How should I go about thinking for myself and not just regurgitating ideas I learn from other people?

Without knowing more about your personality, experiences, aptitudes and interests, it is difficult to offer anything but the most generic advice. Keeping that in mind, here is what I would encourage you to do to help formulate your own opinions about things:

1) Drastically reduce social media immersion, 24/7 mass media stimulation, and entertainment media immersion. In other words, limit your interaction with these media to an hour or two each day…max. Maybe even take a “media vacation” 1–2 days each week (on weekends, etc.). This also includes music and podcast consumption (even as “background” noise). The objective here is to give your mind a rest…and some spaciousness.

2) Wean yourself off of regular MJ use. It’s going to interfere mightily with your ideation, introspection and reflection capacities, as well as your ability to emotionally mature. Occasional recreation is not what I would be concerned about — it’s daily use (or several times a week) of the latest high-THC varieties that tends to create serious problems over time.

3) Learn to meditate. This takes time and discipline — and experimentation with different techniques — but it will help you focus inward and gain more internal reliance, rather than orienting all thoughts and emotions to external inputs. It will also help you manage anxiety and depression. If you can develop a healthy, regular habit of daily mediation, this will vastly enhance your abilities to navigate ideas, formulate your own thoughts, and intuit what is most important to you.

4) Consume carefully. What you eat, what you read, what you watch, what you listen to (music, podcasts, whatever), whom you spend time around…even what you spend time thinking or fantasizing about. Garbage in, garbage out. What you reinforce with constant exposure and focus will become your mind’s primary orientation, locus of energy, and interest…but you get to control this if you choose.

5) Spend regular time alone in Nature. Here again, this is about spaciousness. Creating space and time for different aspects of your being to expand, find their own level, and prompt you into an authentic relationship with your own interiority.

I hope this was helpful! :-)

When we fail to grow spiritually for one of many reasons, is it because of the lure of the world?

Thanks for the question.

As with many activities that aim for positive outcomes, distraction is probably the biggest hindrance — a distraction that redirects our energies away from spiritual growth into something else. The subtlety, however, is in just how many forms of distraction there are. Some examples:

1) Gratifying our own ego to feel more important, ethical, disciplined…or indeed “spiritual.”

2) Worrying and obsessing over our spiritual purity, progress, efficacy, etc., to a degree where anxiety and guilt are our predominant emotions.

3) Becoming inflexible, legalistic and black-and-white regarding our certainties: not allowing for nuance, subjective differences, alternate explanations, gradations of truth, etc.

4) Looking for external signs and affirmation that we are “on the right path;” things like synchronicity, affluence, open doors, manifestations of personal will, etc.

5) Becoming preoccupied with future outcomes instead of experiencing the joy of the present moment.

6) Grounding all reasoning, emotions, choices, activities and imagination in an “I/Me/Mine” orientation of self-absorption…with only a veneer of consideration for anyone or anything else.

7) Resisting a felt reality of authentic compassion for self and others, and instead just going through the motions of what generosity, caring and kindness are “supposed” to look like.

8-) Looking outward, instead of inward, for answers.

9) Getting caught up in what everyone else is doing in order to feel comforted and accepted — then rationalizing that it serves a noble end.

10) Operating in “head time” rather than “heart time” or “spirit time;” that is, confusing busyness with carefully considered action, or quickly consuming mass media with gaining wisdom, or rushing to protest injustice with more discerning activism.

11) Forgetting our Divine purpose, and substituting it with the convenient passions-of-the-moment.

So we could attribute some number of these distractions to “the lure of the world,” sure. But would that be an accurate description? Would it really get at the heart of the impedance to what we believe to be spiritual progress…? I think you can probably see the trap here. Our conceptions of what spirituality is “supposed” to look like are just as problematic as other distractions that we attribute to an external cause. Everything that hinders us is a distraction…it is simply a matter of identifying the distractions for what they are, and moving beyond them…letting them go.

Along these lines, I would encourage you to read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. He dances neatly through many subtleties of distraction that we often overlook.

My 2 cents.

How can I become more tolerant of people who are different than me?

Thanks for the question.

I think the answer is dependent on a) the issues you are intolerant of, and why; b) how that intolerance expresses itself; and c) your level of self-awareness and well-being. For example:

1) If your intolerance issues from a place of personal pain, and you are lashing out at others who “touch a raw nerve” in your own struggles, then addressing that pain and struggling within yourself is going to be quite helpful in reducing your judgement and increasing your tolerance.

2) If your intolerance issues from a place of arrogance and condescension, then appreciating your own limitations, areas you’ve made mistakes, and potentially unjustified self-confidence will be helpful in reducing judgement and increasing tolerance.

3) If you find it really hard to forgive others for harms they commit — against yourself or anyone else — then you may be holding some harsh judgments against your own past failings or be more insecure than you realize in some area or other. So, in this instance, you’ll want to learn how to have compassion for yourself, so that you can in turn have more compassion for others.

4) If your intolerance stems from ignorance — from a lack of experiences and exposure to folks who are different — then befriending them and immersing yourself in their world will be quite helpful.
If your intolerance is highly reactive, and seems to be uncontrollable or reflexive, then there may be an underlying mental illness, neurochemical issues, or cognitive and/or emotional deficit. In this case, seeking help from medical doctors and psychotherapists may be your best bet.

5) Intolerance, impatience, irritability, and black-and-white emotional responses can also be the consequence of not nourishing one or more aspects of your being. Consider taking this free self-assessment to see what those areas might be, and then try to address them: https://www.integrallifework.com...

As you can see, there could be a lot of different influences at play — and the ones I’ve covered don’t come close to all the different factors that could be energizing this dynamic. It’s great that you’ve observed it…I recommend patience with yourself and continuing to reach out for help in order to heal and grow.

My 2 cents.

What are the top 10 words of wisdom you can give to a man at the age of 30?

A fun challenge, thanks for the question. Here’s my 10-word offering:

“You aren’t what you feel/think, but what you do.”

My 2 cents.

How do you get people out of denial?

This takes time, and the avenues available to you will depend both on the quality of your relationship with the person, as well as on their mental capacity and emotional health. For example, if you are a very close friends, you might consider gently and lovingly confronting them about the issue, and asking if they are receptive to your observations and feedback. If you have a history of “telling each other straight” (i.e. being brutally honest with each other), then you could also just confront without the gentle, compassionate preamble, and just speak your mind. If you are in an intimate romantic relationship, you can appeal to your desire to deepen that relationship and your need to express concern about something that you feel is interfering with honesty and intimacy. If the relationship isn’t that deep, or has been rocky, or is relatively superficial (neighbor, coworker, person you see at the bus stop each day, etc.), then you probably don’t have the relational standing to effectively comment on the denial you are observing. I mean…you could…especially if you like being confrontational…but it’s probably not going to have much effect other than their becoming defensive and not trusting you anymore. But if you already have a longstanding trust with someone, then you can, in a spirit of genuine concern, offer your observation. Even here, though, wording and context is everything. Are they drunk? Are they surrounded by peers that agree with their POV? Are they expressing an openness to you about a problem they are dealing with? Are they angry or sad? Choosing the right timing for such a conversation is just as important as choosing the right words…which should affirm their emotions and your understanding of their POV prior to you offering anything that sounds like criticism or advice. Then again, if they aren’t that bright, or have a lot of emotional baggage they haven’t worked through, or are suffering from a mental illness, then you may not be able to penetrate a belief or untruth that this person has latched onto for a sense of belonging, security or identity.

My 2 cents.

In instances of abandonment issues and consequences towards other people not desiring your compassion and courtesy in life, how do you overcome not getting reciprocated by another persons love, admira

Thanks for the question.

This is a broad, deep, muddy puddle of a question. Without knowing you or the specifics of your situation, it is almost impossible to recommend a specific course of action. However, here are some options to explore — some or all of which may be helpful to you:

1) Consider asking yourself why you feel you need (or expect) reciprocity, and why you feel abandoned or disappointed by its absence. Perhaps you could employ the downward arrow technique from CBT to explore your thought patterns around these emotions…and what is really at the root of them (in terms of beliefs, assumptions, past experiences, etc.).

2) There is a possibility that you are choosing the wrong people to love, admire and adore. You may, in fact, be setting yourself up for disappointment and feelings of abandonment because you are attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable, or inherently subdued or unexpressive. This can happen when, for example, one of our parents was detached and undemonstrative, and we are forever trying to “fix” that experience — and our own feelings of inadequacy that are still evoked by it — by seeking out people that are just like that parent, and trying to “get them to love us.” To break this cycle, we need to address and heal the family relationship — and/or the persisting personal narrative within — that has modeled this dynamic.

3) You may be misinterpreting signals, perpetuating an exaggerated assessment of your affection and the clarity of your communication, or have unrealistic standards of reciprocity. In other words, you may think that the quid-pro-quo is obvious and reasonable, when it’s actually not. People get into all sorts of trouble when they think, “Hey, isn’t it obvious that I’m expressing affection and compassion here? And isn’t it obvious that you should be reciprocating…?” In reality the other person may have no clear idea of what is going on, or how to respond — even if you try to express it to them directly. At the same time, you yourself may not be accurately reading signals the other person is sending your way — both positive and negative. Lastly, have you actually asked for what you want? If not, that could contribute to a simple remedy. All of these issues of accurate awareness, expectation and communication are in fact what a LOT (perhaps most) of couples counseling ends up working through.

4) One of the most liberating spiritual practices I have learned during my life is giving without expectation of reciprocation. Giving of yourself, in any form, can be its own reward…with the right frame of mind. And when “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” (in terms of charitable feelings and actions), this can remove a lot of potential frustration and disappointment from the interpersonal equation. Learning how best to be a Blessing Presence to others is of course a lifelong task, but inherent to that is a mindset that a cup that overflows with love generated from within does not need to be refilled from without.

5) The quickest path to burnout is not loving ourselves first. Do you cherish the person you are? Do you honor and have compassion for that person in all of your choices? For most folks, identifying and addressing barriers to this basic level of self-respect and self-care is the beginning of healing necessary to love others effectively and freely.

My 2 cents.

What tears a culture apart?

Thanks for the question Michelle. In answer to “What tears a culture apart?” As a single overarching concept, I would say The Spectacle is a massively influential component. However, I would identify a number of factors — some inherent to The Spectacle itself, and some that are separate but ancillary to it — that have contributed to our current disintegration:

1) Culturally reinforced atomistic individualism, coupled with willfulness.

2) Commodification of everything (as a consequence of our current form of political economy), which in turn shifts reliance on interpersonal relationships and trust to a dependence on money, contracts, social status, and inherent mistrust.

3) Cultural conditions that disrupt or sabotage moral development, so that a majority of folks remain “stuck” in childish and egotistical stages.

4) Deceptive manipulation that turns one group of people against another (tribalism, Us vs. Them, ingroup vs. outgoup, etc.), and perpetuates the lies and deception via causal forcing (see http://www.tcollinslogan.com/res...).

5) Increasing concentrations of wealth and power in a very small number of people — generally at the expense of everyone else (i.e. plutocracy via crony capitalism).

6) The Dunning–Kruger effect as amplified by subcultures that enshrine ignorance and arrogance; in other words: ongoing poor self-awareness.

7) A growing unease, confusion and lack of agency in the face of exponential complexity and rapid cycles of change.

8-) Promoting multiculturalism instead of interculturalism.

9) Postmodern skepticism and abandonment of cultural traditions…without replacing them with anything.

10) Fairly primitive primates playing with very sophisticated technological toys that they do not understand, but on which they then become almost entirely dependent.

My 2 cents.

How can individual stop being too responsive to the social inputs from the outside?

Being “too responsive to social inputs from the outside” is sometimes the result of innate codependent or compulsive proclivities, but more often it is the consequence of years of familial and/or cultural conditioning. The former is what in Integral Lifework I call a “structural barrier,” and the second is learned and therefore a bit more malleable/changeable. In either case changing the behavior as an almost automatic response can be extremely difficult — especially in contexts where there is already investment in the relationships involved (family, romantic, close friends, neighbors, etc.), or if we have a career or daily routine with high social exposure and interraction. This leaves us with a limited array of choices to mitigate our “overly responsive” reflexes, some of which include:

1) Self-isolation, rigid personal boundaries, and avoidance of human and media contact (not particularly healthy in the long run, but sometimes may be necessary in the short run to regain personal space and equilibrium).

2) Concentrating on a personal discipline of self-care and selective responses. For example, committing to regular, uncompromising routines that focus on various aspects of personal well-being, and reserving specific times/days to interact with others socially, to interact with or consume media, to communicate with friends and family, etc. In other words, to compartmentalize our time so that we can filter the level of exposure and interaction with “inputs from the outside.”

3) Doing cognitive work on our internal reactivity — addressing the patterns of thought and emotion around our responses to external inputs. This might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and various forms of daily meditation.

These are just a few examples, but it is possible to begin reshaping our habits and responses, and to become “less porous” to external programming, and less reactive/responsive in a more managed way. Personally, I find I require a lot of time alone in Nature, regular meditation, and very careful selection of friends to support a trajectory that leans away from my natural propensity to be reflexively responsive to external inputs.

I hope this was helpful.

Can spiritual awakening lead to success in business?

Maybe sometimes, at which point most of that person’s awakening will dissipate or retreat, mainly because of the demands of our current political economy and business culture. In other words, success in business generally leads to spiritual regression.

It is a bit like asking: “Will my spiritual awakening make me a better salesman?”

Well, let’s take that example. Awakening generally leads to greater compassion for self and others, more insight into skillful healing and wholeness, and less attachment to material possessions and ego accomplishments. So how would an “awakened” salesman act? They probably would try to help people — to do what is authentically best for their customers, without considering their own self-enrichment. Consider these scenarios:

“Is this a good TV?”

“Well, not really, but it’s the only one we have in stock.”

or

“Can your alternative therapy heal my cancer?”

“Actually no. You are going to die. But I can be a compassionate presence for you as you die….”

And so on. If what is genuinely beneficial to a customer just happens to coincide with what a business has to offer, then there is a possibility of awakening facilitating temporary success. Otherwise, it just runs counter to capitalist instincts.

You see the problem? Being a kind, compassionate, insightful and healing presence can bless others with well-being and skillful aid…but it doesn’t fit into the better bottom line landscape very well. Add to this that most people really don’t know how to handle affluence and material success without becoming corrupted by it (see Paul Piff’s research on this), and tying business acumen to spiritual awakening is sort of a fundamentally unwise idea.

My 2 cents.

How should I accept harsh truths about my situation and stop living in denial and fantasy?


In answer to “How should I accept harsh truths about my situation and stop living in denial and fantasy?”

I think this is one of the most difficult and persistent challenges of the human condition, and requires a lifelong effort of learning, careful perception, patience, introspection and cultivation of wisdom. Let’s examine why this may be the case:

1. Some “harsh truths” are situational, conditional or contextual…they may not be what we first assume them to be, or as persistent or as pervasive as they first appear. For example, I seemed to be really bad at math early on in my schooling — mainly because I didn’t attend school in any regular way until I was about eleven years old (and thus didn’t learn many basic math concepts), but also I didn’t have much patience or aptitude for algebraic structures and abstractions. In fact I flunked out of my second year of algebra twice. Then I encountered geometry, and it was like coming home to a long lost friend. I ate it up. When I applied it to some real-world challenges (calculating arcs in a centrifugal fan blades I was making for a hovercraft model), I discovered the spatial relationships and correlations to have particular meaning and satisfaction for me as mathematical representations. And guess what? I even ended up using algebra in my solutions. All along, I had just required a real-world application for these abstract concepts…and that was actually the real “harsh truth” that I had to learn — not that I was “bad at math,” but that I needed to apply math concepts I learned (right away) for them to make sense to me.

2. Some “fantasies” have inspired works of great creativity, compassion, genius or insight. To invest in a dream is to reach beyond the mundanity of our current circumstances, and imagine a different way. If you examine the lives of any of history’s greatest figures, their efforts can appear deluded, nonsensical or even insane…because they did not restrict themselves to what other people believed could or couldn’t be done; they defied convention. Of course, for every person who succeeded in reifying their fantasies, there are many who failed. Even someone who succeeds with one fantasy may fail countless times with other efforts. But it is a uniquely human trait to keep trying…to resist giving up in the face seemingly incredible or impossible odds.

3. Some levels of acceptance may take a lifetime to cultivate. To truly let go of harmful egotistical delusions may require years of therapy and concerted effort. To fully embrace difficult truths about ourselves — about who we are, or how we are, our own limitations, etc, — may likewise require a very slow arc of maturation over many years. Even if we intellectually grasp the letting go, to emotionally feel it will likely take time. And so we just have to keep working at it, recognizing there is no “silver bullet” that will transform our self-concept or self-awareness as quickly as we might like.

With that said…how can we differentiate between a situational or contextual limitation or setback — or a mere lack of imagination or paucity of faith in ourselves — and a fundamentally structural impedance or innate pattern that is problematic? This is where wisdom comes in handy, and yet…most wisdom is gained through life experience, right? A catch twenty-two — like needing to get a job to gain more experience, but needing more experience to get a job. Sometimes we can consult others who have personal experience in a given area to help guide our own efforts, but even in those instances…they’re approach, aptitudes and circumstances are going to be different from our own. So what can we do?

This very conundrum is what led me to begin meditating with more discipline and focus on a daily basis — to look within for answers for the best applications of my time and effort, and to guide my own course through life. And this, in turn, led me to discover the many different forms of meditation that can be helpful in this regard…there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution here either. To be able to differentiate between what is true for me, what is true for someone else, what is true in this moment, and what is the wisest course of action in a given situation have been indispensable to my own well-being — and to being the best person possible for those I care about. And the beginning of that journey was learning how to listen carefully within my inner silence, and start accepting that I had access to all the wisdom I required within that space.

My 2 cents.

Is it ethical to provide guidance and counseling (in a professional setting) if you yourself suffer from the same conditions and have not surpassed them?

In answer to the question “Is it ethical to provide guidance and counseling (in a professional setting) if you yourself suffer from the same conditions and have not surpassed them?”

