The Great Murmuration

As the afternoon begins to wind down, a soft sound fills the sky  from an unseen source. It begins to get louder, and louder, as my eyes cast about the terrain looking the cause of the interruption of silence.

I am sitting peacefully, mediating, looking over the water, a   small lake, surrounded by oaks and maples that have already surrendered their leaves for the season.

There is a distinct chill in the air, and, at the risk of sounding cliché, I know what all of nature knows: winter is descending.

They come in for a landing. Ducks. Hundreds of them, landing on the lake, in their annual migration.

An award winning photography series by  Daniel Biber cin 2018 captured a starling murmuration where the shape the flock takes becomes a giant starling in the sky.

As I’m writing this, I open Google to search for their exact species name, and am disturbed to realize that the vast majority of “waterfowl migration” websites are duck hunting websites. The sadness lingers in my chest for a moment, before I can come back to these words.

These beautiful red-headed ducks chirp and chatter as they descend, but it’s the sound of their wings that I am listening to, a gentle, sweeping sound, barley discernable under the honking.

The sound of wings would fill the air like a strong wind if there weren’t so much Duck Talk going on.

I imagine myself being a duck and wondering why all my brothers and sisters are talking so much. As a human, I am very moved by non-verbal communication.

The ducks’ orange webbed feet skid in for a landing, the water splashing with the sound of a rain shower, and then, instantly, everything falls silent. They’ve landed. There is silence.

The behavior of flying in a flock of hundreds fascinates me.

Ducks like these exemplify it, but Starlings have made it famous: the effect known as “murmuration.”

A murmuration of starlings sweeps across the sky in the thousands, reforming, sweeping, swirling, dancing, all as one. It looks like they’re dancing, just having fun. And the shapes the flock takes resemble a constantly changing rorschach blot. An award winning photography series by  Daniel Biber cin 2018 captured a starling murmuration where the shape the flock takes becomes a giant starling in the sky.

It’s a fascinating behavior, and Starlings are about the most eloquent symphony to watch, even when they are not forming a fractal pattern that resembles a giant bird.

At the individual level, the murmuration phenomenon is relatively straightforward: when a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. When a flock turns in unison, it’s called a phase transition ~ the same phenominon that causes water to become ice instantly, when it reaches the correct temperature. Turns out, laws of physics apply to biology, too.

There is no better metaphor for understanding collective consciousness than a murmuration.

Humans use different words for this phenomena: we call it shoaling in fish, flocking in birds, swarming in insects, herding in land animals. In human behavior, it’s useful to view society as a large-scale murmuration.

From ideologies that societies hold, to patterns of behavior we belief, adopt and accept because we are influenced to do so by our neighbors, mom and dad, marketing agencies, politicians, and so forth.

In human society, we witness ideological murmurations.

What scientists do not understand about the murmuration of starlings is how “critical mass” is reached. How, spontaneously, does the entire flock turn on a dime, and instantaneously create  a new form? This is not a choreographed ballet, and no one has filed a flight plan with the control tower. It just happens, spontaneously, and all individuals are affected, all at once.

All water, at 32 degrees F, turns to ice. No individual water molecule has any say in the matter whatsoever. To the extent that Starlings have free will, a rogue flyer or two or 10 could opt-out of the murmuration. Or could they? Is group behavior so strong when it reaches critical mass that it overrides free will?

And how does this apply to human behavior?

When we’re living in a society where the zeitgeist of norms no longer serves us, when enough individuals agree to disagree with the patterns of behavior we have been living with for so long, that we achieve critical mass, then, a new pattern arises.

And society undergoes a phase shift, just as Starlings create a new shape in the air.

That’s the best metaphor there is for the transition human global civilization is undergoing in our lifetimes. We are witnessing a great murmuration, perhaps the greatest one since the Renaissance of DaVinci; perhaps the greatest one since the evolution of Homo Sapiens.

This societal phase shift is precipitated by nothing less than the convergent crises of global warming, the end of the age of fossil fuels, the collapse of the patriarchic systems of control.

The Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, one of the most influential spiritual leaders on Earth, has said that the 20th century has been characterized by war, violence, hate and greed.

If we are to survive, the 21st century must be one of peace and spirituality.

That’s the direction of the phase shift I am working for.

Possibly our great murmuration could go another direction,  but it’s important to look in the direction we want to go, to influence the great human murmuration.

To what degree do our thoughts attract our experiences?

I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon that doesn’t seem to make much logical sense.

When I am feeling good, and noticing I am having happier thoughts, inexplicable things seem to happen. Yesterday, several people messaged me who I would not have expected to have heard from ~ creating more “positive potential.”

It seems to me that being in a happier state of mind somehow attracts “from a distance” other opportunities along the same lines.
It’s as if there’s some kind of principle of attraction (like mind sets attracting like-minded people and events) at play ~ at a non-physical level. I’d even call it a super-conscious level.
It seems to be a property of consciousness that thoughts act like magnets.
More peculiar still, my actions might have had a larger influence on the existence of this particular social event than it would seem.

Ironically, one thing for me that I notice is necessary for my brain health and helping it attract on the non-physical level is having all of my physical needs met. Food, water, shelter, of course, but I mean more physiological too: emotional, physical touch, and being in a state of sexual-emotional nourishment is, honestly, like the “rocket fuel” of “manifestation” I find. That, as well, as as a daily meditation practice to calm balance and center the mind, seems to help as much as eating fresh fruits and vegetables and getting enough physical exercise.

That’s a major reason why, for me, only what I call “Sacred Sexuality” is appropriate to invite in. That doesn’t mean “romantic sexuality” exclusively. To be honest, I find healthy sexuality to be VERY different from our culturally conditioned ideas of it.

Same with life, in general. Our society really has us twisted up in knots.

I think that when we work our regular jobs, or participate in “society as usual,” staying busy in such ways as we do, our consciousness is numbed, atrophied, and the effect I’m describing becomes not only less obvious, but possibly less pronounced.

Much of my days are filled with a lot of “spaceousness” ~ time when I don’t have any specific obligations. That, in itself, is exceptionally rare for people today. Because of work, but also because they simply have lost the capacity to “do nothing” and “sit still.” But it’s what Buddhist Monks do a lot of, and it’s what Aboriginal and Native Peoples did a lot of of, too. It is said hunting and gathering and village life only required 4 hours of “work” per day to meet the needs of the people in the village. The rest of their time was spent more or less in stillness.

So few of us have the “luxury” of doing this today, which is sad. And being one of the only ones I know with the “privilege” of being able to do that, I am noticing more and more and more. It also, though, of course, feels lonlely, as I wonder, “Am I the only one?”

I have become more disciplined about meditating before bed, and in the morning, cultivating the mental muscle to monitor my thoughts and to the best of my ability, keep the negative ones out. That requires quite a bit of concentration, and, just like it’s hard to concentrate if you don’t eat well, meditating in such a way is a challenge when the mind/body/spirit is not nourished in having its social needs met. 

It is obvious to me that focusing on maintaining a happy state of mind is essential to me moving forward on my path ~ it must be my number one priority if I am to succeed at attracting and creating “out of thin air” the opportunities needed to become a paid workshop leader and public speaker. Intrinsic to that is an environment of social nourishment, I believe ~ something very worthwhile of devoting resources to.

I’m out on the fringes of society here and trying to “Chip away” at the status quo, influencing individuals to realize and remember what’s important. I feel like this is one of my main purposes in life ~ doing so involved creating my Authentic Relating workshops, NVC/empathy groups, and even cuddle parties.

It’s an energy I felt out west that I feel is wanting to grow here in Kansas City, but is just beginning to take root. I’m feeling like my role here is to help it grow.

I have a massage scheduled with someone willing to work in trade, not money. There is a “gift economy” developing, largely springing out of the “Burning Man” scene, and infiltrating more and more into the daily lives of the more and more people.

Bodywork really helps with keeping the physiological balance in the body.

There is a growing interest and understand that it makes sense to trade for goods and services, and get away from “I give you money for this,” then “you give me money for that.”

It’s obviously an idea the Native Americans understood, and finally is coming back in vogue. That’s another trend I see essential to help encourage if our society has any hope of getting out of this mess.

We have a big mess to get out of as a society.
It’s going to take a lot of what I call “Off the Spectrum” thinking to get us there.

As always, love and welcome your comments and feedback!

Intimacy ~ “into-me-see”

Yesterday was the first really very good day I had in quite a while. In the evening, there was also an unexpected gathering that a friend put together, which was more than just a social event…. there were about 6 of us there, and we are all in a unique space of seeing the world differently, for lack of a better way to say it.

I think the general feeling I want to express is that there’s a shared understanding that “getting a grip” on our lives is no small accomplishment for those of us who have the courage to live according to our convictions. It’s something that no diploma will ever be awarded for; and it’s something very hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been through it.

Even “successful” people who “benefit” from the world as it is are having more and more of a difficult time financially, (just think about the ballooning of student debt), and are experiencing ever greater levels of stress and anxiety in their careers. The constant pull of busier and busier lives reinforces our emotional disconnect from each other, which has been in a state of dis-ease as a culture for generations. This is the American-made version of the Chinese Finger Trap. The more we fight against it, the more we get stuck.

All of my friends are ones who have opted out of “business as usual” and are asking “What the heck do we do instead?”

