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Posts Tagged ‘balance’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  172                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 157

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1144

As I climb on the bike today my thoughts are with my family, friends, students and fellow pilgrims who have shared words of encouragement with me as I experienced the mixed emotions associated with sending my eldest son off to his active duty station and most likely war.

Yin-Yang: Symbol for the Chinese concepts of harmony and complementary opposites. Acceptance of apparent contradictions as each phenomena is seen as containing some element of it’s opposite.  The universe is seen as moving in cycles that contain underlying harmony, this understanding is essential to understanding life and change.

I realize that any discussion about the military and armed conflict always draws mixed and sometime strongly held reactions from people.  This is even more the case when I consider that I am part of a very liberal and pluralistic faith and have reached out to a wide circle of open caring people who value compassionate relationships.  I realize that questions of the use and existence of the military raise deep concerns for many people.   

I find within myself an ongoing struggle between my positive memories of the military and my knowledge of the destructiveness that military service can visit on soldiers (I have worked with many PTSD survivors from WW2, Korea and Vietnam), and the innocent civilians who get caught up in the conflict (I heard horror stories of collateral damage from Vets).  I have received several strongly negative comments about my recent Facebook and Blog postings.  Many of them expressed the belief that the world would all be better off without a military and conflict/war. 

I whole heartedly agree that humankind and our planet would be better off if we could extinguish this incessant drum beat that has appeared throughout human history, leading our young men (and now young women) off to war.  Ideally I dream of a world where there is no anger, no bullying, no hatred, no racism, no killing, no conflict.  However, I am a realist and while I sometimes let myself dream of idyllic times, where we all coexist in peace, I realize that there are reasons why we need a social institution called the military. 

I believe we sometimes need to grab our shield and spears and man the ramparts in defense of our ideals and of higher good.  I recognize the danger that arm conflict can get wrapped up in ideology, the whole argument about a “just war” troubles me when it is tied to religious principles.  Far too many people have died in the name of God, as each side hurls the label of “heretic” at the other. 

As a Psychologist I ask myself what motivates this apparent “need” for a military.  I believe the military can serve two different but valid functions, one within the individual members (intrapersonal needs) and the other within a culture or society (interpersonal needs).  There  is a great deal of variations in how these needs manifest themselves, also they may differ across time (as evidenced by the fact that the US attack on Iraq represented the first time our nation attacked someone who had not first provoked us… now what was that all about?)

Some of the Intrapersonal needs comes about because of inner conflict, between parts of ourselves, or because we find our “world” under apparent attack (our idea of right and wrong challenged by gay marriage, abortion, growing numbers of minorities).  These frustrations can lead to a “lashing out” at others who are different from ourselves.  I tell my students that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what a “jihad” represents.  It is my understanding that we are to undertake a jihad against those forces within ourselves that block us from achieving a connection with the divine.  As often happens in religious and political undertakings (crusades, liberation movements, cults) the enlightened purpose behind a movement is lost when egotistical and self-serving motives take over. 

We all struggle with conflicting inner forces, we all have a dark side! I believe the critical thing is to find a balance between our inner forces.  Until we can find this balance inside ourselves we will not find it in our exterior world and our relationship with others.  My son struggles, as I have struggled, in a constant yin and yang balance between desires and ideals.  The military with its multitude if new experiences and new views helped me find my balance, I hope that it might do the same for my son.

Another dynamic that comes into play are Interpersonal needs.  I have repeatedly lamented the dichotomous thinking that we see so prevalent in our society.  This form of thinking manifests itself in the “win – lose” and “us versus them” arguments spewed forth by “hot heads” on both sides of the political and religious spectrum.  What is particularly problematic about this form of thinking is that when one group (political party, race, culture or church) chooses to take this perspective, seeing everything as warfare or a win or lose game, it puts great pressure on other groups to assume the same stance.

 Peace and harmony between people only works if both sides decide that this is the overriding goal.  True peace and harmony is not imposed on vanquished by a victor it is a choice made by both sides to compromise and find common ground.  When one side amasses an arsenal the other side has to respond in like.  I do not believe that the response must always be in the direction of a stronger force, if you have leaders with foresight and a greater understanding, the response can be one of compassion and a measured strike at those directly responsible (the actual terrorist or the individual despot leader) you do not have to destroy a whole country.  If you mean to counter a radical ideology you do not need to demonize a whole religion or ethnic group.