Surpassed? I’m not sure what is meant by this term. I don’t know of anyone who has “surpassed” anything. Sure, they’ve learned to manage, self-monitor, develop alternate habits, become more disciplined, heal deep and chronic wounds to varying degrees, become incrementally more whole, etc. But “surpassed?” I think that’s probably an ego-based term for a particular flavor of narcissistic delusion, and has no place in any therapeutic or mentoring relationship.

That said, if we replace “surpassed” with “learned to constructively manage,” then I would say it depends — on many different factors, including the nature and severity of your condition, where you are in your own healing/wholeness journey, and the functional level of self-management you have been able to maintain over time.

So for instance:

1. A therapeutic relationship dealing with out-of-control addictions (of any kind) should probably not be entered into by a professional suffering from an out-of-control addiction. Even when, as some of the other answers indicate, that condition can be helpful to empathy and informed therapeutic or mentoring techniques, it can also be extremely destructive to the relationship, and likely to the person you are trying to help. So in that case…a firm “not ethical” IMO (again, if it is still unmanaged). I think the same would be true of unmanaged depression, unmanaged severe personality disorders, unmanaged schizophrenia, unmanaged self-destructive behaviors, unmanaged anger and hostility, unmanaged anxiety, unmanaged compulsions, unmanaged relationship dynamics, etc.

2. On the other hand, if you have demonstrated a high level of efficacy in managing a particular area, are maintaining genuine intentions to continue that course, and have become more high-functioning over time (i.e. can have a modicum of confidence about a given technique or process), then why not share your experiences in the therapeutic or mentoring relationship? Again, mastery is not really the issue…rather, it’s about ongoing integrity around your own intentions, and regarding your efficacy in “walking the walk” in your own life. In such a case, a conditional “ethical” IMO.

3. A very common pattern in folks who become healers, teachers, mentors, therapists, counselors, etc. is that they are initially drawn to the field because of their own struggles. This can be both helpful and unhelpful. On the one hand, they can understand and inhabit the perspective of the people they are trying to help, because they’ve been through it themselves. On the other hand, they may fall into a pattern of projecting their own desire for self-healing onto their clients, students or patients. In other words, they may perpetually be externalizing their own issues. At some point, a good teacher/mentor/therapist/healer will recognize this pattern in themselves, and address it. They may need to take a break from practice to do so. Or they may feel they need to give up the field entirely. This is a reality/integrity check that everyone I’ve known — across many different fields — eventually has to confront. Perhaps that’s where you are now, but the answer is going to be different for every person, and at different stages of their life. It’s a process where we must measure our own strengths and weaknesses against the effectiveness of our work…and when we must finally learn to check our ego at the door — and let go of our own issues — every time we engage with the person we are trying to help.

My 2 cents.

What are the flaws of modern psychotherapy and why do so many people (myself included) feel so disappointed with it?

Great question. My take on some common flaws in modern psychotherapy:

1. Consumer model. Both clients and therapists often (consciously or unconsciously) fall back on the producer/consumer model, where the therapist is there to “provide” a solution that a client pays for and “consumes.” This ends up emphasizing external resources vs. internal solutions for both client and therapist, and creates an unhealthy, disempowering dynamic — even despite client-centered intentions and protocols — which often results in a lack of willingness to “do the work” that is required.

2. Incompetence or poor training. I often use the analogy of a violinist when describing good therapists: How many virtuoso violinists are there in the world? How many first and second chair violinists? And how many folks squeak away in their basement until a position opens up in the local community orchestra string section? Virtuosos are rare, and hacks are plentiful…so it can take a lot of effort, persistence and luck to find a really good therapist.

3. Lack of cultural integration/acceptance. Psychotherapy should be considered a normal, healthy, even prophylactic resource for well-being…like going to the gym, or going to an MD for a checkup. Unfortunately, it has been polluted with social stigma so that people who could benefit often don’t seek it out — or feel ashamed when they do. This leads to a disproportionate volume of psychotherapy engaging in: a) court-mandated treatment; b) “last ditch effort,” extremely acute, crisis intervention conditions; c) self-help hobbyists. This is not a great group of folks to work with, generally — not in terms of process, or in terms of outcomes — and IMO often results in excessive “lowest common denominator” practices.

4. **The profit motive. **Evidenced-based methods are great — but what if the latest “proven” approach for a given condition isn’t working for a particular client? Well, insurance companies don’t allow such variability; everything must be cookie-clutter compliant with their actuarial tables (i.e. clear diagnosis = rigid treatment protocol). At the other extreme, a provider receiving (uninsured) private pay may not be motivated to use some provenly efficacious, short-term approach, but instead be motivated to create a longer-term income stream. “Perverse incentives” all around….

5. Lack of holism/multidimensionality, and reliance on “silver bullet” modalities. Modern medicine is struggling to reverse over a century of hyperspecialization, where only the separate systems and components of a patient are considered, and not the whole. There are efforts to integrate different disciplines, engage in group consults and assessments across departments, and change this paradigm…but it has been slow, and frequently ineffective. And so modern medicine tends to treat symptoms, and ignore underlying causes. Psychotherapy has fallen into this habit as well — people are complex, and solutions to their problems may also require complexity. This takes time, and multiple perspectives, and acknowledgement that there is no “one size fits all” treatment that is appropriate for a given set of conditions.

FYI I have a guide intended to help folks find a good therapist, here: https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/How-to-Select-Mentor-Coach-Therapist.pdf

Also here is a free assessment process for a more holistic approach to well-being: https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/NourishmentAssessmentV2.pdf

My 2 cents.

Can an enlightened being feel pride?

LOL. Not if they want to remain enlightened, engage the world around them from an awakened state…or operationalize their insight. Pride indicates regression. I suppose it can and does arise in some vulnerable context (beings being beings), but it won’t have any staying power — there is nothing for it to latch onto. The moment the ego is invoked to be deliberately fed with pride, the I/Me/Mine rises up to obscure the unadorned reality that initially attenuated it. So perhaps we could say this is a case of greater/lesser, rather than either/or. But the lessening can be fairly complete, as a matter of consequential maturation. We might even say that experiencing pride is a good barometer of that maturation process.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Can-an-enlightened-being-feel-pride/answer/T-Collins-Logan

I am currently in emotional pain, but feel forced into silence about explaining why to anyone in fear of visceral reactions they may have on what I have to say. How can I reveal my thoughts w/out fear

Great question. Here are some initial thoughts after reflecting on your question and on the interactions you and I have had on Quora…I’m happy to dialogue further about this as well via messaging. First I would like to validate your emotional reaction — I think you are correct that many people feel this way around your age (I certainly did), and I think it is a normal, healthy response to what is arguably a pretty shitty situation. “Adulthood” seems to almost entirely equate a number of different forms of slavery, all descending upon us at once…enslavement to a job or career path, to expected patterns of consumption (house, car, debt, etc.), to a set of fixed relationships (spouse, children), and to a general sacrifice of qualities and characteristics that really make life worth living (creativity, curiosity, playfulness, etc.).

And now onto some potential mitigations and safe ways or environments to communicate how you are feeling….

1. Without hesitation, I would encourage you to hold onto your perspective as long as possible, so that you aren’t reflexively adopting “status quo” expectations about your life. Why should you? At the same time, it may be that there is a way forward into a new phase of growth without all of the downsides you have described — i.e. one that does take on more independence, responsibility and maturity without crushing the child-like qualities that you cherish, or embracing enslavement of some kind. Being open to such a possibility, while not “giving in” to the status quo, can at least allow a sliver of hope into an otherwise oppressive darkness.

2. A key element to sharing our journey with others is finding folks whose values, experiences, perspectives and goals align with our own. In Integral Lifework (http://www.integrallifework.com), I call this the “Supportive Community” dimension of well-being, and I strongly believe that finding or creating such community is an essential component of being well and whole. In my own life, I found this in many places — in spiritual communities, in joining a theatre troupe, in playing music at open mikes, in hiking and outdoor clubs, in volunteering at environmental organizations, in attending “salons” at people’s houses, in joining writing groups, in political activism and so on. I also was lucky enough to find supportive community in a job at a University for a couple of years. In nearly all of these environments, I found folks I could discuss things I cared about, and whose values and interests resonated with my own.

3. Further, I would also say that the creative efforts I engaged in were often a very helpful avenue of expressing deep and turbulent emotions to others in an “abstracted” way that opened doors into deeper conversations (i.e. attracted the right kinds of folks to engage with). This is actually part of another dimension of Integral Lifework, called “Playful Heart,” and it can be a powerful avenue of connecting with both self and others.

4. More intensive and structured support can also be very helpful — and I certainly sought that out at your age as well. A good therapist (and again one whose values intersected or resonated with my own) became an indispensable part of my own journey then, and over many years that followed. This was especially true when it came to processing strong emotions like pain, fear, anger, guilt, and anxiety.

So these are some initial considerations, with the aim of attenuating “visceral reactions” and potential judgement. At the same time, all such efforts still require courage and a certain tolerance for risk…as there are no guaranteed outcomes in the school of life. And there will certainly be folks — perhaps even the people you care most about — who won’t “get it” or understand you at all, and with whom communication will simply be impossible for a time. This happened with my father, who really couldn’t grok me, my goals and values, my experiences, or even my personality — at least not until we were both much older (in fact, it only began to happen just three years before his death). So some relationships will not fit easily into this process of personal unveiling and growth — and that is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of “growing up.” In fact I think it reflects a principle that is much more the herald of true adulthood than anything society broadcasts or conditions us to believe: learning to let go of things we can’t control.

I hope this helps!

Is it possible to love everyone?


This is a challenging question, IMO, mainly because there is such a diversity of conceptions and attitudes about “love” in modern culture. In ancient Greece, they used several different words for love in different contexts, but in modern English our distinctions get a bit muddied. I have spent the past thirty years or so meditating on this issue and writing about it — and still find it difficult to reduce down to simplified definitions. Which means that answering this question will require laying some groundwork first….

What spiritual traditions are talking about when they use the phrase “loving everyone” is really three distinctly different components:

1) The first is having a certain perspective about all human beings (including ourselves) that recognizes human frailty, bad choices, imperfections and weaknesses in everyone, and nevertheless accepts, forgives and is kind to all. This is really more of a behavioral and intellectual discipline that is grounded in humility and functional compassion regarding the well-being of ourselves and others.

2) The second is a felt experience of affection that occurs through spiritual practice; this is difficult to describe without personally encountering it, but imagine feeling the same depth of love you might feel for your own child, a favorite sibling or your closest friend, but for everyone and everything at once. This is a profound apprehension that can happen spontaneously in peak experiences of consciousness, or as the result of disciplined mystical activation practices (see my book Essential Mysticism for elaboration of this process, online for free here: Essential Mysticism); in fact that is what many spiritual practices in various traditions seek to induce.

3) The third aspect of “loving everyone” is inherent to the ideas of discernment, skillfulness, and understanding the relationship dynamics in play. In other words, whether we are exercising disciplined humility (#1), or experiencing an aha moment of universal love (#2), we will want to know whether our behavior and decisions have efficacy with respect to loving others — that is, that they have the desired trajectory, interplay and consequences. This also means developing some metrics around this objective, and understanding what “unskillful” love (such as codependence) looks like.

In the highest order of what I call the unitive principle — that is, a mature and skillful universal loving kindness — all three of these facets of “loving everyone” are developed and refined. In fact, that process never ends…it is a dynamic and fluid interaction within and without. But there is an important conditionality to this journey: it is dependent on our level of moral development (or ego development, if you will). We will not be able to operate beyond our level of moral maturity — at least not for sustained periods of time without the possibility of burn-out. This is because love-consciousness has everything to do with our personal identity and attachment to that identity, as well as how expansive or inclusive our identity becomes. This is a much more complicated topic, but here is a chart that shows the progression of moral development and its correlation to both identity and our ability to “love everyone” in skillful and sustainable ways:

Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations

I hope this was helpful.

What could enlightenment mean, for a collective?

I think “collective enlightenment” (or enlightenment across a collective) would involve the following elements or characteristics:

1. Compassion, mutual concern and agape (love-in-action) as the primary driver for all intra- and inter-collective action, with ego taking a distant backseat (where it is present at all).

2. A celebratory cooperation around sustaining the greatest good, for the greatest number for the greatest duration (i.e. the profoundly inclusive good of All).

3. A fairly thorough letting go of judgmental and/or hierarchical differentiation between members.

4. A pronounced attenuation of individual and collective emphasis on ownership, personal status, social capital, economic materialism, self-serving achievement and other I/Me/Mine-orientations.

5. A felt reality of internal and external unity of identity and purpose.

6. A fluid expounding and acceptance of iterative, multiperspectival truth - both in terms of cultural norms and personal beliefs.

7. A marked absence of tribalism, dualistic tension, and Us. vs. Them polemics.

8. A relaxation of acquisitiveness across all arenas (knowledge, wealth, political influence, beauty, abilities, experiences, accomplishments, accolades, etc.)

9. An explosion of individual and collective creative self-expression.

10. Improved skillfulness in actualizing/reifying all-of-the-above.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-could-enlightenment-mean-for-a-collective

Comment from Jeff Wright: "Regarding (7), it’s worth thinking about what “consciousness raising” (i.e. a path towards enlightenment) would look like for a specific collective identity / tribe, such as working class conservatives. How could this be formulated as a Quora question?"

Jeff I’m a big proponent of “creating space” for growth — I think the impulse to evolve (individually and collectively) is present in all of us. In fits and starts and easily derailed, to be sure, but it’s there. What happens to undermine it’s natural unfolding is distraction, substitution nourishment, dependencies and addictions — I use an expanded description of The Spectacle to describe this. Once this interference is removed or attenuated, then the door can open to positive growth and change. But unless and until such barriers are removed, humanity will devolve rather than evolve (or at least be held back) in terms of mature moral orientation and unitive/collective thinking. Their moral creativity will be stunted. So disrupting the status quo and alleviating the collective self-medication and deliberate deceptions must — IMO —happen first, before there is any hope of remedy for the group you allude to. Why first (and not just concurrently)? Because higher-order evolutionary memes are too subtle, too gentle, too nuanced and ambiguous to compete with I/Me/Mine or tribalistic fear. They are just too easy to ignore, dismiss or trample as billions is being spent on creating loud, angry, insistent distractions. It’s like a child in a war zone quietly saying “we should just love each other” as bombs are going off all around her. We need to end the war that has been engineered to keep us from hearing that small, delicate voice of compassionate truth. When folks are relieved of fear, crisis and propaganda, they tend to open up to their own higher Selves. So the question then becomes: how can we end the plutocratic, mostly neoliberal choke-hold on media, the political narrative, religion, conceptions of freedom, economics and so on. I think that is the first step in the process.

What is the difference between liking and loving?


I have what I think is a bit of a different take on this, which has informed my work in couples coaching, individual coaching and in my own spiritual practice and relationships.

First, please have a look at this chart, which I call the Relationship Matrix:



(from: https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/Integral_Lifework_Concepts_Tools.pdf)

When we examine the characteristics of our relationships with other people using the Relationship Matrix, two things usually become increasingly clear:

1. In any given relationship, there may be a different emphasis in each of the four quadrants when relating to the other person.

2. There is a spectrum of combined characteristics from these quadrants that informs our subjectively felt experience of affection and compassion towards other people, and which helps define and differentiate “like” vs. “love.”

For example, couples who fall deeply in love with each other often find a strong intersection in ALL four quadrants. Over time, their relationship will continue to grow and deepen when those intersections persist - even as the emphasis might change and vary. Relationships falter - both initially and over longer periods - when these intersections “get out of sync;” that is, when one party is operating with different assumptions about each quadrant, or is experiencing the relationship differently from the other person in each quadrant.

Lastly, I would say that as we mature (spiritually, morally and relationally), the arena of our affectionate compassion expands outward. We “fall in love” with a larger and larger circle of inclusion beyond our familial and romantic relationships. We first come to care more inclusively - even about things (and people) we don’t particularly “like” - and then we find ourselves wanting what is best for them…and ultimately what does the greatest good, for the greatest number for the greatest duration (i.e. “the good of All”). But what is interesting to me is that, when we are young and immature, we are generally drawn mainly to things and people that we “like” (i.e. have low-level intersections with in one or more quadrants); but when we grow wiser, with more experience and insight, we let go of “liking” as a prerequisite for our interest and concern, and ground our actions and intentions in a deeper, more abiding stream of love.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-liking-and-loving-1

A Healthcare System for California That Could Work



This is doable. To get there, here are what I believe to be the primary considerations for making an affordable healthcare system a reality - in California, or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter:

1. Controlling runaway administrative overhead.

2. Mandating the negotiation of uniform fees for all medical products, services and procedures.

3. Incentivizing positive health outcomes and preventative care, instead of perpetuating a fee-for-service model that maximizes profit instead.

4. Providing a secondary insurance market for boutique or elective medical products and services.

5. Ending direct advertising of healthcare products and services to consumers, and providing better vetted and participatory data for patients to make decisions about their own care.

6. Identifying a reliable source of revenue to pay for the new system.


What we are aiming for here is a way to maintain quality and choice for everyone who needs healthcare and wants to preserve options that are important to them, while containing costs and disrupting perverse incentives. Right now the opposite is increasingly true: choices can be limited, costs excessive, and both care providers and medical product suppliers are incentivized primarily by profit. Here is how we might address these core considerations, one at a time....


1) Controlling Runaway Administrative Overhead

Right now the administrative overhead of private, for-profit health insurers runs upwards of 20%, whereas, in contrast, Medicare administration costs are under 2%. Insurers currently have no incentive to lower these costs - which is likely why they have continued to rise, which has contributed to escalating premiums. Containing such runaway administrative costs does not, however, require us to create a single-payer system. In Switzerland, private (but non-profit) health insurers compete with each other for customers, under government regulations that - among other things - guarantee certain levels of coverage and cap administrative overhead. The focus, of course, is to shift healthcare itself from a for-profit enterprise to a non-profit enterprise. Why? Because illness and poor health actually increase profits in the current U.S. healthcare system, thus creating self-perpetuating perverse incentives.


