Walk in this world

While attending a week-long training at the library in Medford, Oregon and during a break I was standing in the window, observing the scene across the street.

 

Across the street is a small Italian pizzeria and outside on the sidewalk were two people with a table set up and were offering some paraphernalia. I could barely discern the word “stressed” on their display, accompanied by a picture of a suited person sitting at a table with mer head in zer hands and the body posture of someone who was overwhelmed by the world.

 

What intrigued me was that the local parking enforcer was taking a picture of the car, parked near the table and outside of the designated area. The car, it turned out, belonged to one of the two persons at the table. I was now quite interested to see how this person, offering some answer to stress, would handle receiving a parking ticket for a shoddy job of car placement.

 

Though I could not hear the dialogue through the plate glass window and across the distance between us, I watched as the attendant appeared unmoved, nor unconcerned with the somewhat anxious and stressed body language of the car owner/stress reliever. Zer face was pensive, zer hands and feet close together, and ze leaned slightly forward at the waist. This interaction is not what I was waiting to see. Only the enlightened among us can maintain our saintliness while we watch and are handed a parking ticket. I may do this once in a while, but much of the time I am annoyed.

 

Instead, I was waiting to see what happens next. I was quite curious as to how this person would handle things after zer interaction, what ze might do, zer behaviors. Would ze use the answers and tools to stress that ze was providing to passers-by? Fairly or unfairly, I was now ready to judge table of information based on zer actions in the next few moments.

 

Ze got into zer car, moved it forward 6 feet into the correct space, and got out of zer car. Zer companion appeared to take a conciliatory role, which morphed into co-accuser. For ten minutes I watched as these two people points to different cars along the street, moved their arms in gestures that seemed to go along with an angry diatribe, and generally appeared as though they were still stressed.

 

I continued to sip my coffee and watch for another ten minutes. Three people came up to their table and it appeared to me that the story of the unfair “parking ticket” was told to them. Now this negativity, which earlier lived only in the minds of the two people, were now spread to the minds of the three passers-by. The interaction between these two groups were formed from the starting point of the negativity fostered by the woman. After fifteen minutes I did not see any indication of zer using any skills to alleviate stress.

 

The Enchiridion

5 Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus, death is nothing terrible…the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible.

 

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet, II, ii, 259

 

I read, in some philosophy book somewhere (and I am looking to find the source), that if one is to study philosophy, once is to practice philosophy. Think about this for a moment, philosophy is from the Greek word philosophia, meaning love of wisdom. Can a person study, contemplate, and gain wisdom without seeking to apply it? To do so is to not act with wisdom. It is said, instead of explaining to me your philosophy, show me how you live your life.

 

This then brings up a difference between a value and a virtue., at least as I am beginning to understand it. There are different definitions of both terms, used interchangeably, along with belief, conviction and other words. I am still researching these terms. However, I do note that there are values that we may ascribe as importance, but have yet internalized into our character. Without structures, we may stray from them. Without police watching we may tend to speed on the highway. We may have reminders to act according our values, but when life becomes difficult, we lose our restraint and our deeper values and beliefs come out in our behavior. Our true character, or our tendency to behave in certain ways, is shown.

 

But who among us are perfect beings? Nobody that I know, though there are some who seem to act in a manner of virtue more often than not. I feel that the person they are is of a sort, that when they act with less than virtue it is an exception, not the rule. How did they become this way? We're they born this way? Many philosophers would argue no. The soul, or psyche, or character of a person requires constant, daily practice. I sometimes speak of developing virtue as similar to developing into a musical maestro on an instrument. I find this helpful, not only in teaching, but for my own internal dialogue as well. It aids me in remembering that virtue isn't an all or nothing quality, where one either has it or ze doesn't. Someone with this dichotomous view, when made aware of their failing in acting with virtue in a situation (think of any time you did not act as your best self) may have the thought see, I am a lousy person. What follows then may be shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger and withdrawal, lashing out, avoidance, rationalizing, and other behaviors.

 

One practice of the Stoics, and others as well, was to carry a handbook. This handbook was filled with short sayings, easily placed into one's train of thought, held in the mind as one moved through the day. The stoic would often flip through the book, refreshing the well of the mind with such maxims as know thyself, nothing in excess, to thine own self be true, good is evil that virtue lacks, among others. These become like automatic thoughts, when repeated often, and more and more begin to shape the flavor of our thoughts.

