Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Gray Goo Catastrophe Already Happened

The Gray Goo Catastrophe is a futuristic runaway scenario where, either by intention or by accident, molecular nanotechnology machines consume all the matter in the world turning it into a gray goo. This is not an article about molecular nanotechnology. I simply pose that, symbolically, we seem to be already there. This idea entered my mind when I was discussing the popularity of mindfulness last week. In fact that discussion was about how such a generic word and obscure eastern practice became commonly known and hyped. One thing in particular got me thinking. It was one single sentence:

"I have tired of mindfulness because I don't feel like carefully smelling a box of fish sticks in the super market before I buy them. It's silly!"

Apart from the literal meaning of this sentence there is a lot of other information here. Lets investigate that a bit. "I have tired of mindfulness" is a weird thing too say if you consider that it basically means "I rather want to go through life with numbed sensory perception and being oblivious of my presence in the now". I do understand why somebody says something like that because what is tiresome is having to actively do it. Mindfulness is an action. Apparently the person who said this has not understood that mindfulness is a training for becoming more aware. The person has not taken in that the aim is to change towards living more deliberately and keeps seeing it as a tiresome action that stands in the way of the normal behavior. "... because I don't feel like carefully smelling a box of fish sticks in the super market before I buy them." OK, it is just an example but it does contain a judgement of the value and quality of the food and the circumstances under which it is bought. It can be interpreted as: "I'm buying some processed food and I can't be bothered to think about it and I certainly don't want to be mindful about it". What it really meant is that, to the person, it seemed over the top to spend so much time on such a mundane activity and fish sticks. It conveys the feeling that it would be more fitting for buying lobsters at a local fish market. I have to say I agree! If the person was living more deliberately chances are that fish sticks were not on the menu. Finally: "It's silly!". This addition tells us that not only is mindfulness a time wasting and cumbersome intrusion in everyday humdrum life, it is also embarrassing. The only perception of the now this person accentuates is the self consciousness of being judged by others!

My first reaction to this was: "Wow, the teacher or mentor of this person has completely failed." But I had to check myself there as I have no experience at all of mindfulness teaching in this modern and hyped context. I simply do not know what, if anything, is taught.

We talked on a bit. We observed that contrary to Awareness, mindfulness is 'simple' in that it is an action instead of a state of being. So,  just as with going to the gym to become healthy, practicing mindfulness gives you the promise of life changing transformation without a clear idea of the effort, sacrifice and actual change required to reach that promise (which is in fact Awareness). It basically is seen as a stress reliever, a trendy after work activity and not so much as a tool on the path to become more deliberately alive. I am sure that is why it has become quite popular. If it was more truthfully marketed it would have probably been rejected by the masses.

This brings us to my opening statement. We are somewhat conscious of the fact that we have turned into compulsively consuming wage slaves. We all feel that life should have more to offer and we want to expand our horizons and discover our inner and spiritual selves. But only, it seems, if it does not take too much time and effort and does not in any way means having to change anything that deviates from the contemporary norm.

In the end we seem to prefer taking a few training sessions at the gym and a few yoga and mindfulness classes we can talk about at work instead of truly becoming aware. For crying out loud, you would stick out like a sore thumb if you did!

To me, not desiring to live deliberately, not wanting to feel the connection with The Earth, not wanting to be mindful of even the smallest miracles and not wanting to experience through constant questioning and awareness is being nothing more than gray goo!

Peter Friebel

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Dream Of Tomorrow

This is a picture of me demonstrating the use of a tracking stick. The tracking stick is a simple tool that helps the tracker to stay on the trail of a certain individual. I show you this picture as I woke up this morning with this image in my mind. The phrase that was connected with it was “Thought Tracking”. So I did. I found that there was no significant sign that could trace back to the origin or reason for that thought or image to be on my mind. I concluded it came from my subconscious. I probably dreamt about it last night.

This is often the case with solutions to problems, creative ideas etc. and I rarely ignore those kind of thoughts and perceptions. In this case, the image helped me to realize that “thought tracking” has become very natural to me but that it might be interesting to write about it for others who may never have contemplated it as it can be very useful and even life changing.

