Which relationships will I nurture today?

Which relationships will I nurture today?

Relationships – at home and at work – require our sustained attention and care. A 75-year longitudinal study from Harvard Medical School (The Grant Study) concluded that the quality of our relationships has the greatest positive impact on our sense of fulfillment.

So here is a resilience practice we invite you to cultivate this week:
I put time and energy to nurture relationships that matter the most.

Spirit in Action Part 3

Spirit in Action Part 3

Spirit in Action Part 3

“Life is a storm. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you human is what you do when that storm comes.”
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Part 1 explored what Spirit in Action is and Part 2 scoped out why this is important at individual, community and planetary levels of function. In Part 3 the question to address is: “What exactly should, could or will I do?”

This is the most difficult challenge to engage with. Our personal responsibility is contentious. Some strive for decades in abject poverty, accumulating tens of thousands of hours in prayer or meditation. Others simply relax into the moment. You might choose to punish the body, discipline the emotions or train the mind. Or, you may choose bacchanalian revelry.

For many today, drifting about in mindless fidgeting, distraction and impulse gratification becomes the default. As we see in burgeoning reports the impact is clearly evident:

  • We spend 10 hours in front of a screen versus 17 minutes active (National Geographic, 2017)
  • The average person will touch, swipe or tap a phone 2,617 times a day (Lewis P, 2017)
  • Our fitness, strength and posture are in decline (Journal of Physical Therapy, 2016)
  • Over 70% take medication and 2% take over 5 medications (Mayo Clinic, 2015)
  • Adults sleep an hour less than needed – teens 2 hours less (Walker M, 2018)
  • We are self-centred and lonely – teen togetherness dropped 40% 2010-15 (Twenge J, 2017)
  • Anxiety (and worry) is a constant companion
  • Depression and suicide continue to increase
  • We have pushed our planet into the 6th great extinction (McKibben B, 2019)

Gyms, diet books, mindfulness, mental health professionals, medicine as a whole and medication have little impact beyond a lucky few. We desperately need a fresh approach.

The question “what should, could or will I do?” becomes interesting. With unlimited freedom to choose combined with the irresistible compulsion to react to short term gratification, most of us have surrendered the quest for higher levels of consciousness.

Many religions have been used on a “should” basis. Authorities decree that people should follow the rules of the church. If we look at the state of many lives, perhaps the approach has merit in our modern world.

What we “could” do is extraordinary. Imagine if we applied modern wisdom, technology and medicine with respect and resolve to human life. This is incredibly exciting. We are clearly capable of immense greatness – peace, vitality, love, clarity and flow. We watch this achievement amongst our athletes, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

Aim high

This vision of actualised human beings has guided the great work of William James, Abraham Maslow, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Ken Wilber and those at the Mind & Life Institute. It is a vision of optimism and hope. In the face of the many challenges facing humanity, it is essential to remember and drill this possibility.

Spirit in Action is a method to frame and guide this journey. If willing and able, here are five deliberate practices that will take you to a much better place.

First, strive to be calm, steady and still in the storms of life. Caught up in the adrenaline surge of fight or flight, we sink to a reptilian level of consciousness. When calm you are healing, moving, feeling and thinking better.

Drill: learn and master contemplative/breathing/relaxing practice 5 min per day

Second, strive to be healthy, energised and dynamic. Illness, fatigue or lethargy makes the experience of enlightenment impossible to sustain. Being able to enjoy vitality is a key part of the experience of connection and joy.

Drill: be non-negotiable in your sleep, activity and nutritional disciplines

Third, strive to be positive, empathic and caring. It is essential to consciously feel and flex your emotions with an orientation towards generosity. The experience of peace, love and joy is diagnostic of enlightenment for many theologians.

Drill: restrain your impulses, generate joy and respect the joy of others

Fourth, strive to be present, focused and clear. Ruminating on the past or fretting about the future causes suffering. When present, we experience each moment in its fullness. Suffering drops away.

Drill: catch your thinking and focus 100% on the present moment

Fifth, live with skill and purpose – particularly in the testing moments. Flow is the state of full engagement with a meaningful challenge. Whether this is in loving prayer, skilled acts of compassion or creative pursuit, your spirit (little self) is in action and you will feel one with Spirit (greater reality).

Drill: define how, where and why you get flow and get a little every day

Accepting wise mentorship on this path of deliberate practice will accelerate your quest. It is very easy to get stuck in eddies when one area consumes too much attention. Many who exercise fanatically clean forget to relax or develop their emotions. Many meditate at the expense of their physical capabilities. Sometimes too much love, can distort our altruism into destructive sympathy.

Our development framework for Spirit in Action

Each of these base categories of discipline can reach levels of enlightenment. Consider the advanced yogi (super-calm), your favourite athlete (grace), Buddhist compassion (love), mathematical brilliance (clarity). They all trend towards flow.

There are many paths available for enlightenment. We live in a wonderfully diverse and creative world because humans courageously pioneer untrodden paths. Use the basic concepts and the lessons of our great spiritual traditions to stabilise and direct your journey. Seek truth, respect and practicality.

At the end of the day you have to choose and walk your own path.

As Gandhi reminds us:

To remake the world, you have to remake yourself.

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Spirit in Action Part 2

Spirit in Action Part 2

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What might a contemporary wisdom embrace? Can we seek to better express a shared narrative that seeks truth and goodness? How do we make this wisdom fit for purpose in 2020?

Part 1 explored spirit from two perspectives. First, the outer journey of connecting to a greater reality (Spirit). Second, the inner journey of integrating our physical, emotional and mental resources to nurture our essence (spirit). Both are basic freedoms for which we are each responsible.

