2017 will see my life change completely, and no this isn’t going to be one of those tiresome “New Year, New Me” blog posts. My lovely wife and I are expecting our first child, a baby daughter in the next few weeks and as I keep getting told by my friends, family members, and my students, “Everything will change!” I have spent a lot of time these past few months thinking about the world we are bringing a child into and the values that we want our child to grow up with. I am aware that as we grow and change as people so will our values but for now, these are my thoughts.
Most of us growing up were told by our parents, how special we were, or how smart we were or how we could achieve anything just because we desired it. Our parents did this out of love and a desire to boost our confidence and self-esteem, but I think this can cause more damage than good. The reality is, my child is not special, will probably not be smarter than the average and will definitely not achieve anything just by desiring it. She will probably grow up in an increasingly competitive world with rising rates of literacy and numeracy and a threat of unemployment due to the increasing automation of jobs. So the question becomes, How do we raise a child that will be equipped to face the struggles that life will inevitably throw her way? The first thing that I want to instil in my daughter is the value of hard work. I want my child to understand that she is not special, does not have innate skills or destiny to fulfil, I want my child to know that no ancient scrolls or prophecies are foretelling her coming. I want her to understand, anything she achieves in life is because she put in the right effort, made the sacrifices and learned from the setbacks. I remember, when I was younger, my parents would tell everyone how smart I was when getting good grades or achieving something of note. I used to love the praise, but in reality, it set me back. It took a lot of self-analysis and deconstruction of my thought patterns to understand that I was not “smart,” I just worked hard. When my child achieves something of note, I will not tell her, “Well done, you are so smart.” I will tell her, “Well done, You worked hard for that! Imagine what you can achieve if you put in that effort in all your endeavours.” I am no psychologist, but I hope this will instil in her the direct connection between hard work and achievement.
The past few years has seen increasing tribalism and partisanship in our religions, in our politics, and in our general discourse. The battle of ideas has been at the forefront of most of this. There are those that will have us believe that some ideas are above criticism and anyone being critical of these ideas deserve to be murdered. I believe that our child will grow up in a world where these views will only increase. What do I teach her about ideas and the battle for truth? I would like to teach her that all people should be respected. Regardless of their race, colour, gender, culture, political affiliation, sexual orientation or religion. But I want her to understand that she doesn’t have to respect beliefs. Beliefs are human made and more often than not, flawed. I want her to know that she can be critical of beliefs and question people who impose a world view on her that is not supported by evidence. I want to teach her to be most critical of her own beliefs and her own outlook on the world. I want her to always ask herself, Why do I believe this?
Finally, I want to teach her to have ‘rational compassion’ as psychologist Paul Bloom puts it in his new book “Against Empathy.” I want her to understand that evolution has developed in her, empathy that is biased promotes inequality and immorality and should be ignored wherever possible. An excellent example of this is the feeling of outrage and sadness that the western world felt when pictures of the little dead boy were shown across the world last year. The western world was outraged over this one child while ignoring the thousands of children dying of starvation in Africa. Empathy is an emotion that affects us a lot more when the event is tangible and closer to home, while rational compassion understands that ten children dying are worse than one child dying in the greater scheme of things.
I will let you know how it goes and more importantly, I will let you know what she has taught me.
More than ever before the US presidential election and Brexit were fueled by lies and misinformation. Lies from politicians lies from the media and lies from everyday citizens. Candidates were smeared, and words ascribed to them that were taken out of context to paint a particular picture or words never uttered by that person in the first place were superimposed on their images to show that it was a direct quote from them. The question we need to ask here is how people who are influential and hold positions of power can justify knowingly lying or misleading those who look to them to lead? The answer may be very simple; the answer could be that they are selfish, greedy people who are working only in their own best interests with total disregard for the people that look up to them or the people that they are responsible for. This answer can easily be applied to some of those who hold positions of power and influence. But let us presume that this isn't the answer for the majority. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are trying to do the best that they can for those that their words influence. To dissect this kind of person we need to take a peek into the world of John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism.