Examples of the “Yin and Yang” of life abound all about us.  You see it in nature, in the lives of animals, in our inner self, in our community and our nations. Let us never cease striving for balance for a healthy perspective, for a lessening of conflict and an acceptance of differences.  Let us never cease the struggle to be loving caring compassionate beings!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  129                                              Days Blogged: 111

New Mileage: 4                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 908

This morning as enjoyed my coffee and prepared for the day I came across an article in USA Today entitled “Young adults today are a ‘less religious’ bunch,” the subheading stated: “But not necessarily more secular!”  I mentioned this article in my Psychology of Religion class and it led to an energetic discussion.  The article compares 18 to 29-year-olds of the current generation to the four prior generations at the same age.  What you see is that the number of individuals reporting that they have no religious affiliation has consistently increased with each generation.  Only 5% of individuals born before 1928, reported being without religious affiliation when they were 18 to 29, whereas for the current group, born after 1980, that percentage jumps to 26% reporting no religious affiliation.  The article goes on to note that while they may not be as involved with church as earlier generations members of this generation are just as likely to pray and to believe in God.

I noted to my students that these results appear to fit with the growing number of individuals, who described themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.  My class discussed how to understand these results using a popular framework for analyzing religious beliefs.  This framework involves looking first at the level of generality: either a Personal Level of beliefs (e.g., individual’s belief in God, heaven and hell, sin, and the causes of our suffering, etc.) or the Social Level of beliefs (e.g., church dogma, agreed upon forms of prayer and religious rituals, etc.). The framework then involves the depth of analysis: either an analysis of Substance/Form (e.g., different names used for God, different Sacred Scriptures, different forms of prayer, etc.) or an analysis of Function (e.g., the purpose for prayer, the benefits of belonging to a church, provides guidance, creates a sense of safety and purpose).

 

Analysis of Religious and Spiritual Beliefs and Behaviors:

                                      Personal                            Social

Substance             Spiritual Beliefs                  Religious Beliefs 

Function            Intrapersonal Needs           Interpersonal Needs

Viewing the above table, we can see that the study results address only the Substance/Form level of analysis.  In addition, we can see that the results point to a weakening of the Social (Religious-church) dimension while the Personal (Spiritual) dimension remains intact. How can we explain these results?  I believe that if we consider the importance of the functional level of analysis we can form several hypothesis: 1) That churches are no longer meeting the Interpersonal Needs of Individuals (e.g., forming a sense of community, providing common/shared beliefs, providing moral leadership, creating a sense of renewal), so they drift away but retain their Personal Spiritual Beliefs which help to meet their Intrapersonal Needs (e.g., need for safety and security, need for guidance); 2) That individuals are no longer interested in the Interpersonal Needs and instead are overly focused on their Intrapersonal Needs.

With respect to the first hypothesis, we certainly see churches in many denominations struggling to maintain membership levels especially among young people. Some people argue that churches are losing their relevance as the quality of moral leadership displayed by church leaders implodes (e.g., sexual abuse of children, focus on hot button political or social issues that are not relevant to most people’s lives, focus on church financial needs).  Clergy that in past generations were marching at the front of rights movements now are often pitted against current minority groups and their demands. Young people who have grown accustom to homosexuality, inter-racial dating, and a “one world view” see churches taking stands on these issues that create division in their communities. Such churches work against a unified community and world!

Interesting, we see more and more churches adopting the “mega-church” model.  The idea is that people now expect that the church experience (music, sermons, and the building) should be engaging and entertaining. The church should “draw people in” with offerings like a good store sale!  We see growth in these mega-churches that offer a smorgasbord of services and experiences, one size does not fits all or “sell well” anymore!  Many churches are frantically trying to retool to better meet these needs, even to the point of announcing that “God wants you to be rich!”  I wonder how many long dead ministers and priests are turning over in their grave because of that one?   Dr. Keith Campbell, co-author of the book: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, recently told a story about visiting his sister’s California mega-church.  She noted that they could either go into the main sanctuary and listen to the sermon, or go next door to the contemporary service with more modern music, or they could go to the church coffee shop and bookstore where they could sit and have a coffee while they watch the service on a widescreen TV.  However, these churches maybe fighting a losing battle!

How so you ask?  The second hypothesis points to the importance of the individual church member’s balance between Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Needs.  Dr. Campbell notes that on a wide variety of different indicators the current generation of individuals shows strong self-center narcissistic traits.  He notes that our social institutions (of which religion is one) are being forced to change to meet the individual demands of these young people.  Education is another social institution that is frantically trying to figure out how to advance societies needs when faced with youth who are use to multidimensional entertainment.

