Thoughts on Thinking

"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" John Maynard Keynes

"If you're unhappy with your life, change your thinking." Charles Fillmore

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." Eckhart Tolle

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." Epictetus

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

"Consciousness is a terrible thing to waste." PunditGeorge

Friday, August 31, 2007

NO means YES

It’s true. One of the slippery concepts in thinking is that of attention. It’s self-evident that what we focus our attention on increases, expands, multiplies, and so forth. That’s the guiding principle behind the Complaint Free World and purple bracelets. When we complain we give our attention to something that we find unfair, unjust, disagreeable, offensive, etc. The reason someone complains, I suspect, is to get others to see the person/situation/circumstance as they do and find someway to get rid of it.

That’s focusing on the external, expecting the people and circumstances around us to change so we’ll feel better. It doesn’t work that way. The greater attention (and effort) we give something undesirable, the more it persists. As a nation we’ve been engaged in a “war on poverty” for nearly half-a century. We’ve been fighting a “war on drugs” for almost as long. We’ve been struggling with the “war on cancer” and other diseases. Has it worked? Just as we manage to understand and rid ourselves of one disease (think polio) another one leaps into experience, such as the HIV and AIDS.

Then there are teenagers. You were one once, so was I. The September 2007 Smithsonian magazine has a nifty interview with psychologist Richard Lerner about his new book “The Good Teen.” Lerner cuts to the chase – But even today, if you ask typical parents why their kids are doing well, they say, “they’re not taking drugs, they’re not engaged in unsafe sex, they’re not drinking alcohol, they’re not engaged in crime.” We all too often define young people as being positive because of what they’re not doing. That’s a very dispiriting message.

Think about it. That’s hardly “positive.” The emphasis is on the drugs, crime, and whatever adults find displeasing. As long as the kids don’t do that, the adults feel better. How long could you live a certain way just to make someone else feel better? (Hint: Think about how many depressed adults there are today.) By “not doing something,” the something is given great attention. No means yes.

The universe doesn’t recognize “no.” It recognizes attention and responds in kind (birds of a feather flock together, like begets like.) So, to hate drugs and pass laws to punish drugs, and lock people up for using drugs results in more drugs to hate, more laws snatching freedom, more people locked up, resulting in more drugs to hate, more laws snatching remaining freedom, more people locked up… It never ends. Until, that is, the attention shifts.

To say or think NO! is to draw to you more of what you see. That’s just the way the universe works. Like gravity, it’s there, it works, it’s totally fair and neutral. To think “No, I don’t like that!” has the same attracting force as thinking “Yes, I like that!” The slippery part is grasping that complaining/saying no/fighting doesn’t increase the desired situation but the opposite. You know how it does, “if I just work hard enough, then I’ll make it happen.” If you’re having to struggle for the good things in your life, then the discomfort of the struggle is an indication that your mental (as well as emotional and physical) attention is on what you DO NOT WANT rather than what you do.

This is very subtle and our information rich environment is full of slippery thinking. For instance, the September 2007 National Geographic has a feature on Glacier and Waterton National Parks. A portion of the story chronicles the retreat of the glaciers, something that has been going on for 20,000 years. However, the writer adds: About 150 glaciers existed when the park was established in 1910. Today, with human activities spewing carbon dioxide and methane as if we were intent on re-creating Earth's ancient atmosphere, a warming climate has reduced the number of moving glaciers to fewer than 30.

The writer is clearly concerned about retreating glaciers and sees this as a bad thing and a side effect of how people are living their lives.

Other people study icebergs and notice that the trace soil and minerals they picked up from their glacier life hosts a myriad of life in the ocean around them. Glaciers feeding ocean life. What remains after some glaciers retreat? Alpine lakes, which host forests and wildlife. Where some areas are warming, ever so slightly land, previously frozen, thaws for new plant life, supporting more animal life. I see a pattern there – life takes care of itself.

What would be the effect of catching youth doing something good, rather than exerting the same effort playing “gotcha” with them? This is basic. Someone comes up to you and says “you’ve got to do that.” What’s your first response? The hell I do!

Ultimately force fails. “I’m going to make you behave.” Yeah, right. Time and energy creating and recreating struggle. Who wants that? (Hint: Folks who don’t know there’s another way to live.)

Remember, the post-Word War I boom was thought to be an aberration – “good times” were rare and “bad times” were the norm. We’ve come a long way.

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