Newsletter – June 2014

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THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE NEWSLETTER – JUNE 2014

   1.  FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS

   2.  HOW TO EXPLAIN AMERICANS

   3.  TRYING NOT TO TRY: CULTIVATING THE ART OF SPONTANEITY

   4.  REVEAL YOUR OWN WHOLENESS

   5.  REFLECTIONS ON THE INNER WORK OF HOLDING PARADOX

   6.  IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS

   7.  A BLESSING FOR ONE WHO IS EXHAUSTED

   8.  THIS MONTH’S LINKS

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QUOTES OF THE MONTH – WALT WHITMAN & HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

   “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

   “…But when she was bad she was horrid.”

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1.  FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS

Post-June greetings, Dear Friends…

The gift of Whitman’s quote above came to me from my friend of 57 years, Richard Lacey. As I sat on his porch feeling guilty about not having this newsletter done in the month it advertises, these Musings were re-energized with his suggestion of Walt’s quotation.

I began them June 12 when I read Beppe Severgnini’s piece “HOW TO EXPLAIN AMERICANS” and was guided to add another three C’s to his Control, Competition, Choreography and Contradiction; like Beppe, Whitman and Old Lace, I also find Contradiction to be a foundational element of the American psyche.

What interested me was to explore how we Yanks live so blissfully with contradiction when we simultaneously and dogmatically insist that the position we take in the current moment is “the only one” a moral person could take!

I believe I can now describe the realities and mechanics involved in this process.

REALITIES: THE ACTUAL & THE INTELLECTUAL

   – Reality is paradoxical, that is, BOTH/AND no matter how much our limited human intellect tries to turn it into EITHER/OR. In practice this means whenever we make a black-and-white judgment that something or somebody is EITHER good OR bad, EITHER right OR wrong, we have substituted intellectually manufactured reality for the real thing. As Beppe so humorously points out, we Americans do this all the time.

   – Not all cultures find paradoxical reality so difficult to live in and with, most notably those which have a heritage of BOTH Yin AND Yang, BOTH old AND young, BOTH feminine AND masculine. Such heritage is scarce in the USA. A few examples can be found in some small groups of Quakers, Sufis, Buddhists, scientists and others who do not insist that their god (or no-god) is the only “right way.” But that doesn’t leave many of us Yanks to count, does it?

   – Conclusion: Reality’s paradoxical nature defeats human rationality’s attempts remake the world in its EITHER/OR image, and some very intelligent humans seem to live pretty comfortably in and with that paradoxical reality. In other words, “rational” and “intelligent” are not interchangeable synonyms.

MECHANICS: HOW TO LIVE ‘EITHER/OR’ IN A ‘BOTH/AND’ REALITY

   – Any EITHER/OR position requires its holders to believe that they Consistently (5th C) hold that “right” position – that they do not indulge in the Contradiction Whitman describes. Of course, in a BOTH/AND world, this is impossible to do.

   – We manage to deceive ourselves into believing we are Consistent in our flip-flopping beliefs and positions through the use of Compartmentalization (6th C); that is, we keep our conflicting beliefs and positions in securely separate compartments so we are never aware of their Contradiction. We Americans are desperate to be Consistent (7th C) in our Righteousness, and, in paradoxical reality, “Consistently Being Right” requires “Compartmentalization.”

   – More to the point, Cognitive Dissonance (7th C), which is what C’s 4-7 create, regularly results in states of high anxiety. All this takes enormous psyche energy as well as repeatedly placing us in very unpleasant situations.

So why do we Yanks in particular make our lives this hard?

Because the only way to “Be Consistently Right” in paradoxical reality is to take all positions or none, and doing either is despised in American culture. If we take all positions, we are ”political”; if we take no positions, we are “wishy-washy” – and John Wayne, our generation’s American archetype, was neither. Even though the Duke is long-gone from the stage, his total lack of Whitman’s “multitudes” remains America’s imprinting of “the right way to be.”

I hope that explains a bit about us Yanks, especially how we can so consistently appear to be schizophrenic to the rest of the world. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it…

   There was a little girl,
           Who had a little curl,
   Right in the middle of her forehead.
           When she was good,
           She was very good indeed,
   But when she was bad she was horrid.

