Tag Archives: TED

The High-Wire Act Between Wisdom and Delusion

Recognizing how narcissism blocks the uniqueness of our Being.

Recently, the theme of narcissism has foisted itself into our collective conversation.  According to Webster, it is defined as: “Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.”  We can perhaps come closer to understanding the term by delving into its synonyms: self-absorption, self-love, self-obsession, self-centeredness, conceit, egoic … But we can’t stop there, because, wrestling with narcissism is part of the human condition.

There is an in-depth book about “Transformations of Narcissism in Self Realization” by A.H. Almaas called “The Point of Existence.”  In it, Mr. Almaas discusses narcissism as identifying with a part of our experience and not being able to connect to the fullness of Being.

Mr. Almaas points out that there is a spectrum of narcissism that ranges from what is deemed healthy to pathological, and that being human, we are pretty much all subject to being on that spectrum.  So, it’s possible that, at any given point throughout our day, we can over-identify with the thoughts we are having, with our social status, with our current emotion, with our body image or a pain that we are experiencing.

Narcissism can make life, “all about me” and in doing so, it ironically robs us of experiencing who we really are, as well as diminishing the richness we are offered in each moment.

Over the weekend, my wife Julia witnessed an interview with a young man who had just written a book and given a TED talk. In the interview he was trying to explain that “he did not believe in” and “wasn’t looking for” inspiration.  He stated that he was his own source of inspiration.  He explained that everything essentially originated with him, that things weren’t interesting in themselves but it was the way that he looked at them that made them interesting.

Julia and I discussed this last declaration, turning it over and over, examining what drives us to feel we are the source of everything we see. Life is often a game of semantics. For example, inspiration and intuition are concepts that can be intertwined. If we are creatively prompted from within, our ego will often want to take credit for everything. Could all of us find ourselves, at times, doing a high-wire act between wisdom and delusion?

The paradox, for me, is that wisdom can be found both by going within and trusting our intuition, as well as being able to listen and honestly observe what is taking place around us. Thinking that we, as separate individuals, have it “going on” above everybody else, is a form of delusion, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I wasn’t there to hear the above-mentioned interview, and cannot presume to know what is in the artist’s heart.  I can certainly relate to artists who are so tuned into the process of creating, that everything around them becomes interesting because they have an internal commitment to wonder.

I believe that we each have a unique perception of the life-force that flows thorough all things. If we lose sight of the fact that we are that life-force, currently inhabiting a body, then it becomes very easy to become convinced that we are separate from everything else. Because we are aware of the life-force that is connected to all things, our ego can convince us that we alone are the source of everything we see. When that happens, our unique take on things usually gets blocked by our need to be “special.”

We recently enjoyed an interview with the world renown cellist Yoyo Ma, who refers to himself as a Citizen Artist. He told host, Krista Tippet, that playing music wasn’t a competition but an opportunity to share and create a moment between the artist and the audience with the objective of making that moment special.

Most people would agree that Yoyo Ma is successful and at the top of his field. Yet, Yoyo Ma considers the moments shared by him and his audience to be the real goal. In fact, making those moments as special as possible, for him, is the point of playing music in the first place.

I would say, beyond his incredible dedication to his craft, it is Yoyo Ma’s ability to be present as presence that makes him both unique and universally appealing.

Perhaps inspiration comes to us as we let go of our over-identification with our experience or our need to be special.  Perhaps, it is in allowing ourselves to be here fully, and be fully with what is, that what we are able to share becomes worth sharing.

This is a moment to moment dance that we get to choose, both individually and collectively. As human beings, we wrestle with narcissism. Still, we all have immediate access to the presence within this present moment that invites us to be fully who we are, and which opens the door to an infinite variety of uniqueness within every interaction.

Recognizing that our ego is a part, but not the whole of our existence, we can begin to open up to the wonder this moment affords us, even on the high-wire.

