Namaste

These past two months, and these last two weeks in particular, I have noticed an increase in disrespectful behaviour on several Facebook groups that I am a part of.  Some of these groups have absolutely nothing to do with each other, so there is no correlating theme that might suggest crossover between them. So what is causing people to behave so badly in a public forum?

Trolling and dishonourable behaviour has always plagued online discussions, due to the lack of face to face contact and the deterioration of basic social skills as a result of an increased virtual presence and virtual world.  One can very easily be rude to a faceless person, or a faceless mass – there is no real-time, real-life repercussions in most cases (barring those individuals who have been prosecuted for various internet related crimes and misdemeanours, such as bullying or trolling on gross levels, often involving minors).  It’s a sad state of affairs, and I fear for the future of social interaction in a world where people are addicted to their phones and other social media (yes, I spot the irony in an online blog, but bear with me) and are increasingly isolating themselves whilst under the illusion of always being connected.

People being rude for apparently no reason, people are trying to publicly shame another person or group, people for whom basic manners is all but lost, people with low self-esteem or any other number of issues that lead too poor behaviour.  But why this sudden increase lately?

I wonder whether it has something to do with the weather.  Here in Britain, in a climate that for the most part does not suffer the extremes that other countries deal with on a regular basis, when it is very hot or very cold there can be a rise in poor behaviour.  These past few weeks Britain has experienced a heat wave, which may have something to do with what is happening in these groups.  In Psychology Today, Amie Gordon states “in the summer, hotter weather was associated with being in a more negative mood. Heat is also associated with increased aggression. So when you find yourself feeling sad, grouchy, or wanting to punch someone in the middle of summer, try taking a weekend trip to somewhere cool.”  (For the full article, see http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-you-and-me/201301/sour-in-the-sun-3-unexpected-ways-weather-affects-your-mood).  Dr Joh Grohol wrote a in his online blog “Heat waves are related to more violent behavior and aggression,  may be associated with higher drug and alcohol abuse,  anxiety tends to decrease with a rise in temperatures,  depression and lowered mood tends to increase with a rise in temperatures, high levels of humidity — which often accompany a heat wave — lower concentration,  high humidity also increases sleepiness (probably related to poor sleep) and  high humidity also appears related to a lack of vigor and energy”  (http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/07/20/the-psychology-of-a-heat-wave).

Though we are not, and can never be, separate from external forces such as the weather, we are also highly equipped to deal with our emotions and behaviour through cultural and social standards, upbringing and self-discipline.  We are not slaves to these either, but can use them to help reinforce a positive world-view and to make this world a better place for all beings. It is entirely in our hands.

When we are engaging with the world, whether it is using an online presence or a physical face to face engagement, we have to remember that we are dealing with another soul.  This is a person who has thoughts and feelings, a history and a future, a journey in life that they are trying to complete perhaps as best they can.  It’s all too easy to forget this.  I am often reminded by the simple Hindu word/phrase, Namaste – my spirit honours your spirit.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namaste). Keeping this in mind has helped me a great deal.

This is not to say that simple acceptance of bad behaviour should take place, that we cannot change the world, that you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe in – if you need to speak out on an issue, then you should, with honour and respect.  I have done so in the past, and indeed am currently doing so in this very blog.  Note that I have not named names, groups, or anything that would personally implicate another soul.  Instead, I am trying in my own little way to work through this issue, have my say and try to make the world a better place.

So, if you are ever tempted to belittle, degrade, shame another person, either in person or in an online forum, perhaps in the hopes of getting people to “your side” of the issue, remember that there are no sides, that there is no real need for this behaviour, no positive effect on the world at large.  Talk about it, talk it through with respect.  Love and compassion are key, and where two souls meet but cannot agree, then, with respect, bow and walk away.

Being kind is not difficult.

And if all else fails, find somewhere cool to think it through first. Namaste

An Enlightened Druid?

Many people ask – what is enlightenment?  Oh for an easily explained answer.  The Buddha, when choosing his successor, simply held up a flower and one of his disciples was enlightened and smiled – he then became the successor.  There are many stories in Zen philosophy and spirituality about enlightenment, but none of these stories actually tell you just what it is. And nor should they – it is something to be experienced, not read or talked about.

Outiside of Japan, most Zen practioners experience enlightenment gradually, as opposed to the full smack upside the head that satori can create.  It is through meditaiton, and being completely aware that you gradually gain enlightenment.  As the ego starts to fall away, the so-called “real” self emerges.

To allow the ego to fall away, one technique is to use the “Don’t Know” mind.

“Everybody says, “I” — “I want this, I am like that…” But nobody understands this “I.” Before you were born, where did your I come from? When you die, where will your I go? If you sincerely ask, “What am I?” sooner or later you will run into a wall where all thinking is cut off. We call this “Don’t know.” Zen is keeping this “Don’t know” mind always and everywhere. When walking, standing, sitting, lying down, speaking, being silent, moving, being still. At all times, in all places, without interruption – what is this?” – taken from http://zen.buddhism.org/about-zen.html

It’s a hard thing to admit that we don’t really know anything.  And yet, any true scientiest will tell you that it is impossible to know 100% about anything – there is always margin for error.  When we embrace the fact that we don’t really know anything, whole worlds open up for us.  We can examine ourselves more deeply, and then ponder even on the notion of self if we were to take it one step further.  Enlightenment is said to strike when we realise that there is no self – that we are all part of everything else. In Zen, the term “oneness” is often used, but I don’t like the monopoly that this word invokes – instead I think of it as a “wholeness”.

