Rules Are Meant to be Broken

We have all heard the statement, “Rules are meant to be broken.” Like so much in life, there is both truth and untruth in its meaning. Of course, that begs the question, “Does that mean that ‘rule,’ too, is intended to be broken!”

For me, the more apt statement is, “There are exceptions to every rule.” But which rules? There are different levels of external rules, household, society, religious, educational, governmental, etc. Now to add to the complexity of this conversation, not only the spoken/written rules we learn but all the unspoken rules. A therapist friend in Taos always liked to say that children know all the unspoken rules in a home by the time they are four.

Those are rules we learn to conform and fit in, but then how about those rules we place on ourselves. These can lead us to present ourselves in two ways; I will never dress that way again because of all the criticism I received (especially from peers), and I will always dress that way because of all the criticism I received (especially from parents)!

While we always have a choice to conform or not to conform to other’s rules, but there is usually some punishment involved determined by the severity of the breach and the authoritarian level of the rule maker! The discipline we receive can range from time-out to execution!

For most of my life, I was a “color inside the lines” kind of guy. Known rules were comfortable because they gave me a sense of who I needed to be. This pattern was definitely due to my mother, whom I jokingly say hit the trifecta to be a “drill sergeant” disciplinarian, full-blood German, black/white personality, and a Scorpio, loving to be in a position of authority!

For me, life was more comfortable learning the rules as fast as I could and then following them. This was especially true with my mother but extended into most areas of my life. My undergraduate is in engineering with clear delineations of solutions; an I-beam spanning X feet and carrying Y load has about as absolute an answer as you can get. However, when I went into the MBA program in finance, my world was rocked. A finance prof said of a problem, “there are many answers to this question!” Huh?!?! I quickly switched to accounting with their friendly, useful rules!

If we choose to grow and continue to learn about life, at some point, we may start questioning why we follow specific rules, whatever their flavor. I remember another prof in grad school saying that she and all her sisters, like their mother, always cut off the end of a ham before cooking it and finally asked why? Their mom said it was because her oven back then was small, so she had to use a small pan. Even with a larger oven, they all still cut off the end!

So we need to ask ourselves why we do everything we do? Examination and questioning do not just belong in the formal classroom, but also the real-life class. Remember, too, even the best thought out rules do not always apply. Thirty miles per hour may be the perfect speed for a road, but if we need to get to the emergency room to save a life, we are going to break that rule.

Closed systems, whether mechanical or our brains, do not take in new information; open systems do, and they are continually adjusting to new situations. To become more aware, we need to be curious, conscious, present, and be honest in our inquiry. If not, the rules we choose to break may not be for our or society’s benefit.

All this musing on rules came up recently due to a colleague who is just beginning to date again after many years of marriage. Like me, after my divorce, he wants to have a loving relationship. One woman, he thought perfect, told him that she’s not comfortable dating anyone who hasn’t been post-divorce for a few years. A sage rule usually, as we have to undo all our old habits from a prior relationship and learn who we are without another; my friend thought he might stop dating for a while.

While this rule might serve her (and most) well, I reminded my friend that, unlike 99% of the people out on the dating circuit, we had done a tremendous amount of deep self-reflection as part of our education. I was lucky, lucky, lucky, to quickly find a woman that was matching my authenticity, and he might have to date longer. However, to stop dating will probably ensure he does not find someone!

We cannot become our true selves without shedding the rules that have caused us to adapt our true nature to conform with others. Many rules we live by, if scrutinized, only helped us to fit into some group and do not support our being our authentic selves. “Question authority” is a famous slogan attributed to the psychologist Timothy Leary; I would say, “Question rules.”

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Let’s Talk Hate…

I am always amazed at the way people talk and the way in which they use words. Add in hyperbolized and selective usage and there is an excellent chance the speaker is, at best, negating what they are trying to say or, at worst, being a hypocrite. These days, hate is used quite a bit and, in my opinion, in an incorrect way. Now it is all over the news.

