my VCFA mfa work_
October 2012, I started my MFA studies at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I know it will prove to be one of the most profound experiences of my life. I'll try to share some of my adventure on these pages with you.

semester 1 > pkt1, pkt2, pkt3, pkt4, pkt5
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1st semester_october 2012-april 2013 :: packet 2_

continued reading ::

Places That Scare You...Thinking in Systems : A Primer - Donella H. Meadows (editied by Diana Wright)

:: excerpts I found interesting:

So what is a system: A system is a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.

Political leaders don't cause recessions or economic booms. Ups and downs are inherent in the structure of the market economy.

How liberating! I don't have to blame individuals, I can blame systems!

Because of feedback delays within complex systems, by the time the problem becomes apparent it may be unnecessarily difficult to solve.
— A stitch in time saves nine.

According to the competitive exclusion principle, if a reinforcing feedback loop rewards the winner of a competition with the means to win further competitions, the result will be the elimination of all but a few competitors.
—For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath (Mark 4:25)
—The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

Do the rich know this fact?

It's easy to point to external factors (vs. internal) for cause and blame.

The behavior of a system cannot be known by just knowing the elements of which the system is made.

Look Beyond the Players to the Rules of the Game You think that because you understand "one" that you must therefore understand "two" because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand "and." —Sufi teaching story

This is my favorite saying so far. I have to find a way to illustrate this.

A system can change elements but still behave the same (i.e., a football team can get new players, but it's still football).

Stock = the memory of the history of changing flows within the system A stock takes time to change because flows take time to flow.
system flows

Systems thinkers see the world as a collection of stocks along with the mechanisms for regulating the levels in the stocks by manipulating flows. They see the world as a collection of "feedback

A feedback loop is a closed chain of causal connections from a stock, through a set of decisions or rules or physical laws or actions that are dependent on the level of the stock, and back again
through a flow to change the stock.

Balancing feedback loops are equilibrating or goal-seeking structures in systems and are both sources of stability and sources of resistance to change (i.e., ice tea or hot tea balancing to zero
discrepancy = room temperature).

Reinforcing loops are found wherever a system element has the ability to reproduce itself or to grow as a constant fraction of itself. Those elements include populations and economies.

This stuff is fascinating to think about. I've barely cracked the book. Finished chapter one: Systems Basics. The closing of this chapter was good:

If A causes B, is it possible that B also causes A?

You'll be thinking not in terms of a static world, but a dynamic one. You'll stop looking for who's to blame; instead you'll start asking, "What's the system?" The concept of feedback opens up the
idea that a system can cause its own behavior.

I find this prospect almost scary when I look at some of our man-made systems.

Competing Balancing Loops (for example, a thermostat that controls room temperature relative to external temperature influences):

The information delivered by a feedback loop—even non-physical feedback—can only affect future behavior; it can't deliver fast enough to correct behavior that drove the current feedback. Even non-physical information takes time to feed back into the system.

Duh—this explains why we've become so reactionary geopolitically, ecologically (especially ecologically), they're too complex to anticipate outcomes accurately. It really doesn't help when we have ulterior agendas.

A stock-maintaining balancing feedback loop must have its goal set appropriately to compensate for draining or inflowing processes that affect that stock. Otherwise, the feedback process will fall short of or exceed the target for the stock.

Shifting Dominance: When one loop dominates another, it has a stronger impact on behavior. Because systems often have several competing feedback loops operating simultaneously, those loops that dominate the system will determine the behavior. It will die off if the balancing loop dominates. A system analysis can test a number of scenarios to see what happens if the driving factors do different things.

How many out of balance loops can you name? I'll give you a week...

Model utility depends not on whether its driving scenarios are realistic (since on one can know that for sure), but on whether it responds with a realistic pattern of behavior.
= what is driving the driving factors?
= what's adjusting the inflows and outflows?

In physical, exponentially growing systems, there must be at least one reinforcing loop driving the growth, because no physical system can grow forever in a finite environment. ["limits to growth" archetype] (i.e., corporation needs energy, workers, materials, customers, some point there is a lack of some of these).

Are you listening folks? Seems very logical when you think about it. But, who else is reading this book that doesn't already know this stuff?

Due to diminishing stock—yield of oil extraction is shrinking, the ROI is reduced and profits are no longer sufficient to keep investment ahead of depreciation, the operation shuts down, as the capital stock declines. The last, and most expensive of the resources stays in the ground, it doesn't pay to get it out.

This idea irritates the crap out of me. Let's snatch up the low-hanging fruit, because it's cheap and easy, and get no real sense of the resource's value until it's nearly all gone and it becomes outrageously expensive to extract it. Arrgh! It goes on to say....

A higher price gives the industry higher profits, so investment goes up, capital stock continues rising, and the more costly remaining resources can be extracted.

The greedy bastards!

We all know that individual mines and fossil fuel deposits and ground water aquifers can be depleted. Resource companies understand this dynamic, too. Well before depletion makes capital less efficient in one place, companies shift investment to discovery and development of another deposit somewhere else. But if there are local limits, eventually will there be global ones? .

..according to the dynamics of depletion, the larger the stock of initial resources, the more new discoveries, the longer the growth loops elude the control loops, and the higher the capital stock and its extraction rate grow, and the earlier, faster, and farther will be the economic fall on the backside of the production peak.

Aaaaaahhhhh! THIS is why I want to go off grid. It's going to be "chaos & piss" as P!nk would say.

Renewable Stock Contained by a Renewable Stock —now assume there is an inflow to the resource stock (vs. just an outflow), making it renewable. Renewable resources...can regenerate themselves from themselves with a reinforcing feedback loop. Nonliving renewable resources (such as light, wind, water) are regenerated not through a reinforcing loop, but through a stead input that keeps refilling the resource stock no matter what the current state of that stock might be.

Non-renewable resources are stock-limited. The entire stock is available at once, and can be extracted at any rate (limited mainly by extraction capital). But since the stock is not renewed, the faster the extraction rate, the shorter the lifetime of the resource.

Again, seem soooo logical. Why are consumers so reluctant/resistant to acknowledging this? I know some of the reasons: - Money—the alternative options are far more expensive (intentionally?) than current options (I'd love to drive a Prius but I can't afford one yet). - Don't want to be different—I really think there a strong "herd" mentality out there. Look at housing developments ("stamped in patties") and car designs (they all really look alike if you look closely enough), clothes (someone has figured out how to make cheaper alternatives to the high-end fashions, why can't we do it for other resources?),...I could go on and on. - There is no crisis —denial —these folks just need to be slapped—'nough said.

Renewable resources are flow-limited. They can support extraction or harvest indefinitely, but only at a finite flow rate equal to their regeneration rate.

This means we need fewer people and the rest of us use less resources. Which brings me to some facts shared with the faculty/staff at my institution at the start of one semester: The folks with the least education/intelligence and least skills are reproducing at a faster rate than those with the highest education/intelligence and most complex skills. This will tax current education systems, employment systems, and social support systems exponentially. I'm wondering now that I've been reading this book: Do those people with low education/skills consume as many resources as those with high education/skills? What will this situation be like in 50 years? Hmmmmm....quagmire.

Why do systems work well?
3 characteristics: 1) resilience, 2) self-organization, 3) hierarchy
Resilience—"the ability to bounce or spring back into shape, position, etc., after being pressed or stretched. Elasticity, the ability to recover strength, spirits, good spirit, good humor, or any other aspect quickly."
—is a measure of a system's ability to survive or persist within a variable environment
—the opposite is brittleness or rigidity
—arises from a rich structure of many feedback loops...

