Examining Assumptions, Part II

I shared in the last blog post that I was examining two assumptions:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2. There is an afterlife.

IMG_4411The first assumption is re-enforced every time I get a prescription for antibiotics: you must take every pill even long after you are feeling better. It is the idea of counseling or therapy: you must work through every issue–there are no shortcuts. I have “done the work” in my life. No liquid diet fasts for me. Just exercise and lots-of-work diets.

Then Michael Pollan shared that in the clinical trials treating depressed cancer patients with psychedelic medicines experienced real measurable improvement 80% of the time. This is well beyond the 30% rates of anti-depressants and without the considerable side effects of drugs like Prozac. Only terminal cancer patients were allowed in the studies so it is impossible to know how long the benefits might have lasted or if later side effects might appear. Still, it is remarkable for its potential.

Rather than making me want to take a guided trip, I found it encouraging with regards to my reliance on acupuncture to resolve my chronic pain. I do not understand how acupuncture works but it is dealing with the underlying causes and it manages energy. To me though, it seems relatively easy compared to other therapies, especially ones that require me to relive childhood trauma. Reconsidering my assumption around the requirements of a lasting cure helped me put my faith in the possibility of good to great outcomes from acupuncture.

It also helped me look at the role prayer plays in my healing. I’ve been shy about asking for prayer. I’ve always said I believe the creator of the universe can miraculously heal people if S/He chooses and I pray for this kind of healing for others, and yet I’m reluctant to ask for it for myself. I consider myself one of the undeserving, or that I can only ask after I’ve tried to make every other remedy work. I’m ready to revise my assumptions regarding spiritual healing.

What about the afterlife? Michael Pollan and Ezra Klein both called themselves materialists and as such they believe our brains generate consciousness, thus our selves cease when our body dies. Pollan admitted that some scientists suggest consciousness exists outside of our selves and therefore, it might be possible that subject’s in the clinical trials really did experience mystical or spiritual epiphanies. As a person of faith I do not have much trouble reconciling this.

IMG_4409My qualms about the afterlife is the American Christian culture’s complete fixation with it to the exclusion of asking “how should we live today?” I have been reading Rob Bell‘s What is the Bible? as a kind of devotional. And his chapter on the Good Samaritan rocked my world in a number of ways. And one of those is that when the lawyer asks Jesus, how do we get eternal life? He wasn’t asking about the afterlife. We have somehow twisted “eternal life” from the abundant life God’s people should be experiencing every day while we live here now in relationship with the Divine, to a cushy deal after we die. So much of our faith experience is now simplified to “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior” and then going back to a judgey, non-loving attitude about our neighbor.

At the suggestion of my friend Rebekah I listened to the Liturgists podcast interview with Rob Bell, when Michael Gungor and the other podcast host who goes by Science Mike ask questions about this book. I’m listening to an intelligent and uplifting conversation when I realize that this men are part of a growing club of people tossed out of Club Evangelical for questioning assumptions about our faith. And yet the gospels are stories after story of Jesus asking and answering questions, sometimes with more questions. These three and others also tossed out are postmodernists, whereas, the older, grayer leaders of the E. movement, such as it is today, are traditionalists or modernists. Don’t question the relatively recent constructs of what it means to be born again and who God loves and doesn’t love or risk being ostracized.

I am realizing that I believe in a consciousness outside of myself and God, and I believe that my soul or conscious goes on in some way beyond death; however, it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. It pales in importance to the prime directive which is to be a vessel for God’s love in the world–to be living the abundant, spirit-filled life that God offers me. I’m so far from that right now and I’d rather get after that and let the after death question take care of itself.

 

Examining Assumptions, Part I

We all make assumptions. Humans are assumptions makers par excellence. Imagine if we got up each morning without any assumptions in place. How disconcerting and exhausting it would be to have to make sense of every day and the dog sleeping next to you without assumptions.

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Until a year ago, I didn’t know I had a half sister. I assumed I only had one sibling.

And yet… assumptions can calcify and constrict over time. It makes us uncomfortable to question long held assumptions and at the same time it can be hugely liberating.