2) Mandating Negotiation of Uniform Fees

To contain costs, there is no reason that healthcare providers and medical manufacturers should not submit to fixed price negotiations in order to participate in the California healthcare market. Fees can be indexed using a number of factors, such as the necessity for everyone's basic care, production costs plus a fixed profit margin, cost-saving innovations, and so forth. In other words, products and services that lower overall costs while healing chronic conditions and improving long-term health outcomes could be rewarded with higher profit margins, while the more specialized and expensive products and services that simply mitigate chronic symptoms in the short term, and are less curative overall, would be provided much smaller profit margins. The goal here would be to incentivize actual healing and wellness rather than a gravy train of ever-increasing profits. As just one example, pharmaceuticals are subject to price controls in every other developed country, so that U.S. consumer pay between 30% and 300% higher drug prices than everyone else.


3) Incentivizing Positive Health Outcomes

Along the same lines, why could healthcare providers and medical manufacturers be rewarded for improving patient health outcomes (say, above an established baseline)? For example, a primary care doctor who sees more patients and keeps all of them more healthy than his fellow practitioners with a similar patient demographic should receive a nice fat bonus, don't you think? Why should doctors be rewarded for seeing patients more often, or ordering more tests, or prescribing more drugs, if their approaches do not improve the health and well-being of their patients? Again, the system we have now is upside down in terms of incentives. In fact, there should probably also be mechanisms for disciplining doctors, service providers and medical product manufacturers who are either contributing to poor health outcomes, are ignoring proven curative but low-cost approaches, or are otherwise operating in a profit-centric, rather than wellness-centric, orientation.


4) Secondary Boutique Insurance

There will be folks who want special advanced treatments, alternative treatments with as-yet-unproven efficacy, more expensive pharmaceuticals, elective surgeries and so forth - so why should they not have access to those options? This is where the traditional model of health insurance could operate similarly to how it always has - except of course that the insurance would be targeted to inherently more expensive products and procedures. There will be a market for this - even if it is expensive and its related costs continue to rise - so it might be worth the experiment. At the same time, any patient should also be able to obtain a desired form of treatment as an out-of-pocket expense.


5) Ending Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising, & Providing Better Data

The U.S. is the only developed country on the planet that permits pharmaceuticals to advertise directly to consumers. This is, frankly, a ridiculous practice, and has led to countless problems in treating all manner of conditions - both real and imagined. Shouldn't a patient be made aware of all of the options available, including which are most effective, which are most costly, which have been in use the longest, etc.? Of course - but this is not what for-profit advertising offers consumers. Instead, a web-based information clearinghouse that is overseen by doctors and other medical professionals can provide educational information on the efficacy of all manner of treatments and technologies. In addition, patients could also weigh-in with their own experiences, ask questions, etc. It would then be incumbent upon California regulatory mechanisms to make sure the data was accurate, and that contributors are real and not just medical industry advertising bots.


6) A Reliable Revenue Stream for the New Healthcare System

Prop 13 Reform

I think a main component of the solution is obvious and straightforward - because we can fix a gaping hole in California's tax landscape at the same time. Article XIII of the California Constitution needs to be amended to eliminate Prop 13 benefits for corporations, commercial property owners and developers, while retaining Prop 13 tax increase limits for residential homeowners. Since this initiative was intentionally deceptive when first proposed and passed - being sold as protection for retired homeowners with a fixed income, when really it was a huge windfall for corporations - it's long overdue to be amended. And of course the fact that commercial property ownership changes hands more slowly (or more deceptively, thanks to some sly legal maneuvering) than residential property just adds insult to injury - making those same vulnerable homeowners liable for a larger and larger share of the tax burden. The solution? A split-roll tax initiative (or legislative amendment) that keeps the protections for residential homeowners, but returns commercial property taxes to current values. One estimate (see http://www.makeitfairca.com/) puts the annual revenue increase from such reform at $9 Billion.


Closing Other CA Corporate Tax Loopholes


According to a recent review performed by State Auditor Elanie Howle
of California's six largest corporate tax incentives, there is approximately $2.6 Billion in tax breaks that have either never been reviewed to determine whether they are actually fulfilling their intended purpose. One of them, for "research and development," is $1.5 Billion all on its own. And, unlike most other states, California has no regular review process for these tax breaks!

And...well...the rest is math. Let's start with the estimated $400 Billion for the current single-payer proposal (SB-562). If $200 Billion can be reallocated from existing Federal, State and local healthcare funds, that leaves $200 Billion. And if administrative overhead can be reduced by 90% (as proposed above in item #1), then the rest of the funding required could be generated by some combination of: closing California's gaping corporate tax loopholes (#6); proposed pricing controls (#2); the transfer of high-cost or ineffective treatments and technologies to boutique supplemental insurance (#4); a reduction in advertising-generated demand (#5); and incentivizing lower-cost, more highly effective healthcare overall (#3). Whatever costs can't be met by these efforts could conceivably be covered through a variable, progressively tiered tax on all Californians. Also, the proposals I've offered here do not require a single-payer system - though that is certainly one framework that could integrate all of these variables.


Conclusion


There are a number of different scenarios that can successfully provide higher quality, lower-cost healthcare to Californians. The major barrier to such solutions has traditionally been the lobbying of medical service providers, insurers and product manufacturers who profit most when patients either a) don't get well, or b) otherwise require expensive specialties, drugs, medical devices or procedures in an ongoing way. But the current, corporate-controlled environment turns the priorities of healthcare upside down. Lobbyists should not be able to override a common sense approach to fixing these problems in California and other places in the U.S. To date, even well-meaning initiatives and State assembly bills have fallen woefully short of addressing some of these longstanding. If elected politicians cannot be swayed to do what's right for Californians, perhaps we need to approach this issue via the initiative process.


References

This approach to CA healthcare was inspired by the Level 7 philosophy and approaches: see http://www.level-7.org

Also, here is a thoughtful overview of how the current single-payer proposal could work, with some caveats: https://rantt.com/honest-thoughts-on-californias-single-payer-healthcare-proposal-c82c2d0b5d39

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-first-fiscal-analysis-of-single-payer-1495475434-htmlstory.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-drug-prices/

http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/proposition-13-tax-breaks-big-boys

https://www.thenation.com/article/have-california-voters-finally-had-enough-of-prop-13/

https://www.laprogressive.com/make-it-fair/

https://www.couragecampaign.org/press-releases/courage-campaign-slams-passage-ab-2372-smokescreen-fails-address-major-problem

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/dan-walters/article148716959.html

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/Files/Publications/Fund%20Report/2010/Jun/1417_Squires_Intl_Profiles_622.pdf






Are you a spiritual hypocrite?


LOL.

I got a good laugh from this one, because OF COURSE I am a hypocrite - on spiritual and countless other levels in nearly all of my habits. I think it is part of being human. For example:

1. I detest conspicuous consumerism and rail against it constantly…while also consuming beyond what I really need (that is, for the pleasure of consuming).

2. I believe that compassion is the truest expression of spiritual development - and that I have cultivated manifestations of my spiritual Self - but I make choices that are not compassionate all the time.

3. I decry the irrational stupidity of conservative Americans for their self-contradictory choices and reflexive groupthink…while at the same time I will sometimes defend contradictory progressive values without carefully thinking them through.

4. I encourage my clients and students (in meditation, coaching, etc.) to let go of animalistic reflexes in favor of conscious, skillful self-nourishment…but I feed my inner primitive wolf quite often with my own reptilian frustration and impatience.

5. I am confident that the Universe advances along its given trajectory with or without the involvement of my will…but I can still be willful or try to control outcomes in a way that contradicts that belief.

At the same time, I also do TRY to overcome this rampant hypocrisy by adjusting my thoughts, behaviors and responses to align more with my professed values, and avoid situations that would entice me to undermine them more easily. And of course this is like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Ha. But really I think this should flow effortlessly out of my way of being, not in response to conscious discipline. And so for now I must just accept that I haven’t progressed as far as I sometimes wish that I have…and try not to judge myself (or anyone else) too harshly for being a raging hypocrite.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Are-you-a-spiritual-hypocrite/answer/T-Collins-Logan

How does one cope with a spiritual crisis or a dark night of the soul?

Some thoughts:

1. Make sure all other dimensions of your being are fully nourished - relationships, learning, creativity and self-expression, healing from past trauma, physical exercise and a good diet, intimacy, affinity groups that share your other interests and passions, and so forth.

2. Read St. John of the Cross’ exploration of THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. Read both Book I and Book II. Meditate on them. Re-read them. Meditate some more.

3. Have compassion for yourself - be patient, forgiving, and accepting.

4. Let go. Relinquish any clinging to both what you have been and what you expect to become.

5. Read Lao Tzu’s Te-Tao Ching (I like the Robert Hendricks translation)

6. Find support and refuge in a like-minded spiritual community, keeping in mind that the community may not be where, who or what you expect. It may be Sufi or Baha’i; it may be a Buddhist sangha; it may be a Hindu temple; it may be a Christian congregation of an unfamiliar denomination; it may be a Wiccan discussion group; it may be some secular humanists at a Unitarian Universalist church…Be open, check stuff out, and abandon your prejudices.

7. Spend some time with Daniel Ladinsky’s renderings of Hafez.

8. Find an authentic, client-centered spiritual mentor, coach or therapist to help walk you through your experience and provide nonjudgmental support. However…don’t become dependent on them for guidance, but continue to look within.

9. Be careful not to push yourself too far, too quickly. Take a break from spiritual work if necessary; give yourself space and time to process and integrate new insights and information.

10. Read the Bhagavad Gita.

11. Begin to actualize the change in direction you now perceive to be most spiritually authentic. This also doesn’t need to be rushed…but it very likely does need to happen. The most fruitful and facilitative changes in circumstances will arise of their own accord…if we open the door to that process.

12. Disruption of routine is a normal consequence of spiritual crisis…but it is also important to watch out for distractions, old defenses, denial and destructive impulses, any of which can derail positive consequences.
13. Read Lex Hixon’s Mother of the Buddhas.

14. Allow yourself to grieve. There is real loss along this path.

15. Remember that we are never fully aware of where we are in our spiritual journey - and in any case we aren’t where we think we are. However, two helpful metrics I have found are these: How sincere is my felt experience of compassionate affection right now? How sincere and present is my expression of that compassionate affection - towards my own being, in my interactions with those around me, and in consideration of All That Is?

My 2 cents.


From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/How-does-one-cope-with-a-spiritual-crisis-or-a-dark-night-of-the-soul/answer/T-Collins-Logan

How do I turn myself from a negative to a positive thinker?


My thoughts on this:

Get plenty of physical exercise, high quality sleep, and healthy nutrition.

Address unresolved issues from your childhood via psychotherapy.

Have at least five meaningful relationships (including friends, family, lover) in your life at any given time, and make sure to remain regularly engaged in all of them.

Stay away from alcohol altogether, or drink very moderately (one or two drinks a week).

Avoid stress - especially a stressful job.

Stop judging, start loving.

Let go of trying to control things.

Forgive yourself.

Take responsibility for your own mistakes, but do not take responsibility for anyone else’s.

Do something you really enjoy at least three times each week.

My 2 cents.


From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/How-do-I-turn-myself-from-a-negative-to-a-positive-thinker/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What do you consider to be the limits of your responsibilities both personal and social?

Personally I don’t believe there are any limits to my responsibilities other than pragmatically; that is, what I can realistically accomplish. Fundamentally, I owe everything I have, am and will ever be to my society, and likewise am deeply indebted to every personal relationship in my life for nourishing and nurturing me and inspiring me to grow. What mitigates my responsibilities - that is, the quality and extent of my “response” to these incredible gifts - is my time, energy, accessible resources, life-balance, integrity in adhering to my own values hierarchy, and the priorities, agreements and contracts I have already committed to. In other words: where one area of indebtedness competes with another area of indebtedness, I am forced to prioritize and of necessity exclude some actions. There is only so much time in a day. However, if I had unlimited time, unlimited resources, and unlimited personal energy, then my responses from a place of affectionate compassion (on a good day) or dutiful obligation (on a baseline day) would be equally limitless.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-do-you-consider-to-be-the-limits-of-your-responsibilities-both-personal-and-social/answer/T-Collins-Logan

San Diego's Dirty, Not-So-Little Secret

[Please note: this article was updated on Jan 12, 2017 with new and corrected information]

San Diego Smog circa 1974 - Photo Credit Don Taylor, Creative Commons License 2.0


Really Bad Air

Did you know that San Diegans breathe some of the most polluted air in the country? And that the closer you live to one of our many highways, the worse your health risks will be?

Anyone who has lived in San Diego over the last decade has probably experienced this more than once: Waking up at 3:00 a.m. to an acrid, eye-watering, lung-burning stench; coughing and wheezing while rushing around to close all the windows in the vain attempt to keep the bad air outside; then burrowing back under the blankets in an equally vain attempt to escape the worst effects. Since I moved to San Diego in 2002, the frequency of these pollution events seems to be increasing. Of course, it also depends on where in San Diego you happen to live. When I had an apartment in Pacific Beach, the bad air was present almost every morning on weekdays, but quickly dissipated with the rising sun. Now, living in East County, the "home invasion" of wicked smells occurs just once or twice a week, usually in the middle of the night. Again, though, the frequency does seem to be increasing...and the intensity of the stench is getting worse.

So what is going on? Is this just a natural consequence of living in a single-driver car-addicted society? That has been a frequent criticism of neighboring Los Angeles and its surrounds, where smog events and air quality health alerts are much more prevalent. And there is data to back up the assertion that most of the smog comes from cars - along with plentiful jokes and anecdotes about Angelinos driving two blocks from their house to purchase a bottle of water. And although there are similar statistics for San Diego's increasing traffic, I think the "car culture" argument is really a massive red herring.

And here's why. Anyone who grew up in the U.S. will remember the days before emission standards, testing and control technologies. That high, almost fruity and acidic aroma from the back of a running vehicle was just a fact of life in the fifties and sixties. Cars stank. So let's call that "classic old exhaust" - or C.O.E. for short. Then, in the 1970s, health concerns prompted Clean Air legislation, and catalytic converters were required in U.S. passenger vehicles. Over time, as older cars aged out of what was driving on our streets, car exhaust smells began to change. Occasionally we would encounter the rotten egg plume of a failing catalytic converter, and there might still be an occasional 1960s VW Bug or restored Mustang that would blast us with a reminder of the good old days, but for the most part the worst offenders were being removed from the roads.

Or so I thought.

After I moved to San Diego and was assaulted by high concentrations of pre-1970s C.O.E., I just didn't understand what was happening. In Seattle I had lived right next to two major highways for years, and never had to breathe air this acrid and toxic. What was was causing this? I wrote emails to different researchers at universities in San Diego, asking what they thought the reason could be. I received no response. I called them and left messages. Still no response. I then emailed the San Diego Air Pollution Control District with the same question. I received no response. I called the San Diego APCD and left messages - twice. No response.

So I began to speculate. What could be the source of all this nasty air? Were there a growing number of cars on the road that were somehow evading emission controls? As if to confirm this suspicion, I began to notice that, while driving behind certain newer vehicles in slow traffic, I picked up on the pre-1970s C.O.E. odor. I would then look at the plates of these newer vehicles to see where the cars were from, and discovered that, most of the time, they had Baja plates from Mexico. Most of the time...but not always. Sometimes the vehicles had current California registrations. When I asked around regarding these observations, San Diego natives confirmed that not only did most Mexico vehicles not require the same emission controls as here in the U.S. (not even catalytic converters), but that many people would buy the cheaper Mexico models, bring them into the U.S., and then work out various ways to get around emissions testing and other requirements when they registered them in California. It was also not unheard of, they said, for vehicles made in the U.S. to be sold across the border, only to have their catalytic converters removed and emissions controls deactivated before being driven back into the U.S. The converters weren't needed in Mexico, after all, and were worth upwards of $100 each.

What? Seriously? Was this really that common...? And as if in answer to my incredulity, within the next couple of months I witnessed the San Diego Police Department performing "spot checks" of vehicle emissions on the side of the road. These looked like the setups police use to funnel potential DUIs into a checkpoint - with the cones, flashing lights and multiple police cars. But instead of having drivers take a breathalyzer, the police tested the exhaust. Here is more on these random "Mobile Smog Checks:"

http://www.mercurynews.com/2013/05/10/surprise-bay-area-drivers-have-cars-examined-at-random-smog-checkpoints/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoTCSRgvPaM

http://www.policestateusa.com/2013/routine-smog-checkpoints-impede-california-roads/

Apparently, these random checks could become more sophisticated and widespread in the near future:

http://www.smogtips.com/remote_sensing.cfm

According to a California Highway Patrol contact that I spoke with, the mobile smog checkpoints the CHP facilitates are an effort of the California DMV and BAR to ensure that local Smog Check stations and technicians are not circumventing good practices for emissions testing. As such, the mobile testing stations are a potential source of revenue for the State, as expanded by AB 2289 (see https://smogcheck.ca.gov/pdf/Citations_Penalties_AB2289_2_13_13.pdf). In addition, one vehicle testing resource I spoke with also indicated that some mobile stations are set up specifically in areas where local communities have expressed concern about potential violators. In both cases, the ongoing investment in technology and human resources makes it clear that uncorrected emissions violations and re-failures of corrected issues are a real problem. Here are some charts from the BAR's 2016 Smog Check Performance Report that use this roadside data to illustrate the long-term and ongoing problem:





That said, I didn't think much more about this until a few more years had passed, and the C.O.E. events became worse and more frequent. Eventually, after my wife Mollie began to suffer serious health effects from the bad night air - and I myself was getting headaches and interrupted sleep when the stench woke me up - I filed a formal complaint with e APCD. At long last I received a call from an inspector at that agency. And you know what he said? Unless I could pinpoint the source of the pollution, and the exact times it regularly occurred, his agency could do nothing. I explained that I thought it was from cars without emission controls, and was the most extreme around 3 a.m., though at irregular intervals of days or weeks. Apologizing, he indicated that "general vehicle traffic" was not under his agency's jurisdiction. He apologized, but said there was nothing he could do.