John Stuart Mill was a 19th Century English Philosopher who was an advocate of a school of morality known as Utilitarianism. Very simply put, Utilitarianism states that the best course of action is the one that leads to the flourishing of all sentient beings. An action can only be judged by whether it’s outcome leads to a sum increase in well-being for all sentient beings decreasing suffering or the opposite. Mill states that lying is one of those actions that should be looked at in this consequentialist way. We can only judge the morality of lying by looking at the consequence. Mill does state that in the greater scheme of things lying can decrease trust, integrity, and virtue in society so it should be avoided; but he proposes exemptions to this. Mill permits lying when the act of lying stops a sum decrease in the well-being or happiness of sentient beings.
An example often used is the following, Imagine you are living in Nazi Germany and you are hiding a Jewish family in your attic. An SS officer arrives at the door and asks you if there are any Jewish people in your house. You know, based on what was going on at them time that telling the truth will probably end up in the suffering of the people in your attic and lying will stop them suffering. Mill would say in this situation, lying is the morally correct course of action. This view is in contrast to absolutist views like Kant who would say lying is wrong in any circumstance. Kant, in his Categorical Imperative, tells us to treat ourselves and all other rational beings with respect, treating someone as an end-in-themselves and not as a means to an end. According to Kant, treating someone as an end-in-themselves involves not interfering or restricting them as a free, rational chooser. Common kinds of acts that interfere with people as ends-in-themselves are: lying, stealing, brainwashing, and physically forcing people to act or not to act. Lying, stealing, coercing, etc. interfere with people’s free will and their ability to make rational choices as ends-in-themselves, they are kinds of acts that fail to treat people with respect. Therefore, they treat people merely as a means to our ends. We have a perfect duty not to treat ourselves and others simply as a means to another end. Kant would say it is always wrong to lie to the SS officer because we are taking away his right to make choices based on the facts.
Following on from Utilitarian morality, it is easy to see how our politicians and leaders can lie to us and deceive us even when they have our best interests at heart. People on the political left and people on the political right each have their own visions on what increased well-being for humans looks like. Clinton and her supporters see Trump and his vision for society as abhorrent and believe whole heartedly that his leadership will lead to an increase in unhappiness and a decrease in well-being for all. Trump and his supporters believe the same thing about Clinton and her worldview. Both sides then lie and spread misinformation because these actions they believe are morally right if it will stop the other getting into a position of power where they can implement their view on society and cause a decrease in happiness and well-being.
So what is the solution? How do we make informed decisions when everyone is lying to us and manipulating us? The first thing we need to do is look at ourselves; we need to stop lying to ourselves. Evolution has created in us many errors in thinking, more commonly known as logical fallacies. We need to learn to recognise these errors in our own thought processes and eliminate them. Only then can we rationally and logically dissect and examine opposing views and see which ones are rooted in truth and facts and which ones are not.
Most of us go to school until our late teens or early twenties, and we believe that we are done learning after this stage. We throw ourselves into our careers, and our family lives, leaving less and less time to learn and develop ourselves further. Even when at school, we learn fixed curriculums and our teachers' primary focus is how to pass exam after exam. Our educators seldom address the important questions about the nature of self and consciousness.
I have been fortunate to take a path in my life that has helped me understand the value of learning and training oneself. I have been training and learning all of my life, and I am only starting to scratch the surface. I have had some remarkable teachers who have helped me along the path of refinement and growth. Some of these teachers would be proud of the road I have taken and others less so as it can be difficult to watch your students find their path, a path that may diverge from your own. In the end, we all need to be honest with ourselves. We must ask ourselves constantly whether we are making decisions based on attachments to principles that are themselves impermanent. Are we trying hard to hold on to the character or characters we believe we are in our own internal narratives of our lives? The further we develop ourselves spiritually, the more careful and the more mindful we need to become. Our sense of self, our ego is relentlessly trying to co-opt any progression for its own gain.
My Kung Fu training has been the single biggest tool that I have used to grow and learn. The word "grow" in this context can be quite deceptive as it implies adding stuff to make something bigger or larger. Most people will agree with that usage of the word as it is related to adding knowledge and skills to make ourselves better. But real personal growth is not about adding things; real personal growth is about taking things away. Our lives burden us with mental patterns, habits and ways of thinking that do not stand up to scrutiny when dissected and examined. We hold on to ideas that make us happy and push away ideas that make us sad. We lack the training and discernment to ignore the emotional swings and look at the true nature of what happiness and sadness actually are. We get angry, envious or greedy, but we do not detach from the emotions and skilfully look at the nature of our minds during these states. Like a scientist would when observing a natural phenomenon with unbiased attention.