 

One of the goals of CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – is to become aware of the pattern of thoughts and to decide which ones are helpful or harmful and to begin to make changes in them. We all have patterns in our thoughts, the question is what are they?

 

By attending to our thoughts with the knowledge that this is the only thing we can learn to gain control over, by daily, moment to moment practice, we develop our skills and, over the course of our life, become maestros of virtue.

 

Forbes-Image-21

Is life fair?

Let us take, for a moment, a serious investigation of the question ‘is life fair’? What is your initial reaction to this? What word rolls to the tip of your tongue before you are able to stop it? Is ‘no’ waiting to leap over your teeth into the world? Anyone who’s ever been on a school playground, a battlefield, let go of a downsized company, or has lived life outside of a cave will feel comfortable with saying that “of course life isn’t fair”.

However, let’s slow down for a moment. Whether or not life is or is not fair is a deep and profound question that will fill many books spanning the categories of religion, ethics, and physics and I will not venture into that realm here. Each person struggles with this question and its sibling, ‘what is the meaning of life’ as part of their own life’s journey. I will leave that important and difficult question for you to decide.

Waiting, still, for an answer to the question of ‘is life fair’, before you let your answer roll off your tongue, I want you to shift your attention to inside your guts. What does your gut instinct tell you? What do you secretly wish and hope for in the deep corners of your heart and mind? That stone’s weight of certainty in the pit of your stomach, that tenacious tingling in the corner of your mind, is your stubborn gut of feelings. Pay attention to it right now. What is it telling you? What answer does it compel you to say to the question ‘is life fair’? It is prodding you to answer ‘yes, life is fair’, or similarly that ‘life has a purpose’ or that there is some ‘meaning to it all’.

Once again, I am not going to delve into what that meaning is or is not, nor what the source is. My concern here is at the psychological level only. If you are curious as to the metaphysics or ontological aspects I will direct you to your nearest philosopher or religious personage.

Let’s imagine a scenario for a moment. It is a beautiful day and you are driving down the street in your car. You aren’t speeding necessarily, just going with the flow of traffic, the same rate of speed that everyone is, about 5 mph over the posted speed limit. Suddenly you notice that behind you a police car has turned on its flashing lights and is directing you to pull over. You pull over into a nearby quiet street and await the police officer to walk to your car. Now, what is going through your mind right now? What sensations are present in your body? What is the first answer that comes to your mind when I ask you “why did the police officer pull you over”? Chances are your answer is something in the line of ‘he is trying to make his quota for the month’ or ‘he singled me out amidst all the other cars because he doesn’t like _____’ or ‘he is being a jerk’ or a host of other similar ideas.

Now, lets imagine another scenario for a moment. It is a beautiful day and you are driving down the street in your car. You aren’t speeding necessarily, just going with the flow of traffic, the same rate of speed that everyone is, about 5 mph over the posted speed limit. Up ahead you see that a police car has pulled over a car and the police officer is busy writing a ticket to the driver. Now, what is going through your mind this time? What is the first answer that comes to your mind when I ask you “why did the police officer pull that person over”? Here, chances are your answer is something in the line of ‘the driver was speeding’ or ‘people in those kinds of cars usually drive like maniacs’ or ‘glad to see the police keeping us safe’ or any number of other similar ideas.

This is a well known phenomenon in psychology called the Self-Serving Bias and it is quite pervasive and when you start looking for it you’ll notice it everywhere. Any situation that is a positive or negative for you or someone else can elicit this response, and we are typically unaware that it is occuring. Suppose you win a lottery ticket. Why did this happen? Could it be that the universe, God, fate, was giving you a good thing because you deserve it? Suppose you see a news story on the t.v. of someone else winning the lottery. Why did it happen to them? Were they lucky, or are they good people? The difference here is that when positive things happen to you, it is because you DESERVE it, but when positive things happen to others, they were LUCKY.

Suppose something negative happens, such a flat tire or termites infest your house or whatever. It is just dumb bad luck that you got it, or if it is from another person, they are intentionally doing it to harm/hurt you. If it happens to other people, however, they get a flat tire because they waited too long to get new tires, or they weren’t doing preventative maintenance on their house, or they deserve the reprimand from someone.

