Jan 212014
 

Last week, I talked about how good it was when individuals approached their lives proactively rather than reactively. You often can’t enter an open door of opportunity if you’re not already prepared. However, in groups, too much general proactivity can be disruptive. In stable groups, harmony and respect for traditions can be comfortable and help bind members together.

In business, an employee is often tempted (or required) to be reactive. They may be content to do what they are told – simply doing their job and then coming back tomorrow and doing the same job in the same way. That is not bad in itself. When the job doesn’t change and the rules are well-known, the same responses in the same recurring circumstances keep things going smoothly. People who like predictability, and like for things to remain as they were before, can be happy doing this kind of work, especially if they are part of a team and able to share social connections.

I’m not just talking about low-wage jobs. A professional is, by definition, expected to be a highly-trained practitioner of a narrow specialty. In fact, you can expect that the more training they get, the narrower their specialty. They go to school and learn a great deal about a field such as architecture or law. And, having mastered the accepted standards of their specialty, they apply their training over and over again to particular types of problems. Such elite professionals can be very successful, and acquire remarkable wealth in this way. A conservative worldview does not prevent them from achieving great professional and economic gains.

A business middle-manager can also be reactive and still be successful. A manager’s job is about choosing TACTICS from available options. Managers gather measurements of compliance, compare these to expectations, and then adjust policies or budgets. This continuing feedback process can bring the system under their control back into expected norms. I’m not being critical. This can be very challenging, important, and rewarding work.

However, every business, social, or political LEADER is responsible for STRATEGY. They MUST be proactive to be successful. A leader must get out ahead of things, imagine possible futures, and make decisions about issues that most other people cannot see. A good leader is a master of change, recognizing where things are not working and sometimes reforming entire systems to adapt to new situations.

A good leader understands that many people resist or actively obstruct change. A good leader works persistently when necessary or presses for rapid adjustments if urgency demands it. Sometimes incremental change is no longer good enough and the group must transition to something entirely new. In any event, a good leader is always proactive about moving us forward.

© 2012, David Satterlee

Oct 032013
 

Blasphemy Incorporated

All opinions expressed herein by the author are offered without undue depths of rancor, malice, irony, or satire; only reasonably-balanced depths are intended. I name names and offer opinions but, any errors of fact are unintentional and sincerely regretted.

Rubber Ducky Jesus Nativity

Today, I received several items in the mail, including a magazine subscription offer and a specialty mail order catalog. Both traded on themes of religion — especially Christianity. You have to believe that neither company felt any need of remorse for their marketing choices. At first I was tempted to simply discard the pieces as simple junk mail. However, considered together, they gave me cause to think about the nature of commercialism, American values, and blasphemy.

The first item was an advertisement for “sinful savings” on subscriptions to Free Inquiry magazine (oriented toward the scientific examination of religion). I have a reputation for thinking (and writing) about such controversial subjects and wasn’t surprised to be targeted by their mailing list. The envelop featured red blood splatters and the message, “Blasphemous! Look inside at your own eternal peril.” They enclosed a “Special Introductory Offer – For Blasphemers Only.” Also, “Your salvation isn’t guaranteed… but your satisfaction with Free Inquiry is!” Their come-on letter starts, “Dear Intelligent Reader, You and I are under attack by religious fanatics who want to control what we read, how we think, and what our kids are taught in school. That’s why they use words like blasphemous, godless, and sacrilegious when bright, free-thinking people ask questions that challenge their superstitious beliefs. These are words meant to inspire fear and intimidate the weak-minded into submission.”

All of this seems like outright inflammatory sensationalism used for commercial advantage. These words, in this context, are also meant to shock, inspire fear, attract gratuitous attention, and sell magazines. I actually admire the effective use of language to motivate appropriately. I admire the insights of Frank Luntz, a Republican Party Strategist and wordsmith, in how to use words and re-frame arguments to push people’s emotional buttons. I just don’t buy his double-think inventions and arguments. And, I just won’t buy what might actually be an interesting magazine when it is promoted in this way.

However, the magazine advertisement also enclosed a note from Richard Dawkins (a renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist) saying, ”If there were a God, I’m convinced He would want you to read Free Inquiry,” adding, “He would be committed to the application of reason and encourage scientific discovery and the cultivation of moral excellence. He would want us to be more concerned about living a valuable life than enforcing arbitrary rules to avoid a vindictive punishment in an afterlife.”

Richard Dawkins also pushes some emotional buttons: reason, discovery, moral excellence, valuable life, and vindictive punishment. But, did you notice how positive, reserved, and respectful he was in framing his note? “God” and “He” are appropriately capitalized as honored divinities. Dawkins appeals to cultivating moral excellence and living a valuable life. You got a problem with that? I don’t. You got a problem with exposing religious hypocrites and moral corruption? Jesus didn’t. Still, I don’t think Jesus would have subscribed to Free Inquiry. I imagine that He might have given permission to be quoted, but not felt motivated by their advertising.

My wife, Dianna, is a retired elementary school teacher and still receives catalogs from the “Oriental Trading Company.” This issue featured “fun and faith” items with the exhortation, “share the spirit.” It contained a mix of holiday spirit and (evidently by allusion), Holy Spirit” trinkets, gifts, activity packs, as well as carnival and fund-raising prizes. They obviously expected to sell profitably to those wanting to promote and commemorate religious holidays and classically-fundamentalist Christian themes. I’m sure that if they anticipated that any of their items would be easily considered blasphemous, they would not advertise, stock, and sell so many.

First, let me point out that I am a self-acknowledged cranky old curmudgeon and some of you will think that I’m being overly-critical. And, any issue, taken by itself, may be easily-excused. But, the catalog collection, taken together, represents a popular disregard of appropriateness and dignity among self-professed spiritual and faithful people.

