Glossary: Assume

One of my first memories of wisdom, an eternal truth that run true and would be useful over time, came from my high school debate teacher, Terry Rose.

“Never Assume anything.” Terry said, “It makes and “ass” out of “u” and “me”.”

The poetic ring to the quip helped it stick all these years.

Oxford dictionary says “suppose to be the case, without proof.” It is that lack of proof, the presumption of correctness that is checked when you pause the “assume”.

Assumptions are those things that I take for granted. Things I assume. Now many times I may believe there is ample proof or I have received ample proof in the past, so these assumptions are usually not totally without proof. In fact I couldn’t go through a day without assumptions about all sorts of things like behavior of other drivers on the road, the path of the sun, available credit on my credit card, the tire pressure on my truck, the charge level in my motorcycle battery, endless.

I have found Terry’s shocking quip useful over the years for two reasons.

  1. I remember it whenever I am around “assume” or an “assumption”. His voice in my head.
  2. It causes me to pause and make sure I am not making an ‘ass” out of “u” and “me”. Just a slight pause, to question the assumptions. To check the assumptions. Make sure they apply. Make sure no one is going to be an “ass”.

Most of the time, this pause results in a little more exploration of the issue and a clearer decision being made. Just a moment is all it takes.

Take the moment. Don’t let assumptions make and “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

Glossary: Idiopathic

This one totally tilts the Gunning – Fox index. Medicine is full of big words for simple concepts. In this case “we have no fucking idea.” An “idiopathic” disease is any disease with an unknown cause or mechanism of apparent spontaneous origin. The Greek roots are “idios”, or “ones’ own” and “pathos”, or “suffering”. Basically “a disease of its own kind.” If the doctor says you have an idiopathic xyz, he is telling you he has no idea. Something idiopathic exists in liminal space. Between things. Not this or that. Undefined.

When we mindlessly sleepwalking through life, sometimes things (especially emotions and reactions) can seem idiopathic also. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you fly into a rage. A picture of Donald Trump tilts you. Your wife asks for a cup of coffee and you say “get it yourself.” Why the strong reactions to small events? Why the outsize responses? At the time they can seem idiopathic. Luckily, with a pause, some practice, and some reflection, you can usually figure these out. Get out of the liminal space. Close the moral gap. The Next Right Action practice can be an antidote for idiopathic.

Glossary: Hypomnemata

Found this is a review of Pierre Hadot where he uses it how Michel Foucault has used it. While wikipedia will tell you it is scholarly essays written by the ancients, Foucault focused on the style more precisely: ” The hypomnemata constituted a material memory of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering these as an accumulated treasure for rereading and later meditation. ” In this way, Marcus Aurelius Meditations is Hypomnemata as it is a personal record of accumulated treasures. Sometimes these treasures are used in essays or speeches to persuade the the public in some way (the focus of wikipedia’s definition). but the more interesting part to me is the personal nature of the collection of wisdom. My blog is hypomnemata.

Glossary: Prohairesis, rational choice

At DGC I am all about waking up. Realizing that I have a choice in life.  How to live life. Who I am in life.  How I react to life events.  How I interact with the world.  When you are in the dream world you give up that choice to the story of the dream.  You give up AGENCY.  Turns out in realizing I had a choice, I was affirming a core tenet of Stoic philosophy: Prohairesis.

According to Epictetus, nothing is properly considered either good, or bad, aside from those things that are within our own power to control, and the only thing fully in our power to control is our own volition (prohairesis) which exercises the faculty of choice that we use to judge our impressions. For example, if a person says something critical to us, that is not bad; or, if something complimentary is said, that is not good, because such things are externals and not in our power to control. By exerting the power of choice, it is possible to maintain equanimity in the face of either criticism and praise, which is a moral good. On the other hand, when people become troubled by criticism, or elated by praise, that is a moral evil because they have misjudged impressions by thinking that things not in their power (such as criticism or praise) have value, and by doing that they place a measure of control of their own life in the hands of others.

So Who are You?  What Do I have that the world can not take away?  What super power is always in my power?  My own reasoned choice.  I always have a choice.  I may not decide to exercise it.  But that too is a choice.

I always have a choice.

Glossary: Agency

A key aspect of building Authenticity in your life is building your capacity for Action; to make a decision.  Action based on contemplation.  Actions which stem from an individual with a high level of social reflexivity having actively chosen your own social norms, tastes, politics, desires and so on.   Of course the professors have a word for the capacity for action:  Agency.

As with many things here at DGC, we try to keep Agency out of the good/bad have/have not bipolar paradigm.  Since Agency is a “capacity” it is more a “how full is the cup?” sort of thing.  For some decisions you have tons of Agency; “What color of underwear should I put on today?”.  For others, not so much; “Should I wear white at a funeral?”