This doesn’t cover every situation, naturally, but if you start looking you’ll see this pattern emerge in your life. Basically put, when negatives happen to others it is because they deserve it, when it happens to you, it was the bad luck or someone else’s fault. When positives happen to others it is because of luck or somoeone else being magnanimous, when it happens to you it is because you deserve it.

How this works, simply speaking, is that when an event occurs you instantly make an assessment of it, a rule of thumb appraisal, a general gut feeling about what is happening. This is an emotional response in the brain that is very quick, down and dirty, and doesn’t require much in energy reserves to perform. Think about doing calculus problems all day… exhausting. We cut corners where we can to preserve energy and overly thinking about the causes and consequences of everything all the time is consumes a lot of energy. But because this is a quick assessment, a down and dirty assumption at first glance, this form of reasoning can be wildly innaccurate at times. And to complicate matters, it is an emotive feeling that we mistakenly confuse with the feeling of ‘knowing’ something. In other words, we sometimes think we are certain of something simply because we feel we know the answer, making it very hard to catch our own wild mistakes when we do make them.

Broadly speaking of two types of events, positive and negative, I am not going to investigate the effects of positives on your life, nor if you made an error in thinking that you deserved that parking spot next to the front door instead of being lucky. Instead I am going to look at what is more problematic for some, when negative events happen in our lives. With some things, such as a negative performance review or malfunctioning car, it can be beneficial to accurately determine what/if it is your fault. Responsible people will take a performance review and seek to address their shortcomings and improve, or perform preventative maintenance on their vehicle, and so forth. Denying your responsibility and blaming others is the mentality of the victim. Always taking the blame is the mentality of the martyr. Both aren’t conducive to a healthy, flourishing life. The wise person seeks to determine what he/she can and cannot control, what they have responsibility for or not, and they make a plan and move on.

Yet some things seem to be random indeed, with no rhyme or reason why they happened. You may get cancer. Some people may be quick to point out that your lifestyle contributed to it, or others that you are healthy but it was bad luck, or others that everything gives us cancer these days, or a lot of other reasons. Using the Self-Serving Bias as a framework, strangers may assume you got cancer because of things you’ve done, you and your family may assume you got cancer from external events and influences. The truth of which may be a complex interaction of all of the above, or none of it. But the fact still remains, you have cancer. Blaming yourself, or blaming the world, may feel good to do, may bring some emotional relief, but at the end of the day, the cancer is still there.

Imagine that you just got diagnosed with cancer, think back to the question, ‘is life fair’? What are you feeling? Is there anger? Denial? Did you play by the rules only to still get hit by this? Why you? Why now? Why this? It’s not fair!

Before we go further, lets pause for a moment; things are getting deep. I want to tell you a story about myself. People that have been through my trainings have heard me talk many times about running marathons. In fact, some have gotten quite bored of me doing so. Yet marathon running is a great stage for growth and development and I recommend anyone to do it, whether it takes a month or two years to train up to being able to run a marathon, the benefits are huge.

I ran my first marathon when I was 39. Before then I was never a runner. It bored me, I didn’t have the stamina to run far, and so on. But completing a marathon, for some reason, was on my list of things to do and I figured that 40 was the goal. So in the summer of my 39th year I trained for my first marathon. It was a learning curve. I got bored, or I couldn’t stop thinking about a million things, some days I couldn’t run over 2 miles, some days I had zero motivation, etc… But through a variety of motivational tricks, I kept my training up and gradually saw my long runs increase from 3 miles to 10 miles to 15 miles to 20 miles. I ran the marathon and, I’m not going to lie, it hurt. I could barely walk afterward and the pain lingered for a couple of days. I patted myself on the back and said ‘that’s done’ and never thought I’d do it again. That is until 6 months later when I ran my second marathon. This time I didn’t have much in the way of training, and it also hurt. When I signed up for my third, I was dedicated in my training, as well as my fourth and fifth. Three days from now I run my eighth marathon at the age of 43. People ask me why I run them. They still hurt, and with an average time of four hours, I am nowhere near winning one. My answer is that I run marathons as training for life.

