All posts by worldsmany2

I'm passionately engaged in exploring the great questions of life. These questions encompass all the humanities, arts and science, as well as all the vital domains of life, including personal wholeness, human relationships, cultural literacy and civil society.

Friends in Part: A Realist Approach to Relationships

There still persists in our popular American culture the rather sentimental notion that “somewhere out there in the great world is your soul-mate or soul-twin who is simply waiting for you to find them,” and when you do you will find that you have “everything in common,” “that you can talk about everything with each other,” that you find the other “endlessly fascinating,” and that “you will find true happiness in the arms of someone who knows, understands and loves you totally.” They and they alone will “complete you.” Without them you are but half a person. This sentimental notion is the theme of many popular romantic movies and adolescent novels.

We want to believe it. But at the same time our everyday life experience tells us something entirely different. It tells us that it is more healthy, honest and realistic to accept that we can be “friends in part” without having to have “everything in common.” There is always a necessary “distance” in even the best of relationships. Contemplative solitude and even times of profound loneliness are as important to human development as experiences of closeness and intimacy.

As we grow into ever more complex and many-sided individuals, it is likely that we will come to appreciate and enjoy many different kinds of people without expecting that they be only mirrors of ourselves. Freud said “we love ourselves in each other.” Maybe so. But there is more to us than this. We can learn to value otherness as much as sameness, the strange as much as the familiar. And so some of our friends will be introverts and some extroverts, some intuitive types and some sensory types. Some will be feeling oriented and some thinking oriented. Some will be aesthetic perceivers and some ethical judgers. And of course many will be different combination of these four sets of Jungian temperamental tendencies, just as we are. We are likely to find both sameness and difference in our circle of friends.

When we are living with those whose temperamental predisposition, beliefs, values, interests, tastes and concerns are extremely different than our own, it is not surprising that we will feel existentially lonely and out of place, as if we were born to the wrong family or tribe. Naturally we will look for those who are more like us temperamentally, socially, and in other ways. In my experience it was largely during the college and post-graduate years of the ’60s and ’70s that I first found such like-minded friends. I had a strong general interest not only in philosophy, religion and literature, but also in music and the arts, science and technology, psychology and sociology, ethics and politics. I was fascinated by high culture, pop culture and folk culture.  In particular I discovered the joy of learning and the life of the mind within the context of the university world. My “quality life” would never be the same. I eventually recognized myself to be an instinctual “generalist” in a society that rewards its “specialists.” And so it was through broad reading that I eventually stumbled upon “polymaths” — historical and contemporary — who shared a passionate general interest in many fields of human knowledge and life experience. These would be my secret society of “soul friends” and “wisdom community.”

But having found my own “tribe of generalists” I gradually came to appreciate people who were quite different from myself, including specialists of many kinds. These came to include persons who had specialized in the particular realms of the arts, the sciences, human and social services, theological reflection and spiritual guidance, leadership and enterprise, office management and administration, and the various crafts and trades.

I also became aware that I had grown up successively among people of different social, economic, educational and cultural classes, and that I had had to learn to relate to persons across the entire American social class system, whether welfare class, working class, lower-middle-and upper middle class, and upper class. Spending my adult career primary in ministry and education as well as human services and leadership development gave me this opportunity to broaden my range of adaptability to different kinds of people. In retirement I have had the opportunity to expand my range of interests and appreciation for different kinds of persons in many walks of life yet again.

I have also found that those with only an elementary or high school level education naturally tend to think about human and social problems in basically black-or-white dogmatic and confrontational ways, while those with college and post-graduate levels of education tended to value a greater measure of creative tension, dialectic, compromise and dialogue. This has to do with the various “stages” and “processes” of cognitive, emotive, social and moral development. The more highly and generally educated seem to be more at home in the presence of mystery, complexity, ambiguity and paradox rather than needing to be absolutely and exclusively right while insisting that all those who disagree with them are totally wrong. They tend to move toward epistemological and cultural pluralism and away from authoritarian dogmatism. Also, they tend to value thoughtful, reflective, temperate and respectful discourse rather than a slugfest of name-calling, insults, accusations and feuds. They generally get along with other people, and bring out the best in the people they meet.