Healing our story architecturally

“Buildings are not simply expressive sculptures. They make visible our personal and collective aspirations as a society. Great architecture gives us hope. Great architecture can heal.”
-Michael Murphy
 
A few weeks ago I wrote about Bryan Stevenson. This week, Julia told me I had to watch an amazing TED talk she saw by Michael Murphy. It was about architecture that is built to heal.  Michael Murphy has done incredible work around the world. In Rwanda, not only did Michael design a hospital that would prevent unnecessary infections, promote healing, and lift patient’s morale, he was wise enough to work and learn from Bruce Nizeye. Bruce, a local engineer, taught him about Ubudehe, a practice and culture where the community works collectively to support one another and solve problems. Hundreds came out to excavate the site with hand tools.  Bruce started a guild where master craftsmen trained locals to make the furniture.  Fifteen years after the Rwandan genocide, Bruce advised Michael to hire workers from all backgrounds, half of them women.  This process initiated a healing for the community while the hospital was being built
This process is called Locally Fabricated or Lo-Fab and it’s four pillars are:
Hire Locally
Source Regionally
Train where you can
Invest, focus on how to bring dignity to the people that the building will serve.
Michael Murphy
A Lo-Fab hospital in Haiti saves lives from Cholera, a birthing center in Malawi seriously reduces the maternal and infant mortality rate.
Back here in the States, Michael saw that Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative were planning on building a memorial to those who were lynched in the South. Michael asked if he could design it.  The collaboration will be a moving open structure, reminding one of the Parthenon until you get close and realize that the columns are pillars hanging, suspended above the ground like so many were from public town squares.  The names of those who were unjustly taken will be inscribed on these pillars. In a field outside the building, there will be duplicate pillars waiting for each county where lynching took place to claim and display them. This is not to shame these counties but as Michael said, it will allow the nation to, “heal from over a century of silence.”  Michael also pointed out that countries like Germany, South Africa and Rwanda have built memorials to commemorate their atrocities in order to mend their wounded psyches.  America has yet to build this kind of memorial.
Memorial to Peace and Justice
Brene Brown says in her book Rising Strong, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
This applies to us in America.  When we look at our story, we were farmers who fought the most powerful army in the world to create the first nation without a king or emperor. We created a Republic for the people by the people and during the Second World War we made the world safe for democracy. The shadow part of our story that we have yet to reckon with is slavery, bigotry, the genocide and subjugation of Native Americans, institutional misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and too many other phobias.  Because we are unwilling to rumble with this shadow, it sadly becomes necessary to have an organization in 2016 called Black Lives Matter. 
This is the Land of the brave.  If we are set on “Making America Great…” let us love ourselves in the process of owning our story head on.  Not through posturing, pride and insulting one another but through recognizing that we have people like Michael Murphy, Bryan Stevenson, Brene Brown and countless others who are not only resources but are cheering us on toward our real greatness.  Namely, standing for up for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of our citizens.  Equality and harmony are what make us strong.
The third part of Brene Brown’s Rising Strong process is called The Revolution, “where we own our truth in order to write a new, more courageous ending which will transform who we are and how we engage with the world.”
Rising Strong
That is a modern revolution worth having.
As more of us are willing to do this kind of work on ourselves, connections and links are made to build, not a wall, but a structure that brings dignity to the people it serves. That is something we need now more than ever.