Meta resilience—a set of feedback loops that can restore or rebuild feedback loops.
Meta-meta-resilience comes from feedback loops that can learn, create, design, and evolve more complex restorative structures = systems that can do this are self-organizing (examples: human body, ecosystems,...).

I'm going to get a t-shirt printed that says "I'm Meta-meta-resilient!"

Resilient systems can be very dynamic. Short-term oscillations, or periodic outbreaks, or long cycles of succession, climax, and collapse may in fact be the normal condition, which resilience acts to restore.

So, maybe this is all a normal oscillation? Cross your fingers.

[Evolution] appears to be not a series of accidents the course of which is determined only by the change of environments during earth history and the resulting struggle for existence...but is governed by definite laws...The discovery of these laws constitutes one of the most important tasks of the future."
—Ludwig von Bertalanffy, biologist

The most marvelous characteristic of some complex systems is their ability to learn, diversify, complexify, evolve. This capacity of a system to make its own structure more complex is called self-organization.

And if we weren't so blind to the property of self-organization, we would do better at encouraging, rather than destroying, the self-organizing capacities of the systems of which we are a part.

I'm going to start a self-organization system with my communication packets on renewable energy options and rally the people to become more independent!

Like resilience, self-organization is often sacrificed for purposes of short-term productivity and stability.

This will be part of my message.

Self-organization produces heterogeneity and inpredictability. It requires freedom and experimentation, and a certain amount of disorder.
These conditions that enforce self-organization often can be scary for individuals and threatening to power structures.
Fortunately, self-organization is such a basic property of living systems that even the most over-bearing power structure can never fully kill it, although in the name of law and order, self-organization can be suppressed for long, barren, cruel, boring periods.

This makes me think of the movies Dr. Shivago and Logan's Run for some reason.

In the process of creating new structures and increasing complexity, one thing that a self-organizing system often generates is hierarchy. Systems and subsystems.

If subsystems can largely take care of themselves, regulate themselves, maintain themselves, and yet serve the needs of the larger system, while the larger system coordinates and enhances the functioning of the subsystems, a stable, resilient, and efficient structure results.

I think the founding fathers thought this would happen forever with our government. One subsystem has derailed though. The people are not participating at the same level (inflow) as the other subsystems. This is causing an imbalance and the larger system could collapse. Time for a revolution!!

Hierarchies are brilliant systems inventions...because they reduce the amount of information that any part of the system has to keep track of.

But if the other subsystems, or worse, the larger system, is withholding or distorting information any subsystem needs to be effective, that can be bad, too.

Life started with single-cell bacteria, not elephants. (i.e., Hierarchies evolve from lowest level up, from pieces to the whole, cell to organism,...)

But it would have been more fun if it started with elephants.

Many systems are not meeting our goals because of malfunctioning hierarchies.

I think I said that earlier.

When a subsystem's goals dominate at the expense of the total system's goals, the resulting behavior is called suboptimization.
Just as damaging as suboptimization is too much central control.
To be a highly functional system, hierarchy must balance the welfare, freedoms, and responsibilities of the subsystems and total system—there must be enough central control to achieve coordination toward the large-system goal, and enough autonomy to keep all subsystems flourishing, functioning, and self-organizing.

I'd replace suboptimization with a simple "fucked up."

Everything we think we know about the world is a model. Our models do have a strong congruence with the world. Our models fall far short of representing the real world fully.
We know a tremendous amount about how the world works, but not nearly enough. Our knowledge is amazing; our ignorance even more so. We can improve our understanding, but we can't make it perfect.

Tough pill to swallow. We can't know it all and can't make it perfect. I don't like the prospects.

You are likely to mistreat, misdesign, or misread systems if you don't respect their properties of resilience, self-organization, and hierarchy.
Systems fool us by presenting a series of events...we are less likely to be surprised if we can see how events accumulate into dynamic patterns of behavior.
When system thinkers encounter a problem they look for data, time graphs, the history of a system. That's because long-term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is key to understanding not just what is happening, but why.

I need to be patient and look more closely at the systems that I'm frustrated with if I'm going to have an impact.

Many relationships in systems are nonlinear. Their relative strengths shift in disproportionate amounts as the stocks in the system shifts. Nonlinearities in feedback systems produce shifting dominance of loops and many complexities in system behaviors. rarely have real boundaries. Everything, as they say, is connected to everything else, and not neatly. There is no clearly determinable boundary between sea and land...Disorderly, mixed up borders are sources of diversity and creativity.
Whether it's important to think about the full flow from mine to dump, or "cradle to grave", depends on who wants to know, for what purpose, over how long. In the long term, the full flow is important and, as the physical economy grows and society's "ecological footprint" expands, the long term is increasingly coming to be the short term.
...Everything comes from somewhere, everything goes somewhere, everything keeps moving.

This is not making my job any easier.

There are not separate systems. The world is a continuum. Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purposes of the discussion—the questions we want to ask.

So, I really have to learn what the real questions are before moving forward.

Systems surprise us because our minds like to think about single causes neatly producing single effects...But we live in a world in which many causes routinely come together to produce many effects.

I can see why people give up and continue with their lives as is. Much easier to become an ostrich and bury your head in the sand. Good thing I'm stubborn.

To shift attention fro abundant factors to the next potential limiting factor is to gain real understanding of, and control over, the growth process...Ultimately, the choice is not to grow forever, but to decide what limits to live within.

There will always be limits to growth. They can be self-imposed. If they aren't they will be system-imposed. No physical entity can grow forever. If company managers, city governments, the human population, do not choose and enforce their own limits to keep growth within the capacity of the supporting environment, then the environment will choose to enforce limits.

Think we're already seeing the wrath of the "environment."

"I believe we must learn to wait as we learn to create. We have to patiently sow the seeds, assiduously water the earth where they are sown and give the plants the time that is their own. One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history."
—Václav Havel, playwright, last president of Czechoslovakia, 1st President of the Czech Republic

But fooling plants is what the huge agri-corporations are all about.

When there are long delays in feedback loops, some sort of foresight is essential, to act only when a problem becomes obvious is to miss an important opportunity to solve the problem.

Sounds like my dating history.

Because of decades of long delays as the earth's oceans respond to warmer temperatures, human fossil fuel emissions have already induced changes in climate that will not be fully revealed for a generation or two.
Bounded rationality means that people make quite reasonable decisions based on the information they have. But they don't have perfect information, especially about the distant parts of the system.
Seeing how individual decisions are rational within the bounds of the information available does not provide an excuse for narrow-minded behavior. It provides an understanding of why that behavior arises.

Ignorance is not bliss and not admissible in court.

Change comes first from stepping outside the limited information that can be seen from any single place in the system and getting an overview.

What makes a difference is redesigning the system to improve the information, incentives, disincentives, goals, stresses, and constraints that have an effect on specific actors.

I want to design a visual guide for those who want to redesign the system. Make it simpler, more digestible, less scary.

"Rational elites...know everything there is to know about their self-contained technical or scientific worlds, but lack a broader perspective. They range from Marxist cadres to Jesuits, from Harvard MBAs to army staff officers...They have a common underlying concern: how to get their particular system to function. Meanwhile,...civilization becomes increasingly directionless and incomprehensible."
—John Ralston Saul, political scientist

In your face rational elites!

Being less surprised by complex systems is mainly a matter of learning to expect, appreciate, and use the world's complexity.
But some systems are perverse. They are structured in ways that produce truly problematic behavior. They are called archetypes. Some behaviors they cause are addiction, drift to low performance, and escalation.