First, what is hate? Is it an emotion, a feeling, a thought, or a state of being? It can be all of these, but the one thing they have in common is these descriptions of hate stem from a mental construct. I hate lima beans, insects, bats, negative people, etc.; these express your opinion that you have possibly formed from experience. However, is it true? As Shakespeare stated in Hamlet, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So in the above example, hating lima beans as an adult might be that lima beans interact with your palate in a way that is unpleasant. That is an observation, not a judgment; but do you “hate” lima beans or just find them disagreeable? Also, ask yourself if you have objectively and with full attention evaluated lima beans in the last five years; remember, our palate is always changing.

What if you came into contact with lima beans, insects, and bats (or heard stories about them) as a child and determined you disliked then without actually giving them a chance. Children do this quite often over new foods, experiencing an automatic “yuck” simply because the parent wants them to try it. Children are also notorious for determining they “hate” a new food without even tasting it!

And then, our minds can change in an instant; this might be because we taste a formerly disliked food prepared a different way before realizing it is what we were supposed to hate! Peer pressure is also a huge determinant. Look at the diversity of behaviors when children react to many things; some play with spiders, other will run screaming. Seeing their best friend do something they thought they “hated” could push children to try, and possibly like, something they shunned.

Some think hate is the opposite of love; again, this comes from when we are very young children, and our brains think only in black/white. So when a child has to do something her mom says that the child does not want to do, they tend to say, “I hate you!” We can all probably agree that the child does not truly hate her mom; it is merely a go-to expression that articulates her dislike.

I think the opposite of love is indifference. We see children all the time trying to get their parent’s attention; if positive things do not work, they will do what the parent “hates,” as even bad attention is better than no attention. But this still falls under judgment, what one parent hates, another can love.

Now there is another word that I feel is frequently applied incorrectly. I remember my daughter at about three saying, “If you get me that (fill in the blank), I will love you forever!” Love can also be a state of mind (judgment) or a state of being. So now, like so often when I blog, we are getting into the nit-picky weeds! But those nuances around words are where the subtle energy lays. If I say, “I love ice cream!” would anyone think I am equating ice cream with my love for my spouse, my daughter, or granddaughter?

When I hear a client say he loves his spouse/partner, I ask questions because I do not know his frame of reference with that word. Is it love (lust, companionship, how it makes him feel) or is it Love, he reveres them and only wants for them? Is it Love like Robert Tizon states, “I would rather have eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, lips that cannot speak, than a heart that cannot love.”

That is where I feel the word “hate” gets misused these days. I like to look at issues as being on a line; where on the intensity line does it fall? I would think that most of us would say that hating lima beans and hating a murderer denote different points on the intensity line. And yet, any hatred, these days, seem to be homogenized, notwithstanding their disparate impact.

Why has the nation devolved into infantile black/white thinking? Why is it so hard to compartmentalize our feelings? My dad is a wonderful dad and also a bigot. Out of earshot of other (mostly), he still uses the “N” word. Every time, I feel udder disdain and call him on it. And yet he consistently received the Teacher of the Year Award from students in an inner city, poor high school teaching black and Hispanic (yes, he has a word for them also) students that he championed to excel. By not allowing something I loathe about my dad become all consuming, I can pigeonhole some things he does, and I can love him for all the amazing things he has done and continues to do for me.

When I was pursuing my master’s in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica, we were taught that when we feel bereft of being Loved in some aspect of our life, we feel fear. When we live in that fear long enough, we become angry and retaliate.

This hate quandary is where Charlottesville falls. So the neo-Nazis and white supremacists get a legal permit to march and do so, spewing their intolerance. Gross, but protected free speech. Antifa then shows up in masks and with clubs (without a permit to march) and attack the neo-Nazis who, it turns out, also have weapons. Where on the “hate line” do both these groups fall? Are they not the flip side of the same coin? As John Lennon said many years ago, “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”

Hate is hate. You cannot attack hate with more hate; this will only increase the level of hatred. Further, when we enter into an agreement with others to hate, our greater numbers further magnify that hatred. Hoards of angry folks will commit atrocities that many of the individuals would never do on their own. Agree with others to apply Love, and the same magnification occurs!

