More on “The Stories”

“I think about a million different things!” A common response (or excuse) when people are challenged by the counting mindfulness practice. Their minds are too busy thinking about too many things. Too many distractions, too much anxiety or depression, not enough time or money. The thoughts are legion…

As I thought about this seemingly insurmountable problem it occurred to me that no, there are not a million things you think about, there are only a handful – the rest are details, facets of the jewel that is anxiety or whatever.

Try it: notice what you’re thinking about right now, the undercurrents of distraction or judgment that derail your capability to move forward. One of mine in the moment is this nagging discomfort of my neck not being quite right and the perceived need to schedule an appointment with my dear chiropractor Jill. Which I just did, after confirming a therapy session. Always something else to do other than what is right in front of us. Now that I made my appointment I notice where my thoughts go, or try to. There is that one place they are drawn to, an emotional gravitation source that nags the hell out of me and I can’t seem to shake.

So I get up to go smoke and ponder but get distracted by my yard and how the new grass is growing, then get a fresh cup of coffee and wipe down the kitchen island. Okay, now I’m back and no new information has been gained. Distracted and undisciplined. I don’t think this is uncommon but maybe it’s just me…

Back to the subject of the moment: what are those root thoughts that cause so much distraction? When I ask my students what they are thinking and feeling in the moment the usual response is “I don’t know.” Of course this is quite prompting so I don’t accept it and press a bit. More often than not some insight is gained when they work just a bit to be willing to let words out of their heads, to be willing to sound “stupid” or to be vulnerable, verbalizing maybe for the first time their thoughts and feelings. This is the beginning of real learning for them – it was for me anyway. And what they (and I) discover is that there are just a few things that command attention.

Fear is the primary driver of the multitude of thoughts: fear of inadequacy, fear of failure (or success), fear of not having enough money or time or the limitations of their current circumstances. Insecurity in the basics of life, or at least perceived insecurity. Ah, perceptions… the need for certainty when there is so little that is certain. Actually, nothing is certain until it happens of course, there are only probabilities, and our previous actions are by and large the primary determiners of those probabilities. The same holds true with our thoughts and emotions; they feed upon themselves and grow deep roots. It is those roots that I’m talking about, those deep recesses of our minds that are so subtly noisy. This is why Weaponized Mindfulness came into being and why it is difficult at first; we are going against the momentum of the energy of our pattern of thinking and feeling and acting (or not.)

As you learn to quiet your mind and control your attention you increase your ability to notice the nature of your thoughts and emotions and can either turn towards them for examination or turn away. “Nothing to see here folks, move along!” Literally. Those same old stories have nothing new to teach us but until some capability to control attention is developed the shouting distracts us. And it’s all the same stuff mostly. Time, money, relationships, judgments.

Recognize that you see things as you are not necessarily as they are. Consider a different point of view, even turning to gratitude for what you have, what you can do. Practice telling your mind what to think rather than the other way around. This is the root of freedom.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have wanted to explore this idea for a long time. I keep talking about it in various ways but whenever I have tried to tackle the subject I hit a wall. Hard. But I’m feeling bold these days, having confronted many of my own stories, so what the heck, I’ll give it a go.

Any examination of our internal dialogue has to begin with understanding that a pattern exists. As I have said before this pattern begins even before birth; it’s in our genes and our unconscious memory. It is the pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to information that over time becomes a set of filters for further interpretation and meaning. We experience life as “we are”, having little or no awareness of the distortions that exist.

The following example is not terribly deep but it illustrates the “story”, the emotional response and judgment of information:

Last Sunday Saber and I went for a long ride on the motorcycle. It is an activity that we do together; I “drive” and Saber is my passenger. I love riding my motorcycle. I see it as a moving meditation – I have to pay full attention to what I’m doing, but that also includes being aware of the scenery around me. I noticed that Saber had her phone out; I can feel her hands in a certain way in the small of my back. I felt irritated, thinking that she is more interested in her stupid phone than what we were doing together. She’s always staring at her phone, she’s not even really “here” but connected to some bullshit that her device is feeding her – she’s such a slave to the device. She has no sense of awareness or presence in the moment. Why bother if she’s just going to stare at her phone all the time. All. The. Time. She doesn’t care, I don’t matter, it’s always like this.