So here is a personal, microview of what I mean. If I am not mindful of my days, I will find a million excuses not to run; I worked hard that day, I have a class to prepare for, I need to rest my legs from the last workout, and more good excuses. We are not rational beings so much as we are supremely rationalizing beings, meaning for any action in the world there are a dozen good reasons or excuses for it. And this is the crux of it all, that we can indeed rationalize literally anything at all. What, then, would we be motivated to rationalize? Many times it is our current mood or emotive state. Because I don’t feel, at an emotional level, like running, I can rationalize it. Let’s take this further with another example; suppose I am married and find myself at a convention with an attractive person who is making advances toward me. Physical arousal to such advances is a natural thing. Recognizing the responding state of arousal in my own body I could assume that it means that I am no longer in love with my partner. Or I could notice that I want to take the opportunity further, and I could rationalize it to myself by stating that my marriage is on the rocks anyway, or that this is a meaningless episode, or that many people cheat on their spouses, or that my partner wouldn’t mind as long as it was not brought up, or a host of other well crafted, and no so well crafted, rationalizations. Important note, I am still talking about the psychology of the event. If you are curious about the ethical landscape of such I would direct you toward a philosopher.

Except that here we must delve a little into the world of ethics. Without a system of ethics, how would we decide what to do in this situation? Do we give in to our desires? Do we exercise inhibition? Do we seek to increase counter desires? For this, lets return to training for marathons. After running hundreds of miles in three years I had started to learn a few tricks to help me get through the sometimes monotonous and difficult training runs. Near Ashland, Oregon there is a trail that runs from Lithia Park up a mountain. Every year I visit Ashland for the Shakespeare festival and I never miss an opportunity to a couple of miles up that mountain. It is hard running, for me at least. It is steep, draining, tests my endurance, and many times I have to take a break to catch my breath. On one run I had made it up about two miles and my breath was short, sweat poured out of me, my heart rate was like a mad bongo player, my legs ached and complained at the work, and going was slow, very slow. I wanted to call it quits. I quickly calculated that if I turned around there and ran back to the park I would run a decent five miles. This was a decent distance for a short run, plus half of it was harder than normal as I was going up the side of a mountain. I was ahead of my goals for marathon training, I was in a beloved vacation spot and could take in a good restaurant or play, and so on. I came within a hair’s breath of turning around. But then I reflected on the WHY. Why was it that I was running up a mountain in the first place? The reason was that it was concentrated awesomeness and the amount of return on investment was much greater than a typical run. I had another marathon coming up in two months and I knew that every step I took up that mountain, was a little more speed on my marathon, a little further before I hit the wall, a little less anguish before the 26.2 mile finish line. With these thoughts in mind, I WANTED to take one more step up the mountain. I wanted to go just one more mile, to make another assessment on turning around or not. I wanted to hurt less on that marathon. Because as much as I was hurting then, I knew from experience that the marathon had the potential to hurt worse. A little pain now mean less pain in the future. I rationalized my pain. Though I was still tired, I did notice an increase in strength while running up that mountain. I also made it up further than I ever had! And when the marathon came around, I made a new PR!

What is your source of ethics? What determines your sense of purpose in the Universe? In a purely Just World, only the deserving would receive negative life events. Different religious traditions attempt different answers to this question, known in philosophy as the Question of Evil. Again, for these matters I will point you to the nearest philosopher or religious person. I will, however, give comment in alignment with the Stoics of Ancient Greece. The Stoics, that often misunderstood group of philosophers, held that there was an underlying order to the world and that the wise person seeks to live in harmony with that order. Okay, nothing odd there. We too believe this, Science is built on this. But, it so happens that there are many, many moving pieces, mistakes of judgment, what seems like random chance (randomness in an orderly universe is a book all unto itself), conflicts of intent and desire, and so on. It is unavoidable that negative things, outside of your control, will occur to you. Go ahead, try to imagine a life without any negative events at all. It is impossible, the Stoics would say ‘quit whining about it’. The Stoic would try to determine what, if anything, could be done in a situation, and if so… do it. This sounds good, who doesn’t agree with this? But who can live up this ideal? Who is born a Stoic sage? Who hasn’t been frustrated in traffic when the slow drivers in front of you are busy eating tacos and texting on their cellphones?

