Saturday, June 14, 2014
A student of mine whose name is Li Ping (Dawn Li), will be a wonderful teacher in the future. She is a deep thinker and a sensitive human being. Over the past year I have had the honor of being her teacher. She wrote two things I'd like to share. The first is about our dreams and an attitude towards holding our dreams. The second is about teachers and society. Here they are, without further comment:
“I believe the best way to live is to live realistically, while having an imaginable magic map in your mind”
"Teachers are the core of society"
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
When Logic Fails You
When Logic Fails You
Tonight I meet with a young Chinese male student. He is an undergraduate student and his concern is should he go for further studies and get a master’s degree or should he go to work. He would have been relieved if I could have given him an answer that was well supported – he desperately wanted something to believe in. Of course I could not (and did not attempt) to give him the answer he so desperately wanted. From a logical standpoint (or a business standpoint) you can use a cost / benefit analysis to decide. If it is a business then you decide based on which path will bring in the most money. Other considerations are secondary. Happiness is not a factor, marriage is not a factor, children are not factors – money is the only way to decide. But we are not a business we are a human. Now, suddenly other factors come in like happiness, like marriage, like children and so many other less tangible, less concrete things. Suddenly the cost / benefit analysis becomes extremely hard to see, let alone analyze with logic. And since happiness is the thing we often seek most it becomes the deciding factor of “right” or “wrong” decisions.
Next, I think, one must accept the fact that there is no “right” or “wrong” decision here. It depends on the individual and that brings up the question of what is an individual. As it turns out there are certain material or physical needs that must be met, but we can assume that as a university student those basic needs will be covered. He will get a job at some point and he will have enough money to live. But we as humans have this driving desire to make the “right” decision. He also stated that (he lacks “safety” in his heart) meaning he does not believe in his ability to decide the right thing. He wanted me, as a teacher, to tell him the right answer, so he could memorize it, take the exam and pass it without further pain. But this is an area where teachers should not go. This is an area where the student must walk alone. He or she must make the decision and pay the price.
I think, as an elderly person (67 at the time of writing this) I should say that all roads can lead you to your ultimate goal. You must accept this ambiguity of life. You must accept that there are some things that you will not know and it probable does not matter if this young man chooses work or further studies. I will repeat this, it probable does not matter if he chooses work or further studies! But he feels it does matter. Yet his logic fails him. He can’t decide with his mind and (in this case) he does not trust his heart or his emotions. So if it does not matter, you flip a coin and go on with life.
But, in this case, as much as he does not trust his heart, his heart is telling him this does matter. Now, we enter a discussion of just what is this “heart” we speak of. Let me here equate a few words:
- God’s will,
- the subconscious
- and some other words that you, the reader, might think of.
None of these things can be “known” in the way we know and accept that two plus two is four. This world-wide accepted fact is declarative knowledge. It is not cultural anymore, it accepted in every country in the world. (This is also known as descriptive knowledge or propositional knowledge.) You can take an exam and we all can agree that 2 + 2 = 4. There is no ambiguity. But this declarative knowledge might help us with a cost / benefit analysis in a business where money is the objective, but it cannot help us much when the objective is happiness and we really don’t know what makes us happy or unhappy. If we could know all, if we could see from an omnipotent perspective, if we could see all of our life and then decide, maybe it would be easy. But we cannot! But we feel there is something that should tell us. We believe there is some way to know and we know it is not about logic. Now, it comes down to the nature of that belief that we feel – but that is beyond the scope of these few words. So we cannot be sure, we don’t know what is heart, soul, God’s will or the subconscious. But can we test our decision in some way? Can we test this decision against something that we do not know? I think we can.
Before I explain the “how”, I want to tell you this young man’s reaction to my suggestion. He said (politely), “I think the suggestion is a bit ridiculous!” I replied then go back to your logic and just decide. But he knows that the suggestion has at least some little truth embedded in it but it requires faith or at least “suspension of disbelief”. But these were difficult for him, so I said good night, came home and wrote this.
So what is the suggestion? First, write the two alternatives on small pieces of paper. Fold them up and put them in the palm of your hand and walk to your nearest friend and ask him or her to choose one. Throw the other paper away. Believe that your fate has been sealed. Put the chosen decision in your pocket and walk away. This is your decision for one week. During the next week, you eat, sleep, walk, sing and day-dream about that decision. You take it into your mind and into your heart. You force yourself to believe this is your path, your destiny. You do this for one whole week. But in the process you notice what is going on. You try to pay attention to your dreams (if you can). You pay attention to your mood and so on. Then, the next week you have a little chat with yourself and you say, “You know what, I have changed my mind. I want to go down the other path.” And then, for the next week you eat, sleep, walk, sing and day-dream about the results and your future life based on that decision. But now with this new decision you also notice your dreams, you notice your mood, your feelings and so on. For most people, I firmly believe your heart, your subconscious, the Source of your faith, your soul or however you understand the reality of what you are – that thing, that entity, that part of you – will know the right way and will tell you.