The catalog cover features three young children, singing hymns in “angel costumes,” complete with cheap white polyester gowns, battery-operated candles, and white “feather and marabou wings.” It is not entirely clear if real African Marabou Storks are “harvested” to produce these authentic-looking wings. That would be a whole other animal conservation ethics issue. Also, I want to suggest that it would be a mistake to dress your little cherubs in polyester and then substitute authentic candles, flickering with actual fire.

The vendor evidently also dyes marabou wings red to produce similar “Cupid wings.” The ad reads: “Put on these feather and marabou wings and find true love as a matchmaking Cupid or use them for an angel costume on Halloween!” We have discovered an unholy amalgam of child-angels in heaven, Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, and the likely improvisation of a sexy fetish costume. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone but me. And, I’m not too fond of Halloween as a festival-for-the-dead with little beggars dressed as angels, devils, zombies, pirates, and hookers.

Speaking of little angels, my wife’s older brother died in tonsil surgery when he was seven. Her mother’s pastor explained that God called her boy to be a little angel in heaven and that a bouquet also needs buds to be pretty and complete. Her mother evidently believed this literally and repeated it often in defense of the comfort that she claimed it brought her. Nonetheless, she never escaped the obvious trauma and bitter desolation of her loss. She became an alcoholic and chain smoker and died prematurely of lung cancer. Don’t try to tell me that God harvests little angels from our families.

And, when did “Christ our Savior” start getting mixed up with a jolly old elf sliding down chimneys, evergreen trees, snow men, and other such nonsense? You can buy color-your-own Christmas nativity stockings; gingerbread, rubber ducky, and gnome nativity sets; nativity bingo and playing cards; “Happy Birthday Jesus” balloons, party hats, beach balls, kaleidoscopes, slide puzzles, novelty assortments and ornaments; “Jingle for Jesus” bell bracelets; nativity crosses (just a slight anachronism); plus “Jesus Loves You” and “Caleb the Camel” Christmas tree ornaments.

There is more. You can buy golden crown and “Jesus is My Rock” stress squeeze toys; “King of King” tattoos (hardly in the spirit of Leviticus 19:28 or Deuteronomy 14:1), favor boxes and treat bags; “Joy to the World” paddle balls; “Joyful in Jesus” candy canes, Bible verse fortune cookies, and “Testamints(tm)” breath-freshening candy; “Share His Light and Love” and “Jesus Loves You Snow Much” snowmen; “Jesus Lights the Way” flashing bouncy balls, “Bible Bucks” play money, and “Pick Jesus” guitar picks; as well as rainbow faith bears, “Our Wise Lord” owls, “Jesus is Deer to Me” reindeer and “Wild About Jesus” safari animals.

You will definitely want to proudly display your own Celtic Cross Bible cover (incorporating a pagan solar nimbus). What can I say? It appears that non-believers do not have the corner on impiety. A mix of ignorance, indifference, conceptual hybridization, and crass commercial blasphemy are popular (and big business) among religious “fun”damentalists these days.

All the time, I run across people who want to tell me that they know what the truth is — that they are in charge of explaining what (their version of) God wants everyone to believe and do. I can spot them right away; I used to be that kind of faith-and-fellowship true-believer. Now, I can’t imagine what makes them better than any other tribe of mere mortals with similar convictions. I am appalled, not persuaded, by the arrogance, presumption, and hypocrisy of their blasphemy.

Sep 232013
 

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Confucius, Emerson, and Ginsberg

The classic tenants of Confucianism and Taoism take disparate, but not mutually-exclusive, views of existence. While only Confucians would seek to give advice for improving society, elements of both views are important to a balanced and healthful existence within a society.

Confucianism is all about improving society. Individuals are expected to yield to established laws and the greater good of the community. The fundamental concept for maintaining society is the competence and fairness of public servants, which earns respectful honor and loyalty (for others, family, ancestors, public servants, and tradition). Law and tradition are looked to for guidance. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyexplains:

Confucius’ social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of ren, “compassion” or “loving others.” Cultivating or practicing such concern for others involved deprecating oneself. … Learning self-restraint involves studying and mastering li, the ritual forms and rules of propriety through which one expresses respect for superiors and enacts his role in society in such a way that he himself is worthy of respect and admiration. A concern for propriety should inform everything that one says and does (Stanford).

Taoism is all about withdrawing from society. Individuals are expected to yield to the law of nature and the harmonious dynamics of the universe. Rather than seeking to improve society, Taoists focus on individual balance and a harmonious relationship with “the way of Heaven.” An immediate sense of rightness is looked to for guidance.

Taoism rejects “established” knowledge and wisdom as obstacles in the path of Tao. An enlightened mind effortlessly reflects universal principles, not rejecting the actual world so much as it’s society and societal conventions. A Taoists’ inner world must be purged of scripted external sensation and interpretation. In Section 47 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the way of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus, the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado (Tzu 97).

I feel that both Confucianism and Taoism contribute important ideas for the personal choices and the accommodations that are needed to live within a community. Personal compromises are needed to exist without undue conflict with others.

As per the Confucianists, meaning can come from seeking the greater good and embracing orderliness. However, personal liberties are also needed to allow creative expression and developmental growth. As per the Taoists, meaning can also come from creating (or following) a personal path and embracing chance and change.

A fundamental structure underlying our lives is a continuous cycle of being and becoming. One may take the yearly seasons as an example. In the fall, there is a time that peaks at harvest, with processes of gathering in, sorting, organizing, consolidation, and withdrawing. In the winter, there is a time that peaks at storage, with processes of being and resting. In the spring, there is a time of germination, with processes of sowing, cultivating, nurturing, and growth. In the summer, there is a time of change, with processes of chaotic growth, reproduction, and metamorphosis.

It seems like Confucianists are more oriented toward sustaining a stable “winter” perspective while Taoists are more oriented toward flowing with the chaos of a “summer” perspective. Neither or these perspectives can be inherently better as they co-exist in the same system of being and becoming.

