Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Illusory Separation

The I Ching uses the metaphor, “progress like a hamster”, to illustrate an attitude too focused on accumulation. The fact that hamsters like to hoard shows how old the instinct is in our evolution. The emphasis on things embedded in noun-based language underlies the materialistic attitude toward living. If things are all that matters then success is based on how many things you have.
Erich Fromm wrote, “The nature of the having mode of existence follows from the nature of private property… It transforms everybody and everything into something dead and subject to another’s power.” Consumerism is the pathology. Because so much of the vital experience of living is left out, we cure our emptiness with consumption. Introspection is reduced to tabulation of what we’ve accumulated. Not only do we amass things but also nouns that aren’t really things. We accumulate achievements, degrees, honors, awards, promotions and results in general. The attention to outcomes rather than process, of accomplishments we can quantify rather experience as it unfolds, is part of the having mode. Dissatisfactions arise because we don’t have as much as someone else. Comparison to others takes attention away from the unfolding process of our own life. Vitality is sucked from the moment when attention is focused on results. The self is just another possession. Thinking of the body as something we have creates anxiety about losing it.
Activity is the mode of being. Doing is feeling alive. Peak experiences occur when the involvement is so complete we lose consciousness of the self. Full attention is absorbed by the activity itself. Being happy is immersion in the act of living. Stretching out into the world is the action of growth, whether it’s learning or making, or listening or appreciating. Images for growth can direct attention to the richness of being and our interconnection to larger patterns. Awareness of the dependence on so many other factors that support our flourishing enlarges our sense of connection to the larger whole. We are not separate. We’re woven into the network and participate in it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Dividing Words

More than a hundred years ago, William James wrote,
“Language works against our perception of truth.”
We haven’t heeded the warning. In our efforts to tame the world, the epidemic of pinning experience down with words may be a defense against the proliferation of information. Giving something a name gives us the illusion of knowing it. We label people, things, events, and even sensations and abstract qualities, that are then limited by the definitions of those labels. Every label is an act of separation which in itself is a falsification given the overlapping spectrum of qualities that bleed through the categories. The range of complex individuality often lumped in one psychiatric diagnosis is obscured by the label, which focuses on just a few elements. As Peter Breggin wrote in Beyond Conflict, “Many individuals who become diagnosed by psychiatrists are in reality suffering from oppression.” The diagnosis, by contributing to the reduction of personal reality, may contribute to the oppression.
Nobel prize winning scientist David Bohm felt that many of the world’s problems had to do with the noun based nature of language fragmenting the totality of fluctuating reality. By focusing our attention on things we feel like things ourselves, separate and alienated from everything else. The nature of the quantum level is unbroken wholeness, all interconnected and flowing. In his book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order", Bohm wrote, ”…the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is …what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. “ Our tendency to take our descriptions as real creates the illusion that the divisions we make are real. My drawing “Explication” attempts to sidestep the traditional figure/ground divisions and point attention to the flow and unfolding as well underlying organizing principles that influence movement. Stanislav Grof, in his book, "The Holotropic Mind", wrote, “In this world where everything is in flux, always moving, the use of nouns to describe what is happening can only mislead us.”
Words divide. Perception unifies. When we want to understand something we need to see it in context, in the mesh of relationships that constitute its meaning. When language is most successful it creates an image in someone’s mind, which connects it to a pattern already understood. Experience is filled with qualities that resist naming. It includes the expectations created by an individual past and the underlying direction that guides our energies into the future. The fluid shifts in the process of growth, which is always adapting to changing conditions, is best illuminated by art. In the mid-twentieth century the philosopher Susanne Langer suggested that psychology had much to learn from art. She said, “Art is the creation of symbols for human feeling.” Now that neuroscience has shown that feeling directs thought, the time has come for the closer examination of how art can reveal the complexities of the human psyche.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An Image For Time

Recently the National Science Foundation released a visualization challenge. In it’s solicitation for entries is this statement.
“You can do science without graphics . But it’s very difficult to communicate it in the absence of pictures. Indeed some insights can only be made widely comprehensible as images. “
Advances in medicine have followed advances in imaging. The current interest in maps is a recognition of this as a primary way we organize information. The more complex the information, the more necessary images become for communicating important relationships. To understand we need to see, to be shown ,not to be told. Inner models of reality form the basis for thought. When the models aren’t adequate to the new information acquired we need to revise our images or our thought will be distorted.
Thinking of the passage of events as a timeline entails a sense of loss as things disappear into the past. But that may not be true of how we actually experience it. The sequential nature of our left hemisphere created our concept of time, but that is a feature of the way we process experience, not reality itself.
Exploring different images for time may give us a way of seeing it that goes deeper and feels more true to what we experience.
When my grandfather died I was really torn up about it. In the weeks that followed I began to feel that though he wasn’t there physically anymore, all the meaning he’d had in my life was unchanged. I began to think of time as like a big painting in progress, and that he was always there in his part of the painting. That part might not be developing anymore but the richness of the parts he created for me remained. It wasn’t until much later than I began to think more deeply about the analogy of time to a painting. An ant crawling across the painting would think the blue area came before the red area but it had to do with moving in a line through changes that were there all along. Unlike ideas of time as all there at once and locked in, what’s living and growing develops that area of the painting. When an area isn’t developing anymore it doesn’t go away, it just stops changing. This image creates a different analogy for time that includes the qualities we experience and not just the dry units of measurement. Analogy, the structural similarity between things, is how we understand something new. We compare it to something similar that we understand already. Images are powerful tools for understanding. In a world growing increasingly more complex, finding better images can broaden how we think.