Systems that reinforce poverty for one.

The most effective way of dealing with policy resistance is to find a way of aligning the various goals of the subsystems.

Hmmmmm...sneaky. Wringing of hands.

If the system state plunged quickly, there would be an agitated corrective process. But if it drifts slowly enough to erase the memory of (or belief of) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled into lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.

Two antidotes to eroding goals:
- keep standards absolute regardless of performance
- make goals sensitive to the best performances of the past, instead of the worst
(the better things get, the harder I'm going to work to make them even better)

"I'll raise you one" is the decision rule that leads to escalation. Escalation comes from a reinforcing loop set up by competing actors trying to get ahead of each other. Escalation is not necessarily a bad thing (i.e., if the competition is toward a desirable goal, like more efficient computers or a cure for AIDS).

Advertising companies escalate their bids for the attention of the consumer. One company does something bright and loud. Its competitor does something louder, bigger. Advertising becomes even more present, more garish, more noisy, more intrusive, the consumer's senses are dulled to a point where nothing penetrates.

Yeah, slutty. Instead, let's give them only what they need and minimize the effects on landfills.

Escalation, being a reinforcing loop, builds exponentially. Therefore, it can carry a competition to extremes faster than anyone would believe possible. If nothing is done to break the loop, the process usually ends with one or both of the competitors breaking down.
One way out of the escalation trap is unilateral disarmament —deliberately reducing your own system state to induce reductions in your competitor's state. With the logic of the system, this option is almost unthinkable.

Because of greed, fear, loathing,...

Success-to-the-successful is a well-known concept in the field of ecology where it is called "the competitive exclusion principle." This principle says that two different species cannot live in exactly the same ecological niche, competing for exactly the same resources. "To him that hath shall be given" the more a winner wins, the more he can win in the future.

Why do the wealthy ignore this principle? It can't just be greed. That's too easy.

The trap of success-to-the-successful does its greatest damage in the many ways it works to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Not only do the rich have more ways to avoid taxation than the poor, but:
- in most societies, the poorest children receive the worst educations in the worst schools. With few marketable skills, they qualify only for low pay jobs, perpetuating their poverty
- people with low income and few assets are not able to borrow from most banks
- land is held so unevenly in many parts of the world that most farmers are tenants on someone else's land. They must pay part of their crops to the landowner for the privilege of working the land, and so never are able to buy land of their own. The landowner uses the income from tenants to buy more land.

This can be applied to slum lords, too.

Species and companies sometimes escape competitive exclusion by diversifying = learn or evolve to exploit new resources.

The success-to-the-successful loop can be kept under control by putting into place feedback loops that keep any competitor from taking over entirely (i.e., antitrust laws, inheritance tax, higher tax rates for the wealthy, deductions for charitable giving, public welfare, labor unions, universal or equal health care and education,...)

I should mail my book to Congress. Start with Speaker Behner.

Native American "potlatch"—those who have the most give away many of their possessions to those who have the least.

What a divine idea! Very evolved of them. Of course, they also knew how to live in harmony with the land.

If the losers cannot break out of the game of success, have no hope of winning, they get frustrated enough to destroy the playing field.

I think I mentioned a revolution earlier.

includes dependence of industry on government subsidies, farmers on fertilizer, Western economies on cheap oil.

Yes, indeedy. Now the mud slings.

The intervenor steps in with a "solution". The problem reappears because it wasn't solved at the root level. More of the same "solution" is applied = cycle of addiction.
The trap is formed if the intervention, whether by active destruction or simple neglect, undermines the original capacity of the system to maintain itself.

Why does anyone ever enter the trap?
The intervenor may not foresee that the initial urge to help out a bit can start a chain of events that leads to ever-increasing dependency (i.e., the American health system).
Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem.


The problem (of addiction) can be avoided up front by intervening in such a way as to strengthen the ability of the system to shoulder its own burdens.

My message: if we as individual households can shoulder more of our own burdens (waste, water, electricity,...) we would respect/value these resources more and our own ingenuity would kick in to resolve our own problems. This can be done through the dissemination of information (through continued education).

Exactly what I'd like to address in my final project.

Seeking Wrong Goals
If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn't measure what it's supposed to measure, if it doesn't reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system can't possibly produce a desirable result.
If the desired system state is good education, measuring that goal by the amount of money spent per student will ensure money spent per student. If the quality of education is measured by performance on standardized tests, the system will produce performance on standardized tests.

I'm seriously thinking more about mailing this book to Congress.

The Gross national Product (GNP) measures throughput—flows of stuff made and consumed per year. An expensive second home for a wealthy person raises the GNP, but a less expensive first home for a poor family does not. It could be argued that the best society would be one in which capital stocks can be maintained an used with the lowest possible throughput, rather than the highest. (High-efficiency light bulbs lower GNP - by the way.) The world would be a different place if instead of competing to have the highest per capita GNP, nations competed to have the highest stocks of wealth with the lowest throughput, or lowest infant mortality rate, or greatest political freedom, or cleanest environment, or smallest gap between rich and poor.

I want to move there. What universe is that in?
You know, I used to be a high consumer and measured my "success" by what I had and could afford. Who was that person? Certainly no happier. Maybe a little less stressed (over money, not the rest of my life).

Creating Change—in Systems and in Our Philosophy
now we're getting down to business!
MIT's Jay Forrester— "although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find the leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction."
This feels like the newspaper industry to me (my former career).
Forrester describes complex systems as counter-intuitive. Leverage points are frequently not intuitive, or if they are, we too often use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve.
The leverage point (especially of complex systems) is in proper design in the first place.
Slowing economic growth is the greater leverage point in Forrester's world model than faster technological development or freer market prices. Those are attempts to speed up the rate of adjustment. But the world's physical capital stock, its factories and boilers, the concrete manifestations of its working technologies, can change only so fast, even in the face of new prices or new ideas. There's more leverage in slowing the system down so technologies and prices can keep up with it, than there is in wishing the delays would go away.

Is this message aimed at me? Does he know how impatient I am. I may find this to be more true than I desire as I delve further into the practicality of my intentions. Hope not.

A balancing feedback loop is self-correcting. A reinforcing feedback loop is self-reinforcing. Reinforcing feedback loops are sources of growth explosion, erosion, and collapsing of systems. Usually a balancing loop will kick in sooner or later.

I suspect this is the law of the universe. I have to trust in that.

There is a systematic tendency on the part of humans to avoid accountability for their own decisions.

They are weak!

Power over the rules is real power. If you want to understand the deepest malfunctions of systems, pay attention to the rules and to who has power over them.

This is the secret code. Find the one who has the power of the rules. Yes. More wringing of hands.

Self-Organization—the power to add, change, or evolve system structure—change with new structures and behaviors.
The ability to self-organize is the strongest form of system resilience. A system that can evolve can survive almost any change by changing itself.

I think this describes me—my self-organization, the system called Darlene. I've evolved to the point that I can change as needed more quickly and more intuitively than ever before in my earlier life. I'm more grounded in my belief system. Or maybe just rediscovered them, but now know how to live in harmony with that belief system.

The "divine creator" does not have to produce evolutionary miracles—just write marvelously clever rules for self-organization.

That's why I personally don't believe in the traditional version of "heaven" and I'm sure there is no hell. Everything just is, and is all One. Perfect rules.