The Equal Justice Get Down

“I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.” – Bryan Stevenson

Just_Mercy_Stevenson_Bryan_002%20(1)_0

On Labor Day, Julia and I had a gig that was cancelled. We considered ourselves fortunate to be able to sit outside and catch up on back issues of The New Yorker.  One of the articles was about Bryan Stevenson.  What caught my eye was that Bryan was helping to build a national lynching memorial museum called the Memorial to Peace and Justice.  Bryan is a lawyer from Delaware who moved down to Alabama without family, friends or any support.  Recognizing the correlation between the lynching mentality that was established in the South and the mass incarceration and excessive use of the death penalty for citizens of color, Bryan founded the Equal Justice Initiative .  This organization guarantees legal representation to each of Alabama’s death row inmates. Bryan points out in his TED talk that the US is the only country in the world that will jail children for life.  Some of Bryan’s clients are thirteen and fourteen years old.  He believes that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law.” Bryan’s desire to build the museum in Montgomery, Alabama is to challenge each county where lynching took place to own up to it. This is not to shame them but to urge them to acknowledge the wound so that it can begin to heal.

memorial-memory-bank-3_0national-lynching-memorial-2_1

Later in the day, Julia and I binged through the rest of season one of Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down. This, highly addictive and amazing show, was a natural extension to reading about the Equal Justice Initiative.  Set in the South Bronx in 1977, The Get Down shows how racism and poverty create a boiling pot of crime that is a necropolis for many but which cannot extinguish the creative spirit that must express itself.  With hues of a superhero genre, the show emphasizes that the real success that is achieved stems from love, friendship and the synchronicity of bonded effort across community lines.

The show illustrates how we have demonized creativity that arises out of poverty such as graphitti and hip-hop.  One of hip hop’s pioneers, Grand Master Flash is a character on the show. When interviewed he said that Hip hop’s message was simple, “We matter. We stand for something.”  His character on the show instructs a talented aspiring DJ who is slipping into graft, “It’s about music. It will move you forward and open up doors that everybody says are shut. It will give you the whole world for free if you just hold back nothing. Ah… do you hear that? It’s life and destiny, that is the Get Down!”

The-Get-Down

“We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, marginalization. And for me, it becomes necessary to integrate the two. Because ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world. And for me that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor, the disadvantaged…thinking about them in a way that is integrated in our own lives.”- Bryan Stevenson

There are those who inspire tirelessly and selflessly like Bryan.  They are superheroes.  They are here to reflect the spark in the rest of us. For me, there is a difference between identifying ourselves as victims and committing in whatever way we can to being the expression of love that helps us rise up to a greater freedom within and without. Thank you for what you do and who you are.  You are that expression.

 

Setting an intention to succeed

By making the choice to be here we are activating a clarity that brings a calm so exciting, it transcends the light spectrum with a whole new box of colors to play with.
***********************************************************************
It’s probably not wise to go chasing a charmed day but when it happens it is sweet to pull back and acknowledge it and if you are in the midst of it, bliss.
Saturday, we had a charmed day.  We had a heightened sense of connection and were aware of how smoothly everything went.  Julia started the day by she saying was open to thoughts and energy that were moving us forward in a wonderful way.  There is a Jewish word called Kavanah, which denotes the setting of an intention to overcome separation. It becomes a mind and heart set that turns the prayer, meditation, ritual or day into an opportunity to connect and expand.
Julia shared an article and a TED talk with me, which are about establishing an intention.  One is about a self-made millionaire who is saying that “Most people choose to play small.” Fear and scarcity-based thinking drives us to have just enough money to pay the bills and no more.
“Big thinking and big actions lead to having both money and meaning.”
-T. Harv Eker
Deborah Frances-White’s TED talk is for anyone who ever performs or talks in front of people.  It shows you how the simplest shifts in the body and our thinking can transfer stage fright or self-consciousness into charisma.  By setting an intention, the seasoned speaker, comedian, or performer seeks to change the feeling in the room rather than asking the room to help them get through the experience.  Instead of worrying about how we are doing, we are focused on what we are doing for those around us.
Julia has started noticing when the negative mind set and beliefs start parading in.  She tells them, “No, go away. I’m only allowing in what is moving me towards my best self.”  This is a practice we are taking up together. 
“Hey, let’s be big today! We’ll travel all around, chasing troubles away. They’ll never see us coming. They’ll wonder why they’re humming. Come on, what you say?  Let’s be big today!”
– The Levins
 