I then contacted the Ombudsman's office of the California Air Resources Board, where I was invited to make public comment at a Sacramento Board meeting. As I live in San Diego that's not something I can easily do, so I was then referred to an emissions researcher at a private company. He was extremely helpful, and clarified many of the moving parts involved in regulating emissions here in California. His recommendation was that I contact the Bureau of Automotive Repairs, as they are the agency who would be most involved with end-user violations here in San Diego County. I then filed a complaint with the BAR, so...we shall see how that pans out. However, BAR can't do anything about polluting vehicles with Mexican registrations that are driving across the border....


So, apart from moving away from the horrific San Diego air for the sake of our health, what are the options?

First, here are some points of research to consider:

1) According to https://transborder.bts.gov, as of July 2016 a combined total of about 100,000 trucks and 2.5 Million passenger vehicles were entering California from Mexico every month on average, and these numbers remained fairly constant throughout the previous year as well. From the known profile of commuting and commercial activity between U.S. and Mexico, we can also be fairly certain that the majority of these vehicles do not meet U.S. vehicle emission standards, and that many if not most do not have catalytic converters.

2) The only substantive consideration of pollution impacts from Mexico's vehicles was triggered by some NAFTA-related laws and court rulings about truck transport - and only truck transport. These allowed more trucks to enter the U.S. - and travel further into the U.S. - without complying with U.S. emissions standards (see https://www.arb.ca.gov/enf/hdvip/bip/naftamextrk.pdf). At one point, the EPA stepped in to provide Mexican truck-drivers at some border crossings with upgrade grants for their vehicles to bring them up U.S. standards (see http://archive.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/04/11/20110411arizona-mexico-truck-pollution-regulation.html). In a somewhat ironic development, however, Mexico then loosened restrictions on pre-2007 U.S. truck sales in Mexico, so that any U.S. fleets that weren't compliant with 2007 emissions standards could be unloaded by U.S. companies there. This, in combination with the NAFTA-related increase in Mexican manufacturing and exports, meant that a large number of pre-2007 trucks were snapped up by Mexican transporters...and driven right back across the border to either pollute U.S. air...or receive taxpayer-funded EPA upgrades (see http://www.logisticsmgmt.com/article/nafta_blowback_fueling_used_truck_boom_south_of_border_in_mexico). Again, however, this is only attempting to address commercial trucking, not passenger vehicles.

4) According to the EPA, transportation is responsible for some 50% of nitrogen oxide, 30% of VOCs, and 20% of particulate pollution (see https://www.epa.gov/air-pollution-transportation). Although non-road sources (trains, boats, planes, etc.) do contribute to these numbers, the most acutely felt impacts of pollution in urban areas are from on-road vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.). And the denser the traffic and closer the proximity of residences to major traffic routes, the greater the health risk to those residents (see http://now.tufts.edu/articles/big-road-blues-pollution-highways).

5) The American Lung Association has consistently rated air quality in San Diego with an "F," their worst rating. This is mainly the result of ozone pollution, which is of course a consequence of fuel combustion - roughly half of which can be linked to on-road transportation for most of the year. However, historically and currently, nearly all other pollutants (particulates, CO, NO2, etc.) have also sustained higher averages in San Diego and the rest of Southern California (see http://www.usa.com/san-diego-ca-air-quality.htm).

6) Health impacts from this level of pollution are severe. Many researchers have made the comparison between living beside a highway and smoking. And even living in a town with moderate vehicle pollution levels can effect health over time - in particular, ozone and particulates increase risks for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as risks for cancer, reproductive harm, developmental harm and premature death (see https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/air-pollution/ and http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/).

7) Catalytic converters reduce emissions of CO, hydrocarbons, VOCs and NOx, which in combination with sunlight create ozone. ("Ozone formation is driven by two major classes of directly emitted precursors: nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). The relation between O3, NOx and VOC is driven by complex nonlinear photochemistry" - see http://www-personal.umich.edu/~sillman/ozone.htm). In combination with other, now standard emission control technologies in U.S. vehicles, catalytic converters reduce these emissions by up to 90%.


The 72% Solution

Taken altogether, where does all of this data lead us? Well, we have a good approximation of how many vehicles are crossing the California border each day, to drive through and around San Diego County without catalytic converters. We don't have exact figures on how many vehicles registered on this side of the border are trying to cheat on smog tests, but from my informal records of the routine assaults on my olfactory I've experienced while driving in San Diego over the past decade, I think that number would have to be at least 10%. Without exact numbers or AADT data that is user-friendly from California DOT, can we come up with a rough guestimate of what percentage of vehicles are driving around San Diego County each day that might be categorized as "gross emitters," or contributing directly to unhealthy levels of pollution? Sure. Just using AADT for I-5, I-8 and I-15 to propose a baseline (from http://www.interstate-guide.com/), then subtracting the in-bound cross-border traffic from Mexico in combination with an estimate of local smog-cheaters, how about:

(87,000 + 65,000 [10% of 739K-87K]) of 739,000 total vehicles = 20.57%

If we then adjust for trucks (which average just 3.7% of total traffic, but contribute 11% of on-road emission volumes), we arrive at a possible number of 22.83% of total vehicles on the road daily. But that isn't an accurate percentage of the pollutants those vehicles contribute, since we haven't adjusted for the lack of catalytic converters. Being generous, we could say that this 22.83% actually contributes eight times the ozone precursor pollution (per vehicle) compared to vehicles with catalyzed emissions. Which is how we can arrive at roughly 72% of the ozone-precursor pollution from on-road vehicles being produced by vehicles without catalytic converters. If my guestimates are correct, then just over half of these are vehicles driving legally across the border, and just under half are being operated illegally by folks who circumvent smog checks.

72%. And we wonder why, despite such rigorous smog enforcements on California drivers, Southern California has such crappy air....

Even if these numbers aren't exact, we're still talking about an enormous volume of PREVENTABLE pollution here. If I'm only half-right, addressing vehicular polluters from Mexico - and intercepting smog cheaters and re-fails of smog-checked vehicles that reside in San Diego County - would have a huge impact on quality of life and health in San Diego.

It would sure be nifty if this unhealthy problem could be addressed soon - before my wife and I are compelled to leave San Diego for good.



For more info:

U.S. Air Pollution Wiki:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_pollution_in_the_United_States

California Traffic Census:
http://dot.ca.gov/trafficops/census/

San Diego GHG Emission Data for On-Road Vehicles:
http://catcher.sandiego.edu/items/epic/GHG-On-Road1.pdf.pdf

Would a psychologist understand enlightenment experience in a patient or would it be perceived as irrelevant garden variety delusion?

First and foremost in any therapeutic relationship is pursuing what is most beneficial for the client. The therapist’s spiritual beliefs and practices are separate from this - though of course they may influence therapeutic choices. What is more relevant is whether the client’s beliefs and practices are beneficial to them, or causing distress. And even if they are causing distress, the objective would be to alleviate that distress rather than reform a client’s entire belief system or dismiss it as delusion. That would be pretty irresponsible. A skilled therapist can even utilize the spiritual convictions of a client (along with other techniques that have proved efficacious) to help a client through what they perceive as a spiritual crisis - and this can happen whether the therapist shares those beliefs or not. Again, this is about what is beneficial to the client. Now of course this would also be true of delusion…but again the delusion need not be contradicted or dismissed out-of-hand, and only requires attention if it is interfering with well-being or day-to-day functioning. To give an example let’s say a client says, “I’m totally in love with this person but because they don’t want anything to do with me I just want to kill myself.” Okay well their earnest emotional conviction has everything to do with why they are suffering, but a solution has a lot more to do with how to manage emotional impulses and suicidal ideation than negating that belief (or treating it as unreal, delusional or suspect). In fact, for some personality and cognitive disorders, if a therapist betrays even the slightest skepticism about the validity of a client’s emotional state - if they so much as hint that it isn’t real or important, and that the client needs to accept this - then the therapeutic relationship will be finished. Kaput.

So I suppose my point is that it doesn’t matter - at all - if a psychologist understands, appreciates or recognizes an enlightenment experience in someone they are treating. What matter are outcomes. And so all that a therapist should be concerned with is how the enlightenment experience is impacting their client. Is it having a positive, constructive and enriching effect? That’s great! Is it having a debilitating, paralyzing, depressive or anxiety-producing effect? That’s not great, and the question becomes how to help a client manage their responses to the experience. It’s really that simple.

Now in my own work I of course have encountered this issue often. I have taught courses in meditation, helped people through spiritual crises, and generally encourage a deepening of spiritual experience. But what if a person’s spiritual journey is destroying their relationships, their health, their happiness, their means of support, etc.? Unless such destruction was the deliberate objective the client expressed when they sought my help, then my job is to help restore balance. That is one reason why the emphasis in Integral Lifework (what I teach and coach) is nurturing all thirteen dimensions of self. Spirituality is only one dimension, and all dimensions need to support and harmonize with all the others. Overemphasizing one or more of these is just as injurious as neglecting one or more.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Would-a-psychologist-understand-enlightenment-experience-in-a-patient-or-would-it-be-perceived-as-irrelevant-garden-variety-delusion)

Revolutionary Integrity: Chaotic Transitions vs. Compassionate Transformation



There is a potent mythology circulating within our modern Zeitgeist that revolutionary transitions must be chaotic, disruptive and destructive. I think this is a mistaken assumption, but it is grounded in reliable observations and experiences that permeate history, psychology, biology, spirituality, politics and personal growth. First we can take a look at those evidences, and then some alternative examples from which we can discern a more sensible course for constructive change.

Where did this investment in chaotic transitions come from? Here are a few of the enduring memes circulating today:

• From ancient times, the Greek, Judeo-Christian, Hindu and other mythological metaphors of violent destruction and rebirth: the fiery rebirth of the Phoenix; the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (and other “dying-and-rising God” narratives – see Dying-and-Rising-God); the Great Flood myths; and the trials and temptations of the Hero’s Journey (Campbell); the chaotic End Times scenarios from various spiritual traditions, etc.

• Milton Friedman’s theory that, in order to implement a new policy or system, one must engineer an economic and/or political crises, accelerate a nascent crisis, or simply take advantage of a crisis in process at a regional, national or international level. Friedman demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in different countries during his lifetime in order to promote a neoliberal ideology. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism explores this process in vivid detail.

• Clear evidence that, in natural ecosystems, death is a necessary component of ongoing viability: one species will routinely consume another; parents must die for their offspring to flourish; evolutionary adaptation generally follows a fitness advantage passed on and refined in subsequent generations; and so on.

• The belief embodied in many spiritual traditions that each individual must relinquish a sense of self-importance or ego-identity in order to grow spiritually; a “death-to-self,” obliteration of individual ego, or realization of “no-self” is a necessary component of spiritual maturity.

• “Hitting bottom” in the Twelve-Step tradition. In this view of addiction and recovery, a person’s self-destructive behaviors must first produce substantive and irrefutable damage in their lives before they will consider seeking help or beginning the road to recovery.

• The observations of historians, philosophers and economists that cultural revolutions and societal advancements throughout history have been facilitated by highly volatile historical circumstances, rebellious grass-roots movements, new information or disruptive technologies. From religious wars to new economic systems to new forms of government to advances in individual and collective freedoms, turmoil seems to have been a reliable precursor for change.



However, I think this widespread assumption that chaotic transitions are inevitable is no longer as reliable as it perhaps once was. There are a number of reasons for this, and here are what I believe to be the most important ones:

• Superagency – Individually and collectively, humanity has exponentially increased its power through communication, transportation, industrialization, militarization and other technology. This has an amplifying effect on both deliberate outcomes and unanticipated ones, so that each personal, regional and cultural choice produces an enormous cascade of enduring consequences. In this context, previous patterns of death and rebirth cannot apply; the scope and reach of human will have now obliterated any Phoenix opportunity. And as our technology and population footprint expands, compassionate transformation must replace chaotic transitions as our standard of change – or the human species and possibly even the Earth itself are not likely to survive.

Exponential Complexity – This is close kin to superagency in terms of its impact on change. The level of complexity with which the modern world operates – and upon which an ever-increasing number of human beings rely for existence – has surpassed the level of any of the take-down-and-rebuild upheaval witnessed by previous eras. Our systems of commerce, resource distribution, healthcare, global transportation, energy, food production, education, research, innovation and just about everything else require extraordinary coordination, standards-based planning and specialized skillsets to implement and maintain. Rebuilding such complexity in a new form from the ashes of chaotic collapse is simply unrealistic and naïve.

Strong Evidence for Alternative Approaches – For me this begins at the individual level, witnessing how client-based psychotherapy grounded in trusting relationships are so much more successful than confrontation groups or highly directive approaches; because empowering the client allows them to heal themselves and keep using tools to maintain their own well-being. In organizations, I have witnessed firsthand the constructive impact of shifting from top-down management styles to more inclusive, bottom-up decision-making as the result of a voluntary choice to empower workers – and of course this has been documented in many places (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workplace_democracy). Elinor Ostrom’s research on Common Pool Resource Management schemas arising organically around the globe also has demonstrated the viability of bottom-up, collective decision-making. On larger scales, throughout recorded history we have successful nonviolent movements in many countries (see Nonviolent Resistance and Nonviolent Revolution). Although the outcomes often involve compromise, nonviolent approaches have provided a more fluid avenue to healing and reconciliation among opposing viewpoints (for more information on nonviolent action, visit http://www.aeinstein.org/). And finally we have the evidence of state initiatives and referenda in the U.S., and of a more pervasive direct democracy in Switzerland at all levels of government, which came about without a single riot or drop of blood.


In my own efforts to envision and reify positive change on many different levels, I have sought to explore and embody transformative practices and ideals that are fundamentally constructive, additive and synergistic – a multidialectical synthesis rather than an inherently dominating or destructive process. Which is why I am calling this compassionate transformation. It involves these primary components, the details of which are discussed in more detail throughout my writings about Integral Lifework:

• An acknowledgement of personal responsibility, consciousness and planning to bring about constructive change; a commitment to personal agency must supersede reliance on institutional agency or externalized dependence – which ultimately lead to disconnection, apathy and self-disempowerment.

• The persistent guiding intentionality to work toward outcomes that provide the greatest good, for the greatest number of people, for the greatest duration – doing so skillfully, in ways that acknowledge and support both obvious and obscured interdependence.

• A focus on nourishing, nurturing and strengthening all dimensions of being in ourselves and others, with the primary aim of exercising compassionate affection, but also to encourage moral maturity and higher altitudes of individual and collective moral function. Our core strengths, resilience and creativity will issue from these mutually supportive relationships.

• A profound investment in understanding, respecting, including, honoring and celebrating diverse experiences, perspectives, cultural traditions and levels of understanding in all participatory mechanisms, while at the same time integrating them (in the sense of interculturalism), rather than encouraging isolation or separateness. Here we appreciate our togetherness, necessary interdependence, and uniqueness all-at-once.

• Patience and acceptance with the process of healing, educating and transforming self, family, community and civil society. This will be a difficult challenge. There will be setbacks. All of us are likely to stumble through confusion, loss, distractions and emotional turmoil; there will be internal chaos in the midst of liberation. And the only meaningful answer to this pain is self-directed compassion - a stubbornly enduring love-consciousness.


At the same time, I recognize that some things do pass away in the process; the synthesis may sometimes be subtractive regarding previous perspectives, memes, values systems or ideologies. For example, regarding the state of our current political economy, we do need to disrupt the status quo’s glamorous spectacle of excess and distraction, built as it is on unsustainable overconsumption and self-absorbed materialism. Together, we must prompt an awakening of conscious participation from our fellow worker-consumers, and definitively end the exploitative reign of owner-shareholders. And yes, this will likely involve attenuation of individualism, acquisitiveness and ego. But it is not necessary to drag “the man behind the curtain” out into the public square and flog him to death, or burn his palace to the ground. We can wreak havoc on the illusion, overturn the banksters’ tables, and eliminate complacency and dependency among our fellow citizens…without inducing chaos or a complete breakdown of society. Instead we can remove the curtain, throw open the palace gates, inspire and educate mass movements, and demand pervasive change – all without rancor, murder or rage. The more profound difference between compassionate transformation and chaotic transition in this regard is that our grounding attitude is a letting go – a careful, caring and tempered relinquishment of previous patterns, rather than their violent or aggressive destruction, oppression or repression. Passion with compassion; activism with humility. This is not passive by any means, but accepting, supportive, nonjudgmental and active from a place of loving kindness; it just invites the same collective participation it designs into reforms, and doesn’t excuse itself to lord it over others “for their own good.”

This combination of reasoning is what led me to promote what I call revolutionary integrity. Many throughout recent history, from Gandhi to Friere to Martin Luther King, have expressed the intuitive logic of embodying the values one desires for the future in the current modes of revolutionary action. Carl Boggs, Wini Breines and others wrote extensively about this idea with respect to sociopolitical movements of the sixties and seventies, describing it as prefigurative politics. Many years earlier, Ralph W. Sockman said this about the issue: "Be careful that victories do not carry the seed of future defeats." And long before this, a rebel from Nazarus told his overzealous disciple: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” So this is really the core of what revolutionary integrity is about: we are just amplifying the assumption that, if we don’t embody our values in a transformational process, we will in fact sabotage the outcome. The means must embody the ends. There will be re-synthesis and adjustment along the way – that is obvious, as ideological and methodological purity almost always obstruct common sense solutions – but this does not mean that our quality of dialogue, standards of ethics, the vision towards which our incremental steps lead, the intensity of compassion with which we regard all participants, or the humility by which we relinquish personal opportunities at power for the common good will ever be compromised in any way. But if we insist that crisis is a necessary precondition for change, we will be inviting crisis to be an integral part of whatever new systems we invent.

