Adaptation

One of Darwin’s principles of evolution became popularized in the phrase “survival of the fittest.” The problem with memorable slogans like this is that they simplify complex phenomena. In this instance, Darwin’s observations were correct, but his interpretation missed the mark. Scientists now understand that “fitness” does not necessarily mean physical or mental robustness as the slogan suggests. Species survive because they have successfully adapted to changes in their physical and social environment. 

Anne Gibson of the Max Planck Institute recently wrote that “Our species’ ability to occupy diverse and ‘extreme’ settings around the world stands in stark contrast to the ecological adaptations of other hominin taxa, and may explain how our species became the last surviving hominin on the planet.” (1) Her statement is echoed by many evolutionary scientists, suggesting that Darwin’s “fitness” is principally the ability to adapt to extreme and changing conditions. A perfect example of this today is the wearing of a mask and following the recommendations of the Center For Disease Control to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. The evolutionary trajectory predicts that, over time, those who follow healthy guidelines are more likely to survive and produce healthy—well-balanced and capable—offspring. Against this, the white supremacist movement is an example of individuals swimming against the evolutionary current, which favors species variety. Rather than adapt to the changing racial “climate”—biologically and socially—around the world, they are responding with violence, which excludes them from viability in society and participation in the leading edge of evolution. To align with evolution, a better strategy would be to encourage white people to have more children. 

A principle in the field of evolutionary psychology posits that ancestors who had psychological advantages, passed down “adaptive behaviors” to future generations. Among these abilities, characteristic of “complex, deeply rooted neural circuits in the brain” (2), are gaining trust, building relationships and reading others’ intentions, behaviors that are known to help a person throughout life. In the following, I identify key factors that contribute to adaptation—qualities that contribute to health and well-being, those that can be passed down. 

Outlook / Worldview 

The perception of self, others and the world top the list of adaptive thinking because, if one’s gestalt or worldview is skewed in the direction of self-gratification, all the lessons in life will be a struggle to learn that, in the end, it’s dysfunctional, limits personal growth, promotes dissatisfaction and a life bereft of meaning. On the other hand, a positive outlook can be the engine that drives us to create health and well-being. “In one study of 30,000 Americans, those who had the highest levels of stress were 43 percent more likely to die only if they also believed that stress was bad for their health. In contrast, those who experienced high stress but didn’t view it as harmful were the least likely to die compared to any other group in the study—including people who experienced very little stress.” (3)

We know this. The perception that we’re all connected promotes empathy and caring. Separation less so, or not at all. For example, there are those who minimize their use of plastics, pesticides and fossil fuels and those who don’t, those who take electricity, hot and cold clean water coming from a tap and stocked grocery shelves for granted, and those who see them as a privilege for which they are grateful. How we see everyone and everything, including ideas, is a primary adaptive complex because it determines the reality we create for ourselves and the world.

A people’s outlook on the world is the expression of its profoundest spiritual essence. 

Toshimitsu Hasumi

Competence

How well people do what they do reflects their outlook, making competence an adaptive behavior capable of being passed on through parenting, modeling and teaching. Does the package delivery person read and follow the instructions on each package? Does the restaurant carryout attendant get the order wrong or include a sandwich or piece of pie that has been smashed? Is the salesperson knowledgable about his or her products, beyond operating a cash register to complete a sale? Does the store manager do something about a customer’s feedback, or will it be ignored? Does the teacher teach his or her interests and philosophy, or what the curriculum requires? What skill and attitude do workers bring to the situation? Competence is—or should be—a continuing conversation between parents and their children, one that’s reinforced at every level of schooling. And employers should consider competence high on the list of hiring criteria. Competent employees, and by extension their companies, are able to adapt to change far better than those who are not. 

Awareness

To be aware is to be present, mentally engaged at the moment rather than elsewhere, whether daydreaming, planning, multi-tasking or otherwise distracted. Lack of awareness promotes mistakes, missteps and accidents. When attention shifts from what’s going on to end results, alternatives or an attitude, competence diminishes. On the other hand, quality is enhanced by focusing the mind on the situation or task at hand. We can do one thing exceedingly well, two things less so. Each time we add something, mentally or physically, the quality of each is diminished. The elimination of distracting thoughts and actions reduces anxiety, thereby promoting relaxation and peace. And because these promote clarity of vision and quality of work, they greatly enhance the ability to respond to change appropriately.     

Kindness

Expressions of kindness are adaptive because they encourage the creation, maintenance and deepening of relationships—and more. Dartmouth College posted a site entitled Kindness Health Facts, that summarized the findings of several studies—Kindness builds compassion, the desire to care and respond to others by helping. Witnessing “acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re in anxious or shy in a social situation.” And kind acts promote increased energy. Subjects in a study reported “feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth.” 

Acts of kindness also increase one’s lifespan. “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.” What’s more, acts of kindness produces serotonin, “the feel-good chemical that heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy! According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.” More generally, “performing kind behaviors decrease pain, stress, anxiety, depression and blood pressure.”

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

Trust

In his recent book (4), Trust: America’s Best Chance, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg writes that in a “Century warped by terrorism, financial collapse, Trumpist populism, systemic racism, and now a global pandemic, trust has been squandered, sacrificed, abused, stolen, or never properly built in the first place.” His book calls for Americans to adapt, to work together to respond appropriately to the challenges of the present moment. “Our success, or failure, at confronting the greatest challenges of the decade―racial and economic justice, pandemic resilience, and climate action―will rest on whether we can effectively cultivate, deepen, and, where necessary, repair the networks of trust that are now endangered, or for so many, have never even existed.” Because trust can only occur in an atmosphere of truth, it facilitates adaptation to actual rather than imagined or perceived circumstances. New York’s Governor Cuomo was effective as a leader in reducing his state’s virus infectious rate because he told his constituents the truth about what was happening.   