When a beginner trains in my classes, I can see at first the battle they have with their bodies. Why doesn’t my arm go to where I want to it to go? Why can’t my hips and my legs flex enough to get into the posture I need to get into? At first, students try to force their bodies into the positions and stances that the system requires but over time something changes in the student. They stop striving for the perfect posture or movement, and they accept “as good as I can do.” They tell themselves, "my body won’t do it; I will go to as close as possible, without causing myself too much discomfort." This line of reasoning is, of course, an illusion, this is the mind, the ego wanting to stay within its comfort zone. A lot of students plateau at this level and refuse to push themselves, and this is fine because it is where they are at that current stage. They may end up training on and off and eventually stop training altogether, giving me their reasons for leaving. Reasons that they firmly believe to be true but when probed further is another illusion rooted in staying within their comfort zone. The students that continue to train eventually start to change. They begin training in more classes, repeating movements outside of class and even start dreaming about their training. These students begin to see the difference between what they can achieve with real effort and dedication and what the false limits are that their mind creates for them. This ability to observe the mind that students acquire through training is the most important tool one needs to grow and change.
Like a great sculptor you are trying to chip away at the unneeded excess to find the masterpiece that is the real you. Real refinement of self is about stripping away who you believe you are, eliminating the limits that you have created for yourself and abandoning the excuses your mind creates when going out of your comfort zone. Real maturity begins the moment you understand that the little voice inside your head, constantly talking you out of things is your biggest adversary.
“Don't lean in any direction; suddenly appear, suddenly disappear. Empty the left wherever a pressure appears, and similarly the right. If the opponent rises up, I seem taller; if he sinks down, then I seem lower; advancing, he finds the distance seems incredibly long; retreating, the distance seems exasperatingly short. A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body. The opponent does not know me; I alone know him. To become a peerless boxer results from this.”
THE TREATISE ON T'AI CHI CH'UAN
Attributed to Wang Tsung-yueh [Wang Zongyue] (18th Century)
Most people when thinking about fighting and martial arts, think about strength and speed as the primary factors. Most people consider good fighters are those who can punch the hardest and are the biggest. Daoist and Buddhist monks in China had a different approach to combat. They didn’t consider strength, size, and gender as something necessary when it came to being a good fighter. They developed a martial art that the Daoist monks called Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist). Tai Chi was based not on the principles of aggression and force but the principles of yielding and harmony. Tai Chi and styles like it became known as internal systems of Kung Fu or soft styles. These soft styles were in contrast to the harder Kung Fu systems that existed at the time.
Most people know Tai Chi from seeing it practiced by elderly people as a health exercise. When observed by an untrained eye it is hard to see how any of these movements will work in a combat situation. Don’t be fooled by this, every single movement in a Tai Chi form can be applied to an opponent in many different ways. Tai Chi is one of the hardest if not the hardest fighting system to get good at. It requires patience, perseverance and most of all a willingness to change. A person can only learn how to fight with it after ten years of diligent practice. It is not a system for those who have no discipline or staying power.
When a practitioner learns Tai Chi correctly, as a martial art. He or she reaps many other benefits from the training. While they are learning to fight in an entirely counterintuitive way, they are also developing core strength, improved circulation, increased focus, confidence and an increased sense of well-being.
Tai Chi doesn’t just change your body. Tai Chi changes your mind also. Monks who were on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately enlightenment developed Tai Chi as a vehicle for this personal growth. When a practitioner performs Tai Chi correctly, it is a form of moving meditation. It helps control breathing, thoughts, emotions and ultimately helps the practitioner see past the many illusions and harmful mental patterns created over their lifetime.
The system of Tai Chi that I teach is from Chan Buddhism. It is known as Suang Yang Bai He Rou Ruan Chun, Suang Yang for short. The system is based on the movements of the White Crane, and it originally came from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Suang Yang is a 66-movement form. Each movement leads on from the previous movement and leads to the next in a smooth flowing manner. Over time, the practitioner develops a body that is soft as wool externally and hard as steel internally. The practitioner learns to become completely sensitive to his or her body and through that their opponent's body. When the opponent attacks any point, the practitioner is not there and when the opponent tries to retreat the practitioner is there first. I will leave you with this quote from Cheng Man-Ch’ing, an early 20th Century Tai Chi Master.