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/self-made-millionaire-says-single-183000673.html
 

A Conversation between two books and a TED talk

A Conversation between two books (When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron/ Letting Go by David R. Hawkings) and a TED talk (Listening to Shame by Brene Brown):


Listening to Shame: There was a part of me that was working hard to engineer staying small.
Letting Go:  Blame is the world’s greatest excuse.  It enables us to remain limited and small without feeling guilty.  But there is a cost- the loss of our freedom.  Also, the role of victim brings with it a self-perception of weakness, vulnerability, and helplessness…
Listening to Shame: Vulnerability is not weakness, it is our most accurate measurement of courage.
When Things Fall Apart: What we’re talking about is getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye- not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing smelling, tasting and thinking.  The truth is that when we really begin to do this, we’re going to be continually humbled. There’s not going to be much room for arrogance that holding on to ideals can bring.  The arrogance that does arise is going to be continually shot down by our own courage to step forward a little further.
Letting Go: It is not a matter of right or wrong; it is merely a matter of taking responsibility for our own consciousness.
When Things Fall Apart:
When we don’t blame it on anyone else, and also don’t blame it on ourselves, then…we encounter our heart.
As one student so eloquently put it, “Buddha nature, cleverly disguised as fear, kicks our ass into being receptive.”
Listening to Shame:
If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly.
Things Fall Apart: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”
************************************************
Letting Go by David R. Hawkins

Arrows to Flowers

You are under Esthetic Arrest

I just finished reading Joeseph Campbell’s Reflections On The Art of Living and have launched into his The Inner Reaches of Outer Space.
There are so many amazing concepts to go into. Joesph Campbell was such a delta of mythology, he makes a tremendous hub of universal knowledge and points the way to a paradigm shift in which we see the beauty of the messages behind the myriad of symbols and stories that we use to connect to the stream.
Above all, I have been fascinated and a bit obsessed with the idea of Esthetic Arrest. The term came from James Joyce. Joyce, when referring to art said that if it made you desire the object or subject portrayed, then it was pornographic. If it brought up fear or loathing in you, then it was didactic. If however, it was something that took you beyond fear and loathing ( in Las Vegas with Hunter S. Thompson, who seems to have read his Joyce as well ; )
and desire, and reflects wholeness, harmony and radiance with a “divinely superfluous beauty” it could act as a portal connecting us to all of life. It creates a still point amidst the vastness of a universe in which everything is constantly in motion.

“Esthetic arrest, the condition of the heart or spirit or whatever not being moved by desire or fear, is …the immovable spot…
The biological urges to enjoy and to master (with their opposites, to loathe and to fear) , as well as the social urge to evaluate (as good or evil, true or false), simply drop away, and a rapture, sheer experience supervenes, in which self-loss and elevation are the same. Such an impact is “beyond words;” for it is not such as can be explained by a reference to anything else. The mind is released- for a moment, for a day, or per-haps forever.- from those anxieties to enjoy, to win or to be correct which spring from the net… in which (we) are entangled. Ego is dissolved, there is nothing in the net but life- which is everywhere and forever.”

– Joeseph Campbell/ Reflections on the Art of Living.

Below is a TED talk of Tom Reed talking about taking pictures of nature that create an intake of breath denoting shock or the wow that hopefully allows for easthetic arrest as opposed to the breath out which denotes comfort or desire to be in the setting alone.
I have attached Van Gogh’s Starry Night because I feel his painting illustrates the reflection of nature that elicits this shock/ intake of breath. Of course what strikes us all individually and allows for esthetic arrest will be as varied as the myths that humanity has taken up to experience transcendence.

Tom Reed- Natural Beauty and Aesthetic Arrest:
http://youtu.be/aB8L5a-P6NM

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and may the interactions we have with family and friends go beyond our static stories and transcend into whiteness, harmony and radiance !