Such judgment. And really helpful and wanted emotions, right? But what was the information, the facts? Yes, we were out on the motorcycle on a beautiful day. She was doing something on her phone while we were riding. She does this frequently, but not constantly. Saber likes playing Sudoku on her phone or iPad as it is relaxing. She does this frequently. All facts. It is the story that is the problem, my interpretation and meaning that my pattern colors the facts with, the judgment…

We talked about this the other day and had an actual conversation about it without any accusations or defensiveness and I learned something. So did she. Deeper understanding of each other was gained because we focused on the dialectic of the facts and the emotional responses to them. I also explained to her that I was aware of my emotions and judgments but didn’t pay attention to them as that attention would diminish my enjoyment of the ride, and the emotions quickly passed. I knew my judgments, no matter how “right” were only causing an unwanted and unhelpful state of mind, so I chose to ignore them.

Awareness of our emotions and the stories that inform them leads to understanding, and understanding brings authority. The authority is exercised by ignoring those emotions, those stories, and now we are free of the control of them. It doesn’t mean that the emotions are invalid, they just aren’t helpful and only serve to reinforce the judgments that create them.

Not a bad start to tackling the subject. What stories are your mind trying to sell you? What are the facts versus the fiction, the truth versus the propaganda? Follow the model and see if you too can’t gain some authority.

The (mostly) Unfiltered Life

For most of my life I was very shut down emotionally and expressively. “I don’t know” was the standard response to any question regarding what I felt. And when I did say anything it was mostly thoughtless and even obnoxious. Such opposites. The reasons for my emotional avoidance were and are many – primarily a hyper-sensitivity to criticism, and a fear of rejection –  but they are nothing more than constructs and now have little authority.

Another of the DBT skills is Opposite Action, or Opposite to Emotion. I am living proof of this being effective.

A consequence of being emotionally shut down and overly sensitive was expressed one night in a small group setting. Someone asked a question and (seemingly) everyone looked to me to answer it. And I couldn’t. I could hardly form even a thought of how to answer it much less articulate anything. I though I had had a stroke. It was horrid. So I went and got a CT done and a nuclear stress test. All negative. I realized I had done this to myself; my sensitivity had blown up and I was operating under the control of fear – fear of being wrong no matter what I said or did and thus being criticized. Ironically the terrific test results did in fact prompt criticism. Since my lungs and heart were in such good shape the response was something like “Great, so now you’ll just keep smoking…”

The pattern of interpretation and meaning (not that I thought of it in those terms then) had created this shut down and fearful state of mind. So I decided to go completely opposite – if it popped into my head it was coming out my mouth. The full opposite meant that if I felt angry I would express it, and boy did I ever. The scene was our kitchen, and Saber had said something that made me mad. So I blew up, spewing language at full volume. I even threw something at her (that particular urge will be another topic) not with intention of hurting her but just as a physical expression of anger.

I realized that this behavior was just as unhelpful as the other, that I didn’t want to go from being a doormat to a person that others walked on eggshells around. So I had to back it off a bit. If the “stroke” event was a 2 (1 to 100) and the blow up was 99 (100 would have burnt the house down) some zone of openness, of authenticity had to be found.

Where I have landed is at about 85% “wide open.” Sometimes a bit more, sometimes less. That’s the hard part, trusting the sense to speak up or shut up. And it really is a function of trust; one of the hallmarks of the shut down Steve was that I didn’t trust myself. And I have had to learn how. It’s been messy and sometimes embarrassing, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.

What I have really gained from being unfiltered is twofold: most importantly I no longer am afraid to express what I’m feeling. I’m better at knowing the emotions, so I’m less controlled by them and so can speak my mind. Of equal importance is how I do my work. I’m more of a “stream of consciousness” therapist. Those whose opinions I respect say this is my greatest gift. But I stay in my lane so to speak. I keep myself within the framework of always trying to keep the subject matter wrapped around the DBT skills and how to apply them.

Sometimes going fully opposite isn’t effective. It’s easy to go too far and thus create a vacuum of emotions and behavior; the opposite is too alien. So incremental movement needs to happen, small course corrections that increase perspective. Baby steps in the direction you want to go. Be patient! Learn to trust your intuition bit by bit. You will make mistakes and when you do, “well, sh*t” and learn from them. Apologize if it’s necessary, mean it, and learn. Over time not only does your general course change but your baseline too. Bit by bit you create the person you want to be.

Well, sh*t

One of my students uses that phrase to express a deep concept of DBT, that of Radical Acceptance. When confronted with an untenable situation his response became “Well, sh*t.” It is an acceptance of What Is, not a clinging to the judgment of should be or shouldn’t be.

Another student said she really didn’t like the idea of Radical Acceptance, feeling it implied approval. So I asked how she would rephrase it. “You have to first acknowledge whatever it is that you don’t like, see it for what it is. Then ask yourself if you approve of it or not…” What is does not require your approval or disapproval, it just is. It’s not personal, it’s just information (say that in your best Godfather voice.) The question is within us, and answering it creates options of response.

It is not the information but our response to it. You can’t change what is but you can choose your response. And maybe the best response is indifference. This may prompt many readers, and their disagreement is not invalid. However, there are some things that cannot be helped or changed. The activists would cry foul on this attitude and they might be right. As Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This is true. So it begs the question, in light of Radical Acceptance, “What, if anything can I do? What am I willing to do?” Important questions! And sometimes the answer is “Nothing.”

So my student was right –  we must acknowledge What Is. Then it is up to us to choose our response. The choice is what’s radical. “Well, sh*t” is the acceptance, the acknowledgment of What Is. Then we are freed from our judgment (the “should” or “shouldn’t”); we can examine the facts as compared to our emotions and are thus free to choose our response.

Memory is parallax

This is actually the name of a V14 boulder problem (V14 means it’s impossible for 99.999% of all humans) established by Dave Graham, a scary smart and scary strong climber. The name of it resonated with me even before I started thinking (more) strangely.

Parallax is a term from astronomy that basically says that an object (a star or whatever) will appear different to the observer if the position of observation is changed. And so it is with memory too. Actually even with perception in general. Remember the Anais Nin quote of seeing things as we are? Do you see how it applies? It’s funny I guess; we are all just a small shift in perspective away from seeing things differently, from being able to add even a minute amount of new information to our best thinking and improve it.

Is it a 6 or a 9? Depends on your point of view, right?

The shadow of a cylinder can be a circle or a rectangle – it just depends on the direction of the light source.

Yet we cling so tightly to our point of view. And we suffer because of it. Our judgments – the pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to information and the emotions associated with said pattern – blind us to other possibilities.

I experienced this today while praying. We are doing a thing at church, 24 hours of prayer, where individuals take an hour and do nothing but pray. We followed the ACTS model: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. And as I confessed my brokenness my deep-seated self hatred popped up. But then I had to consider this through the lens of thanksgiving. God had made me this particular way and so my “wobbles” have value. I judge the hell out my wobbles though so the shift in perspective is always difficult. The facts and the fiction become blurred. And as I prayed for various loved ones my brokenness poked through, my awareness of the harm I caused (or at least how I judge it.)

It was tough. When I left I felt a hollowness, a sense of having been poured out without anything put in. This is how God works with me, He forces me to learn patience. I prayed “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” So now I have to be patient and listen to what He has to say. I will be learning patience until I die it seems, because thus far I am not very good at it. My childish emotional mind demands I hold onto its point of view, while the rest of my mind struggles against it, seeking other more useful (and accurate) perspectives.

This idea of parallax aligns with what Daniela Schiller wrote about in her work on re-writing. The re-writing comes from allowing one perspective to just exist while considering and adding in other information. In a sense this is what I was doing in my prayer time. I “checked the facts” of my memories (the haunting ones) and then considered other factors, including how those things have helped me become who I am in a valuable sense. This actually works, but be patient and manage your expectations of some outcome. Don’t create a filter of expectation that will blind you to deeper understanding.

Stupid computer…

Way back in like 1994 (oh my!) I went to work in an office environment where I used a computer every day. They were all very expensive desktop type machines whose cases were open more often than not so as to allow for near-constant hardware upgrades. The OS was Windows for Workgroups (what, like 3.1?) and it was just fine. Or seemed that way. I certainly didn’t know any better.

Then came Windows 95. I hated it. HATED it! Nothing worked right anymore, couldn’t find anything, it was slow and blue-screened all the time. Then they “fixed” it. Yeah, right. I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal reviewing the Lion King game. The gist of it was they didn’t like it as the game was not intuitive to even get working. The reviewer opined that the game should be like a toaster – you push a button and it does what it’s supposed to! I coined the phrase “it ain’t a toaster!” in response to any computer related problem. These other things called Macintoshes showed up, created by a bunch of hippies. They were for the cool kids so of course I paid them no heed. Oops…

Over the years the rift between Apple OS’s and Windows has grown. I have been a Windows guy the whole time and have suffered through the various iterations and levels of abomination that Microsoft has thrown out (or up.) Most of them sucked. Badly. XP was the first OS that actually seemed to have promise; it was intuitive, didn’t fail (too often) and was fairly toaster-ish. Macs continued to be impenetrable to me but they had a reputation for not doing anything bad, not to mention that hackers and other bad actors left them alone.

