psycho-spirituality

Psychology and spirituality. Mind/Soul. Self.

Identity as opression / Truth as liberation

 

Since entering the MSW program at the University of Michigan, it has become abundantly apparent that “identity” has taken stage and is the official University of Michigan School of Social Work buzzword. Students are awash with discussions and assertions regarding the need for sensitivity and awareness of intersectionality of identities, identity based oppression, identity based philanthropy, identity based safe spaces, and privileged identities, just to get started. Outside of the school as well, in the greater cultural discourse, we are seeing a surge in identity politics with the example of the Black Lives Matter movement and the alt-right’s white nationalism taking center stage; there are identity based immigration policies, the rise of populism and the political prominence of religious identity, sexual identity, and the political hackery of party based identity clinging that seems to just take bundles of these identities and create a super meta-identity out of them.

All of these phenomena certainly deserve their time in the spotlight, and need to be respected and reflected upon by all of us, not only for the social utility that an awareness and competence in these phenomena represent, but for the personally liberating insights which lay hidden within the intricacies of their reflective scope. This being the case, I cannot help but feel as if there is something lacking in this charged and emotionally raw discourse. I see all of this discussion about identity relative oppression as critical, but also as based on some pretty profound assumptions, and subsiding on some rather robust blinders, of course, this is always easiest to see when looking across the debate stage at an opponent, and difficult to see when looking inward. Blinder based dialogue, is it worth asking, is this happening?

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All Pervasive Conditioning: Cultural Assimilation and the Suffocation of Individuality

Culture is the context within which all human interconnectedness occurs, and the intersections of those interconnections is where we find all meaningfulness and all sense of identity. Identity is relational, and relationships necessarily happen within a cultural context; blurred lines delineate the border between the cultural context within which the relationships that shape identity occur, and where those relationships are the very culture within which identity is formed. Relational cultural context, and the actual intersections of relational being are the source of the very notion of identity, which itself needs culture like lungs require air.

Language is the vessel of culture, and culture is the context of identity, so it follows that language informs identity at a very fundamental level.

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Innate Aversion and Blind Oppression: A Buddhist approach to identity based suffering

"An injustice to one is a menace to all,"  - Montesquieu

 

This powerful quote captures a certain essence of interdependence, something almost elusive to define. It's elusive to define because it is not only a certain sort of immediate and intimate sense of a common, shared humanity that one experiences only on a felt level, almost something spiritual and transcendent, but is simultaneously also a sense of something rather grounded, an interwoven reality of causality which binds us all together like shared stakeholders in a global economy or corporation. As humanity trudges along its evolutionary journey throughout the centuries, we learn how to contend with this notion of interdependence, while confined by the notions of immediate satisfaction and self preservation.

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Mo’olelo

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”  - Mahatma Gandhi

 

Our stories certainly describe the world in which we have traveled, in which we have lived and by which we have been shaped. Our stories inform us the ways in which we have been conditioned, and perhaps describe the ways in which we have transcended those conditions. These conditions and conditionings describe the outlines, are the contours and edges of our identities, both allowing us the scaffolding on which to construct meaningful lives, and also confining us to the parameters of that scaffolding. As we find the pathways of our lives' interwoven with one another, we enrich and enliven that contextual scaffolding, and so sharing stories has always been a meaningful and significant act to me. Being intentional in this endeavor, building new structures and scaffolding that I know are destined to be transcended, I hope to add to the context of the world, some richness to its texture, and not just blindly live out the momentum of my experience, merely coming and going with the wind.

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Just Sit: Providing an introduction to meditation practice, exploring clinical and recovery applications, and examining the Buddhist roots of the modern mindfulness practice

 

Mindfulness: the new buzzward in pop psychology. You can't throw a stone these days without hearing someone mention mindfulness, see a new study on mindfulness, or run into some new guru trying to sell their particular flavor of mindfulness practice. There's so much information and chatter out there that the regular Jane or Joe might not know quite where to begin in tackling this "new fangled" thing. Where to start? Who to listen to? How to apply it? What the heck is it? What should I expect? How in the world can it actually help me?

This post is here to help, and is intended to be a nice starting off and reference point for a good meditative practice. As such, this includes a bunch of information and resources on basic mindfulness meditation, but also looks briefly at the clinically proven Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, looks into Buddhist meditation specifically, and finally explores Buddhist meditation from a substance abuse recovery perspective. While this motherload of information might be more than you are specifically looking for, this all inclusive introduction instructional of sorts is likely going to contain something that will suit you. There are three basic sections to this post, included with every section is a collection of links to some of my favorite books and resources relevant to that topic. These books are all well vetted, and selected not only for their relevence to topic, but by the legitimacy and reputation of the writers. They are, in short, relevant and reliable, and are presented here to introduce you to some well respected authors and well established teachers.