Don’t believe me? I offer two powerful examples where Love overcame hate… Gandhi and Martin Luther King; using peaceful demonstrations are what Cuba’s Women in White are doing now. We laud their accomplishments and peaceful protests, acting in the spirit of Love! We revel in how, with persistence and non-violence, they succeeded (or, with the Women in White, are trying to succeed). Why then do we persist in opposing hate with hate?

Words and the actions that follow have meanings; since everything in this universe is made up of energy, so do those meanings. Mother Teresa was asked to join an anti-war rally, and she declined, saying (and I paraphrase) she would, however, march for peace. This example points to a huge distention and pays homage to the meaning and energy behind words.

Worse, this undifferentiated, black/white hated is invading all aspect of our lives. I read an article recently where a yoga instructor said, “I get angry at the way yoga seems synonymous with whiteness, spiritual bypassing, and cultural appropriation.” Wow, did we study different yoga courses to become instructors? Her supposition may be correct (I wholly disagree), but why would she respond with anger? The yoga teachings I received and practice stress Love, oneness, and unity. I feel the same when I read some postings by my USM classmates, did we study the same spiritual psychology based on Love?

In every minute, we have a choice, are we responding to life with Love or are we responding in fear or anger? Are we going to be a beacon of a light of Love shining on anger and hate, or are we going to add to the level of fear and hatred? And do not be fooled, while the intensity of wielding a baseball bat against another human and writing of feeling angry with a person is different, it is a matter of adding a few hundred dollars to darkness or adding a few cents.

I am sometimes accused of being “Woo-Woo” when it comes to this energy of words and living in Love stuff. Well, then I am in good company; another John Lennon quote, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”

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Heaven or Hell?

It has been a while since I wrote on my blog, partly because we’ve been moving which both sucked up all the available spare time and partly because there was so much going on that I encountered what I have affectionately termed “moving mind!” Luckily, we have now been stable long enough that I can get back to my writing. One other note, probably more to myself since I don’t believe I actually have any readers for this blog, I’m going to allow my writing to become a little more “edgy.” Up until now, I have stayed somewhat professorial in my writings; I am now going to become a little bit more, at times, paternalistic (I can see my daughter’s eyes rolling in anticipation of the lecture)!

Almost every morning, I enjoy reading out of a book by Alan Cohen entitled “A Deep Breath of Life.” It is subtitled a daily inspiration for heart-centered living and is filled with wonderful one-page inspirational stories for each day of the year. There was an interesting juxtaposition between yesterday’s passage, the one for today on the Fourth of July, and what is transpiring in some areas and/or some subsections of our country. Up until now, I have shied away from anything political unless it simply highlighted an underlying psychological, developmental, or emotional issue; daily we are now confronted by all three stemming from both President Trump, the 24/7 media coverage, and the incessant need by some to discuss him.