Then a couple of things happened: Windows 7 and the iPhone. Windows 7 was (and is) to me the perfect Windows OS. It just worked. I knew where to find things, it didn’t break down (like ever) and it seemed the final (Laugh out LOUD!) solution to all things Windows. The appeal of a Mac of any sort faded quickly. My digital mind had found a home at long last. Of course the gods of Redmond knew this and evilly kept at their lustful quest to screw with stuff, all in the name of “improvement.” The iPhone though… well, damn what a device. I demurred for a long time, clinging to my flip phone in true Luddite fashion. When I was forced by my family to adopt iOS I (because I’m not actually an idiot) realized that this thing was truly the holy grail – it WAS a toaster! You push a button and it does what you want! Oh my! This didn’t diminish my enjoyment of my Windows 7 desktop at all. It was just different. I couldn’t do spreadsheets or real writing on it but the world got much bigger (or smaller) and easy to access anywhere. I was quite content with the two just as they were.

But NO! Ignoring the abomination that was Windows 8 (I mean really, WTF?!) here comes 10. And oh by the way support and by extension security for 7 was going to end. Bastards. So I made the shift (oh goody and thanks! for free) and entered into a nightmare of immense proportions. Windows 10 was and is a virus. It nearly destroyed my entire digital life and it took months to recover from. I wanted my 7 back! Um, screw you said the gods of Redmond. Adapt or get stuffed! I did adapt as I really had no choice. But my revulsion and hatred of all things Microsoft simmers still. As does my complete lack of understanding of Mac OS. So what to do? Suffer for the rest of my days? I guess so. I have learned to radically accept that Windows 10 is my new normal, at least until they screw with that, at which point I will either be dead or will be so fed up as to take a hammer to my beloved desktop.

God loves me and finds me amusing. But He has shown compassion. Grace has been granted in the form of a new thing, what might arguably be deigned as the perfect toaster. The iPad. You push a button and it does exactly what it’s supposed to. It’s sleek and beautifully designed. A near perfect piece of technology. I haven’t figured out how to fully adapt my digital life to just it and won’t until I’m forced to, but I know my digital future is no longer fraught with suffering. Until the gods of Cupertino become infected with whatever disease those in Redmond have. I just pray that this never happens, at least in my lifetime. I’m probably shouting into the wind of course, but that’s what I do.

When will the digital gods figure out that most people just want a damn toaster? A device that does what it’s supposed to, simply, efficiently and correctly? Enough with the bloody upgrades, so-called improvements and “advances.” Give us our toasters and go away.

Of course I have to close with hypocrisy. I suppose, in the best of all possible worlds, I would like to see some sort of merger or evolution of the iOS into a more useful desktop-like experience. At some point my iPad will become my default device. I will have a monitor that mirrors the iPad display, I will have my go-to apps (but NOT anything from damned and double-damned Microsoft) to do spreadsheets and writing. I will be competent with my backups and storage, leveraging the Cloud whatever that actually is. I will be portable. Maybe the iPad and phone will merge. I don’t know, but my hope is that the gods of Cupertino will realize that ease of use, transparency, reliability, security, and portability will be the things that really matter to people. Something tells me it is already mostly this way, I’m just slow. So I’m not a hypocrite, I’m just old and have experienced the entirety of computer evolution to date and judge the hell out of it, and just have to accept that the various digital gods don’t care what I think. Acceptance comes in the form of laughing at myself and finding a plate of cheese to go with my whine.

The problem with people

“Kay : A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet.”

The COVIDs, riots, brutalities of all sorts, climate change. What the F_CK is wrong with people?! Are human beings the most horrid species on this planet? Sure seems so. And yet there are offsets, those counterpoints to horror and tragedy, yet they too often go unnoticed or uncared about. And isn’t that even a more serious indictment of us? Is all we care about the morbid, the violent or the salacious? Most people would say no but their behavior tells the tale. I have held forth on the problem of chaos in the world from a Christian perspective. This post will be from a more secular point of view, although of course it will likely end up in the same place. We’ll see.

If I were an alien (no jokes now…) observing humanity from afar I would note the following: Humans are ruining their planet. Blatantly poisoning it. They are killing slowly but surely the thing that gives them life, turning a very nice neighborhood into a slum. They seem to be really good at killing things, whether other species or themselves. War is their highest achievement. Fear, as expressed through greed, selfishness, and a need for control has infected the entire species.

One would think that we ought to be evolving, moving beyond self, but the opposite seems to be true. It appears that we are devolving, becoming more childish rather than more adult. I can’t speak to what society is like in other countries but in America we are going backwards – the adolescentization of America. The evidence is everywhere and knows no socioeconomic or racial bounds.

We chase after material success – the house, the car, the devices. And we “pay” for it all not with actual money but credit. Debt is evidence of the undisciplined mind, the inability to defer gratification. And up up up it goes, trillions in debt, and not just individuals but our government. And that burden lies not on us but our great-grandchildren. Just kick it down the road seems to be the M.O. of Congress. And we buy this crap. We are slaves to our stuff and the lenders that support our acquisition of it.