Unfortunately, people appreciate the precious evolutionary potential of cultures even less than they understand the preciousness of every genetic variation of the world's ground squirrels...because one aspect of almost every culture is the belief in the utter superiority of that culture.

Our ego will be our downfall, right after religion and rock'n'roll. Or something like that.

Encouraging variability and experimentation and diversity means "losing control."

I hate losing control. How am I supposed to do this? the top...a single player can have the power to change the systems goal (i.e., Hitler)

Once a president could say "ask not what a government can do for you, but what can you do for the government" no one laughed. Ronald Reagan said, over and over, the goal is not to get the people to help the government and not to get the government to help the people, but to get the government off our backs. Larger system changes, the rise of corporate power over government let him get away with that. But the thoroughness with which the public discourse in the U.S. and even the world has been changed since Reagan is testimony to the high leverage of articulating, meaning, repeating, standing up for, insisting upon, new system goals.

This gives me hope. It also gives me fear. If the people hear the wrong messages and become apathetic in educating their selves, we are doomed to a failed system.

The shared idea in the minds of society, the great big unstated assumptions, constitute that society's paradigm, or deepest set of beliefs about how the world works. Money measures something real and has real meaning; therefore, people who are paid less are literally worth less. Growth is good. Nature is a stock of resources to be converted to human purposes. Evolution stopped with the emergence of Homo-sapiens.
Paradigms are the source of systems.

Now I'm terrified again. There are a lot of stupid people running around on this planet. We're doomed.

Paradigms are harder to change than anything else. In a single individual it can happen in a millisecond. Whole societies are another matter—they resist challenges to their paradigms harder than they resist anything else.

So how do you change paradigms?
Thomas Kuhn: "you keep pointing out the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. You keep speaking and acting, loudly with assurance, from the new one. You don't waste time with reactionaries; rather, you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.

Whew! There is hope. I must seek out these other change agents. I have a few who can help me now. I will no doubt be seeking the help and collaboration of others.

Systems modelers say that we change paradigms by building a model of the system, which takes us outside the system and forces us to see it whole.

Good advice.

Transcending Paradigms
almost sounds like a band name
Keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, stay flexible, realize that no paradigm is "true", that everyone, including the one that sweetly shapes your own world views, is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. Let go into not-knowing, what the Buddhists call enlightenment.

Holy crap! This sounds like Pema Chödrön.
I really have to work on letting go. I do trust my instincts and can be pretty flexible. I go with the flow. But I hate not knowing the answers. More meditation is required.

If no paradigm is right, you can choose whatever one will help you achieve your purpose. If you have no idea where to get a purpose, you can listen to the universe.

If no paradigm is right, anyone can choose any paradigm they want. This might be the problem. I'll have to make sure my heart is pure when I choose my paradigm. Think only of the greater good.

It is in this space of mastery over paradigms that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millenia.

I'd like to have lasting impact, but not into the burned at the stake thing.

The higher the leverage point; the more the system will resist changing it—that's why societies often rub out truly enlightened beings.

Well, hell! Then they deserve to wallow in the darkness and starvation that may come from their own selfish choices! Almost makes me want to sit on my own hill with my own garden, water, and chickens, (and guns) and take care of myself, only.

"The real trouble with this world of ours is not that is in an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that is it nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality, yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical than it is."
—G.K. Chesterton, 20th century writer

I'm apparently one of those logicians.

The future can't be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can't be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned. We can't surge forward with certainty into a world of no surprises, but we can expect surprises and learn from them and even profit from them. We can't impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could be produced by your will alone.

OK, I won't give up.

Systems Wisdoms
Before disturbing the system in any way, watch how it behaves.

Like don't poke the sleeping bear?

Don Michael— "error-embracing"—it takes a lot of courage to embrace your errors.
"Error-embracing is the condition for learning. It means seeking and using—and sharing—information about what went wrong with what you expected or hoped would go right. Both error embracing and living with high levels of uncertainty emphasize our personal as well as societal vulnerability. Typically we hide our vulnerabilities from ourselves as well as from others. be the kind of person who truly accepts responsibility...requires knowledge of an access to Self far beyond that possessed by most people in society."

Oh yeah, I have the error-embracing down. Still hide other vulnerabilities, though. I let those out on an as needed basis.

Celebrate complexity
Let's face it, the universe is messy. It spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity and uniformity. That's what makes it beautiful, and that's what makes it work.

Yup. Gonna have to come to terms with this.
Celebrate complexity and embrace not knowing, Darlene.
OK, I'm working on it.

This was a wonderful book. Thank you Natalia Ilyin for suggesting it!
Ironic how closely it tied to the Pema Chrödrön books that Nikki Juen suggested I read. Almost spooky.

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art making:

:: looking at Self-Organizing Systems (at my house) - the first two images are from packet #1 but tie closely to the second two images


Acrylic on 185# paper - an aerial view of my neighborhood - about a 2 mile radius;
I took liberties with colors. The lighter greens are the forested and highest elevations.

grid 1 closeup

zoomed in (sorry, bad lighting)

grid 2

A closer aerial view of my neighborhood - about 1 mile radius;
I was able to work with larger shapes and this allows me to push the pigment around more and use some glazing.

:: different perspective, still within the "grid" structure idea:

grid 3

No longer aerial, but ground level, showing the layers.

grid 4

Now subterranial. I have a lot of clay in my soil. Only a few inches down and you'll hit red clay, then rock after that.

The next set of paintings will reinforce the idea of grids even more. I've taken another photo standing in my front yard and I've broken that image into 96 squares. They're about 3/4" in size. I've numbered the backsides of each so I can reassemble them when done.

Next, I've cut 2" squares out of the acrylic paper - 96 of them to be precise - and I'm picking up each 3/4" image piece and painting the larger piece, but with minimal strokes.

When I'm done painting the 96 squares, I'll reassemble those into a larger reconstruction of the original image. This should turn out interesting.

96 pcs

Scary stack of 96 blank canvases...

96 pcs

They're all done and the final piece is re-assembled.

I really enjoyed this process.

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Taking the Leapreading: Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears - Pema Chödrön

:: excerpts I found interesting:

If spiritual practice is relaxing, if it gives us some peas of mind, that's great—but is this personal satisfaction helping us to address what's happening in the world? The main question is, are we living in a way that adds further aggression and self-centeredness to the mix, or are we adding some much-needed sanity?

This phrase is what drew me to this book. The editors are very clever to add a couple of these chapters to the last Pema book I read. It worked, they hooked me.

As Chögyam Trungpa put it, "Sanity is permanent, neurosis is temporary."

To honestly face the pain in our lives and the problems in the world, let's start by looking compassionately and honestly at our own minds. We can become intimate with the mind of hatred, the mind that polarizes, the mind that makes somebody "other" and bad and wrong. We come to know, unflinchingly, and with great kindness, the angry, unforgiving, hostile wolf. Over time, that part of ourselves becomes very familiar, but we no longer feed it. Instead, we can make the choice to nurture openness, intelligence, and warmth. This choice, and the attitudes and actions that follow from it, are like a medicine that has the potential to cure all suffering.

Potent words these are.
I was feeding the wrong wolf for quite a while. It became habitual, and like Pema says, familiar.
I'm reading these books, as part of my MFA studies, to help me reach a healthier frame of mind as I approach the task of communicating issues that are deeply troubling and important to me. I'm referring to the topic of paradigm shifts and alternate energy options. If you read my notes on the book "Thinking in Systems" by Donella Meadows, there's a section that talks about the difficulties in shifting paradigms of societies. It gets a little worrisome when she adds that societies tend to remove enlightened people (by shooting them, crucifying them, burning them at the stake, etc.).
I need to be mentally prepared to craft my message without condescension or bitterness.