We are living through an age when we most people are challenging long held assumptions. It is unnerving and invigorating. Imagine that you are a knight going into battle in a suit of armor. Your armor is your assumptions. The other side has no armor, no heavy draft horses to carry them even. Instead the horses are pulling a cannon. This new weapon blows a side in the castle you are defending. Time to rethink your assumptions. How liberating to cast off the armor that is heavy, makes you sweat like a pig and takes a team of men to get on you and hoist you on your horse. But you go from ranked #1 in jousting to irrelevant in one battle.

When assumptions no longer serve us well, when they become like a suit of armor in a the age of explosives, then we cling to these assumptions at our peril.

Postmodernism is a lot of things depending on whether you are talking about art or literature or moral values. There are a new set of assumptions that are associated with it. For example, that there are many perspectives and all of them deserve consideration. The only way to better understand reality is to consider these perspectives, but of course, we can never be certain about reality.

Does this make you uncomfortable?

Or are you excited because finally there is breathing room for a broader view, a more complicated view? One that includes you finally. Or are you threatened because you are being asked to include other perspectives that challenge your assumptions?

For me the process of challenging my assumptions is both uncomfortable and exciting. It is like Aslan’s breathe restoring life to statues that were “things I knew for sure.” They may still be useful but they may also be adjusted because of new evidence, new perspectives, new information. Or give way to a new ways of thinking that better serve me and my community.

This has been thrown into relief this week by 2 podcasts with the author Michael Pollan. The first was the Ezra Klein Show. I listened to this conversation twice because I wanted to make sure I caught it all. The other was Fresh Air podcast where Terri Gross interviewed Pollan and included a bonus portion. Michael Pollan‘s new book, How to Change Your Mind. It looks at the history of psychedelic drugs and what new research is pointing to about consciousness. He also does his own explorations and reports his experiences.

It is inspiring me to question two long held assumptions, but not necessarily to embrace their opposites. These two assumptions may no longer serve:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2.  There is an afterlife.

I’ll share more about my thinking in Part II.

 

 

Honoring Commitments to Me, Myself and I

IMG_4148It has taken me a long time to shake off the socialization of my first 3 decades of life and begin to keep commitments to myself. Until my forties (and still it is a struggle), I put others first. Before I ate, I fed my family. Before I had time to read or relax, I made sure the laundry was whirring and the fridge was stocked. Now that I have fewer demands on my time from children, I can still find myself taking care of friends, or parents or co-workers’ needs before my own.

My bout of hives and subsequent journey to reclaim my health and vigor resulted in one aha! new experience: I am keeping lots of different commitments to myself.

I am resting more. I am doing less. I am seeking out professional help from a nutritionist and acupuncturist. I am shopping at the Sacramento Food Coop and cooking at home. I am making my lunch to take to work. These are all things that in the past I would have made different choices around and justified it by placing greater value on other people’s needs.

It also gave me permission to eat what I wanted and drink lots of diet coke to stay awake. Now I drink alkaline water by the quart. I am imbibing in kombucha instead of soda. It is a huge change. And I’ve kept it up for 6 weeks.

My resolve is reinforced by hives that recur anytime I try to reintroduce food like eggs, soy, or cheese. I am still eating on the elimination diet and it’s become relatively easy and has many side benefits, including weight loss (about 10 pounds so far).

My hives reoccur less often. My morning body pain a 5 or 6 instead of a 7 or 8. It is not a miracle cure. Last week when sciatica nearly crushed me, I added in acupuncture. My practitioner did her evaluation and just about everything is wrong with me. As a result, I will be going for treatments twice a week for at least 8 weeks, and then it will taper off gradually.

Natalie, my nutritionist, is amazingly supportive and continue to find new things for me to try. Her latest suggestion is to give my tummy a rest for 12 hours each night by not eating or drinking anything except water from the last minute I finish dinner until breakfast 12 hours later.

Brie, my massage therapist, is a huge supporter of my new choices. She is teaching me that short term pain will pay dividends in the long run. I can remember when massage was mainly relaxing and the main challenge to getting up from a chair was a cat in my lap. My goal is to return to that status while maintaining the healthier lifestyle.

Leadership takes a lot of energy and mine is taking an uptick thanks to all of the ways I am taking care of myself. I am soaking my feet in an herbal concoction as I write this.  Unlike other journeys I have taken, I don’t know how long this one will be or when I will have reached the end. Stay tuned.

Fitness and Leadership

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Excited to purchase rice grown locally by friends who care about birds and fish.

