Devices of Judgment

1359 Relax and Succeed - Thoughts are a good servant but a bad master

Our world was shaped by thoughts. Those thoughts get codified into social codes or guides or laws or through things like school grades, or peer pressure built around the concepts of popularity or acceptability.

Some of these devices are tangible things like step counters or gym weights or weigh scales. The pressure we feel in life is us trying to fit our natural shape into the predetermined forms these tools or ideas create.

The outcomes are somewhat predictable. Every code gets applied to every person equally, even though some people may never be athletic no matter how hard they try, and others may struggle academically in ways that do not reduce their value as a human being at all. But all of us will be judged by many people –most notable ourselves– for not being many things, as though we were supposed to have been them all.

The only way to escape is to be so far removed from those ‘tests’ that we get a free sympathy pass from society because we have one huge natural judgement running against us, like childhood cancer or deformities or severe mental challenges.

Some are seen to be so obviously struggling with what is obviously a heavier load that it’s a more definitive signal that knocks us out of our personal thinking. That jolt to our awareness ignites our compassion by so strongly exposing our good fortune.

That is a beautiful thing to do for others, and that is why people in those situations should be seen more like spiritual teachers in society. They elicit an essentially universal reaction that does expose our natural tendency as humans, which is decency, while also making us grateful, which is spiritually healthy. They’re monks in wheelchairs and in canes.

Where we can benefit from increased awareness is to realize that while some people have their suffering jammed into a generally narrower set of experiences, (like those of a severe autistic, or someone who is born without any limbs), others are also suffering badly, but with more general things like their weight, or their income, or the acceptability of their personality.

Because those feel like the problems of more common, so-called ‘normal’ people, we often don’t realize that those issues and people would also benefit from our awareness and decency. Smaller issues –even presumed– can pile up to the point where they can cripple our lives.

1359 Relax and Succeed - This scale does not

If we count steps or weigh ourselves for our health, it’s not to hit some numerical target. The point is to feel good and have a doctor feel that the weight –whatever it is– is in a range that respects our unique bodies. A healthy heart should be about getting more time with loved ones, not meeting the doctor’s target. We must love ourselves, not try to be someone for others.

Too many times something like a calorie app or a weigh scale are not simply weighing things in the physical world. Instead, they are drawing some abstract chalk outline onto the world and then asking us to fill it. It’s crazy. We weren’t supposed to become what an app said because the person who wrote it never met us. Nor the person who built the weight scale, and just because a hairstyle is popular does not mean it looks or feels good on us.

We suffer when others have generalized the individual us. And when we do that to ourselves as well, all we’re doing is using an abstract cultural whip to beat ourselves. It’s the opposite of spiritual awareness.

Can we really imagine someone going to the Buddha, or Moses or Jesus or Mohammad and having them tell the person their soul will find nirvana when they lose some weight? Or get a better haircut? Or a job that’s more respectable? Would Jesus tell us that we can give up now, because we were born gay, or in the wrong country, so nothing we could ever do could make us worthwhile?

It’s hard to imagine the Buddha saying, “Sara, you will find enlightenment but you must get your Thursday Tinder date to like you or your life will be an unhappy disappointment.”

Deep down you already know this is true. The people that love us don’t need us to be any particular way. Not a shape, or age, and they love the person that lived our experiences, even if they don’t always like some aspects of the personality that grew out of those experiences. They love the soul at our center –the being living all of that life. We should all love that person too.

What others think are merely individual experiences they are having inside their own heads. Those judgments don’t impact us at all if we don’t start thinking them in our heads.

If we saw a loved one beating themselves up terribly over their weight it would be heartbreaking because we would all know they are so much more than that dumb number. And that impulse is beautiful and natural. But enlightenment really comes when we learn to direct that compassion toward ourselves. Because only then will we free ourselves from the suffering we generate when we use our devices of judgment.

peace. s

Spiritual Recitals

1355 Relax and Succeed - Don't Perform Let your soul sing

Recitals. Every year, we invite our relatives and friends to help celebrate our development as a musician. The feelings that go with these events are good reflections of how we feel about our lives too. It’s like the song we play is our year played out in quick time.

Despite the fact that in the first recital we are clunky and awkward, no one cares because our mistakes are so cute. Later, it’s our enthusiasm others are attracted to. Over time, we improve and others are impressed with our development. By the end of our studies we are so good as to amaze.

Despite others impressions of their development, often times on the inside the musicians themselves feel a lot like they did as that clunky little ham-fisted kid. As their standards raise their playing appears to recede.

This happens because at each step were are attempting to master a group of brand new skills involved in playing music. This reflects how we perpetually face new situations in life and how we are always stumbling, yet we all grow wiser and more capable through the year whether our experience is good or bad.

At the start of life we are emotionally clumsy but authentic, near the end we become smoother but struggle to find the unselfconsciousness that used to come so naturally. The difference is our impedance. We hold ourselves back be worrying too much about the performance part of our playing.

