Renewal Twenty-Five : Transforming Affliction Into Vision
Intention is not new in human existence. We have long attempted to affect ourselves, others, and our environments. And part of that intention is deciding what we want. We have surely left our mark upon the planet so far, whatever happens in the future.
Though it has been argued that human drives and human intention are genetically encoded, biologically driven, and environmentally triggered, humans have messed with that encoding, those drives, and that triggering in many ways. And, as I previously asserted, perhaps it is we, and not natural selection and mutation, that are the architects of that code, those drives, and that we are the triggering agents.
Certainly we have chosen mates with whom to propagate, we have domesticated animals and engaged in eugenics, we have messed around with our environment. We have laws and ideas about appropriate behavior, who gets and who doesn’t, and we have often decided who shall live and who shall die. So it is clear that whether we believe that fundamental human drives are biological, environmentally, or cognitively based, it appears that one of our biggest drives is our belief in prediction and control.
All right, a warning is in order. What follows may trigger a headache and disorientation.
Do we really get what we want?
With all of the child molestation in the papers recently, is it fair to say that these children got what they wanted?
What about those that are murdered?
What about the concentration camps or those in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11/01?
What about diseases like cancer or AIDS or heart problems?
What about people dying of hunger?
Sure, this mini-list seems to mix lifestyle choices with things that may have nothing to do with lifestyle. But the point remains, regardless of lifestyle choices, do people get what they really want? The list of arguments against the premise of getting what we want is endless.
Part of this examination includes a few important points.
First, focusing our energy and our attention on what we want does not determine outcomes, it only increases probabilities.
Second, what we want may be driven by what we believe and vice versa–wants and beliefs are intertwined.
Third, individual beliefs and wants interact with others and their beliefs and wants.
Fourth, attending to what we don’t want only increases the probability of getting what we don’t want.
In psychology, this fourth point is illustrated by telling subjects to not think of a white polar bear. Or in parenting strategies, it may be unwise to tell a child to stay away from the cookies. Our attention and energy are almost surely going to go towards thoughts about white polar bears or cookies. In such approaches, we inadvertently reinforce what we don’t want.
Okay–this is part of the headache, are we supposed to avoid telling a child to stay out of the street, or to not run with scissors, or to not talk with strangers? Does making a child or ourselves aware of danger, bring that danger home to roost?
Remember, we are speaking about probabilities. Perhaps we only need to be highly selective when focusing on what we don’t want. Perhaps we also need to balance out that focus by including what we do want. Telling a child to stay out of the street is fine, especially if we tell them where we do want them to play. They are then left with what they can do and not just with what they cannot.
In any case, as we examine the idea of wanting and getting, let’s stick with adults. Children are probably too innocent, filled more with wonder than with wants. In cases such as molestation, maybe that is what brings the predators to them, taking advantage of a child’s wonder and offering such things as children do want, like candy, or money, or attention, or help. Sometimes what people want is clearly not good for them. When it comes to children, it is the responsibility of adults to act as mediators on their behalf.
Okay, so how do we answer if we adopt the we-get-what-we-want template?
Let’s start with those who died in concentration camps. It is as good or better a place as any. But we are going to have to be careful, perhaps it is erroneous to think of the final result as what someone wanted.
What if someone wanted to believe in the goodness of people or that nothing so atrocious as the murder of millions of men, women, and children could ever happen?
Is what happened that they got that belief, even if that belief was naive?
How does the power of such a wanting stack up to the power of wanting to eliminate an element of society?
The likely outcome between an innocent and a predator is that the predator “wins,” because the innocent are armed only with belief and the predator is armed not only with belief, but with the tools to eliminate.
However, the fundamental want, the belief, was what each one (or group) manifested–one manifested a belief that nothing so atrocious could occur and the other manifested the belief that an individual or a segment of society could be eliminated.
All of these people may not have wanted to die, but perhaps part of the problem was that in wanting to believe they were safe, they got that belief (remember, wanting something focuses our attention upon that want, which may detract from paying attention to what is actually afoot).
Wanting and getting the belief in innocence and goodness is something, like all wants, that comes with a price. Focusing on our beliefs and our wants may help them spring into reality, but we must keep in mind that they interact with others and their beliefs and wants.
All right, the picture is becoming clearer, wanting and belief are intertwined, and they interact with other individuals and groups and their beliefs and wants.
So how do we align all of these components so that our outcomes are congruent?