“Tai Chi Chuan, the great ultimate, strengthens the weak, raises the sick, invigorates the debilitated, and encourages the timid.”
Unfortunately, we have had to read about another alleged honour killing of a young British woman in Pakistan. I would like to use this blog post to direct what these ‘honour killings” are and what kind of mindset can cause a parent or a sibling to take the life if a loved one in the name of doing the right thing.
In many Middle Eastern, African and South Asian countries where the predominant structure of societies used to consist of the relationship between tribes. A system of recognising the usefulness of a relationship with a neighbouring tribe was a system based on honour. The reputation your tribe had and how others perceived you was a matter of existence. There was no police or government to implement laws; tribal elders had to make sure the reputation their tribe had was always a noble but ferocious one. These tribal societies were always patriarchal, and men were the guardians of the reputation of their tribes.
Fast forward to today, this tribal mentality that existed in the past still exists in a lot of these societies. The difference being, the reasons for them are no longer there. Honour killings today are based on countering perceived shame a girl has brought upon their family. Usually, a parent or a brother will decide that the actions of their daughter or sister have lowered the reputation of the family in the eyes of their community, and the only way to remove the shame is to punish the girl by killing her. These communities usually praise and hold up as an example, men who have killed their daughters or sisters to buy back the reputation that the girl's actions might have tarnished.
Shame, reputation or honour are not fixed things, that can be defined. Each society or each family views these things in different ways. Different communities and families manufacture these concepts based on the wider community and what has come before. I, unfortunately, know some families who have killed their daughters in the name of honour. Those guilty of the acts are now in prison, but I feel if they spent some time dissecting their motivations for killing their daughters they would not have done it.
The excuse that is used over and over again by these killers is a predictable one. They say things resembling, “I did it because my daughter brought dishonour to my family name. I sacrificed my freedom, and my daughter's life to buy that honour back.” In this exchange, the girl is seen as a commodity to be traded and not as a life that has all the rights that the father or brother would give himself. The murderer sees himself as the hero of the piece, the person who made the hard choice for the good of the name of the family. It is critical for everyone to realise that all the dreams, hopes and aspirations that we hold are not absolutes. Just like we have the choice to decide what values we hold, our daughters and sisters have these rights also. We can explain to them as they are growing up why the values we hold are important to us and why we feel they should adopt them but we should not impose these arbitrary worldviews on any adult including our daughters or sisters. Each functioning adult has the right to live their life how they choose. Our societies laws are in place to stop members living a life that is harmful to others but outside of this no one should have views imposed on them.
A lot of minority communities that exist within dictatorial societies complain about persecution, repression and not being able to express their identity. But these men can not see the irony in the way they treat their daughters or sisters. Some of the murders I know have been freedom fighters for most of their youth, fighting for freedom against oppressive regimes, but they are happy to place their loved ones within metaphorical cages, killing them when they develop a worldview that is different from their own.
Honour Killings are often seen as a source of celebration by these communities that encourage and enable this culture. The murderer, the criminal is seen as someone that is a positive role model. The reality is that this person was weak, they were too weak to stand up against the tide and say, "This is not the right way." Societies need revolutionaries and heroes. Men and Women who can stand up and say, "This needs to change." Family members who kill their daughter’s to bring back honour are nothing but criminals and those that encourage them are cowards.
When you are long gone and your children and grandchildren are discussing you and your life. Let them say “He never accepted old fashioned and outdated ideals. He always challenged them and changed his community for the better.” None of us want to be remembered by our children and grandchildren as cowards who were too afraid to stick their head above the crowd and look for a better way.
I remember watching the Matrix when I was younger and wondering like most other people, what if our reality is a computer simulation? Last week I read an article on the Huffington Post website titled, "Physicist's May Have Evidence Universe Is A Computer Simulation."