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Mentors and Hope
“We were talking about the love that's gone so cold, and the people who gain the world and lose their soul…”. (1) I just came from a class where we were discussing a story called “Pacific Sunset”. The class is called “Audio Visual Listening” (2) but in fact we discuss and share as much as we listen. Today, we listened to a song called “Don’t Be Shy” (3). A student named Lily brought together child-rearing practices and how perhaps the these practices that make us lonely as children and later lonely as adults. Speculating that this “shyness”, that is so common (especially here in China) might be brought about by the shyness (and loneliness) of our parents. She said we must be do better as parents in the future. During the discussion of the story she stated that “The Creator” is something that we all feel driven to discover but whom (or what) we have so little knowledge of. Another student (Dawn) made the comment that we are born knowing certain things like how to be parents, how to be teachers and so on. By implication, along the path of life we lose much of this innate understanding.
Last night, during the Story Evening(4) , about 40 students were talking about another story called “Mongolian Breakfast”(5) and talking about mentors. As I thought about my own life, I thought (and shared) something about my first “conscious” (or semi-conscious) mentor, Stanley Jackson of Galiano Island, BC, Canada. What I came to understand in the course of the evening was what it is that mentors give us: hope. They may not (and perhaps usually do not) give us answers, but they stand in their shoes, in this life, in a certain moment in time and they give us hope. They may tell us little, but they show us that this life (that can seem so cruel sometimes) is worth it, it has purpose, it has love, it has joy and our mentors give us hope. This hope leads us to love and that love leads to peace of mind.
After class I was working on my computer and came across a directory of old family photos. I saw pictures of my father and my uncle. I saw them as children, as young adults and as elderly men. I saw the loss of innocence and much more than I can put words to. I ask myself what was it that they lost? I thought about my extended family and the heartbreak and trials that life has brought; the shallowness, the sorrows, the broken relationships and I thought more…
Then I thought back about the story “Pacific Sunset” and the things that surrounded the 37 guests gathered in a living room overlooking the Pacific Ocean: “The sounds of the Pacific Ocean filtered in between the words of the story. Finally, the clouds received the sun, and a great painting appeared in the sky. Orange, yellow, and gray were the main colors—but there were others too—if you looked closely enough.”(6)
Then I thought of my dear father (who was a great teacher and who I love dearly) and I thought about a certain emotional torture that you could see if you looked deeply into his heart. It struck me that he had no way to understand the eternal questions in life. He had no story, no plausible explanation, no believable story to explain where we come from or why we are here, let alone where we go next.
And it occurred to me that beyond the purpose of “carry[ing] forward an ever-advancing civilization”(7) one of the purposes of religion is to give us hope, to give us a believable, plausible explanation to these great questions of life. Without some believable answers we lose hope and without hope our life is at best a quiet, orderly misery.
The mentors in our life restore this hope. Even if they don’t give us the answers, they give us hope that answers exist and that we may one day find them.
1 - “Within You Without You”, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul Mccartney
2 - A class for English majors at Guizhou University
3 - Written by Cat Stevens
4 - A weekly event here at Guizhou University
5 - Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart, 207-211
6 - Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart, 263
7 - Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 215
Friday, October 04, 2013
NMP - Next Moment Perfect
Next Moment Perfect
We all struggle with "living in the now". In the classic rock song made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called "Teach Your Children" there is a line "the past is just a good-bye". The thought provoking song, written by Graham Nash became popular in the early 1970's. The lyrics can be found here.
We all fail. We all fall down. Most businesses fail very soon after they have started. Most successful business people have had one or more businesses that failed, before they succeeded. There is even a book called Failing Forward. So, yesterday, you made a mistake - a small one or a big one. Last year, ten years ago you made an even bigger mistake.