...we humans are like young children who have a bad case of poison ivy. Because we want to relieve the discomfort, we automatically scratch, and it seems a perfectly sane thing to do. In the face of anything we don't like, we automatically try to escape. In other words, scratching is our habitual way of trying to get away, trying to escape our fundamental discomfort, the fundamental itch of restlessness and insecurity, or that very uneasy feeling: that feeling that something bad is about to happen.

We don't know yet that when we scratch, the poison ivy spreads. We find our discomfort escalating.

We train in just staying present, open, and awake, no matter what's going on.

Left to our own devices, however, we'll scratch forever, seeking the relief we never find.

Speaking as one who has had several bouts with poison ivy (not surprising considering where I live), this analogy is very fitting. I probably have better tolerance for the metaphoric itches life throws at me than a poison ivy rash, though.

The three classic styles of looking for relief in the wrong places are pleasure seeking, numbing out, and using aggression: we either zone out or we grasp. Or perhaps we develop the style of scratching in which we obsess and rage about other people or indulge in self-hatred.

OK, maybe I do this over one individual. But she's a selfish bitch.
I spent a lot of my early 20's looking for relief in all the wrong places.

...self-absorption, this trying to find zones of safety, creates terrible suffering. It weakens us, the world becomes more terrifying, and our thoughts and emotions become more and more threatening as well.

Since we were children, we've strengthened the habit of escape, choosing fantasy over reality.

Yes I do.
If you're ever bored, I can tell you about my dreams of having superhuman abilities or random acts of "saving the day."

Not acting out, or refraining, is very interesting. It's also called renunciation in the Buddhist teachings. The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenluk, and it means turning shenpa upside down, shaking it up completely. It means getting unhooked. Renunciation isn't about renouncing food, or sex, or your lifestyle. We're not referring to giving up the things themselves. We're talking about loosening our attachment, the shenpa we have to these things.

If I start an anti-raw-onion campaign or write an anti-patchouli-oil book or begin to attach another philosophy or religion, then it's shenpa, big time. My mind and heart are closed. I'm so invested in my views and opinions that those who think differently are my adversaries.

On the other hand, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi are both examples of how we can take a stand and speak out without shenpa. As they demonstrated, being without shenpa does not lead to complacency, it leads to open-mindedness and compassionate action.

I sometimes find myself getting self-righteous, but catch myself. I learned through a lot of hard knocks as a young supervisor not to judge people or their notions that differ from mine. It tended to bite me in the ass if I did. Now as an educator, I've learned to siphon diverse thoughts from my students. We have some of the craziest and richest conversations. They keep me mentally young and flexible. If only I could start my 20's again. Do-over!

It doesn't matter, really, whether you catch shenpa as an ember or as a raging forest fire. If you can take the first step and acknowledge you're hooked—that already is interrupting an ancient habitual response. That already is interrupting the momentum, even if very briefly, of going on automatic pilot and exiting. You're wide awake, conscious that you're hooked and that right now you have a choice: you can empower shenpa or you can do something different. It's a highly charged moment in which you can escalate the intensity further or you can choose to pause and experience the uncomfortable energy without struggling.

Whew! I remember some raging forest fires in my not-so-distant past. A designer on my staff at The Star (newspaper) said I was "the queen of short fuses."

Each of us can be an active participant in creating a nonviolent future simply by how we work with shenpa when it arises. How individuals like you and I relate to being hooked, these days, has global implications. In that neutral moment, that often highly charged moment, when we can go either way, do we consciously strengthen old fear-based habits, or do we stay on the dot, fully experiencing the agitated, restless energy and letting it naturally unwind and flow on?

Unwind. Breathe.

There is a formal practice for learning to stay with the energy of uncomfortable emotions—a practice for transmuting the poison of negative emotions into wisdom.

Oh, teach me Obi Wan

Step One. Acknowledge that you're hooked.

Step Two. Pause, take three conscious breaths, and lean in. Lean in to the energy. Part of this step is learning not to be seduced by the momentum of shenpa.

I don't think I get what she means by "lean in to the energy."

...Just do not speak, do not act, and feel the energy. Be one with your own energy, one with the ebb and flow of life.

Be the bunny.

Step Three. Then relax and move on. Just go on with your life so that the practice doesn't become a big deal, an endurance test, a contest that you win or lose.

Gradually we lose our appetite for biting the hook. We lose our appetite for aggression.

One can only hope. I promise to keep practicing.
Is it considered shenpa if, in a confrontation with "her", I choose to "pause, take three breaths, lean in (for a punch, just kidding), and walk away." Because I know that would really piss her off. And that would be enjoyable.

No matter what happened to us in the past, right now we can take responsibility for working compassionately with our habits, our thoughts and emotions. We can take the emphasis off who hurt us and put it on disentangling ourselves.

I'm working through this with my feelings about the asshole guys that left me at the curb in the past. I've been disentangling myself on that subject for a really long time (11+ years).

...How can I get rid of my difficult coworker...
Some gentleness? Some ability to let go and not make such a big deal of my problems?

Hmmm....gentleness. That will be tough.

We might also ask, Given my present situation, how long should I stay with uncomfortable feelings?

Of course there is no right answer.

Being able to acknowledge shenpa, being able to know that we are getting stuck, this is the basis of freedom. Just being able to recognize what's happening without denial—we should rejoice in that. Then, if we can take the next step and refrain from going down the same old road, which sometimes we'll be able to do and sometimes we won't, we can rejoice that sometimes we do have the ability to interrupt the momentum—that "sometimes" is major progress.

Then I feel a great sense of accomplishment.

He (Chögyam Trungpa) said the ideal spiritual journey needs the balance of "gloriousness" and "wretchedness."

So, what's needed is a balance. But as a species, we tend to overemphasize the wretchedness.

I think I may have overemphasized the wretchedness of my time in Texas. I really had a lot of issues while living there and working there. I couldn't stand the culture. There was a deeply embedded caste system that those folks were comfortable with and I wasn't. I couldn't change it, I couldn't tolerate it, so I had to leave it. I had developed an extreme sense of loss of control, too. I was able to articulate to a couple of friends back home what I'd gone through and what bothered me, but I can barely remember those things now. That's why I'm wondering if I put too much emphasis on them at the time. Or, maybe I've moved on and those memories have faded. Like when a mother gives birth and she forgets the pain of something so large coming out of a place so small. Yeah, I saw that birthing film in my Psychology class in college. It scarred me for life. Child birth is not natural. I don't know who invented that process, but they were not in their right minds.

Make a commitment to pausing throughout the day, and do that whenever you can. Allow time for your perception to shift. Allow time to experience the natural energy of life as it is manifesting right now.

Is this the same as daydreaming? I do that a lot. Or just get distracted by something "shiny."

...and if you are worried about the state of the world, this is a way that you can use every moment to help shift the global climate of aggression toward peace.

My daydreaming can help global peace?
Just kidding.
I understand that a happier me makes a happier world.

It is fairly common for crisis and pain to connect people with their capacity to love and care about one another. It is also common that this openness and compassion fades rather quickly, and that people then become afraid and far more guarded and closed than they ever were before. The question, then, is not only how to uncover our fundamental tenderness and warmth but also how to abide there with the fragile, often bittersweet vulnerability. How can we relax and open to the uncertainty of it?