By looking at how we behave and our attempts at technological evolution, it is logical to assume that other technologically advanced beings would eventually follow the same path. Some of the world's best minds are attempting to create AI, Google's Deep Mind being a prime example. Google Deep Mind was the much-publicised computer that recently beat a Go master at his own game. If our universe is a computer simulation, it is possible that our creators are also part of a computer simulation. Every intelligence at some point starts creating AI, so there will exist more computer simulations then noncomputer simulations.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of computer games. I love losing myself in the latest role-playing game with immersive universes. Anyone who plays these games knows that quests and areas unlock for the character based on the decision made within the game. Based on this concept, I had an interesting thought concerning people's beliefs. If we are part of a computer simulation, it may very well be possible that everyone's beliefs about an afterlife can be right at the same time. It would be very simple for a programmer to program the following piece of code:
"If the subject believes in heaven and hell upon death send them to a simulation of heaven or hell."
"If the subject believes that life is all there is, and there is no afterlife then upon death terminate their code."
"If the subject believes in reincarnation, upon death reset memory and recycle their code into the simulation."
Based on this, our views will shape our reality after we die. Would you change yours if you knew this was the case?
If I said to you that I have the ability to fly. Most of you will give me one of three responses. You will either think that I am lying, or you will think that I am crazy or you will ask me to prove that I am able to fly by flying in front of you or by sending you unaltered video showing me flying. This is a reasonable request because my ability to fly would go against the laws of physics. If I am not able to prove it then I am either lying or I am crazy. This is how most of us live our day to day lives. When we are faced with a claim that seems extraordinary we tend not to believe it until we are given evidence. This is sensible as unfortunately scammers and liars exist who may try to convince us of extraordinary abilities for financial gain or for power.
It is interesting then why we don’t apply the same scrutiny to the claims our religions make. Why does the same person who requires evidence from me about my ability to fly, doesn’t require any evidence to prove the claim that Jesus walked on water or the claim that Moses parted the red sea or the claim that Muhammad flew on a winged horse into heaven? Why is our religion the only thing that we will accept without any evidence?
Most of us are born into our religions and most of us believe we were lucky enough to be born into the one true path. This is highly improbable as there are thousands of religions and many more religions that have died out. The god that you believe in, the character that you have ascribed to the entity that you believe created the universe is one of many characters that have existed. When you say you believe in Allah as the one true god, that is you saying I disbelieve all of the other gods that humans have ever believed. You disbelieve in Zeus, you disbelieve in Ra and you disbelieve in Vishnu. If you are honest with yourself you have absolutely no evidence of your belief in your specific God but that doesn’t stop you believing it. Have you ever asked yourself why?
We all need to ask ourselves whether it is at all possible that we believe in something that isn’t true. At some point we may have all believed in Santa or the tooth fairy but as we grew older we understood that these things are not true. We see the myth for what it is as our parents stop perpetuating the lie of Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Imagine when we turn 7 or 8, our parents and our society tell us actually Jesus or Allah or Vishnu are just stories, they are not real. I am almost certain that you will drop your belief of your god like you dropped your belief in Santa or the tooth fairy.
We are all a product of our circumstances; we can choose to go along with our cultural and ancestral conditioning without questioning what we hold to be true, or we can challenge our own thoughts and what we believe is right and wrong. We used to think that the Sun rotated around the earth until thinkers like Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei challenged the status quo and eventually changed what humanity held to be an evident truth. I am not asking you to change the world just yet, but you owe it to yourself to re-evaluate everything that you hold to be true and see if it stands up to scrutiny. Don’t be afraid to doubt, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” because the reality is none of us really know. The difference between an atheist and a religious person is an atheist refuses to believe without evidence and a religious person chooses to believe without evidence.
Don’t allow your conditioning to define you. Carve a new path for yourself and the trail you leave behind may be helpful to others and eventually the world may follow you to a new understanding of the universe.
Who thought writing a post about nothing will be this difficult? I have wanted to write a post about nothing for a long time but have always struggled to put the ideas and concepts in my head into words that will make sense to all. This blog post has to date been one of the hardest posts for me to write and I am still not sure if it is ready to be published. I apologise in advance if it comes across as the ramblings of a mad man. I have tried to break it down as much as possible and will in the future expand on specific sections. Here goes, my thoughts on absolutely nothing.
In the beginning, there was nothing. This nothingness or emptiness is something tough if not impossible to conceive by us because as humans we think and experience the world relatively. Something is only empty in contrast with something being full. There is only nothing when we can understand something. The nothingness I am talking about is a limitless, infinite nothingness that preceded any something.
It is telling that we can find this concept of nothingness in many different belief systems and the logical conclusions from this are fascinating.
