Changing Our Perception of Reality

Changing Our Perception of Reality

How do we understand reality, and can we change it and so change ourselves?

There is an ancient Sufi story of an elephant and some blind men which goes as follows:

Once there was a city, the inhabitants of which were all blind. They had heard of elephants and were curious to see [sic] one face to face. They were still full of this desire when one day a caravan arrived and camped outside the city. There was an elephant in the caravan. When the inhabitants of the city heard there was an elephant in the caravan, the wisest and most intelligent men of the city decided to go out and see the elephant. A number of them left the city and went to the place where the elephant was. One stretched out his hands, grasped the elephant’s ear, and perceived something resembling a fan. Another stretched out his hands, grasped the elephant’s trunk, and perceived something resembling a snake. This man decided that the elephant looked like a snake. A third stretched out his hands, grasped the elephant’s leg, and perceived something like a tree. He decided that the elephant looked like a tree. A fourth stretched his hands, grasped the elephant’s tusk, and perceived something like a spear. He decided that the elephant looked like a weapon. Delighted, they all returned to the city. After each one had gone back to his quarter, the people asked: “Did see the elephant?” Each one answered yes. They asked: “What does he look like? What kind of shape has he?” Then one in his quarter replied: “The elephant looks like a fan. And the second man in the second quarter: “The elephant looks like a snake.” The third man in the third quarter: “The elephant looks like a tree.” And the fourth man in fourth quarter: “The elephant looks like a weapon.” And inhabitants of each quarter formed their opinion in accord; with what they had heard.

The blind men and the elephant – everyone sees only a part of a more complex reality, and tends to assume that what they see is the whole picture

It is easy to confuse the part of reality we engage with as the whole.

Everything around us is a system. And every system is part of another system. By understanding how things around us interlink we become better at seeing how things work together and how these same things can be manipulated, changed, modified to our advantage.

This process is called systems thinking .

There is a fundamental mismatch between the nature of reality in complex systems and our predominant ways of thinking about that reality. Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner. For instance, our current daily routine is a system (but we often see it linearly). We get up; we brush our teeth; we go to work; we consume information; we do actual work that earns an income; we talk to people, etc. If we do these same things for 20 years, we’ll probably do the same things for the rest of our life.

Our system defines both our present reality and our future reality.

Conversely, learning to see the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from previously unseen forces, and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them and change them.

Being aware of these things allows you to change them, and so your future.

So don’t be put off by the term – Systems Thinking – it is simply a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts. At its best Systems Thinking helps us to stop thinking from crisis to crisis and approach the issues we face in a more integrated way.

Systems come in all shapes and sizes and Systems Thinking now pervades many aspects of business, science, and government, because it helps us to better understand our problems and identify how to promote positive change. It also offers us insights and can be quite revealing!

Systems Thinking is concerned with revealing truths, where the unseen is just as important as the seen. Remember the elephant story.

Authors Linda Sweeney and Dennis Booth, out of years of working in this area’, defined a systems thinker as someone who:

• Sees the whole picture;
• Changes perspectives, seeing new ways of approaching an issue;
• Looks for interdependencies;
• Considers how mental models (paradigms of how things work) create our future;
• Gives attention to the long term;
• ‘Goes wide’ to see complex cause and effect relationships;
• Finds where unanticipated consequences emerge;
• Focuses on the structure of the system and not blame;
• Sees oneself as part of and not outside the system;
• Watches out for ‘win / lose mindsets, knowing that they usually make matters worse in situations of high interdependence.

One of the components of Systems Thinking is recognition that, ‘at different levels, observed phenomena exhibit properties that do not exist at lower levels. They are called emergent properties since they only emerge at that particular level.’

As an example of an emergent property, think of your favourite team sport whether cricket or baseball, netball or soccer, rugby, or grid iron. Many of those who follow a team sport would fantasise about the creation of a dream team by identifying spectacular individuals that they would include. This is essentially what team club management does.

But in reality, one cannot always predict the success of a team by looking at individual player performance.