Pause for a moment. How easy is it to justify the frustration and anger felt at the annoying drivers in front of you? Many people might not have identified with the rationalizing of infidelity, but will whole heartedly, happily entertain thoughts about the ineptness of the idiot drivers in front of us. What to do? This is the mountain trail and you are tired. You can turn around, call the drivers and idiot, and tell yourself that the run was a good training run anyway, that there are indeed idiots driving cars. Or, and this is a powerful ‘or’, you can view this instance as training for the future. Just as continuing to run up the mountain prepares me for the real challenge of the marathon, today’s frustration in traffic prepares me for the real challenge to come. What is that challenge? Who knows. It could be I get diagnosed with cancer, or my beloved Mustang is totaled, or I lose my job, or my partner takes out frustration on me, or an overdue project is sidelined, or my effectiveness at a job is hindered by political manueverings of department heads, or any number of other things where I need to be my best self, a self that is wiser, less prone to overreaction, than I am today.

I cannot speak to any ontological reasonings as to any purpose of our existence, but this does not deny that I have the ability to add a purpose to my life. I may not have been the best of people, the most sage, most patient, most kind, most industrious, most creative, or whatever. But I know the sort of person that I want to be. Every day, every moment, every breath, is a moment that offers me the choice of turning around, or continuing to run up the mountain. Working toward this, living a life of purpose, is more important than the unimportant question ‘is life fair’.

PTSD is NOT permanent

Look at the different criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Pick one that is without a doubt permanent without chance of healing? In criteria B, C, D, and E, perhaps “Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories” is a candidate for permanence, yet I want to point out three thoughts with this.

1: intrusive memories and thoughts can be worked through and the emotional connection lessened so that they lose their power

2: a judgment on the morality of a memory is not the same as an emotional reaction to a memory

3: and this is important, a memory or ability is NOT the same as an intrusive negative memory

To follow the thought of some people, PTSD is permanent because one always remembers the injustice or horror of the event. Think about this deeply and without an agenda for a moment. If you are unable to test positive for criteria C, D, and E, with nothing left but just the ability to recall the autobiographical memory of the event, does this item alone meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD? No. If so, this is a misdiagnosis.

Note, this is not the same as diminishing the history of the person, nor their worth as a person. If you listen carefully, it appears that, other than sloppy logic, there is a (understandably) fierce defensiveness to affirm the history and abused rights of the victim. This is sometimes in response to society that says the suffering is not real, or that it is the victim's fault. So, again, this is understandable, but it is bad science. Don't confuse understanding and testing the model with devaluing the experience of the victim. They are not the same.

Now look at Criterion F: duration: Persistence of symptoms (in Criteria B, C, D, and E) for more than one month. What if someone has symptoms that last less than a month or less? What if they last six months or six years and then they are no more?

Criterion G: functional significance: Significant symptom-related distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational). Regarding this, what if there are no longer any functional distress?

Can a person have PTSD if they no longer meet Criteria F and G? If so, then what is the use of this diagnostic tool? None.

I utterly reject that PTSD is permanent. I hear people say that “it is forever” all the time. Not only is it poor science but this perpetuates a hopeless victimhood. What's the best one can hope for from this?

 

What’s with Positive Psychology?

I read from a variety of sources and it is often the case that someone will write about Positive Psychology as being “focused on positive thoughts” as though thinking positive will make you happy. A cursory glance in our direction could lead the person to assume that our field is concerned with making happy people who are bright-eyed optimists, always upbeat and chipper. This is a gross misunderstanding on so many fronts as to be tragic.

First, the topic of writing. An honest investigation of research studies, presentations, classes, and books by Positive Psychologists will show much more than mere happiness. But let us stick with this for a moment, what is happiness? Is it a transitory state? Is it an overarching condition of one's life? Would we ask for appraisals of affect and average over time? Would we distinguish between simple pleasures and more meaningful ones? And once we start to narrow down different types of happiness, what conditions and habits enable it? Money? Work? Purpose? Relations? And should we concern ourselves with happiness at all as a goal? Aren't there better things for humans to pursue, such as achievement? All of these and more are the subject of happiness studies within Positive Psychology as well as other topics as virtue, grit, fortitude, perseverance and more.

But I will take a stab here at the confusion over the word “positive”. It is automatically assumed by many that this refers to the thoughts of the person. It seems that people have a misunderstanding that Positive Psychology can be summed up as “the answer is to think positive thoughts”. If we pause and think about this, it clearly becomes absurd, for could an entire discipline of science be built on “wishful thinking”? No no no, a thousand times no.