Attitude

Attitudes toward situations, each other and work are infectious. The energy we put out spreads.  Compounded with the expressed energies of others, attitudes come back to us in the form of positive or negative social perceptions. In every situation, whatever the context, the attitude we present shapes relationships, how people see us, life and the world. We’ve all experienced how a stranger’s attitude can put a smile on our face.  Many young people don’t realize the power they have to affect others by the attitude they express. However lowly a job may seem, it can be seen as an opportunity to please someone—and help to heal the world.

Coping

Over a decade of research by Kari Leibowitz, an American psychologist, demonstrated that we have the power to change how we view stress, even use it to improve our health and well-being. Her article in the New York Times (5) tells how.

Step 1. Acknowledge Your Stress. “Labeling your stress consciously and deliberately moves neural activity from the amygdala—the center of emotion and fear—to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive control and planning… it moves us from operating from a fearful, reactive place to a position where we can be thoughtful and deliberate.”

Step 2. Own Your Stress. We only stress about things that we care about. By owning our stress, we connect to the positive motivation or personal value behind our stress. If we deny or avoid our stress, we may actually be denying or disconnecting ourselves from the things we value and treasure most… Complete this sentence about whatever was specifically stressing you out in step one: “I’m stressed about [whatever] because I deeply care about …”

Step 3. Use Your Stress. 

“Ask yourself: Are your typical responses in alignment with the values behind your stress? If you’re worried about your family getting sick because you care about their health, is snapping at them for not washing their hands for long enough the best way to protect your family? If you’re worried about the impact of coronavirus on society, is seeking out constant news coverage the best way to help support your community during this time? Think about how you might change your response to this stress to better facilitate your goals and your purpose… Some psychologists argue that truly transformative change can occur only during stress or crises. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Later, we’ll ask ourselves how we adapted to this crisis. “Did we live in accordance with our values? Did we make the most of this opportunity to learn and grow personally, to connect with loved ones, and to prepare for the next time we face a crisis?”

Flexibility

Under circumstances of dramatic change, individuals and institutions are forced to respond. In the long run, evolution favors those who have become well-adapted to the new reality. The Coronavirus has and continues to challenge governments and businesses at every level to find safe and effective ways to survive and operate. School systems, teachers, parents and students are experimenting with new ways to communicate, educate and learn. Entertainers, sport teams and religious leaders are all being forced to change. For individuals, governments and all social systems worldwide, in a matter of months, the imperative to “grow or die” has morfed into “adapt or die.” Flexibility favors adaptation. Resistance only generates further anxiety, stress and breakdown. Adaptation may be painful, but it promotes hope and in the long run, brings peace. 

Evolution actually works by a process of lifting, through adaptation to selective challenges, and then gifting the resulting innovations to the next generation. Individuals’ efforts (and sacrifices) enable the community to progress. 

Bruce Damer

Every new situation—changes in families, work, recreation, education, government and the environment—requires adaptation. Coronavirus is a global disaster. But it’s also an opportunity for humanity to learn that we are one, interdependent and interconnected family, living and sustained by “Spaceship Earth.” And in this we’re better prepared to adapt as we confront the rapidly changing climate. The question is—Will we adapt? And how?

If you can’t do what you do, do what you can. 

John Bon Jovi (Album: Bon Jovi 2020)

REFERENCES

1. Gibson, Anne (2020). Scientists Reveal Homo Sapien’s Secret of Success. SciTechDaily ,(August 3, 2020).

2. Fritscher, Lisa (2020). How Evolutionary Psychology Explains Human Behavior. Very Well Mind, Medically Reviewed. May 13, 2020. 

3. Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677–684.

4. Buttigieg, P. (2020). Trust: America’s Best Chance. New York, NY: Liveright/ W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

5. Leibowitz, Kari and Crum, A. (2020). In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work For you. The New York Times, April 1, 2020.

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Life On Autopilot Or Manual

An episode in the PBS series, Hacking Your Mind, addresses the question: How Do Governments Hack Your Mind. In it, host Jacob Ward cited studies that show “We are not who we think we are… We think our conscious minds make most decisions, but in reality, we go through much of our lives on “autopilot”—unconscious, engaged in fast thinking and gut feelings. And as a consequence, because we’re fallible, we often make mistakes and go off on tangents. To illustrate, the program gives examples of how marketers, social media companies, dictators and other government leaders take advantage of our being on autopilot, which is most of the time. 

One of the cited studies in the documentary found that everyday Americans are motivated less by money, prestige and status, far more by the values, preferences and habits of their neighbors. One of the interviewees said, “The multitude is the message. What the people around me are doing tells me what’s appropriate for me.” As social creatures, we want to be included whether our “tribe” consists of saints, sinners or somewhere in between. Marketers hack into minds operating on auto to favor their products and services by convincing us that everyone, particularly beautiful, talented, cool, wealthy, caring, healthy, successful people are using them. And politicians of all stripes promise to deliver what “the people” want, providing paid testimonials by citizens who look and sound like the targeted audience and citing poll numbers that subconsciously invite us to join their tribe. 