It is really about what ‘emerges’ when these talented individuals come together as a team.

Another example is in chemistry, the taste of saltiness is a property of salt, but that does not mean that it is also a property of sodium and chlorine, the two elements which make up salt. Thus, saltiness is an emergent or a supervenient property of salt.

In our society a common emergent property is distortion of information when errors accumulate as information passes through a social network such as social media.

This emergent property reminds me of the party game of ‘telephone’, which starts by giving a secret message to one person in a group. That person whispers the message to a second person, and the message is whispered from one person to another. After everyone has been told the message, the first person and last person tell everyone the message as they understood it. To everyone’s amusement, the last person’s version of the message is typically incorrect in many ways, even though the last person is not a liar.

A failure to realize that a property is emergent, can lead us to serious errors of judgement; similarly, once aware of emergent properties, it is easier to for us ‘see’ what is really happening.

When something adverse happens, our immediate reaction is often to attempt to locate the cause and to apply a fix. However, this “fix” will have effects of its own, and very often these are not positive ones.

So emergent properties will affect the way we interact at many levels of existence. They sit at the heart of the concept of systems thinking as the behaviour of a system is an emergent property of its structure, not of its parts. As Donella H. Meadows put it:
Once we see the relationship between structure and behaviour, we can begin to understand how systems work, what makes them produce poor results, and how to shift them into better behaviour patterns. As our world continues to change rapidly and become more complex, systems thinking will help us manage, adapt, and see the wide range of choices we have before us.

Significantly, she writes that systems can change themselves utterly by creating whole new structures and behaviours.

In our Newtonian world we have been taught to think linearly using our rational ability to trace direct paths from cause to effect, looking at things in small and understandable pieces; but we can complement that way of seeing and thinking with a more intuitive way, a way that allows us to stop casting blame and to see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.

Systems thinking is concerned with revealing truths of nature, where the unseen is just as important as the seen.

So, as a starting point, we do this through inquiry into the reasons, the foundations, the meanings, and the ways of the unseen. This both broadens our paradigms and allows us to transcend them – changing our beliefs and our attitudinal address to ‘life’.

• Systems Thinking allows us to appreciate the non-obvious as well as the obvious ways we are connected to each other.
• Systems Thinking helps us recognise the unintended impacts of our intentions, thinking, and actions on others as well as ourselves.
• Systems Thinking helps us apply this self-awareness to changing how we relate to others in our system.

The trick to succeeding in our inquiry is to recognise which of our behaviours result from systems and what conditions release those behaviours. In this way we can work to rearrange the structures and conditions of the system to reduce the likelihood of self-destructive behaviours, such as addiction, and encourage more positive behaviours.

This requires self-awareness.

To build self-awareness, we must try to sense our own boundaries and limitations.

By being clear about ourselves and our abilities, gifts, and limitations, we can see the larger system much more clearly.

Guest Blogger Dr Brian Gordon, OAM

See our awareness meditations under Health and Well-Being  HERE 

 

 

Magic Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms, psilocybin or psychedelic mushrooms, have been used in indigenous cultures for religious rituals, healing, and divinatory purposes for millennia.

Psilocybin is an hallucinogenic compound, the term ‘magic mushroom’ was formed when the effect of this mushroom was found to be like that of the recreational drug LSD. Though tested in the field of medicine for the potential benefits of mental health, psilocybin is currently not accepted for medical use, however some parts of America have legalised psilocybin assisted therapy.

But this is not the magic this blog is about!

The magic of our fabulous eating mushrooms is that they are a nutritional powerhouse, jam packed with nutrients and minerals, fat free, cholesterol free – and very low in calories.

Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi, so not technically either a plant or a vegetable. They are bursting with B vitamins, have moderate amounts of C, biotin, potassium, copper, selenium, fibre, protein, iron, zinc, and an antioxidant unique to mushrooms. They also contain a fair amount of vitamin D which is not usual in non-animal foods – and many have a high fibre content  that can improve digestive health – maybe that’s why mushrooms are termed the ‘vegetarian meat’.