Yesterday’s reading was entitled Heaven and Hell and talked about a samurai warrior commanding a Zen Master to teach him about Heaven and Hell. The Master laughed at the warrior, ridiculing him, and the samurai, duly insulted, drew his sword to kill the Master. The Master then pointed out, “That, sir, is hell.” The warrior was overcome with humility and thanked the Master, who pointed out “and that, sir, is heaven.” The point is that, as all Master and Saints have pointed out, while there are external Heavens and Hells, we are able to choose to live our life on this planet either in heaven or hell by way of our thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Today’s reading, “Declaration of Inner Independence” talked about celebrating the birth of our nation, freeing us from British rule, but asked the question, are we “… free of the inner bondage of fear and separation?” I would point out that, to me, this is redundant, we live in fear because we are separated from our true nature of love. Once again, this is a recurrent theme throughout time from every Master and Saint and, since I was brought up a Christian, I will point out two instances in the Bible; however every religion and spiritual path say the same thing. As an aside, when studying many different spiritual paths, I used to marvel at what seemed to be constant plagiarism! Genesis 1:27 states, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” And in Matthew 5:48, Christ says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The latter passage, of course, plays into the narrative of doing “good” on earth to reap your rewards later; it is equally true as a directive to live in perfect love daily, in this human body, in this present moment, and in every moment. To live separate from this perfect love is to live in fear and anger. Think back in your life to a time when you presented yourself as someone you were not or thought you were not. Did you not live in fear that you would be found out? This was true in middle school when trying to fit into a group or as an adult when making a presentation to peers having self-doubt, thinking and feeling that you will be “found out” to be a “fraud!” Now think about a time when you were living outside of your authenticity, and someone called you on it, did you not vehemently protest, trying to extend the lie?

When we are in our authenticity and integrity, we know who we are and when someone calls you on it, there is no emotional response. Why would we care if someone else thinks bad of us when we know who we are and live it; especially if that person, like so many, are themselves living, acting, and speaking out of fear out anger. There mere fact that they spoke out against you speaks volumes; remember, if they are living in their own authenticity and integrity, they will not care that something you say or do seemingly conflicts with their way of life!

So there is always fear and anger that accompanies living outside of love. In my Master’s course in spiritual psychology, we were taught when we live outside of the loving, we descend to the next level down, fear, and then below fear is anger. We were also taught that any issue that we are facing is not the issue; our response to any issue is the issue. If we are responding out of fear and anger, that is the issue; namely, we have now stepped out of being in the loving and are living a lie.

So what do we make of those around us that are in constant turmoil over some issue, be it President Trump, climate change, corporate greed, etc.? These are all legitimate issues that need addressing, but how will we successfully succeed in working these issues if we are coming from anger and fear? If we have a flat tire and are living in our authenticity, we simply replace the flat tire with the spare, call ahead if we are going to be late for a meeting, and do our best to keep moving through the day in love. If we allow anger to take over, we may damage the car with a kick or hurt ourselves changing the tire since we are not focused. Or we might suffer from some fear over what might transpire in the future surrounding the flat tire event. Either way, we are in anguish, and that impairs our functioning, not to mention the damage it does to our physical bodies.

I marvel that Post Traumatic Stress is so easily accepted if caused by a large, external event, war or car crash, also known as a big “T” trauma, but not recognized, or worst dismissed, when internally generated by our response to some issue (small “t” trauma). The Big “T” trauma might be seen to exact a bigger toll on us, but that is because it is a Big “T” trauma. Think in terms of a knife wound; we would rush to a hospital if we accidentally stabbed ourselves deeply, but wouldn’t hundreds of small nicks each day also severely maim us physically, even to the point of finally killing us? It is the same with small “t” traumas.

So on this Fourth of July, Independence Day, let us do as Alan suggests and begin to cultivate inner independence, freeing ourselves from the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual hell that is living in fear and anger. For you, President Trump might be considered the ultimate challenge to live in the loving, but that can lead to the ultimate healing. Then we can experience Independence Day from fear and anger every day!

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Don’t Be Defined By Your Past

One of our greatest strength and also our greatest issue is the ability to remember the past. Children and mammals have this to a much lesser degree and, interestingly, it serves them better for it. So, let us look at their way of remembering the past first.

While I strongly push not punishing, if done with young children and, in the animal kingdom let’s use, dogs it is imperative to punishment immediately after their transgression. The reason is they are so in the present moment, they have moved on mentally within minutes and do not actually remember that transgression.

I am sure some of you are thinking, “that’s not correct,” but that is the problem with punishing. Sure, if you punish a young child or dog, they do remember, but they remember the punishment, not the reason why. They may or may not associate the punishment with the issue.