I am not saying that after we have passed through our adolescent and young adult “rites of passage” that we will attain such broad knowledge and diverse experience that we will be able to relate to all kinds of people equally well. In fact, we will find some people quite distasteful and annoying, rude and vulgar, dull and clueless, tabloid and trite,  brutish and boorish, pedantic and arrogant. Choose your adjectives. But we will also learn to cut others some slack, to make allowances for differences, to understand the divergent temperaments and social conditions under which various persons have lived their lives.

Finally, we will learn that it is “good enough” to be “friends in part.”

 

On the Lost Art of Journaling, Poetic Sensibility & Letter Writing

It’s now been slightly over a year since I posted my last blog and this seemed a good time to re-start the process. Whether I’ll have the discipline to stay with it remains to be seen, but I do know there is something both therapeutic and creative about blogging as a reflection of my inner thought life and response to the world in which we live. Those of you who are bloggers and those of you who read these blogs will know what I mean. It is like whispering the depths of our minds and the secrets of our souls to anyone on the planet who cares to be listening. In some ways it occurs to me that blogging may serve some if not all of the functions that journaling, literary reviews and letter writing to close friends once fulfilled in our culture.

I suspect that the age of journaling (diary writing), poetic sensibility and letter writing was not only a time before digital media and social networking when the pace of life was considerable slower than today, but also when the inner world of the “introverted intuitive” (whether feeling or thinking) was given considerably more cultural value than it is in today’s psychologically extroverted and sensation based society of hyper-busyness, pressure, superficiality and distraction. Whenever I turn aside from whatever I’m doing to reflect upon and savor such delightful and illuminating web-sites as Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” or listen to Krista Tippett’s sensitive pod cast “On Being” I realize that I am once again among my own tribe of “introverted intuitive feeling and thinking types,” among artists and intellectuals who have raised their journalistic and literary disciplines to secular yet sacramental forms of spiritual practice. I adore these dear women as the great souls that they are, and am not surprised that they are friends. They seem to have much in common with both the German (Goethe) and English Romantics (Wordsworth), and with the American Transcendentalists as led by Emerson and Thoreau. But Povova and Tippett are highly educated, fiercely inquisitive “modern women” living in the digital age, and so their range of exposure to human knowledge and worldview perspectives is wider still.

Such gifted intellectual, artistic, literary and spiritual “savants” are astute observers of our misguided culture, and they are practitioners of a wide spectrum of profound wisdom. They value perception as much as judgment (Carl Jung), the tacit dimension as much as the explicit dimension (Michael Polanyi), the background context as much as the foreground content, the intuitive, symbolic, metaphorical and narrative right-brain hemisphere as much as the rational, empirical, analytical, data-oriented left-brain hemisphere (Iain Mc Gilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary,”) the musical and poetic as much as the mathematical and scientific (James S. Taylor’s “Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education,” The Platonic visionary as much as the Aristotelian investigative (Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light: Plato and Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization,” and meditative inner stillness as much as conversation and talking (Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”

Where can wisdom be found today? It seems to me that it can be found in those places where it has always been found, in the quiet places where the body is relaxed, the mind is awake, the heart is open, the soul is passionate, the will is disciplined and the spirit is receptive to the timely and eternal echoes of immanent transcendence. Journal writing, literary sensibility and letter writing all put us in touch with this ageless wisdom that has been forgotten amidst the superficial and distracting chatter of the 24/7 news cycle, game shows, sports spectacles, reality TV, Facebook, twitter, I-phones, celebrity gossip, political posing, sensational headlines,  mass media saturation, and the rest.

One final point: Those who prefer to live in the noisy, hurried, pressured and combative world that is psychologically and socially “outside” tend to think in black-or-white dichotomies, in reductive quantitative measurements and abstract numbers, in dogmatic certitudes and resolute absolutes — whether they are politically to the left or right, and whether they are theists, atheists, pantheists or polytheist. What unites them is they are zealots for their partisan ideological causes rather than seeking the universal wisdom of integrative pluralism, of “many-sided and partial truths that always seek the  illusive greater whole.” Those who are at home in the quiet, relaxed, contemplative and cooperative world that is “within seekers” and “between friends” are at ease in the presence of “learned ignorance,” “negative capability,” of mystery, wonder, ambiguity and paradox. Perhaps that is why “poetry is the argument we have with ourselves, and politics is the argument we have with everyone else.” Our world today is in danger of identifying so exclusively with the outer ego-centered self in the outer polarized world of endless adversary relationships that it forgets the beauty of the world, the humanity that unites us, the possibilities for transcendence, and the language of the soul.