In Daoist or Taoist cosmology this state of nothingness is called Wu Chi. Wu Chi is the limitless, boundless infinity that preceded creation. From Wu Chi came Tai Chi, which represents the first movement in creation. Tai Chi is the eternal interplay between Yin and Yang (Positive and Negative Poles) this further divides ad infinitum into the creation of all things.
Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) call this nothingness Ain. Ain describes a state of perfect emptiness, a state of no creation that we can’t conceive of. From Ain comes Ain Soph, which as above represents the first movement in creation. It represents the union of all things just as Tai Chi does in Daoist cosmology. Ain Soph then descends into Ain Soph Aur, which represents the light of action that descends into creation and from this comes the spheres of creation that encompass all things.
Sufi (Muslim Mysticism) cosmology is not known as well as others but as you will see, it follows a very similar pattern. The nothingness that preceded creation is Alam-i-Hahut (The world of “he-ness”) In Sufi cosmology this represents the unmanifest absolute. From this comes Alam-i-Lahut (The world of “god-ness). It is critical to note that according to Sufi cosmology this is when Allah (God) manifests. From here, in a similar way to the above these Alams (Worlds) descend into spiritual and material creation.
I apologise if that was difficult to follow, I just wanted to give some examples of how this idea of nothingness exists in different belief systems around the world. The state of nothingness preceding creation is a wonderful idea to explore, as it is a state that according to some faiths precedes even God. As this state of nothingness is limitless and infinite, it contains the potential of all possibilities. According to Sufis, this nothingness can’t even be worshipped, as there is nothing to worship. We can only begin worship at the next stage, the stage when God proceeds from this nothingness. God, not being at the beginning is fascinating for those who follow these systems as it can mean that God is not the prime mover or the highest level. God is the first creation and the architect of our universe. Those familiar with Gnostic teachings can see a similarity here. Gnostics believe the creator God is a flawed being that created the universe in its imperfect image.
As the potential for one god exists within the original nothing, then the potential for infinite gods also exists. Many creators (gods) may exist within this original nothingness that has gone on to create universes. Our universe may be one of an infinite number of universes created by an infinite number of creators that came from the nothingness that preceded all things. This idea starts to venture into the theory of the Multiverse that some prominent theoretical physicists support.
What about us? Where do humans fit into all this? We are also a product of the original nothingness, the Wu Chi, Ain or Hahut. We as humans may very well be the instant, the focal point where this nothingness became aware of itself, became conscious. Take away our internal narrative that gives rise to the idea of a personality and an idea of self. All we are at the core is awareness. Anyone who has done some meditation, where they have been able to stop thinking and stop the internal dialogue can attest to the fact that all remains is awareness. When the subject-object duality disappears we can get a glimpse of this empty non – attaching awareness.
So don’t sell yourself short, you are not a creation who has to live a certain way to enter heaven or hell. You are the point that the original nothingness became aware.
This short blog post is slightly different to the other posts I have written but it addresses something that I feel is very misunderstood and often gets a lot of people angry. I recently listened to a conversation between Sam Harris & Maryam Namazie and the subject of profiling Muslims was discussed at length. They both couldn't come to an agreement and at times the conversation was very difficult to listen to. What I wanted to do here is give my view on profiling in the form of an analogy. I hope my analogy is as clear to you as it is in my mind.
Imagine we have 10,000 spherical marbles and 10,000 cuboid marbles. The machinery that makes the cuboid marbles puts a small scratch in 1 out of every 2000 cuboid marbles. The machine that makes the spherical marbles doesn't create this scratch. The machine that makes the spherical marbles may cause other imperfections but we are sure it does not make the scratch that is present in a small number of the cuboid marbles. Someone gives you all 10,000 spherical marbles and all 10,000 cuboid marbles and tells you find all the marbles with that specific scratch in the shortest time possible.
Wouldn't you quickly remove the spherical marbles from the search and only look through all the cuboid marbles as you know that this scratch will only be present in the cuboid marbles? You know that the vast majority of cuboid marbles don't have this scratch and you only expect to find this scratch in a small minority of these cuboid marbles but you straight away know it is counterproductive and a waste of time to even look at the spherical marbles.