It was especially troubling to see how dictators are hacking the minds of their people. The documentary focused on China’s “Sesame Credit” game, an engaging process that promotes obedient citizenship by assigning and taking away points for obedience to government policies and practices. Although the game is voluntary, millions have opted-in using the full range of social media to show everyone else how good a citizen they are. And the government incentivizes the high scorers through an array of rewards such as ease in getting a loan and obtaining paperwork to travel. Without any overt action on the part of the government, people with high scores are choosing to disassociate with relatives and former friends who have low scores, because it brings their score down. So effectively, the Chinese leaders have created a system where conformity to the whole—Communist Party and values of the dictator—has become a competition for wealth, prestige and privilege. The net result—of unity by behavior conformity—appears to have achieved a largely stabilized social order. Of course, there are individual exceptions and these low-scoring people are ostracized as social deviants. 

At the beginning of the documentary, the question was posed: What is the best form of government? The host responded with the often-cited notion that American democracy may not be perfect, but it’s far better than anything else. One of the reasons for this is the Western world’s abiding belief in free will. It encourages competition, individual initiative and innovation. And it gives rise to the philosophy that social well-being will naturally follow from individual well-being. In the current era, we’re learning that in practice it doesn’t work. Because individuals are free to disadvantage others, a rising tide doesn’t float all boats; it mostly raises those who belong to the yacht club. 

In the East, it’s the other way around. And the lessons being learned there have to do with  diminished individual initiative which can lead to suppression, depression and limited variety— which is an essential quality for evolution as it promotes resiliency in the face of change. What the PBS program revealed is how easily both systems can and are being manipulated by those at the top. This is important to know so we can be aware of when and how we’re being manipulated. But there’s more to the story that wasn’t mentioned. 

There are countless numbers of people around the world who are preferring to live their lives on “manual” rather than “autopilot.” Their choices are being made, not by what others are thinking or doing, but by the guidance of their soul, the “still small voice” that knows what’s true and best for them in all circumstances. Typically, through difficult life experiences, they learn that the soul is the doer, the true pilot, and that it has a plan, a set of learning requirements that must be met, and every experience provides a context for the growth in consciousness—increased awareness of one’s true identity. Living on auto is reactive, stressful and counterproductive in terms of growth because the trajectory fluctuates depending on what other people are thinking and doing. What’s more, on auto the destination is undetermined, ignored or unclear, often the result of distractions.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value – the rapture that is associated with being alive – is what it is all about.

Joseph Campbell

To live on “manual,” to take hold of the controls and live purposefully, requires an understanding of the soul’s purpose. On page one of the Operating Manual For Human Beings, there’s just one question that’s asked to discover what it is. “Why am I here?” The instructions on the second page advise the “pilot” to go into a meditative state and ask the question framed as a state of being rather than doing. “What am I here to be?” Then to write what comes and edit the words to construct a sharpened statement of the soul’s knowing. If the statement is true at that level, it will hold until death. And every day will provide an opportunity to realize it, however minuscule or impossible it may seem.

It can take years to discover the soul’s intended reason for an incarnation. Some never even attempt it. I believe it comes naturally for those seek it, but ultimately the timing is up to the soul. As for strategy, I like what Winnie The Pooh said: “Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.” Jacob Israel Liberman put it more succinctly. “Your life is looking for you, continually guiding you through the process of presence so that you may fulfill your reason for being. This fundamental fact is not only true for humans but also for everything that exists. We are being guided – not occasionally – always! The key to our awakening, freedom, contentment, and highest potential is all the same. Do what you love, love what you do, and the world will come to you. This is because doing what you love is the same as following your guidance, creating a foundation of authentic trust, unconditional love, absolute integrity, and unquestionable respect for the wisdom of life and your own sense of knowing.”   

Because the knowing comes from the soul and is therefore fundamental, it calls for integrity to it in every thought, decision and act that follows. Staying on course, not be distracted by anyone or anything and preferring to seek guidance from within may seem impossibly difficult. But if the soul is the doer, the true pilot who knows the flight plan and destination, the task become less about doing and more about allowing. Ironically, “free will” turns out to be the capacity to either heed or ignore the true pilot’s guidance. And for that, there’s no need of an operating manual.  

The universe is operational. We need to align with what life is doing in the whole.

Alan Hammond

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NOTICE! SPECIAL PROGRAM TODAY ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Al Gore, Prince William and many luminaries are presenting a 5-hour program of TED Talks on YouTube beginning at 11:00am Eastern today (Saturday, October 10th).

 

From MSN:

Watch the Countdown Global Launch, a call to action on climate change and the first-ever free TED conference, right here on Saturday, October 10, 2020 from 11am – 5pm ET. Presented by TED and Future Stewards. This one of a kind live event will feature hosts Jane Fonda, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Al Gore, Xiye Bastida and Jaden Smith; speakers Prince William, His Holiness Pope Francis, Monica Araya, Jesper Brodin, Dave Clark, Christiana Figueres, Kara Hurst, Lisa Jackson, Rose Mutiso, Johan Rockström, Nigel Topping, Ursula von der Leyen, along with scientists, activists, artists, schools and leaders from business and government; and special musical performances by Prince Royce, Cynthia Erivo, Sigrid, Raye Zaragoza and Yemi Alade. Countdown, a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, will launch on October 10, 2020 with a live virtual event featuring leading thinkers and doers. This is the moment to act, and they will outline what a healthy, abundant, zero-emission future can look like — turning ideas into action. The event will combine TED’s signature blend of actionable and research-backed ideas, cutting-edge science and moments of wonder and inspiration. Countdown is part of a broader series of actions and events this fall including the Bloomberg Green Festival, Climate Week NYC and others, all with the collective objective of informing and activating millions in the lead-up to a successful UN Climate Change Conference in November 2021. This exciting virtual event will vividly explain the climate crisis, focusing on solutions and calling for leaders and citizens everywhere to step up. Gather your friends and family, and tune in together for an inspiring and unforgettable day! #JoinTheCountdown Website: https://countdown.ted.com Full agenda and speaker list: https://countdown.ted.com/global-launch/program Twitter: https://twitter.com/TEDCountdown Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tedcountdown Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TED

 

 

Parent As Teacher

The best kind of parent you can be is to lead by example.