I recently came across a statement in the most unlikely of places, a scrap booking shows on cable!  A sales person, in talking about their product, noted: People want to be underwhelming by the requirements, and they want to be overwhelmed by the product. I suspect that many churches are embracing a marketing philosophy that holds: the less you can ask them to do and the more you can give them, the more likely they will return and stay. That thinking may continue to fuel church member’s spiritual beliefs but not necessarily their religious beliefs.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  84                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 85 

 Today’s Mileage: 8                                             Total Trip Mileage: 695

 As I ride the bike this morning I think about how quickly the celebrations of the New Year have come to an end.  How quickly we find ourselves back on the path, back to the grind and the demands of life. We strike off again with a hand full of new resolutions, refreshed motivation and knowledge that spring will soon follow the cold biting winds of winter.

Life is a Dance!

Yesterday I shared with you a number of quotes and images to ponder as you faced the New Year. One of my regular blog followers made that comment: “Funny how some authors lend themselves to quotes, and others, also favorites, will hardly have a quotable sentence in a whole book.” Almost two weeks ago I produced a blog entitled: Inspirational Sayings: Gifts With Out Instructions.  I noted that inspirational messages, while important, may be meaningless if the person receiving them is without the skill, abilities or resources to meet the goal they are working towards.  My viewer’s comment got me to wondering about Wisdom.  Is it always useful and meaningful? How is it that some people can present it in a sentence or two, while others need a whole lecture, book or lifetime to express it?

I googled the phase “Words of Wisdom” and found over 18 million references. The search broke them down into general categories which included: Funny Words of Wisdom, Inspirational Quotes, Words of Encouragement, Short Words of Wisdom, and Words of Wisdom and More Good Advice.

How do I make sense of the sources and forms of Wisdom?   To begin, I must speak in a general way to what I see as the primary motivation of our journey through life. I believe that life is a process. Like a dance, it is a balance between two partners.  One partner is represented by our desire to find meaning in life, to understand it, and to make it at best, predictable.  This partner tends to explore the past for patterns and the future for possibilities.  The second partner is represented by our desire to experience life. This partner lives in the moment of the sensations of the dance, the rhythm and beat of the music, the spinning and twirling and the movement of the dance.  One partner reviews the past and points to the future as the other spins and twirls in the moment.  Together they can achieve a balance that advances both causes and fills both desires.

Something is not in balance!

I believe that finding this balance is a major goal for most individuals and that it is the healthiest goal we can undertake!  Some people fall short of this goal, as they fail to see life as a dance. They may deny one partner to the advantage of the other.  They act as if life is a solitary dance and as a result turn all of life into an intellectual puzzle, or a hedonistic free for all.  Others recognize the dance and the presence of the two partners, but then give dominance to one, allowing them to be the sole leader and director of the dance.

I have observed that if one has not found this balanced dance, that person often feels as if something is “missing.” They feel as if they are missing a partner or are unable to “get onto the same page of music.”  The dance becomes a struggle. When you achieve the balance, comfort and joy are found and the dance becomes effortless!

Back to the question of Wisdom!  I believe that wisdom comes about when we recognize patterns in the dance and can make predictions about choices and paths we might follow.  This experience can be put into words and represents the Wisdom of Meaning.  Wisdom can also arise in the experiential realm of the dance.  This is “known” but not spoken and shows up in the ease of the master athlete when a racket or bat becomes but an extension of their arm.  The person with this wisdom imagines a movement or a dance step and it just happens.  To some it may look like magic or the product of the supernatural, while others will recognize it as the Wisdom of Experience (knowledge of the dance movement).

 I believe that each type of Wisdom has two forms! Personal Wisdom is unique to our story and circumstances but may have little application to others.  There is only one eldest son of Lee and Rose Ann, born in Iowa, raised in the Dakotas, veteran of the US Navy, artist, poet, therapist, college professor and now a stationary pilgrim! My personal wisdom has created many an interesting story, as my students regularly attest, but only bits and pieces of it reverberate with my listeners. The other form is Universal Wisdom. It is achieved when the dancer sees common patterns in their dance and the dance of others.  This wisdom is realized in the shared aspects of the dance.

Balanced Dance!

For all my uniqueness, I share many experiences with others; of being an eldest child, a veteran, a therapist, a teacher, a parent, an artist.  I believe that what makes me a good teacher and therapist is my ability to weave and highlight this more universal wisdom into the details of my stories.  Sometimes I try to distill it out into a quote or a sentence or two (i.e. Be certain, but humble!).  At other times I highlight it like a bright thread running throughout the story.  I hope the listener might recognize similar threads in their own histories and follow them to find the universal wisdom in their lives. I believe it is this universal wisdom that makes up the bulk of the “inspirational and motivational quotes and advice” people view as gems of wisdom.  Personal wisdom on the other hand might be intriguing and interesting, but does not reverberate with many other people.