American culture already embraces a wide range of competing cultural ideals including those found in Confucianism and Taoism. In fact, the two major political parties in the United States have paradoxical cross-polarizations along philosophical lines.

Republicans are considered conservatives, holding to family values and traditions, yet they are fiercely defensive of their liberty to make personal choices, sometimes to the neglect of the welfare of others. On the other hand, Democrats are considered liberals, holding to values like diversity and adapting to the changing situation, yet are open to giving up personal choice for the benefit of the community.

John Locke and Thomas Jefferson insisted that we have the right to keep and defend individual property, but within the context of compliance to group consensus. Like Confucius, they felt that those in authority served at the will of the people and would decline and be replaced if they failed in their responsibilities.

Americans are also known for their fierce individualism. Like Ralph Waldo Emmerson and Allen Ginsberg, we tend to define our valued and privileged way of life by individual freedom to follow one’s own path.

The adoption and adaptation of our complex mix of philosophical roots encourages both sustainable stability and creative progress in our selves and in our society.

Works Cited

Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C. H. Wu. Shambhala, Boston & London, 1989
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Confucius. Sept. 5, 2006, July 10, 2009
Sep 232013
 

 From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKZkxRVW9jSWpsZVk/edit?usp=sharing

Japan, America, and sacred nationalism

The Japanese islands have remained relatively isolated throughout their history. This has allowed for the development and concentration of distinctive religious and cultural characteristics. Although Japan has experienced Eastern influences (mostly Chinese and Buddhism), and Western influences (especially Anglo/American and Christian), these have seemed to only flavor, not disrupt, the Nipponese sense of identity. This bears a strong resemblance to contemporary American right-wing conservatism.

From the most ancient times, Japan, and its Shinto practices have been organized around community-clans and their respective clan gods. Even when communities gradually expanded, community worship continued to revolve around local guardian gods and the ancestors of extended families. Broader political power was rooted in the relationships of confederations of clans. This religio-cultural structure made it unlikely that religions of foreign origin could have much impact and still remain intact. This system retained a stable core of abiding traditions, supplemented by a somewhat more adaptive layer of minor local traditions.

As an example, Buddhism, when promoted by certain nobles, was assimilated in Japan by considering local practices as manifestations, rather than contradictions. It helps that Buddhism does not insist on a strict distinction between secular matters and that which is sacred. Seeking purity was already esteemed as a matter for all members of Japanese society. Extending that search for purity, by renouncing the world and taking up monastic service, was no great leap. Accepting the Buddha Nature in all things is parallel to accepting the spirit essence in all things. Buddhism advocates that one abandon grasping for self-interest as Shintoism promotes community welfare over selfish pursuits.

In Japan, community purity and religious control was part and parcel of political authority. The Shoguns, for instance, never hesitated to challenge religious influences that threatened their power. Each ruling clan elevated their own gods and divinized their own ancestors, producing “sacred kings.”

Eventually, Japanese society was able to more-completely organize itself into a coherent nation with supreme religious and secular authority vested in the Emperor. When war with China was initiated in the Emperor’s name, it became a sacred national war and reflected Japan’s over-riding pride in their national superiority and identity. All aspects of life became part of a holy war. At the end of World War II, American strategists seriously considered that every citizen would take up arms if the mainland of Japan was invaded.

Although the current Japanese culture retains a strong sense of honor and responsibility to community, the shock of Japan’s ultimate defeat in World War II devastated their sense of sacred nationalism. Japan is now often considered to be even more secular that the West. Japan has been rapidly industrialized and urbanized. Social mobility and personal isolation is endemic. The Japanese psyche has rocked from one pole to the other.

Presently, parts of American culture are in a state of radical transition as right-wing religious conservatives struggle for ever-greater governmental control. We are, on the one hand, “One nation under God,” and, on the other, a melting pot of diverse immigrants. This makes generalizations difficult and open to contradiction. Nonetheless, George Bush was able to start and sustain foreign conflicts in the name of “protecting our [capitalistic and mostly-Christian] way of life.” This could hint at an American parallel to the military adventurism that sprang from Japanese homogeny.

Conservative elements of the Republican Party seem distressed that they are losing their grip on a vision of Christian religion as intrinsic to what they see as American national identity and culture.

On the other hand, American liberalism seems to be persistently emerging into a proud model of diversity and tolerance. Old majorities are finding themselves not only endangered, but irrelevant. John F. Kennedy broke the Protestant barrier; George Bush appointed women and Hispanics. Now, the leadership of Barack Obama seems to be outdistancing conventional wisdom so fast that traditionalists can neither keep him in sight nor rein him in.

Isolated cultures, such as those of ancient and feudal Japan, are capable of sustaining religions and religion-infused cultures and identities. In Japan, the popular ethic of myopic superiority (including devotion to the traditions of kami, ancestors and Emperor) erupted and suffered mortal disruption following World War II.

Our world still finds remnants of rabid religious and ideological nationalism. Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, Pakistan, North Korea, and conservative American evangelicals are a few remaining flashpoints of isolationist nationalism. The balance of the world is growing toward proliferation of international relationships, dependencies, and cooperations. Radical identities including race, language, religion, cuisine, and nationality are being subsumed by multinational businesses, non-governmental organizations, and international treaties. Our distinctive cultures are dissipating. Even deep in the Appalachian mountains, I only have to drive a few miles to find several restaurants serving fresh Japanese sushi.

Sep 232013
 

Eastern influences on contemporary Western culture and spirituality

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Many people in Western cultures have become aware of, and adopted elements of, traditional Eastern religions to a variety of degrees. Although usually ignorant of, or rejecting the full scope of the associated original foundational historical practice and philosophy, they are creating a new flavor of Western spirituality and a related social consciousness.

Both Eastern practitioners and Western philosophers have helped raise our general consciousness of Eastern spiritual traditions over the last century. Some of the more prominent are briefly described in the following:

William James, a leading psychologist and philosopher published The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902. This helped introduce Eastern religious thought to the West.