All eating mushrooms are great sources of antioxidants.

Some mushrooms, such as the Shitake, have immune stimulating properties and are antibacterial and antiviral. Shitake mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes in China for centuries and have one of the highest amounts of natural copper, a mineral that supports healthy blood vessels, bones, and immune support.

The small white or common button mushroom has medicinal properties helping to lower cholesterol and improve gut health. It also has a range of bioactive compounds that benefit of our general health.

Porcini mushrooms come with many health benefits too. These meaty type mushrooms help to improve digestive health and reduce inflamation, and are loaded with iron and anitoxidants. Research on the anti inflamarotry aspect can be found below.*

Mushrooms have also been found to have an inhibiting effect on oestrogen which can lead to a reduction in the risk of breast cancer and Lentinan, a beta-glucan found in shitake mushrooms, has shown to have immune regulating and anti-tumour properties**

Medicinal mushroom is often produced in powders, perhaps the most common one is made from the Reishi mushroom. Reishi is part of a traditional Chinese medicinal herbal remedy taken for a healthy liver and immune function and is known for its calming properties. ***

Eating mushroom is good for your health and well-being.

Dried mushrooms rarely lose their effectiveness, even on the protein side just one ounce of a dried porcini mushroom contains 7 grams of protein. Dried mushrooms are like a condensed super healthy condiment. Use them often and variously, particularly in soups, casseroles and stews.

Use fresh mushrooms within one week (max),  and keep any mushrooms not used straight away in a dry paper bag left open in the fridge. Before use, wipe clean with a dry cloth rather than washing them in water as they absorb water and can become slimy. Mushrooms contain 80% + water so are not suitable for freezing.

When cooking, sautéing quickly over high heat, or simmering over low heat, such as in soups, are ideal cooking methods for preserving nutrients.

Fresh mushrooms such as – porcini, lions mane, chanterelle, oyster, button, shitake, enoki, portobello, morel etc – can be used in many recipes – wraps, pasta bakes, stir fry’s, omelettes, salads, pizzas, filled and grilled, plain and fresh, or gently heated in a little butter and served on toast. Yum!

Mushrooms are considered super foods, packed with nutritional goodies to help promote a healthy immune system and boost bone health. Chefs recognise their earthy, savory flavour enhancement as ‘Umami’.

Interestingly truffles are also classified as mushrooms but have signifcant differences, such as growing completely underground and having no stem, having a strong rather than mild flavour, having just a short gowing season, and often being unaffordable! Try them shaved on scrambled eggs for an indulgent breakfast or keep a few eggs in a plastic bag with some truffle in the fridge, the truffle will infuse flavour throught the shells.

Happy and healthy eating.

AL

Caution – be careful picking or accepting mushrooms grown in the ‘wild’, many contain toxins that are unsafe to eat and can cause hallucinations, vomiting, convulsions and potentially, insanity. In addition even edible mushrooms are unsafe if picked near industrial sites or train tracks etc as they may contain toxins or heavy metals. Always obtain mushrooms from a safe source. ‘If in doubt, leave it out’!

Try our Awareness of Senses meditation under Health and Well-Being meditations here

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5095342/

* *Ng, M. L., & Yap, A. T. (2002). Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 8(5), 581-589.

***https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22207209/

 

 

What is a Paradigm?

What is a Paradigm?

A  paradigm is the thinking that serves as a pattern or model. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.These assumptions are often not consciously held and so we tend not to challenge them.

How can we challenge what we are not aware of?

If we construct our view of reality through our paradigms, then it follows that if we can change our paradigms, we change our reality.