Most of the rest of June’s newsletter offers some useful ideas on how to live more fully and easily in this BOTH/AND world…

   2.  HOW TO EXPLAIN AMERICANS

   3.  TRYING NOT TO TRY: CULTIVATING THE ART OF SPONTANEITY

   4.  REVEAL YOUR OWN WHOLENESS

   5.  REFLECTIONS ON THE INNER WORK OF HOLDING PARADOX

   6.  IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS

   7.  A BLESSING FOR ONE WHO IS EXHAUSTED

May you have a “multitudes-filled” BOTH/AND Inter-dependence Day!

Much love, FW

http://fatherwilliam.org/

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2.  HOW TO EXPLAIN AMERICANS

     BY BEPPE SEVERGNINI, TINYT, JUNE 12, 2014

MILAN — “Do you remember your, ahem, appreciative remarks to the woman who marched onto the assembly line? Don’t do that when the Americans are here. A woman from Italy might laugh; a Michigan girl will sue.”

If I’m going to explain how I came to discuss gender etiquette with a bunch of Italian autoworkers, a little context is in order.

The Italian automaker Fiat-Chrysler owns a big plant at Melfi, in southern Italy, where it decided to concentrate production of a new compact sport utility vehicle, the Jeep Renegade. It’s a $1.3 billion investment, and the 6,000 workers are happy: Their jobs are secure for several years, the plant is state of the art and there are no issues with skills or technology. But what worries the workers is this: How do we deal with these Americans who are coming to help get production rolling?

Melfi is a small town, and contact with Americans is rare. So the factory was looking around for someone to explain how the American mind works. I write about the United States, I’ve lived there and I’ve traveled extensively in the country. “He’ll do,” they figured.

That’s why I traveled 630 miles from Milan to clamber onto a makeshift podium in the middle of the Melfi factory floor before 1,000 people. Most were blue-collar workers, even though they wore Melfi’s stylish white.

“Americans are great to work with, but they have their manias, just like us,” I started out. “They are obsessed by three C’s: control, competition and choreography. You may think this is odd, but you have to respect it. After all, the United States is the most powerful country on the planet.”

“But we had to step in and save Chrysler,” someone joked.

I ignored it. Control: One of the basic expressions of American English is “to be in control.” The Italian equivalent is not “controllare,” which leaves the listener expecting to be told what is being controlled (An automobile? A bad habit? An erring partner?). The American phrase implies that you “have the situation under control.” Any situation — health, a war, your children’s school records.

Numbers are America’s tranquilizers. In Italy, we say “piove” (it’s raining) or “non piove” (it isn’t raining); in America, they want to know exactly how much rain fell. American roads are numbered and Americans give north/south/east/west directions; we just say “vai di qui, vai di là”(go this way, go that way).

Control reveals America’s passion for order and predictability. How-to books date from Benjamin Franklin, who was always quick to spot a market niche. America is a nation of optimistic self-improvers, convinced that happiness is above all a question of mind over matter.

The books also prove that Americans reject the idea that success comes all at once, without effort or luck. Often, we Italians mistake this for naïveté, but it actually reflects a love of precision and a desire to stay in charge of your own life. Don’t mock it.

The second C-word is competition. Americans love it; we fear it. Americans are prepared to lose in order to win, in almost every aspect of life. In Italy — and in most of Europe — we hate losing more than we love winning and tend to settle for an uneventful draw.

Come to think of it, competition goes a long way toward explaining the excellence and excesses of the United States, including the abundance of colleges, the number of television channels and the financial instability of the many airlines. You build automobiles here. Your American colleagues know that these automobiles have to be better than the ones your competitors make. If they aren’t, it’s only right that you go bust.

For a long time in Italy, we thought that back-scratching regulations and protectionism would save our industry. How wrong we were. Competition in America is more than a healthy economic precept; it’s a moral imperative.

The third word on the list is choreography. In Italy, important events like presidential inaugurations, national holidays or graduation ceremonies are slightly boring. Americans are convinced that anything important has also got to be spectacular, if not plain over the top, and ear-splittingly loud.

Not long ago in Boston, I was watching a basketball game with a friend. I asked him how the ultra-politically-correct United States could — figuratively speaking — embrace both feminism and cheerleaders. The answer was, “Feminism is good. Cheerleaders are good-looking.” Then he borrowed my binoculars. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t checking out the progress of feminism. Does that contradict what I was saying earlier about not discussing your women colleagues’appearance? So be it. Add “contradiction” to our list of American C’s.

But there is a fourth word, and it doesn’t begin with C. That word is trust. Americans who come to Italy — be they politicians, tourists, businesspeople or engineers — think that we are smart and fun, but also unreliable. And Melfi is in the south, which is Italy squared. Is this a stereotype? Who cares? All countries suffer from stereotypes.