Aldous Huxley’s 1945 The Perennial Philosophy identifies a recurring insight of divine reality that is common to most primitive peoples and all higher religions. This insight is related to “thou art that,” the Atman, the Brahman, and “the Absolute Principle.”

Huston Smith wrote The Religions of Man (revised as The World’s Religions), which is still a popular treatise on comparative religion. Smith has been intimately involved with Eastern religions and produced award-winning films and several public television series on the subject.

Alan Watts, a British philosopher, did research on comparative religion. He wrote many books and articles including The Way of Zen. Along with his long-running weekly broadcast in the San Francisco area, copies of his lectures were widely distributed and introduced many people to Eastern philosophy.

Shunryu Suzuki [Roshi] came to manage a temple in San Francisco in 1959, where Zen was already a leading-edge interest. Suzuki was astonished by the watered-down Buddhism practiced by Americanized Japanese immigrants. He began teaching classes on Buddhism to Westerners. His books such as Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind became popular.

[Thich] Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, “has played an important role in the transmission of an Asian spiritual tradition to the modern, largely secular West” (TIMEasia). A BBC report described Nhat Hahn as “… a world renowned Zen master, writer, poet, scholar, and peacemaker. With the exception of the Dalai Lama, he is today’s best known Buddhist teacher. He is the author of more than one hundred books including bestsellers Peace Is Every Step and The Miracle of Mindfulness, … ” (BBC)

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, has lived in exile since 1959. The plight of Tibetan Buddhists under Chinese government, and the Dalai Lama’s unshakable peaceableness, have galvanized world attention to his person and his teachings. He has traveled widely, written extensively, taught, and participated in efforts to cultivate world peace.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, escaped Tibet in 1959. In 1967, after further education at Oxford, he established his first meditation center. After a disabling automobile accident, he became a lay teacher. He traveled almost constantly throughout North America and wrote prolifically during the 1970s. Attracting considerable attention, he established three additional meditation centers and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. He also developed “Shambhala Training” to introduce meditation in secular terms. His work resulted in the establishment of meditation and art centers in over 100 cities throughout the world (Shambhala).

Popular cultural leaders have also been instrumental in introducing Westerners to Eastern thought.  The Beatles, after meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, studied Transcendental Meditation in India. The songs they created there in 1968 are considered by some to be their most creative work. The Beatles certainly influenced many of their fans to explore Eastern thought. Oprah Winfrey introduced a number of Buddhist teachers, including Pema Chödrön and Sharon Salzberg, to the American public (Oprah, 2008).

Eastern themes and situations have been eagerly accepted in our entertainment media. Examples range from Kung Fu Panda and Mulan to “Wire Fu” action adventures to Amy Tan’s stories of growing up Chinese. We loved to see Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet, yearned for Shangri-La in Lost Horizon, wanted to walk to the sea with Gandhi, and wondered if “the Force” in Star Wars was anything like what a Japanese Samurai or Hindu Fakir does. Could we ever figure out how to do that ourselves? I have a deal with my youngest son that the first one to levitate has to buy supper.

Many popular books have addressed (or borrowed) Eastern spiritual themes. Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was a popular, if idiosyncratic, introduction to Eastern philosophy for a displaced generation. It is now considered a classic. Many authors, riding the wave of interest in Eastern philosophy, produced books with titles including: Zen and the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury, 1994),Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel and Daisetz T. Suzuki, 1999), Zen and the Art of Making a Living (Laurence G. Boldt, 1999), Zen and the Art of Poker (Larry Phillips, 1999), The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff, 1982), The Tao of Physics (Fritjof Capra, 2000), The Tao of Sobriety (David Gregson, 2002), The Tao of Network Security Monitoring (Richard Bejtlich, 2004), and even The Tao of Warren Buffet (Mary Buffett and David Clark, 2006).

The teachings and life of Jesus Christ have been compared, and correlated, to Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist scripture in books such as: Jesus and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings(Martin Aronson ed., 2002), Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, Marcus Borg, ed., 2004), Christ the Eternal Tao, 4th edition (Hieromonk Damascene, 2004), The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels (Paramahansa Yogananda, 2007), Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings (Richard Hooper, 2007). Many people are open to the theory that Jesus was exposed to Eastern influences during the “quiet period” in the gospels before presenting himself to John the Baptist at the beginning of his explosive ministry.

The West has gradually opened up to a variety of translocated Eastern concepts and practices. For one, karma has become a household word in the West. It is generally associated with the ideas that “what goes around comes around” or “you reap what you sow.” Thus, its application is, typically, more secular and leaves behind any concept of karma associated with past lives or reincarnation.

Westerners have begun exploring Eastern systems of medicine including Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Practitioners generally receive a strong grounding in the underlying concepts. Medical doctors occasionally add techniques such as acupuncture to their practice. Meaningful accreditation is available to schools that teach most Eastern systems of medicine.

Patients, however, are often simply open to, or desperate for, a more-effective therapy than they may currently be receiving, without having any substantial appreciation for the concepts driving their diagnosis or treatment.

Deepak Chopra has become very influential while promoting his mission of “bridging the technological miracles of the West with the wisdom of the East” (Chopra). He began his career as a Western-trained endocrinologist but he felt moved to expand his practice to include Ayurvedic therapies and mind-body counseling at his own clinic. He has written prolifically, and lectured and consulted widely, teaching about balance in both health and spiritual matters.

Acupuncture is a technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that inserts and manipulates very fine needles along meridians of Chi (vital energy) to regulate its flow and distribution. Acupuncture, with other techniques of oriental medicine, are now taught in about fifty schools in the United States. Most specialize in oriental medicine except for three that prepare Naturopathic Doctors for general practice.