Drew Barrymore

Every parent is a teacher. When a parent is loving and affectionate in both word and deed, the child learns. When they provide guidance and nurture the child’s health, education, socialization and interests, he or she learns. When a parent contributes toward building a child’s confidence and a positive self-image, he learns. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, acknowledgement and praise, children learn. When parents engage their children in conversations about their feelings and experiences with other people to help them manage their self-image and stress, they learn. And when parents help their children develop a moral-ethical compass and qualities of character such as kindness, honesty, compassion, patience and respect—by demonstrating them—they learn. (1)    

We all begin life learning by inheritance—the time, place and family context into which we’re born.  For many children, life-lessons are learned through hardship and pain. When a parent walks away, the child learns. When parents separate, their children learn. When a child is ignored, raised by a single parent or not raised at all he or she learns. When the father or mother is often gone or absent entirely, the child learns. When parents don’t get along, when they’re often fighting, blaming or cursing, when they abdicate their responsibility to promote the child’s well-being, he or she learns. When a parent has a negative view of life, people and the world, the child carries it with him or her into adulthood, sometimes working hard to counter that perspective. Lessons learned in these contexts often play out in adult behaviors commonly reported in the news—domestic abuse, mental illness, suicide, murder, crime, corruption, depression, uncontrollable anger, drug and alcohol abuse.

Due to the Coronavirus, many parents are home-schooling their children or participating in other ways that require more frequent interaction. Whatever the context, I appreciate those parents and teachers, some of whom are being profiled in the media, who understand that a child’s education doesn’t begin and end at the school door or the opening and closing of online lessons. The critically important source for early learning is neither the school nor the curriculum, but the modeling speech, experiences and behavior that goes on at home and in the neighborhood.

So here’s a tip of the hat to those who are aware of and accepting the challenge of providing a learning environment that’s rich with caring, kindness, respect, compassion, patience, etc., parents and children working together to discover the best ways to manage life in a pandemic—and after. 

Whatever the circumstances, a good place to find guidance and inspiration is with my daughter’s book: Confident Parents, Confident Kids. (2) In it, she addresses the key question: What do you want for your kids? Given the insight above and her analysis of responses to her question, I would ask a corollary question. What kind of person do I want my child to be? Whatever the qualities, because a parent is the child’s first and most significant teacher, the solution is to strive to be that person. 

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.

Jackie Kennedy

1. Blau, L. (2017) What Are the Essential Characteristics of a Good Parent? Hello Motherhood, June, 13, 2017.

2. Miller, J. (2019) Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Kids—from Toddlers to Teenagers. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.

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A “Divine” Sandwich

One of my favorite fast-food sandwiches is the Burger King Wopper. (Shown here as I ordered it). I hadn’t had one since before the pandemic, so when I drove through to get one recently I couldn’t help but express my gratitude, which turned into a contemplation where I traced each of its parts back to their source.

More often I use a short formed gratitude that goes: “This (system) is so (fine, beautiful, useful, enjoyable…) I’m grateful for this opportunity to (use, consume, consider…) it. God bless its components and all those who had a hand in bringing it to me.” You can see that that usually includes many plants, animals, thousands of people and all of evolution. To get started I ask “What had to happen for this to exist?”

Not knowing the exact sources and history of the parts of a Wopper, I traced them to a general location and then referenced those to the basis of all life—earth, water and sunlight. From there, another, even quicker leap in appreciative contemplation led me to consider the eons of cosmic collisions that produced the sandwich’s elements. The step before that was the Big Bang, and before that came the unimaginable mystery that’s beyond imagining. The reason for the word “Divine” in the title of this posting, is to suggest that the divine creative process can be evidenced in a simple sandwich. 

To enhance future gratitudes that involve sandwiches, I did some research to learn more about their components.

Sesame Seed BunFlour comes from grains such as wheat, rye, barley, rice, etc. Machines collect the seeds from the head of the grass and dump it into trucks that deliver it to storage bins or a flour mill. At the mill, the grains are passed through a separator to take out foreign objects. The grains are then cleaned, washed, dried and passed between rollers to separate the bran from the germ. Once the flour has been milled to the right grade, it’s bagged and shipped to distribution warehouses. Restaurants create buns by combining yeast—a tiny microorganism, classified in the plant kingdom of fungi that feeds on natural sugars found in grains, fruits and vegetables. the seeds of canola, corn, palm, soybean or sunflower plants are crushed and the resulting oil is purified and refined. Sugar comes from sugar cane grown in warm, often tropical climates. And salt, sodium chloride, comes from seawater that’s allowed to evaporate. The crystals are collected, washed, screened and packaged, a process that takes about five years. Water is added and then vegetable oil.

Mayonnaise: This is a mix of oil, egg yolk and an acid, usually vinegar or lemon juice. A hint of spices such as garlic creates a variety of flavors.

Iceberg Lettuce: For American markets, most of it is grown in California and Arizona.