We recognise and acknowledge different spiritual narratives – or religions. Many (see Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy) believe that they share a core wisdom. The core wisdom seeks truth and goodness. Humans, as story-tellers, are free to express the stories that help us make sense of, and apply, wisdom.

Purpose and Direction

More people die from suicide (800,000 per year) than are killed by human violence (21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Noah Y. Harari, 2018). While fulfilment of basic needs has improved, human wellbeing is in decline. Suffering – particularly in terms of anxiety and depression – is overwhelming. Despair is widespread.

The core purpose of spiritual wisdom is to reduce suffering. As we reduce suffering, we experience more joy. This is the direction of spirit in action. It is simple and clear.

  1. Understand and reduce suffering.
  2. Seek to build wellbeing and joy.

The fuel for this journey is hope. Modern wisdom must deliver a message of hope to people. That hope must be built on a good narrative and practical steps one can take to reduce suffering and increase joy. Each person must learn from an early age how to take responsibility for their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. The must believe in growth for it is here that hope lies.

Subjectivity and Inclusiveness

Usage of “I” has trumped “we” in recent decades. Does spiritual wisdom serve the individual or all life? We express a wide range of subjectivity. Some risk health and life to boost muscle mass for a fleeting sense of pride. Others seek a drug or alcohol fix to serve an impulse of joy. Many fiercely serve and defend their tribe, race or nation as we see in modern populism. We may even seek to serve all sentient beings and the resilience of the planet.

This is a wicked challenge. It may be the most crucial responsibility of wisdom. While humans are easily seduced into selfish impulse, we are equipped with empathy and altruism. We spontaneously seek to reduce suffering. We can care so much for a child, money or a cause that we can neglect ourselves and others who need us. Unrestrained sympathy can cause more suffering.

Religious conquests with noble objectives to serve ‘god’ and secure a place in heaven, destroyed communities and their cultural achievements. Today we serve money with a devotion that has squandered the beauty of our planet and put all forms of life at extreme risk. Many put their own life and wellbeing at risk on a daily basis to earn an extra dollar.

At the end of the day, the dilemma is what to love? Myself now, my place in heaven, my children, my tribe, money, humanity, the rhinos or pangolins, all life, natural beauty, truth…? One can understand the frustration of rural leaders when billionaire naturalists want to protect animals by taking land, food and hunting rights from their people. Conservation is a war zone driven by love. What irony.

Personal Enlightenment

When resilience fails our behaviour becomes increasingly deluded, short sighted and destructive. We suffer, those around us suffer and hope for a better world is extinguished. The foundation of spiritual wisdom is to support and nurture this inner journey.

The higher we rise the more important it becomes to reinforce this inner discipline. When leaders lie, steal, self-aggrandise and abuse, the community and natural environs suffer. We see this in corrupt nations, churches, NGOs and businesses.

Maybe spiritual wisdom is to serve personal enlightenment only. Ultimately, working on both the inner journey of integrating self and connecting to a higher reality is the only show in town. This is the choice of the contemplative in a cave or monastery. Everything else is secular – cultural, political or scientific.

The commandments might be:

  1. Respect, discipline and love yourself
  2. Respect, acknowledge and be kind to others
  3. Take care of your body
  4. Regulate your emotions
  5. Use your mind to see the truth
  6. Act with wisdom and compassion

The Social Contract

We are social creatures. Our individual wellbeing is intimately connected to our community resilience. When we jointly debate and resolve how best to move away from suffering and towards joy, we become an enlightened and just society. The community is a powerful catalyst and support of the personal, inner journey.

A spiritual wisdom can be the mission and values that bond individual and community into a just, compassionate and creative force. When leaders and community hold each other to account, good will prevail. The different perspectives of a community increase the probability of truth and goodness.

When spiritual wisdom is absent, we have corrupt communities (or failed states). Self-interest, greed, corruption and mass suffering follows. Evil prevails. It is extremely difficult for personal enlightenment to proceed.

The extensive suffering and destruction to people, economies, environment and all fellow species is a catastrophic tragedy that takes generations to repair. Our ‘western’ attempts to intervene have failed miserably. This becomes a challenge to the next level.

Planetary Wisdom

We live in the age of the Anthropocene when human activity is the major shaping force on the planet. What we do over the next decades will shape the future of life. For 30 years we have known clearly the threat to human life and ecosystems. Yet, we continue to play a game of blind Russian roulette with nuclear arms, carbon emissions, population growth, and waste.

Neither the individual nor the community – not even a group of nation states – can solve this particular problem. Governance has evolved from tribe, to region, to nation and now wrestles with integrated regions such as the European Community. The pressing challenge is wise and just governance for all humans and the ecosystems we rely upon.

Our actions or non-actions have profound implications. How much plastic waste is enough? Do we leave failed states to the pillage of their leaders or do we intervene? Do we close coal plants and face economic decline when a coastal population is threatened? Do we leave Africa to double its population knowing full well that many species, habitats and entire ecosystems collapse? At what point do we obliterate a rogue state threatening nuclear attacks?

It is possible to construct a spiritual wisdom that might guide the decisions of global bodies such as the UN or WHO? We are facing questions of what is sacred and what is not. Religions have long restrained our impulses and excesses. It feels like a time when a new wisdom might be needed to restrain our consumptive hedonism so that there is something beyond suffering and despair left for our children’s children.

The call for a spiritual wisdom for humanity is loud. It may go by many names. The principles or commandments might be:

  1. Seek and communicate the truth
  2. Live with restraint and compassion
  3. Respect and steward our planetary ecosystems
  4. Act with courage and creativity
  5. Keep a sense of humour and radiate joy

We will need enlightened individuals and resilient communities to help us debate, construct, guide and maintain it. The alternative is dark.

Part 3 addresses the personal practice of spirit in action.

 

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