Friday, September 21, 2012

Stick or Snake?

What does this have to do with that?
We've addressed this before, but it's worth a second look:

It's an old story: It's late, and you're walking tired and alone along an obscure path deep in the woods. Suddenly a dark wavy thing catches your eye before your foot falls on it. Without a thought, you are startled: "A snake!!!" You leap back; it doesn't move. "Ahhh, a stick!"


This comes up in a lesson about "seeing things as they are." The student inevitably hears the story, develops the idea that this is some practical lesson about remaining in the Here & Now(TM) and developing the clarity to realize on sight the difference between snakes and sticks in the deep woods at night, and then dedicates the next kalpa or two toward attaining this clarity.

Perfect! Well, sort of...

Anyway, today at the office I learned that where once a group of us each had internet access from our own desks, we will soon be limited to having one shared computer at most in the area with access outside the office. It's a matter of corporate policy, cost savings, and everything else I'm told, but given my own situation, this development is troubling. So, I couldn't help but wonder quietly: "Is this the last straw?"

... then I wonder what work I would find next.

If you see any opportunities to put this stuff to good use, do forward them along!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shaping Your Choice

In this TED talk, Philip Zimbardo makes an impassioned presentation about how otherwise good people slip into evil behaviors:

If you skip forward to around 16:50, you'll see his list entitled "7 Social Processes That Grease the Slippery Slope of Evil," reproduced here:

  1. Mindlessly taking the first small step
  2. Dehumanization of others
  3. De-individuation of self (anonymity)
  4. Diffusion of personal responsibility
  5. Blind obedience to authority
  6. Uncritical conformity to group norms
  7. Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference
He argues (around 19:20) that we need more heroes in our society--not the fantastic superheroes or extraordinary people models, but the everyday people whose heroism emerges in a particular set of circumstances. At 21:30, he calls to our attention an example of such a hero, a fellow who leaped to the tracks from the subway platform and his two kids to save another person of a different race from being killed by an oncoming train. He offers the quote, "I did what anyone could do, and what everyone ought to do."

I wonder if the presenter is aware that the "social processes that grease the slippery slope of evil" are essentially the same as those that allow the appearance of one of his "heroes?"

I just received a promotional email from Redbox, the movie rental company. The subject: "Millions have already rented it." The body: "Redbox customers love 'The Hunger Games.' People who didn't think they'd like it are falling in love. Want to give it a shot?" There are two buttons: "Rent DVD" and "Rent BLU-RAY."

Go on: Be a hero!

You know you want to...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Thought Exercise, Part 2

A group of men are waiting outside a conference room before the hour. The highest ranking military member is a mid-grade officer; the highest ranking civilian member outranks him. There is good-natured conversation, but the language becomes... colorful.

Opposite the conference room in the hall are vending machines. The men make way when a woman on a mobility scooter approaches, but they are briefly shocked when they hear her sharp "Excuse me, gentlemen!"--a reminder that they watch their language in the public space.

Quietly giggling and slightly red-faced, not one offers to help when the woman drops a coin from her purse...

... though one did bring in a trophy quarter afterward to show the others around the table once the room became available. Now that the woman was gone and the door was closed, the expected backlash continued. She was a large woman so naturally there would be the implication that her only handicap was her obesity, and there would be the rhetorical question about whether the outcome would be different if it was a piece of candy rather than a quarter.

The woman's interruption regarding the language was proper, as the workplace has rules. How we respond to the affront when we know we realize we are in the wrong is another story. It's possible the lesson will be learned now that the heat of the moment has passed and tension is diffused... but maybe not. Maybe the "pack behavior" of this group will be reinforced. Who knows?

All I can consider is my own response.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Thought Exercise

Suddenly, an instantaneous flash of amnesia afflicts everyone on Earth, and--for just a moment--you have a glimpse of yourself carrying on with the momentum accumulated the moments before. Only one thing is missing: You have no context; you don't know the why.

Would you be surprised?

How much effort would it take for you to assemble a palatable story that explains the situation you find yourself in? How far removed would that story be from the basic principles of your youth? From common sense? From basic decency? How complex a structure would be required to support what you see? What would you have to believe, and what beliefs would you have had to set aside?

What is the distance between who you are and the you that you see?

Right now, it's mid-morning on a Tuesday. I'm sitting in my living room typing a post. Frankly, it feels quite natural. On an ordinary Tuesday I'd be at the office, but today we have pressing business at the house--no problem. On an ordinary Tuesday, though, I might be hard-pressed to answer about what I saw... still, it would not be very complicated.

So, if you happen to find yourself far from who you are, what do you suppose is the most expedient way back? What would be your next step?

Shoshin & The Mandolin

Sitting outside by the firepit, I wondered if I would write here again. After saying what I had to say about my daily experiences through the languages of Aikido and Zen--even occasionally through mathematics or a picture--I put the blog down for a while...

... and I picked up this.

It was a spontaneous moment long in the making. We took my daughter to sign up for voice lessons. While there, I said I'd like to learn the mandolin. There was exactly one in the store hanging on the wall, and there was exactly one instructor on staff who played who just happened to have time to add a student?

Done! So, while I've not been writing here, I've been practicing.

My musical experience is very limited: the basics in grade school, a handful of piano lessons in my late-20's, and an introductory class to the Great Highland Bagpipes (limited to practice on the chanter) in my early 30's. It's safe to say that now, in my 40's, I really am a beginner...

The difference now is that I'm no longer a beginner at being a beginner.

I know what it's like, that precise moment when everything changes. I know what it is to take that first step into uncertainty. I know the sensation of the obsession taking hold. I know the passion and the craving in the pursuit. I know the feeling of my every sense and my every thought bending and twisting to my need... seeking and accumulating knowledge and skills, making connections and generating insight.

I know what it's like to know how things should be--and maybe will be with persistence and practice--but to see where I am now and to know how far away I am from that envisioned state of mastery. I know what it is to feel completely lost, to feel completely frustrated, to not understand, to be off-balanced, to be overwhelmed with all of the details that have to be just so, and to feel so awkwardly uncoordinated...

I know what it is like to feel some skills ultimately become part of me, available like breathing. I also know what it is to find those that simply never will.

I know what it's like to misstep, to err, and to fuck-up royally... and I know what it's like to try again... and again... and again. I know what it is to throw up my arms and give up.  Fortunately, I have also known what it is to finally be considered a master...

... and I know what it is to put it all aside, to pick up a mandolin, and to feel the indescribable joy of hearing that first plucking, even if it does throw a flat buzz!

So I laugh: Look at how much I know! I know it's not shoshin--"beginner's mind"--to enter with all of this knowing. It's also not shoshin to enter believing that this knowing is wrong. What I can say is that when I hear that perfect A-note reference ringing at 440 Hz and try to find the same in that third pair of strings as I start to tune up, there's no knowing... there's hardly even the peg, the pick, and the strings.

Now, what of all of this analysis? Of my finding this pattern repeating in my life again and again? Of finding evidence that I was right and feeling the resulting confidence that this new endeavor will work out just fine one way or another?

You know, I just don't have a problem with that. I'm too busy finding examples like this:

That's a long road... along the way, I'm looking forward to simple fiddle tune hootenannies and laughs around the fire pit with good friends :-)