I hope that there is something here for you, as this should provide a great starting off point. There are links to some great guided meditations, some wonderful books, and some great videos from some rather brilliant folks. Please enjoy.

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Realizing Dependent Designation: The Buddha's Middle Way

 

“If you perceive the existence of all things

In terms of their essence,

Then this perception of all things

Will be without the perception of causes and conditions.

 

Effects and causes

And agent and action

And conditions and arising and ceasing

And effects will be rendered impossible.

 

Whatever is dependently co-arisen

That is explained to be emptiness.

That, being a dependent designation,

Is itself the middle way.”

- Nagarjuna 1

 

 

The above verse is a rather dense, or concise, explanation of the Buddhist principle of Emptiness in terms of Middle Way fundamental philosophy. The author, Nagarjuna, is considered by many to have expressed what is known as the 2nd turning of the great Wheel of Dharma, or truth, of Buddhist thought. His school founded what eventually launched all of Mahayana Buddhism, which includes the school of Buddhism that is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s own branch of Tibetan Buddhism, and also spreads out to include Thich Nhat Hahn’s particular brand of Zen Buddhism.

Nagarjuna, as foundational as his work is, can be a head scratcher, for sure. This post takes a close look at what he is trying to tell us here, as it's understanding is garaunteed to be rewarding, if not merely intellectually entertaining.

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A Tally of Banannas

Monkey BuddhaOn my mind as of late has been the realization that we are all merely hairless apes that found a  way off of the African savannas. Listen to the crowd roaring in an appreciative cacophony, "SCIENCE!" they cry, and, "EVOLUTION!" Huzzah, I add.

As a subtle result of this, I have been inadvertently thinking, among other things, "Mere humans, you are nothing more than arrogant apes, following hairless ape patterns, principles, perversions and instincts, and yet you do think so highly of yourself. You even think that a human-like PERSON created the entire universe, and that you are the center of it. That is very ape like, very DUMB and self centerd. Grow up, see past your nose." Not about a rejecting God here, just that particular idea. I personally think that God, or the Ultimate Transcendental Cosmic Intelligent Beingness is beyond human form, beyond binary sexual identification, beyond all that jazz. I also happen to find deep inspiration in the concept that so are we, deep in the core of our being, beyond the human form that is constantly changing, constantly withering away, constantly in need of maintenance. It's all relative, right? We just get to make awesome stuff with all of this stuff while we're here... and we're apparently here, so... So anyway, I had it wrong. It isn't just so that the mere human is in need of being humbled, and reminded of the inner ape within all of us in the light of our huge hubris, not just so. Actually, it's quite just so that we should consider considering the ape with a much higher regard.

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The delusion of the compulsory self

Sometimes I wonder at the person I go around in the world as, and at times how I managed to become him, if I simply managed to convince myself that I am him. A personal reminder slips into focus: Anything that I call my self that is changeable is not the actual, true self. It is at best a reflection. Mannerism, inner sense of culture, dominant thought pattern, habit, hang-ups: all transient, changeable, not lasting.

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Labels

People feel they need to categorize things to understand them, to poses them, to not be controlled by them; and to, in turn, be in control themselves. People feel they want to be categorized so that they might belong to something, to fit into a category is to not be alone. Categorization, the act of labeling is a mechanism of limitation, and it becomes a requirement, an obsessive requirement when you look at the differences between things before you look at the likenesses shared among them. If we were to teach ourselves, and in turn one another, that it is right to look at the commonalities we share with people before we distinctualize the differences, we would see a core bond of livingness, of feelingness, of what we refer to as the inherently HUMAN part of our nature as the initial defining characteristic of anyone we meet. We label to combat the perception of isolation.

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A Brief Note On Family...

My mom could not biologically have children, something wrong with her insides. My older brother and I were adopted. The family I was raised in as a boy, a chosen/created family, was so ideal, so full of love and warmth and care, so connected and dedicated that I never really questioned my belonging. But I knew friends who's families were anything but warm, anything but actively, outwardly loving. Those were biological families. I met my biological mother, it was surreal, and I would love to write a book about it, about the strange feeling of magnetic connection, a blood awareness...which was and is not love, and how that contrasts with what a family requires to BE a family.

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His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama

When I heard about the Dalai Lama's scheduled visit to Ann Arbor (where i live), and the series of lectures he was scheduled to give, I was overfilled with joy. It has been 14 years since Tenzin Gyatso last visited Ann Arbor, I was not fortunate enough to have participated in that visit, and have been wondering for years if I would have the good fortune to ever see him speak. Especially with the recent violence and heat surrounding Buddhist monks in China. Today, that wonder was put to sleep at 10:00 am when, with pro-China protesters gathered outside, the Dalai Lama gave a lecture on Buddhist thought and values, and I was there.

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