In a very real sense, our lingering attachment to the idea of chaotic transitions is a substantive impediment to collective progress. It is a sign of our vestigial attachment to patterns of behavior which probably made sense when ancient tribes found themselves under constant threat of conflict, resource scarcity, existential uncertainty and violent power struggles. It is much like an abusive family’s expectation that all their communication and emotion be mired in excessive drama; or how a codependently enmeshed couple might catastrophize all disagreements and disconnections; or how someone with a personality disorder might threaten to commit suicide if someone doesn’t return their phone call. And perhaps it will take a generation or two of promoting holistic, multidimensional nourishment, healing from trauma, breaking familial cycles of abuse, and relaxing PTSD-like cultural reflexes in order to fully open ourselves up to more complete and effective ways of compassionately being. But I sincerely believe that is exactly what we need to do to both envision an egalitarian, thriving future for humanity, and to actualize it.

My 2 cents.

The Problem of Feminine Power: Testosterone, Cultural Evolution & the 2016 U.S. Elections

Western culture has a problem with empowered women. From a historical perspective this is easy to observe – and we’ll cover some of that briefly – but the more interesting and relevant question is: why? Why have women been so persistently held back, oppressed, dismissed, denigrated, ridiculed, shamed and abused both institutionally and culturally in so many Western societies? Why, in a country like the U.S.A. where liberty and opportunity are so highly prized, have women been subject to these same prejudices? And lastly, it seems obvious that any cultural currents underlying the denigration of women are particularly relevant in the 2016 U.S. election – but what is really going on here?

About the history. Some potent reminders of the subjugation of the feminine:

• Around 85% of the witches executed in Europe and the American Colonies during the witch hunts of the 15th through 17th centuries were women.

• In medieval Europe, women who spoke their minds in public – or challenged their husband’s authority – could be subjected to public shaming via iron masks that they wore for a day or longer.

• It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that women began to receive substantive rights to their own property in the U.S., Britain and Europe; before that, husbands and fathers controlled their property.

• The post-enlightenment awakening to the importance of higher education for women resulted in the first all-women colleges in the mid-1800s and a growing concern for primary school education for girls all around the globe. Up until this time, however, it was mainly men who were encouraged to pursue education (other than in a religious context, such as Catholic convents). In many Muslim countries, however, female education has trended in the opposite direction in recent decades.

• Women’s suffrage around the globe is a particularly glaring indication of female disenfranchisement: it wasn’t until 1920 that women had the right to vote in the U.S.; 1928 in the United Kingdom; 1944 in France; 1946 in Italy; 1952 in Greece; 1954 in Columbia; 1955 in Cambodia; 1990 in Samoa; 2015 in Saudi Arabia.

• In terms of basic human rights, 189 members of the UN felt it imperative to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981. As of this writing, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, Iran, the Holy See and the United States have refused to sign on.

• Considering that women in many parts of the United States – and many parts of the rest of the world – still have challenges asserting both their reproductive rights and their right to equal pay, we can see that the double-standards regarding female empowerment persist into modern times.


Shaming Masks - Photo Credit Craige Moore, Creative Commons License 2.0


Is this longstanding prejudice in the Western world a consequence of religion? No. The mistrust and disempowerment of the feminine has nothing at all to do with religion – though religious institutions have happily taken up female oppression and regressive conservatism in service to their parent cultures. As Christianity has been the dominant religious institution in the West, we can explore it as an example. In the New Testament, Jesus is a radical feminist for his time. He elevated women’s positions above cultural norms, honored female disciple’s behaviors and attitudes above his male disciples, responded to women’s requests and admonishments even as he chastised men's, ignored cultural prejudices around female sexuality and physiology, and forgave women of their most culturally despised sins. And, for a time, this liberation of the feminine endured; in the early Church, women held positions of authority, influence and honor. In fact, there are only two short Paulian verses in all of the New Testament that place women in subjection to men, and there is a high likelihood that those were introduced (“interpolated”) into the scriptural canon long after the earliest Christian texts were written. (For more on this topic, see this excerpt from A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament.)

So what happened? Pre-existing culture happened. Everywhere we look in those first few centuries of spreading Christianity, the surrounding cultures were astoundingly oppressive toward women: beginning with North African culture, Jewish culture, and Roman culture…and eventually arriving in Northern Europe. These were societies where women were treated as slaves, traded like chattel, and sometimes killed (“exposed”) at birth because they were less desirable than male offspring. And as Christianity gradually gained institutional authority in these regions of the world, it also gradually adopted the dominant memes of those cultures. Jesus’ example and the practices of the early Church regarding women were almost completely abandoned. So what began as a seemingly deliberate attempt to liberate women was often turned on its head in favor of existing cultural traditions.

Now Northern European cultures are an interesting, diverse and complex study in themselves – so can we really generalize about “anti-feminine” sentiments in this way? I think we can, mainly because of the historical evidence. We know of only one European culture that had hints of strong matriarchal traditions, and that was the Picts, whose culture and language had been diluted, assimilated or erased by the end of the first millennium. But, as alluded to, the West isn’t the only place where women are second class citizens. Many North African cultures have a problem with empowered women as well. And here again it has nothing to do with religion, colonization by Northern Europeans, or any of the other lazy explanations that are frequently invoked. Take for example female genital mutilation and child brides – these traditions predate the arrival of Islam, Christianity and the northern invaders by centuries, and persist equally across these cultures regardless of the dominant ethnic, religious, economic and political orientations. For example, Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country with completely different geography, ethnic groups and politics than Mali, a predominantly Muslim country; but they both practice FGM to an astonishing degree (74% and 89% respectively), and child brides are bartered off at about the same rate in both places (41-60%). Here again, cultural traditions seem to be the dominating factor, far outweighing any other influences.

But we must return to the why. Why are women so habitually denigrated? One theory that has been advanced by anthropologists and other researchers is that the cultural value of women was higher in peaceful and resource-abundant regions of the world than where resources were scarce or there was more competition with other inhabitants (see Hayden, Deal, Cannon and Casey). As the theory goes, because men had the physical advantages to become successful hunters and warriors, men gained prestige and authority in environments where those traits were important, and women’s roles became more supportive or subservient. Another theory posits that the introduction of writing and literacy pushed institutions and cultural authority away from the holistic and concrete oral traditions perpetuated by women, and into a linear, abstract and reductionist realm dominated by men (see Shlain). Another theory promotes the idea that the advent of privately owned land, agriculture and animal husbandry introduced the idea of reproductive ownership and control of resources through inheritance, where provable lineage and female reproductive capacity became essential mechanisms of patriarchal power that men felt compelled to control (see Ryan and Jethá). Yet another theory is that male-centric, warlike tribes steeped in cultural habits of domination invaded more egalitarian, cooperative and peaceful regions where women participated as equal partners, and proceeded to subjugate those cultures to the warlike-masculine-dominating archetype (see Eisler).

Although all of these theories have interesting evidence and merit, I don’t think any of them adequately explain female oppression. There is simply something missing – something more fundamental, more persistent, more universal…and more inherent. What is it? Well I think the underlying issue centers around the relationship between testosterone and similar dietary, cultural and physical habits that have arisen independently around the globe. Yes…you heard me: testosterone and dietary, cultural and physical habits. Bear with me here, as I think this will all come together nicely. To appreciate how this synthesizes, we need to understand something about human physiology: specifically, we need to appreciate the effects of testosterone on human behavior and development. Here are some of those well-documented correlations. Testosterone:


1. Beginning in the eighth week after conception, testosterone stimulates fetal differentiation to become male.

2. Strongly influences development of muscle mass and strength (and retention of these over time).

3. Has tremendous impact on sexual desire and impulses.

4. Increases feelings and expression of vitality, aggression and confidence.

5. Strongly correlates (and changes) with position of social dominance (higher testosterone reflects a higher position of dominance) and a desire to compete.

6. Seems to correlate with increased objectification of sex partner as a means to gratification (higher testosterone = higher objectification; interestingly, there is evidence that estrogen has a similar effect).

7. Offers strong correlations with violent criminality (higher testosterone levels in the most violent criminals).

8. May contribute to impatient, impulsive, risk-taking personality traits.


We should note that there are genetic predispositions, socialization, learned behaviors and other factors in play as well in all of this – and that correlations between certain behaviors and testosterone may indicate more of cofactor relationship than direct causality – but for now the details of those discussions will remain outside of our scope. Also, we should appreciate that many of these correlations are equally true for both women and men. What, then, in the most simplified terms, stimulates or sustains testosterone production as people age? Here are some broadly held conclusions regarding that:



1. Intense exercise, especially in bursts of activity and using the largest muscle groups.

2. Intermittent periods of fasting.

3. Having lots of sex, and lots of thoughts about sex.

4. Low carb, low sugar, low grain, high protein diet that includes healthy fats.

5. Receiving regular doses of Zinc (oysters, crab, other shellfish, beef, chicken, pork, beans, garlic, mushrooms, spinach, whole grains).

6. Receiving regular doses of Vitamin D (seafood, egg yolks, beef liver, beans, mushrooms, cheese).

7. Maintaining low levels of body fat.

8. Consuming foods with BCAAs (like cheese and cottage cheese).

9. Engaging in aggressive, risk-taking or violent activities.

10. Maintaining a competitive, dominance-oriented worldview and behaviors.



Can you surmise which cultures – historically – have promoted nearly all of these testosterone-enhancing components of diet, cultural values and physical habit as part of their societal norms…? Quite interestingly, most of them happen to be the very same cultures that have dominated the globe for centuries. Speaking specifically to pre-industrial proclivities of British, European and (post-colonization) North American cultures: what were the dominant features of day-to-day living in terms of diet, social mores and activities? Consider the habits, attitudes and appetites of explorers, the colonizers and imperialists, warmongers and revolutionaries…all those dominators who reveled in engineering competition and subjugating others in every aspect of life? Certainly we could have a chicken-and-egg debate around which came first – high testosterone levels or the conditions that helped to maintain them – but the historically prevalent power brokers and change agents in these cultures seem to be poster children for testosterone-enhancing lifestyles.

We can then even piggyback onto Jared Diamond’s hypothesis in Guns, Germs and Steel, asserting that perhaps testosterone has been one more actor that helped facilitate the Eurasian hegemony. And inherent to that testosterone-reinforced dominance (or at least thematically and biologically consistent with it) is patriarchy, male chauvinism, and general devaluation of the feminine. Even when women are themselves “masculinized” by testosterone and testosterone-enhancing activities, they likewise become aggressive, competitive, dominating, risk-taking and violent – establishing their primacy over everyone else who is “weaker.” Thus a primary feature of testosterone-reinforcing diets, culture and physical habits could at once be both the subjugation of other cultures, and the principle of “masculine” dominance, objectification and commoditization of others – from slaves to sex workers to sheeple...and most certainly "the weaker sex."


Testosterone-Dependent Dominance Systems

Now when we take a moment to step back and think about this hypothesis, one thing that rapidly becomes clear is that much of modern Western society is no longer conforming to its historical testosterone-producing advantages – at least not in many substantive ways. Habit-wise we have become much more sedentary, are consuming a lot more sugar and carbs, are gaining a lot of weight, and are generally amplifying the preconditions for Type II Diabetes in several ways. We are also exposed to a host of industrially produced antiandrogens (pesticides, insecticides, phthalates in plastics, and parabens in soaps and pharmaceuticals) that disrupt testosterone expression. Which begs the question: is the same level of testosterone-induced behavior still in play? Well I think it is…but only for those who succeed within the vestigial socioeconomic systems, traditions and institutions preserved from earlier eras. Remember the correlation between social position and testosterone? Well when human beings deliberately operate within a system that encourages and rewards aggressive competition, dominating tactics, oppression of anyone perceived as “weaker,” physical and sexual prowess, and patriarchy, the primacy of testosterone and its ongoing production is also encouraged in those who dominate. And that symbiosis amplifies itself over time, as testosterone in turn reinforces the attitudes and behaviors that produce it. It is a classic “The Wolf You Feed” dynamic where the testosterone-rich dominate the testosterone-poor.

Which is certainly one reason why – in our competitively capitalistic, hierarchically corporatist, domineeringly commercialized culture – men receive more pay than women, owner-shareholders lord it over worker-consumers, law enforcement perpetrates violence against citizenry, girls are sexually objectified at a young age, nearly half of all women experience sexual assault, the Stanford Prison Experiment had such predictable results, and nearly half the electorate fears allowing an empowered and experienced woman to become POTUS. It all fits hand-in-glove. And it doesn’t seem to matter how cooperative, genteel, educated, mutually supportive, peaceful or egalitarian a society becomes – the tyranny of testosterone can still undermine all such progress and reverse cultural evolution toward fascist sentiments and masculine-authoritarian leadership styles. More than just promoting a “Strong Father-Ruler” archetype to quash any spark of matriarchy, the tyranny of testosterone becomes a biological imperative to perpetuate reproductive primacy and control. In a pervasive – perhaps even global – societal reflex to stave of cultural male menopause, the fear of feminine power has become a sort of mass hysteria; irrational to its core, but also grounded in the physiological realities of the developed world that explicitly or implicitly erode testosterone-dependent dominance systems. One has to wonder whether the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the developing world isn’t at least in part another indicator of this same hysteria: men seeking to reassert masculine power as they see it being eroded around them.

Thus feminine power is not merely about a woman having positional influence, it’s about a woman exercising power dynamics that are alternative and contrasting to testosterone-related, "traditionally masculine" ones. It’s about a different mode of social organization, a different flavor of collaboration, a different pattern of interaction and communication, indeed a radically alternative political economy. Is it time to let go…? To elevate and embrace feminine power, and attenuate the masculine? I think it probably has been for some time, but even as the collective balls of society continue to shrink, the more conservative and fearful elements of our culture thrash against the inevitable, hoping through their frantic, last-ditch efforts to secure just a little more time for testosterone’s rein. And so we arrive at the 2016 election, where the archetype of feminine power has at least partially been embodied in Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, by contrast, has clearly expressed himself to be shaped by traditional masculine power, with no hint of the feminine and a clear discomfort with anything resembling feminine power. And now Hillary, as the Democratic nominee for U.S. President, has become the sole locus for cultural male menopause hysteria, with all its attendant fears and worries around demasculinization. But it is not because Hillary is a woman and Donald is a man that this archetypal tension runs so deep – it is because they each represent such different orientations to power…and to testosterone.

Before concluding, I think it responsible to at least give a nod to men’s movement. I actually think that issue of oppressive gender roles applies equally to men, in that men often feel trapped in the same cultural expectations that should concern all equal rights activism. In terms to causality or blame, it doesn’t really matter that the mechanisms that brought, for example, male dominance of civic institutions into being were “patriarchal” or “misogynistic” by nature, if the roles and responsibilities regarding men that are championed or imposed by those institutions are subjectively oppressive for men. For example, the gender inequality we find in military service, or high-risk jobs, or how custody and child support are awarded, or the imposition of a breadwinner role, or indeed differences in suicide rates and criminal sentencing. In these areas, the men are definitely at a disadvantage, and any remedies we seek to enable greater equality should take such disadvantages into account. In this context, I think we should be aiming for a clearer demarcation between what I have described as testosterone-driven attitudes, proclivities and behaviors, and what “should” define masculinity. In fact I think we can point to testosterone as a central actor in the systemic oppression of everyone - both women and men. That said, I realize that I have probably reinforced a dualistic gender bias by referring to masculine and feminine power…so perhaps we need to come up with a more gender-neutral, multidimensional language in such discussions. In this sense, it appears I still need to escape the cultural conditioning of my own language, as I have admittedly been immersed in some fairly radical feminism from a very young age.

To wrap things up, there are currently a few contrasting theories about the impact of testosterone on human cultural development. One indicates that lowering levels of testosterone in humans around 50,000 years ago facilitated more prosocial behaviors, and therefore stimulated the first art, technology and blossoming of culture (see Cieri). Another goes to the opposite extreme by asserting that testosterone is responsible for critical masculine functions and advances in human civilization (see Barzilai). Another hypothesis elevates the role of cultural conditioning in how much testosterone is generated in certain situations, indicating that biology itself is shaped by culture and reinforces that culture (see Nisbett & Cohen, and Richerson & Boyd). It is this last theory that I think is the most interesting, because it indicates a more nuanced relationship between the internalized beliefs that result from cultural conditioning, and how our bodies respond and adapt to culture according to those beliefs. The implication is that our choices and experiences over time will shape both our individual psychology and collective cultural evolution – not just in how we consciously shape our institutions, but in how our internal hormonal cocktail conforms to, and facilitates, those societal expectations.


For further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_rights

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testosterone

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_motivation_and_hormones

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiandrogen

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-objectification/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/200905/the-testosterone-curse-part-2

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201205/the-triggers-sexual-desire-men-vs-women

http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2012/07/27/increase-testosterone-levels.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/men/features/can-you-boost-testosterone-naturally#1

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/in-depth/testosterone-therapy/art-20045728

http://www.medicaldaily.com/chopping-trees-increases-testosterone-levels-more-sports-plus-natural-ways-men-boost-hormone-253849

http://www.catie.ca/en/treatmentupdate/treatmentupdate-185/nutrition/can-vitamin-increase-testosterone-concentrations-men

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260793461_Hormonal_contraceptive_use_and_the_objectification_of_women_and_men

https://today.duke.edu/2014/08/feminization

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/712842.html



Parental Alienation: Clever Villainy, Mental Illness or Somewhere In-Between?

Dark Desert


First some definitions….

From the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parental_alienation):

“Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members.[1][2] It is a distinctive and widespread form of psychological abuse and family violence —towards both the child and the rejected family members—that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce…”


From a Psychology Today series (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201304/the-impact-parental-alienation-children):

“Parental alienation involves a set of strategies, including bad-mouthing the other parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child (forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent), forcing the child to reject the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose between the parents by means of threats of withdrawal of affection, and belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent….There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children…and it is a largely overlooked form of child abuse.”


From the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization (PAAO - http://www.paawareness.org/):

“Parental alienation (or Hostile Aggressive Parenting) is a group of behaviors that are damaging to children's mental and emotional well-being, and can interfere with a relationship of a child and either parent. These behaviors most often accompany high conflict marriages, separation or divorce…These behaviors whether verbal or non-verbal, cause a child to be mentally manipulated or bullied into believing a loving parent is the cause of all their problems, and/or the enemy, to be feared, hated, disrespected and/or avoided.”


