Category Archives: interesting books

“be love now” by ram dass – annoying or enlightening?

be love now is ram dass’s newest book.  it will be misunderstood by many.  in fact, it – or at least ram dass himself – already has been misunderstood.  “ram dass is a superb writer,” the san francisco chronicle says.  calling ram dass a superb writer is like praising the world’s most lovingly raised organic carrots for their orangeness.  for sure, it’s one characteristic but it’s not the one that’s most important or even relevant.

a characteristic of this book that stands out is how much ram dass talks about his guru, maharaj-ji.  the title of the book is “be love now – the path of the heart.”  so why does ram dass go on and on (and ON!) about his guru?  he mentions i don’t know how many times how his guru was able to read his mind or when he did or didn’t manage to see maharaj-ji in person.  and all those references to indian deities – ram, arjun, and for goodness sake, hanuman the monkey devotee.  this is all very faraway and weird-like stuff.  who in the west really wants to have a guru?  of course there are all these people who are called gurus, or like to call themselves gurus.  “the blogging guru” or “the guru of golf”, etc.  this doesn’t really make the idea of a guru more appealing.

and then …

… then there is all the love that shines through this book, the deep, caring, overarching, limitless love that emanates from ram dass.  if we let this work on us, then everything suddenly has a different meaning.  the going on and on stops being annoying and begins to take on the ever-deepening quality of repeating a mantra or saying the rosary.

like the st. john of the cross that i mentioned last week, ram dass is a mystic, a person who “dwells in the love of god.”  (please, let’s take “god” in the widest sense here.)  this dwelling might be one that we have consciously experienced here and there as a short vacation destination, but most of us do not call it our home (and let’s add a comforting “yet”.)  that means that many of the perspectives are unknown or at least unfamiliar – often uncomfortable – for us.  as a point in fact, i had help writing this article by having someone read the passage below to me for easier typing.  there was much sighing and eye-rolling and sarcastic intonation.

from this strange abode of dwelling in the love of god, ram dass says

i am loving awareness

i have a practice in which i say to myself, “i am loving awareness.”  to begin, i focus my attention in the muddle of my chest, on the heart-mind.  i may take a few deep breaths into my diaphragm to help me identify with it.  i breathe in love and breathe out love.  i watch of all the thoughts the create the stuff of my mind, and i love everything, everything i can be aware of.  i just love, just love, just love.

i love you.  no matter how rotten you are, i love you because you are part of the manifestation of god.  in that heart-mind i’m not richard alpert, i’m not ram dass – those are both roles.  i look at those roles from the deeper “i”.  in the heart-mind i’m not identified with my roles.  they’re like costumes or uniforms (^^^) hanging in my closet.  “i am a reader,” “i am a father,” “i am a yogi,” i am a man,” “i am a driver” – those are all roles.

all i am is loving awareness.  I AM LOVING AWARENESS.  it means that wherever i look, anything that touches my awareness will be loved by me.  that loving awareness is the most fundamental “i”.  loving awareness witnesses the incarnation from a place of consciousness different from the plane that we live on as egos, though it completely contains and interpenetrates everyday experiences.

when i wake up in the morning, i’m aware of the air, the fan on my ceiling, i’ve got to love them,  I AM LOVING AWARENESS.  but if i’m an ego, i’m judging everything as it relates to my own survival.  the air might give me a cold that might turn into pneumonia.  i’m always afraid of something in the world that i have to defend myself against.  if i’m identified with my ego, the ego is frightened silly because the ego knows that it is going to end at death.  but if i merge with love, there is nothing to be afraid of.  love neutralizes fear.

awareness and love, loving awareness, is the soul.  this practice of “i am loving awareness” turns you inward toward the soul.  if you dive deep enough into your soul, you will come to god.  in greek, it’s called agape, god love.  martin luther king jr said about agape, this higher love: “it’s an overflowing love which is pure, spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.  the love of god operating in a human condition.”

it’s the love maharaj-ji spreads around, the unconditional love.  he loves you just because, just because.  spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless. he’s not going to love you because you are an achiever or a devotee, or a yogi, or because you’re on the path.  he loves you just because.  can you accept it?  can you accept unconditional love?

when you can accept that kind of love, you can give that love.  you can give love to all you perceive, all the time.  i am loving awareness. you can be aware of your eyes seeing, your ears hearing, your skin feeling, and your mind producing thoughts, thought after thought after thought.  thoughts are terribly seductive, but you don’t have to identify with them.  you identify not with the thoughts, but with the awareness of the thoughts.  to bring loving awareness to everything you turn your awareness to is love.  this moment is love.  i am loving awareness.

if you put out love, then you immerse yourself in a sea of love.  you don’t put out love in order to get back love.  it’s not a transaction.  you just become a beacon of love for those around you.  that’s what maharaj-ji is.  then from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep, and maybe in dreams, too, you’re in a loving environment.