When the Americans come, surprise them. Be reliable. Always be on time. Never complain. You guys are smart. Be precise about money, timekeeping and calling in sick. Do this for a few months and then shift up a gear to turbo-Italian. Introduce the Americans to your friends and families. Ask them out for dinner — a plate of orecchiette pasta will blow any American away.

So amaze those Americans. You can do it. You’re Italians. No one else is so skillful at turning a crisis into a party. The automobile industry, I’m sure, is no exception.
__________

Beppe Severgnini is a columnist at Corriere della Sera and the author of “La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/opinion/severgnini-how-to-explain-americans.html?_r=0

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3.  TRYING NOT TO TRY: CULTIVATING THE ART OF SPONTANEITY

     BY MARIA POPOVA, BRAINPICKINGS.ORG, JUNE 3, 2014  

“Our modern conception of human excellence is too often impoverished, cold, and bloodless. Success does not always come from thinking more rigorously or striving harder.”

“The best way to get approval is not to need it,” Hugh MacLeod memorably counseled. We now know that perfectionism kills creativity and excessive goal-setting limits our success rather than begetting it — all different manifestations of the same deeper paradox of the human condition, at once disconcerting and comforting, which Edward Slingerland, professor of Asian Studies and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia and a renowned scholar of Chinese thought, explores in “Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity” (public library).

Slingerland frames the paradoxical premise at the heart of his book with an illustrative example: a game called Mindball at his local science museum in Vancouver, in which two players sit opposite one another, each wearing an electrode-equipped headband that registers general activity in the brain, and try to mentally push a metal ball from the center of the table to the other player; whoever does this first wins. There is, of course, a rub:

   The motive force —measured by each player’s electrodes, and conveyed to the ball by a magnet hidden underneath the table—is the combination of alpha and theta waves produced by the brain when it’s relaxed: the more alpha and theta waves you produce, the more force you mentally exert on the ball. Essentially, Mindball is a contest of who can be the most calm. It’s fun to watch. The players visibly struggle to relax, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, adopting vaguely yogic postures. The panic they begin to feel as the ball approaches their end of the table is usually balanced out by the overeagerness of their opponent, both players alternately losing their cool as the big metal ball rolls back and forth. You couldn’t wish for a better, more condensed illustration of how difficult it is to try not to try.

Our lives, Slingerland argues, are often like “a massive game of Mindball,” when we find ourselves continually caught in this loop of trying so hard that we stymie our own efforts. Like in Mindball, where victory only comes when the player relaxes and stops trying to win, we spend our lives “preoccupied with effort, the importance of working, striving, and trying,” only to find that the more we try to will things into manifesting, the more elusive they become. Slingerland writes:

   Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of conscious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called “body thinking”: tacit, fast, and semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or no conscious interference. The result is that we too often devote ourselves to pushing harder or moving faster in areas of our life where effort and striving are, in fact, profoundly counterproductive…

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/04/21/trying-not-to-try-slingerland/

This article is reprinted with permission from Maria Popova. She is a cultural curator and curious mind at large, who also writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Design Observer, and is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings.  

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4.  REVEAL YOUR OWN WHOLENESS

     BY CAROL CARNES, AWAKIN.ORG, JUNE 30, 2014

All mental healing is based on the awareness of the presence of pure Life, or wholeness, at the center of the patient. It is a calling forth, if you will, of that wholeness into visibility. It is not a “repair” of something broken, but an act of transcendence. It is the One that is always wholly at ease, taking precedence over the temporary manifestation of dis-ease.

We get better because there is something in us that is not sick. There is something about us that is not in lack. There is an aspect to us that is never confused or addicted or damaged. If that were not so, no one would ever recover or make changes in their life. Human life is a collection of stories of how we are constantly interacting with the higher nature of our own being! We get great new ideas and act on them. From where do they arise? We decide to clean up our lifestyle and find a great resolve in us, the will to stick to our decision. Where was that all the while we were succumbing to the addiction? Who goes to the AA meeting, the alcoholic or the One who is already clean and sober?

As we focus on what is True about us, we see the weakness of what seemed to be true. We only thought we had to be sick and poor and unloved. We believed we were powerless over our addiction. We decided we had to protect ourselves emotionally and could never have real love. These are mental states based on the illusion that we are at the mercy of effects. Then one day someone, perhaps, shows us how to tune in to the Cause that lives within us. That is the moment we take charge of our life. That is the beginning of transcendent living. That is when our mind is restored to its natural condition; that of formulating thoughts and ideas which automatically reveal our own wholeness in all areas of our experience.