There was a joke I heard many years ago which, while funny, also illustrates this. A dog messed in the house, so the owner grabs it, sticks its nose in the mess, shakes it while yelling, and then throws the dog out the window. This punishment happens a few times, and then the owner comes home to find a mess and the dog immediately stick its nose in it, shakes, and jumps out the window. That is why no current day trainer uses punishment to train any animal, so why do we continue to punish children?

I would add that, even in this story, the dog will run into the house and will have moved on from the incident. Every new moment is another adventure, and they do not lie around thinking, “Oh, I was a bad dog! I’ve done this so many times; I will never get it right! I must be worthless and doomed to failure!” But how many of us do this?

Remembering the past is a wonderful way to insure that we learn from our mistakes and help our lives to become ever more productive and easier to navigate life. Such as to better fit into our family, our “tribe,” our religion, our business, or with whatever group we choose or need to associate. Unfortunately, it can also be a way to keep us or others tied to the past.

I knew an estate attorney once that was the baby of his family of seven. He worked at a prestigious law firm and was on their partner track, so hard working and smart. He told me about having to go home because his dad had died and the family expected him to handle the probate, but then continued to treat him as if he was the baby, not competent, and needing their constant input. Unfortunately, while this upset him, he was unable to break out of the family system that kept him subservient.

Everything in the past, whether we label it “good” or “bad” has made us what we are today. There is no “If only that had not happened to me!” If it hadn’t, we would not be who we are today, and there is no guarantee that the alternate path would have been better or easier.

Use the past, but do not live there; live your life in the present moment! An analogy I use is your life is like a motorboat; you can continue to look out the back and bemoan every log, sand bar, and wrong turn you have ever made, or you can turn around and grab the wheel. Use the lessons and knowledge of the past, but apply it today. Just like the advertisements for stock brokerages, past performance (in this case, missteps) does not guarantee future failures, but only if you quit beating up on yourself and learn! Lament the ill-conceived choices you have made, celebrate your successful choices, and utilize the lessons learned from both without identifying with the old you. She or he is long gone.

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Non-Sexual Touching

I was at the United States Association of Body Psychotherapy conference in Providence, RI, a couple of weeks ago and this year’s theme was “Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Body; The Art and Science of Somatic Psychotherapy.” I always enjoy going to conferences, getting reacquainted with classmates, professors, and peers and then meeting new people! Some of the offerings at conferences do not interest me, but most do; unfortunately, too often two or more sessions I want to attend are presented at the same time!

At this stage in my continuing education, I have found that what I learn at conferences and workshops tend to follow a normal distribution or bell curve. The left tail represents information I knew, but had forgotten; the left half of the curve, the information I remember, but rarely utilize, so it is nice to have a refresher. And then the right half of the curve is information I know and use, but presented in a new manner that opens up new possibilities, and finally, the right tail represents new information!

I was surprised to find so many breakout sessions at this conference that did not expound on the theme past what I learned in school. Probably the best was a pre-conference, half-day session entitled, “Is Our Access To ‘God’ Sourced In Our Loins? The spiritual call of sexuality and death.” What a mouthful! Had that session not been taught by a mentor and now friend, I might have gone to the other half-day just based on the title!

However, I anticipated that his way of teaching the session would make it fascinating, and I was not disappointed; the session was more tantric based, the spiritual and meditative branches of tantra, much of the time an excellent juxtaposition of dance movement and quiet meditation. There were several experiential exercises thrown in, most we did ourselves, but three of the exercises required a partner.

My friend asked us to find someone to work with early in the session without telling us what the exercises would be; the woman next to me and I agreed it was just easiest to choose someone close. My partner shared that she recently moved to the Denver area (where my dad lives) from Europe, was married, and starting a coaching business (another area of mutuality). As it turned out, the exercises we did were very intimate and sensual!