Instead, let is start with a Bell Curve. Take a population of people and measure them on something and you'll have a Bell Curve distribution of scores. Psychology, outside of Cognitive Psychology and especially in Clinical Psychology, has looked at the left side of the curve, the negative side. It has looked at those individuals who are 2 or more Standard Deviations from the Mean on the negative side and have worked to move them toward the Mean. The Mean, also known as the Average, also known a Normal. Once the depressed person, for example, is no longer depressed and is normal, then the clinician's job is over. Other than the occasional treatment to prevent the client from sliding back into the negative, the person is cured and expected to live their life the same as the rest of us, a life mixed with work and family, worry and joy, grief and accomplishment. Once the client is *cured of depression (or whatever other malady they have), they then are told to find their own way in life.

Some psychologists, notably Martin Seligman, Chris Peterson, and others, wondered what science could do to inform us about moving from the mean toward the right side of the Bell Curve, the positive side. Take one person from the far left side of the curve and one person from the far right side, and compare them. Would there be differences in outlook? Habits? Social support? How would these two respond to a negative event, such as being downsized from a job? Perhaps the person on the left side would respond with withdrawal from supportive family, exhibit aggressive behavior, blame other people, and begin drinking heavily. Perhaps the person on the right side of the curve would respond with reaching out for support, networking for opportunities, take self improvement classes, and spend some the new extra time in the gym. Who is likely to rebound from the negative faster and healthier? Here is an interesting question, which one was disappointed and worried when initially downsized? Both? Which one ruminated on the negative and which one sought out avenues of influence?

This is the focus of Positive Psychology. What enables a person to not only survive a horrific event, but to find purpose and meaning, and to come away from the event stronger than before? Is there a connection between time spent driving in traffic and stress and heart attacks? Yet some people don't respond negatively, but instead are energized by their commute time. What are the differences? Traditional psychology moves people from the negative side of the curve to the middle by healing the illness, fixing the broken, mending the tone, adjusting the maladaptive. Positive Psychology is a strengths-based approach where to move from the middle to the positive side of the curve we look at what makes one stronger, more resilient, to thrive and flourish.

And here we are at a very important point, one which Positive Psychology does not deny, that life, the human condition, involves both the uplifting and the tragic, healing and building. Positive Psychology doesn't seek to supplant Negative (Traditional) Psychology, but instead to bring balance to Psychology as a whole.

 

Exercising Calm

I get off of work for the military and travel an hour north to do another job. I am usually early to the second job and have some time to kill and will stop by a Starbucks for a little bit to work on one of the many projects I have going. Seeing that I shouldn’t change out of my uniform on the side of the road, I am usually in uniform until I arrive at my final destination and I can change. Now this particular Starbucks is well known to me. I’ve stopped here on most Tuesdays for a little over two years now. The peopel that work here are nice and it is one of my favorite Starbucks.

I am sitting at a small table, I have my laptop open and am focused on a variety of things on my computer. Which projects are stalled, which ones are progressing, and I am also looking through a writing project I am working on, opening up a program for research, and so on. I am near a window and have a great view of the world around me. I am aware of the barista, a long time regular here, emtying out the trash. It is one of those trash cans that has a large cover that hides the actual trash can underneath. She picks up both and is emptying them, changing bags around, is five feet away from me, when the empty aluminium can drops onto the floor.

BOOM!

I am ripped from my concentration with the things before me, I half stand out of my chair, both arms are up in a fighting position, fists are curled, and I let out a muffled grunt sound. The two teenagers to might right are only slightly alarmed, but go back to their biology studies. The barista smiles at me while continuing to change the bag. She never slows her movement, smiles a little, and I grunt to her “I don’t like loud noises like that”. She never says anything but continues taking out the trash.

Now, I consider this, thus far, a major win. I used to have a very large, very pronounced startle response. In the past I would have likely spilled my coffee, knocked over my laptop, jumped out of my chair, and yelled curse words and obscenities. But I didn’t here, because I’ve done the work over time to get here.

I brought my hands together, closed my eyes, and just breathed. At first I was not aware of anything with my body, my attention was focused on what was outside of me, my thoughts were interpretting her smile as a smirk, that she never said anything to me as her non-caring. I ignore all these negative thoughts and focused only on my breathing….