Stay tuned in.

http://www.awakin.org/read/audio.php?op=play&tid=1016

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5.  REFLECTIONS ON THE INNER WORK OF HOLDING PARADOX

     BY PARKER J. PALMER, ON BEING, JUNE 4, 2014

To be human is to live with paradox and hold it in our hands. Parker Palmer offers some grounding advice on creating more spaces to do so gracefully — and a poem by May Sarton.

If I didn’t have the idea of “holding paradox” to help me understand myself and the world around me, I’d be more lost than I am! For me, holding paradox means thinking about some (but not all) things as “both-ands” instead of “either-ors.”

So many of our troubles, personal and political, come from either-or thinking. For example, when I’m talking with a person who holds religious or political beliefs that differ from my own, either-or thinking can create a combative situation: “I’m right, so he/she is wrong. Therefore, my job is to win this argument by any means possible.” How rarely such encounters bear fruit!

But both-and thinking can lead to something much more creative: “Maybe I don’t have everything right, and maybe he/she doesn’t have everything wrong. Maybe both of us see part of the truth. If I speak and listen in that spirit, we both might learn something that will expand our understanding. We might even be able to keep this relationship and conversation going.”

Think of how much more civil and creative our conversations across lines of difference would be if we thought that way more often! We’d be working to create a container to hold our differences hospitably instead of trying to win an argument.

Of course, like everything human, this issue begins inside of us, in how we hold our own internal paradoxes. If we can’t hold our inner complexities as both-and instead of either-or, we can’t possibly extend that kind of hospitality to another person.

Here’s an ancient truth about being human: we cannot give gifts to others that we are unable to give to ourselves! That’s why “inner work” done well is never selfish. Ultimately, it will benefit other people.

“The Angels and the Furies” by May Sarton challenges us to do some of the inner work that can help us hold the tensions of personal and political life more creatively. As I struggle with “the angels and the furies” within me, I often re-read this poem to get re-grounded.

The struggle is not easy. But I always find myself comforted by what Ms. Sarton has to say in the third and fourth stanzas about what it means to be human. I hope you’ll find it as meaningful as I do…

   The Angels and the Furies
        by May Sarton

   1
   Have you not wounded yourself
   And battered those you love
   By sudden motions of evil,
   Black rage in the blood
   When the soul, premier danseur,
   Springs toward a murderous fall?
   The furies possess you.

   2
   Have you not surprised yourself
   Sometimes by sudden motions
   Or intimations of goodness,
   When the soul, premier danseur,
   Perfectly poised,
   Could shower blessings
   With a graceful turn of the head?
   The angels are there.

   3
   The angels, the furies
   Are never far away
   While we dance, we dance,
   Trying to keep a balance
   To be perfectly human
   (Not perfect, never perfect,
   Never an end to growth and peril),
   Able to bless and forgive
   Ourselves.
   This is what is asked of us.

   4
   It is light that matters,
   The light of understanding.
   Who has ever reached it
   Who has not met the furies again and again?
   Who has reached it without
   Those sudden acts of grace?

Parker J. Palmer is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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6.  IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS

     BY BERTRAND RUSSELL, DAILY GOOD, MAY 7, 2014 (THANKS, NANCY RHOADES)

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.’ Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. […]

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. […]

[Instead, in a world where there is adequate leisure,] above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Praise_of_Idleness_and_Other_Essays

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7.  A BLESSING FOR ONE WHO IS EXHAUSTED

     BY JOHN O’DONOHUE, DAILY GOOD/AWAKIN.ORG, JUNE 02, 2014

“You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back.” In this poem, John O’Donohue, Irish poet, author, and philosopher, beautifully expresses the process of slowly returning to oneself that can heal the heart after times of suffering.

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

–John O’Donohue, from “Blessings”

http://www.dailygood.org/story/734/a-blessing-for-one-who-is-exhausted-john-o-donohue/

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8.  THIS MONTH’S LINKS:

     SAPOLSKY: WHAT MAKES HUMANS UNIQUE?

https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_sapolsky_the_uniqueness_of_humans

     WORLD CUP CONNECTS ELDERS IN CHICAG0 & TEENS IN BRAZIL…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/19/brazilian-students-learn-_n_5508260.html?utm_hp_ref=impact

     TWO SITES I LOOK AT FREQUENTLY…

http://lifeunderconstruction.org/

http://nowiknow.com/

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