This is profiling. Based on the information you have been given you have eliminated the marbles that you know will not have this scratch. You will at no point think, I better randomly select from spherical and cuboid marbles because I don't want the cuboid marbles to feel like victims. We just do what we can to make the search as fast and as efficient as possible.
Imagine that lives depended on the speed at which you found these marbles. This is the world we live in today, our inability to find the scratched marbles in the shortest possible time can lead to the deaths of tens or even hundreds of people.
One thing that puts a lot of secular and rationalistic thinking people off of spiritual disciplines is the requirement to follow certain religious traditions or revere certain historical figures that any rational person cannot in good faith do. Even the word spirituality can be problematic as it implies belief in non-corporeal substances that cannot be observed by today’s scientific methodologies. It is interesting to note that the word spirit actually comes from the Latin, spiritus, which means breath. The word spirit has over time been adopted by religions and faith schools to be used as this catch-all term to describe anything wispy and undefined. Anything that is separate from the material body that we cannot observe. It is a shame that terminologies and exclusive methodologies that religions adopt puts off so many people from exploring the state of reality and the truths about themselves.
We all know that religions and faiths often make some very ludicrous claims that anyone with a rationalistic approach to reality cannot accept. We also see on a daily basis that religious approaches to human rights and tolerance are often stuck in the time of their conception. This doesn’t mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. A lot of religions, when the politics, cultural and racial contexts of the time of their conception is removed are in the end an attempt to make the human being look beyond it self and aim for something greater.
As I discussed in a previous blog post, Christianity teaches at its core the sacrifice of self through the lessons of the cross. But to get there we need to look past the intolerances towards certain groups and unscientific claims that it makes. Islam teaches complete submission to the will of Allah. This again teaches the disregarding of self and of personal desires and submitting to a divine being. It is a shame that the submission is made to a creator that promotes violence against non-believers and promises paradise to believers who kill themselves in his name.
Spiritually should have nothing to do with god, the afterlife or questions to do with moral and ethical ways of living. Spiritual disciplines should be concerned with one thing only and that is for the person to understand the truth about themselves and the reality that they occupy. The best way for anyone to truly begin to understand anything is to observe it. By this logic the best way for anyone to begin to understand the nature of their own minds is to observe their own minds. We as humans spend all of our lives looking outwards and reacting to the events and stimuli that our world and our fellow humans throw at us. What we need to do is spend time looking inwards, because when we do that and we see the processes that are at work in our own minds, we can begin to see outwards with a greater clarity, unhindered by false mental patterns and beliefs that we have accumulated over our life.
One good method of doing this is something called mindfulness meditation. This form of meditation does not require you to believe in any god or gods. It doesn’t require you to go to any special services or wear any specific clothes. All you need to do is find some time to look inwards.
1. Sit down in a comfortable position, posture upright and body relaxed.
2. Take a few deep breaths to settle into yourself.
3. Close your eyes and start to observe your breath going in and out. (Make sure you don’t get caught up in trying to control the breath or directing it in any way or form. Just observe it, like you would observe a candle flame swaying in the wind.)
4. You will inevitably be drawn away from your breath by noises or other sensations in your body. When this happens, don’t allow this to annoy you or cause frustration just take your concentration to this new stimuli and observe it until it passes and then come back to the breath.
5. When you notice that you are caught in thought and no longer on the breath, without frustration on annoyance bring yourself back to the breath.
6. Do this for as long as you like, it can be 5 minutes or 1 hour. It’s up to you.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the easiest methods one can begin to use and at the same time one of the most difficult methods to do correctly and sustain it over a period of time. When doing this method of awareness practice you will very quickly begin to see the reactive nature of your mind and how quickly it attaches to every stimulus that it is given.
This exercise is just a tool and like all tools it has strengths and weaknesses. Just like push-ups or sit-ups are done to help strengthen certain muscle groups, this exercise is done to help strengthen your non-attaching awareness and concentration. Don’t attach to this exercise or any exercise.
I have recently heard critics of meditation criticising this method as they claim internal contemplation of this sort removes the will to better the world and attempt to remove the world’s problems. I think this criticism highlights the lack of understanding most people have with how problems and suffering arises in the world and how best to deal with them. I will leave you with this quote from the Burmese – Indian meditation teacher, Satya Narayan Goenka,
“If there is no peace in the minds of individuals, how can there be peace in the world? Make peace in your mind first.”
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!