Immortal Hacker Challenge (Part Two)

Avatar based recovery. Patient has access to his data and an interesting ability to track goals and milestones. It is also efficient not to have paperwork which saves time.

Janus of Santa Cruz developed drug and alcohol treatment, which includes clinical assessment, goal setting, VR training and support. Digital registration, online wellness forms and presence questionnaire. They conducted a study with 35 adults, 8 weeks protocol, non-compliance and relapses happen. Participants had to play a game daily, which formed good rituals (habits) and relationships.

Ivana Steigman, who formely worked at InWorld Solutions, told us about Thrive Research projects. In one research they had asponsor (coach), clinician, basic assessment administrator, patient. They had reward contract and electronic forms. Link to thrive points, incentives – coffee, gas, grocery. There is a dashboard, where they had to check in daily – visual representation of where you are. The six domains of well-being: Physical, Social, Affective, Cognitive, Vocational, and Spiritual.

NeuroSim Lab makes use of virtual worlds to assess the ways in which the structure and function of the brain relate to specific psychological processes and overt behaviors.

Sim Coach, the goal is to create an experience that will motivate troops and their significant others to take the first step – to empower themselves with regard to their healthcare (e.g., psychological health and traumatic brain injury). There was a virtual agent, former US Army soldier, who told his story about PTSD and encouraged audience to read some recommended reading and talk to someone about their traumatic experiences (he gave free numbers to call and suggested other resources). That was cool!

Virtually Better, treat a variety of anxiety disorders such as Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Specific Phobias.

There were other individuals and organizations working in that area (Patrick Bordnick, Virtual Patent lab, VRPsych Lab, etc.) and creating new technology to help patients overcome drug and substance abuse, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, etc. There are video chat rooms where you can see a bar and people tempt you to use alcohol but you learn to overcome urges in simulated environments. They modify level of urges to build your resilience.

My favorite was a virtual meeting for AA members. You as a member pick avatar and go to live sessions with other member’s avatars from different locations. You would then discuss your issues and do the same thing as you would do in a real meeting. What really works is the power of sharing and social support.

Read more about this session from Avatar-Based Recovery Using Immersive Virtual Environments article and another session from Innovative Technologies for Psychological Intervention, Consultation and Training article.

I also attended a session about Innovation and opportunities in mobile interventions for addictions, they were discussing various mobile apps. At the exhibition hall I saw a booth advertising Stress Tracker app, which is based in Needham, MA. Another session was about national tele centers providing psychological services to patients in remote areas by means of online CBTs and video conferencing. See another article about the UK approach.

It was mentioned that American psychologists are still hesitant to use Skype or Facetime out of fear to be completely replaced by technology. Les Posen from Australia told an incredible story about government support (subsidies) for depression-cure sites and tools and as a result hundreds of organizations had sprung across Australia: Beacon, e-couch, Mood gym, anxiety online, etc. They all deliver e-health services and strategy online.

Immortal Hacker Challenge (Part One)

I was going to write about The art of happiness in the troubled world book, but my computer caught a virus. Instead of getting mad at the hackers who wrote that virus I thought of a topic for my blog. First, let me tell you what I learned about Virtual Reality and the role of technology in psychology during the 119th APA Convention back in August. I attended at least 4 sessions about it.

Assessment of video game use. They were talking about Star Craft Game, and how it is popular to watch it in Korea. Spectators want to become players and win one day, even though their chances are pretty slim. We watched a video about thousands of spectators observing players of the game live in a big space which looked like a concert hall. People were rooting for their favorite players, eating and drinking. It looked crazy to me. Competitive video gaming is new to the US.

Is video gaming just for fun? The answer is no. For older adults games are used as therapeutic and learning tools. For example, insurance companies are developing video games to help reduce number of accidents per member. For children, some video games help improve pro-social skills, working memory, cognitive process speed. For people with disabilities, to learn and develop skills, example, read together and talk together., based in RI, suggests smarter playing curriculum. They use with children Say, Do, Review technique, so that children learn, practice and remember, they also take breaks between activities and do physical exercise. It’s called “play diet” that helps make video games digitally nutritious.

Video games are not intergenerational yet, but the goal is to help parents transfer their knowledge to children in interactive way.