In both of the intensive leadership programs I’ve participated in–California Agricultural Leadership Program and CTI Co-Active Leadership–there has been an emphasis on health and fitness. The central message was to be an effective leader you must manage your health so that you are not hampered by illness. I have always needed to lose a few pounds but otherwise have enjoyed good health, so I never understood how important health is to achieving my leadership potential.

Then menopause happened and my fibromyalgia came roaring back. I now have empathy for people dealing with any kind of chronic pain. I am not sure the energy tax I’ve been paying for my fibro-related pain, but I would guess my productivity and enthusiasm are down 15-20% compared to 2 years ago.

Then on February 10 this year I developed hives and I’ve been experiencing them in different parts of my body in the weeks since. The over the counter medication does not control them very well either. I am at my wit’s end, so I am starting an elimination diet.

I will chronicle my journey giving up almost everything I usually eat to find a way to release the healthier, stronger, focused leader in me.

Aha! Moment in the Culture Wars

bullshitJournalists and commentators covering the 2016 presidential election seemed at a loss to explain how Trump’s supporters could jeer at “Lyin'” Hillary Clinton and cheer a man a man whose speeches were filled with easy to recognize falsehoods. I scratched my head until I read Brene Brown‘s newest book, Braving the Wilderness.

On page 90, Brown begins to describe bullshit. (I am not going to pull any punches with language here.) In her research in how people struggle to maintain their authenticity and integrity when engaging in debates and discussions driven by emotion rather than shared understanding of facts, she found that we all rely on bullshitting from time to time. We bullshit ourselves and we bullshit others, sometimes simultaneously. In our “need to fit in culture” we often jump into an argument and start arguing even when we don’t really know anything about the matter.

Also people are increasingly cynical and growing tired of having to sort through information to figure out “how things truly are.” So we say whatever and we put up bullshit and stop asking questions. This quickly devolves into you’re either with us or agin’ us.

Brene Brown also found her research participants made a distinction between lying and bullshitting. I found this intriguing enough to go to the source. Brown leaned heavily on the scholarly work of Harry G. Frankfurt, an emeritus Princeton professor who wrote On Bullshit in 2005.  I downloaded the short book and struggled through the first part, then hit pay dirt.

The liar makes his/her statement with the intention to deceive. Generally it is perceived that this person generally cares about the truth and facts, but practices deception on occasion. Ms. Clinton’s lawyerly parsing of the truth probably “feels” like a purposeful deception to many people, whereas, I imagine she sees it as walking finely along the boundary of truth.

The bullshitter, on the other hand, has a more distant relationship with the truth. He/she may not know what the facts actually are–as when we bullshit our way through a college essay exam. Or they may not have much interest in becoming informed but find themselves quizzed on their opinion. Bullshit can rely mostly on an emotional argument, and if the facts are false, they only have to fit with the bullshit narrative.

The bullshitter and the liar are both trying to get away with something. But the bullshitter is trying to make a connection, get us to like him/her, bluff, or other motive. His/her “statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth–this indifference to how things really are–that I regard as the essence of bullshit.” (Frankfurt, p. 33)

We also have much more forgiveness for a bullshitter than a liar. “We may seek to distance ourselves from bullshit, but we are more likely to turn away from it with an impatient or irritated shrug than with the sense of violation or outrage that lies often inspire.” (Frankfurt, p. 48) Trump supporters saw Trump bullshitting, but with much greater consequence, perceived Clinton as a liar. Furthermore:

The LIAR is concerned with truth values. “In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.” (p. 50)

Whereas, the BULLSHITTER has much more freedom. “His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared…to fake the context as well… What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise…he misrepresents what he is up to.” (p. 53)

It seemed strange at first that Frankfurt calls the bullshitter the greater enemy of the truth than the liar. The liar still has a nodding acquaintance with the authority of truth. The bullshitter pays no attention to truth at all.

It is not clear that there is more bullshit in the world today than in previous times; however, bullshit can do more damage, because as our access to correct information proliferates, there is more skepticism about what actually makes up objective reality. This loss of confidence cascades into a retreat from the disciplines of acquiring knowledge and instead we value sincerity or authenticity.

With minds dulled by entertainment and gossip, how do we discern between what is sincere and what is bullshit? Especially when people prize their own opinions so highly.