try using i’m loving awareness to become aware of your thought forms and to practice not identifying with them.  then you can identify with your soul, not your fears or anxieties.  once you identify with your spiritual being, you can’t help but be love.

it’s simple.  i start with the fact that i am aware, and then i love everything.  but that’s all in the mind, that’s a thought, and loving awareness is not a thought.  or if it is a thought, it’s pointing to a place that’s not a thought.  it’s pointing at a state of being, the way the concept of emptiness is pointing at emptiness, which is really fullness.

souls love.  that’s what souls do.  egos don’t, but souls do.  become a soul, look around, you’ll be amazed – all the beings around you are souls.  be one, see one.

when many people have this heart connection, then we will know that we are all one, we human beings all over the planet.  we will be one.  one love.

and don’t leave out the animals, and trees, and clouds, and galaxies – it’s all one.  it’s one energy.  it comes through in individual ways, but it’s one energy.  you can call it energy, or you can call it love.  i like to look at a tree and see that it’s love, don’t you?

deepak chopra’s “muhammad”

Rare leaf of the Quran

deepak chopra’s new book about the prophet muhammad is unusual. there is a certain rawness and roughness to it that i have not seen in chopra’s books before. as i was reading it, i felt a strange insistence on the part of chopra – not an insistence that the content of the book or islam or the story of the prophet were “true” or “right”, but an insistence on the importance of muhammad’s story. “you gotta know about this!” chopra seemed to be urging, “you can’t really understand the world or your history if you don’t know muhammad’s story.”

perhaps this feeling of insistence comes from the book’s structure. while all events unfold chronologically, each one of muhammad’s 19 chapters is told from a different perspective, by a different player in the prophet’s life. only some of the voices are pious, like bashira the hermit, who is visited by a young muhammad and who foresees his importance, mulling over a mysterious sentence he had found scribbled on a few old bible pages: “when the sun’s face is hidden, god will bring his last prophet.”

chopra brings out the chaos of religions and cultures in muhammad’s arabia of 1,400 years ago. christians and jews and a multitude of deities surround muhammad everywhere he goes and like his forefathers, he tries to carve some sort of sense into this jungle of ideas and beliefs by adhering to the idea of one god. against the very pragmatic religious stance that the constantly bickering tribes around him take, this proves quite absurd and unrealistic but muhammad quietly persists in his belief. the people in his world grudgingly allow this persistence because early on, he demonstrates a wisdom and calm beyond his years – and he is wealthy. in his twenties, he marries khadijah, a rich widow much older than he. this union is a linchpin in his worldly and spiritual success.

the different voices surround muhammad like a spiral. many of them are from people on the margins – a beggar, a slave, a nameless jewish scribe, a prostitute. khadijah does not have a turn at her version of the events until chapter 8 – in the beginning, the spiral feels loose; the more the book moves on, the closer the spiral draws; more and more weighty voices show up, the story becomes heavier, sadder, louder. before his enlightenment by an angel who demands he “recite” (literally: “koran”), the narrative drifts a bit. following this, part three of the book is entitled “the warrior of god” where muhammad brooks no more nonsense. muhammad introduces the idea of the jihad – the holy war – and becomes an influential warlord. muhammad clearly prefers peace over war, but he also prefers his people’s and his god’s survival over peace. towards the end, chopra portrays muhammad’s terrible and wonderful greatness. after muhammad decides to kill his prisoners of war, a friend of his, after a difficult conversation about this decision, concludes:

i listened. i understood. i accepted … the prophet has become his revelations. he sees beyond life and death, and his mind cares only to be part of god’s mind.

muhammad is a novel, explains chopra. not all of what he relates is historically accurate. and

i didn’t write this book to make muhammad holy. i wrote it to show that holiness was just as confusing, terrifying, and exalting in the seventh century as it would be today. …

among all the founders of the great world religions, muhammad is the most like us. …

the most remarkable fact about muhammad is that he was so much like us, until destiny provided one of the greatest shocks in history …

the message he brought wasn’t pure; it never is. as long as our yearning for god exceeds our ability to live in holiness, the tangled mysteries of the prophet will be our own mystery too.

god is community

i like to think about god when i wake up in the middle of the night. i had just finished deepak chopra’s new book on mohammed (review coming up soon). the many stories about the tribes, the complicated family relationships, the exchange with jews and christians, the interdependency with slaves – maybe that’s what made me come up with this idea: god is about community and cooperation. or maybe: god IS community and cooperation.

  • love your neighbour as you love yourself, says jesus.
  • give alms to the poor, says mohammed.
  • respect your parents, says the god of the old testament.
  • we are all one, says the buddha.
  • do not kill one living being, say they jain.
  • ren, a key concept in confucianism, is represented in chinese characters by the image of “human being” and “two”.

religions are, to a large degree, rules for living together. (i know, that’s not a new thought).

“if there were no god, it would be necessary to invent him,” voltaire said. who knows what a god is, whether god exists, and what it means for a god to exist. in my mind, these questions are often not that interesting – clearly, there are important levels at which god/gods exist.

however, i can see how it is through community and cooperation that gods could have been invented. evolutionarily, humans were desperately dependent on community and cooperation. we didn’t have the size of woolly mammoths, the adaptability of the cockroach or the fierceness of the sabre toothed tiger. huddling together, dividing labour, learning from each other as we developed tools were our only chances to survive. (banding together for raids and warfare apparently seemed like a good idea, too). building powerful rituals and stories around these communal means to survive made us stronger.

no wonder there is a god.

august 2010 buddhist carnival: right action

every month i delve into the buddhasphere to come up with interesting tidbits in buddhist writing. this time around i was interested in the concept of right action.

the poem we start out with today is the famous shin jin mei poem

the perfect way knows no difficulties
except that it refuses to make preferences;
only when freed from hate and love,
it reveals itself fully and without disguise;
a tenth of an inch’s difference,
and heaven and earth are set apart;
if you wish to see it before your own eyes,
have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.
to set up what you like against what you dislike –
this is the disease of the mind:
when the deep meaning of the way is not understood
peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose.

thanks, tricycle!

right action and the death penalty

i’m including this one because the writer draws a (perhaps tentative) conclusion that is different from my own; it’s important to me look at a diversity of points of view. also, it’s fitting to start with this one because “do not kill” is almost always cited as the first exhortation in the teachings about right action. i like the simplicity of it, similar to hippocrates’ basic idea, “first do no harm”. here is an excerpt of the post dying for killing:

one of the most important things the buddha taught was “do not kill.” it’s commonly accepted as the first precept. so, buddhists clearly do not believe that it’s right to kill, to take life. as the buddha did not teach, “do not kill except in the following cases…”, it’s commonly accepted that all killing is wrong. this is why many buddhists are vegetarians, peace activists and conscientious objectors.

isn’t it amazing how something so straightforward can be treated with such confusion? because here’s where i start wavering.

right action and the body

here, in fact, is a translation offered by a buddhist from malaysia about the buddha’s teaching. it is interesting how in the west, the idea of right action is usually linked closely to ethics whereas this section clearly is concerned with what one does with one’s body:

and which, friends, are the 3 kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma? here someone, stop all killing of living beings, abstains from injuring living beings; with rod & weapon laid aside, gentle and kind, such one dwells sympathetic towards all living beings.

avoiding the taking of what is not given, one refrains from stealing,what is not freely give. one does not take by way of theft the wealth and property of others, neither in the village nor in the forest. abandoning abuse of sensual pleasures, such one gives up misuse in sensual pleasures. one does not have intercourse with partners, who are protected by their mother, or father, or mother and father, or brother, or sister, or relatives, who is married, betrothed to another, who are protected by law, in prison, or who are engaged to other side.

that is how there are three kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma… such is right action!

right action, teaching and fun
this excerpt here from back to buddhism illustrates why it can sometimes be difficult to find interesting posts about buddhism – many buddhists just don’t bother to stick the label “buddhism” onto all they write.

i really don’t think it’s necessary to categorize something as buddhism or not-buddhism; after all, there is really not much difference between the two. when i write about racism, i am writing about right mind. when i write about teaching, i am writing about right action.

so let’s see what he says about teaching.

in all my classes, whether they are english or computer science or meditation, i make a concerted effort to make sure it is fun. in fact, i try to make class silly. the class has to be fun for me and it has to be fun for my students. if we are not having fun, we are not learning.

… after lunch is the most difficult time to teach. to counteract the drowsiness of my students, i knew i would have to really knock the lesson out of the park.

it’s relatively easy to act out the verbs – walk, shout, am. it’s also not so hard to point to nouns and dress them up with adjectives. even adverbs are not so hard to impersonate

however, acting out through and at and with is a bit more of a challenge; toward was nearly impossible.
we made it through prepositions i had planned. salt played a big role in the lesson. the salt is on the table, above the table, under the table, with the glass, behind the glass. there was a combination of horror and laughter when the salt went in the glass.

right action, software and the mundane. oh, and green living

at first glance, this post on buddhism and software selection (first found on another malay buddhist blog, buddhist bugs) seemed a little lightweight. well, it is, just like the book they suggest, what would buddha do? nevertheless, there is something intriguing to seeing buddhist teachings applied to something so seemingly mundane (and yet very important for businesses, just like not stealing and not cheating). after all, if we don’t apply the teachings to the mundane, what’s the point?

and if you’re in the mood for more lightweight reading, go to mother nature news and read about the book what would the buddha recycle? once again, it’s easy to raise our highbrow eyebrows but let’s be honest – isn’t light and fluffy material like this that sometimes provides the entrance to more profound learnings?

right action and inaction
buddha’s pillow has a number of posts on right action, like this one on responsibility:

many of us choose inaction in stressful or frightening situations. this is not practice. inaction in the presence of conscious choices of right vs. wrong actions is irresponsible to oneself and one’s world.

right action and social responsibility
more on responsibility.  here`s an interview at shambala sun about social action:
goodman: kittisaro often quotes ajahn chah as saying, “if it shouldn’t be this way, it wouldn’t be this way.” yet we live in a world of great suffering. how do you reconcile ajahn chah’s teaching with the buddhist precepts of “right speech” and “right action”?

thanissara: at some level it’s obviously true”it can be no way other than it is right now. however our actions in the present condition the future.

buddha didn’t just sit there and say, “oh well, the world is at it is.” he acted. in fact he tried three times to prevent a war between those in his home country of kapilavastu and the king of kosala. yet he wasn’t able to stop the bloodshed. he had to accept that this was a karma he couldn’t alter, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t try. on leaving the area, it is recorded that his beloved attendant ananda asked him why he was so sad, to which the buddha replied that his people would be massacred within the week.

right action, therapy, living in the now and values

the smart buddhist, written by a therapist, has all kinds of choice morsels on offer. here he touches on a sensitive point for me, the idea of being value neutral as a therapist:

the experience of living in the present, paradoxically, can tempt us into experiential avoidance all over again, just in a new form. it’s quite possible to trade escape from the now for escape into the now. the recent enthusiasm for mindfulness and acceptance in the west needs to be channeled properly or we risk creating just another form of western self-indulgence. by themselves, mindfulness methods as they’re often used in western psychotherapy don’t give sufficient attention to the organizing influence of purpose in human life. in the spiritual traditions from which such practices were drawn, “right action” is specified through ethical principles. but western therapists are encouraged to take a value-neutral professional stance, and not direct our clients to any particular belief or “right action” enjoined by a religious or spiritual tradition. nevertheless, we still can help our clients gain access to their deepest aspirations and turn a life lived in the present moment into a life worth living.

right action and rightness

in the last little while, i’ve come across a number of situations where people understandably got a little itchy at the idea of rightness, for example in the comments on my post about trying to come up with a definition of mental health. what’s with this right action, right thought, etc.? part of this comes precisely from the doctrine of value neutrality that many of us been exposed to – in therapy for some of us, but definitely in science. historically, this is also (paradoxically) connected to the very fabric of democracy and human rights, for example when it comes to religious freedom. it is useful, then, to look at this idea of rightness. dogen sangha gives a bit of insight here:

there is none among the many kinds of right that fails to appear at the very moment of doing right. the myriad kinds of right have no set shape, but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet, and with a force stronger than the vairambhaka winds.

(even though each of milliaeds rights do never have any kinds of decisive form beforehand, and so there is no right, which exists before at the present moment, and at the same time there is no right, which continues its existence to the next moment. right is always exists just at the present moment, and such a present moment continue at every moment.)

right is a simple fact, which occurs just when it is done at the present moment, therefore it is perfectly impossible for right to exist at a different moment other than at the present moment at all.

right action and musicianship

we started with the art of poetry, let’s end with the art of trumpetry. here is a beautiful piece at macfune about musicians and right action

what, then, of the moral commitment of the musician? what is it to be a trumpet player? certainly we can differentiate between the hack who puts some plumbing to his lips every once in a while and the truest artist whose spiritual being is not separate from the physical processes inherent in performance. the difference is morality. the difference is how one lives one’s life, not how one thinks idly about right and wrong but how one acts.

(side note: nothing is still, nothing is constant, nothing exists from one instant to the next: all we are is action. there are no nouns in this universe, only verbs. all nouns are categorical statements that limit and defy the constantly changing nature of phenomenal existence. “i” should be understood as a verb, not a noun.)

right. so the musician is, like all artists, exploring the fundamental question of human existence: the moral question. when we listen to miles, coltrane, glenn gould, to the cleveland orchestra playing beethoven (!), or to any other great musician, if we pay attention we can hear a profound moral question posed.

i remember reading somewhere or other that the key to understanding jazz is to hear the hidden social message: in the softest, most intimate ballad are the seeds of a profound sadness, and in the most joyous, swinging celebratory bop number is wild rebellion, lurking just beneath the surface.

if you’ve made it this far, thank you! come again next month, on september 15, or read some of the other buddhist carnivals.

my mental health camp talk: insanity in the workplace

my talk at mental health camp yesterday:

it’s not about mental illness. it’s about mental health.

in 1996, 510 murders occurred in canada. taking a prevalence rate of about 3% of violent crimes committed by people with mental illness, at most, 16 of these people were killed by someone with a mental illness. i’m mentioning that because of the tragedy that happened a few days ago where a little girl was killed.

still. i’d like you to get that number. 16.

at the same time, 45,000 deaths were attributed to tobacco, 2,900 to car accidents, and 1,900 to alcohol.

mental illness is not the big problem.

i think mental health is.

an industry that makes products that kill tens of thousands of people in canada alone is not mentally healthy. in fact, it is literally insane.

i’ll tell you what else is insane.

a country that does not extradite someone who has been judged responsible for the death of at least 25,000 people is insane. the country is the united states, the person in question is warren anderson. he was the executive in charge at the time of the bhopal disaster.

who else is insane?

a company that disregards safety just like union carbide in bhopal did. the company is BP. it is insane.

a police force that is more concerned with turf wars than preventing disasters is insane. the police force is the RCMP and the disaster is the air india crash.

i’m not here to say that mental illness is not important, that all of us here who are dealing with depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder or whatever, either ourselves or through our loved ones, are not important because otherwise we wouldn’t have mental health camp.

but right here, right now, i want to talk about mental HEALTH. because i’ve looked at all these things and all of a sudden, i realized something enormous:

the vast majority of big disasters nowadays, from environmental crimes to wars to major health problems such as lung cancer and diabetes – you know where most of them come from, or more precisely, where the decisions are made to go ahead and do or not do things that have vast negative consequences?

they are all fomented in the work place. union carbide, the RCMP, the cigarette company philip morris, BP – all the decisions that have a horrible effect on countless people are made at the workplace.

those workplaces are insane.

who here has worked in an insane workplace?

who here is working in an insane workplace right now?

what type of insanity do we find in the workplace?

  • incivility
  • bullying
  • abusive supervisors
  • resentment
  • never being appreciated
  • blame
  • betrayal
  • cynicism
  • distrust, always on the lookout for trouble
  • focusing on shortcomings
  • obsessed with reputation
  • reluctance and lack of cooperation
  • fear of disappointment
  • anger
  • grief
  • anxiety
  • extreme vigilance
  • phoniness
  • being a “hard-ass,”
  • playing favorites
  • irrationality
  • scrutinizing everything for hidden meaning
  • closed mindedness
  • uneasy relationships that never get repaired – toxins build up
  • layoffs and other painful measures that are being pushed through disregarding the effect they have
  • disconnection from reality
  • in-groups and out-groups that fight each other
  • differential treatment from bosses
  • active and passive provocation
  • incompetence
  • not admitting problems
  • not asking for help
  • lack of meaningful relationships at work
  • getting blindsided
  • frustration
  • evasiveness
  • lack of fairness
  • nobody listens
  • deflecting responsibility
  • self-handicapping

(adapted from an MIT sloan management review article)

there’s quite a bit of research on the dysfunctional workplace, for example on violence in the workplace, or the effect abusive supervisors have on turnover in the workplace. however, i haven’t seen anything yet on how the dysfunctionality that seems to be the norm in many workplaces makes it possible for disastrous decisions to be made.

but i’m just going to go out on a limb and say that someone who is in complete and optimal mental health cannot make the kinds of decisions that end up killing people, destroying the environment and otherwise compromising the wellbeing of people and the planet.

let me use the air india disaster as an example. reading through justice john major’s report, we see that these things happened at the RCMP and CSIS

  • not communicating effectively with each other
  • RCMP not sharing information with CSIS when they clearly should have, and vice versa
  • not respecting each others’ rules and requirements – e.g. RCMP was often careless in protecting CSIS sources
  • a culture of managing information designed to protect individual institutional interests and not the public interest
  • compromising the need for reliable proof (when the parmar tapes were erased)
  • misunderstanding or dismissing that the relevance of information, not who has the information, determines what happens before the court
  • institutional lack of self-restraint and self-discipline
  • overstating the need for secrecy

i propose that all of these things are signs of dysfunctional mental health. i propose that most people would say that these are signs of mental health:

  • open and honest communication
  • reflecting on the consequences of one’s actions
  • having a degree of basic trust towards others
  • working hard to resolve any tensions that arise
  • co-operating for the common good
  • a degree of maturity that includes self restraint and self discipline where needed

and i propose that if these and other indicators of mental health were present, there would be less, and probably far less, calamities in the world.

i have to tell you that these ideas are still pretty new to me. as some of you know, i was going to talk about a different topic. but then one day, interestingly enough, when i was preparing a talk somewhere else about mental health in the workplace, i saw this connection between war and destruction and the workplace.

a book i have been reading avidly lately is tony schwartz’s the way we’re working isn’t working. (you can follow tony on twitter, it’s @tonyschwartz.)

let me read you just a few excerpts. here is the one that may have triggered all of this:

not a single CEO or senior executive at a large bank ever stood up and blew the whistle on the practices that led to the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008. nor has virtually any one of them ever explicitly acknowledged any personal responsibility for what happened.

we tolerate extraordinary disconnects in our own lives, even in areas we plainly have the power to influence.

human beings have continued to evolve by leaps and bounds in terms of what can be externally measured and observed. but for all these extraordinary external advances, we’ve devoted remarkably little attention to better understanding our inner world.

[we have a] tendency to default to impatience, irritation and even anger as a way to mobilize others to action

no single behaviour, we’ve come to believe, more funamentally influences our effectiveness in waking life than sleep

the survival zone is an acceptable place in which to operate in most organizations

survivial zone, performance zone, burnout zone, renewal zone

[when a amy pascal needed to implement some major changes at sony] she began by asking herself a simple question: “what is the right thing to do here? … everybody knows that it means to do the right thing. it means serving the greatest good even when it doesn’t seem to be in your immediate self-interest. it means you don’t make choices out of fear of failure or just because they seem expedient, you don’t make choices that are quicker or easier because that’s what everyone else is doing.”

okay, so now we’ve spent about 35 minutes on doom and gloom, and that’s just about all i can handle. i want to talk about more positive things now. like mental illness.

actually, about the experience and wisdom of people with mental illness. more precisely, the experience and wisdom of people with mental illness who are working hard at making the best of their lives. i’ll assume there’s a few of us in here right now, and more who may have friends or family who have learned to manage mental illness.

part of that management is medication. but the other part of that is therapy and even more importantly, leading a life that strives for as much mental health as possible.

in the course of managing mental illness, we have learned some valuable things. so what i’m saying is that precisely BECAUSE we are forced to manage mental illness we have gained tools that can make a difference, a big difference.

my final point then is, seeing that the world needs help, and seeing that in managing mental illness, we have gained these valuable tools, how can we practically, day by day, today and not tomorrow, use these tools to influence our places of work? because i think that’s one place where we can start. make it our responsibility to make our places of work places where we can be in what tony schwartz calls the performance and renewal zones, where we can be calm, engaged, invigorated and peaceful, mellow and receptive. and even more specifically, how can we use social media to make this happen?

incivility

bullying

abusive supervisors

resentful


never being appreciated

blame

betrayal

cynicism

distrustful, always on the lookout for trouble

focusing on shortcomings

obsessed with reputation

reluctance and lack of cooperation

fear of disappointment

anger

grief

anxiety,

extreme vigilance,

phony

being a “hard-ass,”

playing favorites

irrational

scrutinizing everything for hidden meaning

closed minded

uneasy relationship that never get repaired – toxins build up

layoffs and other painful measures that are being pushed through disregarding the effect they have

disconnection from reality

in-groups and out-groups that fight each other

differential treatment from bosses

active and passive provocation.

incompetence

not admitting problems

not asking for help

lack of meaningful relationships at work

getting blindsided

frustration

evasiveness

lack of fairness

nobody listens

deflecting responsibility

self-handicapping

tony schwartz: the way we’re working isn’t working

the following is an interview with tony schwartz, who you may know as co-author with donald trump in the art of the deal.  tony just came out with a new book which i think everyone who has ever worked (so about 90% of the adult population) should read.  it is called the way we’re working isn’t working.  in susan lyne’s words

for two decades, tony schwartz has been observing and teaching the fundamentals of great performance.  his new book looks at why working harder doesn’t translate to working better.  backed by research and his own case studies, he offers a path to better results and higher rewards that should be hugely valuable to individuals and organizations alike.

isabella: you say that a good way to make deep and lasting change in your life is to create new rituals.  can you give an example in your own life where you have done that?

tony: wow! i actually have a life filled with rituals. i start every day by working out. that’s a ritual.  i begin my work day by doing the most important thing first, for 90 minutes, and then take a break. i take a break every 90 minutes throughout the day. i ritualize 8 plus hours of sleep. on saturday mornings, i sit with my wife of 32 years and we talk: she first, usually, with me listening, and then me, with her listening. building rituals that serve my life well has transformed my experience. my  rituals assure that i do what’s important to me, no matter what else is going on.

isabella: one of your tongue-in-cheek headers is “what do you want, and what will you do to avoid getting it?” i think this is a central question for everyone, whether at work, in relationships, in personal goals or anywhere else.  asking this question point-blank raises people’s hackles; have you found a way to ask this question so that people will actually reflect on it?

tony: well, interestingly, i think that it turns out you’re often better to start by helping people to build behaviors that serve them well ” the sort of rituals i’ve described above.  and then, almost inevitably, they’ll run into unexpected roadblocks and resistances.  that’s the opportunity to start exploring what’s getting in their way, because then you’ve got the energy of a person’s frustration working for you.  this helps explain why i believve that enduring change is ultimately a blend of many approaches: deepening awareness, cognitive work around the stories we tell ourselves, and explicit work aimed at changing specific behavioraa.

isabella: the idea of rhythm and balance (e.g. spending/renewing energy; work/rest; right/left hemispheres) is central to your book.  it reminds me of one of the seminal early new age books, george leonard’s the silent pulse. are you familiar with his book, and if so, could you touch on one or two areas where you have similar or different views?

tony: george leonard had an intuitive sense that building a rhythmic life rather than a linear one was the way to go.  he  was a lyrical writer, not a researcher.   what i’ve tried to do in the way we’re working isn’t working is to really lay out the multidisciplinary evidence for the fact that we’re designed to be rhythmic  and to really show how this works across all dimensions of our lives. physically, we need to balance rest and movement, eating and not eating, waking and sleeping. cognitively we’re at our best when we learn to move flexibly between left and right hemisphere dominance. spiritually we need to balance taking care of others with truly taking care of ourselves.

isabella: you propose that awareness has three dimensions:  “how long is your perspective? how wide is your vision? how deeply are you willing to look?”  how did you develop the idea of these three dimensions?

tony: most of us have a very narrow, superficial, short-term perspective built around avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. it’s our evolutionary inheritance. we want, above all, to survive, and reproduce, and not to be in discomfort.  awareness ” consciousness ” is an evolutionary leap, and it’s a capacity that separates us from every other species. we’re the only ones with the capacity for self-consciousness — reflection about ourselves. with that in mind, the question become “how spacious and embracing is my awareness?”

there are only so many ways to answer that. you can have a wider vision, which means more inclusive. you see your connections to others, and you’re capable of empathy.  you can also have a longer perspective, meaning the ability to see beyond your immediate needs and preoccupations. that’s possible only when you learn how to delay gratification, which is an extraordinary ability, and also the key to doing almost anything enduringly meaningful in your life.

and finally, there is depth.  most of us live at the surface, focused on the external world and how we’re managing it. depth is about interiority isn’t it? it’s about the willingness to look within, to peel away the layers, to overcome our infinite capacity for self-deception.  the whole journey really starts with depth, because depth is about working your way towards your ground, past the layers of conditioning, and reactivity, impulsivity and rationalization, defenses and blaming.  depth is what makes life rich. it frees up the ability to take a broader and a wider perspective.

isabella: below are two other quotes from your book that i found interesting.   do you have any wise words on them that you may not have been able to include in the book?

“we tolerate extraordinary disconnects in our own lives, even in areas we plainly have the power to influence”

tony: this goes back to our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  one of the shocking truths about a really satisfying life is that it necessarily involves pain ” the pain of growing, of pushing past our limits, of seeing through our delusions, illusions and premature conclusions.  when the researcher anders ericsson studied violinists at various skill levels, all the violinists agreed on one thing: practice was not only the most important single thing they could do to improve as violinists, but also the most difficult and the least enjoyable.  that helps explain why so few people achieve greatness.

“meaning and significance are a unique source of energy that ignites passion, focus and perseverance”

tony: well, meaning is a big subject, but there is a simple answer here.  when something really matters to us, we bring vastly more energy to it.  many of us spend our lives trying to please others, or live up to some external standard.  that’s not nearly as powerful a source of motivation as simply loving something for its own sake, regardless of what anyone else thinks.  i feel exactly that way about all of the ideas i’m talking about here.  it gives me joy every day of my life to engage with them, and to share them, and to believe that they have the power to improve people’s lives.

good advice from john chow

me looking goofy as i hold up john chow's book

very few blogs make much money. in fact, the vast majority make no money whatsoever. but that’s not what you want, is it? you want to make some real money blogging, and that’s why you bought this book in the first place. congratulations! you’ve already completed the first step on your path to becoming a dot-com mogul. now you just have to read the book and implement the strategies described within.

that’s on page one of john chow’s latest oeuvre, the paperback make money online. i said i was going to review it but i’m afraid there is already so much in those few words that it might just be a paragraph review, not a book review. sorry, john, you just have so much to say 🙂

let me unpack what he says:

if you know what you want, go after it!
going after it starts with the first step.
getting what you want is not difficult, all you have to do is implement.

incredibly simplistic, isn’t it? it’s the cliche that all get-rich-quick schemes use.

well, let’s see.

first of all, let me get this out of the way:  john chow is not really a get-rich-quick kinda guy, he’s more the get-comfortable-within-a-reasonable-amount-of-time type. yes, yes, his brand is that he’s evil but every time i meet him, i’m struck by his intelligence, his focus, his geeky quirkiness, and by how straightforward he is. plus he’s got a good heart. i have a lot of respect for him.

okay, let’s go back to the cliches. the thing is, they’re cliches for a reason: they contain a strong element of truth. it’s just that, as usual, we have problems with the truth.