I'm pretty sure this describes the dynamic in my immediate and extended family since my Dad passed. I could go into a long rhetoric on this subject, but I doubt you want to hear it. There's a section before this passage where Pema describes going through her mother's stuff after she passed and how it changed her outlook on "stuff" since then. Ugh, I can relate so well with that. Not to say that there isn't stuff I'm sentimental over, but the flood of Dad's "stuff" washed over and drowned my brothers. And they won't come out of the water.

Maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning loving-kindness toward all beings. Here, however, as Chögyam Trungpa uses the term, it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.
Step two in the journey toward genuinely helping others is communication from the heart. To the degree that we trust ourselves, we have no need to close down to others.
Step three is the ability to put others before ourselves and help them out without expecting in return.
If you encounter an animal or person who is clearly in distress, pause and breathe in with the wish that they be free of their distress and send out relief to them.

I would hope that you'd want me to do more than breathe and send them a wish of stress relief.

The Buddhist master Shantideva set forth a path for training in spiritual warriorship. In his text The Way of the Bodhisattva, he explains now the bodhisattva or spiritual warrior begins the journey by looking honestly at the current state of his or her mind and emotions. The path of saving others from confusion starts with our willingness to accept ourselves without deception.

This makes me wonder if I am deceiving myself in some way. I spend a lot of time in self-reflection and pondering the global questions of the day, but is there something I'm missing?

The primary intention is that we might follow the advice contained here in order to prepare ourselves to look beyond our own welfare and consider the great suffering of others and the fragile state of our world. As we change our own dysfunctional habits, we are simultaneously changing society. Our own awakening is intertwined with the awakening of enlightened society. If we can lose our personal appetite for aggression and addiction, the whole planet will rejoice.

I struggle with believing this. It seems like an answer that is too easy and let's folks off the hook for more active participation in affecting change.

And, of course, the editors included a couple of chapter of the next book, Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery. I bought it and am nearly finished with it.

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Smile at Fearreading: Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery - Chögyam Trungpa

:: excerpts I found interesting:

Chögyam Trungpa, one of the greatest Buddhist teachers of the twentieth century, died in 1987. Yet these teachings on spiritual warriorship and bravery seem as though they were written for this very moment in time. He felt that the West, and indeed the world as a whole, would face immense difficulties in the twenty-first century, and he spoke to his students of those potential hardships with a mixture of confidence and realism. Trungpa Rinpoche (Rinpoche is a title for realized teachers that means "Precious One") was sure that humanity could handle what might be coming, but equally sure that the challenges would be substantial. I participated in sobering conversations with him about the economic and political future of North America and other parts of the world.

See, others think crap is coming down the pike, too. This guy just has the inside scoop on how to deal with it. Listen and learn, Darlene.

Many approaches to spirituality and to life in general are influenced by cowardice. If you are afraid of seeing yourself, you may use spirituality or religion as a way of looking at yourself without seeing anything about yourself at all.

I couldn't say it better. I compare this to mis-using patriotism and loyalty, too.

"Warrior" here is a translation of the Tibetan word pawo. Pa means "brave," and wo makes it "a person who is brave." The warrior tradition we are discussing is a tradition of bravery. You might have the idea of a warrior as someone who wages war. But in this case, we are not talking about warriors as those who engage in warfare. Warriorship here refers to fundamental bravery and fearlessness.

Warriorship is based on overcoming cowardice and our sense of being wounded.

Fear is nervousness; fear is anxiety; fear is a sense of inadequacy, a feeling that we may not be able to deal with the challenges of everyday life at all. We feel that life is overwhelming. People may use tranquilizers or yoga to suppress their fear; they just try to float through life...We have all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets that we use in the hope that we might experience fearlessness simply by taking our minds off our fear.

Yes, tranquilizers. I drank a lot when back in corporate. Socially.
My gimmick may be living out in the country away from people. And occupying most of my life with work to avoid other things. I said once to a friend that I don't have time to date, and especially to have to give up time to concern myself with the emotional well-being of another person. Actually, I said it more like "I don't have time to cater to some guy's delicate ego." But, that's another story, or a series of other books on letting go of anger. She said back to me, "you just don't make the time." Wowsers.

We also have to give up the notion of a divine savior, which has nothing to do with what religion we belong to, but refers to the idea of someone or something who will save us without our having to go through the pain.

This is why I avoid religion (among other reasons). Too many scapegoats have been provided for those who don't want to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.

Having the moon in your heart, you don't want to be hassled by further moons, other human beings. It feels good to be self-contained, and you hesitate to go beyond that. At that point, further heroism, or warriorship, is very much needed.

I totally get this.

...we are saying that we can transform our experience of the phenomenal world. Our normal experiences of passion, aggression, and ignorance can be transformed into a natural state of existence, a state free from passion, free from aggression, and free from ignorance. Such an experience of natural magic comes from transplanting the sun into ourselves.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the sun represents feminine principle and the moon is regarded as masculine principle. The feminine principle is connected with giving birth and providing growth and fertility. Where to you transplant the sun? You might find this rather surprising, but the sun is transplanted into your brain, inside your head. The moon, the masculine principle, was planted in your heart...

What are the qualities of the sun? It contains natural wakefulness as well as fearlessness and gentleness.

Sometimes we resist the idea of developing our intellect. Intellectualization has a bad connotation. We associate it with distancing ourselves from our feelings, refusing to look at ourselves or examine ourselves in a fundamental way. However, using our intellect to understand life is actually quite good. Intellect, or prajna, represent the sharpest point in our experience. Sharpening our intellect brings precision. Intellect brings a direct way of seeing things as they are, so that we don't neglect the potential in our experience.

I crave precision naturally. I may spend too much time analyzing everything, though.

The experience of sacredness brings together the moon in your heart and the sun in your head, as well as supporting the basic sense of sanity or vajra nature in your existence.

The main point is to appreciate our world, which becomes the vajra world, the warrior's world, which is a cheerful world. It never becomes too good or too bad.

Sacredness means that fearlessness is carried out throughout everyday life situations, including brushing your teeth and washing the dishes. Fearlessness takes place all over the place, all the time.

I appreciate the divine intelligence that put all the elements in place for this world to function as it does. I respect the natural order of life. I struggle with how humans have injected their ideals of perfection upon what is already perfect.

The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness. Those are your weapons. The genuine warrior becomes truly gentle because there is no enemy.

They haven't met "her." The pain in my ass that will never get loving-kindness from me.

Ahimsa is a nonviolent way of dealing with a situation. It is the warrior's way.

To develop the nonviolent approach, first of all you have to see that your problems are not really trying to destroy you. Usually, we immediately try to get rid of our problems. We think that there are forces operating against us that we have to overpower.

The whole point is that, in order to successfully challenge someone, first of all you must develop loving-kindness and a feeling of longing for openness, so that there is no desire to challenge anyone at all. If one has a desire to conquer or win a challenge against another, then in the process of challenging him or her, the mind is filled with this desire and one is not really able to challenge the other properly. Going beyond challenge is learning the art of war.

I get it. Hard to put down old habits, but I get it intellectually. Must retrain.

...when you do not produce another force of hatred, the opposing force collapses.

This is also connected with how to deal with one's thoughts in the practice of meditation. If you do not try to repress your thoughts, but you just accept them and don't get involved with them, then the whole structure of thoughts becomes one with you and is no longer disturbing.

To be without fear is to have great strength. The realization of fearlessness is the genuine martial art.

The basic vision of warriorship is that there is goodness in everyone.
We are all good in ourselves.