Thought tracking leads to and feeds of Awareness. Ironically I wrote about it in my last post without really registering it as a tool: “Awareness comes with questioning your beliefs and finding (tracking!) the source of the thoughts that created them.”. I should also have mentioned that it is, in fact, a great tool for increasing/training your Awareness. I did not do that as I wrote about it more in the sense of a state of being. The thought I woke up with this morning is that you can actually become more aware by consciously tracking the source of thoughts. Over time and with increasing Awareness the process will become more and more natural, subconscious and automatic. My intention with this post is not so much to promote thought tracking as a tool for Awareness but as a verification tool before action. Admittedly these subjects are very much related.

We all know the concept of mind mapping. This technique is often used to drive a concept or idea forward. Mind maps are also very useful to back track the ideas and thoughts that gave rise to some final conclusion. Basically its a nice way to make notes. Typically a mind map will give you an insight in the logical and relational context and dependencies of an idea. The map will give you a verification of the soundness of an idea that supports your actions on it.

At first glance you may think that “thought tracking” and mind mapping are basically the same thing. For me they certainly are not. In mind mapping we record our thoughts in a forward direction. We map the thoughts, events and concepts and connect them certainly backward and forward but the whole idea of making the mind map is moving towards some realization, resolution and/or action. In thought tracking we work the other way around. We know the action we are about to take but now we are going to back track the thoughts leading up to that point. More importantly, we are going to track the sources of those thoughts. To demonstrate I will give a short example.

Say, you are working in a team to solve a problem for a customer. You come up with an idea that solves the problem for the customer and costs the company little money. The idea is carefully scrutinized and all agree. Even at a later date your mind map clearly supports the action. The mind map, however, will not tell you the whole story, not your personal story. Because when you track the sources of the thoughts you may find that initially your motivations for the idea you came up with are connected with irritation over a colleague who maybe caused the problem or usually comes up with the solutions to such problems. You may find that the source for you thoughts are connected with ego gratification. That does not mean the idea is invalid or bad but it may include some side effects that are negative for the colleague in question. Do you score points over him/her? Will it change the perception people have of you and your work at the colleague's expense? If so, can you still claim your actions are purely for the best of the customer and the company?

It is a fact of life that we all tend to do this and that we probably never can completely eradicate these things. Ego and pride are not bad things. They are part of our being (even survival) and are important motivators. We just need to make sure we do not mix positive ego with self serving, destructive and revengeful behavior. Don't help to get a pat on the back from others. Help to help. Feeling good about yourself afterwards because you helped is positive ego.

Going back to the example, thought tracking would most certainly alert you to these less positive sources of your idea. These things you will not find in your mind map! It would give you the opportunity to revise your idea in such a way that it eliminates the negative fall-out. The result would be an even better solution that would earn you genuine respect from your colleagues. Even the one you had a problem with. You would have opened up for positive changes in your relationship with him or her instead of creating even more resentment.

Thought tracking requires complete honesty with your self. The truth will not always be what you want to know but it gives you the opportunity to perceive without judging and use your heart to question your beliefs and create new ones. At first it will be a very conscious action that you may even find a bit annoying or intimidating (your ego will fight you all the way!) but eventually you will find a calm and harmony from which your true self emerges. You will have deepened your Awareness considerably. Your positive ego will thrive just because you feel good about yourself. You will not need it affirmed by others. But, more than ever, they will!

Certainly in the beginning when thought tracking is still a conscious action for you it can be hard to take the time to do that when you want to blurt out something impulsively. Typical examples of such situations are in meetings and on social media. It is in such situations your impulsiveness can have the most harmful effects. Here is a very well known mnemonic that can serve you well in such situations. It does not go as deep as thought tracking and it should not be used as a substitute. It should be used as a quick filter, a shortcut, that if it doesn't help at least it certainly doesn't harm.

Before you speak or act THINK!

T = is it True?
H = is it Helpful?
I = is it Inspiring?
N = is it Necessary?
K = is it Kind?

I hope, tonight, I will dream of a world where we all track our thoughts and THINK before we speak and act.

Peter Friebel