it, let alone fighting it.

I, Sponge
I have a tendency to internalize things so at first I saw this as a personal shortcoming; a lack of personal sovereignty. "Wow, how weak am I if I let someone else decide who and what I am?" But some deeper introspection led me to reassess this conclusion. In fact, I now believe pretty much everyone on some level has a tendency to absorb what is around them, meaning unless you live on a desert island, your identity is inevitably a social construct at least as much as it is anything else. If you're reminded on a daily basis that others have extremely low expectations of you—be they teachers, parents, employers or anyone else (even mundanely, not maliciously)—why would you expect great things of yourself?

The Gift of Growth

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
—Wayne Dyer

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."
—Kurt Vonnegut

This has all been very doom and gloom thus far, but I have learned the wonderful thing is that this can and does work both ways. Someone else's perception of you as being more than what you are—or at least, more than what you have always seen yourself as being—can replace your own just as easily and seamlessly. I don't know if it is truly rarer or if it just appears that way since negative experiences are so charged in terms of emotional energy stockpiled, but it happens all the same. Of this I am absolutely certain. There is zero chance I would be the person I am today had I not had the tremendous fortune of meeting someone I saw as so far above me in every way imaginable...who saw me as her equal and in many ways, more than her equal. At which point I began to grow tremendously, without even realizing it, just trying to live up to being the person she seemed to see in me. It was life changing and completely carved out a huge part of my identity that lingers to this day, a full eleven years later; the part of my identity I love the most because it was a gift from someone I loved.

As fate would have it, the person who gave me this tremendous gift was essentially thrust randomly into my life only to disappear just as quickly. That's kind of how it works as a kid, people just sort of drift in and out of your life and your control over your circumstances is oftentimes limited at best. But there comes a time when every adult must take a look at their life and accept responsibility for everything they don't like about it, thereby empowering themselves to do something about it.

I think it's pretty obvious where I am going with this and brighter minds than my own have already said it more succinctly than I ever could.

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. The really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
—Mark Twain

"Advice for others: surround yourself with positive people you can learn from."
—David Blaine




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How to End a Bad Relationship

Emotional Surgery
As longtime readers already know, I've learned to be very selective about how, when, where and with whom I burn mental and emotional calories. Oftentimes that means spending less time with certain people. Sometimes that means making the painful decision to cut certain people out of your life completely. It can be difficult to sever longstanding relationships for any number of reasons. In the past, I have struggled with feelings of guilt for not being more supportive or a "bigger" person. What I've learned is there is a difference between supporting and enabling. Or to put it another way, you are not serving someone by allowing their bad behavior to continue. If you really want to serve others, especially those you love, you have to make the consequences of their decisions real to them. And I stress the word decisions, for it is our decisions, not our circumstances or conditions that makes us who and what we are.

Ascension into the Unknown by Neithee
Finding the Strength to Make a Change
It's certainly not an easy process. There is always a compulsion to stick with the known, even though it is making us miserable, over the unknown. You have to convince yourself that you are creating a better reality not only for yourself but the person you are ending the relationship with in order to feel you've "done the right thing."

I do this by asking these very simple questions:
  • Is spending time with this person bringing me some measure of bliss, however fleeting?
  • More importantly, am I growing from the time I've spent with this person?
  • If not, would I begin to grow if we simply interacted on a different level?
  • Am I helping this person grow by spending time with them?
  • Am I otherwise serving this person by continuing this relationship?
When you go down the list and check "No" in every box, it's time to get the hell out of there at any cost, be it personal or professional. It's not about making them "wrong" or the bad guy. It's about refocusing your emotional energy in a way that serves you and those you love.

"Everything you are against weakens you. Everything you are for strengthens you."

"There is no way to happiness—happiness is the way."
—Wayne Dyer

Focus on growing, for without growth, there can be no enduring bliss. If the people around you are not helping you grow, you need to distance yourself from them. Or at least, until they show you they are at least trying to evolve and assist you in doing the same. It may be painful to cut people you've known for years, family members even, completely out of your life...but consider it life saving emotional surgery.