Is it necessary for those that are wanting goodness and freedom to be well-armed because they know that there are others who want differently (or at least have different notions about goodness and freedom), and who are also well-armed?
That brings us to current world affairs, having a bigger gun is a real deterrent (the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence may have articulated the belief in equality and freedom, but was the gun the real equalizer?). The advantage of power adds dimension to the reality of belief and wanting.
Certainly many were (and are) prepared to die for freedom (or any idea). Perhaps the underlying want is to defend and die if necessary for a good cause (however one defines a good cause).
These are odd phrases, “prepared to die for freedom” and “defend and die if necessary for a good cause.” On the surface, they would seem very noble. But I wonder why we are not prepared to live for freedom or for a good cause in general?
In any case, the underlying want and belief may be to fight for freedom or other “good” causes, rather than to actually have freedom or good, a seemingly subtle difference, but a difference that can skew the outcome of realities towards fighting rather than peace.
All right, let’s put down the gun and take up the pen. Is the pen is mightier than the sword?
There are those who stand ready to develop the philosophy that best guides us. A well-developed thought can change belief when belief cannot change itself. A well-developed thought can change emotions when emotions cannot change themselves. A well-developed thought can change wants and desires when wants and desires cannot change themselves.
This is a headache for sure. Oh, what the heck. Let’s hit ourselves in the head a bit more.
Is this true, thoughts can be the great alchemist?
I guess it depends on what we believe. And if that belief is a train of thought, then the answer is yes, thought is a great alchemist. For now, it appears that humans believe, in the final analysis, that force is the great deterrent. As our attention, so are our deeds (inattention isn’t the point here, attention is).
The problem, as it could be argued, is that thought, words, and intent are fine, but the biological system it is intending to influence is 2-million-years old. So we get some refinements, but our biology is such that we need force to back up the verbal finery.
What if we just consider that only well-developed thoughts can change the fundamental nature of behavior (refined thinking leads to refined intention, leads, eventually, to a different genetic makeup, different protein allocation via different inputs on the cellular membranes–in short, a different biological basis of behavior)? This cognitive/biological alchemy could be considered the role of the Philosopher-King.
Well, I see a potential problem. And, at the risk of attending to that problem and thus creating it, I shall venture forth anyway.
Words are powerful and the cognitions that shape language and the language that shape cognitions (and biology I think) can create hierarchies just as surely as can guns and wealth. Yep, language can be a gun of a different sort. If such is the case, we have only exchanged weapons–guns for words. Force, by any weapon, guns or words, is still force. And force may be the quagmire preventing movement to another plane of existence.
This brings us back to belief and attention.
If we look closely at our underlying motivation, where our real attention is focused, we might find we are wanting position more than anything–a definable location relative to everyone else. This does not necessarily mean being on top, it might mean being in the middle, or on the bottom, wherever it is that gives an individual a location that is congruent with their belief, whether they know it or not.
Or perhaps it is just that we are more comfortable focusing on conflicts, including the belief that we have to fight the obstacles in our lives to get what we want.
Isn’t it clear that there are people and events that are nearly impassable landscapes on our journey to paradise?
And if we falter or fail, we have a plethora of excuses–events and others and the conflicts that keep us from the promised land we all so innately know is our heritage.
Well, it does seem clear that if we remain in a reality driven by a frightened-of-separateness-and-need-to-be-special focus, we will surely continue to create a world that needs a plethora of human guard dogs and armament of one kind or another to maintain egos, position, power, conflicts, and excuses.
On the other hand, if we can focus more on connectedness rather than on separateness (we are all unique and similar at the same time), if we can focus more on cooperation rather than on conflicts, if we can see challenges rather than obstacles, then we may have the window to see our real and not our illusory selves. There is the you-are-here X that marks our true position in the context of our lives.
It is much easier to get to where one wants to go if one really knows where they’re at in the first place.
And then we might just discover or create that there was never anywhere “to go.” Losing our way didn’t mean losing a location, it meant losing our vision by clouding our attention.
Ahh, yes. There it is. In the midst of this examination, this attempt at renewal, a little light occasionally comes through the mud on the window of attention.
There are no events or “others” causing me grief, I am simply intending experiences and beliefs, interacting with others doing the same.
Perhaps we once all agreed to provide the roles each of us needed to polish our attention and to see again the essential beauty that is our legacy, our present, and our potential, all at the same time.
It may create a headache for now as I sort it all out, but I also notice my grin about it all.
Perhaps humor is yet another great alchemist, helping to transform affliction into vision.