Saturday, July 2, 2016

Remaining Clear and True to the Pulse of Life, Part III

Welcome to the finale of a three-part meditation on Mark Nepo's "Wrong View," the July 2d entry in his brilliant day-book, The Book of Awakening (1). Our mental well-being depends, Nepo says, on " clear and true we remain to the pulse of life...".

What is the "pulse of life?" The poetic phrase captivated me, and I felt the need to explore it more deeply.
  • In Part I, we concluded that the Pulse of Life is the quest to commune in Oneness. 
  • In Part II, we explored how to remain "clear and true" to this quest for Oneness given the distractions, opportunities, and challenges of our current technological age. 
  • Here in Part III, we turn to some ideas for moving toward an age of integration and increased Oneness. 
Since terms like integration and oneness are difficult to translate into how we live on a daily basis without a lot of New Age lingo, we put forward the idea of betterness. Maybe we cannot describe what Oneness will feel like, but we can all recognize betterness in the form of sustained, continuous improvement in our well-being and overall quality of life. This installment then is about using the idea of "betterness" as a means of marking progress toward an ill-defined goal of an age of integration and increased Oneness.  

Remaining Clear and True to the Pulse of Life:
Where do we go from here?

We want ourselves, our children, our friends and family, and our neighbors and co-workers to all experience outstanding well-being: to be healthy, happy, and prosperous. Nepo says that key to this high level of well-being is fidelity to the Pulse of Life--the urge to get better, and ultimately to commune in Oneness with all through unity with the Divine Other. 

This quest is a real problem worthy of study but challenging to describe. The quest is not easy--indeed, it is not meant to be easy. We all struggle, according to our ability. I believe it is possible for everyone, even the most disadvantaged of us, to listen for and move with the Pulse of Life. We can help each other overcome distractions and challenges and leverage our collective strengths to move toward a better state. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own journey.

 Climbing the ladder
Photograph: Paul Hardy / Corbis

More than the urge to merely survive, the Pulse of Life seems to imply the innate urge to get better, to improve, to move forward on a path to Oneness. We are compelled to push beyond survival as a means to achieving "betterness." The ongoing struggle requires alignment of heart (values), head (plans), and hands (actions) (2). Because enacting our values uses the full spectrum from concepts to implementation, the struggle could be called the "Art-Science of Betterness" (3). 

Continuous improvement in this sense can be described as moving up a ladder from Survival to Stability to Success to Significance (4).  We move up and down the ladder over time, and we probably all know people at each level.

Many books have been written, read, forgotten, and rewritten on the subject of attaining happiness. The uncertainty of life guarantees that there will never be one and only one path to attain universal bliss. Happiness, Self-actualization, Significance, Oneness, Betterness. There are as many paths as there are journeyers. I write to acknowledge the universal quest, to suggest one possible path, and to encourage others who are on the same journey. 

I realize this whole thing sounds rather esoteric to this point. I'd like to make my concept of betterness more plain through employing the 4 Cs of: 

    Compassion, Communication, Cooperation, and Communion

    We remain clear and true to the pulse of life and move toward an integrated age of increased Oneness by developing competence in four critical aspects of character which I call the 4 Cs. The remainder of this post is a description of the Four Cs essential to Betterness.

    • Compassion, 
    • Communication, 
    • Cooperation, and 
    • Communion

    Wojtek Kwiatkowski Photography


    The Dali Lama has defined compassion as love in action. Feeling love is not enough. Love is a verb. To live well, one must DO love. How are you showing compassion in the world? How are you living out your love in community with others? What happens when you see ugly behavior, or when you yourself do not show compassion?

    The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one of two things: either love, or a call for love. 
                                                              --Marianne Williamson

    Every human act can be seen as either an act of love, or a plea for love. If we see the world as flowing over with love, we treat ourselves and all others with fairness, dignity, and respect. The lack of love explains a lot of rude and selfish behavior in the world. Without compassion, people may feel insignificant or forgotten, and they may lose hope. 

    Show love. Be a beacon of compassion in a lost world. 

    Wojtek Kwiatkowski Photography


    Compassion sets the stage for life, but how does one put compassion into motion? With apologies to Matt Groening, I believe that

    "Communication is the cause of, and the solution to, all of life's problems." 

    What sort of problems are we talking about? Poverty, ignorance, disease, famine, war? Yes! Peace follows from justice. Where there is injustice, there will be unrest. How can we get better by using communication?

    We must put values first. We must be clear about our values--about what really matters--to ourselves and to the people closest to us. In conflict, we must find the common values and use those as a foundation. No discussion of what to do about a problem should occur until after there is group consensus on shared values. Lacking consensus, friction is inevitable.