It might seem as though most parents who attempt to alienate their children from an ex-partner know what they are doing: they are trying to sabotage their children’s relationship with the other parent. However, this may not be the case. What is their underlying motivation? Is it an inability to forgive perceived wrongs? A stubborn drive for vengeance? An irrational fear that they will lose their children to the other parent’s affections or perspective if they don’t actively alienate that parent? A realization that their own inadequacies may become more apparent if they don’t fix as much blame as possible on their ex? Some loss of sanity to a delusional alternate reality where they actually believe the other parent is perpetrating horrible things on their children? A projection of one’s own fears and childhood abuses onto the other parent? An underlying personality disorder that is triggered by the stress of separation or divorce? Some combination of many or all of these factors? And, perhaps most crucially, even if they are aware of these motivations, are they able to consciously manage their response?

These have been some of the questions my wife Mollie and I have asked ourselves on a weekly – and sometimes daily – basis over the past twelve years regarding her son and daughter. Although her ex had a history of ongoing physical, emotional and psychological abuse toward family members in the years preceding their divorce, the divorce itself seemed to throw him into a crazed spiral of controlling, acutely abusive and alienating behavior that created tremendous additional stress for everyone involved. Mainly we have wanted to understand his motivations so that we could respond in the best way to protect the children and deescalate the drama. What was the wisest course of action? Our eventual conclusion – after much counseling, research, meeting with attorneys, etc. – was that we would actively avoid “counter-alienation” behavior, keep communication pathways open with her ex to facilitate the healthiest, most cooperative decisions possible for the kids, and allow her daughter and son come to conclusions about their father on their own. Whether this was actually the wisest course is still a difficult question – and we’ll revisit that later on in this article.

Thankfully, in the last few years, both children have begun to realize that most of the fear-inducing narrative their father had invented around my wife and me was not true, and they have distanced themselves to varying degrees – either from their father, or from his delusional machinations, or both. But of course offering the space and time for each child to come to this conclusion independently was not an easy decision for us to make…and we are still second guessing it even today. After all, the alienation persisted for nearly a decade…couldn’t we have done something more to protect the kids? Adding to this doubt, both children have expressed the sentiment at one time or another that they felt abandoned by their mother because they were subjected to their father’s delusions, control and abuse seemingly without any intervention or help. And seeing their pain around these feelings of helplessness and abandonment just adds to our own distress and doubt. So is there anything we could have done differently…?

Faith


Our first encounter with the concept of “parental alienation” occurred during consultations with an attorney. The attorney quickly identified the symptoms and shared some resources about it, including a book written by his partner in that law practice. One of the first things those resources pointed out was a correlation between Borderline Personality Disorder and parental alienation, and frankly all of the alienation behavior before and after the divorce fit that diagnosis like a glove. But again, what could be done? It was the attorney’s recommendation that Mollie pursue full custody by showing the court evidence of her ex’s bizarre antics, and the harm this was doing to both children. Of course, in order to arrive at this point, the attorney had already used up all of his $2,500 retainer, and we found ourselves out of funds. Mollie was working part time, I had been writing a book (The Vital Mystic) full-time for the past year, and for the kids’ sake we of course were not planning on moving in together anytime soon. In addition, we were already accruing significant debt to provide resources the kids needed (family therapy, a family vehicle, a safe neighborhood and living environment, etc.). Over the next few years, all of these efforts to support the kids while navigating the ex’s extreme alienation tactics would lead both of us into severe financial hardship. So despite our best efforts, we simply did not have the resources to move the full-custody option forward.

But what, you might wonder, constitutes bizarre and destructive parental alienation behavior? I think it’s important to provide a few illustrations of the kinds of things this ex was doing throughout the divorce and for years afterward. Most of this could be categorized as “amplifying his own victimhood and all the wrongs he believed the children should know about,” which Mollie and I had somehow facilitated. Here are some examples; keep in mind that the children were ages eight and eleven when all of this began:

1. Whenever the children were with their mother, her ex would call them several times each day to interrogate them about what they were doing, where they were, who they were with, and what their mother was up to – all in an attempt to manage or correct any situation he didn’t like. The conversations were intense, caused both children a lot of stress, and frequently lasted over an hour. Whenever he couldn’t reach the kids by phone, the ex would fly into a manic rage, escalating his threats with Mollie until he got his way.

2. Despite seldom involving himself in the children’s education previously, the ex insisted on becoming the sole parental contact at their school, attending all parent-teacher meetings alone, making sure that he was the only emergency contact, and making it very difficult for their mother to assert she had 50/50 custody as per their agreement.

3. Despite previous years of harsh, authoritarian parenting that included corporeal punishment, the divorce transformed the ex into a “Disney Dad” who was now excessively indulgent with both kids, ignoring any discipline or agreed-upon accountability around their diet, school, behavior, medical treatments or any concerns that he would have inflexibly mandated and controlled prior to the divorce.

4. In what was probably one of the most harmful and inappropriate decisions, the ex spent hours sobbing in front of the children, repeating a story that he was “all alone now” and that they were “all he had,” that he couldn’t bear the thought of being without them, and that any betrayal would kill him. This ongoing grief and drama encouraged each child to feel guilty about any time spent away from their father, and resulted in Mollie’s daughter sleeping in the living room with her father (on a separate couch) nightly. It also increased the stress and drama around any enjoyment they experienced without their father, making them feel like this was somehow a betrayal.

5. The ex also aggressively played the children against each other, encouraging them to tattle on one another if either one didn’t comply with his expectations. As punishment, if one of the children didn’t report something they had done with their mother – or something they had done with me – that child would receive a cold shoulder for days or weeks afterward. This withdrawal of affection (and sometimes all interaction and eye-contact) was so frightening that both children began to make up stories to please their father’s preconceptions. And they would never, ever admit (even to each other) that they were enjoying themselves when they spent time at their mom’s.

Butterfly Woman Diaries I - Liar


6. The alienation narrative that the ex fabricated around both Mollie and me was heartbreaking and horrifying, but he repeated elements of it almost daily directly to the children or while talking in front of them – as well as sharing it with others in the children’s lives that he hoped to influence or control. Some examples of these fabrications, along with their consequences:

a. A story that, before the divorce, their mother had been sneaking out at night, climbing over the fence to have sex with me. This dovetailed neatly with the delusion that the family had moved from Seattle to San Diego just so Mollie could be with me. These ideas encouraged disrespect and judgment from both children towards their mother and hostility towards me. Often this resulted in simple disobedience, but sometimes it escalated into physical violence towards one or both of us.

b. That I had changed my name when I moved to San Diego because I was a mass-murderer and was hiding from the law. This led to Mollie’s daughter sleeping with a cordless phone and 9-inch kitchen knife under her pillow, and being terrified of spending time alone with me at first. Mollie’s son would routinely find reasons to throw objects at my head or lash out physically until I could distract him with jokes or a game.

c. That both children “should be deathly afraid” of me as a matter of course. This resulted in both children expressing fear towards me whenever they thought their father would be aware of our interaction. On one occasion Mollie’s daughter hid from us when we visited a school performance and the staff asked us to leave; on another, the children were encouraged to share their fears with CPS, with whom their father had initiated a complaint. CPS concluded that the father's concerns were “unfounded,” but the damage was done. Mollie’s therapist indicated that until the ex accepted me, the children would always have to be proving their loyalty to him, and that we should limit my contact with the kids to lessen the strain on them.


7. The ex also coached both children on how to ignore or disrespect their mother's parenting in various ways: they didn't need to follow through with anything their mother asked them to do, could pretend to be asleep when she called to wish them goodnight, should challenge or devalue anything their mother said or did for their benefit, should reject and refuse anything their mother claimed to be "healthy" (food, exercise, sleeping habits, therapy, etc.), and could lie to her about anything that happened at their father's house. At the same time, the ex demanded complete honesty, loyalty and conformance from them regarding his distorted expectations and agenda.

8. As a final layer of frosting on the alienation-cake, the ex would rapidly escalate his threats any time he felt his demands or preferences were not being respected. He would angrily say he would call CPS, or come over to the house, or physically harm me, or “take the kids to Mexico.” As Mollie’s daughter once repeated while on the phone with her father: “Daddy says he doesn’t care if he has to go to jail, but he’s going to come over here....” It was almost impossible to placate this man unless we did exactly what he demanded (or at least agreed to do so), and we certainly didn’t want the kids to be traumatized by louder and more violent drama.

Sleep With The Angels


Of course, when either child was removed from a situation where they thought their father would be watching, listening or somehow find out what was transpiring, they would instantly become much more relaxed. Their natural sense of humor and playfulness would take over, and there would be hours of laughter and fun. But in the early days this was so rare – for both their mother and for me – that it often brought tears of relief whenever it happened. On one occasion, when we all went camping and were out of cell phone coverage, the kids finally seemed to completely relax and really be themselves for the first time – and it lasted a full weekend! But of course their father redoubled his alienation efforts after that (the following week was when the school counselor called CPS…).

Currently, both kids have worked out a lot of what was really going on, and they now have a much better relationship with their mother, and with me. But again…so much damage was done, with so much stress and pain, that both children have suffered permanent emotional and psychological harm; wasn’t their some other approach we could have taken that would have been healthier for them? And, indeed, healthier for us too…? Looking back, with full custody seeming increasingly difficult, the fallback was for us to attempt what most therapists warn will not change the alienation dynamics:

• Waiting for the alienator to calm down, become distracted or have a change of heart.

• Reasoning or bargaining with the alienator.

• Encouraging the alienator to get therapy or help.

• Appeasing the alienator by complying with their demands or making them feel as important as they seem to crave.

• Formal mediation with the alienator or other attempts at negotiation.

And those therapists are absolutely right: for over a decade, none of these approaches worked, because this alienator seemed compelled to fixate on their own power in the situation, circumventing all attempts to moderate their behavior, even if it sacrificed the well-being of their children. All an alienator will do (and what the ex did) is keep trying to control the situation, keep breaking agreements, keeping cajoling, intimidating or persuading people to accept the alienator's delusion, and keep the drum-beat of the alienation narrative going indefinitely (or at least until the children capitulate and agree to reject having a close relationship with the targets of alienation). So...what more can be done? It took us a while to figure all of this out, but probably the best advice and discoveries we encountered along this journey were the following nuggets:

1. Don’t let the alienator’s antics becomes a smokescreen for issues in your own relationships. That is, don’t make all potential drama and upset be about the ex; instead, put the ex in their place. Sure, they are creating a lot of pain, but as much as they would like to be, they aren’t really part of all these other relationships. Mollie and my relationship is separate. Her relationship with her kids is separate. My relationship with her kids is separate. And the more we can operate that way – the more the alienator is forced to be external rather than an internal part of relationship dynamics – the more those relationships can heal and gain their own footing.

2. Encourage the children to see you as your own person. In the same way, divorcing the children’s conceptions of their mother and me from their father’s programming involved relentless positive interaction and distraction from the alienation narrative. Yes, the ex repeatedly tried to sabotage those interactions, but we would just keep on keepin’ on: keep loving, caring, listening, supporting and parenting in positive ways. Eventually, even before the kids began individuating from their father’s influence, the contrast between their father’s version of reality and the reality they saw and felt with us became too great for them to ignore. In this sense, cognitive dissonance is our friend.

3. Find the help everyone needs and participate in the healing process. For both of the kids, therapy became a critical part of an ongoing reintegration and healing process. This wasn’t about the children needing to be “fixed,” this was about exploring what they were feeling and struggling with in the moment (and things that happened in their childhood, when possible) in a safe environment, with Mollie and I fully willing to engage therapeutic dialog with the kids – when the kids were ready for it. It also meant that Mollie and I sought support for our relationship, both in the midst of the alienation and then later as well, when we were trying to understand how best to support the kids’ healing process.

4. Focus all energies on your own parenting and relationship – rather than the alienator. This is really just an amplification of the previous three points, but it really drives them home: the alienator’s absence from all relationship dynamics is a powerful current in the healing process. This means that emotional and physical boundaries remain firm; that children are parented as if the alienator isn’t involved and can’t control the situation; that decisions are made without fear of the alienator’s threats or reprisals; that there is accountability (via law enforcement, if necessary) for the alienator’s extreme actions; that the relationship children have with the alienator doesn’t have to be protected, supported or compensated for; that fear of the alienator and/or sympathy for them is no longer a part of the decision matrix; that the well-being of one’s children is not dependent on placating the irrational whims of the alienator.

5. Keep giving, loving and caring – keep demonstrating affection to an alienated child – even if it doesn’t seem appreciated or acknowledged. This is really the torch Mollie recognized and carried, because she never gave up or stopped trying to reach out to her kids. Yes, she often was forced to give her children space, but she never let go of the possibility of having a healthy, loving relationship with them. So no matter how badly they behaved, no matter how nastily they treated her, no matter what accusations they made or what part of their father’s alienation narrative they amplified… she always created a comfortable living environment for them, always remembered their birthdays, always took them to celebrate select holidays at a swanky hotel, always had a family photo taken at Christmas, always rushed to their aid whenever they were in distress, and was always there with open arms, ready to welcome them home. In fact, Mollie always insisted on inserting herself into the children's lives and upholding the 50/50 custody agreement, no matter how difficult that was, or how unwilling or obstructive other parties might be.

6. Live your life as fully as possible. I think this one gets lost in the jumble of the pain, loss and grief of alienation. Alienation really hurts, and it can seem like all the joy and peace is being stolen out of our lives. But of course there is joy, and adventure, and tranquility, and accomplishment, and goals, hopes, dreams, and of course love. And that fullness of life needs to be embraced and celebrated. To be healthy and whole, to experience all the richness and discovery of each day – these are not optional, but the point of being. And if there is anything that can inspire those we care about to appreciate what we offer them, it is the example of our day-to-day living. In my Integral Lifework practice, one verse of my daily mantra goes like this: “Just for today, remembering the well-being of others, and nourishing them through being whole.”


All of these choices take courage, love, discipline, patience, endurance and resilience. I think perhaps our biggest regret is not realizing many of these things sooner and acting accordingly. But this approach really seems to be the only possible path to healing and wholeness when dealing with parental alienation. That is, unless you have the copious resources required to choose a course to gaining full custody, with supervised visitations. I think, increasingly, the courts are beginning to recognize that parental alienation exists and does tremendous harm, but there still doesn’t seem to be much incentive to remedy it in that environment. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to educate them about this issue and advocate on a child’s behalf. For Mollie, the pain and grief over the years of motherhood she lost to alienation is still fresh, and still difficult to bear. Part of her own healing process has been to express that pain and grief through art, which she has done through many of her paintings shown in this article and at http://www.molliekellogg.com. Her film “A Lonely Heart in the Crowd” also addresses the issue head-on (enter "you-are-magick" if prompted for password):

Lonely Heart Video - password = "you-are-magick"

The question remains: why is it so common that alienators are unable to change their tune or relax the alienation narrative and strategies over years or decades? This brings us full circle to our initial question of motivation. As one take, when we look at how Borderline Personality Disorder develops and presents itself, we may have a window into the inner workings of parental alienation. The Borderline will disconnect from reality, maintain persistent delusions, be strongly motivated by fear of abandonment, exhibit manipulative behaviors which are – for the Borderline – a desperately earnest tool for survival, react with disproportionate rage or despondence when they believe they are not being heard or loved, and generally operate from overwhelming emotional convictions rather than a reasoned or measured perspective. In other words, a Borderline cannot consistently be reasoned with, finds physical or emotional boundaries extremely threatening, will take extraordinary measures to prevent abandonment or rejection, and tends to resist any and all treatment. Essentially, they are primed to become a parental alienator.

I am a firm believer in the genotype/phenotype analogy for most mental illness. A genetic predisposition may be present, but it takes a unique combination of environmental factors to activate those genes – and, once activated, the trait expression is very difficult to suppress or manage. In the case of Borderline Personality Disorder, there is growing evidence that there are strong hereditary physiological factors as well as predictable environmental ones. For example, a Borderline’s myelination of the prefrontal cortex may be significantly reduced or delayed – this is as an inherited condition, and perhaps exacerbated by incompatible environments during development. In this case, going back a generation, we find the alienator’s own mother – claiming she was afraid her son would be taken from her – kept the alienator from any contact with his father’s family. Classic alienation behavior in itself.

So, in this instance, was parental alienation genetically inherited? Was it an observed behavior that was simply repeated? Is it evidence of an underlying mental illness? We just don’t know, in large part because the alienator has yet to take responsibility for his dysfunction and seek help. What is clear is that – just like someone with Borderline Personality Disorder – this alienator still feels tremendous pain and loss around events they could not control, but which were in large part conditions of their own creation.

My 2 cents.



Does having integrity require more than just honesty?

Thanks for the A2A Joel. Yes, I think it does. For example, having integrity means following through on what you say you will do - and that stick-to-itiveness requires willpower and self-discipline. I also think integrity speaks to underlying motivations - being driven by a desire for the good of others, rather than just self-serving impulses. In this sense, I think integrity also implies emotional and moral maturity. Integrity also has prosocial connotations - I think without exception - whereas honesty in the wrong context (or honesty that is insensitive, untimely or calloused) is not considered a prosocial trait. In other words, having integrity is usually perceived as a constructive and beneficial habit, whereas honesty is more conditionally appreciated. Someone could have integrity with the principle of withholding sensitive information that could harm someone, but be perceived as dishonest or uncooperative by some. So in a given situation, one person may value honesty more than integrity, and another person may value integrity more than honesty. Consider a journalist who won’t reveal their source: they may have integrity with their principles, but be considered “dishonest” by an investigator or at trial….

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Does-having-integrity-require-more-than-just-honesty)

When someone is being reactive or ignorant because of their ego, how do I bring them into the now or their true self?

Thanks for the A2A. Some good answers here. I would add some additional options…

- Laugh. Just laugh and accept what is.

- If they are a close friend asking for help, share with them what you are observing about their behavior, while validating their perspective and their feelings at the same time. Ask them what they think is really going on, and listen carefully to their answer in a supportive and empathic way. This takes skill and practice, however your job here is to not be attached to the outcome of your efforts, and to avoid trying to control the other person - otherwise you are just being enslaved by your ego.