Here is an acronym to help: NMP
NMP stands for "Next Moment Perfect". You have control over what you do next. To me it is comforting to think that yesterday I made a mess of my day, but today is new and fresh and I can make each future moment better.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Canals, Rice Fields and My Life
Yesterday I walked along a very small canal that delivers water to some small rice fields and to a hotel and a few restaurants near Qinghe. I walked on the wall of the canal that separates the river and the canal. The river was noisy in places but the canal, being almost level, was very quiet. I walked between these two forces and thought about my life. I thought about some things I’d like to change. I thought about how you can want to change something and yet sometimes these things do not change. Finally, I came to the spot where the river and the canal join. I could go no further for the river was wide and at that point and I could not cross the canal. It was time to turn around and walk back. I tossed a leaf into the canal and watched it travel. I found a small plank of wood – a “two by four” ( 2 inches by 4 inches) (5 cm x 10 cm) about 18 inches long (about 50 cm). It was smooth all over from being in the river. I tossed it in the canal and wondered if it would reach the hotel I was staying in or if it would get hung up in the weeds and branches that intrude into the canal. I also found a yellow hard hat with a hole in the top of it. I threw it in the canal too – just for fun, just to see what would happen. It filled with water but still floated (mostly under the water). The hard-hat and the plank had a race. The hat was so far behind I thought it had sunk. I watched the piece of wood and thought about my life. I thought maybe my life is like that piece of wood. Sometimes I flow nicely down the river of life and sometimes I get hung up in the weeds. I thought about some of my problems and felt, at times, a little helpless. Then the piece of wood got stuck in the weeds. I watched it try to free itself but it failed. So I found a stick and gave it a little nudge. Maybe this is what God does for us. Maybe we don’t always need big dramatic changes in our lives, maybe we just need a little nudge. Maybe that is what God does for us. Maybe that is what God will do for me.
I continued to watch the piece of wood float as I walked slowly beside it in the hot summer sun. Then from behind came the hat – the yellow mostly-submerged hard hat. It seems that because it was traveling mostly under the water it avoided some of the branches that snagged my piece of wood that had become a metaphor for me and my life. With a little wind from behind my piece of wood / boat took off and was traveling faster now. Again some branches that reached into the canal snagged it and slowed it and finally stopped it. I tried to interfere as little as possible. I stuck my foot into the water and made just enough waves to get it going again.
But eventually both the yellow hard hat and my boat went under some bushes where I couldn’t see them. I waited but they did not come out. I walked on slowly – feeling confident that God would indeed help me and that in time it would rain hard again and the yellow hard hat and my boat would both come out of their stuck places and float down the canal again and yes they would pass the hotel where I was staying.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Of Friends and Happiness
The question of what is the relationship between finding friends and happiness. Perhaps the place to start is with meaning of the words “friends” and “happiness”. For truly we all have friends (to some degree) and we all have happiness (to some degree). Maybe what we are searching for is “true friends” and “true happiness”.
After some time on this planet many of us discover that we can have short-term happiness that leads to long-term misery. If you want to fly like a bird and jump off of a high mountain and flap your arms and say “I am flying” you will have a few moments of happiness and then you will feel great pain or perhaps you will die. This is short-term joy. The same happens if you drink alcohol. For a short time you escape from the things that burden your mind. But while you are drunk you may do something that can impact your life in a bad way for a long time.
Some things bring long-term joy. If you help another person without an expectation of something in return you feel real joy. An elderly woman is walking home from shopping. Suddenly the plastic bag she is carrying cucumbers in breaks. You help her in some small way and go on your way. You never meet her again and no one else knows. Your reward is in your heart and in your heart only. Or perhaps you could say that only you and God or Heaven know.
So this kind of thing is true happiness. It can be a big act or a small action but helping others brings you joy and this joy lasts. Helping others becomes a habit. You find little ways to help others wherever you go. This makes the world a better place and brings joy to your heart. So in a very real sense this is the secret of happiness. You look for magic opportunities to help others, to encourage others, to bring joy to others.
But you are not alone in the world. We have family, we have friends, we have many people we know. How can friends and family make me more or you more happy?
Let’s first look at the negative part. If you have a “friend” who always criticizes others does it bring anyone joy? No, in fact it is one of the most divisive and negative acts in the world. Gossip based on fact or fiction brings only misery. Misery to the person who spreads the gossip, misery to the person who listens to the gossip and misery to the person who is being talked about. So I would say a friend like that is not a friend. To a friend like that I think we should tell them that this is not a good thing to do and you’d like them to not gossip around you. If it does not work, then I would avoid such a person.
The Baha’i religion (which I accepted as my path in 1970) talks about the importance of love, of unity and justice. It also forbids gossip. It says, “Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.”
In the Baha’i Faith there is not a lot of talk about the “evil one” as some force like a devil. There is no description of some evil force with “god like” powers but who is evil. However, there is one passage that stands out in relation to friends and how to find friends. Baha’u’llah states, “The Evil One is he that hindereth the rise and obstructeth the spiritual progress of the children of men.” To me this means that the most evil kind of person (or the most evil kind of actions) are those that prevent the “spiritual progress” of others. Some people are what I call “dream killers”. You know such people. Whenever someone has an idea or a dream, they feel it is their duty to explain that the dream is not practical or that you don’t have enough money or intelligence or beauty to accomplish such a dream. These people, I would also avoid in my choice of friends.
So how to choose “good friends” ? Should they have money, good looks, be smart or what? Well it turns out that often those with the most beauty or the most money often make the worst kind of friends. (The reasons for this are complicated.) Earlier we said that being kind and loving and helping others make us happy. Choosing friends by this standard is a good way to find “good friends”. Don’t just look for friends who are kind to you. Look for friends who are kind to strangers or to children. Such people make good friends.
