Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Positive Outlook for the World..Thank you Google, Wikipedia and the Dalai Lama

My Positive Outlook for the World

How Google, Wikipedia and His Holiness the Dalai Lama give me Hope

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." His Holiness the Dalai Lama

There is a huge amount of anxiety today among people regarding the future of the world. I want to go back and look at ‘my world’ in 1968 when I started worrying about things outside my own personal existence. The US was at war in Southeast Asia, the draft and opposition to the War was tearing families apart at a rate not seen since the Civil War. Pollution was a major concern for our rivers, air and soil. I vividly remember seeing TV footage of parts of Lake Erie and the shores of Cleveland on fire because of pollutants in the water. Food shortages and political strife in Africa and India were going to have global panic in the near future. We were running out of fossil fuels and our dependence on foreign oil would cripple the US in a few years with gas shortages. In other words we were angry at each other, going broke, getting poisoned and starving to death all at once and pretty soon.

None of this happened. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and people began having respect for the environment. In 1952 you could not find an article about air or water pollution in any paper. Twenty years later it was an industry, a political movement and mentioned in churches and synagogues. A global consensus appeared to help poor nations not by colonizing them, but by giving aid that would teach citizens to provide their own food. Politically, the War in Vietnam died with a blip and left a unified country that now makes almost all our Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren clothing. My 1967 GTO got 7 miles to the gallon of premium gas; my Honda now gets close to 30 mph and we are thinking of getting a hybrid very soon.

I’m sure you see the parallels between 1968 and 2010. A lot has changed and very little has changed. What didn’t happen in the 42 years since was any apocalyptic event sending the globe into ruins. Looking back at these events I began to feel pretty comfortable about feeling very good about the future. Yes our country seems to be split between political, religious, racial and sexual barriers. Yes we have had a horrible environmental catastrophe. Yes, we still consume huge amounts of fossil fuels unwisely. Yes, our banking system has thrown many people into stressful times. Is any of this fixable? Yes, all of it.

I believe all of these problems will be solved by the free flowing exchange of ideas between people, businesses and governments. The Internet immediately comes to mind. Not the internet of MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator” or the stalking cyber bullying of texting, but the Internet that the original scientists envisioned years ago; one that enabled scientists and students, politicians and citizens, consumers and leaders of business to stand toe to toe and share ideas.

Two good examples of this are Google and Wikipedia. One of the best corporate secrets is the algorithm Google uses to take all the information we as hundreds of millions of users put INTO it to give us the list of sites to take our information OUT of it. Of course the managers of Google do this to better get a feel of who is surfing the web in order to give us the complimentary paid advertisements that we are likely to click on and do business with. What they have unintentionally done is create a world of exchange. Google takes the judgments made by millions of people as they create links to web pages and harnesses that collective knowledge of the entire web to produce amazingly intelligent answers to the questions we type into the Google search bar. What Google has done is create a door to our collective intelligence.

Another example is Wikipedia. In Wikipedia, thousands of contributors from across the world have collectively created the world’s largest encyclopedia, with articles of remarkably high quality. Wikipedia has been developed with almost no centralized control. Anyone who wants to can change almost anything, and decisions about what changes to keep are made by a loose consensus of those who care. What’s more, the people who do all this work don’t even get paid; they’re volunteers.

I’m not alone in this positive world view. His Holiness the Dalai Lama feels the world is becoming more positive. The indicators of his world view were the broader human concern for man-made or natural calamities worldwide (shown in the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami and the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Tibet), the existence of peace movements throughout the world (which was visible prior to the United States’ war in Iraq, for example); the emergence of an environmental movement (there was no such movement in the beginning of the previous century); and the increased interaction between science and religion (science is showing interest in not just external matters but also in the study of mind). In short, through a comparison between the 20th century and the 21st century so far, the Dalai Lama feels the world is becoming more positive.

I don’t know what the answers to the problems in politics, religion or the environment. But I do know where the answers will come from. It will come from the free flowing sharing of ideas and instantaneous dissemination of them cropping out of our collective intelligence.

Have a peaceful week

Nate Klarfeld

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How we view the world

Our core assumptions about the how we see the world are embedded in the metaphors we use. More than just a sunny or crabby disposition, how we see the game of life set up colors our responses to everyday happenings. What is coincidence to one person is a personal assault to another.

I see six main ‘game boards’ that people use as metaphors for how things work for them. We really can’t judge how the world works for others, though many times we try too hard to put our own metaphors on others.

The six metaphors are;

1) The world as a battlefield

2) The world as classroom

3) The world as a trap

4) The world as a lover

5) The world as self

6) The world as a machine

The World as a Battlefield

Many people see the world as a battlefield, where good and evil are pitted against each other and the forces of light battle the forces of darkness. This ancient tradition goes back to ancient tribal civilizations. There is the sense that you are fighting God’s battle and that ultimately you will win. Some people call this kind of certainty and self-righteousness the ‘apartheid of good’.

It’s easy to see the ‘Battlefield” world in others. We all know the constant fighter for political and social injustice. When you ask them how they are doing; the answer is usually a triad on the latest assault on their own cause by the obvious evil-doer. Gays vs. the Religious Right is a great example. Many GLBT people make this a battle instead of a discussion. To quote my favorite politician, Barney Frank, “Most people aren’t homophobes, they just think they have to be.” Obviously Congressmen Frank does not see the world as a battlefield.

The World as a Classroom

A more innocuous version of the battlefield metaphor, is the image of the world as a classroom, a kind of moral gymnasium where you are put through certain tests which would prove your mettle and teach you certain lessons, so you can graduate to other arenas and rewards. Whether a battlefield or a classroom, the world is a proving ground with a grade at the ‘end’. The grade can be money, a family, a relationship, a great job, or being on the A-List.

We are taught, imprinted, guilted and molded from a very early age to poop, read, run, swim, and be popular. When we describe our lives to another in the elevator speech (the 20 second introduction) we usually use one of the ‘grades’ we have been given be it a good job, a great spouse, a sought after address, etc. Though not as toxic as the battlefield metaphor, the constant competition tends to wear on your value system when you realize there is no final exam at the end of your life. I’m sure you have never given this any thought but what will Paris Hilton do in 30 years when she has done it all?

The World as a Trap

Here the view is not to engage in struggle or vanquish the foe, but to disentangle ourselves and escape from this messy world. We try to extricate ourselves and ascend to a higher, moral high ground. If you venture out too far, you will get slapped. “All gay men are pigs, there is no one that wants a relationship, women are gold-diggers, religion is a crutch” are all terms the people who view the world as a trap use. They separate themselves, many times into disturbing isolation, to avoid being burned by the big bad world.

Some avoidance and insulation is necessary, especially for those of us living in an urban environment. It gives us a ‘time out’ to get things done, evaluate our actions, and give the love to others. Where the trap metaphor becomes a problem is when we see too much of the world as a trap, and not enough of it as the wonderful universe that it is.

The World as a Lover

The world as a lover is seen as a most intimate and gratifying partner. In religious texts we find some of the richest expressions of our erotic relationship with the world. Desire plays a creative, world-manifesting role; giving of oneself, subjecting your body, an erotic experience of body and soul. People who see the world as a lover are amazed at natural beauty, see good experiences as personal gifts, and create a personal relationship with the universe. This personal relationship can be stormy at times, like that with a lover, as our expectations and reality come together.

The World as Self

The world as lover is a complement to the world as self. The saying that you can’t love anyone until you love yourself is a manifestation of this worldview. What outsiders see as a selfish act can be in reality an exercise in making yourself better and thus the world itself. In “The Four Agreements”, by Dr. Manuel Ruiz, we are taught that we are to make no assumptions as to what others may think or do. They are living ‘their’ world and you are living yours. There is no line between the universe and yourself. You are part of an interconnected network of living things. Using the metaphor of the world as self is a progression finding the rhythm of peace.

The World as a Machine

In the seventeenth century, science claimed the domain of the physical world, religion claimed the domain of the mental world. Since then the explosion of public education, (remember that until 250 years ago, only priests and ministers were allowed to study science, Darwin included) science and religion have collided many times and the gay community is the new Petri dish for this clash. For the most part I believe in the science, the raw data in making my worldview decisions. As I have aged there has been enlightenment into the spiritual world. I do believe there are forces out there we don’t understand but do have cause and effect over. Most of us are ‘modernists’ siding with the real world. I do believe that in the future, the spiritual world will not clash with the material world with such damage. Seeing the world as a machine of cause and effect is not all bad, but I don’t think it is the big answer.

How much do you operate within each of these worldviews?

How do you see these worldviews being expressed in the world around you ?

Are each of these views equally valid?

What makes some more valid than others?

Good questions to ponder on this week

Have a peaceful week

Nate Klarfeld

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Power of Living in the Now

The Power of Living in the Now

Nate Klarfeld

You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present. ~Jan Glidewell

Numerous brain activity studies have shown that when you imagine something vividly, your brain waves are exactly the same as if you were experiencing it first hand. That means that your brain, which controls your breathing, sweating, and emotions, does not know the difference between being spanked now and remembering being spanked twenty years ago. The same emotions, coupled with hormone levels, blood pressure, and focus, are there whether you are reliving an event or experiencing it in the ‘now’.

So what do breathing, sweating and emotions have to do with our day to day lives? Everything! How much oxygen gets to our brain, how we digest food and save energy for fight or flight, and what we focus on are constantly being monitored, adjusted and transmitted to our bodies.

Imagine you are in third grade and in a new school. Your old school had a poor or non existent physical education department. Its PE time now and you and your classmates are in your sneakers in the gym and you see a pair of huge thick ropes dangling from what looks like 100 feet in the air. You get into lines and two by two you see how far up you can climb the rope using your legs and arms. You have never seen this before let alone attempted it. Your classmates are all cheering some of the jocks as they reach the ceiling. Others get halfway up then slide down, still getting high fives. Your turn comes and you feel cold. You have no idea what do to next. Your throat closes up and you notice you are breathing short shallow breaths. You grab the rope and pull. Nothing happens. You hear snickering behind you. You pull again. More snickering and a few laughs. You pull one more time and realize that you don’t have the strength or experience to move up an inch let alone get to the ceiling. You turn around with tears in your eyes and eyes to the floor as your classmates roar in laughter.

Fifty two years ago, that was me in line in gym class. I can still feel the throat closing, the shallow breathing when I imagine that first day in PE class at the new school. I can imagine the smell of the rope and the sweat. For my body and mind today, I’m back at University Forest Elementary and it is 1958 and I want to go home.

Now logically I know that lanky eight year old didn’t have the skills and the gym teacher didn’t have the information or aptitude to help me out that day. I know that my classmates really didn’t know how painful their responses were. Remember that this was 1958 and ‘touchy feely’ teaching was not yet discovered. Nor did this do any permanent damage (I hope) to my psyche as far as physical exercise is concerned. I am an active athletic adult, muscular, and HWP (Height/Weight/Proportionate).

What I still carry around from this day is that whenever I start something new physically whether it be competitive swimming, learning to ride a motorcycle, take up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Karate; I get a momentary physical flash of fear that I know comes from seeing that rope in front of me. I could easily turn back to my ‘gut’ feeling and give up and go home as I desperately wanted to that day. But something pulls me into the ‘now’ and I go ahead with no fear.

So why is it that some people can emerge from a trauma and move on while others seem stuck in a dead end circle of self talk that keeps them frozen in a bad place? We’ve seen some men and women permanently devastated by a bad romance or job loss while others survive and thrive after debilitating accidents and greater losses. I don’t remember a self help book or seeing an Oprah show about this yet I know that the past is just that – ashes - learn and move on.

I really have no idea why there are such vast differences in how people see the world. (cup half empty or half full or with a crack in it and leaking) Perhaps it is evolutionary biology and a species in order to survive has to have some members always looking back and some in the now and some worrying about the future. Or maybe there is a difference in early childhood modeling. Parents who recall and force the child to recall the past experiences, good or bad, might be setting the stage for a lifetime of regret. I do know that a bad experience ‘sticks’ with you far longer than a good one.

Whatever the causes, I do know that each moment we have the power to be our own Brain Mechanic and stop, shift gears and live in the Now.

Have a peaceful week.

Nate Klarfeld

PS a friend finally showed me how to do this....

"I want you to wrap the rope around the back of your left leg, where your thigh is, and then bring it around your calf to the front and then over the instep of your foot."

No one had ever taken the time to show me or to help me. It was always just do it or fail trying.

"You will need to pull yourself up off of the floor first while you do this and keep the rope loosely wrapped around your leg. Now I want you to step hard on the rope where it meets your instep and at the same time pull yourself up like you are walking up a flight of stairs. Let the rope slide down as you go up -- keeping it in place -- and step hard on it again -- and pull yourself up. Just do this exactly as I have told you and before you know it, you'll be at the top."