Even it's only a tiny bit.

The colorfulness of relationships, household chores, business enterprises, and our general livelihood are too irritating. We are constantly looking for padding so that we don't run into the sharp edges of the world. That is the essence of wrong belief. It is an obstacle to seeing the wisdom of the Great Eastern Sun, which is seeing a greater vision beyond our own small world.

The search for entertainment to babysit your boredom soon becomes legitimized as laziness. Such laziness actually involves a lot of exertion. You have to constantly crank things up to occupy yourself with, overcoming your boredom by indulging in laziness.

Babysit and laziness are such strong words. I don't consider it either when I see a movie or watch my Sunday morning political shows (which I missed this morning because I went to an early movie). Now, I do understand this phrasing when applying to folks who sit and watch TV (or the internet) all day, or a lot of the day. I just recognize my other priorities and don't have the time to spend wasted in front of those. I get Netflix so I can watch documentaries and good, rich stories on demand.

...fearlessness is connected with attaching your basic existence to greater vision, the Great Eastern Sun. In order to experience such a vast and demanding vision, you need a real connection to basic goodness.

I seem to have gotten this far in my old age. Just need help clarifying what that vision is—removing the haze of other distractions or preconceived notions.

The idea of renunciation is to relate with whatever arises with a sense of sadness and tenderness. We reject the aggressive, hard-core street-fighter mentality. The neurotic upheavals created by overcoming conflicting emotions, or the kleshas, arise from ignorance, or avidya.

I have a little difficulty seeing me approach the melodramatic family events in my life in this way. With some sadness, yes. Tenderness gets thrown out the window quickly. Hands in the air in frustration.

Warriorship is so tender, without skin, without tissue, naked and raw. It is soft and gentle. You have renounced putting on a new suit of armor. You have renounced growing a thick, hard skin. You are willing to expose naked flesh, bone, and marrow to the world.

I'm having flashbacks to junior high (middle school) when I hear this.

The path of fearlessness begins with the discovery of fear. We find ourselves fearful, frightened, even petrified by circumstances. This ubiquitous nervousness provides us with a stepping-stone so that we can step over our fear. We have to make a definite move to cross over the boundary from cowardice to bravery. If we do so properly, the other side of our cowardice contains bravery

To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time. This makes the warrior sensitive to every aspect of phenomena; to sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. In that sense, the warrior is also an artist, appreciating whatever goes on in the world.

I'm not convinced that sadness and loneliness are required to be sensitive to the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. Empathetic is more like it. a warrior, you never neglect your discipline.
...the warrior never gives up. You go along with the situation. You don't withdraw. This allows you to develop your loyalty and connection to others, free from fear. You can relate with other sentient beings who are trapped in the confused world, perpetuating their pain. In fact, you realize that it is your duty. You feel warmth, compassion, and even passion toward others. First you develop your own good conduct, and then you can extend yourself fearlessly to others. That is the concept of the sun.

I left my corporate life because I was neglecting my discipline (my passion and purpose in art).

Loyalty and connection to others, free from fear. Hmmm...I've developed a deep skepticism of loyalty. I find myself extending myself to others (select individuals, not just anyone) and offer loyalty (and protection), and think I'm getting it in return, only to find that it's not at the same level. The same was true when I was younger taking on the playground bullies. There was never anyone around to fend off the bullies for me. Guess everyone figured I was big enough to take care of myself. Or, there are just a lot of cowards in the world.

In the Shambhala warrior tradition, we say you should only have to kill an enemy once every thousand years...once in a thousand years a real assassination of the ultimate enemy may be necessary. We're talking about an extremely rare situation in which someone can't be reached by any other means. Your action has to be completely free from aggression, and it cannot be motivated by anger, greed, or a desire for retribution or vengeance.

If we pop the enemy (popping their ego), and only then, they might be able to connect with some basic goodness within themselves and realize that they made a gigantic mistake.

The basic vision of warriorship is that there is goodness in everyone. We are all good in ourselves. So we have our own warrior society within our own body.

They keep saying that there is goodness in everyone. It's like they're yelling at me.

When we feel basically good, rather than degraded or condemned, then we become very inquisitive, looking into every situation and examining it...we want to make a personal connection with reality.

Similarly, for the inquisitive warrior, trust means that we know that our actions will bring a definite response from reality.
Normally, trust means that we think that our world is trustworthy.

And I don't. feel established in this world. You belong here. You are one of the warriors in this world, so even if the little unexpected things happen, good or bad, right or wrong, you don't exaggerate them. You come back to your seat in the saddle and maintain your posture in the situation.

I think I'm really close to believing this is where I'm at or am very close to. Maybe helped by perimenopause.

Fearlessness in the warrior tradition is not training yourself in ultimate paranoia. It is based on training in ultimate solidity—which is basic goodness. You have to learn how to be regal.

Maybe I'm not there yet.
I do think there is basic goodness in all things and humans, but I think that cowardice and selfishness cause people to behave in a way that does not serve the greater good. I don't trust that people will think of the larger picture before themselves.

Success and failure are your journey.

I don't need anyone to tell me that. I've lived it. This could be in a fortune cookie.

The last stage of fearlessness is that you can steer your mind in whatever direction you want to go, into whatever area you want to explore and perceive.

I'm there.

Fearlessness is powerful, but it also contains gentleness and constant loneliness and sadness. Wisdom and consideration for others are also part of the fearlessness. When you are more fearless, you become more available and kinder to others, more considerate of others and more touched by them. The more fearlessness evolves, that much more available and vulnerable you become. That is why sadness and gentleness are part of the fearlessness.

I hear it, but I still don't understand why the loneliness and sadness are required.

To counteract the feelings of sadness and emptiness, people seek entertainment to distract themselves. This world of entertainment is designed to help you forget who you are and where you are. The setting-sun version of enjoyment is to forget your gentle sadness and instead become aggressive and "happy."

The approach of the warrior in working with the setting-sun world is like an autumn leaf floating down a river. It doesn't change its color, and it doesn't struggle with the river. It goes along with it. The setting-sun world will be uncertain what to do with this leave (because it has never carried such an autumn leaf before). So by simply being there, you make people think twice, automatically.
It takes people off guard when you don't react to them. You don't fight back when they attack you, but you just remain as an autumn leaf, whatever they do. This is the gentle way of working. If there are hundreds of thousands of autumn leaves coming down a small brook, then the appearance of the brook will be changed by them altogether.

Ahhhh...if no one fights, then there is no one to fight.

Such little leaves could stop the flow of water altogether. If there are enough powerful autumn leaves, that is possible. It has been done in the past.

Thinking of the marches in the 60s with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ruler of the Great Eastern Sun views the world, the entire universe, with panoramic vision. He or she see what needs to be done, what needs to be conquered, what needs to be overcome, what needs to be destroyed, what needs to be cherished. When you join heaven and earth, you experience total unity, a total sense of That which unshakable. You cannot be disturbed by cowardice of any kind at all.

I strive to be a ruler of the Great Eastern Sun.

Because you are a warrior, fulfilling your wishes arises in the context of not harming others, not taking advantage of others, and not causing suffering to oneself or others.

Fire has power of its own. Wind has power of its own. Earth has power of its own. Space has power of its own. Such power has neither beginning or end, and such power exists in you, individually, inseparable from basic goodness.

There's that damned basic goodness thing again.
I do have power. I've regained it since beginning the MFA program at VCFA. There is a light guiding me down this very exciting path.