More to the point of leadership, what is to be done in our own conversations when we encounter speakers who use “us vs them” and look askance at facts in favor of emotion? Brene Brown encourages two behaviors (besides avoiding bullshit): get curious and stay civil. This is also good advice when you are triggered. Hmm, I doubt it’s a coincidence that someone else’s bullshit can easily trigger me. “Generosity, empathy, and curiosity (e.g., Where did you read this or hear this?) can go a long way in our efforts to question what we’re hearing and introduce fact.” (Brown, p. 95) And civility is treating others as you’d like to be treated or caring for one’s identity without degrading someone else’s in the process.

Get curious. Stay civil.

 

Author’s note:  Growing up around horses, I have always found the word bullshit to be non-offensive and an accurate description of what happens when someone piles the nonsense higher and higher. Frankfurt mentions that in Britain, it is more likely to be called humbug. Does humbug have the same meaning? And does it carry the same “slightly dirty word taint”?

 

 

 

 

We Need #CharacterDay More Than Ever

The creative folks at Let It Ripple created Character Day and it is today September 13th. I mark the day on this blog. Last night I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic article “The First White President.” As Hillary Clinton has said in several recent interviews, Trump is a real and present danger (to our democracy).

I want to build up the community of people who value character and celebrate Character Day. With an acknowledgement to the times we live in, I offer an example of character worth celebrating:  Persistence.

LKM#ShePersisted became a viral hashtag when Senators shushed their colleagues.  My hero is Laura King Moon. She persisted her entire career, most persistently at the California Department of Water Resources seeking solutions to intractable problems. It took cancer to take her out. Even then she persisted to the end.

The Great Unraveling

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“Unraveling” by Julie Pieper

This week I joined the reading group at the Sacramento Central Library. We are reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I have started this book many times but never finished. One of the participants made a reference to the ending and someone cried. “Don’t spoil it.” He reacted in disbelief. “Didn’t everyone have to read it in high school?” Nope, and in college I was assigned women’s literature and the Russians.

I’m so glad I didn’t read it until now because our book club is giving it a dimension I am certain would not have come up in any high school discussion. This may be the first postmodern novel as Melville challenges us to look at the whale from every perspective without judgement. In asking, “What is the whale?”, he’s also asking metaphysical questions:

  • Are whales sentient? Do they feel pain as we do? Can they seek revenge?
  • Is killing a whale for corsets and lamp oil a crime against nature?

Moby Dick has even more current day relevance as I read the New York Times Review of Books “National Delusions” by Hannah Rosin. Melville’s naming of the whaling ship the Pequod after an Indian tribe massacred by the Puritans is part of his overall critique of manifest destiny, capitalism and “civilization.” The myths we tell ourselves about that first Thanksgiving started the magical thinking that has culminated in the lying liars residing in the White House.

In Rosin’s review of Kurt Anderson’s 500-year history of the United States, Fantasyland, she writes: “Reading a great revisionist history of America is a bookish way to feel what it’s like to be born again. Suddenly past, present and future are connected by a visible thread. Stray details and aberrations start to make sense. You feel ashamed, but also enlightened, because at least you have the named the sin: You belong to a nation of blood thirsty colonizers (Howard Zinn), or anti-intellectuals (Richard Hofstadter) or, in Kurt Anderson’s latest opus, a people who have committed themselves over the last half century to florid, collective delusion.”

Those Puritans who massacred the Pequod are the same who vowed to hang any Quaker or Catholic who landed on their shores (and did). But we remember them as peacefully breaking bread with their Indians saviors and seeking freedom of religion. The long list of conspiracy theorists, survivalists, cults, and more that followed are part of an long American tradition. It’s not what you do, it is what your publicist says you do.

Apparently at the end of Fantasyland, Anderson tries to redraw a boundary: “You’re entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies, but not your own facts–especially if your fantastical facts hurt people.” This may not be sufficient to save us. Rosin asks if anyone has anything more powerful, like a story powerful enough to call us back from our collective delusion.

Perhaps nature, who we’ve been at war with also since the beginning of our country, will have the last word. The Koch Brothers have purchased the Republican Parties fealty on “no such thing as climate change” but the recent forest fires and mega-storms really don’t care what the party plank is. Hurricane Harvey is real. In the end if reality doesn’t wake us up from our collective dream, then maybe we don’t deserve to survive.