The following true story is a classic tale of a paradigm (reality) changing experience by a naval officer, Frank Koch, which appeared in an issue of Proceedings, the magazine of the United States Naval Institute (1)

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on manoeuvres in heavy weather for several days. Koch was serving on the lead battleship and was standing watch on the bridge as night fell. He recounts his experience.
The visibility was extremely poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on our navigation activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, ‘Light bearing on the starboard bow!’
The captain called out, ‘is it steady or moving astern?’
The lookout replied, ‘steady captain’, which meant that we were on a collision course with that source of light.
The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: We are on a collision course … advise you change course 20 degrees.’
Back came the signal from the other ship. ‘Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees’. The captain barked, ‘Send, I am a captain … change course 20 degrees immediately.’
‘I am a seaman second class,’ came the reply. ‘You had better change course 20 degrees’.
By this time, the captain was furious. He spat out, ‘Send, I am a battleship! Change course 20 degrees.’
Back came the signal from the flashing light …’I am a lighthouse’.
We changed course.

Because paradigms are based in what we hold to be true, they dictate what we hold to be possible.

In other words, they reflect our beliefs. Our beliefs can also be shaped by others who might cling to their paradigms even in the face of reason, and so limit our understanding of ‘reality’.

For example. For centuries mankind’s understanding of astronomy was based in what is known as Ptolemaic astronomy which portrayed a cosmos with the earth stationary at its centre and the stars, sun, and planets rotating around it. Then along came Copernicus in 1543 who strongly argued that far from being immobile, the earth and the other planets moved around the sun.

This was such an affront to the generally held paradigm that when Galileo began to promote this idea the Inquisition forced him to recant or be convicted of heresy.

Paradigms reflect our beliefs, and no-one likes having their beliefs challenged, not least the establishment …

We construct belief systems based on an incomplete view of the world then surround those cherished systems with high walls to guard against the intrusion of new evidence.

In a complex world, forming theories to guide and orient oneself is essential to narrow down the overwhelming task of decision making. But we face a problem in the fortification we erect around those systems. Dogmas are created, elevated to truths and defended, sometimes to the death as superior to new insights into reality. (Erdmann and Stover, 1993:60)

Guest Blogger, Dr Brian Gordon

*Regular mindful meditation increases awareness, helping to give insight to imbedded paradigms. AL

 

Lost your Career Path?

Lost your Career Path?

It isn’t a failure if you decide after many years that your career isn’t for you. People change and their priorities with them. So, it’s normal to find yourself with over ten years of experience in a field that isn’t for you anymore.

According to Indeed, 49% of employees have done a dramatic career change at some point. You aren’t alone. Here are some signs that will help you decide if your career isn’t for you.

You Hate Talking About Your Career

One of the first signs that your career isn’t for you is that you hate talking about it. Every time you meet with friends and family the first thing people ask is: How are you doing? Or, How is work going?

When you don’t like what you do you start dreading those moments when people ask you those questions. This uncomfortable feeling comes from the fact that you probably feel like your career doesn’t represent who you are. It doesn’t align with what you want or your personality and you probably feel like an impostor.

Sometimes we do this unconsciously and it’s hard to identify it as a sign that we are on the wrong path. Pay attention to your reactions to the questions mentioned before and try to determine how you feel when people ask them.

It Doesn’t Align With Your Values

Another sign is that your career doesn’t align with your values. The hard part about this is that you have to have a clear picture of who you are as a person and what is important to you. If you don’t know what your values are, you won’t know if your career fits them. Take some time to think about it. Maybe your values are honesty, humility, and passion, and what you want most in life is to help others.

Then, you can choose a career where your everyday work has an impact on other people’s lives, such as a doctor, lawyer, or even machine learning engineer to a lesser degree. Our values are generally what defines how we live our lives, so the point is to have a career that doesn’t go against them.

It’s Not Your Passion

Your work not being your passion isn’t a sign by itself. Very few people around the world work in what their passion is. But this coupled with all the other signs is just another reason why you should make a change. You should at least be passionate about the impact your work has.

Guest Blogger Artur Meyster, Career Karma

(Clarity Contemplation in Meditations)

Adapt or Diminish

Adapt or Diminish

Nothing is permanent, everything changes – this is the nature of things.