In….

Out….

And I started to pick parts of my body that I was aware of. It started to dawn on my that my arms were very tight. I loosened them. Then I noticed that my legs were tight, then my chest, then my back, my stomach… back to my breathing. I started moving around my body, eyes still clsoed, and consciously feeling and releasing tension. I’d come back to a body part that I had just relaxed and would find out that I had only relaxed it partially. It took me several sweeps to relax my self. I noted my heart rate was quite high, but that it started to settle.

In….

Out….

Eyes still closed, hands before me, sitting at the little table, I was unconcerned with the world around me. In the past I would have felt embarassment and anger at other people seeing my reactions. But this time I did not concern myself with it. If concern did enter my awareness, between breaths, I gently told myself “let them see a Soldier in uniform exhibiting self control and gaining peace. Let them see a Soldier worthy of this nation.”

In….

Out….

After perhaps 2 or 3 minutes, I opened my eyes, felt the ease of being that I’ve worked so hard to learn how to develop. I cherish my combat reflexes, I do not want to get rid of them, the time may come to use them again. But I am not the slave to my passions, to the automatic reflexes of my nervous system, or the negative thoughts and mistaken perceptions rising from paranoid beliefs.

It could be that she didn’t know how to react to me. Perhaps she thought it best not to poke the bear with a stick. Perhaps she felt bad. Perhaps she realized that space and time were enough for me. Perhaps next time she’ll be nice (again, she is always nice). Perhaps a million other things other than where my mind wanted to go at first, and that is attributing selfishness and uncaring onto a person who has only ever done nice things for me whenever I stopped her for coffee.

And besides, had she meant to be rude or did not care or thought the affair amusing, I am a better version of my self for not reacting out of proportion. I am a better soldier for maintaining my self control.

In….

Out….

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Pork Trash

I try not to do things I don’t want to, and if I have to do something I try to delegate it or automate it. Cooking, for the most part is the same. I’d rather be reading or playing guitar than cook something. But I have to eat and protein shakes are not all they’re cracked up to be. So, besides the occasional meal that I go all out for, I like to streamline it as much as possible.

Fortunately the Paleo diet helps in this. When I go shopping I basically stay out of the middle of the store, hang around the edges, and buy a lot of meats and vegetables. The hard part (for me, as I’m learning) is finding good sources of fat (avocados, coconut) and such.

I also like to cook 99.9% of everything in one stovetop iron skillet. The other 0.01 percent is when I bake bacon, which is faster and I can cook more at a time. I also like to cook batches that I can then divvy up for another day or two (leftovers).

Today I had 16 ounces of ground pork (grass fed, no growth hormones, organic). So I decided to make some ‘trash’, which is just what I call it when I take whatever is in the refrigerator and toss it together in a skillet. Easy, no thinking, just mix it and eat.

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After I cooked this, I cooked a large broccoli head in a tbs of Irish butter.

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After this was cooked, I cooked a red bell pepper and Italian squash with a couple tbs of Coconut oil.

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When it was all done I added a very liberal sprinkling of himalayan salt. Seriously… don’t eat the white stuff that comes in the cardboard. Not the same.

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I divided it up into a serving for now, and 3 servings for later.

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Looking at the nutritional data, my lunch today is 400 calories.

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Proportionately it is a little high on the fat, I’ll tweak the coconut oil that I used (because the butter on the broccoli was amazing).

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But overall, not a bad lunch for just throwing something together.

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I’ll save this one as part of my regular meals. It comes out to around $4 per meal, most of which is the grass fed organic pork that I used. But the taste was great, and it is MUCH BETTER for you in the long run.

 

Courage-NelsonMandela1

Courage

Tonight I am reading some psychology text and it is mentioned that virtues are actions and happiness is a feeling and not to confuse the two.

This reminds me of Aristotle and I had to stop for a moment and get some thoughts out before continuing my tea-fueled reading.

It is common to hear someone say (and I have said is on many an occasion myself) that to be fearful and still do something, is the height of courage. In reading and thinking on Aristotle, I’ve come to believe that he took the opposite stance.