When we are completely in the moment, when our chattering minds are stilled, when our sense of self falls away and there is only the now, we become enlightened.  In this state, many great things can happen – the perfect haiku is written, the archer and the target become one and the bullseye is hit without thought, the music simply flows, the painting emerges.

This reminds me of a similar term in Druidry, which is awen.  Many people now believe the Welsh word’s translation to be something akin to “flowing spirit” or “flowing inspiration”.  Is this any different to the Eastern version of enlightenment?  As Druids, we gain awen from the world around us, which inspires us to create or to be still, to act or to remain passive, to be in complete and total relationship with the world around us.  Not so different to satori, is it?  Again, to be in a perfect relationship with the world around us, we must learn not to separate the I from the It – instead viewing the world as a whole rather than as separate.  In this way, the inspiration or flowing spirit can flow freely down all channels directly into our soul and out into the wider web of the universe.

So, am I enlightened?

Don’t know.

Animals or individuals? The Human Arrogance…

BBC News published an article on dolphins recently, explaining the point of view that some scientists have come to conclude  that dolphins and whales are “people” and should be given rights as individuals. See the article here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-17116882

Reading this article provoked conflicting emotions within me – both happiness that finally some people are starting to catch on, and anger at the continuing human arrogance and ignorance that is our perpetual state of being for the majority of humankind.

The exceeding arrogance, that we as human animals, determine whether an animal is “sufficiently intelligent” just rocks me to my very core.  As an animist, I see and hear, I acknowledge, with respect, the soul song, the physical manifestation of every living thing in as much as I can with total awareness – I’m not perfect, but I usually catch myself out when I find I am lacking.  That this outmoded and outdated worldview still exists today, coming from philosophies and religions that place humankind at the top of some existential hierarchy makes me want to scream my outrage at the complete and utter stupidity of it all.

“It is based on years of research that has shown dolphins and whales have large, complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness. This has led the experts to conclude that although non-human, dolphins and whales are “people” in a philosophical sense, which has far-reaching implications.” What I want to know is why we are always comparing other animals to our own selves, our own brains and ideas about self-awareness, especially using really really old philosophy that maybe, just maybe, needs to be rethought? How limiting is that – to compare all animals to our own humanity? Sounds primitive, totally ridiculous – reminds me of the saying “Dogs think they’re human, cats think they’re Gods”.  If we are so damned self-aware, why can we not recognise that this ability may be in other animals as well – we just don’t see it, we can’t find the “place in the brain” or the trigger cues, such as the mirror test mentioned in the article, because we are lacking in sufficient knowledge to see or find it.

My point is made clear in Dr Marino’s statement in the article –  “We went from seeing the dolphin/whale brain as being a giant amorphous blob that doesn’t carry a lot of intelligence and complexity to not only being an enormous brain but an enormous brain with an enormous amount of complexity, and a complexity that rivals our own.” We failed to recognise something, and so we discounted it – what we don’t understand, we throw away, ignore, or worse – we demean it.  And the icing on the cake? Believing that we are special, that we have enormously complex brains that make us different.  How about we just have different brains?  We can’t say for 100% that other animals don’t have complex brains – they may just use them differently.  We cannot compare apples to oranges.  And that also raises the question – what of all the livings things that don’t have brains?

It is interesting to hear Ethics Professor, Tom White, discussing at what point we needs to step in to defend what we see as equal to our own self.   He defined dolphins as “non-human persons”, stating that “a person needs to be an individual. If individuals count, then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being”.

Does a person have to be an individual to count?  What are the criteria? Is it universal? Why?

In an interesting related article, five Killer Whales are sueing Seaworld on slavery charges – full article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16920866. Interestingly, one of the whales in on the plaintiff’s side is also a murderer – he killed his trainer in a show, and has been linked to two other deaths http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12920267 .  Clearly, he is not a happy bunny, so to speak – that or he is demonstrating his natural song, to kill things seal-size (note he did not eat them, however, as he would have a seal – could we taste that bad, or is this demonstrative behaviour against slavery?) If we see him as a person, could we then charge him with murder?  The icing on the cake, is the trainer’s opinion on the matter to put him back in the shows still (with the trainers safely behind steel bars where they can’t be harmed – yet). “ Participating in shows is just a portion of Tilikum’s day, but we feel it is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment,” he said in a statement. Once again, human arrogance and ignorance rears its ugly, ugly head. That, and the whale makes a killing financially for Seaworld (pun intended, with all due respect to the family of the dead trainer and two others victims).

When are we going to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee? When are we going to admit that we are not smarter, cleverer, or the dominant species in a world that is so rich and vast with other living beings?  When are we going to admit to ourselves that we don’t know everything, that we can’t really even know anything?  This has really got me thinking – it is even okay to ride horses?  In my love of horse riding, have I been ignorant too?  I have never ridden a horse that, from what I can tell, doesn’t want to be ridden – I learned my lesson from a temperamental Arab mare who threw me off whenever she just wanted to be left alone.  But what of the others who were not so overt in their opinions? Does that cat really want to be picked up an cuddled?  Do those dogs really enjoy pulling that sled?

How much longer can we all be complicit in our arrogance and ignorance?