National Geographic writes that “adaptation is the biological mechanism by which organisms adjust to new environments or to changes in their current environment … “
So change is a natural part of life, and one that we are biologically coded to meet.

Our world situation has altered dramatically over the last few decades. The industrial revolution has been followed by a technological revolution and both bring huge, often unfathomable and unintentional changes to our lives and society.

Currently we also have climate change, sweeping social change and now, a new global pandemic.

With such levels of adjustment on so many fronts we can experience anxiety, uncertainty, and stress, but change is also opportunity for a new life if we can adapt – and to adapt is to respond by changing too.

When we respond to something, we take time to consciously think before making choices or taking action, rather than automatically falling into a non-thinking habitual reaction.

To enable us to respond continously there are many tools and practices to help keep the mind calm and balanced in order to cultivate an internal climate for conscious thinking. Mindfulness is a practice that helps maintain the balance and clarity of vision that is needed for clear thinking in times of ongoing change. Regular practice increases our awareness and capacity to recognise what’s going on, and keep a sense of perspective and possibility.

Resilience is another key factor in adaptation and psychological strength. An aspect of resilience is to be able to think and generate alternative ideas and solutions on the run. Awareness together with resilience helps enable an ongoing adaptation to change.

Whether the change is perceived as good, like going on holiday or finding a new home, or challenging like an illness or argument, stressors don’t have to be big to be felt and impactful. So, another part of adaptation lies in being able to recognise the scale and nature of the issue. This recognition has many aspects and levels of understanding – a friend of mine uses the Serenity Prayer to gain perspective and make better choices in her life, and it’s a great start.

We are all on a journey in this river of life and we all have opportunity to adapt, or diminish. The same can be said of planetary life, can it adapt, or will it diminish? and how can we help that adaptation process?

As people alive right now we have it to do, environmentally, socially and psychologically but as we ponder this situation, let’s not get discouraged or forget that biologically, we are literally made for it.

AL

Grounding

Grounding

There is a lot of research to be found about the healing effects of nature, and we now know that those who live near green spaces live healthier and longer lives. So, no matter where you live, it makes sense to access that restorative natural power – and grounding is an easy way to do so.

For simplicity’s sake the term ‘grounding’ is being used here to reflect both ‘earthing’ (earthing to mean direct connection to the earth) as well as the wider understanding of other grounding methods that can be used.

As lightening discharging itself into the ground during an electrical storm rebalances the atmosphere, so grounding yourself to the electrons on the earth’s surface helps to rebalance your being.

It’s not surprising that research suggests grounding the human body has positive effects on our psychology and health, these benefits mostly relating to inflammation and the immune responses.* The problem is, our lifestyle and our footwear, often prevent us from this natural rebalancing, and keep us separated from the thing we need most, the earth.

This ‘disconnect’ we all suffer may have significant detrimental effects to our well-being so to help prevent that, we can practice grounding.

Grounding is an accepted therapeutic practice, and the most researched and effective method is simply to have direct skin contact with the surface of the earth.

This is as straightforward as it sounds, just place bare hands or bare feet on the ground for a while.

A favourite way of grounding is to walk barefoot on the grass. Reconnecting to the earth in this way is natural and relaxing and can be taken further by bringing in the senses and paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations as you walk.

In a slightly lesser but still highly effective way, any conscious activity that moves you from over activity and thinking to simply ‘being’ is helpful in rebalancing. Again, consciously, and mindfully adding in the senses is helpful. (see Resources for guided meditations on the senses).     

Mindful eating will bring your attention to the body and digesting food also has a slowing effect on the mind, leading to a calmer more grounded state; showering and allowing your attention to rest on the sensations of the water flowing on the body or physical exercise is also useful.

If you prefer a mental activity, try paying attention with your senses in a game – find and name 5 things by sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. You can also use memory games, recitations or mathematics as a disassociation and grounding activity from challenging thoughts.

As Anias Nin said ‘The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.

AL

*Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth’s surface electrons.

Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Sokal K, Sokal P

J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012():291541