One of our friends, Allen Little, recently gave a Ted X talk in Chicago on “Self Talk” and is becoming a rather successful Life Coach. Knowing him is a real blessing and anchor for our group. I recently did an episode with him on the “Off the Spectrum,” podcast and we’re recording another one Wednesday.

So 6 of us got together last night, and gatherings like that remind me that I’m not crazy. Too frequently, I still wonder if my experience of being depressed & frustrated is all in my head. Why don’t other people seem to feel this way? Is it just me? Can’t be. Some people just don’t talk about it. Others just accept it. It’s the ones who have opted out who can see the culture we are living in more clearly.

I think a good metaphor is a goldfish swimming in a dirty bowl. Our environment is polluted with toxic emotions and unrealistic expectations in working environments. Meanwhile, the solutions that clean the water are connection, affection, love, intimacy, (phonetically “in-to-me-see”), and they are all being suffocated by lives that are far too busy, hectic and rushed. It’s rare pockets of humans who come together and actually feel safe being vulnerable with each other. It feels like taking a bubble bath. It’s a real blessing in a world where it should be normal.

With the lack of vulnerability present in many social interactions, even if we’re all spending time together, we’re not being nourished by one other. At worst, we’re actively abusing each other by connecting through sarcastic humor, insults meant as compliments and a very black-and-white approach to physical touch. We often rush into romantic partnerships because the needs for intimacy we feel go unfulfilled in our close friendships.

Intimacy is often taboo.

Lonliness is never more present than when we first take a step back and set good boundaries about who to let into our lives.
When we have healthy people in our lives, then we can take a few steps closer to creating healthy intimacy with boundaries that don’t neeed to be so cut and dry.

Equal with a sense of loneliness, a sense of hopelessness around what Buddhism calls “right livelihood” shows up when we truly think about what kinds of working environments are actually healthy and available. Society that has forgotten how to define itself through anything other than work which keeps us running ever faster on the hamster wheel. The wheel is going to fall off its gears at this rate.

The work we do is all based on production and consumption, which makes us not only emotionally unhappier but is causing our climate to destabilize. If we want to save the planet, and save ourselves, we’d all be much better off working far less and spending far more time simply … being with each other.

The depression I feel comes from seeing all of this, as well as frequently finding it a struggle to find people to spend time with, as so many of us fill our time with a mix of obligatory tasks and then the emotionally-avoidant ones.

Depression arises from realizing the truth and feeling powerless to communicate it. Spending time with a good group of friends last night was very emotionally therapeutic. A lot of this is what my book is about.

Pre-order now….

ANGER IS THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE

Fear is not the opposite of Love, despite the popularity of this belief. Fear and Love are only opposites in the sense that they are two sides of the same coin. When we Love & Fear something, it’s called “Respect.” For example, we respect fire. Anger, on the other hand, is the true antithesis of Love.

The expression “Fear is the opposite of Love” was popularized by Marianne Williamson in “A Course in Miracles,” and has been repeated so often, (including by Jim Carrey in his viral commencement address at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa) that it has become a BELIEF in our society.

“Beliefs” are concepts we accept as Truths regardless of their validity. This belief isn’t as dangerous as some, but it’s incorrect nevertheless, and I’d like to see more of us critically question our beliefs and assumptions. Assumptions become Beliefs when we start acting on them.

Fear is not the opposite of Love.
This understanding is incomplete.
Anger is more accurately the opposite of Love.

WHAT IS ANGER?
Anger arises from being mistreated, being oppressed, bullied, etc. Fear is often manufactured by oppressors as a way of keeping the oppressed in line. Anger is what mass shooters feel, and they are really the very embodiment of the lack of love in our society. They weren’t raised with love, but rather with hate. I’d say they actually are in a state of reckless fearlessness (of consequences, etc.). They’ve truly gotten over any and all fear to act out of Anger, the opposite of Love.

There are some valid points Marianne Williamson makes, and I feel that her overall message is beneficial, but I would like to see her question some of her assumptions …. maybe realize that she is making some assumptions.

Synchronicity works in Mysterious Ways….

For the past week, there has been an Amazon Prime package sitting in my apartment building’s mailroom, addressed to my address but not to me. I marked “not at this address” on the package, but the mailman hasn’t taken it back. Either because Prime Packages aren’t forwarded, or because Prime is making its own deliveries in its own trucks nowadays. I don’t know why. It’s just been sitting there for a week. So today I decided to open it. I debated the morality of this, but it clearly wasn’t going anywhere. So I thought, hmmm….. a mysterious package, addressed to my address. Well …. what would Tom Hanks do? It could be a Volleyball. Or a gift from the Universe.

Well, I warmed up a plate of food the Hare Krisha’s had given me, remembering the conversation I had with the monks Saturday night where we disagreed about celibacy being the pathway to God, and snipped the tip off the package with my scissors.