Tomatoes: These are mostly grown in California, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.

Pickles: The seeds of a special strain of cucumbers are grown to produce pickles for sandwiches. These are pickled in brine, vinegar or other solution and left to ferment.

Onions: The largest producers in the United States are Washington State, California and Oregon.

Burger: Most of the cattle raised for beef in the United States come from Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, California, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa and South Dakota.

American Cheese: This product is made from a blend of milk, milk fats and solids combined with other fats and whey protein concentrate. As a blended food, it can’t be called “cheese,” so it’s labeled as “processed cheese.” 

I offer this description of elements not to promote any restaurant or sandwich, but to show how any object or system, food or otherwise, can be more fully appreciated by tracing its component parts to the source—ultimately, The Source. While the model above is generalized, the process of an imaginative reverse engineering only takes about thirty seconds to a minute or two. I don’t think the universe minds if we overlook details in the evolutionary process beyond our reckoning. What matters is the gratitude, appreciating that—and how—an object or system came into our lives by virtue of its origin and history. This kind of contemplation gives us a taste of the divine, and reminds us of our deepest roots.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan

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Indigenous Principles

Until they were overpowered by warfare, ancient cultures developed a worldview, philosophy and lifestyle that was largely sustainable. Environmental and social conditions were such that they had to do this in order to survive. While language, rituals and lifestyles differed across cultures, there was consistency in many of their beliefs. That these principles survive in places today is a testiment to their success in binding people to each other and the earth.

I believe that the modern world will eventually  reinvigorate these principles because they serve as an antidote to the principles of separation, self-centeredness, short-term thinking, greed and materialism which are accelerating the forces of entropy. When a critical mass of people understand this and experience diminishment in the quality of their lives, or when life itself is threatened, they will act. 

In graduate school I minored in anthropology. All my coursework focused on Native American and Mesoamerican cultures. Since then, as an armchair anthropologist, I’ve  stayed current in these areas and recently came upon a web site that does an excellent job of describing the fundamental principles that indigenous peoples have held and continue to hold to this day. Glenn Geffcken, author of Shift: Indigenous Principles for Corporate Change, has codified them into “a system for living and working that will bring about lasting positive change.” Because, in my view, the principles are important, inspiring and extensive, I offer a taste of them here—in the author’s words. If the subject peaks your interest, I highly recommend a deeper dive into the web site—Balanced Is—to better appreciate the anciently derived mentality of those who understand how to live in harmony with each other and the earth. 

Everything Is Alive  

Everything is alive including the rocks, mountains, rivers, thunderclouds, and even the Sun and Moon. They make no distinction between biological forms of life and those we see as inanimate. To the Indigenous, everything is life.

Respect For Elders

To be an elder in the Indigenous sense is not so much about age, rather how a person has lived their life, the compassion of their heart, their humility, and their willingness to share their knowledge, teachings and stories. In Indigenous culture they are the link from the past to the present, the connecting cultural link, and the example we strive for.

The Four Directions

The principle of the Four Directions is about seeing oneself as a part of a system, that from each of the directions comes different elements, colors, animals, ways of being, and spirits. The four directions is illustrated with the medicine wheel showing us in the center, but not the kind of center that says that everything revolves around us, rather that we are surrounded by a dynamic system that works together to create and sustain life. We are no higher or lower, no better or worse, and we have neither dominion over nor are we in subservience under. We are a part of. 

Patience

Building great things requires time, consistent effort, passion, purpose, dedication, and so much more. Most importantly, it requires the patience to enjoy the process today, the building and creating, the designing and cultivating, and the eye to catch the nuanced signals telling us that we’re on the right track.

Intentionality

All the small rituals and formalities, each with their own meanings, collectively represent a process of engagement in physical and mystical acts with clear and highly focused intention… Indigenous elders, those that reach the state of “walking in beauty” have arrived at a place of wisdom, compassion, and dignity through many years of intentional acts and intentional living… Acting with carefully thought-out intention means we are thinking more broadly, with a long-term perspective. Even if our decisions are entirely self-centered, we can still make significant improvements in our lives and our work by extending our thought process beyond immediate gratification. Even more powerfully, we can dramatically change outcomes by looking for the connections between serving others and our own success.

Roles Of Men And Women

In Indigenous Society, women are held up as sacred life givers, the more spiritual gender, and the ones responsible for maintaining compassion and balance in the community. Therein lies a great misunderstanding of Indigenous culture by the Western mindset, that viewing women as nurturing compassionate life givers is diminutive to the men who hunt, go to war, and do the hard physical labor. It is considered of greater strength and courage to maintain compassion in the face of adversity than to go to battle, and of much higher importance to show one’s emotions than to pretend detachment.

Seventh Generation Unborn

Living for the seventh generation unborn means that we live each day of our lives with full cognizance that everything we do, every food we eat, every speck of dust we disturb, every piece of trash we leave behind, every natural resource we utilize, as well as every thought we have, the words we use, the kindness or compassion we express, or the selfishness we indulge in all have an effect that can carry through the generations to our great, great, great, great grand children.

The Oral Tradition

In Indigenous society wisdom and culture are handed down through stories, painstakingly memorized through years of repetition. A person who tells a story does not own the story, but rather the storyteller “carries” a story, as if the story has a life of its own independent of the storyteller. Therefore the storyteller holds a great responsibility to tell his or her stories accurately, not just in terms of the accuracy of words and details, but more so in terms of the wisdom and meaning conveyed. Each story has more to it than mere entertainment—it’s a piece of the heart of the people. It is through the listening and experiencing of the stories that the listeners learn a style of communication that empowers a person to communicate with intention, thoughtfulness, and purpose. 