- If they are a stranger who tries to engage you on some topic, you can simply ask “You seem very attached to this idea. Why is that?” and see how they respond. Listen carefully. If there is openness, you can go deeper (with empathy and without attachment as in #2). If there is no opennes, then you can thank them for engaging you, politely excuse yourself, and walk away.

- Look within yourself for reasons why you are feeling this way, and see if your reaction authentically stems from compassionate concern, or from a need to challenge or correct others.

- Actively meditate for a few days on the best course of action regarding this person.

- Acknowledge contrition within your heart for judging this person, try to see the Light that radiates from the core of their being (and which ultimately will encourage them to heal and grow), and ask for guidance about how to encourage that Light to shine more brightly in them and in yourself.

- Be so completely present and ego-free in your being that you radiate the suchness of each moment, drawing others to be fully present with you.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/When-someone-is-being-reactive-or-ignorant-because-of-their-ego-how-do-I-bring-them-into-the-now-or-their-true-self)

How does one maintain optimal mental health?

Thanks for the A2A.

What many of the other posts here are hinting at in terms of holistic self-care - what they seem to intuit to be contributive to “optimal mental health” - has actually been systematized in Integral Lifework’s thirteen dimensions of nurturing. Check out that site and take the free Nourishment Assessment to get a taste.

I would add some other factors that are addressed in those thirteen dimensions, but specifically impact mental health:

- Reduce stress - environmental, emotional, relational, work, etc.

- Balance nutrition and reasonable BMI.

- Neuroplasticity exercises.

- Avoid cognitive dissonance (i.e. beliefs that are in contradiction with reality).

- Work through barriers to well-being in each dimension (i.e. shadow work, talk therapy, family of origin issues, CBT for negative self-talk, etc.)

- Love.

- Avoid addictions of all kinds (drugs, relationships, work, alcohol, etc.)

- Healthy and regular social interactions.

- Moral development (transcend your own ego).

- Let go (don’t force stuff to happen and try to go with the flow).

- Don’t participate in conspicuous consumption.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/How-does-one-maintain-optimal-mental-health)

How can I contribute more to society?

Thanks for the A2A. This is a huge question and could take you in many different directions depending on how you begin to answer it. So I’ll focus mainly on that beginning. In order to ferret out how you - with your unique values, resources, perspective and abilities - can best contribute to society, you will first need to:

Clearly define your personal, interpersonal and social values. I saw that you began to do this in your response to one of the answers here, but IMO you could really drill down deep to understand and document what you think is most important in your relationships, your personal standards of ethics, and in what you believe to be societal standards and mechanisms for good.
Clearly understand what you bring to the table. What are you strengths, aptitudes, skills and resources? What is your work style, relationship style and communication style? What are you really good at, and what do you enjoy doing the most?

Begin to explore how your values intersect with your individual strengths, aptitudes, skills and resources. This can be the trickiest part of the process, and it is important to avoid locking yourself into a single trajectory too quickly - instead, you can remain open, and look at what is already being done in the world that resonates with both what you care about, and what you are good at.
Identify communities, collaborators and institutions that support your values and strengths. Make an extensive list of these, research them online, and talk with as many people as possible about the options that already exist (there are likely many!). There are probably whole communities whose philosophy of values and approaches to societal contribution align closely with yours.

Try things on for size. Try out a number of different possibilities that you think will allow your values and strengths to be put to good use. Take some classes in a promising field, do some volunteering at a promising organization or work in an entry level position, engage in some activism with a like-minded group of folks, etc.

Be willing to start something on your own if you need to. For me, it became clear after a few decades of “trying things on for size” that there wasn’t a prefect match for me already out in the world in terms of a career, volunteer organization, community, etc. So I started my own business, wrote exclusively about what I was passionate about, and began more informally connecting with folks who had similar values and concerns.

This can be a lengthy process - it took me nearly twenty years to figure all of this out. So be patient, and persistent. Also, to begin with step #1, check out the Self-Assessment Resources on my Integral Lifework website.

I hope this was helpful.

What actually makes scores of people disapprove of kind/soft males?

Hello Chrysovalantis and thank you for the A2A.

In my experience this is purely a cultural phenomenon. I’ve known men all my life for whom “masculinity” was defined by toughness, harshness, and a certain degree of cruelty or indifference, and an aversion to emotional vulnerability. “To be male is to be mean,” seemed to be the standard. That’s how they were raised by their parents, how their peers also acted, how they saw men portrayed in movies, how their sports heroes behaved in public and so on. A sensitive, kind male growing up in such communities was almost always viewed as someone who (please excuse the coarse language): a) “Needs to go get laid,” b) “Should grow a thicker skin,” c) “Had better man up,” d) “Is a girly little bitch,” e) “Is a weakling and a cry baby,” f) “Should go join the military to toughen up,” g) “Is probably gay.” When reacting to a sensitive male, no compassion, patience, understanding or friendship would be offered.

Until those big strong men needed someone to understand their pain.

Then, suddenly, they would seek out the kind, soft-hearted friend who would listen to their suffering, offer insight and advice, not judge them when they became upset or (horror of horrors) actually allowed themselves to cry. But of course all of this would have to be in private, and when back out in public they would return to their old ways of a tough, implacable brashness.

So if this is the cultural standard that you have encountered…I would move somewhere where the culture is different. University towns tend to have a different standard for masculinity. Cities with lots of arts and progressive politics are often equally celebratory of a kind, soft-hearted male. Blue collar factory communities and rural farming towns tend to revert to the mean male meme - at least in the U.S. and in the parts of Europe I have lived. In any case, cultures differ from place to place, and the are many that embrace what other cultures criticize.

My 2 cents.

(see https://www.quora.com/What-actually-makes-scores-of-people-disapprove-of-kind-soft-males)

Why don't positive thoughts flow like negative thoughts?

Thanks for the A2A Arti. Good one!

So here is my take on this: negative thoughts are a product of millions of years of successful survival of the human species. Pete Ashly touched on this in one of his comments in this thread, indicating we have “a million ways to die and one way to live.” As it turns out, that “one way to live” involves constantly scanning our environment for things that a) benefit individual or collective survival in some way, or b) threaten individual or collective survival in some way. Evolution itself has ensured that we are hard-wired to develop this constant situational awareness. The product of that awareness, in terms of cognition, is that because fundamental structures of the human brain are designed to identify such existential threats and beneficial opportunities, our higher brain functions also tend to mirror those fundamental structures in working out predictions for the near future. In this sense, the impulse to think negative thoughts is really no different that the impulse to have sexual fantasies about someone we are attracted to, or replay memories of enjoyable sexual encounters, or have violent thoughts about someone who feels threatening to us, or imagine how good our favorite food would taste right now, or revisit memories where we achieved something important for ourselves or others - or indeed repeatedly revisit memories where we felt embarrassed or defeated. Again, all these thoughts bubble up from very pragmatic reflexes of consciousness to satisfy basic survival instincts to thrive or perish.

Now one really nifty ability humans have is our capacity to manage this reflexive thought flow in various ways - and indeed to channel our basic drives into what I call the “fulfillment impulses” of our choosing. Allow me to illustrate what I mean. In Integral Lifework, there are four primary drives: to exist, to experience, to adapt, and to affect. All of our motivations, reflexes, habits, strategies and so forth to fulfill these four primary drives can issue from two places: from within ourselves, or from outside ourselves. What others have alluded to in this thread is that modern commercialistic culture is quite adept at conditioning us to rely on exterior guidance and fulfillment, rather than looking within ourselves for resources. “Don’t think, just consume!” And of course this has helped us become very good - and rather dependent - mass consumers. However, the alternative is to take matters into our own hands as far as we are able, and cultivate intrinsic qualities and character that will guide our fulfillment of primary drives, relying more and more on resources from within ourselves. This is a very different mode of being, and can feel quite foreign to someone who is unpracticed at it, but it’s actually a skill that has been practiced and promoted by everyone from meditation teachers to cognitive behavioral therapists for quite a long time now. It is a core discipline of Integral Lifework.

But what is the point of all this? Well, the point is that we don’t have to submit to our seemingly “automatic” negative thought flow, and we don’t have to identify with it either. That is not to say we should reject negative thoughts - on the contrary, we will tend to navigate them more constructively if we can learn how to recognize and accept them in a relatively detached way, realizing “These thoughts and impulses are happening within me right now, that is true…but they are not the essence of who I am.” My having a dream about ecstatically flying through the sky doesn’t make me a bird - nor does it mean I can simply jump off a cliff and fly. These are thoughts and feelings that have meaning, can be instructive, can provide insight and guidance about the self…but they are fleeting events - a map that reflects elements of our consciousness, but not the territory itself.

Further, we can also transform the habits of our mind to bias our thoughts and feelings towards the positive instead of the negative. Remember that there are two factors in play on an instinctive level: resources that are beneficial, and threats to avoid - thrive or perish. Well it turns out that if we practice things like gratitude meditation, or habitual generosity, or letting go of our need to control outcomes, or any number of other constructive habits, our tendency to have negative thoughts will relax a bit. It won’t go away, but we will, as some other answers here allude to, strengthen alternate, more positive pathways for our thoughts and emotions to travel. In Integral Lifework, there is an additional piece to the puzzle: it turns out that in order to sustain positive thoughts and emotions, we also will need to make sure all dimensions of our being are fully nurtured and loved. This is profoundly important, because without support from all dimensions, our generosity can, after a time, begin to feel empty and strained; our sense of gratitude can become more irregular and superficial; our meditation more shallow and scattered. We will, essentially, lack the internal resources to sustain our positivity.

Lastly, there are also issues of personality or disposition, along with the dominant tendencies of our surrounding culture. Some people are just more cynical and pessimistic than others - in my experience, a majority are. Being persistently optimistic is rare enough to even be described in a negative light - as overconfidence, naïveté or pollyannishness. There are also cultural factors, as some cultures seem (as a very broad generalization) more prone to pessimism than optimism. Here again, the pessimists seem to be in the majority, and tend to view the persistently optimistic cultures as either naive, suspect, delusional or megalomaniacal. And within the suspicion and mistrust of the pessimist towards the optimist is the very kernel of the governing negativity: fear. If we or our culture mainly operate from fear, we will be pessimistic; if we mainly operate from affectionate compassion, we will be more optimistic. So part of the shift from negativity to positivity also requires letting go of fear, and strengthening love.

In any case, to explore some of the practices that support positive self-talk, positive emotional cycles and a positive outlook, please check out the ideas, practices and resources in this paper (you can scroll down to read document without downloading it or logging into the Academia website): Integral Lifework Concepts, Tools & Assessments

My 2 cents.

(see https://www.quora.com/Why-dont-positive-thoughts-flow-like-negative-thoughts)

What are the goals and effects of self inquiry meditation on who am I?

Answering the question: "What are the goals and effects of self inquiry meditation on who am I?"

Thanks for the A2A Pete. I had to laugh when I saw this…it’s a big question with a simple experiential answer: try it and you’ll see. So as to be less trite, however, I’ll offer a few nuggets to mull over:

- After seven years of self inquiry Jorge realized there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Self was annihilated and only emptiness filled the place it had once occupied.\

- After fifteen years of self inquiry Martha became God; that is, she recognized a complete absence of differentiation between her Self and the Divine. It was a very humbling experience.

- After a lifetime of self inquiry Wu Wei encountered a unitive substrate of being that consumed all independent and personal aspects of identity, so that all that remained was the Tao.

- After twenty-seven lifetimes of self-inquiry, Advika became extremely bored with the practice and began living her life very simply and without artifice, with an endless well of compassion for everyone around her, and with plenty of time to watch children at play.

As for negative effects: self-obsession, attachment to spiritual progress, and a breakdown of survival functions can occur if more constructive intentions are not cultivated from the beginning. Because of this, whenever any form of meditation is taught, I believe students should be encouraged to set this intention in their hearts and minds, and to try to feel it deeply in their bones, before each session: “May this be for the good of All.”

My 2 cents.

Is material inheritance really a good thing?

Answering the question: "Is material inheritance really a good thing?"

Thanks for the A2A Gustavo.

This is a difficult question from the considerations of perspective, as Jim George points out, and also depends on what is being inherited.

Personally, I think inheritance should be limited to personal possessions. I came to this conclusion through a number of observations:

- The horrible way many siblings behave towards each other when fighting over a deceased parent’s wealth.

- My own emotional treasuring of a few personal items I inherited from my father (a telescope he used almost every night, for example).

- The negative impacts I observed from inherited wealth on families while growing up (which ranged from a lack of motivation in life to a sense of entitlement to persisting guilt to an amplification of mental illness, substance abuse, irresponsible behavior and high risk behaviors).

- The problems inherent to concentrations of wealth (in terms of disproportionate and unqualified influence over other people, over social institutions, etc).

I would much rather see society provide support for everyone voluntarily, in egalitarian ways, through its institutions and support systems, rather than relying on transfers of wealth within families. This would allow everyone the same foundation on which to steer a course through life. Of much more importance, IMO, is the legacy that parents leave their children from the parental examples of character and life choices.

My 2 cents.

Muhammad Ali




I've been confronted with what seems like a fair amount of grief lately - about some small stuff, and about some bigger stuff - and Ali's death came as a shock. Arriving so unexpectedly, it invoked a bizarre dissociation before the tears came. I didn't understand why at first, and then it hit me: Ali wasn't just my childhood idol, he was the tip of the spear for everything I believed defined masculinity for most of my life. Indefatigable courage. Poetry of heart. Eloquence in adversity. Standing on principle. Belief in self. Integrity. Physical prowess and grace. Willingness to speak one's mind, regardless of the personal cost. Intelligence. Persistence. Thinking deeply about one's beliefs, then being willing to abandon cherished plans in order to live by those beliefs. Being multidimensional...and good at it. All of these things and more have remained with me for years, and Muhammad Ali was the anchor that held them in place without my fully realizing it. Even in death, he is still there, grounding the value of these qualities in my psyche; but the living force that so beautifully animated them has shed its mortal coil. That will take some time to integrate.

Now that I have thought about this, I also now know why I have allowed Ali's symbolic presence to languish in my subconscious: It was because he also offered less than positive lessons that have been very difficult for me to learn. That sticktoitiveness can become stubbornness, and stubbornness, in turn, can have tragic costs. That truth can become mean and arrogant, and that this can both undermine its effectiveness and demean the person who speaks it. That idols can have flaws. That physical violence against another human being - no matter how refined and artful in its form - is really just horrific animalism at its core. These lessons do not diminish Ali in my eyes...I don't think the young boy within my heart will ever allow that. That boy will still cheer and prance with delight at every jab and punch that Ali made with his fists and words. But those lessons temper the qualities I so worshipped in Ali back then, and rearrange the priorities of what it means to be a man - even as I am still learning them myself.

What leads to bad decisions?

From What leads to bad decisions? Quora A2A

Thanks for the A2A. Here are some possible contributing factors to “bad decisions:”

- Stupidity.

- Arrogance or overconfidence.

- Willful ignorance (resistance to information, approaches, practices or knowledge that would improve decisions).

- Poor impulse control (lack of self-discipline).

- Mental illness.

- Reflexive conformance (groupthink, tribalism, submission to peer pressure, blind faith, etc.).

- Reflexive nonconformance (teenage rebellion, passive-aggressive habits, criminal inclinations, disregard for social norms, general disaffection, etc.)

- Lack of critical thinking skills.

- Apathy or laziness (lack of motivation to make more skillful decisions).

- Stubbornness or inflexibility.

- Lack of situational awareness.

- Egotism or self-centeredness.

- Substance abuse or careless self-medication.

- High tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

- Being governed by any strong, unmanaged, overwhelming emotion (fear, anxiety, lust, excitement, grief, loss, shame, etc.).

- Codependent relationships and reflexes (for example, always trying to be nice or compliant when someone else is being unreasonably demanding).

- Poor self-care habits (not getting adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition, mental stimulation, etc.)

- Extreme hormone cycles, excesses or deficiencies.

- Lack of experience in a given situation combined with a lack of caution or willingness to seek guidance from someone more experienced.

- Addiction to risky or impulsive behaviors.

- Clinical depression.

- Consumerist external dependency and insecurity (i.e. never looking inward for answers, but always looking to others for a commoditized version of the solution).

- Low self-esteem or negative self-talk.

- Unresolved issues from childhood that require therapeutic intervention.

- Lack of self-awareness or self-knowledge.

- Being deliberately misinformed or manipulated, and not realizing this until it’s too late (for example, what has happened to tobacco users and Nestle baby formula users in the past, and what is happening to Tea Party members and Teflon users in the present).

- Youth (i.e. prefrontal cortex development, general myelination, synaptic pruning, etc.).

- Stress (physical, emotional, relational, etc.)

- Being surrounded (and/or in close relationships with) folks who suffer from a preponderance of any of the above-mentioned factors.

- Becoming socially isolated for long periods of time.

My 2 cents.

Can you still be happy by not being socialized properly?

In answer to Quora question: "Can you still be happy by not being socialized properly?"

Thanks for the A2A. I think Ray Schilling touched on some very good points. Here is what I would add...

First off, I'm not a psychotherapist - and even if I were I'd need to know a lot more about your situation, your diagnosis, and more about you to offer a comprehensive and insightful response to your question. That said, I'll offer some observations about the situation and diagnosis you've shared in your question from the perspective of Integral Lifework:

1. Socialization, friendship and supportive community are essential to your well-being - even if they are limited. However, given your STPD diagnosis, that might best be managed initially through group therapy. Not that you can't find friendships or build a supportive community through things like common interests and activities, but a group therapy environment can help you develop the tools you will need to navigate social situations more effectively - that is, have better outcomes and experiences, to develop a wider spectrum of emotional responses, and to develop more reliable senses of safety, affinity and trust.