(if) you know what you want, go after it

again, simple to the point of being simplistic. the problem? we often don’t know what we want. that’s why i started with the “if” in parentheses. a few years ago, i was going to take john chow’s advice and try to monetize my blog. i played around with it for a while but then it turned out that i didn’t really WANT (as in desire, hunger after) to make money online, i just thought it was a neat idea. big difference.

we spend way too much time thinking we want something when really we’re just lukewarm about it. so why not figure out what we REALLY want? and then let’s go for it with gusto!

start with the first step

yup. that’s it. unfortunately, we often start with things like, “but what if my boyfriend/mother/boss won’t like it if i buy a porsche with my first $20,000?” you know what, that’s not step #1, that’s step #1,783. plus you started the sentence with a “but”. ninety times out of a hundred, that’s a way to stop yourself in your tracks. it’s a word like the snake kaa that hypnotizes mowgli into paralysis in the jungle book. start with the first step, don’t paralize yourself with buts, then take the next step. really. it’s as simple as that. we tend to balk at that simplicity because we take those snakey “buts” way too seriously. (we take it so seriously, i should write a whole post just about that – in fact, i could write a book about it!)

so start with the first step. then the next. one after the other. if a step is too big, make it smaller.

getting what you want is not difficult: just implement

well, in most cases it isn’t difficult; it’s just hard (as in hard work). let’s go back to “how to” books again, like john’s. in my experience, quite a few “how to” books or blogs actually give good advice. again, it’s simple: you’re probably not the first person to want to do something, or solve a particular problem. there were others before you, and they’ve found tricks that consistently work.

in many (or most) cases, “how to” books don’t work because we don’t work them. if john says on page 23 to get your own domain and you drag your heels on that because it’s more comfortable to use the pre-made wordpress.com platform, don’t be surprised if your online branding drags its heels, too. there’s a reason why the people who came before you suggest certain things. that doesn’t mean you have to accept everything blindly. give them a chance, though! otherwise, why did you buy the book, attend the workshop of subscribe to the blog in the first place? if there’s something that you can’t quite accept, ask questions rather than dismissing it.

so if you want something, do the things it takes to get there!

what do you think? do you have a “how to” book at home that you have followed – or not? what’s your experience?

therese borchard: the pocket therapist

earlier this year, you heard me rave about therese borchard’s book beyond blue a few times. she has a new book out, the pocket therapist. i just received it and haven’t opened it yet. because i have so much trust in therese, i’ll do this: i’ll look at three random pages, tell you what i see there, and give you a few thoughts. ready?

page 50: imitate an eagle

that’s a great start. this being a pocket therapist (what is this? the sub title is: an emotional survival kit. maybe it’s a-tip-a-page?) maybe it’ll suggest to glide, let the winds take you, without resistance. maybe it’ll talk about being super protective of your little ones (little what? creative urges, perhaps?) ok, let’s see.

an eagle knows that a storm is approaching ling before the storm comes. he will hoist himself way up high and wait for the winds to come. then, when the storm arrives, he steers his wings so that the wind will raise him up and lift him above the storm. while the squall thunders below, the eagle is gliding above it. he hasn’t dodged the storm. he has simply used the fierce winds to lift him higher.

interesting! totally reminds me of norm amundson’s book on metaphors that i discussed a few days earlier.

how might this help someone with, say, bipolar disorder? we could say the storm resembles a manic episode. honing one’s sensitivities so that the “storm” can be anticipated is a very important skill to learn. how might one glide above it? that’s an interesting question. perhaps possible only for people with advanced meditation practice.

perhaps this is not what therese was referring to. how do you think this metaphor could help?

page 161: pin the anxiety on the unrealistic expectation

makes me think of pin the tail on the donkey. that involves tapping around in the dark (makes me think of the times we look around in the jungle of medication and techniques, hoping to stumble on one that might eventually work, at least for a while). it also involves trust – that there is someone who will make sure you don’t fall down the stairs or fall into the flower pots while you blindly stumble around. here’s therese:

i jot down irrational goals like “penning a new york times bestseller in my half hour of free time in the evening” … [or] “training for a triathlon with a busted hip.”

then my therapist and i arrive at some realistic options, like “writing an adequate blog” [or] “swimming … a few times a week but saving the triathlon for after retirement.” these goals don’t sound as sexy on paper as the overachievers’ but they are friends with sanity, and that’s all i care about.

aah! i get it. she separates the realistic from the unrealistic, and as she does that, the anxiety stays behind with what’s unrealistic.  can you see yourself using this techniqe?

page 71: bawl your eyes out

not much interpretation needed here, is there?

in a recent new york times piece, writer benedict carey refers to tears as “emotional perspiration.” …

for one, they remove toxins from our body. emotional tears (those formed in distress or grief) contain more toxic by-products than tears of irritation, like when you peel an onion, indicating that weeping is surely nature’s way of cleansing the heart and mind.

second, tears elevate mood. crying lowers a person’s manganese level, and the lwoer the better because overexposure to manganese can cause anxiety, nervousness, irritation … and the rest of what happens in your brain when you or your spouse are in a foul mood.

finally, crying is cathartic.

you’ve felt the same release that i have after a good sob, right?

it’s as if your body has been accumulating hurts and resentments and fears … until your limbic system runs out of room and then, like a volcano, the toxic gunk spews forth everywhere.

what’s crying like for you?  does it offer you release?

once again, therese borchard didn’t disappoint me. in fact, i already have someone in mind to whom i will give a copy of the book.