I have found that a great many Native Americans will just not argue, and if one attempts to argue with them, they’ll just sit and ponder your words and say nothing, or in some situations they will listen to your point of view and only after a long pause will say something so concise, resolute and contrary, that at least in my case, I’m left without anything further to say.

Glenn Geffcken

The Way Of Love

The way of love is not so much a direct teaching of Indigenous culture as it is a byproduct of their way of life. Each of their principles for living represent a way of being that loves each part of their lives. They see themselves as a part of a living system, not separate from, but integral with. And in so being, they naturally love the system, which provides for all life… Even some of their greatest warriors, those demonized by our American history as slayers of the blue-coated soldiers, were known among their people as incredibly loving beings. 

Integrity

Many, if not all, of the indigenous principles relate in some way or another to the need for living our lives with very high ethical standards. It is not important to be honest so that people will think of us as good people, or that our company is good, or so that we can think of ourselves as being good people or running or working for a good company; the need for integrity is so highly important because it is necessary in order to be right with all that we are connected with … which is everything.

The Spirit World

The principle of the spirit world is truly vast and precisely consistent from one end of the globe to the other in the Indigenous mindset. It relates to all levels of their society. It is the starting point and the ending point for their understandings. Direct connection with this universe of knowledge and guidance is what anoints the medicine person with the right to perform ceremonies and healings. It is the guiding voice in their ceremonies, their interrelationships, planting cycles, direction for hunts, how to resolve conflict, and so much more.

The Warrior Spirit

The “warrior spirit” in the Indigenous sense, is largely regarded as a person, man or woman, who has vowed their life to the betterment of their family, community, nation, collectively “their people,” and that they will act and make decisions for that greater good regardless of how hard it may be or the consequences as they pertain to the warrior him or herself… We are required to behave like warriors, willing to do what it takes for the greater good regardless of what it requires of ourselves personally.

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Kenōsis: Recipe For Inner Abundance

In 2018, when His Holiness The Dalai Lama requested the Mind and Life Institute to organize a weeklong dialogue with top scientists and scholars to discuss the ecological situation and offer ways to move forward constructively, one of the participants was Sallie McFague, a Distinguished Theologian at the Vancouver School of Theology in British Columbia, Canada. She died a year later. Her writings analyzed how metaphor lies at the heart of how we speak about God, and she applied it to ecology—caring for the earth as if it were God’s body. I was inspired by the book that resulted from the Mind and Life dialogue: Ecology, Ethics, And Interdependence (1). In particular, Sallie introduced me to an expanded meaning of the word “Kenōsis,” a term I hadn’t heard in many years but was so moved by I wrote Love—Period!, a screenplay that revolves around  the concept. 

Kenōsis derives from kenoun, a Greek word meaning “to empty out” or “purge.” Eary Christian theologians used it to refer to Jesus’ act of “self-emptying”—relinquishing divine attributes (and some say His personal will)—in order to experience human suffering and death. In Blessed Are The Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint (2) Sallie elaborates her thesis: “We are not called to love God or the world. Rather, we are called to love God in the world. We love God by loving the world. We love God through and with the world. And this turns out to be kenōtic, a sacrificial love.” In the dialogue with The Dalai Lama and invited guests she said “Real abundance in life doesn’t come from getting more and more things, it comes from giving up those things when others need them—and living differently.” 

The first of Buddhism’s eight paramitas (perfections) for enlightened action is dama, or mutual generosity—if we have something, anything that could benefit another who needs it, then to give it away benefits all. 

The idea of “giving up” and words like “self-emptying,” “restraint” and “sacrifice” go against the cultural grain of materialism, but most religions and spiritual philosophies have from the outset proclaimed that happiness is found more in relationships than in things, and that simple living can lead to a fuller life. Sallie says “The abundant  life, at both personal and public levels, is not found by satisfying one’s ego in a market-oriented, individualistic culture, but is found by losing one’s self in service to others.” Further, noting that every breath we take and every mouthful we eat depends on others, she says “Abundant life for all (my emphasis) is only possible if some of us restrain our desires.” 

As I write, the current world population is approaching 8 billion souls. Scientists generally agree that the earth’s carrying capacity is 10 billion. It’s a hopeful sign that, in the wake of Covid-19, climate catastrophes, social confrontations and political arrogance and stalemate more of us are becoming aware of how deeply we are interconnected and interdependent with all other forms of life, and we’re appreciating the planet’s vulnerability. Sallie wrote that the “Vocabulary of self-limitation, egolessness, sharing, giving space to others and limiting our energy use no longer sounds like a special language for the saints, but rather, as an ethic for all of us.” Meaning those of us who enjoy the privilege of abundance. 

My mom sometimes admonished my sister and me to eat everything on our plate, offering the perspective that “People in China are starving.” Now, people are starving everywhere. A BBC journalist recently posted a television story on the likelihood of enormous mass migrations  given the increase in deforestation, drought and other climate catastrophes. Considering the challenges that lie ahead, the practice of kenōsis or restraint may seem like a small thing, but it’s something we all can do. And as Sallie noted, “real abundance” is making some space in our lives so others may flourish. It’s a gift we can give to the world, right here, right now.

In Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence, editor John Dunne (1) said “We need practical guidance on what we can do.” Sallie responded to him by offering her “planetary house rules”—“Take only your share. Clean up after yourself. And keep the house in good repair for others.” Wanting to be more specific, I created the following list of guidelines. Full disclosure—some of them I can’t or don’t do for one reason or another right now, but I hold them as an ideal. They’re the kinds of activity that contribute to the practice kenōsis.

  • Satisfy wants less frequently than needs
  • Refrain from buying or replacing a vehicle that runs on fossil fuel
  • Limit the purchase of shoes, clothes or other wearing apparel
  • Leave the lights off until necessary
  • Use existing materials of any kind before buying new
  • Borrow books and videos from the library rather than purchase them
  • For short distances, ride a bicycle
  • Pick up litter so it doesn’t get flushed down the sewer system
  • Offer charitable contributions to ecology-focused nonprofit initiatives
  • Drive the shortest distance between two points
  • Turn off electronic devices when not needed for long periods
  • Don’t leave a car or truck motor running when not in use
  • Cut back on meat
  • Buy organic produce as much as possible
  • Use fewer devices that require disposable batteries
  • Use existing office supplies before buying more
  • Recycle everything possible
  • Use hand rather than power tools, especially those that burn fossil fuel
  • Ask for paper rather than plastic cups at restaurants
  • Borrow or rent tools rather than purchase them
  • Take shorter and fewer hot showers
  • Reduce the use of plastic containers
  • Take reusable cloth bags to the grocery store

In my postings, I often refer to the principle that decisions made by the members of a living system maintain and improve the functionality and sustainability of the whole by taking responsibility for the health and well-being of both themselves and the greater whole. The practice of kenōsis—restraint—is one of the ways we can directly impact our communities, nations and planet. It may seem like a small thing, but it has a cumulative effect. And in doing them our inner life is nourished and enriched. One of Sallie McFague’s great contributions to the world has been to reintroduce and ask us to consider kenōsis, the idea that by emptying our lives of certain physical comforts and material goods, our souls are filled up. 

REFERENCES

1. John Dunne and Daniel Goleman Editors. (2018). Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence: The Dalai Lama in Conversation with Leading Thinkers on Climate Change. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

2. McFague, Sallie. (2013) Blessed Are The Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

3. Mind And Life Institute: In my opinion, an exceptional organization that’s changing the world for the better. The language on their Mission page is values-rich. Here’s the link: “Who We Are—Mission.”


I welcome your comments at <smithdl@fuse.net>

My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My photo books: <www.blurb.com/search/site_search> 

(Enter “David L. Smith” and “Bookstore” in “Search)

Reality Mirrors Beliefs

“The world reflects back to you what you deeply believe.” I wasn’t sure of the source of this quote, but it recently prompted me to wonder. Could the negative belief that my three novels of the ancient Maya are not being widely read is actually creating that reality? Some research explained that subconscious beliefs shape the world of our experience. (1) We get what we believe to be true. The above composite (created many years ago; someone I didn’t know) was titled “No matter where you go, there you are.” Apropos, I think.

In childhood, we develop generalizations about who we are and how the world works based on our observations and experiences with family, friends, teachers and others. Gradually, the subconscious mind absorbs information, stories and experiences and they shape our identity, personality and worldview. The subconscious doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, right or wrong, healthy or not. It stores everything continuously and creates an internal reservoir that holds our beliefs. And we measure everything against them, accepting new information, ideas and experiences that are familiar and rejecting those that are unfamiliar or in conflict. Psychologists and others refer to the overall reservoir of acquired perspectives, values, beliefs and memories as the “conditioned self.” In contrast, the “authentic,” unconditioned self is a property of the soul. That’s why it’s a more dependable guide than the ego-driven mind. 

Another finding was that whatever the situation, most people would rather be right than happy. A study by a team of researchers at the University of Auckland (2) concluded: “We saw that ‘right versus happy’ was not so much about getting crowned the winner or loser, a genius or fool; it was more about flawed thinking and a desire to want to feel like we’re in control. Our null hypothesis was that it is better to be right than happy.” 

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Abraham Lincoln

The research also illuminated our powerful need for consistency between what we believe to be true and what is actually true. We’ll even arrange to be right by rationalizing, lying, cheating or creating situations that confirm our belief. What agrees with us is right; what doesn’t is wrong.  And that has considerable consequences. Dan Mager (3) of Psychology Today writes, “For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be ‘wrong.’ The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, while attachment to this end serves to justify the means used to facilitate it. When this dynamic is acted out, it creates suffering for those caught in its wake.” Keeping an open mind takes tremendous courage, because it requires putting a temporary “hold” on what we think is right. 

Another consequence of negative beliefs—about oneself, others, career, relationships, ideas, policies—is how they block manifestation, for instance my desire to sell more books. When we focus on what we don’t want—for instance “I don’t want John Doe to win the election”—the subconscious doesn’t see or hear the words. Instead, the mind and the energy of the universe responds to the images and feelings we hold, in particular what’s in the heart, because at that level like produces like. Negative thoughts, images and feelings drive toward and eventually evoke negative outcomes. The solution then, is to focus on what we do want and solidify it with reinforcing positive images and emotions.

Since whatever you deeply believe comes true in your life, you could make a conscious choice to believe whatever would create a happier, more peaceful life… You do not have to believe what appeared true based on past experience or continue to believe just because you gave your allegiance to it before.

Isira Sananda 

Not enough time has passed for me to notice if my transformed belief will allow my books (4) to be  more widely read, but whether or not that happens, the possibility allows me to rest with less attachment to the outcome. And that’s both freeing and hopeful.