It wasn’t a Volleyball.
It was the jumbo-size box of Trojan ultra thins!

It was just yesterday that I was writing about pills being a “condom for my emotions.” And look what ended up “manifesting” on my doorstep….

Maybe there is someone in my Vortex I didn’t know about …
I hope the synchronicities continue….

Because in the back of my mind, I was secretly worrying the Hare Krishnas were right.

But I doubt the Universe would give me a gift I couldn’t use.

Thanks for the gift, Universe. Much gratitude. I decided I’m going to keep them. If it’s ok with you, Universe, I’d prefer to use them all in the same place, if you know what I mean.

I hope this is a good omen.
Unless I’m going to Hell for opening someone else’s mail….

I’m sorry for the fellow who didn’t receive his delivery.
I hope that doesn’t mean his girlfriend broke up with him.

Stand in the corner until you achieve enlightenment!

Who else was “put in the corner” as a kid?
There were 2 reasons for this:1) as punishment for something we did wrong2) to “figure out” what we did wrong when we didn’t actually know
If we didn’t know, going into to corner to figure it our is the exact same as meditating to achieve enlightenment.
If we didn’t know what we did wrong, it’s because we didn’t understand out parent’s point of view as to why our actions were “bad.” If we didn’t know, we had to “reverse-engineer” what the rule was that we’d broken if we didn’t know there was a rule there in the first place.
Meditation, sitting on the cushion, ideally helps us, through silence and disconnetion from the world we came from, come to figure out what’s actually real in an environment where all the untruths we’ve been taught no longer apply.
It’s not impossible, but silent meditation is not really a very effective way to get there. We need more of a framework first. Silent meditation is a good time to reflect on the dharma.
But, if we misunderstand the dharma in the first place (understanding it through the frame of mind and lense of the society we come from), it’s mostly impossible for us to “reverse-engineer” what’s actually true. We have too many false conceptions in our way that we think are actually true.
Silent meditation retreats can help us uncondition our minds.
But unconditioning is just step one.
After unconditioning occurs, then we have to have a roadmap to what is actually true.
That is more than a spiritual roadmap.That’s a social roadmap, a behavior roadmap, an emotional roadmap.
We need to remember what’s really important. What values do we really hold?
And how do we live them in a world that rejects them?In a very backward world, where there is only a glimmer of light?
“Everything is impossible until it is done,” Nelson Mandella.

Being a spiritual teacher is a lot like being an alarm clock on a Monday morning.

We mostly live in our thoughts,
and our thoughts are mostly what we’ve been taught.

In other words, what we believe to be true that isn’t so
is worse than what we don’t know we don’t know.

“Savvy?” I think I need to call in Captain Jack after that tongue-twister.

It’s a little bit like confusing facts with opinions. The problem is “our” beliefs are manipulated by others ~ from politicians to toxic relationships partners ~ without our consent. Can we pick out which ones don’t belong? It’s like a game on Sesame Street.

REFRAIN:
We mostly live in our thoughts,
and our thoughts are mostly what we’ve been taught.

In other words, what we believe to be true that isn’t so
is worse than what we don’t know we don’t know.

Detangling what is actually true from the rest is stage 1 of awakening. Stage 2 is even harder: living a life that follows the truth, in a world bewitched by beliefs. Stage 3 is empathy & compassion for all of those who don’t know, others who don’t want to know, and others still who will get angry at those who do know. Where is Captain Jack when you need him?

It’s like the flu…

IT’S LIKE THE FLU…
I catch depression like most people catch the flu. And it’s pretty regularly flu season in my life. Pills, in my 2-decades of experience with them, are like condoms for my emotions. Some are ribbed, some are ultra-thin, but all are Trojan Horses: while they numb the bad feelings, they also dull the desire to do anything actually about the real causes of the emotional disease.
The main causes of it in my life have always been plain as day: loneliness and a lack of a purpose. No pill solves that. One researcher who studies aboriginal tribes calls depression “a disease of civilization” in his Ted Talk.

I also believe that a great many of us are too busy to notice what we are actually feeling. When I was a web developer, my job was stimulating mentally, and I enjoyed the challenges. It occupied my time and my mind. And while it was enjoyable, I believe it also served the purpose of keeping my mind off my feelings of meaninglessness and disconnection. I think that’s true for many of us. We not only work alot, but lead very, very busy lives.

When I slowed down, depression hit harder than ever. The immediate knee-jerk reaction is of course to keep busy.
But in addition to all the time we do have to spend working to earn a living, I believe we fill a lot of our other time to avoid feeling. We are very out of touch with our emotions and feelings.

If we slowed down a bit, I think what we’re feeling would be overwhelming. We can’t just slam the breaks on our busy lives.

But what would happen if we began to slow down, one day at a time?