    People can rationalize almost anything, even seemingly contradictory things. Flexibility and the ability to compromise in some things are essential interpersonal skills. The only way to avoid constant conflict on one extreme, or a complete lack of progress on the other, is to be Value Focused (5) in your orientation. Put values first as a compass when deciding which way to go for you and yours.

    Effective communication requires (a) Clear thought, (b) Open channels, and (c) Attentive receptor. Commit to improving your own communication skills and you will enable others to communicate more effectively as well.

    Wojtek Kwiatkowski Photography


    Competition is healthy. Constructive criticism is beneficial. In the spirit of mutual benefit, we need to consider the role of cooperation in terms of helping the less fortunate or the differently-abled.

    When people feel hopeless, the cause is imbalance. Even the perception of imbalance can induce despair. Thinking people and leaders need to consider the vital importance of a balance of power and the role of cooperation in achieving increased betterness

    The world's shifting economic center of gravity is depicted in the map above. Black dots represent movement of the center of gravity from its 1980 mid-Atlantic position to the present. Red dots are forward projections to 2049. The point is that nothing stays the same. Every living thing changes and so every collection of living things also evolves, adapts, changes. Since nothing stays the same, we must learn to cooperate. Help one another. Take the good with the bad. Feel the joy or the pain of the moment fully, and then let it dissipate before it blocks out the the experiences awaiting to unfold in the next moment.
    Wojtek Kwiatkowski Photography


    The pulse of life? It begins with the recognition that all living things change. All things are connected. If we keep an open mind, we can see that some changes we can influence, but most of the time we must simply struggle to maintain balance in the midst of constant change of life all around us. Balance is maintained best when we keep our focus on the central values.

    Everything is connected. We are, quite literally, stardust. With apologies to the '70s rock group, America, I borrowed and re-purposed a snippet of lyric from their classic tune, "A Horse with No Name (6)."

    On the first part of the journey
    I was looking at all the life
    There were plants and birds and rocks and things
    There was sand and hills and rings...

    Communion is not limited to people and Creator. Communion in relation to the Pulse of Life

    The Art-Science of Betterness includes improved communion with "rocks and plants and birds and things." There was a time in my life when I would have attacked such a phrase as "flaky." But consider the following: After the Big Bang, the basic building blocks of all light, matter, and anti-matter flew outward. The material building blocks of all things gradually cooling and coalescing into simple atoms and molecules. The minerals, flora, fauna, and all things we see today, both natural and man-made, are composed of atoms, molecules, and compounds created from energy that existed before time began.
    "Against the classical concepts of permanence and identity the realization that all living is a dynamic process of transformation from which no entity escapes now stands backed up by the whole edifice of scientific research and theory. 
    "On the ruins of the world of thought dogmatically extolled by nineteenth century minds we witness the reappearance of ancient concepts which were for millennia the foundations of human knowledge. 
    "The universe is once more to be understood as an ocean of energies in which two vast complementary tides can be distinguished. Everywhere a dynamic and electrical dualism appears as the foundation upon which all reality stands."
    --Astrologer Dane Rudhyar
    The Universe is an ocean of mysterious energies. Again borrowing from America, that universal "ocean is a desert with its life underground and a perfect disguise above." The most enlightened among us appreciate that we  "rocks and plants and birds and things" are all swimming in the same Universal ocean trying to move upward and onward toward the original source of love and light. 
    A cause of disenfranchisement is selfishness or a lack of compassion. A source of ennui is disconnectedness resulting from poor communication, A feeling of injustice or imbalance comes from a lack of cooperation. Finally a sense of debasement comes form a lack of regular communion with the divine spark.
    Remaining clear and true to the pulse of life can be difficult in a technological age. The art and science of betterness is about the values that lead us closer to Oneness. In light of the highly technical and increasingly networked world in which we live, how do we identify and nurture the values that lead us in the best direction?
    The way to move onward and upward is to 
    • express love with compassion
    • communicate love with intention, 
    • cooperate in the spirit of mutual benefit, and 
    • spend time in grateful communion.
    Notes and attributions

    (1) My muse and spirit guide for this series of articles is the incomparable Mark Nepo, author of several books but most widely known for his acclaimed Book of Awakening.

    (2) The specific reference to heart, head, and hands is attributed to Robert Pirsig. author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    (3) The "art and science of better" is the catchphrase of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science. The phrase has become something of a buzzword in the Analytics community. My twist to betterness from better is made to focus more on the process rather than the state. Better is a milestone on the journey to Betterness.  

    (4) Survival to stability to success to significance is the scale developed by Zig Ziglar and used by many to put Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in an alliterative form. 

    (5) Value-Focused Thinking is the brainchild of Ralph Keeney.

    (6) Full lyrics to America's classic tune, "A Horse with No Name" are available HERE

    (7) The four beautiful Desert Horse images are from photos by the incomparable Wojtek Kwiatkowski, equine photographer.

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