Related practices that profess to affect Chi in the body include acupressure, foot reflexology, Chi gong, and Tai Chi exercises. Chiropractors often include attention to Chi flow in their patient care. Chi concepts are widely accepted in the American public. After I had an emotional breakdown in a class this spring, a counselor in Student Support Services advised me on how to activate a series of acupressure points.

Many youngsters are introduced to Chi and other elements of oriental culture as part of martial arts training. Popular Asian martial arts, including Karate, Aikido, and Judo, spring from religious traditions. But, these are often studied in the United States for exercise, development of coordination, self-defense, competition, and combat — largely without deep philosophical training.

Similarly, precisely-prescribed and highly-differentiated forms of meditation were formerly part of the different mystical traditions of each Eastern religion, and even different branches of the same religion. In America, meditation is becoming popular but is poorly or indifferently differentiated. It is usually undertaken for pragmatic purposes like relaxation, stress relief, improved concentration, or as a homogenized element of new-age spirituality. Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and autogenic training may be considered Western adaptations of Eastern meditation.

Chinese herbal medicine has been introduced in accredited TCM schools and as full courses for Naturopathic Doctors. Units of elective classes in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are offered for conventional doctors, and in private herbal schools such as Michael and Lesley Tierra’s East West School of Planetary Medicine.

More-limited aspects of Chinese herbal medicine may be borrowed in “bite-size” pieces. As an example, Nature’s Sunshine Products, Inc. released a set of ten Chinese herbal formulas—two for each of the five elements in TCM. For instance, AL-C (Xuan Fei – Metal Reducing) was for lung stress such as Allergies while LH-C (Fu Lei – Metal Supporting) was for “Lung Health” issues such as chronic respiratory weakness. While these formulations gave token reference to the five elements, and used Chinese names and herbs, most herbalists applied them using Western sensibilities. A third-party reference work explained:

[These] Chinese herb combinations are based on the five element model and the principles of harmony and balance, Yin and Yang. The element model states that an individual’s constitution is typed – wood, water, metal, earth or fire – according to the five basic elements found in nature. Each has weaknesses and strengths, which must be kept in balance in order to maintain good health (Satterlee 2000).

Meditative states can be monitored or even facilitated with assistive technology. Products such as Proteus®, Holosync®, and Hemi-sync®, use audio tones to stimulate brainwaves at desired frequencies. For instance, simultaneous tones at 440 and 452 cps produce a difference beat at 12 cps that is within the normal range for brain waves; the brain will tend to synchronize with it. Goggles with simultaneously flashing lights may also be supplied to enhance the effect. The intended result is to produce enhanced alertness, relaxation, sleep, or meditation associated with the selected stimulation. One user commented that:

“Hemi-sync sounds facilitate the synchronization of the cerebral hemispheres. They contain frequencies corresponding to different states of consciousness. (This is the electronic era’s version of the shaman’s drum, the mantra, the singing of psalms, the Gregorian and Sufi chant.)” (Ferrari 78)

It may be tempting to characterize the changes occurring in Western spirituality as a “cafeteria culture” or the indiscriminate co-mingling of spiritual traditions. In fact, history shows that cultures typically undergo cross-pollination when they interact with others. As an example, the culture and modes of worship in India often include contributions from Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist traditions. Similarly, the culture and modes of worship in China often include contributions from Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist traditions.

This is not to everyone’s liking. Just as the denominations of Protestant Christendom sometimes branch into bitterly antagonistic groups, Eastern lineages may see themselves as distinct and exclusive. The Tibetan lama, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche protests:

Vajrayana [Buddhism] is very different from the New Age approach. The difference is that the Vajrayana teachings are controlled by the lineage. I know we don’t like the word control, but the Vajrayana teachings are actually held by the authority of the lineage. …When we have this pure lineage, this genuine lineage, there is no space for our egocentric interpretation of dharma. We cannot interpret dharma like the New Age gurus. We cannot invent a new lineage because a lineage must be received. It must be received by transmission. It is not something we can just create here. That would beNew Age, probably from California (Ponlop).

American philosophy and culture is borrowing from more than only Eastern thought. Some of us have learned to cherish the words of the Muslim poet Rumi or have friends that like to discuss the mysteries of the Jewish Kabala. Our Christian Men’s groups rediscover their masculinity in group shamanic drumming. We hang Native American dream catchers from our mirrors and study rune lore. Some like Wiccan spells, Druid runes, fairies, and dragons in their fantasy fiction and adventure games. We listen to Celtic music and adore the African spiritual influences in our “uniquely American” jazz and gospel.

As with all newly-discovered ideas and practices, leading-edge thinkers explore and analyze them. Academics tear them to shreds and feed them to their students. Early-adopters begin to incorporate them into underground or alternate lifestyles. Perhaps, we experience the real thing as we interact with our expatriate neighbors and their communities. Initial curiosities become common knowledge; the exceptional becomes mundane; and the forbidden becomes tolerated. Eventually, the most useful or meaningful elements of formerly-distinctive ways become so intermingled that only the very thoughtful care about the past origins of what is now very commonplace.

Our modern world, with its increasing speed, range, and capacity for information transfer and social networking, makes it actually difficult to avoid being exposed to other religions and philosophies. America perceives itself as a nation of immigrants; prejudice is actively suppressed and diversity is promoted as a virtue. Americans like to think of themselves as independent and pragmatic thinkers; if something works, use it.

At the same time, we are becoming disenchanted with personal isolation from family and community, with over-active and over-stimulated lives that seem to lack meaning. The values of Eastern thought often seem to offer more-satisfying and more-meaningful life options. It should not be surprising that useful elements of Eastern society are snatched-up and integrated into our evolving societies.