If you don’t have Agency to make a decision, action is not possible.  So I am all about building Agency.  Building the capacity to make a decision. Many times this involves breaking through social norms or fears that prevent action.  Then encouraging those decisions to be made.  Start with simple decisions (action), build up capacity and make bigger ones.  That is how anyone at the top of their game got there.  You get to the big table by playing the small tables well.  More Agency is almost always a good thing.  But Agency doesn’t mean bucking the trend by making outrageous decisions all the time.  Agency is the CAPACITY to make a decision not a directive to be an outlier all the time.  So is being aware enough to realize a bad decision (action) (see above white at a funeral) is also a display of strong AGENCY.

Glossary: Cognitive Reframing

The verb to “reframe” means exactly what it sounds like: “to put a picture in a new frame.”  When put in the context of consciousness and the self, that frame is the stories we tell ourselves.  The positive or negative stories about life.  The Wikipedia entry on Cognitive Reframing (which was obviously written by the CBT zealots), says it is a “psychological technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts.”  This is a fairly one sided view of reframing as it focuses exclusively on identifying the negative and re-writing it as positive.

Here at DGC we take it up a level by focusing on AUTHENTICITY of thoughts over binary good/bad paradigm.  Every story or thought is a Frame.  Your mind has framed your experience based on all your other experiences, thoughts, learnings, and actions.  The Frame is neither good nor bad on its face it just is what it is.  The question which is more interesting is does the Frame serve me now?  And if it doesn’t serve me, what can I do to change (reframe) it?  How do I build skills to change the underlying stories so that new experiences come with a new frame?  It is not just about reframing on experience, it is about changing the story overall so that future experiences build on the story that serves you and is authentic.  Reframing is a general change in a person’s story/mindset whether it is positive or negative.  I have found that some of the most destructive stories in my life have been positive ones driven by my ego.

So at DGC we encourage a cognitive reframing process (and design exercises to support) that goes something like this:

  1. Skillfully OBSERVE your thoughts and stories to identify the true major stories which are the underpinnings of your life.  The ones that keep causing certain actions to recur over time.
  2. CONTEMPLATE with compassion and kindness these stories by asking the question: Does this story still serve me now?  And will it serve me in the future as my journey continues?  Do not be critical of the past.  The past is gone.  Consider putting down the baggage.  Or not.  But at least consider it.  Pay special attention to see if there are any of the common COGNITIVE BIASes in your stories.  Become aware of your own biases.
  3. ACTIVELY DECIDE how the story will continue.  Will it continue with the same cognitive biases as before? With the same summary and conclusion of factual events?  Or do you want to change your story, reframe it, into one which does serve you going forward.

For those of you that love acronyms you can have a new one: DGC Reframing process: OCA; Observe, Contemplate, Action.  Reframe anything that no longer serves you.

DGC Glossary: Gainfully Unemployed

Gainful unemployment has gotten a bad rap as basically lazy freeloaders leaching off society who can’t risk losing benefits by getting a real job.

I am trying to rehabilitate gainful unemployment.  Or take “gainful employment” down a notch.  Often “gainful employment” involves slavish dedication to someone else’s goals in exchange for money that maybe some day you can make enough of to finally pursue your own path.  Employment implies working for “The Man”.  Usually all the money gets consumed maintaining the support systems around earning the money and the hamster wheel spins ever faster.  Regardless of income level.  Stepping off or being kicked off the hamster wheel often elicits a truly Orwellian desire to get back on.  Western society teaches us that “gainful employment” fundamental to everything it means to be alive.  I have a problem with that thesis.

What if unemployment was simply not working for The Man.  What if rather than demonizing the unemployed as lazy freeloaders, we encouraged them to take the time to examine their path and find work that more authentically fit their true selves?  Recently I have been running into more people who are getting it right.  After reading The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami, about the revered path of a wandering mendicant in India, I was struck by the stark contrast in how the unemployed are treated.  In India or Tibet, a guy on the street begging might just be an enlightened guru.  In America that thought wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind.  The Puritan’s sure did a number on us our collective consciousness when they implanted “hard work” = “good person”, “no work” = “sinner, devil” into our collective consciousness.  What if more people took time pause and consider their path? What if we encouraged it?  Contemplation of your path is the “gainful” part.  If more people were living in alignment with their strengths and authentic selves, wouldn’t we all be better off?  Sometimes that takes a couple tries, and a couple pivots and pauses.

For the last three years I have considered myself “gainfully unemployed”.  I have not had a boss, nor have I been the boss of anyone.  While not on a 9-5 schedule, I have pursued many projects and activities to help myself and others.  I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the path, the goals, the type and form of goals, exploring various diversions, and connecting with many people and places.  I have invested time and money into many projects across the spectrum.  This blog is part of this contemplation path.  While I don’ t know what the exact destination is, there is alot of activity.  Sometimes it is better to journey than to arrive.

So “gainfully unemployed” is actively taking time to contemplate and explore the path in life on your own terms.  Something I highly recommend for at least a year for everyone who can.