Our government has devolved from the citizen-legislator to the career politician, whose sole aim is to get reelected and build a power base, to wield influence and enrich themselves. Harry Truman said that the only way to get rich in politics is to be a crook. The evidence is everywhere. Write some B.S. book and make millions. Speaking fees in the six figures. Pander to the lowest common denominator and instill fear. Get that message of fear and by extension division on the airwaves and cables, right into the homes of the peasantry where their security is most deeply rocked.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Fake news is evolving into “deep fake”, a marvel of technology that makes the completely fabricated indistinguishable from the real. So-called news stories are not only biased, they are too often built on suspect sources. Read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear for a terrific exploration of how “facts” are created in order to sway opinion and decisions. Even worse, the truth is assaulted and often overrun by lies. A young man of color was murdered by a police officer of a different color. The evidence is incontrovertible. I saw this next crap coming though: the victim is now being painted as worthy of being murdered. He was on drugs, he did something bad. He was positive for the COVIDs. It’s a smear campaign of such laughable transparency and yet it is being swallowed by the ignorant and stupid.

Our vaunted educational system is collapsing under the tonnage of administrators and “programs” while the most important skills go malnourished. The fundamental ability to read, to write a coherent essay (no snickering), to think critically and be aware of the fallacious argument, all seem to be fading into the background so kiddies can be sensitive and fair. Wasn’t that what used to be taught in kindergarten?! Robert Fulghum’s book is more important than ever. God forbid we raise another generation that can actually think and question authority. Instead we teach to the test so more funding from the public trough flows our way. Gotta have those federal dollars! Our most important systems grow snouts.

The rise of the corporation and the subsequent consolidation via merger and leveraged buyout has created a ruling class; not the One Percent but the One Tenth of the One percent. They control everything it seems. The one thing they strive mightily to control and are making headway with is the human mind. Absent the ability to think, question and criticize, the echo chambers of the mind public and private are merging. Groupthink Orwell calls it. The media they control keeps us in a constant state of anxiety: “If it bleeds it leads.” Advertising sells us stuff we don’t need, we pay for it with money we don’t have, and all to impress people we don’t know or really like much. The endless drive to consume and gratify ourselves.

There is a systemic attack on the human being, or at least Americans. Government subsidizes certain crops that produce not food but chemicals that are turned into food. These foods make us sick so we go to the doctor and receive a prescription that ironically usually makes us sicker. More meds are prescribed. And the cost goes up and up across the board. So-called insurance goes down in quality and up in cost. And the lawyers suck at the trough coming and going.

Sigh. My angst may come across as deeply cynical. It is. But I don’t think it is unwarranted. We are killing ourselves slowly but surely, ceding a little liberty for a little security and the “freedom” to consume even more. We are enslaved to our stuff.

It’s disgusting. It is childish. It will be our ruin.

On the other hand…

There are so many myriad points of light, such goodness and beauty, kindness, generosity, selflessness, compassion. But these don’t generally make the news, or at least they don’t capture our attention for very long. Virtues don’t sell anything, don’t make us anxious and fearful. Quite the opposite.

So what, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war? Actually, yes. But not that way of course. That just plays into the hands of those who profit from chaos, fear, selfishness, childishness and anxiety. I pity those fools who thump their chests and brandish their guns; really? Are you truly prepared to shoot someone? I doubt it. You have no idea what that moment is like and what it will do to you. Neither do I but I have been told by those who know. No, the front lines of the war exist within each of us. And it is a war that can be won. We just have to be willing to fight it.

I have written a lot about mindfulness, even to the point of weaponizing it. And that approach is necessary, as each of us is at war with our own minds and the pattern of the world they conform to (alluding of course to Romans 12:2) Renew your mind by taking control of your attention. As Anthony DeMello says (paraphrasing) “Your “I” must become aware of your “me.” Wake up and become aware of those external things that are demanding your attention, and the internal patterns of interpretation and meaning that have formed.

Find things of beauty and virtue to attend to. I love Sylvie Guillem. Her Bolero has often brought me peace when my angst has swelled. Dance, music, art. Cooking, baking.

Creating, not destroying. Love, not self.

The Apostle Paul tells us that “…the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

These fruits are experienced and have their source in Christ. It’s that simple. When we die to ourselves and strive to no longer conform to the pattern of this world, to seek God’s will not in service to ourselves but in service to Him, we are paradoxically free. All of the self-orientation that produces the fruits mentioned above fades and the fruits of the spirit bloom.

I await your rebuttal.