Theodore Ludwig put it this way: “It is not that Chinese people are missionaries to other peoples of the world. Rather, many people throughout the world are discovering a vision of life and a practice of harmony that fascinate and compel them…”

References Cited

BBC. Religion & Ethics – Buddhism – Thich Nhat Hanh, 4/4/2006,

Chopra, Depak. About Us < http://www.chopra.com/aboutdeepak> July 7, 2009
Ferrari, Guido. A Journalist’s encounters with the Akashic experience. Quoted in The Akashic Experience: Science and the Cosmic Memory Field. Ervin Laszlo, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2009
Oprah, O, The Oprah Magazine, Oprah Talks to Pema Chödrön, 2008 July 7, 2009
Ponlop Rinpoche, Dzogchen Quoted in Policy for the West. Khandro Net, July 10, 2009
Satterlee, David. HerbalDave’s Notebook: Exploring Natural Health. CD-ROM. Health Education Library Publications. League City, Texas. 2000
Shambhala. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. 2007 July 7, 2009
TIMEasia, 60 Years of Asian Heroes – Thich Nhat Hanh. 2006. http://www.time.com/time/asia/2006/heroes/in_hanh.html July 7, 2009
Sep 202013
 

Setting limits

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

Read or download this essay as a PDF file at:https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4eNv8KtePyKeExGUS1vT0E1cDg/edit?usp=sharing

Does Setting limits cause #isolation, loss of #intimacy, and even #alienation of #love?

Setting limits

Women often feel at a disadvantage in relationships with men. Social pressures, openly or unrecognized, can give men a dominant role. How is a woman to feel self-respect, personal worth, independence, initiative, control, and security? The common answer, these days, is to “set limits.”
Setting defensive limits makes intuitive sense. “That which cannot touch you cannot harm you.” But, at what cost in isolation, loss of intimacy, and even alienation of love? In fact, the issue of boundaries and limits can affect the character of any relationship, not just those between men and women.

Kinds of Limits

Parents and teachers are urged to set firm, appropriate limits for young children as part of youths’ guided moral development. The goal is for children to experience rich, genuine emotional lives while still conforming to “acceptable ethics” of justice and care in their relationships with others.
Initially, the idea of setting interpersonal limits was promoted as an act of enlightened consciousness; essentially a form of thinking: “sticks and stones … names can’t hurt me.” In this sense, setting limits defines ones internal perceptions of self. That is, thinking: “If other’s judgments of me are invalid, I do not have to embrace them.” This is a healthy state of mind that reflects appropriate emotional well-being and self-esteem. Such internal limits allow potentially-damaging emotional threats to simply drop away before wounding the ego.
Inevitably, however, the phrase “setting limits” creates images of walls, fences, and “lines in the sand.” This sense of the phrase is a last resort of desperation and confrontation. It defines external requirements on the behavior of others. This is saying: “Don’t tread on me; don’t even look at me funny.” Arising from an already-wounded state of mind that reflects acute and immediate fear, this form of external limits create boundaries that alienate us from each other.

Kinds of Relationships

If you have a real enemy, whom you want to keep away, by all means build a strong wall to force limits on their behavior. This will clearly define your firm and determined intent to maintain a relationship of distrust, fear, misunderstanding, or prejudice.
However, you may meet a person whom you want to know, love, and cherish. By all means, spend time with them, care about their welfare, encourage them to express themselves, listen with heartfelt interest, and respond in kindness even when they may need correction.
Mates open themselves even more intimately to each other; lowering their defenses, and becoming increasingly vulnerable. In consideration of the other’s tender openness, good friends or mates will voluntarily refrain from pointed emotional aggression. And, both will extend the “benefit of the doubt” when responding to the actions, words, and motives of the other.

Making the Choice

How will you relate to the world in general and to others as individuals? Adversarial-divisive relationships compete, insist on rights, demand justice, and are often driven by suspicion and fear. They cause us to withdraw into a defensive crouch, determined to define, conserve and defend our personal boundaries — pushing others away or striking out if we feel sufficiently threatened.
Supporting-nurturing relationships cooperate and draw people together. Based on empathy and mutual regard, these relationships spring from a heart filled with compassion, care and love. We stand with open arms, ready to share, invest in the future, and create a richer life for everyone involved.
Jun 042013
 

Finding and living The American Dream

You used to hear people mention “The American Dream” all the time. Not so much anymore. Now, what was that idea really all about anyway?

Frankly, there is no single definition, but it frequently includes ideas such as fair opportunity, hard work, overcoming adversity, personal success, getting ahead, and passing it on those who come after. It involves sufficient faith in society to expect general freedom and opportunity. It is all about hope and moving forward.

The American Dream is not about “every man for himself,” a big enough hole to hide it, and enough guns to defend it. The American Dream is not about working for the rich man on the hill or across the tracks and scraping by with the help of a few stolen chickens. The American Dream is not even about steady factory jobs and a chicken in every pot. We dream about having the opportunity to turn our hard work into growth and true advancement.

In order for The American Dream to work, it needs to be available to anybody and everybody. We know that not everybody will even try to actually get rich. Some people are content to pray each day for that day’s bread. Some people are happy to be able to provide ongoing comfort and security for their family. Some people dream of winning the lottery, striking the mother lode, finding fame and fortune, or making a killing on risky investments.

There is a problem; these last four things involve paths OTHER THAN The American Dream. One path relies on exploiting natural resources. However, cutting trees or mining minerals goes too-quickly from one guy quietly chopping wood or panning gold to clear-cutting forests, scrapping off mountaintops, and removing (or exploiting) anyone who is already there. The other path also relies on exploiting other people. In gambling or investing, the only way to get money is if someone else loses money; it is a “zero sum” game.

We can admire and envy the lucky gambler or investor who walks away rich, but we don’t have to be told that, unlike The American Dream, their business model can’t work for everyone. Other people have to lose in order for them to succeed. Everybody else has to leave the table poorer, wondering what they are going to say to (or how they are going to feed) their families.

And this is no way to run a country, either. When the financial bubbles burst, a lucky few get to scoop up their winnings. The rest of the country gets to wake up and discover that they are a little bit (or a lot) poorer – and that The American Dream is a little bit (or a lot) more “only a dream.”