Back to the question of why some authors and teachers are so quotable and others are not? Some individuals hold primarily personal wisdom even though they may harbor a great deal of knowledge about topics of interest (e.g. hold a PhD in an area).  But look as hard as you can and you will not find the universal gems. Other individuals have achieved not only a level of universal wisdom, but the ability to distill it down into a handful of words or a poignant and relevant example. These gems are often embraced by others as a gift and/or a significant discovery.  This is in part because it seems that the giver has done all of the work of mining them from a life lived, a life dance embraced!  I caution you to recognize these as gifts but not answers.  They are insights into patterns, universal yes, but patterns that you must work to uncover in your own dance.   The universal wisdom is only valuable if we make it personal in our own life.  It must be transformed into personal wisdom, and used to bring balance to our dance. Otherwise it is just a showy piece of costume jewelry and not a special treasure.

Dance like no one is watching!

A quick note on today’s blog title; I have been planning a drop in gathering for my eldest son as he leaves for the Army in three days.  He informed his mother today that he will not make it to the event.  I have a suspicion that he is looking for an excuse to not let family and friends say their goodbyes.  This saddens me but is not surprising.  He has made a practice out of making his choices, while ignoring the needs and desires of others.  That is his choice!  All I can do is try to glean some wisdom from the whole experience, which is why I also remind myself: “The best laid plans are just that… plans!”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 15                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 16

Today’s Mileage: 10                                              Total Trip Mileage: 147

     As I climb on the bike this morning and begin the wheel spinning I realize that while I met a milestone yesterday with two weeks of riding, today I find myself dealing with a dizzying swirl of doubts and concerns.  As so often happens, doubts gang up on you and come at you from every direction and source.  They often attack multiple levels of your beliefs and goals. What are these doubts?

seaside window by Pat Edwards

     On the Material Equipment level:  No my bike did not break down!  However, yesterday first my laptop and then my desk top crashed.  When you are on a virtual journey this cuts your lifeline and leave you hoping for a Geek Squad roadside assistance truck.  I was able to get the desktop back on line for now, however, the laptop contained most of my blogging materials.  I have set out a couple of flares and assistance is on the way!   I’ve been here before and simple remind myself that just when you think technology and computers are your friends: they will turn on you!

     On the Physical Body level: No I haven’t blown a tire/muscle!  In fact, my body has grown accustomed to the exercise. I look forward to the tight tired muscle feeling that comes after the ride. These doubts have to do with the fact that no matter how hard we try our body still wears out and breaks down.  Yesterday morning I sat in a doctor’s office with my partner as she waited to meet with the physician who would be performing her surgery. The surgery is not life threatening, but might be disfiguring.  This presented me with a vivid reminder that there is precious little we can do to help people in this situation!  I undertook the stationary rider aspect of this journey to help extend the warranty on my vehicle (bring down the high blood pressure).  I will be here for her with a firm embrace and a compassionate ear, that’s all I can do!

     On the Motivational level: No I’m not questioning the purpose and goal of this journey!  I am still creating a process for finding and choosing Pilgrimage Sites.  I am still working on finding a balance between the Personal and Spiritual aspects of the journey.  They may be more of the same thing rather then different paths.  Both questions create a level of tension.

 The artist 

To capture a feeling, and image, a precept,

   and then transform it

      is the artist’s greatest joy!

To capture a feeling, an image, a precept,

   with its essence unchanged

      is the artist’s greatest challenge!

****

   People often ask why I no longer have a therapy practice and instead teach full time.  This is a valid question as many of my fellow graduate students who started off in academia were drawn away to fulltime clinical work both for the money and the satisfactions of one-on-one therapy.  Teaching brings me a great deal of satisfaction, but it can leave me wondering at times if I’ve had a lasting impact on my students’ lives and ultimately upon their success and happiness.

     I teach because I envision myself planting seeds that will sprout and bear fruit in the students’ lives long after they have left the University. Part of the reason I have taken to the Blogosphere is out of the hope that the seeds I am sowing will fall on fertile ground and reach a great number of people.

past sugarloaf by daniel graf

 

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scene from along the roadside. Today’s images also from the the stationarypilgrim early drawings.

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