Negotiating Our Life Stages and Developmental Tasks

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Ecocentric Development 8 Stages Diagram

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The above charts include the human developmental life-stage models of Eric Erikson, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, Chris Cowen, Don Beck and Ken Wilber. Many others have constructed similar models that suggest that: (1) human experience involves a variety of developmental tasks; (2) that we encounter these developmental tasks in a series of life-stages; (3) that our developmental tasks and life-stages occur within difference domains of knowledge and dimensions of experience. All of this relates to my most recent blog on the developmental task of “saging” within the “senior years” after we have completed the earlier life-stages associated with childhood, adolescence, young adulthood (marriage and family) and mid-life (employment and career). Each life-stage presents us with new existential questions and new challenges to change and grow. In Jung’s model the second half of life involves a shift from our outward “persona” within various social roles to our inward personage as a self-reflective human being. Eric Ericson views the later developmental stages as involving Generativity and Integrity. Abraham Maslow views the higher developmental tasks as involving our ontological “Being needs” for self-actualization and self-transcendence beyond the meeting of our basic “deficiency needs” for survival, security, belonging, achievement and status. In the Spiral Dynamics model we have second tier developmental needs for Integration and Wholeness beyond first tier preoccupations. These represent cultural memes and ascending waves of evolutionary development. Ken Wilber places these emergent Spiral Dynamics within the context of his “All Quadrants, All Levels” (AQAL) “integral model” that includes the Internal, External, Individual and Collective dimensions of life.

As human beings we may become fixated upon any of the life stage developmental tasks so that we ignore everything else or refuse to travel the rest of the journey. We see this with individuals in their 20s and 30s or even their 40s who are still living the developmental tasks associated with adolescence or the teen years. We see it with some persons in their 60s who are attempting to repeatedly re-live the first half of their lives all over again in the American cult of perpetual youth rather than gracefully grow in wisdom, maturity, wholeness and integration. Each life-stage and developmental task has a beauty and charm as well as a difficulty and perplexity that is all its own, and the best thing we can do is to embrace the gift and challenge of each new task rather than life in the past.

One thing I’ve discovered about the aging (and saging) process is that I have become more clear in my own mind and resolved in my own heart about those “simple things” in life that I most deeply cherish and savor. “My Favorite Things” include the rising of the sun, the romance of the moon,  the stillness of the night, the bird song of the morning, the dew upon the earth, the contemplation of being, the mystery of life, the quest for wisdom, the wonder of the cosmos, the grandeur of nature, the scent of flowers, the therapy of water, the power of music, the magic of art, the grace of movement, the elegance of dance, the treasure of books, the enchantment of poetry, the delight of humor, the deliciousness of food, the refreshment of drink, the sensuality of the body, the nobility of the mind, the cultivation of literacy, the practice of civility, the reverence for life, the empathy of compassion, the bow of admiration, the embrace of affection, the gift of friendship, the courage of leadership, the commitment to service, the sharing of community, and the joy of celebration. One can  cultivate “a simple and quiet life” of inward gratitude and serenity and of outward kindness and hospitality as the crowning achievement of the journey into wholeness.

 

Appreciating the Gifts of Wisdom and Friendship During the “Saging” Stage of Life

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Much to my own astonishment I’m now 68 years of age, in that post-retirement life-stage that is sometimes politely called senior adulthood, elderhood, graceful aging, or “saging.” I enjoy spending much of my time reflecting, reading, writing, relaxing, listening to music, appreciating nature, beauty and art, sauntering outdoors, watching movies, going to occasional plays and concerts, eating out, dining in, and enjoying stimulating conversations with friends.

For several years now I’ve been retired while my wife continues to work, and so I’ve needed to find creative ways to occupy myself each day while she continues to march off each day to serve others as a dedicated nurse assisting kids with severe physical and mental disabilities.

I’ve had to come to terms with the “invisibility” and “disposability” of retirement. After a life time serving in a rather visible hybrid vocation in ministry, education and counseling, being retired has mean that I have no natural platform or forum from which to address and engage others. I have needed to discover and create a new series of venues for continuing conversations to take place. Besides writing in my blog from time to time I enjoy periodically teaching adult seminars at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute associated with Southern Oregon University, along with hosting a monthly Villa Sophia conversational salon, starting men’s growth group, and now, launching a monthly book discussion group. It’s a good life!