Clinical use of video games – measures are still being developed, as there should be corrective index to adjust scores, not only self-report measures and interviews, etc. There is also a need for age appropriate measures, measures of stability, engagement, content (solitary, violent, competitive) and lists of side effects (unequal potential effects, consequences. etc).

Students spend too much time on games instead of studying. Impulse control is still hypothetical and can’t be observed or how it triggers behavioral addiction. Methodology is not efficient based on analogy. It is necessary to rate and analyze effects not only of new games but current games.

Virtual Reality (VR) is “a consciousness-noticing machine” and could be immersion(with goggles) and avatar-based. IBM plans to create avatars for every employee in 4 years, they will have new 3-D studio; it helps employees to better communicate. Avatar: “you are not a gadget”.

Examples of VR: flat public – Second life, flat secure – Inworld solutions, immersion public and immersion secure – Virtually Better.

Why VR is popular? It is an incarnation for some, virtual ability to be anything you want. So far there are ½ billion online game players. On average, 1 hour per game. Average age of the player is 10-15 y.o. In 2013 there will be 2 billion users. Online games help satisfy the need for human interaction. They also make changes in human behavior.

My Presentation Slides

Since I had to create slides for my presentation about The Ultimate Answer in October 2011, I would like to share them with you. Three slides in two minutes uncovered the meaning of the project. Enjoy!

Half a Year Update

This is my 100th post. I started this blog 6 months ago, even though I’ve been working on the Ultimate Answer idea for one year. The original idea was transformed along the way, but the core is still the same. In one year I learned so much and I am still learning every day.

First time I presented The Ultimate Answer publicly was in April 2011 at the Boston Ethical Society in Cambridge, MA.

I remember receiving friendly laughter from the ethical members when I mentioned that one of the goals of the project is to find the meaning of life… I wasn’t joking… It is work in progress and I have more answers today than six months ago. See my previous post.

My project is a hybrid of different disciplines and world views, as I developed it using Blue Ocean Innovation Strategy. It is definitely a mix of philosophy, quantified self approach, positive psychology and humanism. In August I went to Washington DC to attend the 119th Annual Convention of American Psychological Association and learned about its strengths, fear, struggles and hopes.

I heard Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive psychology, speak at that conference. I truly admire his courage to focus on what many don’t bother to do – try to leave more than just an empty patient, but alive patient with a zest for meaningful life. He was the one who in his book “Flourish” openly said that antidepressants do not provide good long-term solutions, only short-term. And the book “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker has more facts to prove it. I read many more books on the topic of happiness and participated in a number of self-improvement and philosophical courses and forums to gain global realistic perspective on happiness.

Back in June I created the happiness formula and tested it with individual testers and in three live group sessions with about 50 people. Based on their feedback I revised the original formula.

I presented three more times in October 2011: at The Boston New Tech Meetup, Ultra Light Feedback event and Babson Rocket Pitch event. I also made a last minute video in the kitchen of my apartment in front of my project’s post-it notes for the Big Idea Competition, and the video made it to the 6th place out of top 10.

I received feedback from my October presentations. One comment was about collaboration, and I agree that in the future it will be important to create a community and partnerships with other organizations, and I already plan for that (peer support-groups, volunteer organizations, subject matter experts, etc.). Another comment was about “what famous psychologist stands behind it? Otherwise some will think it is a gimmick.” I don’t support this view: who said that psychologists know how to solve problems and cure depression or unhappiness? If they knew, people wouldn’t spend years in therapy unsuccessfully… or drugged by meds.

I want to hear from people who experienced exact same problems with both negative and positive results so that I will know what to do and what not to do. I’ll make my decisions. There is a formula, but no one is going to prescribe it to you, because you create your own happiness and the formula is not the same for everyone… you create your own , track it and modify it to make your life purposeful. It happens when you find common ground with others, read testimonials and act with wisdom… If I have to name one famous person who can support the Ultimate Answer idea, it is Dalai Lama. And I will prove it in the next several posts.

There were more comments on my presentation at the Rocket Pitch event:

“The “” of happiness. Needs cleaner revenue model. Should mention positive psychology as basis – happiness now becoming a science”. To be honest, I don’t care if this project never generates money. If it makes people happy – this is the most important ROI.