The Rules

As a logical extension to my post on God allowing ___ to happen, or maybe an attempt to bring some depth to the subject, I suppose I should spend some time laying out my perspective on the rules. Said rules being the laws that the universe runs on, aka physics and most especially quantum mechanics. Even as I write the Q word I feel a bit of embarrassment; I am not a trained physicist – no PhD or any other credential to bring credibility to my thinking. I just read a lot and think about things the way I do. Apparently there is some basis in reality in my musings so what the heck, I’ll indulge myself and my “arrogance” and hope that someone more knowledgeable than I will refute it effectively and then finally I can drop the charade. Wow, no judgment there…

In the beginning… All the books on cosmology I have read point to the same beginning, aka The Big Bang. There are other models that come and go but that one has some staying power and I haven’t read anything that sufficiently casts doubt. Not yet anyway. So how did the Big Bang happen? What was there before and where was it? Nothing and nowhere. All we can point to (pun!) is a singularity, an infinitely dense “point”. There are two abstractions to begin with: infinite and point. So this “singularity” is by extension an abstraction. We don’t understand it because it is not understandable. What I personally think – and there is no math to support this (yet!) – is that the universe began as an idea and when God said “let there be light!” Oh boy was there! The way I see it is that this idea, this abstraction, was in fact a non-rotating singularity containing all the energy of an entire universe. But it was just “there” until energy was added (the words.) This follows the law of Inertia though, doesn’t it? The object at rest was at rest until it was acted upon by an outside force, again “the words.” Let there be light destabilized the singularity and it released all that energy.

This is where it gets tricky. In those initial moments – it’s hard to put them into terms of time – nothing existed as we now know it. There was just this mass of chaotic, overwhelming, indescribable energy. No atoms, no electrons, none of that. It was chaos in its infancy of finding order. Nothing but light. What’s interesting is the set of rules that governed the finding of order. The Newtonian rules (classical physics) had not yet settled in; no “large” structures existed yet. So what were the rules? This is where the quantum world begins, the blinking in and out of existence of the most elementary units of energy. And this is where, as I have read, science is deeply uncertain. I speculate that a “field” existed and still exists, that is the framework for order. It is generally referred to as the Zero Point Field, although some (many?) believe it is the “dark” (energy or matter.) In any case it is, I believe, the foundation for order. In the big bang the infinite became finite – it lost it’s “zero-ness” and became real.  And more and more real as the infinitesimally small coalesced into larger and larger expressions. Photons (light) collided, entangled, and generally morphed into more complex structures, i.e. quarks, electrons, protons and such. This implies that photons have mass, or at least the precursors to mass, which is a new point of inquiry for physicists. These in turn began to express behaviors which we call Laws – gravity took hold as mass accumulated. The strong and weak nuclear forces formed atoms and elements. Electromagnetism: the expression of behaviors of these elementary particles.

As a brief aside, Smoot reminds us that the parameters that allowed for the evolution of the universe were incredibly narrow, the margin for error and thus destruction, so infinitesimally small – essentially everything had to be perfect. People talk about the “Goldilocks Zone” the Earth inhabits, and it is also true for our universe – everything had to be just right.

This was all during the so-called inflationary period where the universe grew, expanded, faster than the speed of light (as we define it now.) This is also a rather sticky point as it violates Relativity. But the rules of relativity have not yet begun to express themselves – it is still a quantum universe mostly. What I find interesting is how these two perspectives separated and coexist still. Interesting mostly because this is an area of poor understanding on my part. More reading is necessary and any suggestions on the cosmology and physics of the early universe are welcome – I have read Smoot, Hawking, Einstein, Rovelli, Feynman, and in an odd tangent Susan Casey (The Wave) but obviously not nearly enough! And not for the last time my disclaimer as to my near-ignorance of, well, everything.

As events unfolded – the endless stream of probabilistic events (Rovelli) larger structures formed. David Bohm calls it “unfolding from the enfolded.” Gasses, dust, the byproducts of chaos and creation/destruction, drew together via gravity and cooling. Larger and larger they grew, becoming stars, black holes, galaxies, planets. All a result of a very basic set of rules. It’s beautiful and elegant.

Something I have found very interesting comes from Rovelli. On the one hand he suggests that there is no such thing as time, but on the other he is forced to take into account the law of entropy. It is entropy, or the immutable and constant movement of all energy to balance, that creates the distinction between the Newtonian and the Quantum. It is the arrow of time, writ hard into the rules. Heat only moves in one direction. Something cold does not get hotter on its own; it is a function of the heat moving towards the less-heat. It’s one way only. So from the very moment of creation everything pointed at cooling, and by cooling the other rules began to express themselves. The weirdness shows up as the two primary structures (Newtonian and Quantum) are now separate. The underlying quantum structure remains while the Newtonian is now expressed “on top” of it. At least that’s how I see it. So time is a real thing because of entropy as revealed through the behavior of the Newtonian construct, but not real because of the uncertainty of quantum behaviors.