You should see the vividness of the phenomenal world. When you are unable to do so, you need to develop mindfulness and awareness so that you can work with your fear. Study how fear arises, how it manifests, and how it is actualized. When you begin to understand your fear, then you find that it is almost a big joke rather than a big problem.

When we connect with other human beings, we touch into our creativity as human beings, and we begin to expand our world. That is the expression of fearlessness.

I first have to develop the trust in other human beings more.

One of the biggest problems in the world is that people don't feel themselves properly. So we are simply trying to feel ourselves, appreciate ourselves. The whole presentation of the way of the warrior is based on this gentleness.
Acknowledging that human beings possess goodness is the starting point. Otherwise we may indulge in our wretchedness or invite depression. We may turn away from ourselves, rather than being fully genuine. On the other hand, refusing to be a simple human being and trying to always be superhuman, not recognizing our basic human situation with all its difficulties and contradictions, is another way of being ungenuine.

...human beings possess goodness...human beings possess goodness...human beings possess goodness...human beings possess goodness...human beings possess goodness...

If you look at your experience and your mind, and your trace back through the whole process of your life, of who you are, what you are, and why you are in this world, if you look systematically, step by step, you won't find even a little drop of any problem at all.

Assuming this is the way it was supposed to be and necessary to get me where I am now. Yes. I agree. Would not have agreed with it at the time of crisis, but in hindsight...

In the true human situation, which is the situation of warriorship, we shouldn't have that problem. Rather, we expand and extend ourselves fully to a situation, and from that we receive the feedback to develop a true and clear understanding. There is no doubt about anything. Overall, the warrior's doubtlessness comes from continually connecting back with the original feeling of being truly oneself.


A genuine warrior has a lot of resources within herself, resources that are always there. Although you feel that you've run out of ideas, you're not really running out of anything. You're being attached by your own cowardice. You can go beyond that and find further resources within yourself. Banks and banks of inspiration unfold constantly.

I feel like this most of the time.
I just always feel like I'm running out of money, though.

Therefore, it's crucial to understand how to combat that fear by going further into it and then coming out. None of us should regard ourselves as being trapped. From this point of view, we are free. We can do what we want to do. That is one of the key attitudes we should adopt. Even if you experience great fear, you can go in and out of it. That can be done. That is taking an imperial attitude; it can be done, and we can do it. That sense of freedom and fearlessness is very important.

If you understand this, then you won't dwell on your fear. In some sense, when you realize your fear, you will have already come out on the other side. Going into your fear is like going through a fog. The key is whether you're regarding what you experience as simply something real or instead as monumental entrapment, imprisonment.

It was only in childhood, when I was very shy, that I felt that kind of debilitating fear. Somewhere through all the years and all the conquests, I've lost most of the fear for myself. It's fear for the continuation of all things I hold sacred—the divinity of life on our planet (with or without humans).

Being thrown into management at the newspaper forced me to overcome a lot of fear. It eroded with each victory, each accomplishment—again, flying very solo.

Heaven means sanity, or a good and direct understanding. Earth is practicality. Joining them together means that practicality and sanity, or wisdom, are put together, so that we can actually transmit that sanity to others.

You rediscover the sense of healthiness, a strong, healthy state of both mind and body. Your attitude toward yourself and others begins to brighten up. Only then can you actually hold the universe in your hand.

...there's something else we need to cultivate, which is a constant experience or quality of sacredness in everyday life.

Even though you may feel that many situations in your life are difficult or even degraded, nevertheless the entire world still possesses the potential for intrinsic awareness. All kind of challenges and frustrations come up in life. We have to recognize that such frustrations, challenges, and negativity always have an element of sacredness in them.

...because they are part of your journey and necessary for you to be who you are. Yup.

The reason the warrior is invincible is that he sees his opponent's world so clearly and thoroughly. Because he knows the other world so well already, therefore the warrior can't be attacked or challenged. Here, spaciousness makes you sympathetic to others but invincible at the same time. Invincibility doesn't have to be insensitive. Instead, because you are so sensitive, so raw and rugged, therefore you can be hard like a diamond at the same time.

You may encounter many problems, but they will correct themselves if you have a true connection to the sacredness of the world.

I really do believe this. I often forget it, or let the drama cloak my connectedness. But when I listen, the universe speaks.

At the same time, the realization of sacredness brings further loneliness, that sad and tender feeling we have been discussing. It comes with a sense that only you know your world. You can express only so much to others. There are always aspects of your experience that you cannot share.

In that, I get the notion of loneliness. So many times I'd swear I was dropped here by aliens.

For the warrior, proclaiming your wisdom always comes along with softness and sadness.

I don't know why this would be, except to avoid sounding arrogant???

Your sadness is almost nostalgia, although that is not quite the right word. Nostalgia means longing for something in the past, but here it is nostalgia for the present taking place. It is heartache. You wish that you could impart all the things in your mind to somebody else. You wish you could completely communicate to somebody. Everybody wants to do that, particularly when they are in love, or when they are angry. But it is usually impossible. Such communication can only take place in gestures. There are a lot of things that words don't say. That is the biggest frustration of human beings.

Isn't that the truth. If we could mind-meld (like on Star Trek) and share our thoughts, that would solve so many problems! Perhaps that is why some of us become artists. We have a larger bag of tools to work with.

...meditation...As you practice this discipline, you may see many problems in yourself and in society, but please don't reject yourself or your world. We talked earlier about the virtue of renunciation, but that doesn't mean that you should give up on this world. Renunciation here is renouncing a small-minded attachment to privacy. You can jump in and involve yourself in life. As you continue your life's journey through fear and fearlessness, please, remember to appreciate your world.
You have to develop yourself first; then you can begin to work with others....As warriors, we don't put on a suit of armor to go into battle against the setting sun until we are sure that we ourselves are fundamentally strong, well trained, and in good health.

That's my plan.

When there is aggression, you lose your confidence and energy. You become weak, stubbornly self-centered, and angry. When there is no anger, you can raise yourself up and you expand yourself. You can find that life is full of humor and cheerfulness.

Is it humor I see or irony. Does that count?

Authentic fearlessness arises from this connection with basic, unconditional goodness. By goodness here, we simply mean being yourself. Accepting yourself—rather than trying to be good by being solemn and religious about your behavior—leads to uplifted confidence in body, speech, and mind.

Whenever there is doubt, that creates another step on your staircase. Doubt is telling you that you need to take another step. Each time there is an obstacle, you go one step further, beyond it, step by step. You walk or your jump one step at a time until you see the Great Eastern Sun.

I occasionally deal with doubt. The biggest one lately was being accepted to VCFA, especially after I saw the work of the other new students who'd been accepted. And after being rejected by Missouri University (more than once). Any time I approach anything new I feel doubt. Probably like anyone else. I back up, take a breath, and walk forward trusting my instincts.

You may feel lonely on your journey, still, you are not alone. If we sink, you and your warrior comrades and I will all sink together. If we rise, we rise together. So you have a companion even if we never have met one another personally. In he Shambhala tradition, we cry a lot because our hearts are so soft. And we fight the setting sun because we feel that basic goodness is worth fighting for, so to speak. Our obstacles can be conquered. So we should cry and fight, as long as we know that the warrior's cry is a different type of cry and the warrior's battle is a different type of battle.

What an excellent place to end this book.
And I thought I was just a big cry baby. It's true, I cry because it is all worth fighting for. I cry because I do feel alone in some of those battles. In the books I've been reading on sustainable living and systems behaviors, I know I'm not alone. Just in a different location.

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