“Noble goal: is it a crowd-sourcing version of “ask a psychiatrist”?” Yes, there is an element of this for sure.

Next steps:

I will be submitting an application to present at the National Conference on Service and Volunteering in Chicago, IL on June, 2012.

Two developers are working on creating an app for the happiness formula, basic resource library, forum and a couple of other tools that will help users to improve their happiness formula results. It should be done in December 2011. If you know of any resources on self-improvement and happiness topics, please send them my way so that I can include them in the upcoming library.

Next posts will be about the following books: The Art of happiness in the Troubled World, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Creating the world that works for all, The how of happiness, Alone Together, Good Faith Collaboration, The Map, Mastering Reality and others. I will also tell about my personal experience of being heavily depressed and wanting to go through clinical trials for a new drug.

My latest findings from Miniseries “Rich man, poor man”- good quotes:

“It is all right to be angry, but it is not as good as reaching out”.

“In every family there comes a time when the best thing to do is to let go”.

What you do or say “just doesn’t go with your look unguarded. Are you happy?”

Thank you for reading this blog and Happy Thanksgiving!

Problem and Suffering Meaning

By now you must be really confused by all possible approaches to problems and suffering. There are indeed mixed ideas about how to view them, never mind how to solve them.

From one point of view, there are no problems, and hence, there is no suffering (as we create it in our own mind when reality is different from what we expect). From another point of view, problems like suffering are unavoidable and they go hand in hand with life. Hmm… If I had to, I would pick without hesitation the former one… There are of course different versions of the latter one, as to when you do find yourself with problems and suffering, what do you do then?

  1. Build resilience by overcoming them
  2. Don’t think about problems, but positive things
  3. Take on more problems, bigger problems
  4. Don’t get into suffering mode, just find a solution

I’m sure there are other approaches, that just escape me now…

I was so confused by trying to reconcile different perspectives on problems that I even searched on Google issue/problem diagram, chart, decision tree, etc… None were found.

How is it possible that some people say that there is no suffering. And others say that suffering will always be around unless we totally get rid of all desire. Complete controversy…

So what I decided to do is to develop a universal process flow with several approaches to Problem and Suffering Meaning that people can use as a decision tree for mind reaction, action, suffering, solution, internal peace and meaning.

It all starts when 1) something happens in reality and we decide whether we 2) accept it=no problem or 3) we don’t accept it=problem. The second decision is about how to react to the event. In case of a problem, we feel negatively but can choose to react differently:

4) Self-control and restrain ourselves from acting negatively, but 7) observe/look for solution.

5) Denial – when we (8) avoid the problem and pretend all is Ok; we try to suppress negative feelings, also could be called indecisive or passive approach.

6) Out of control or overreaction – when we act upon our negative feelings and 9) damage/hurt ourselves or others.

After we looked for solution there could be two results: 10) solution identified or 11) solution not identified (maybe there is no solution). When we ignore, there is no result in reality, but we are not true to ourselves as we pretend all is Ok, when it is not. In reality we can’t run from it forever, we will still have to face it at some point. And lastly, when we damage/hurt, there are two results in reality: 12) cost unpaid or 13) cost paid.

Cost means consequences of our action, ex. if you committed crime you’ll have to pay for it like going to jail, or if you broke something you will have to compensate for material damage, or if you hurt yourself by drinking heavily or doing drugs, the cost will be your deteriorated health or else. It is important to separate cost which is physical from mental suffering, which could be found in all three paths if chosen.

Please, remember that suffering could be of different degrees from smallest to highest: 14) resentment to self or others, pity to self or others or hatred to self or others. The point is that paid cost is enough, but thinking about what happened again and again is suffering. It is important to recognize that anyone can skip mental suffering and move into internal peace which will happen only if you 15) solve problem or 16) let go/forgive.

Now the most important column of this process flow is the meaning of problem/suffering. Even if you solved your problem and let go/forgive, you still may wonder what was the purpose of you going through it(ex. years in prison, drug addition, depression, abusive environment, etc.)? There could be three explanations:

17) Share/help other people deal with the same problem. As Dalai Lama said, compassion and suffering are closely linked, we will not understand compassion without suffering. We would not relate deeply to other people without understanding what suffering is and that it is universal.