Another really interesting things is how these rules are revealed to us. Mathematics are the language of God. The rules are revealed in relationships between things and they form patterns that we can, if we look hard enough, uncover and maybe understand. Geometry is especially useful. I am very fond of the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…) and how the spirals we see in nature follow this pattern. Or Phi and the Golden Ratio. And don’t forget fractals! I hated geometry class in high school, mostly because proofs are rigorous and I am lazy. I loved Trig in college but only because I could create beautiful curves by playing with the equations. But the truth is there, in the math, and you can’t argue math… it’s perfect.

I’m feeling especially stupid right now, and a little ashamed of my adjudged arrogance of even thinking I understand any of this. Am I making it up as I go along or am I actually on point? I may never know but my intuition and reading lean towards the latter. My wife tells me I have really good intuition, but I can’t do math with any significant capability. It’s just intuition.

Now that self-deprecation has been indulged in (again, and I really should stop that as it’s a distraction), back to my exploration of the Rules. They matter, as we humans, existing in this universe, are subject to them as are all things. And again, as I think about it, geometry presses its face against the glass of my imagination. The torus. The shape of consciousness and our interaction with life. Probabilities flow towards the center and the wave function collapses in the present, sending the “what ifs?” of the future permanently into the facts of the past. And those facts – our history – feeds back into both the present and the future, creating that wonderful echo chamber known as our self, the person we believe ourselves to be, the pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to the information we are attuned to. Now we’re getting into an area I actually really know something about – the pattern of the self. And it is governed by the same rules that all things follow.

This pattern of interpretation and meaning creates filters (for lack of a better word) that not only inform said interpretation and meaning but literally create a variety of probabilities. You go where you look, you experience what you pay attention to and by attending feed it and create a higher probability of experiencing it more. This is where pilot waves and the wave function are experienced, although no one but weirdos like me think of it this way.

These filters of interpretation and meaning create an emotional and intellectual myopia, a narrowing of perception that blinds us to possibilities. We become slaves to our limited thoughts and emotions and as time passes they atrophy, becoming dense and very difficult to alter. This is why so many are now turning towards psychedelics; these molecules put a hammer to the filters and open up new perceptions both internal and external. Although I have not experienced said hammer I can imagine – and I have a really good imagination.

Back to the atrophied filters. I see them as density gradients; the closer to the present moment information comes the more it is subject to our filters. We see what we believe and are less open to what actually may be. And once the wave function collapses and something has happened (become real) it becomes fixed in our memories – “it’s true because I experienced it.” These density gradients often distort our experience; we judge the information (interpretation and meaning again) and our emotions follow, and the pattern is reinforced. The filters grow stronger for good or for ill. Mark Twain puts it thus: “The problem isn’t with what we know for sure, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So what to do with this? That’s really all that matters. Remember Stevie’s Axiom #1: It’s not so much what you know but what you do with what you know that matters. And an honest answer is “I don’t know. Yet…” I mean really, this perspective seems to me, intuitively, to lead to something worthwhile. I just haven’t figured out yet what it is. Ideas, comments, criticism and abuse are as always most welcome.

What if…

One of my students recently noted a “what if?” scenario, that fork in the road that created a mess that resonates to this day. And wouldn’t you know it, I found myself reading an article about my buddies at Goldman Sachs and their distressed mortgage business, and went down my own rabbit hole of “what if?”

Back in 2001 I was working for a company that was created for trading non-performing assets – delinquent mortgages or defaulted credit cards, and feeling very frustrated about how the boss wanted to go about things. He was a “flipper” or more nicely stated an arbitrageur, taking a thin margin between a seller and a buyer. I found this practice to be disingenuous at best and deeply dishonest at worst. What I envisioned and actually created was a true “principal buyer” structure where we would buy the assets and then manage them in a positive way. We had everything in place: a nationally licensed mortgage broker, a pricing algorithm (I wrote that one!), a servicing platform structure, even a bank! And I had found a collection agency to acquire – even setting an agreement in place to purchase it. Everything was in place except one thing. The money to actually do it. And I was lied to. Right to my face by the banker and the “finance guy.” My boss wanted to continue with business as usual, which to my mind was equally dishonest. Even after leaving that company, permanently tainted by the dishonesty, I tried again to find the money. But it was not to be.

So what if we had actually found the money? If all those pieces I had arranged had fallen into place? Well, I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I am now! I would likely be playing golf right now instead of musing on what if. Or having brunch at the club or going out on the boat. Lots of material things. Success. I remember when Bank of America bought Countrywide (knowing from the inside what a bad deal it was) and then all those loans went south. I thought “I could fix this for them! I know how!”