My point is this: Trickle-Down Economics hasn’t worked and it never will. Actually working hard creates new wealth and well-being that has never existed before. Like growing crops, a miracle happens and anyone can end up with more than they had when they started. This NEW wealth can be put into circulation in a game of virtuous cycles where everyone wins.

The alternative is selling your hours for money – often for less than a fair or living wage. Too many people simply let some master exploit them, use them up, and keep them down. And, that is NOT The American Dream.

 

Jun 022013
 

Ayn Rand and the real parasites
Have you swallowed the big fat lie?

Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged, promotes the idea that, “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him. … The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all their brains.” Really? And, are the richest businessmen the real “job creators?” No, and you’ve been told a whopper. Over and over, you’ve been told a big fat lie.

Do you remember company towns and company stores? Do you believe that the company was just creating jobs and looking out for the best interests of their employees? Do you believe that your niece, struggling to pay her bills with a part-time minimum-wage job, is too stupid to do any better? Is she so ignorant, irresponsible, and inept that she is incapable of contributing to the welfare of her family and community?

Do you believe that feudal lords or plantation owners were the praiseworthy “job creators” for the serfs and slaves of their time? Do you believe that the character of those who acquire money and power with no sufficient end has changed recently? Of course, we all have the responsibility to work hard and do our best. Some will always do better than others and they should be able to keep a healthy cut of their earnings. But, there is no excuse for perpetually enriching yourself by increasing the burden and misery of others.

As communities, and as a nation, we all have the duty to pay a fair share of taxes. Ideally, we pay according to our sufficiency. In turn, we all receive benefits from our government that are intended to enable us to prosper and protect us from exceptional loss. We expect fair laws and just courts. We expect a clean environment, fairly-priced utilities, and for good schools, roads, parks, and other public commons to be openly available. And, according to our need, we hope for the temporary support that may be required to lift ourselves out of difficult circumstances.

In America, it is a foundational belief that God loves all of his children and that all men are created equal. We believe that, as fellow citizens, we should all have access to a fair position in our society from which to climb and to earn the reward that is due for all of our hard work. In practical terms, we believe in fairness under the law. It is just wrong to buy justice, privileges, and exemptions. So why do we tolerate such unjust gain by some of those among us?

Even worse: Why do we embrace those who maneuver to drive us increasingly down? Why do we accept this mushrooming inequality and embrace the authority of tyrants? Why do we act against the best interests of ourselves and our children? Have we simply failed to recognize the big fat lies that we are now choking on?

Our danger is not from government itself. The proper function of our representative democracy is to enable and protect all citizens fairly. Our danger is from those who would take control of our government from us (the public) in order to privately enrich themselves at our expense.

Aug 052012
 

My personal experience is that masculinity and femininity complement each other very nicely. I become exceptionally moody and morose without the company of women. In a mixed gathering, I prefer to be in the kitchen, behaving myself like a mouse in the corner, than with the men watching sports in the family room. And, I know that I really like being married and having a feminine woman as my best friend.

Further, while lurking near widows and divorced women, I have heard them confess that they “simply like having a man around.” It sounded as if, like me, the simple presence of someone of the other gender satisfied a palpably felt deficit.

The feminist Gloria Steinem famously asserted that, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” OMG! Didn’t Dr. Seuss put a fish riding a bicycle in his “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?” What a rascal he was! I’ve gotta look for that.

 

The way some men treat the women in their lives, one could believe that the women would truly be better off without them. In any event, there is often clearly room left for improvement in many relationships. My wife, Dianna, liked the sentiment of the poster, below, and brought it to my attention.

The text reads: “We need to teach our DAUGHTERS the difference between a man who FLATTERS her and a man who COMPLIMENTS her. a man who SPENDS MONEY on her and a man who INVESTS in her. A man who views her as PROPERTY and a man who views her PROPERLY. a man who LUSTS after her and a man who LOVES her. A man who believes HE is GOD’s GIFT to women and a man who remembers a WOMAN was GOD’s GIFT to MAN and then teach OUR SONS to be that kind of man.”

Let me add the observation that the sentiment still tilts toward a sexist, patriarchal view of gender relations. I think that women are capable of being even more self-sufficient emotionally and physically. While I deeply treasure the satisfying bonds between men and women, I am sympathetic toward those with a radically-independent spirit.

Photo

In fact, the entire range of “conservative” thought tilts toward a sexist, patriarchal view of gender relations. Another way of saying this is George Lakoff’s observation that conservatives tend to have a “strong father” view of how families and governments should be run. Conservatives tend to look for, follow, and be loyal to their chosen authorities. It is very clear that “He’s the boss” or that the man of the house or the conservatively-elected president is “the decider.” On the other hand, the “liberal” tilt endorses a nurturing father, rather than a strict authoritarian.

Jul 312012
 

I would like to have one more go at the effects of the core philosophies of the elites among us. I have described those working from an early “Puritan Ethic” of community betterment and their opposite, those working from an early “Plantation Ethic” of being above the law with the freedom to control and exploit others and their property at will. How is this playing out in 2012?

The Republican Party seems to have been seized by elites with the Plantation Ethic during the past few decades. They love their money and privilege and will do anything to protect their private advantages. They have been preaching a host of destructive circular arguments. Here are a few examples:

They describe government as being out of control and being the root of all evil. They say that government needs to be slashed, reduced, and killed. No joke. Grover Norquist, the lobbyist and conservative “No Taxes” activist said, “… I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Then they work to systematically cripple government so that it has trouble doing the good things that government is supposed to do. Finally, they point at this damaged government and say, “See, government really is worthless.”

They describe our government’s financial, pollution, and safety regulations as being out of control and the root of all evil. They say that government regulations are preventing businesses from making a profit and so there are fewer jobs. They have been working to systematically cripple important regulations so that financial, pollution, and safety issues pop up more often. Then they point at these preventable problems and say, “See, government really is worthless.”