The virtuous person feels good in doing virtuous actions. Some people do them because they have a strong will, though they aren’t jazzed in doing it. They lack virtue, even though they are doing the actions. This is easy to understand in many examples, the person who gives a gift to someone, but who is thinking “I wasted money doing this”.

Take out the language and put in values of X and Y we see the formula that Aristotle laid out… that a virtuous person does something and feels pleasure in doing it.

Now, the same holds for the notion of courage. If a person is stands up and speaks zer mind, surrounded by antagonists, the courageous person will feel good in saying something, in acting with virtue. The person who does not feel this, though standing up for beliefs anyway, is not at heart a courageous person.

And I find that I have need to remind myself of the Golden Mean, the Middle Way, and a concept that many people have correctly said as nothing in excess (half true) but then misunderstand when they advocate for some numerically middle ground between extremes.

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If a person must stand against several, it is natural to feel a sense of fear or anxiety or something, however brief. Our brains are wonderful at throwing a universe of ideas into the mix, most of which never stick to anything. For example, driving a car beside a cliff and the thought of “drive over the cliff” enters the mind. This is an absurd thought and it passes without consequence, never sticking to anything in the perception. So too the fleeting sense of anxiety in the mind of a courageous person, it comes and goes without any further ado because the person is filled with virtue.

An important part in this equation, in the balance for which we seek to find, is that of rational thought. Without this we are doomed. Allow me to illustrate. Suppose a person were to never act against the transgressions of others? It is relatively easy to see how this person is a coward. Yet in talking with people, the opposite is true, that a person who always acts against transgressions is not viewed as rash. It might be conceded that they can be a jerk, but never that they are not courageous. Herein lies part of the misunderstanding, we are confusing the action with the emotional feeling and back to the action.

It has been the case that I’ve been faced against one or more people and have felt afraid. It has also been the case that I’ve been in far greater danger and have gleefully entered into the fray. Without counting Iraq, I can count several instances where I have moved toward the sound of chaos. Shots fired, cries for help, harassing strangers, smell of fire, auto accidents, and more, I’ve moved forward. Truth be told, many times I’ve run dark streets (I’m a marathoner and train a lot) and I’ve asked the Universe that if there was a mugging, raping, shooting, theft, assault, to please let me have the good fortune to come upon it so that I might act upon it. My rational thought approaches a situation and weighs different values and questions. The mere feeling of desiring to go forward and fight someone is not courageous. Perhaps I’ve interpreted the situation wrongly and will now do harm to someone by mistake. Suppose I interpret everything around me as transgressing against me. Such we have the actions of many veterans I’ve worked with (and myself) where they are always eager to go into a fight. This, again, is not courage but instead is rash. Seeing things correctly (as correctly as we can) take wisdom, and wisdom is developed over time, with experience and thoughtful approach to each situation as it is. That is why Aristotle says:

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

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Another example. Recall the movie 300 where the Persian army is on the beach below and some of the Greeks feel despair while looking down on so many, whereas the Spartans were laughing and grinning. Both groups fought in the battle, both groups did the actions required (the miser giving the obligatory gift), yet only one group was joyous in their actions… the Spartans. The first group thought of the ensuing pain, the second thought of the glory and honor afforded to them. This is a central point raised in some discussions on heroic societies and the role of honor in that it enables the warrior to willingly, gleefully, move forward into battle… it helps to build courage.

Thus the person who trembles, but gets up anyway to declare an unpopular (but needed opinion) is not courageous. What can be said of them is that they have power of will. They didn’t want to rise up and speak, they didn’t want to cause undue attention to themselves, but they recognized something compelling them to do so (whether it is rules, strategy, politics, or other).

This is an unpopular position today, because everywhere you look there are definitions that say only the person afraid can show courage. It is in texts on military combat and PTSD, on communication books, on social justice commentary, and more. Again, I’ve used this phrase many times in my own trainings, to which I now recant.

This is not to say that the person of will is to be condemned because they do not have courage. Funny how many people take that meaning when discussing the virtue of courage but not with other virtues. Courage is connected to our sense of self mastery and we have deeply personal reflections on the term. If the person displays force of will and is able to act without courage, the doing so is necessary to develop courage. The first punches and stings from being tested hurt, yet we soon realize that the fear of pain is often worse than the pain itself. Through training, over time, and with growing experience and rational thought, courage can be developed, as can the other virtues.