There were three practices towards the end of the day, the first in which we washed each other’s hands. We were in an unused area of the hotel, so whether the group was same-sex or co-ed, we just chose a restroom and shared a couple of sinks. Having someone else wash my hands, something most of us do several times a day, helped me to be much more mindful of the process. This exercise was an excellent example of awareness; how often do we engage in repetitive tasks throughout the day without staying present and bringing our full attention to what we are experiencing?

In the second exercise, we twice sat cross-legged with foreheads touching for five minutes; the first time, just feeling the other’s presence within our “personal space.” Starting again, we explored our thoughts, bodily feelings, and deeper emotions rather than just noticing having someone so close. As a body psychotherapist, I have done this type of intimate touching many times, but not foreheads; I remarked that I did not believe I had ever had my lips so close to another’s for that long and not ended up in a kiss!

For the last exercise, we gently stroked the other’s face for five minutes as we saw the Buddha in them, and then received the stroking; we were encouraged to have our eyes closed and drop into our feelings, but our eyes could be open if we were uncomfortable. If the first two exercises were intimate and sensual, this last one was on steroids! I received first, and while it was very pleasurable and relaxing, it was nothing compared to giving. For me, this was partly because my eyes were closed in the first when receiving, so I did not have any visual clues of what my partner was feeling, and partly because I am a giver, rather than a receiver, and so the second iteration was more significant to me.

When I was doing the stroking, I felt so blessed just to be with another and offering love without any thought of getting anything in return; pure, unconditional giving and love. It seemed profound to my partner as she cried throughout her receiving. I say “seemed” because, unfortunately, other than a general discussion about how powerful the exercises were, we did not delve into how they affected us. Then, for the rest of the conference, without being rude, she seemed very distant.

I am grateful that, with all my work, I have embraced a healthy internal locus of control (psychology-speak for holding myself responsible for my thoughts, feelings, and actions). I took the exercises for what they were and relished the experiences without taking any responsibility for any outcome; further, I never had the chance to ask if my perception of my partner being distant was true.

One of Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements is not to take anything personally. If indeed she was distancing herself from me, it was her choice and had nothing to do with me. All that being said, as a recovering co-dependent, my tendency is for my mind to take off exploring possible reasons despite trying to remain internally focused, despite knowing that my observation may not even be her truth!

Maybe she was afraid of that much intimacy with a stranger. She hinted at this by saying after the last touching that she almost felt she was “cheating.” Maybe she deemed that level of sensuality and intimacy to be an invitation to make a sexual advance. Maybe my earlier remark seemed to be flirting! Maybe, maybe, maybe said my mind; what an exercise in futility and a total waste of precious time.

As I teach, any reason I might have conger up is based solely on my frame of reference and past conditioning which is different from hers. There are a million other reasons I would never come up with, assuming she was distant! So I had a fourth exercise from this pre-conference session – how to recognize my tendency to make meaning from an experience and to drop back into my core, releasing my thoughts, taking nothing personally, and returning to calm, peacefulness, and the present moment. What strange creatures we are; when experiencing anything hints of sexuality, whether real or imagined, that strangeness is highlighted!

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Yoga Festival Thoughts

When evaluating my thoughts on a strange or different event I have witnessed or a subject I learned about from a client, I often wonder when an observation turns into judgment? This is especially true when the client is reporting something in them or happened that society seems “bad” or “wrong.” I try to keep in mind a Shakespeare quote from Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

This observation/judgment issue has come up quite a bit in the media these days, what with the political talk on both sides and how the other is “bad!” It also came up for me personally several days ago when my wife and I spent a few days at Lake Tahoe celebrating our birthdays. While driving around the lake, we read in a local rag about a yoga event happening in Squaw Valley called Wanderlust 2016. It bills itself as “Our festivals are all-out celebrations of mindful living.”

Wanderlust offers education on yoga practice, classes, music, and food. We headed there on a Saturday and mainly walked around the booths, but also listened to a positive message rap band, interesting! The booths seemed to break down to about 50% clothing, 30% food, and 20% yoga equipment or art.