18) Focus on solving other matters. If you are not finding a solution or can’t really do anything about your problem, switch your focus… If you can’t change it, why be unhappy? If there is no cure, what is the point of suffering? Choose to solve another problem, more problems… Direct your energy and apply yourself where you can make a difference.

19) Learn how to recognize/solve problems and grow. You gain learning experience and resilience. Next time it happens to you or someone else you will know how not to react and what to do instead, because you went through this experience already. You learn to appreciate what you have.

Wisdom is when you learn to recognize the problem and not act upon it negatively or avoid it but wisely observe or look for solution (by learning from others or doing research). Meditation is useful in overcoming negative emotions. The opposite of wisdom is ignorance, when we react and act without being mindful. Suffering is mostly self-imposed and should be cured with positive thoughts, affirmations and mediation, etc.

Finally you will find your personal significance in the column Meaning. The meaning of you going through all your life’s problems and suffering is sharing your experience or helping others to deal with the same problem (compassion), resilience/learning and making a difference where you can.

So now think about all memorable problems and struggles you had in your life. Make a list of them. Ponder which of the three possible paths did you take? Respect your experience. What did you learn from your problems/suffering? Can you convert them into the meaning of your life/personal significance? What is it or what will it be?

Most importantly, ONLY YOU can decide which problem resolution path you want to take and when to change it in order to get to internal peace.

Overcoming Obstacles and Negative Emotions

To engage in spiritual practices is to be reminded of temporal nature of life/death. Preciousness of human existence is at the core. Determination to action arises with sense of urgency, so that people may forget to be hungry and tired, but work on solving the issue.

When there is some sense of urgency you feel you must act and use every minute to overcome apathy to be aware of destructive effects of negative behavior. We want to change, but become accustomed/adapt to things and situations. Genuine change doesn’t happen overnight, but we can establish new behavior and new habits.

Strong driving mechanisms sustain and motivate us:

  • Biological needs for survival
  • Needs for information
  • Needs for success, power, achievement, spirituality, interaction

We are born in ignorance state but with education we can control negative states of mind (delusions) which afflict from within.

There are 3 main premises in Buddhism:

1.All states of mind are distorted reality.

2.Negative emotions are based on ignorance. Positive emotions are grounded, you can practice them and grow. Positive states of mind are antidotes of inflictive states of mind. The wisdom factor is true nature of reality.

3.Essential nature of mind is pure, clear light (Buddha nature).

This view is different from Western psychiatry as negative states are not natural in Buddhism. We can change our brain by practicing positive emotions, by cultivating them. We change our conditioning when we replace negative with positive emotions.

Anger and hatred are greatest obstacles of compassion. While anger in short –term could be useful, hatred is always negative, because your presence of mind and power of judgment disappear completely.

You should never let hatred within you, but cultivate antidotes like patience and tolerance which become forgiveness. Analyze proper response (constructive and destructive). Let go of your sense of anger and resentment because they just cause disturbance in your mind. It is not a sign of weakness but strength to have a self-disciplined mind, humility without retaliation is a strong stand out of compassion.

Human Potential

We have potential for Enlightenment, Buddha state, potential to deal with any difficulty. Religion should help remove suffering – not be source of it. Spirituality is a process of mental development.

There are two ways to realize human potential:

  1. Religion. Religious prayers are reminders how to deal with people and problems. Spirituality is not about reciting prayers/practice. It is about mindfulness: restrain yourself, when you want to hurt someone. Every experience is a learning experience; every person in your life is your teacher.
  2. Humanity(non-religious). Kindness, compassion, caring. Basic spirituality – goodness, this spirituality is essential. Religion has limited values, but humanity is universal.

Meditation to achieve stillness:

I will maintain a state without thoughts, withdraw mind inward, not chase thoughts, but come to full state of alertness, mindfulness, and consciousness and remain in natural, nurture state, like river or glass of water with clarity and luminosity. Finish with 3 rounds of breathing.

From the book The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler

Suffering and Compassion

Here is what Dalai Lama said on this topic in The Art of Happiness book:

Problems always arise, avoiding them provides temporary relief. If you confront them, you will get better insight and fighting capabilities. If you have been protected by others all your life and have not prepared to deal with problems, you will get shocked when you encounter them and most importantly it will be harder to develop resilience.

Suffering is underlying part of life, if you try to get out of suffering – you will find frustration. Because as long we have desire, we will experience unsatisfactory nature of existence. By removing the causes of suffering we become free of suffering and find liberation.

3 poisons: ignorance (misperception of true nature of self), craving and hatred. Reduce sorry or worry if you believe in rebirth (reincarnation). It is ok, if you carry wishes of people who died. But if you are overwhelmed by sense of loss, if you worry too much, think of people who have other worries (even worse than you).

Self created suffering is personalized pain. It is when we keep asking why it happened to me and why is it so unfair? If we focus and create a solution, we transform mental and emotional suffering, and then reduce the feeling of unfairness and resistance to change.

We really need to get more comfortable with change (nothing is permanent – no job, no lover, no success, etc.) All things are under the power of other factors… that we experience as suffering of change… There is only impermanent existence of everything like our blood – momentary changing phenomenon. As Dalai Lama mentioned – there will be time when there will not be humans or this planet. Just get over it.

Attention is focused when we have problems – self-absorption. We create our thoughts that magnify pain. It is intense, but there are other people with same problem even worse. You need wider perspective – work with other people. It helps to look at it from different perspectives because there is a wide range of solutions especially to solve big problems. But at the end, change must come from within.

Meditation One:

May my illness/suffering be substitute for humanity’s suffering. May I be able to help others and save other humans who go through similar suffering, it is my privilege and opportunity.

When we understand suffering, we find deep value or meaning in it… Reflecting on suffering is a catalyst. We develop a greater resolution in our suffering. Change in attribute makes us stronger. Physical pain unifies us with living creatures; our suffering connects us with others.

Types of compassion:

  1. Compassion with attachment to the other person is unstable. If anything changes, then your mental projection changes and becomes the feeling of hatred.
  2. Compassion free of attachment acknowledges every person’s innate desire to be happy, just like myself.

It is emotional attachment without compassion vs. genuine compassion. Think of your own suffering – your feeling of overwelming helplessness and discomfort. You don’t want suffering, the same with others – they have a right to happiness. What really helps is connectedness and commitment to compassion.

Meditation Two:

Imagine a person, who is suffering, develop your natural feeling for that person – place your mind on that conclusion – compassionate or loving state.

Meditation Three (to counteract our selfishness):

Visualize a group of people in unfortunate state of suffering. Along with it visualize a selfish person (yourself) and a neutral person. Which one do you feel empathy for?

The group that is suffering has no capacity for relief. You will find yourself feeling empathy for the group that is suffering, as you can really improve wellbeing by taking all their suffering upon yourself – visualize suffering in those forms, all negative and absorb them with your heart. May I live to dispense miseries of the world as long as space and human beings exist.

Philosophy Works (Class Eight)

A Remedy for negative feelings

Class Notes:

ME is an imposter. He assumes any guise to suit any situation. He can be heroic or timid, assertful or bashful, triumphant or defeated. ME doesn’t mind what he is so long as he holds the center of attention. If he cannot be praised, then he will be blamed. He would rather be beaten than be ignored. ME is a false image of ourselves. He claims everything. ME is a creature of imaginings, false, fickle and inconstant. He is a denial of our true self.

Only the desire of truth, the love of truth that lies at the core of each of us can free us from the selfish ego’s falsity and lies. Remember, in order to tell a lie, you have to know one thing: the Truth. Wouldn’t we rather have people tell us the truth? After all, even thieves have a code of honor!

All negative feelings are the result of our habitual response to events and people who are not the way we want them to be.

Patanjali offers a whole new way of working. When we acknowledge and speak the truth about negative feelings, we simply let the truth work. In this way, we learn to trust the truth and the Truth will set us free.

Principles and Practices:

In order to discover the truth about ourselves, we must give up what is false. In order to be what we are, we must come out of what we are not.

Watch for antics of ME. When does ME appear? What banishes him?

The fruit of negative feelings is endless ignorance and suffering. To remember this is to cultivate the opposite.

Take note of the effect of your words and actions on others.

Negative feelings…are damaging to life, whether we act upon them ourselves, or cause or condone them in others. They are born of greed, anger or delusion, and may be slight, moderate or intense. Their fruit is endless ignorance and suffering.

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras II.34

Empty yourself of everything.

Let the mind become still.

The ten thousand things rise and fall

While the self watches their return.

They grow and flourish and then return to the source.

Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.

Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching

Negative thoughts happen when you leave present moment. If you don’t feed your thoughts, they disappear, their life time span is short. Pure consciousness is self-knowledge. Hell is pride and ego, and paradise is contentment and happiness.

Memory is the best attribute of a philosopher. We take for granted our power. The thing that you seek is what is looking.

You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.

Plato’s Future

New thinking is associated with the Golden Age. Before New Age there is always Dark Age, when nothing significant is created, because people are just focused on surviving so they don’t have time or interest in art, science or philosophy. But in order to start creating something completely new, you must have new vision first.

Buddha said “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

Do you believe you can create a better tomorrow? Are you a realist or idealist, pessimist or optimist?

In “Republic” Plato talks about succession of governments. He explains that governments go through a cycle: aristocracy is followed by meritocracy, which is replaced by oligarchy, which is succeeded by democracy, then tyranny, and aristocracy again (which could also be called oligarchy) and it goes back to democracy, etc.

These are natural cycles, which should be understood. “Nature is wise, I love wisdom”, said Pythagoras. So “Occupy Wall Street” movement should not come as a surprise, as it was naturally coming. I recently reread “The Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov and I got two main ideas out of it:

1. It is our government’s responsibility to cultivate and bring forward its citizen’s best side that is goodness. There are no bad people or good people, they are always the same and they always have both sides in them (good and evil), but the government has the power to stimulate either one.

2. In every person’s life there is a moment when it is his/her chance to do the right thing even though it is not easy, like it was for Margarita and for Pontius Pilatus. If they don’t do what they feel is right, they will not find peace with themselves. When the government fails to do its job, there is more pressure on the individuals to correct what is wrong.

In Plato’s view Government/Republic is responsible for three things: defense, justice and education. The rest is up to every individual to find. There are four types of souls in the society, who contribute to one mutual goal, but they are in different stages.

Gold men– those, who are concerned with all human beings, have consciousness for all humanity, they express sympathy and help others, incorruptible.

Silver men – those who care about others, but maybe corrupted not with money but other things (name your price), have points of corruptibility.

Bronze men – those, who are interested in wellbeing of their own family and people they share something with (country, race, religion, etc.), corruptible.

Iron men – those, who are concerned with their own wellbeing and that of their family only, very corruptible.

These four archetypes are a concept, and even though Plato believed that each soul is of one metal, I believe that one person can go through several metals in one life time in no particular order, but there are also those who stick to one metal all their life.

Plato also said that depending on the metal Republic should tailor education for a soul and give roles/jobs in the society. Iron and bronze men should not be given jobs where they can take advantage of what they are entrusted with, because they can be easily bribed. Gold and silver men both can see the idea and work in the interest of humanity, not only their own. What comes to mind is a book “Rich man, poor man” by Irwin Shaw and its main character Rudy Jordache who was fighting corruption in the government and the Supreme Court.

Rich Man Poor Man

Besides its own metal every soul has its own talents and passions, and they should be taken into account. Education should not be identical for all, check this video Changing Education Paradigms. What does a soul want? If you don’t like certain subjects, you shouldn’t be forced to pursue them for many years. Education should be not too hard, not too soft. No learning goes without challenges, but challenges shouldn’t be too big, so that a soul gets discouraged, like in Hatter’s Castle by A. J. Cronin.

Role of Education is to awaken a soul, to teach it how to think first and then to choose a profession. Every person can find and learn something to do. And if we work together, it will be easier. Community participates in educating a soul. Then a soul will find a vocation it can be good at.

What is the power of human spirit?

Every individual should know its metal and learn to grow…We can teach ourselves to be better men and women and we can choose the government that helps us do it… but then we need to have gold men in it, not iron, bronze or silver. Before we do it, we need to envision it.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” Margaret Mead.

Thank you, Stephanie, for leading this session at Acropolis Boston!

