Seeking Discomfort

Seeking Discomfort

“I’m slowly learning how to bring anthropology and mindfulness together. I think they complement each other beautifully, but how to talk about it is a whole other thing. I think it comes down to excavation – what you do physically to understand where people come from. That’s a process of discovery and insight.”

Dr. Michael J. Kimball

Left to Our Own Devices

Left to Our Own Devices

While I’m waiting impatiently for the rest of the world to calibrate to my ideal technology habits, I’ve started to watch myself watch other people peer into their devices as they walk down the street, sit in coffee shops, and stand at urinals.

This impulse has grown into a challenging, but fascinating attention exercise that has lead to some liberating insights that have shifted my reactions to other people’s observable tech habits.  

In a Different Language

In a Different Language

"What we’ve been doing for thousands of years is just trying to piece by piece get some understanding of where we came from, where the universe came from, and where it’s all going. So, to me, that is not distinct from what the poet does or what the philosopher does or what the great writer does or the composer does. They just do it in a different language."

~ Brian Greene

We Need Reminders

We Need Reminders

"The choice isn’t between religion and the secular world, as it is now — the challenge is to learn from religions so we can fill the secular world with replacements for the things we long ago made up religion to provide. The challenge begins here."

~ Alain de Botton

Clusters Based on Similarity

Clusters Based on Similarity

Stories cannot demolish frontiers, but they can punch holes in our mental walls. And through those holes, we can get a glimpse of the other, and sometimes even like what we see."

~ Elif Shafak

The World at Peace

The World at Peace

"The reason that we have the impression that the world is a violent place is that that's what news is about. News is about stuff that happens, not about stuff that doesn't happen, and all the parts of the world that are free of war, that are free of terrorist attacks just don't get reported to us and so we forget about them. We're getting better and better at reporting the violent events that do occur. Something blows up, you can be sure you'll hear about it, but we don't appreciate how much of the world at any given time is at peace."

~ Steven Pinker




It's Not Language that Governs the Connection Between People

Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in The Past (Photo by Carole Bethuel, Sony Pictures Classics)

Excerpts from "Oscar-Winning Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi on Making Movies in Iran," KCRW's The Business, Dec. 23, 2013:

Kim Masters: The film is almost entirely in French. How did you manage that [since you don't speak French]?  

Asghar Farhadi: I moved with my family and we lived in France for two years. I set aside a great deal of time to become acquainted with the melodies of the French language. I tried to become familiar with the daily details of life there, with the way people behave. I had numerous French friends and they were invaluable. But what helped me the most was the fact that the story I had was one that was structured on the basis of the similarities of our cultures, not the differences...

I had several people who acted as my voice. There was one of them who accompanied me constantly, who not only interpreted the words I spoke, but who shadowed me in gesture. When I would move my hands, he would also do the same thing. When I raised my voice, he too would raise his voice. Gradually I began to feel that he was my voice. He was closer to who I was. I remember the day when I said something and then I walked over to the table to pick up a cigarette, and he started interpreting and walked over to the table and picked up a cigarette...

But after a while, I discovered that it's not language that governs the connection between people to the extent that we imagine it does. When people grow close to each otherthrough their eyes, through a kind of an exchange of energythey can grasp a great deal about each other.

With Bérénice, with those children, I discussed matters of great delicacy and intricacy that even in Persian would be difficult to convey.   

Attention Training

Attention Training

"I think attentional skills are fundamentally under siege today. Never before in human history have there been so many seductive distractors in a person’s day, in a given hour, or in ten minutes. There are pingings and pop-ups and all kinds of sensory impingements on our attention that want to pull us away from what we’re trying to focus on."

~ Daniel Goleman

We Are Fundamentally Peers

Excerpt from "You Don't Need a King to Empower You," by Brian Robertson, Big Think: In Their Own Words, May 21, 2013: 

"I think a lot of the cries today are for better leaders, better heroic leaders, better parental figures that will lead us better and I think the interesting power shift that this method I use points to is what happens when we stop asking for better heroic leaders and we put in place a system that distributes power, so that we don’t need heroic leaders to save us, rather so that each of us shows up not as an employee subject to the whims of the broader employer and the leader and the boss, but shows up with our own voice and our own power and our own integrity.

If you’re that leader you can show up and say it’s not my job to process your tensions, it’s not my job to heroically step in and save you, I'm going to process my own tensions as best I can and we’re in an environment where we are fundamentally peers even as we take on different roles and those roles have different authorities.  We can still show up as humans together in a way that owns our reality where nobody is a victim. It takes a power structure to do it in the same way that we shift from our monarchies and feudal empires where there is a clear top-down component into our modern democracies where you don’t need an empowering king."