What had me thinking if I was judging was the materialism of the clothing, equipment, and art; everything was quite expensive. So, is this a judgment or an observation? These entrepreneurs had to pay a fee and need to put food on their table, but it seemed a bit counter to the “mindful living” pledge.

I have written before that I am an interesting mix of traditional and eclectic; well I am VERY traditional when it comes to yoga. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think all yoga is healthy and beneficial; however, I practice a style that is quite traditional and minimalistic, adhering to a strict interpretation of the Yoga Sutras. I show up in comfortable shorts and shirt with my sticky mat, a sweat mat, and a hand towel (even the latter is sometimes looked upon with askance!).

No music and very little socializing, just focus, breath, and movement. Again, I think I wrote about this also (too many blogs to remember!), but enough focus that I was a third of the way through my practice ten years ago before I noticed that Julia Roberts was across from me! These are some of what translates into mindfulness to me, not the newest yoga clothes or fad.

Judgment or observation, inquiring minds want to know? I was with a colleague last week that suggested a way to know was to ask myself, “What was my energy around these thoughts?” Maybe a little sad and dismayed, but there was also a bit of excitement and wonder at some of the innovations in mats and styles. I am guessing that, since I was not upset, I was not judging; at least I hope so!

Of course, eating great food, much of it free handouts, is sure to take the edge of anything!

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The Art of Asking

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.” Lou Holtz

This morning, as I was walking the dogs out to the end of the driveway to collect the papers, a young fellow on his way to high school slowed, rolled down his window, and said, “You have a couple of great Irish Wolfhounds!” I thanked him and mentioned they are Labradoodles. As he pulled away, I thought back to my own teen years and remembered clearly how important it was to me at that time to sound learned.

This isn’t to condemn the young guy for stepping out and making a statement. In fact, I find many young people are reticent to talk to people they don’t know, so kudos to him for acting neighborly and communicating! Nor was he completely off the mark, we have had many people think that they were either Irish or Russian wolfhounds; being first generation Labradoodles, they do not have curly fur like the later generations. Being an educated guess, I definitely would not put him into the category of the Abraham Lincoln quote I used in an earlier blog, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I also do not know for certain that this teen was doing what I did back when I was his age, that is my own bias, but I do see it in many teens, especially boys. And although many times it indicates low self-esteem when we present ourselves as an authority, as was the case in my life before my 50s, I have no idea that this was the case this morning. However it does point to something that I have learned and could benefit many people.

As I have also mentioned in past blogs, our perceptions in life our totally dependent upon our experiences. We see, hear, think, and expect what we have already experienced. As we have already learned much by the time we are teens (but not near as much as we think at that age!), it is natural to delineate the vast amount of information that we are receiving through our senses, pigeonholing that information into easier to understand categories. Even when faced with something totally new, our brains are constantly searching to find like patterns from the past.

Unfortunately, this can result into what is called a closed system, categorizing new experience that we have into an old familiar group, and then shutting out the possibility of there being a different explanation for that experience. An open system, while it might initially categorize a new experience like one from the past, is open to the possibility that that categorization is incorrect and seeks clarification. Too many of us fall into the former closed system.

That is because, whether real or perceived, the older portion of our brain is constantly searching for threats. This closed system helps us to survive, let’s a look at an easy example. If we lived in Africa and had seen a female lion attack another human, and then we happen to chance meeting a jaguar, the older portion of our brain does not want the newer, thinking and analyzing brain to wonder, “gosh, I wonder if this new animal that looks like that lioness, really is a kinder, gentler kind of cat? Our limbic brain quickly categorizes the jaguar as being sufficiently like the lioness, despite the differ color, as a threat to our safety, energizing us to flee.

The key to learning as we get older, is to revert back to our early developmental ages and question everything. Utilize the positive aspects of a closed system, but recognize that it may be closed. Treat every experience as if it were new; allow the limbic brain to do its work of comparing and categorizing, but then question the process. Had the young guy this morning done this, he might have stated and then questioned, “You have a couple of great looking dogs; they look like Irish Wolfhounds, are they?”