Monday, August 19, 2013
In Memory of my Uncle
My uncle and I traveled together down this river in 2009.
Like the flow of this river he has now moved on.
He died in his home on Sunday, August 18th at 12:43 PM.
Uncle, mentor and friend.
I will miss you dearly.
We will meet again when both of our rivers meet in the ocean beyond.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Chinese and Western Values Towards ParentsMany students in China struggle with what seems to be a conflict between Chinese cultural values and Western cultures values such as those seen on American TV programs. The purpose of this article is not to confirm or deny any particular cultural values but rather to discuss these values so that readers might better understand the issues. Especially acute is the differences between child-parent relationships, values and actions.
In the U.S. children are encouraged to become independent at early ages and to become financially and “domestically” independent in their late teens or early 20’s. This leads to an attitude in the younger adult having little or no need to consult with parents about decisions and to feel little obligation to live with or near their parents. The parents and the children live independent lives and visit each other with some regularity but often live in far-away towns or cities.
In China, children at the age of 20, 30 and even 40 feel obligated to live near their parents, to consult them when making decisions and to care for their parents financially, emotionally and physically.
To a 20 year-old in the US the Chinese way seems strange and to a Chinese 20 year-old the western attitudes and actions seem cold, immoral and irresponsible. Yet to the Chinese 20 year-old there is an attraction to the freedom that western culture brings. To be sure civilization can only grow and improve if children choose some different values and norms than their parents accepted. But how can this be done when children have been raised to accept the values of a 5000 year-old culture? There are many benefits to the 5000 year-old culture but that same culture can become like a very long shadow that hides the sun.
In the case of 20 year-olds in any culture it is important for them to learn to think independently no matter where such thinking takes them. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to relate to parents but there are good ways of thinking and less good ways of thinking. In the Baha’i religion there exists a concept called independent investigation of truth and it is a requirement that all children learn to think for themselves and to choose a religious, philosophical or other way of living that they feel is true and then to follow that path. Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking skills are needed to consider such life-changing decisions. But choosing a religion or philosophy does not obviate the need to think of such issues in a deep way. These issues still need to be considered.
The issue of how to relate to ones parents is one such issue that needs consideration. To help in such consideration questions can be asked:
• What does my heart feel?
• Can I become myself (my own person) if I live for a long time under the shadow of my parents control?
• How can I show love to my parents and still be myself?
• What will happen if everyone lives in a certain way?
There are even deeper questions that may support an understanding of and a good decision about such issues such as:
• Why am I here?
• What is the nature of life?
• Where am I going?
• What is my unique role in the world?
These and other questions can help with such potential changes in the relationships among family members.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Contentment or Bitterness - A Choice
Some time in my early 20’s I recognized that older people seem to fall into one of two categories or states of mind. There seemed to be no middle ground. Older people seemed to be either happy (contented) or extremely bitter. It was just a simple observation by encounters with a few “older people” and especially with Mr. Stanley Jackson (Galiano Island, BC, Canada) who was an extremely contented older person . In the 40 or so years that followed I found no exceptions to this polarity in older people. It seemed that people either developed a world view that enabled them to accept themselves and others “as is” or not – and the “or not” manifested itself as bitterness. Some were able to accept the tests of life much like the sentiment in the poem “Mountain Dreamer” by Oriah, “I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!” It is a great joy to be around people who are “older” and are contented.
Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst describes this seeming polarization as the “integrity versus despair” stage in his theory of psychosocial development. He says that late in life people reflect back on the life they have lived and come away with either a sense of fulfillment or a sense of regret and despair over a life “misspent”.
I think this is related to the concept of “detachment” that is described in many religions and philosophies. The “being in the world, but not of the world” which is implied by the teachings of Confucius and by Christian scripters. Abdul-Baha reflects the Baha’i view in part of a talk, “Our greatest efforts must be directed towards detachment from the things of the world; we must strive to become more spiritual, more luminous, to follow the counsel of the Divine Teaching, to serve the cause of unity and true equality, to be merciful, to reflect the love of the Highest on all men, so that the light of the Spirit shall be apparent in all our deeds, to the end that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life's ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful.”
You cannot control all the things that you will experience in your life, but you can control how you react to them. From this perspective part of our job in life then is to learn how to react to the fast-flowing and often unpredictable events in our lives. Living one’s life according to such a pattern as this will result in the stage where “…the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom.” (Erikson)
This also seems very related to Maslow’s self-actualization written about a few blog posts earlier.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Dance, prayer or?
Rumi said, "A candle looses none of its light, by lighting another."
Take a look at this video about a Jew living in Israel who is following parts of the path of the whirling dervishes: