World Religion Day 2020

Today is World religion day 2020. I’m the MC for the devotional event in my small rural community in far north Australia. While it is a small community – the local government are has about 18,000 people – there are around 40 ethnic groups representing all the larger religions of the world. Here is my welcoming address.

Eckhart Tolle, in telling the story of his coming to meditation, said, “ There’s great freedom … in not compulsively interpreting other people, situations, and so on, not imposing thinking continuously on the world, which is so alive and so fresh and new at every moment… What we are talking about here is a state of alert attention to what is … where you rise above thinking to a large extent in your life, still being able to use it, but not being used by it.” Interview with Krista Tipppet On Being

Eckhart Tolle is famous for his books and courses on meditation. Meditation and mindfulness have been made popular and perhaps the single most common modern person’s access to the spiritual life. For many people, meditation is access to happiness. And, as we will hear in today’s readings, across the various religious traditions, meditation has a vital role not always connected to our personal happiness, but always connected to a view of the human being as a relationship to God and ourselves as more powerful than we ordinarily consider.

Berlin_RoomofSilenceThe image you are seeing on the screen is a composite of the Brandeberg Gate in Berlin – a hub a tourist activity from all around the world. Off to one side, hosted by a committee of all the religious organisations in Berlin, a number a little bigger than those of our religions, here – is a Room of Silence. Anyone can enter and stay as long as they want, in meditation, reflection or silent prayer. The past 200 years of Berlin since Napolean has been fraught with tyranny and wars. Only these last 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down could it be said that Berlin has had reprieve. It really looks like it might keep that way. However we cannot build a fully human planet with paying attention to how we are human. And meditation is a crucial element to being human.

This comment from the World Community of Christian Meditation Interfaith Program is very relevant to todays gathering. “Religion is becoming more, not less important in the world today. It is urgent that the deep changes taking place in religious consciousness across all faiths and in their relationships are connected to the contemplative power residing at the heart of all the great wisdom traditions.

Meditation opens us to the common ground of humanity – and the essential goodness of human nature. The differences between traditions and cultures are as important and enlightening as their similarities. Meditation establishes a spiritual friendship between the members and practitioners of all faiths and ensures that the differences do not become divisions or false justifications for intolerance or violence.

Punishment Doesn’t Work

On 8th March 2018, the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ran this story of a father punishing his son for bullying by making him run to school. I am actually appreciative that this dad took a video of him driving behind the child and posting it, so that we can learn from it.
It and the supportive responses for it, does show the failure of most of society to understand the idea of consequence. This failure is not only why our child raising has created bullies and addicts but why prisons are overflowing with recidivists. Below is my take on it.

In the ABC article, bully experts like Dr Hannah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Queensland, said “punitive strategies like making the boy run were an attempt to teach the child to be accountable for their actions, but they didn’t always work.”They use shame, humiliation and guilt to try to motivate change in future behaviour,” she said.”This generally never changes behaviour in the long-term. It gives the child very limited opportunity to learn and acquire new skills — i.e. ways to interact in more positive and social ways with their peers.”Dr Thomas said these kinds of strategies can also have flow-on effects.”Children who are humiliated or shamed can internalise negative feelings about themselves that hinder their healthy development,” she said.”Children misbehave as they learn and develop. They need parents to be supportive when they make mistakes and to take a practical role in teaching their children how to behave more respectfully.”
What I see is that it gets down to consequences. There are two things to know about consequences: Punishment is not a consequence of someone’s action; and all actions come with unintended consequences.
Punishment is an indirect consequence of an action, and in many cases, that ‘indirectness’ is confounded by a complexity of agendas and motivations, often to the extent that it is of no consequence at all. If anything, punishment is often a pathway to a whole complexity of unintended consequences, the least of which is that the punished get that they are responsible for other’s distress and that they can be a different type of person in the world.
In this case there was a direct consequence to the boy’s bullying, he was put off the bus. The boy would have understood the relationship.
A consequence of the complaint to the parent was that the parent went into bullying mode. It seems Dad doesn’t have a conversational relationship with his son, probably an authoritarian one. His son is learning that authoritarian method, the being a three year old for the whole of your life, that is, of course, it is signified by bullying anyone as a control mechanism, a fabulous way to teach the next generation how to be a bully.
The consequence of the bullying mode by this parent is the boy being forced to run to school.
I have no problem the boy running to school. Great thing!
However, attached to that running to school is a punishment, is a bad idea!
This is where we have to get better at thinking through about unintended consequences. If we have learnt anything by listening to each other about why we find ourselves poorly motivated around some things as adults, it gets back to the unintended consequences of, sometimes, the most trivial thing a parent has done that has been completely misunderstood by the child. The consequence of establishing for your 10 year old son that running is what you do for punishment, when you do something wrong, can be that, later on in life, you run a lot and you do nothing wrong (even though you are really an A-1 tyrant), OR you do nothing wrong (you’re a nice guy) and you don’t run (you are fat, have a chronic disease by your 40s). Ultimately this boy is on a path to being either a bully for life or a failure to take-off.

The real issue though is of parenting. Parents who are in conversation with children from the time they are in the womb, parents who are self reflective in that conversation and can acknowledge with children where they messed up as well as taking a firm and clear stand with their children, parents who are up to something bigger than themselves and their family, in life, have children who aren’t bullies and grow up to be contributors to society.

Art of Movement 2

Here is a video clip of an impromptu contemporary to the music of orchestral didg player, William Barton.

The idea is to play with the immediacy of the music into movement. Video is a great way to review what is there and to see what is not there. My view on movement art is that, like all art, the genre and the betterment comes with persistent practice, review, and reflection. I add to my practice an attempt to see some new possibility in movement. I watch what others are doing to get ideas but don’t want to be limited by mimicry. The older dancer needs to take into account what the body can do on any day. Well, so do younger dancers, even if they can take more for granted. The dancer coming to dance as an older person also needs to recognise that the limitations have a lot to do with habits. Creativity and permission to be creative and expressive will allow new movement to occur.

Be safe. There is a whole lot of great movement that can be small and easy.

Neuroscience and its place in the social world

It’s great to read insightful commentary on books in this burgeoning field that has so many implications for human interactions from child raising, education, to the aged person.

Mind Hacks

This is the first of three posts that will cover three important books about how the science of mind, brain and mental health, interfaces with society at large.

First off, I want to discuss an excellent book called Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind published this year by sociologists of neuroscience Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached.

You may be wondering why we need a social study of neuroscience but it becomes clear when we think of how neuroscience has become important.

It is not just due to what has been discovered. Neuroscience research itself, is only driven in part by scientific discovery.

In the main part, it is driven by a complex mix of politics, business, health care needs and public popularity. That’s what provides the funds and makes the scientific discovery possible and this only moderately, some would say weakly, relates to how…

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