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Responding to Negativity

Freedom of Association
"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."
—Jim Rohn

I posit any time you have any choice whatsoever in the company you keep, you are faced with making a decision that can and does shape the course of your life. To wit, it seems logical to postulate that a lack of familial freedom of association is a major contributing factor to inter-generational poverty. I.e., if poor children could simply decide to be raised by rich families, they would not only have all the advantages of a more comfortable upbringing and extensive education but would effectively inherit the habits of their new parents. Poor children think, plan and act like their poor parents. Rich children too have all the thoughts, plans and actions of their rich parents. This is a less obvious reason the children of the poor generally grow up to work for the children of the rich, even in a "land of opportunity" like America. Poverty and wealth are not simply conditions but learned sets of behavior. Accepting this, I quickly realized the same is true of what can be described as emotional poverty and wealth.

I have known people who simply never complained about anything, ever. People who always seem to be in a good mood; who have problems just like anyone else but seem to handle them better than anyone and move forward unfazed. I'm sure you have known these people as well. Tragically, I'm sure you've encountered their polar opposite with much greater regularity. Idiot family members, imbecilic classmates, sulky co-workers, unbearable in-laws...there's no shortage of opinionated, mean, nigh unbearable malcontents in this world. If you are like most people, you will be forced to interact with many of them at various point in your life, both personally and professionally. This is not merely exhausting and unpleasant; it is downright dangerous.


Emotional Cowardice: The Mother of Hatred and Cynicism
Negative people are unhappy people and they are more unhappy with themselves than anyone around them. Unfortunately, the cantankerous tend to be dishonest with themselves and I have a hard time distancing this dishonesty from a withering cowardice. Christopher J. Priest explains:
"I know people so incredibly handicapped by emotional cowardice, they tend to invent surreal scenarios: Bizarro World latticework of a fragmented, delusional non-reality where they are the hero of their own story and whatever ultimately ridiculous and extreme betrayal of faith they commit becomes somehow justified by my motives- which they've invented in their head. Much simpler to walk out on your wife than say, "Sorry." Much simpler to invent some scenario where she had it coming."
The Gospel of George

I base this not only on observation but personal experience. I have been a very mean, judgmental, unappreciative person. I have walked many miles in the shoes of a miserable wretch. You don't get there and stay there without blaming other people for your unhappiness, generally anyone unfortunate enough to cross your path. And while I genuinely wish these curmudgeons the best, I've found it is best to do so from a safe distance.

Your Moment of Choice
Like many, I have made the mistake of responding to negative people, both face to face and online, with like negativity upon occasion. Or, more laudably, with positivity and the earnest belief that I could open someone's eyes to a new way of perceiving the world. Over time I began to realize neither is an effective protocol for growth or even self preservation, however noble the motives. Allow me to draw an analogy...

You are walking peacefully through a park one day when you are ambushed by a lunatic wielding a flamethrower. Thankfully you see this violent sicko coming and have time to react. And lo! Looking around, you notice this stretch of park is but a stone's throw from a pair of stores. One sells flamethrowers, the other fire extinguishers. Let's examine both options.

You're not this stupid...are you?
Option A - The Flamethrower: While it's very easy in the cool and calm of a moment free from impending conflict to tell yourself you have the good sense to never even think of picking up the flamethrower, much anecdotal experience suggests that this is seldom the case. You're a human and humans suffer from a problem "lesser" evolved creatures don't appear to—gross ego interference. It's not that you want to be strong, it's that you want to be stronger than this person who has challenged you. This feeling is common and to some extent, almost unavoidable. But make no mistake, this is indeed suicide from any rational perspective. Yes, you're likely to get some licks in, maybe even take them with you, but so what? You're still going to die. Even if you "win," i.e., hurt them worse than they hurt you, whatever petty satisfaction you get is going to be offset by the terrible and lasting injuries you are sure to sustain. Gandhi said it best, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

Option B - The Fire Extinguisher: It seems logical to fight fire by simply attempting to put it out before it can harm you or anyone else. There are problems with this course of action as well though. The first being you are still making the conscious decision to engage in conflict; you are still playing their game even if you believe it's on your own terms and turf. The more dangerous mistake is that every extinguisher has its limits. You have a finite "coolness" and when it's gone, you are in serious danger. If you are like most people, you are not as emotionally in control as you would like to think you are and worse, you are almost always underestimating your opponent. Or more accurately, underestimating the danger of being in proximity to that which possesses your opponent...