Philosophy Works (Class Seven)

I had all the intentions to skip this class, as I felt sleepy, but my curiosity in what next class brings prevailed. I was 20 minutes late and found no Meta, but a substitute instructor instead. I asked for class notes, but was given a surprised look as if class notes were a luxury philosophers could do without… New instructor was reading passages from several books and I struggled to stay awake and keep my attention focused, but was able to make some notes, which I’ll try to recreate now…

We suffer from distracted attention by thinking about things that are not present (either past events or contemplation of future events), but instead we can and should prolong moments of being in the present by paying attention to what we see. What have you observed by walking down the street? Very often we can’t recall what we passed by, because attention was given not to surroundings, but to our thoughts.

Then we were asked if we were happier when we were children and the answer was yes, almost unanimous. Normal child is observant and happy. Why is that? I said that children don’t have responsibilities…as adults do. But the answer was that yes, we do have responsibilities and things to do, but it makes a short list and could probably be done in seconds sometimes, if only we don’t dwell on it.

I also thought that children are not spoiled with desire yet, or their desires are still minimal. They don’t yet know what is out there possible and they are still learning about possessions, wants and needs, haves and hot haves. And they don’t have the pressure of expectations, maybe minimal. Expectations surely grow with age. We are supposed to pay back for what we were given during childhood, either by our parents or our society.

The instructor said that a child has less distracted thoughts. Attention is root of clear thinking. Children are always in present. That is why when we ask children what they want to be they don’t understand the concept of time (somewhere there). They want to be what they like now. There is no there and then for children, it is always now.

We continued our conversation about distracting thoughts, as surely we like to escape present sometimes, especially when we need to do something unpleasant (or so we think). We discussed washing dishes. It is a simple act, but we can focus all our energy on creating this negative vibe about it. Someone said it is a short activity; at least it is not long! I said that you can derive pleasure from seeing a stack of clean dishes and be proud of the results. I was wrong… We can find our bliss in present moment while we are doing dishes.

Bliss is one of the qualities of being/self; together with consciousness and knowledge, bliss is nature of self. Enjoyment is nature of experience, but bliss is inside us. Bliss only needs attention and stillness. Bliss is internal happiness or basic goodness. It is about taking one moment at a time. To find it we need to introduce stillness in our lives.

In Buddhism there are four main states: activity, sleep, consciousness and stillness. We don’t do last two enough.

The Self/Being/Absolute is truth, consciousness and bliss. The creation is for bliss. You can be blissful as a witness, not a doer (without getting involved). You can still be active, but you don’t have to be active in order to be happy, as your happiness is in stillness too- appreciating the world around you and our connection to it.

Today we have boundaries and little bliss in a little box called “me and my life”. The self is not satisfied with little bliss, but more bliss derived from consciousness and stillness. All we need to do is to be able to switch thinking from doing to observing, even during action so that we observe and attend.

The instructor suggested we do an unusual exercise – go for a walk and try to see beauty by being grounded (by paying attention to our feet on the ground and attention to everything around us). Think what you really see, not think of what you saw last time walking down the street.

It is amazing how 15 minutes of a stroll can be so powerful in showing you the beauty of the world we so underestimate. I was walking slowly, making sure I feel my feet touching the ground with every step.

No matter how strange it sounds, but I felt that I have legs! I was so aware of the fact that I’m able to walk and I was appreciative of that, as being able to walk is a luxury to some people.

I paid attention to everything I saw around me. I met one pigeon and two sparrows busy looking for food, several happy dogs, three lonely ghosts, several dozen pumpkins, about twenty humans, and a multitude of buildings and plants… and one huge sun shining brightly. It was a little cool but it was so pleasant that I couldn’t stop smiling. I went to see a house where I used to live years ago, and I found a new building still under construction instead of my old house. I talked to a man and his son about my living at that house, because I just wanted to share my experience with other humans.

When we came back to class, we all discussed our findings. One woman mentioned that she saw beautiful flowers that she didn’t think were still around in chilly November. We need to appreciate what we have both individually and as a group. There is so much beauty around that is unseen.

We think that if we are not doers, we are not useful and we are not worthy. But even in stillness we can find our usefulness by appreciating others and emitting positive energy. By rushing and thinking negative thoughts, we contaminate the environment with negative energy.

The question is: “Was the Buddha a useful person even if he wasn’t a doer in our modern way?” He said “I’m awake”, and by simply being that we can change the world for better.

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