References

1. Breines, J. (2015) 3 Ways Your Beliefs Can Shape Your Reality, Psychology Today, August 30, 2015.

2. Arroll, B, Goodyear-Smith, F., Moyes, Simon A., Kenealy, T. Being Right Or Being Happy: Pilot Study, BMJ; Research Gate, December, 2013.

3. Mager, D. Would You Rather Be Right or Would You Rather Be Happy? Psychology Today, July 24, 2014.

4. Smith, D.L. A trilogy: The Path of The Jaguar (One soul in three incarnations)

Jaguar Rising: A Novel of the Preclassic Maya

Jaguar Wind and Waves: A Novel of the Early Classic Maya

Jaguar Sun: The Journey of an Ancient Maya Storyteller

_____________________________

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Spirit Lives On

Downtown on a playground

A little girl saw a white man

With a camera

And she ran to him.

Take my pitcher!

Take my pitcher!

Take my pitcher!

She shouted.

When photographing in other cultures

The pointing of my camera

Sometimes caused children to turn away

And adults to turn their backs.

What’s the difference I wonder?

Was it the camera?

The man being tall and white?

How their image might be used?

What I know for sure,

The photograph of the playground girl

Makes my heart grin

Every time I encounter her smile.

Dear Follower:

Thank you for following! With this posting I’m adding another dimension to Contemplative Photography. From the outset, my purpose was to share and generate appreciation for subject matter elicited by one of my photographs.My last series was on Nature, trees and flowers in particular. Now the focus will be less on “things” and more on ideas and insights that contribute to meaning and enhanced living. The  pacing and format will be the same—one photograph each week, usually B&W, with contemplations kept as short as possible. The categories will include:

          • Anthropology
          • Art
          • Consciousness
          • Cosmology
          • Ecology
          • Evolutionary Process
          • Media (Function, influence, potential)
          • Nature (Appreciation)
          • Personal Growth
          • Philosophy (Eastern and Western)
          • Photography (As medium for personal growth)
          • Social Development & Transformation
          • Spirituality (Not religion)
          • Whole Systems Thinking

As always, I invite you to share your thoughts on both the content and photographs. 


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A “Divine” Sandwich

One of my favorite fast-food sandwiches is the Burger King Wopper. (Shown here as I ordered it). I hadn’t had one since before the pandemic, so when I drove through to get one recently I couldn’t help but express my gratitude, which turned into a contemplation where I traced each of the parts back to their source.

More often I use a short formed gratitude that goes: “This (system) is so (fine, beautiful, useful…) I’m grateful for this opportunity to (use, enjoy, consider…) it. God bless its components and all those who had a hand in bringing it to me.” You can see that that usually includes many plants, animals, thousands of people and all of evolution. My usual question is “What had to happen for this to exist?”

Not knowing the exact sources and history of the parts of this sandwich, I traced them to a general location and then referenced those to the basis of all life—earth, water and sunlight. From there, another, even quicker leap in appreciative contemplation led me to consider the eons of cosmic collisions that produced the sandwich’s elements. The step before that was the Big Bang, and before that came the unimaginable mystery that’s beyond all imagining. The reason for the word “Divine” in the title of this posting, is to suggest that the divine creative process can be evidenced in a simple sandwich. 

To enhance future gratitudes that involve sandwiches, I did some research on the computer to learn more about their components.

Sesame Seed BunFlour comes from grains such as wheat, rye, barley, rice, etc. Machines collect the seeds from the head of the grass and dump it into trucks that deliver it to storage bins or a flour mill. At the mill, the grains are passed through a separator to take out foreign objects. The grains are then cleaned, washed, dried and passed between rollers to separate the bran from the germ. Once the flour has been milled to the right grade, it’s bagged and shipped to distribution warehouses. Restaurants create buns by combining yeast—a tiny microorganism, classified in the plant kingdom of fungi that feeds on natural sugars found in grains, fruits and vegetables. the seeds of canola, corn, palm, soybean or sunflower plants are crushed and the resulting oil is purified and refined. Sugar comes from sugar cane grown in warm, often tropical climates. And salt, sodium chloride, comes from seawater that’s allowed to evaporate. The crystals are collected, washed, screened and packaged, a process that takes about five years. Water is added and then vegetable oil.

Mayonnaise: This is a mix of oil, egg yolk and an acid, usually vinegar or lemon juice. A hint of spices such as garlic creates a variety of flavors.

Iceberg Lettuce: For American markets, most of it is grown in California and Arizona.

Tomatoes: These are mostly grown in California, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.

Pickles: The seeds of a special strain of cucumbers are grown to produce pickles for sandwiches. These are pickled in brine, vinegar or other solution and left to ferment.

Onions: The largest producers in the United States are Washington State, California and Oregon.

Burger: Most of the cattle raised for beef in the United States come from Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, California, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa and South Dakota.

American Cheese: This product is made from a blend of milk, milk fats and solids combined with other fats and whey protein concentrate. As a blended food, it can’t be called “cheese,” so it’s labeled as “processed cheese.” 

I offer this description of elements not to promote any restaurant or sandwich, but to show how any object or system, food or otherwise, can be more fully appreciated by tracing their component parts to the source—ultimately, The Source. While the model above is generalized, the process of reverse engineering only takes about thirty seconds to a minute or two. I don’t think the universe minds if we overlook details in the evolutionary process beyond our reckoning. What matters is the gratitude, appreciating that—and how—an object or system came into our lives by virtue of its origin and history. This kind of contemplation gives us a taste of the divine, and reminds us of our deepest roots.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan

_____________________________

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