This inquiry is fairly benign as it dealt with my dogs, and did not reflect specifically on me. What if, however, someone makes a statement about you that you categorize as hurtful when in the other person’s mind they are actually paying you a compliment? We all have had the thought, “what did he mean by that?” Having a closed system keeps us from enjoying the differences in people. I have a friend that I met in a spiritual setting that, had I not met him there, was so different from me that I quite possibly would have dismissed him as a flake. Not allowing myself to be a closed system, I got to know this person, and we had many enjoyable experiences over the years.

This lets us draw on our experience, while still keeping our thought system open in order to continue learning. Keeping in mind that when we apply our categorizations to others without asking questions, we do not allow ourselves to really know the other person. As I have stated before, we can use “I” statements and questions to inquire without putting our interpretation on the other; then, keeping an open mind (system) and really listening without judgment, we will enjoy a more complete understanding of the other person.

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Another Election Goodie!

One of the benefits of writing a dissertation is learning to avoid the trap called “correlation does not imply causation.” I know many of my fellow grad students that, like me, got nailed by their committee by committing this error! The rebukes were swift and intense, so much so that we all learned our lesson and utilized critical thinking before drawing another conclusion!

One example often used is the admonition not to buy a red sports car because police ticket red sports cars more than any other vehicle. While this is true, it is not the color of the car; it’s the drivers. Young men tend to drive faster than any other demographic, and they also tend to prefer red cars to other to colors. It is this demographic group that garners more tickets, irrespective of the color of car they are driving!

Election time provides a plethora of folks violating this trap in trying to promote their candidate or denigrating those they do not support. The other day on Facebook, a distant Canadian relative did this. Based on her past posts, I know that she votes the Liberal party in Canada, lots of anti-Harper and pro-Trudeau memes and comments.

She posted a video of a Texas Tech University journalism major asking random students historical, current event, and cultural/entertainment questions. The historical questions were centered around the Civil War and asked when it occurred and who were the combatants; the main question about current events was, “Who is vice president of the United States?” Unfortunately, there were very few students who could answer these questions.

The cultural/entertainment questions were: “What show did Snookie appear in?” “Who is Brad Pitt married to?” “Who was Brad Pitt married to before?” Every student was able to answer these questions correctly!

The caption to her post was something like, “And we wonder why these kids are voting for Trump?” There were only two comments on her post as I caught it fairly soon after she put it on Facebook, and they both made references to the intelligence of Texans. As an aside, it’s interesting after I made a succinct comment based on what I’m writing here, not one other person chose to make a post! Unfortunately, my relative not only violated the causation/correlation rule but logical deduction to boot!

I dismissed the latter comments to simply being parochial, usually centering around the two President Bushes. Funny how we do not hear any ignoramus Texan style responses to Lloyd Benson, Ann Richards, or Wendy Davis in the political arena. I also never hear derogatory comments about the education level of Tommy Tune, Jerry Hall, Matthew McConnaughhay, Tommy Lee Jones, Jamie Fox, or Sissy Spacek, to name a few actors!

Unfortunately, this dearth of knowledge is symptomatic of the lax education standards across the country, not this university in Texas. Just look at any old Jay Walking clips when Leno was the Tonight Show host or some of the responses to Jimmy Fallon’s questions of people on the street! The same is true on the other coast; I saw an article showing a similar lack of historical and current events knowledge in Ivy League schools juxtaposed against 100% correct answers regarding celebrities. It makes you wonder about the admission requirements for Ivy League schools.

But worse, my relative doesn’t even check out the demographics on who is supporting Trump; it is older white males without a college education! She is actually maligning Bernie Sanders and her liberal causes because his supporters are mostly young white college students! While this might be a bit harsh, my Canadian relative might have heeded the United States Civil War president’s admonition, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

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