Music teachers will often tell students to play as though the audience isn’t there. This is like the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ phrase‘ that gets used about people’s emotional lives. The song simply won’t become the most beautiful version of itself if it is merely a performance. The song is not for the recital audience, it exists in its own right. People are just allowed to watch it be.

1355 Relax and Succeed - Each unique lives their own song

Likewise, our lives are ours to live. Life is not a recital or performance, it is more like a song itself, and it can only be made better by us singing it more fully –by breathing more life into it. And the way we open up that opportunity is by forgetting the audience. We sing for our sake. For the joy of it.

This doesn’t mean we stop loving everyone in our audience. Quite the opposite: we start. We free them from our expectations as we free ourselves from theirs. That’s the unconditional part of unconditional love.

If we love people then they are allowed to be them. And if they deserve love so do we, so that means we can also be ourselves. What the other egos think will depend too much on how their day went anyway. We all know when we’ve played well and when we haven’t, whether we get praise or blame. We should trust that. That’s us.

Don’t perform your life. We can work well with others and find joy in many strange places with a great attitude, but we don’t need to stifle our being. Sometimes endurance is required in life, but whenever possible, it is up to us to consciously shift our lives toward ever-less stifling circumstances so that we can find the beautiful music that lives within us.

If we play unselfconsciously often enough, it will soon meld with a form of creativity that allows us to go beyond the composition and into improvisation. We become the song in every sense. This is the height of skill both in music and in life. When we are that free, we stand on a constant precipice of the unknown, and the beauty there is a marvel to behold.

Don’t perform. Sing. The songs might sound similar to a listener, but a performance versus soul singing can be so different for the singer that, in the latter case, the people listening can see the singer glow.

peace. s

Consider the Source

1352 Relax and Succeed - Opinions are other people's realities

A local afternoon radio drive show wanted to know what their listeners thought of the star-based rating system for plays or movies. Opinions came down on both sides, but which opinion someone has is irrelevant to this post. This is about how human beings routinely and unwittingly demonstrate the flexibility of reality.

What separates choosing using reviews vs choosing based on those with the most stars, is that the star system presumes a universal reality. 5 Stars is seen as a fact for anyone to experience, and yet we all know one person can love a movie or play and another person can hate it.

A quick example easily illustrates that using the star system has an invisible and significant qualifier attached –the person assigning the stars may have little in common with many of the people using them.

Let’s say that someone sees a play in a Fringe Theatre Program. Let’s imagine it’s called “Ugly Business” and the description says, “The sale of a family company and the arrival of a long lost sister complicate a family’s feelings over their roles and what they believe they are owed.”

Some of them will read that and think to themselves: Ah! I’m more of a creative person, I’m not interested in stories about business or people fighting over an inheritance. Plus it only got two stars.

And if they think that, then they often won’t think it’s relevant for them to read the full description or any reviews. And yet a review might be half way through before it says something like, “I was largely disappointed because this wasn’t what I went in expecting, so consider that. It takes place in a business, but it’s really more of a complex emotional story about the assumptions humans make about their roles in families.”

“Maybe if you’ve been adopted and had a reuniting process go badly this play might have depth I can’t feel, but this reviewer couldn’t find her way into this material despite very able performances and direction.”

1352 Relax and Succeed - Value happens within us

Now, let us also imagine that both the playwright/performer and the person picking the play share the fact that they were both adopted at the same age. And imagine their experiences attempting to reunite with a birth parent went terribly.

Add the fact that the performer and the prospective theater-goer are around the same age and will have shared many of the same major social and cultural experiences and suddenly that feels like the perfect play.

This is the connection all performers want with the audience, even in a comedy. If a play can establish any form of genuine empathy with us, rapport can easily build between the performer and audience. That effect can easily turn something from a two star rating into a five.

People have preached efficiency and brevity and ease as though they are religions. But as things like the Slow Food Movement, pedestrian based neighbourhoods and the resurgence of things like board games and dinner parties demonstrate, many people are more interested in connection than efficiency.

In movies or plays or restaurants, star systems have a real validity. But using them –along with other abbreviations of complex life experiences– threatens to alter the notion of ‘value’ in the same way that facebook accidentally changed and shallowed the definition of ‘friend.’ Those kind of redefinitions are not things society can double back on.

We can use stars if they work for us. But no matter what ‘systems’ we use to ease our decision-making in life, there will be trade-offs. Any decision can be fine depending on the individual and context, but we should know not only why we’re making any given decision, but also why we’re not making the alternate decisions.

We can’t just look at the upsides of something, we have to ask what price or consequence goes with each system or decision and weigh each one on the basis of both realities.

Choosing to use stars to judge art by is completely legitimate. That legitimacy is made wise if we also use that system knowing full well that our approach may cause us to occasionally miss out on value that can only be found by slowing things down to a speed where we can read life’s fine print.

peace. s