2. Romance isn't for everyone, I agree. However, because you mention in your comments that you aren't sure the "true essence of love" actually exists, I suspect it is likely your STPD is inhibiting your ability to feel vulnerable, open and intimate in requisite ways to make romance fully available - that is, where you can feel safe enough for a deeper experience. Therapy can also help with this - as can medication - but more importantly if you develop healthy friendships and regular, satisfying socialization, you will find romantic entanglements to be a much easier "next step." Still...romance is a big challenge, and it has its own learning curve, and that's true for anyone.

3. As for your other expressed desires for a rural lifestyle and to not participate in the "rat race," I'm completely with you there. If you have the means to do so then kudos to you.

I would also echo Ray's exhortation to be patient. All of this will take time and effort. If you find yourself choosing to self-isolate and avoid human interaction as much as possible, this can have outcomes that won't help you in the long run - outcomes like an amplification of certain fears, or increased depression, or poor self-care habits. And these can impact your emotional, physical and cognitive health, along with your felt sense of contentment and happiness. So I would be cautious about fully investing in isolation without at least trying a multi-month course of group therapy. However, I would of course encourage you to consult with your therapist to get their take on the timing of beginning such a course. If you have already tried group and found it too difficult or unproductive, I would encourage you to consider exploring a new group approach, or a different group.

My 2 cents.

How did you end up reversing your opinion on a deeply held belief, and how has it affected your life?

In answer to Quora question: "How did you end up reversing your opinion on a deeply held belief, and how has it affected your life?"

Thanks for the A2A Christopher.

Here are some biggies:

1. For many years I was overreliant on my intellect, placing it above every other method of discernment. This had relatively disastrous consequences for many of my relationships, and for my own health and well-being. So (with the help of therapy, a spiritual awakening, and some very humbling experiences) I began listening to other dimensions of my being: my heart, my body, my spirit. Now I try to balance these input streams when making decisions or trying to understand situations in my life, and that has greatly improved outcomes for me and everyone around me.

2. In a similar vein, I was an atheistic existentialist up until my twenties, then a fundamentalist Christian for a few years, then over about fifteen years I evolved into what I called an "integral mystic." That's the path I've been on for about ten years now. In each of these transitions I revised several core beliefs.

3. Over the past decade or so, I've seen a gradual shift in myself regarding the place of anger in my life. I had always thought anger was sometimes a useful emotion - for example, it helped me set boundaries with difficult people, it helped me motivate myself to change something unproductive about my habits, etc. I held on to the belief that anger was somehow still necessary in my life. But that is changing. I now believe I confused anger with a kind of fierce love - which may look similar from the outside in terms of the emotional intensity, but each comes from a very different place. So I am working on making that interior shift in an enduring way. It is difficult, but it is definitely the result of a change in deeply held perceptions and beliefs.

4. This last change in beliefs is difficult to explain, but it has to do with human failings. I think for much of my life I have held out hope that the world contains people who aren't deeply flawed. Not better than everyone else in some Übermensch sense, just not excessively f***ed up. But that simply isn't true. There are exceptional people everywhere - in fact it doesn't take long to realize how special and interesting each person is, if you listen long enough and pay close attention to them. But everyone (including me of course) also has egregious flaws - and some that are pretty difficult to accept - that they either are unaware of, or hide, or try to control, or inflict on others with varying degrees of damage. And coming to terms with this in the context of compassion and empathy means radically accepting the flaws of others, of myself, and really of the human race itself. And that radical acceptance is what I'm working on, because my heart is more than a little broken by the failings and of people I once held up as examples to admire and follow. The list perhaps two dozen people, some not well known and others more well-known folks like J. Krishnamurti, Thomas Merton, Bill Cosby, Lance Armstrong, and Martin Luther King Jr. Each year it seems someone else is knocked off my romantic pedestal, and so ultimately I find myself agreeing with teenagers who complain that, well, "people suck." And then I let that sentiment go, hoping to return to kindness and patience.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jen Brown: "Can you explain more about anger vs. fierce love? I don't quite understand but I think it's a fascinating insight. Great answer, thank you!"


They can appear similar from the outside, but they feel very different on the inside. Let's say a parent is angrily and viciously beating a young child in a public park. You intervene, placing yourself between the child and their out-of-control parent. The parent begins directing their anger at you, but you stand your ground, insisting that they need to calm down. You explain calmly but firmly that they cannot assault their child this vicious way, no matter what the child has done. The parent then attacks you, and you end up restraining them on the ground while calling the police, all the while explaining that they are out of control, need help, and need to calm down.

It would be very easy to get angry in such a situation. To feel that fire of rage well up from within to fill your body. But that's not the feeling you are operating from. It is much deeper - it is almost like gravity radiating up from the ground, and you are tethered to it. It helps you feel the rightness of your actions, and it gives you extra strength and courage, but it doesn't want to attack. It just wants to defend and stand firm.

It is hard to describe, but there is a distinctly felt difference from anger. It is similar to the feelings we have when we must do something really hard that we know may upset someone or cause them pain, but it is necessary. It is the right thing to do. There can even be a little sadness involved, because we are participating in another person's suffering. We aren't causing that suffering, *but we may initiate consequences for someone's careless or hurtful actions*.

Have you ever broken off a romantic relationship with a lover, knowing it was the right thing for you both, but also knowing it would cause them pain? And, because you still loved them, you did so very carefully, very compassionately, all the while feeling a bit of their pain yourself? When I was young, the only way I could do such a thing was to work myself up...get angry enough to push someone away. But now I know now that was in part because I was afraid of hurting them, afraid I wouldn't follow through, or afraid of the consequences. Well, I believe love casts out fear. As I got older, I was able to be more skillful at "pushing away" when I needed to without having to get angry...I was less ruled by fear.

So I think that is at the core of what I mean: a fierce love that isn't afraid, vs. an angry thrashing that arises out of fear.

How do I correct my behavior of cutting people out of my life for no good reason?

In answer to Quora question "How do I correct my behavior of cutting people out of my life for no good reason?"

Thank you for the A2A Sam Hobbs. And thanks to the OP for the clarifications in your comments.

After reading through answers, comments, etc. there are a few things that struck me. First, I would encourage you to check out the chart in the following Relationship Matrix: https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/RelMatrix.pdf

Notice in that Matrix that there are many different ways to connect with people - and on many different levels - and as along as both parties are aware of (and okay with) the level of involvement, then relationships can operate smoothly and with clear boundaries. The sense I get from reading the OP's comments and insights is that you are an all-in/all-out sort of person. That is, you want to have a high level of connection, honesty, emotional support and trust in your friendships and family relationships, and if you can't achieve that, then you tend to withdraw. There are a number of reasons people operate this way, and you have a number of factors that are likely influencing you, including your youth, your anxiety disorder, and your family history. That said, it is possible to cultivate varying levels of intimacy and trust with people - gradations of friendship, if you will - as outlined in the Relationship Matrix, so that you don't have to feel the need to either completely invest in or completely divest yourself from certain relationships. Sure, there will almost certainly be people at both extremes - those you feel very close to, and those you just can't stand - but there is a wide expanse of "gray area" that you may have yet to explore. And that is what I would encourage you to do. Part of this will be learning how to clarify and enforce healthy boundaries in all of your relationships - both for others to respect, and for you to respect when interacting with others. It takes time (years, actually) to learn how to do this, but it is quite worthwhile.

That said, even at age 51 I still struggle with similar issues; the self-isolating habit you describe isn't something that just evaporates even with healthy and plentiful relationships - or even a lot of therapy (though that can certainly help!). Even if you end up in a long-term committed relationship, and perhaps have your own children and grandchildren, you may still find yourself observing the same patterns much later in life. You may still withdraw, you may still be lonely, and you may still worry that you aren't going about relating to others in an optimal way. And this speaks to something that may have a great deal to do with what you are experiencing right now: self-acceptance. The more compassion and affection we can have for our entire self - with all our limitations and foibles - the more we can both be comfortable being alone when necessary or desired, and be more forgiving and accepting of other people's shortcomings.

Lastly, regarding being confronted with the failings of others, I'll leave you with some advice Marcus Aurelius, a stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, shared many centuries ago: "People exist for one another; teach them then, or bear with them."

My 2 cents.

In respect to religion, spirituality, money and ultimately, life's success, what do you think is the answer?

In answer to Quora question "In respect to religion, spirituality, money and ultimately, life's success, what do you think is the answer?"

Thank you for the A2A Jody Sigmund.

I have spent many years pondering exactly this question, and have come to my own conclusions, which may only apply to me, and which certainly continue to evolve...but I will provide a snapshot of where I have arrived so far, and perhaps that will add something to this conversation.

I do not believe "the answer" can be easily simplified. If I did, I might say it was "love" or "*agape*," but that doesn't really explain all the nuances; it requires further elaboration and definition. So instead I will offer what I intuit to be the primary components of "the answer," though they too require additional discussion and, perhaps more importantly, direct experience to completely grok.

- A felt experience of compassionate affection for self, others and everything that is; a love-consciousness that is operationalized in thoughts, emotions and actions from moment-to-moment.

- Developing an inward awareness - a listening from stillness - that cuts through all the noise to the causal essences of things within and without.

- A reflexive humility and acquiescence if will that learns to let go rather than hold on (i.e. the opposite of willfulness), so that joy and contentment are always easily available.

- A holistic, multidimensional understanding of complex dynamics that invites a neutral holding space for reflection and analysis; in other words, a neutral field of consciousness that permits all variables to peacefully coexist (i.e. is "multidialectical"). There is tension in such a space, but it is a tranquil tension.

- An ever increasing detachment from property ownership and acquisitiveness - and even the concepts of property ownership and acquisitiveness.

- A guiding desire to reciprocate the wonderful gift the Universe has granted by actualizing the greatest good for the greatest number for the greatest duration (i.e. pursuing the good of All).

- Harmonized nourishment of all dimensions of being: creative, social, intellectual, physical, sexual, purpose, legacy, identity, community, spirituality, integrity and so on.

All of these involve a level of self-discipline, to be sure, as well as continued vigilance. They are like exercising muscles to become strong - but this strength runs deeper and radiates outwards and, as an unselfconscious consequence, becomes both a potentially blessing and healing, and potentially disruptive and challenging, presence in the lives of everyone around us.

My 2 cents.

Can somebody tell me is it true that every single person in this world has come to fulfill some specific purpose? Or that is only rubbish?

In answer to Quora question "Can somebody tell me is it true that every single person in this world has come to fulfill some specific purpose? Or that is only rubbish?"

Thanks for the A2A. One of the thirteen dimensions in Integral Lifework is called **"Fulfilling Purpose."** It is defined this way:

"Discovering and actuating a satisfying life-purpose that is perfectly matched to our authentic self, and which supports the focus, strength and healthy expression of our personal will."

The reason this is considered a critical consideration for well-being - an area of life that requires attention an nurturing - is because it turns out to be a central question that most people will ask at some point in their life. And it seems to be rather deeply embedded reflex to ask...and keep asking. So much so that people will unconsciously latch onto some sort of meaning or purpose without much consideration if they don't consciously and actively approach the question. They will, for example, get married, have children, purchase a house, pursue a certain career, attend university, volunteer at a charity, get involved in social justice, or join a religion...all because they feel a strong need to engage the world with purpose, and give their own life meaning, but without really thinking about what they are doing, or why, in a carefully considered way.

So, since this pattern of meaning-making is a nearly universal human habit, there have been memes floating around for a long time that claim everyone has a specific purpose that is uniquely their own. Really I think such claims are an intersection between the real drive that most everyone harbors to find meaning in existence, and the realization that it might be good idea to go about finding such meaning in a conscious way, rather than just adopting what advertisements, entertainment media, charismatic leaders or our family tell us is "the answer" - or to reflexively imitate what everyone else around us is doing. At least that is how I interpret such statements.

But to be more precise - and perhaps more helpful - I would rephrase the statement this way: "If we don't attempt to ferret out a meaningful purpose for ourselves in a conscious way, our purpose will likely either be chosen for us by the agendas of others, or we will adopt some convenient substitution that conforms with societal expectations." For me, this reflects the central concern more accurately. Viewed in this light, the sentiment isn't rubbish at all...it's more of a warning and encouragement.

Lastly, I would say the method of "discovering and actuating a satisfying life-purpose" is also important. In Integral Lifework, this is accomplished by carefully looking within ourselves (through meditation and interior attention and reflection), rather than orienting our search to external answers...or waiting for someone else to show us the way.

My 2 cents.

What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?

In answer to Quora question "What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?"

Great questions and thanks for the A2A. Off the top of my head:

Commercialistic capitalism. This system is built on deception, manipulation, exploitation and theft. It also encourages people to rely on individualistic wage slavery and consumerism to feel "financially secure" in a self-isolating and egotistical way, undermining our reliance on community (i.e. "each other"). It also encourages cut-throat, unethical competitiveness among both workers and consumers. And it replaces mutual trust with contractual and financial obligations that center around protecting private property - and so we are surrounded by boundaries to what other people own, so that all of life orbits around each person's ego-projection "I/Me/Mine."

**Representative democracy.* When you abstract governance from the people, they disengage from each other and from investment in their own political process and oversight of their community. This "delegation" of responsibility and interest in governance tends to undermine collective decision-making and communication in any polity.

Technology. Whether it is technology that allows people to communicate without face-to-fact interaction, or to isolate themselves in their homes (or rooms) to do professional work or watch entertainment, the result is a lessening of human interaction and a perception that "trust" is less necessary in day-to-day life. It insulates us from each other.

What all of these elements share is their inherent disruption of cooperation, bonding and sense of interdependent relationship. They undermine trust because they replace dynamics that require trust with legal contracts, money, convenience, comfort, static role-based relationships (instead of trust-based ones), affluence and technological power. This is why a person feels okay to scream insults from their car at a stranger, or push past someone else to get a better place in line, or self-righteously vote to reduce their tax burden, or be rude to a customer service representative over the phone - because these systems and innovations have distanced them from their fellow human beings, making them feel (falsely) that they do not need to rely upon them.

My 2 cents.

What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?

In answer to Quora question "What are the forces that created a society with little to no trust among it's members?"

Great questions and thanks for the A2A. Off the top of my head:

Commercialistic capitalism. This system is built on deception, manipulation, exploitation and theft. It also encourages people to rely on individualistic wage slavery and consumerism to feel "financially secure" in a self-isolating and egotistical way, undermining our reliance on community (i.e. "each other"). It also encourages cut-throat, unethical competitiveness among both workers and consumers. And it replaces mutual trust with contractual and financial obligations that center around protecting private property - and so we are surrounded by boundaries to what other people own, so that all of life orbits around each person's ego-projection "I/Me/Mine."

Representative democracy. When you abstract governance from the people, they disengage from each other and from investment in their own political process and oversight of their community. This "delegation" of responsibility and interest in governance tends to undermine collective decision-making and communication in any polity.

Technology. Whether it is technology that allows people to communicate without face-to-fact interaction, or to isolate themselves in their homes (or rooms) to do professional work or watch entertainment, the result is a lessening of human interaction and a perception that "trust" is less necessary in day-to-day life. It insulates us from each other.

What all of these elements share is their inherent disruption of cooperation, bonding and sense of interdependent relationship. They undermine trust because they replace dynamics that require trust with legal contracts, money, convenience, comfort, static role-based relationships (instead of trust-based ones), affluence and technological power. This is why a person feels okay to scream insults from their car at a stranger, or push past someone else to get a better place in line, or self-righteously vote to reduce their tax burden, or be rude to a customer service representative over the phone - because these systems and innovations have distanced them from their fellow human beings, making them feel (falsely) that they do not need to rely upon them.

My 2 cents.

How can I be more patient?

In answer to Quora question "How can I be more patient?"

Question details: "I get ticked very easily. Although I try a lot to stay calm and ignore the negativity, there are things that just irritate me to the core. There are only a few people who affect me--perhaps only two or three people. They may talk about a topic which I hate, and which I've told them that I hate discussing, yet they still talk about it. Ignoring it becomes impossible, and I get incredibly angry. No matter how much I try to stay calm, my mind starts to work at the fastest speed possible. My head starts hurting and I know at the end, it's me who suffers. I really don't know how to overcome this."


Thanks for the A2A.

First, I think many of the answers given so far could be very helpful - in particular Jacky Dror's. Second, I would say that learning to be patient takes time. A lot of time - this is still something I am working on, and I just passed the 51-year mark. So one of the first areas you will need to practice patience is in learning patience. That said, here is what I would add, not knowing all the details of your situation:

1. Anger responses can be the result of underlying physiological and/or psychological conditions. Hormone imbalances, sleep problems, dietary issues, environmental pollutants or allergens, situational stressors, unresolved trauma, ADHD, chronic depression...any of these could be factors. So consulting with both a doctor and a therapist about diagnostic testing could be very helpful.

2. Anger responses can become a physiological addiction in themselves, where we seek the release of certain hormones, and so unconsciously create situations where this will occur. One way to satisfy the same needs in a healthy way is to engage in daily vigorous exercise. This can interrupt the anger cycles. Of course, we may then become addicted to exercise instead...but that isn't such a bad thing, right?

3. In my practice, called Integral Lifework, anger and impatience can be the result of some area of your being being neglected or undernourished. You might want to take the Integral Lifework Nourishment Assessment (free) to see what areas may be interfering with your well-being and begin to address those.

4. I would also take a look at what you are putting into your body that isn't essential food. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, simple carbohydrates and even wheat can be frequent culprits in disrupting mood and evoking impatience, frustration and anger. By taking a few months off from consuming these things, you may find your ability to manage emotions greatly improved.

5. It is extremely common for anyone who has had a difficult childhood, or who had neglectful or abusive family relationships, to have trouble managing their emotions. It's almost a guaranteed outcome. And this is where CBT or DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) can be extraordinarily helpful. I'm also a fan of body-centered psychotherapies like Hakomi.

In the meantime, until you can find healthy ways to process the impatience and anger you are feeling, I would encourage you to remove yourself from the situations that trigger this response. Just take a break from them. I'm a huge fan of meditation, and that can also be helpful, but if you keep placing yourself in stressful situations that you know could upset you, the meditation will not have an opportunity to create new supportive patterns and structures in your mind, body and heart.

My 2 cents.