They describe our public schools as being ineffective and the root of all evil. They work to underfund schools and lay-off teachers while burdening them with mountains of paperwork. With teaching becoming a thankless struggle against parental and community apathy, overwork, and buying your own books and supplies, good teachers give up. Then the elites point to these problems and say, “See, public education really is worthless.”

What is their alternative? Well, of course: contracts for private companies to provide services that were previously provided by public employees. Now, do you think that a corporation with these private contracts will actually work in the best interests of their employees and of those they “serve?” Or, will they work to maximize profits? Color me real skeptical. I absolutely believe that there are some things that public agencies and public servants are better able to do, and one of those things is caring for neighbors. The “public sector” isn’t just some big anonymous bureaucracy; it’s your neighbors and mine. When was the last time that a big multinational corporation brought you a casserole or tutored your child for free after class?

And, have you forgotten that “the love of money” is named as the root of all evil? While our economy is still struggling to recover from the last big private adventure in financial risk-taking, corporate profits are at a record high and employee wages, as a proportion of our economy, are at an all-time low. Yeah, tell me that the “job creators” need more tax cuts so that they can create more jobs. We’re fools to keep on thinking that the moisture we feel is the start of trickle down from the corporations who love us. I don’t think its trickle down; I can tell when I’m being pissed on.

© 2012, David Satterlee

Jul 312012
 

Last week, I talked about the inevitable presence and place of elites in American Society. While we believe that all men are created equal and certain of their rights are unalienable and should never be threatened, we understand that some of us have advantages and abilities that others do not. Nonetheless, we hope that our children and grandchildren might yet find exceptional success for their efforts.

America has continued to struggle to define, expand, and guarantee our liberties. American slaves have been granted the rights of citizenship. Their descendants are increasingly able to vote freely, serve in the military, and sit, as free people, on any free seat on any bus. Women have been given the right to own property, vote, earn equal wages, and use birth control. Recently, more of us have received additional health care protection so that we don’t face the choice of staying healthy or dying quickly.

Nonetheless, America has always faced groups determined to twist government to favor their private wealth, power, and industry. In the years before World War I, this was called “The Gilded Age.” Corruption was open, corporations organized violence against their workers, stark poverty ravaged the lives of the poor crowded into tenement housing. If you were hurt on the job, you could consider yourself fired before you hit the ground.

The “Panic of 1893” was the result of corporate corruption and embezzlement on a massive scale. They even got the US Army to intervene in labor disputes. The “Great Depression” preceding World War II was triggered by the collapse of unregulated financial speculation by financiers. The Financial Collapse of 2007 was also the work of bankers and financiers trading in fabricated instruments derived from bundled lots of high-risk investments. Greece, other countries, and banks bought these investments, thinking that they could lower their own interest payments. The inevitable collapse shook the finances of not just Europe, but the entire world.

Today, self-serving business interests seem to have seized the reigns of the Republican Party. This goes far beyond the conservative or liberal dispositions of voters. They are dismantling needed regulation of finance, pollution, and labor practices. They are undermining and trying to privatize public workers including teachers, law enforcement, and even the military. They are outsourcing and cutting jobs while reducing wages and benefits for those who do still work. They are making it harder for most students to get or afford the college degrees that are demanded for entry into everything but minimum-wage service jobs. And, they are even trying to eliminate the minimum wage.

Today, well into our struggling recovery from the collapse of their economic house of cards, corporate profit margins are again at record highs while U.S. wages, as a share of our economy, are at record lows. If there is “class warfare” going on, they started it. Income inequality is stunning and it is getting worse. I believe that Americans of both parties need to push back against those who are intent on compounding their private wealth and power at the expense of everyone else.

© 2012, David Satterlee

Jul 312012
 

You have seen me struggling to make sense of the differences between conservatives and liberals, the balance between personal liberties and public responsibilities, and persistent class differences in America. Today, I read an article that suggested a difference between American elites that fills in a gap in my thinking. Naturally, I’m excited and want to share.

Despite our belief that all men are created equal, we have always understood that some of us have advantages of education, wealth, connections, and influence that are not shared equally. And, as a competitive capitalistic society, we mostly accept these class differences in the hope that someday we, or our children, might get rich and powerful too. We expect to always have our elites.

 

The thing that got my attention was the idea that, in America, there are two major background philosophies among our elites. Some derive their life-views from Puritan thought while some get their thinking from Plantation attitudes. This makes a difference in how a person of privilege thinks about what they do with their wealth, what responsibilities they feel for others, and how they define liberty and freedom.
The Puritan ethic emphasizes community and the conviction that those having wealth and power also have the responsibility to use some of it to improve their societies. Historically, they typically responded to an inner call to community service and doing good for others. They have endowed universities and public libraries. They have endorsed government policies that improve the lot of the common man. The Roosevelts and Kennedys have fit this mold. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are determined to use their fortunes for good.

Holders of the Plantation ethic are very much different. Sara Robinson’s article describes its origins in the West Indian slave states and its “…utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.”

David Hackett Fischer further describes Plantation Elites that, “…always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press… they… sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and pursuit of pleasure – including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.” They held themselves to be unaccountable and above the law.

In the Puritan Ethic, both liberty and authority reside with the community. Individuals are expected to balance their personal desires against the greater good and occasionally make sacrifices in behalf of others. This kind of support maximizes each citizen’s liberty, dignity, and potential. In the Plantation Ethic, one’s sense of liberty depended on their God-given place in society, and gave them the freedom to “take liberties” with the lives, rights, and property of other people. This results in their feeling the right to dominate, exploit, and abuse others and their property with impunity. This defines them, in their own eyes, as “free men.”

What sort of elites do you want writing your laws and running your government?

© 2012, David Satterlee