Hatred Outlives the Hateful
Negative experiences are very dense; it can take 8 years of therapy to undo 8 minutes of being raped. As a more mundane example, look no further than the news...any news. Following the news can distort your perception of the world very potently as the overwhelming majority of stories are centered on hatred, violence and death. Most news networks won't report on any of the 5,000,000+ people volunteering in some capacity to serve humanity but they will report on the suicide bomber who killed 50 in Iraq this morning. Think about it—the absolute worst 1% of the world's population receives the lion's share of the world's attention at any given time. Hatred, malevolence, death and suffering are just that potent. If you are like most people, your back just isn't broad enough to bear the burden of being the fire fighter. So what option does that leave you?

Flight.

I have concluded non-response is the only acceptable response to negativity. Leave the psycho with the flamethrower to his own uncontrollably violent insanity long enough and he'll burn himself to a crisp. This will happen with absolutely certainty whether you are there burning with him or not. You see, you don't need to punish him for attempting to attack you. His punishment is already upon him. Paraphrasing the Buddha, he is not being punished for his hatred, he is being punished by his hatred. The misery of being a hateful, joyless wretch is far harsher justice than any you can mete out. So flee. Just go. Walk away. Put as much space between yourself and the baneful as possible, even if mitigating circumstances limit that to sitting on the far side of the room or donning a set of headphones. Or even—gasp—walking away from an internet message board flame war.

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Psychic Venom

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Psychic Venom by Brian Snoddy
I think a lot of fairly intelligent people argue with hateful idiots because they're bored and they feel like venting their frustrations on someone, so why not the village idiot who makes himself the scratching post for anything with claws? And truth be told, there is also the egotistical desire to feel superior. I have been guilty of this behavior myself in the past but these days I disengage from conflict with the hateful for the same reason I don't wrestle rattlesnakes for sport—it's guaranteed to kill boredom but it might kill a lot more than that.

If you want to get technical about it, most people don't die from snake bites; they die from the venom. Spending time in the presence of miserable, hateful, frothing assholes is not unlike lying in a pit of asps with only a pair of pajamas for protection. The first bite might not break the skin but you damned sure don't want to lie there one moment longer than you absolutely have to. And when you have been bitten deeply, make no mistake about it, there is now a very dangerous and potentially deadly venom making its way through your system.

I honestly believe psychic venom, for want of a better term, is in many ways more dangerous than its physical counterpart. Firstly, it's not even immediately apparent that you have been seriously harmed. In fact, you can be bitten dozens of times over the course of years and years before you even take stock of the psychic venom that has accumulated in your system. Secondly, most people don't have very good skills for getting it out of their system without a great deal of help, so they tend to just drug themselves, figuratively and literally, to cope with its effects. Lastly and most seriously, when a snake bites you, you don't turn into a snake and start biting other people. Psychic venom is akin to a virus from a zombie movie that once contracted, rots away at your brain until eventually you turn into one of the monsters...often without even realizing it until you're well into the habit of being monstrous. At this point you've got a lot of work ahead of you to make it back to the light. It's not impossible, it never is, but it's a long climb out of a very deep hole; a deep hole that wants to suck you back in at every opportunity.

Psychic venom almost seems to take on a life of its own and make no mistakes, it will consume you...if you let it. The best way to avoid this is to practice prevention and that means setting personal boundaries. You can't control other people's actions but you can control how you respond to them.

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