Glossary: Non-energetic joy

The kind of joy that exists without a proximate cause.  Joy experienced just by being in the world without anything specific happening.  Often achieved during meditation.  Like the sun that is always shining above the clouds, this kind of joy is always there to be accessed.  A benefit of meditation is recognizing that this kind of thing exists and can be tapped into at any time.  This is the only kind of sustainable joy.  Happiness over the long term is only possible through this kind of joy.

This is my own wording of non-energetic joy as described in Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by the Jolly good fellow from Google.  The original Pali word is Sukha which the most Buddhists translate somewhat differently.  And should never by confused with Suka, the Slavic insult that means “shut up bitch”.

Some quotes from Tan re: the two kinds of joy:  “Our lack of joy is certainly not for lack of ways to gratify our egos and senses.  However, the joy that comes from these sources is inherently problematic since it depends on external factors out of our control.”  “By contrast, joy that comes from within – from a peaceful mind as a result of taking a few breaths, joy from being kind toward others (which involves other people but does not depend on them), joy from our own generosity, joy from doing the right thing – all this joy is ours to have, independent of circumstances.”  Yea I want more of that one please.

The opposite is energetic joy which in Pali is Piti.  Joy that requires a cause.  Like someone saying they love you. Or receiving an award. Or buying something you have wanted for a long time.  In my experience you can’t string together a happiness with alot of instances of Piti.  Although I have certainly tried mightily.

I find both these concepts very useful.  You can’t really find joy or happiness without understand the different forms.  The effortless forms, the forms that are achieved by letting go and waking up are the sustainable, always available forms.  All others are short lived and dead ends.

Glossary: Why I have a Glossary

Words are powerful.  And complicated.  And contextual.  And the reader bring their own definitions.  And a writer has his own frame/context when choosing which words to use.

Consider this:  “Capital letters are the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”

In this section, I will share my personal definitions and context for words which are particularly important to my journey.  This is not a dictionary and your understanding of these words may vary.  That is the point.  In this section, you can get a deeper understanding of where I am coming from.  Comments welcome, my understanding will be updated over time (i hope).


Glossary: Purpose

A guy on Quora wrote:  “A purpose is a real or an imagined belief that something has a use or a reason for being.”  Next he said “Meaning is the value or values which are assigned to that belief.”

When this is applied to a person in the existential context (as I mostly do), purpose is why I get up in the morning. What am I willing to live and die for.  What is the point of all this activity?  If you feel lost, wandering, most likely you need to get in touch with some kind of purpose, or your current purpose is not serving your overall well-being.  Searching inside your self, taking the Red Pill of self-awareness, can help you wake up to what purpose you are living today.  Examine it.  Is it in the pursuit self-transcendent  eudaimonia or self-enhancing hedonia (thanks Aristotle).  Is your purpose fear/anxiety based or hope/love based?

Victor Strecher wrote, “Purpose is a high-order goal that has deep value.”  In his recent book he has a whole framework for coming up with those higher order goals and starting to live a self-transcendent life of purpose.  While that is a noble goal, my use of “purpose” is a bit more pedestrian and less Utopian.  You have a purpose wither you admit it or not. Something is getting you up in the morning.  It could be pure habit. Or responsibility.  Or slavery.  Or duty.  You could get up for yourself or for the service of others or for no good reason other than you have to take a piss.  In that moment you purpose was to take a piss.  Sure that purpose was short term, driven by physical needs and hedonic, but so what?  Now how much of you life is driven by those kinds of purpose?

Purpose is not doing or being.  It is a framework for doing and being.  It is the “why” for all the other activities (or as many of them as you can).  The point of figuring out purpose is to get on with the DOING and BEING part of life.  So you can live more authentically, figure out what your values/strengths (start by doing a couple upgraded assessments) are and build a purpose on those values/strengths.

I don’t like “capital Purpose” because it sounds like a mountain.  It sounds like an unattainable huge burden.  I like to think of it more simply.  My purpose in life right now is my reason for being right now.  Here in the PRESENT.  That is not the same purpose I had 20 years ago. It may not be the same reason 20 years from now.  Purpose is the rudder on your ship.  A ship without a rudder gets blown around in the sea and likely will not end up where its occupants want to go.  To take any journey, you vehicle needs a rudder, a steering wheel.  That is purpose.  Purpose for me has a medium/long-term horizon (3-10 years).

Not everyone needs purpose.  Not every activity in life supports purpose.  In fact many activities explicitly contradict your purpose.  I am fairly certain the world would be a far better place if more people searched for a purpose and regularly (3-5 years) evaluated if their life was fulfilling their purpose.

My journey, in part, is to understand the purpose and LOOK for authentic alignment if aspects of current purpose doesn’t server my overall well-being.  Having a clear purpose is has been proven by multiple studies to result in greater health and happiness outcomes.  Time to get clear.