But God had another plan in mind, a different path. One that served Him and not me. The funny thing is that His plan serves me in a way that I could never have created for myself and the rewards are so far beyond the material.

The same holds true for the even bigger what if. What if my dad had not died when I was 14? I have played that one out over and over, or at least I used to. What if I had never started smoking, or at least seen early on how stupid it is?

No matter how you parse the what ifs you are left with what is. And if you can find value in what is then everything that created it, no matter how sorrowful or shameful, now has value because you do.

It is only when we serve something greater than ourselves do we begin to see our value, and by extension the value of what has contributed to our value. Perspective changes, condemnation, sorrow, regret, remorse, bitterness; they all fall away when seen through the lenses of service not to self but others.

My mom had a small poster on her wall, simply saying “But God…” Sit on that one a while and consider the what ifs, not in terms of loss but of gain, not of condemnation but hope. Find the true value of yourself in spite of or even in the full expression of your brokenness, and remember that when the course and outcome of your life is no longer your concern but His, amazing things will happen, experiences you could never have created by your own design.

Being “known”

Another high school classmate passed away, and the Facebook comments got me thinking… Uh oh.

I didn’t know Tom very well; he was just another of the hundreds of classmates I had that I ‘knew” but didn’t really know, much less be known by them. The remembrances were kind; “he was such a nice guy” etc. I wanted to ask a question there but of course it’s inappropriate. The question I wanted to ask was “How do you remember me?” I asked this of one very early Facebook friend, another who I knew, but didn’t. She replied “you were obnoxious.” I think she meant that in a good way but still.

It has been said – and rightly so – that we are a different person to everyone we meet. And how we see ourselves is probably very different than how we are seen and known even by those closest to us. I doubt that even they really “know” us; we are seen and known through the lenses of the other (refer to Perceptual Predictions for more on this) We know ourselves through the pattern of interpretation and meaning we have accumulated over our lifetimes; we are a product of the stories we tell ourselves and others, and too often those lack congruence.

I wondered, how well do I know those closest to me? My wife, my kids, those special few others? What are the stories they tell themselves about themselves? Are they even aware that they do it? I mentioned this to Minal and she got all excited. I say stuff and she gets excited. Sigh… So of course she said I have to write a book on this, a workbook of sorts to help us identify those internal dialogues and by doing so maybe separate the facts from the fictions, the truth from the propaganda. What I wanted was more than that: I wanted to not only deepen my understanding of those dear ones but also maybe to be better known, better understood by them.

I tried to do this deep dive with someone and I utterly failed. I have written about this experience more than I should I suppose, but it certainly has led to some deeper self-awareness and that’s always a good thing. Temet nosce and all that. I think that if we want to be able to really understand anyone else we have to start with being able to understand ourselves. Not superficially but in a confrontational way, to be deeply honest about the bullshit we spew into our own minds, much less that which we present as ourselves to the world.

This hit me in the face earlier today. A student was inquiring about the “Why would God allow _____ to Happen?” post where I discuss the quantum nature of creation and the rules that God put in place, and the consequences of us not following that first rule. What I could not find within myself was the ability to articulate it clearly. I thought I had but apparently not. I know that what I wrote is accurate, but as Einstein famously said “If you can’t explain it simply you do not understand it well enough.” Or something like that. And clearly, I couldn’t explain it any more clearly than I had so therefore I now judge myself as lacking understanding and thus spouting bullshit again, a trait I do not like and have tried very hard to not engage in. Now I don’t really know if I am bullshitting or if it’s just not a “normal” way of looking at reality, doesn’t fit the standard model of theology and whatnot. Most people don’t think about the weird stuff I do or read the books I do, so my deep self-doubt, self-loathing even, is now exposed. None of it matters (in my oh-so-correct judgment) so therefore it (and I) am useless. Yikes! That ain’t no good is it?

I have every intention of creating the workbook. Although every time I sit down and work on an outline I find myself seeing too many threads, too many rabbit holes to wander down. And I get a headache and thus don’t get anywhere with it. The therapist would raise her eyebrows and wonder why I get a headache when doing what seems to be valuable work…

And of course, as I write in seeming obscurity, I don’t want to ask this question, but I will anyway. Given the book concept I mentioned, how would you dear reader find it valuable? How should I help you connect the dots of the stories and discern between the fact and fiction, the truth and the propaganda?

In the end, one day I hope to leave as some sort of legacy a tool that helps people develop actual depth in their relationships, not only with others but with themselves. I won’t be able to conjure up a bullshit judgment on that one.


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