Recently I had coffee with a younger adult, a delightful younger person in her late 30s whose life is quite busy and full with working, going back to school, raising a teen age son, supporting her mother who lives with her, and starting to date someone new after another relationship ended some time ago. She thinks she might like to pursue a career in counseling. Other than assigned reading for school classes, she presently has no time for reading for pleasure and personal enrichment. While I am empathic of her situation, I must admit that it is quite alien to where I find myself at this season of my life. If I have any primary focus right now it is the cultivation of wisdom and the enrichment of friendship. I’ve completed those other life-tasks like school, work, dating and parenting years ago and have no desire to re-visit them.

What struck me in all this is the truism that we each live through different seasons of life. Of course there are many other factors in play that influence and shape us during each life passage, including our family background, life experiences, personal relationships, psychological temperament, educational experiences, work history, worldview perspective, and lifestyle choices. But none of this changes the fact that we live through difference seasons of life. In the most simple of terms, we pass through the process of birth, infancy, childhood, youth, early adulthood, mid-life, elderhood, aging, infirmity and death. It is the common human condition, the universal sojourn. How we navigate these various life-stages is a matter of personal courage, resourcefulness, intelligence and creativity.

For the past several years now I’ve been coping with an autoimmune disease known as poly-mialgia-rheumatica, or PRM, and I must say it has crimped my style. I’ve had lots of medical consultation and have adopted a non-inflammatory diet, among other healthy choices, but PRM doesn’t just go away. I’ve learned that I may have to dance with it for the rest of my life. It makes me extremely weak, aching and tired at times with flu-like symptoms. Some days I have no energy to do anything at all. You say, “Well Rich, welcome to the human race.” And you would be right. Countless people deal with chronic illnesses, especially those who are getting along in years. I think that at some point we choose to do everything we can to take care of our health, to live pro-actively, and address any potential causes of illness. But at the same time we learn to accept life as it comes to us from day to day, and especially to savor those special moments in which we experience wonder and beauty, grandeur and tenderness in the midst of the ordinary stream of life. And we learn to meet ourselves half-way.

What matters the most to me these days is two-fold: Wisdom and Friendship. I value the continued cultivation of the integral life of the heart and mind. For me this means a continuing journey of reflection and discovery as I explore various personal dimensions, life systems, historical ages, human civilizations, worldview perspectives and intellectual disciplines. And for me this also means enjoying the friends of a small circle of fellow travelers with whom we mutually share each other’s suffering and joy, wisdom and experience as we explore “The Great Conversation” together.

 

 

 

 

 

The Search for an Integral Vision of the Encompassing Reality

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The Search for an Integral Vision of the Encompassing Reality – Images

Towards an Integral Vision of the Encompassing Reality – Chart

For as long as I can remember I’ve been in search for the Big Picture, the Comprehensive Perspective, the Universal Gestalt, or, if you will, “an Integral Vision of the Encompassing Reality.” Several years ago  I read George Santayana’s book, “Three Philosophical Poets,” where he used Dante, Lucretius and Goethe as three representatives of the Metaphysical, Naturalist and Humanist dimensions of reality and perspectives on experience. Santayana envisioned a day in the future when a new “philosophical poet” would find a way to creatively integrate these three horizons. He himself was attempting to do just that in his own book.

What I have outlined in the attached Images and Chart (at the top of the page) follows Santayana’s schematic of the Metaphysical, Naturalistic and Humanistic dimensions of life, or if you like, the Transcendental, Immanent and Relational domains. It seems to me that most people tend to fixate on one or at the most two of these dimensions while minimizing or dismissing the third as in some way illusionary or merely epiphenomenal. Yet I see no reason which we can not and ought not to take all these dimensions seriously without resorting to any dismissive reductionism. Both the dualist and panpsychist worldviews attempt to acknowledge the metaphysical and the naturalistic dimensions. The Dualists do so by viewing them as two separate realities and not worrying about whether or how they might be connected. The panpsychists (alone with panexperientialists, panentheists and neutral monists) do so by viewing them as two necessary and complementary aspects of a single Greater Reality that encompasses both Mind and Matter, Consciousness and Cosmos without either splitting apart or reducing one aspect to a junior partner of the other. But that perennial philosophical debate we can set aside for our present purposes.

Philosophical Idealists will take the metaphysical dimension serious but tend to regard the naturalistic dimension as ultimately illusionary or “maya.” Philosophical Materialists will take the naturalistic dimension seriously but regard the metaphysical dimension as psychological projection and wishful thinking. And assorted humanists will tend to live somewhere between these two mind/body polarities while being conflicted about them, perhaps leaning to one side or the other – describing themselves as either Spiritual Humanists or Secular Humanists. For them it is often the unfolding drama of human history that takes center stage, along with exploring individual human potential — “the further reaches of human nature.”

The Metaphysical Perspective will be attracted to The Ineffable Mystery, The Transcendental Ideals, and The Ontological Categories.

The Naturalistic Perspective will be attracted to the Macro-Cosmic World, the Micro-Cosmic World, and the Living Earth, including Relativity Theory, Quantum Theory, and Evolutionary Theory.

The Humanistic Perspective will be attracted to The Whole Person, The Life Systems, The University Mind, as well as the Historical Past, Historical Present, and Historical Future.

I will not attempt to further articulate these diverse perspectives in the present blog since the attached images and chart provide that information. What I will do is suggest that for those of us who are involved in contemplative practice, philosophical reflection, multi-disciplinary studies and conversational salons that a “meta-worldview” such as this one that encompasses the metaphysical, naturalistic and humanistic dimensions of human knowledge and life experience can serve as a useful map, especially if we remember that “the map is not the territory.” Let us speak the words and thoughts we know while respecting the limits of knowledge and language. Beyond the rational-empirical languages of philosophical analysis and scientific examination are the intuitive, perceptive, visionary and ecstatic “uber-languages” of music, art, myth, poetry, movement, dance, wonder, beauty, serenity and silence.

Whatever our path toward wholeness and integration may be, there is wisdom in the words enshrined upon a vision of the rising Sun: “Your heart must become a sea of Love. Your mind must become a river of detachment.”

Change Your Life, Change Your World: Nine Principles for Transformational Living

These nine principles are simple and direct personal injunctions that, if taken seriously and practiced consistently, will exercise a transforming influence upon one’s way of living. If you want to change your life and change your world, these principles can guide you in the direction you seek to do. You will notice a strong correlation between these nine principles and the nine points of the Enneagram. These nine principles, when practiced in concert with each other rather than isolated from each other, exercise an exponential result. To be a real person is to develop all our human capacities, not just one or two. That is why it is a serious therapeutic error to misuse the Enneagram in such a way as to let persons off the hook from cultivating their full humanity by telling then that their entire identity is located in only one of the nine points. That doctrine is based upon the archaic metaphysical assumption that our souls preexist our bodies and are predestined to belong to one and only one of the nine points. It is similar to the astrological belief that from all eternity our embodied souls belong to one of the twelve “houses” of the zodiac. Such beliefs may help us to feel special but they also set limited on our human capacity to transform ourselves and to live in all worlds. What if your True Humanity contained “all souls” and you could become a Universal Human rather than a self-satisfied psychological sectarian? What if you could become many selves within one self, honoring all the “gods” or mythic archetypes rather than just one? What if you could become an “autodidact” and a “polymath, a person committed to personal excellence and human flourishing, not only for your self but for others as well? What if you could change yourself and change your world? Would you dare to take bold and deliberate action to do it, or would you drift with the drowsy and clueless current of our mindless and complacent culture? Would you dare to live such a passionate and purposeful life? Each of us must answer that question in the inner depths of our own  hearts and minds.

Here are the Nine Principles for Transformational Living. Take a minute to meditate upon each one:

1. Strive to Improve Yourself and Your Full Potential

2. Be Kind and Show True Compassion for Others

3. Plan and Take Action to Succeed in Your Work

4.  Let Wonder and Beauty Inspire Your Creativity

5. Seek Profound and Encompassing Knowledge

6. Build Committed and Trustworthy Relationships

7. Find Delight and Joy in Life’s Simple Pleasures

8. Exercise Bold Ethical and Visionary Leadership

9. Cultivate Inner Serenity and Work for Peace