See also: Holacracy

Other Possibilities

Parque del Retiro, Madrid, August 2, 2012

Excerpt from "Eckhart Tolle, Meditation and the Meaning and Benefits of Inner Peace," by Hugh Byrne, The Washington Post, October 4, 2012:

Have you ever been caught up in a wave of anger, craving or worry where you felt the emotion carry you away like a wild horse you could not control?  Most of us have experienced the strength of these energies and wondered how to work with rather than be ruled by them.

Have you felt such a wave of unruly emotion but been able to bring awareness to it and observe it instead? An important shift takes place: the awareness creates space and allows us to see other possibilities than just acting out whatever we are feeling. This is more akin to riding a horse we have begun to train...

...For over 2,000 years, Buddhism and other wisdom traditions have taught that there is a way out of the stress and suffering that can fill our lives, and a possibility of living a life free of suffering. Mindfulness, the practice of opening fully to our experience in this moment—the joys and sorrows; the good, the bad, and the ugly—is the gateway to this deep freedom of the heart.

In recent years, the wisdom of these ancient teachings has been confirmed by scientific studies, which demonstrate that we can train our minds, change our brains, increase our well-being, and radically lessen such afflictive states of mind as anxiety and depression.

One recent study showed that the structure of the brains of participants in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program changed with an average of just 27 minutes of meditation a day. Results from brain scans revealed an increase in gray-matter density in areas of the brain associated with memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection, and a decrease in density of gray matter in areas associated with stress and anxiety. 

Other studies have shown that meditation may lower blood pressure, slow the progression of HIVreduce pain help break addictions, and even ward off the effects of aging.


We Have to Make It Easy to Become a Genius

Excerpt from Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer:

As Paul Romer notes, “We do not know what the next major idea about how to support ideas will be.” And this is why it’s so important to keep searching for the effective meta-ideas of the future, for the next institution or attitude or law that will help us become more creative. We need to innovate innovation.

Because here is the disquieting truth: Our creative problems keep on getting more difficult. Unless we choose the right policies and reforms, unless we create more NOCCAs and fix the patent system, unless we invest in urban density, unless we encourage young inventors with the same fervor that we encourage young football stars, we’ll never be able to find the solutions that we so desperately need. It’s time to create the kind of culture that won’t hold us back.

The virtue of studying ages of excess genius is that they give us a way to measure ourselves. We can learn from the creative secrets of the past, from those outlier societies that produced Shakespeare and Plato and Michelangelo. And then we should look in the mirror. What kind of culture have we created? Is it a world full of ideas that can be connected? Are we willing to invest in risk takers? Do our schools produce students ready to create? Can the son of a glover grow up to write plays for the queen? We have to make it easy to become a genius.

The Autobiographical Self

From "The Quest to Understand Consciousness," by Antonio Damasio, TED Talks, March 2011:

There are three levels of self to consider -- the proto, the core and the autobiographical. The first two are shared with many, many other species, and they are really coming out largely of the brain stem and whatever there is of cortex in those species. It's the autobiographical self which some species have, I think. Cetaceans and primates have also an autobiographical self to a certain degree. And everybody's dogs at home have an autobiographical self to a certain degree. But the novelty is here.

The autobiographical self is built on the basis of past memories and memories of the plans that we have made; it's the lived past and the anticipated future. And the autobiographical self has prompted extended memory, reasoning, imagination, creativity and language. And out of that came the instruments of culture -- religions, justice, trade, the arts, science, technology. And it is within that culture that we really can get -- and this is the novelty -- something that is not entirely set by our biology. It is developed in the cultures. It developed in collectives of human beings.

Bearing Witness

"Bearing Witness is a trilogy concerned with how we, as a culture, watch ourselves, especially in moments of great emotional significance. With footage culled from mainstream media and television, the single-channel videos (The Eternal Quarter Inch, Somewhere only we know, The Burning Blue) distill moments of sincerity from perhaps insincere sources (televangelists, reality show contestants, screensavers, B-movies). The three single-channel videos each witness interstitial moments of imminence to challenge spectatorship in American televisual culture, continually shifting the role of the viewer between voyeur and participant."

~ Jesse McLean

"Somewhere Only We Know provides a skillfully assembled montage of contestants' faces at the instant when they have been eliminated from the show." ~ The Wexner Center for the Arts

Somewhere only we know from Jesse McLean on Vimeo.