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Reality Definitions, Pattern Seeking, Ambiguity and the Otherness of the Other

Reading this as an email? STOP! It will look so much sexier in the online version available on my website: Reality Definitions Newsletter

A few news items. I’m now a featured correspondent for Reality Sandwich and wrote a couple of reviews (one for Cloud Atlas and another for The Terrence McKenna Omnibus 2012) you can find them at the new Reality Sandwich review section (mine are the first and the last in the section) Or you can read the versions hosted on my site:

Cloud Atlas—A Brilliant Wachoskian Cartography of the Spiritual Dimension

Terence in Thought Bling Shuffle Mode and the Problem of Surreality Fatigue—A Sort of Review of The Terence McKenna Omnibus 2012

Looking for a more conscious gift for the annual retail festival of 12/25? Some people buy one of my services (like dream interpretation or I Ching reading) to give to someone else. Find out more on my Services Page.

Presently there is a fragile cease fire in Gaza, but the Middle East is poised to blow up at anytime. Most of what I see posting about it shows an awareness of history that seems to begin a year or two after the birth of Facebook. I can sympathize with both sides and my family has both Palestinian and Jewish members. My only nephew and two nieces are half Palestinian/half Jewish. While many think it is just black hats versus white hats and they’ve got that sorted already for those willing to look a bit deeper here is my multi-part attempt to grapple with this difficult history and the problem of projection and politics: It includes a long, and sometimes heated, dialogue between me an Islamic Sufi Imam I met through Alex Grey. Lots of black hat/ white hat folks would rather just take ignorant pot shots at the topic. I’m not going to respond to those, but would be willing to dialogue with anyone serious enough to read all parts of the following so you actually know where I’m coming from.

I recently gave a talk at the Boulder Evolver, the first 4o minutes are available as Youtube videos and a podcast of the entire talk is hosted by Disinfo. Find all parts here:

Zap at the Boulder Evolver on the Singularity Archetype and the Evolutionary Event Horizon

I recently wrote something for Reality Sandwich on where I plan to be on December 21st, 2012 The answer is the nowever at the center of time as you can read in the linked document. But there is a slightly more linear time/ exact spatial coordinate answer as well: The Maya Millennia Masquerade Ball in Boulder where I will be doing free dream interpretation and possibly oracle readings for free.

In the last week or so I’ve written four new Zap Oracle cards. For the first one I’ll give the complete text and for the others I’ll provide the links so this doesn’t get too long.

My shadow imposing itself on an art space at Sonic Bloom 2012. Available light Iphone photo.

Reality Definitions

“The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself…In ordinary life, the struggle is [for symbols]…whoever first defines the situation is the victor.”
— Thomas Szasz

One of the chief factors governing the quality of our lives, perceptions, relationships, and also the power struggles between individuals and groups, are reality definitions.

A reality definition is a cognitive template that the mind of an individual or group superimposes on reality to give it a comprehensible definition and to control it.

Relationship partners, politicians, political parties, corporations and nation states are among those who are often in a struggle to impose their definition of reality to control situations.

For example, in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, you saw a classic competition of reality definitions fought out with campaign speeches, public events and a couple of billion dollars of advertising money. The Democrats defined the Republicans as a party that favors the rich and corporate interests and that doesn’t care about women and minority groups. The Republicans defined the Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals who aren’t financially competent and want to provide ruinous entitlements to special interest groups. Romney tried to define Obama as a failed president who is out of touch with the people. The Obama campaign more successfully defined Romney as a ruthless venture capitalist who is out of touch with the needs of the middle class. Putting aside the factual veracity of each of these definitions, we can see that like all political campaigns this was a competition of reality definitions. On the same election day there was a competition of reality definitions occurring between consumer activists who were campaigning for proposition 37 which would have required labeling of GMO products in California and a consortium of corporations, led by Monsanto, who opposed this. The corporations out spent the activists dramatically and ran a barrage of ads that defined the proposition as something that would kill jobs and dramatically raise prices, etc. Much of their reality definitions were based on outright lies, but it is perfectly legal to lie in political ads and campaigns. Their definition of reality prevailed with a majority of voters and the proposition was defeated.

The competition of reality definitions is also a continual struggle in many relationships. For example, a man and a woman in a romantic relationship are arguing about a series of things. The woman is bringing up various insensitive and inconsiderate things that the man has done, and the man is defensive and arguing that she is overreacting and being unfair. The woman’s reality definition is that she is forever the long-suffering victim of the gross misbehavior of men. The man’s reality definition is that no matter what he does, women always find fault with him, exaggerate transgressions, overlook the good things, and try to make him out as the bad guy. Each of them can find valid evidence to support their opposing reality definitions. Each of them wants their reality definition to prevail, and wants the other to acknowledge it as exclusively valid. These two reality definitions cannot coexist very easily. It would create cognitive dissonance for either of them to give equal weight to the reality definition of the other, and therefore it is likely that variations of the same argument will continue throughout the relationship.

When there is an intense competition of incompatible reality definitions, as there is between the Republicans and Democrats of 2012, or the romantic couple described above, the result is toxic stagnation. It is hard for two entities to work synergistically when they are caught in a power struggle of competing, incompatible reality definitions.

Reality definitions that we create can also be empowering or disempowering even when they are not in competition with the reality definitions of others. For example, let’s say I have a general negative reality definition such as: “Nobody likes me and I never get my fair share. Life sucks and then you die.” This is actually a very common reality definition. A person with this reality definition will project this withering template onto every person, situation and opportunity that comes their way. It is likely to operate as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Another person’s general reality definition is: “Life is full of possibilities. I am a creative problem solver and people like me. Life provides continual challenges/learning experiences and I’m up for the adventure.” This person’s general life definition is empowering and is also likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When two people encounter each other, it is also an encounter of their reality definitions that may or may not be compatible. When a person encounters a new situation there may also be dissonance with their reality definition. Sometimes situations or other people are compliant enough that a person can impose their reality definition onto the situation/person. For example, people around Steve Jobs frequently referred to his “reality distortion field.” Jobs had enough will, creativity and charisma that he could often successfully redefine reality to go the way he wanted. But Jobs also frequently hurt himself and others by his reality distortion field, and reality often pushed back on his desire to redefine it. His reality distortion field was not able, for example, to irrealize his cancer, and he may have shortened his life by refusing to incorporate cancer into his self-definition that caused him to delay necessary surgery, etc.

One answer to the reality definition problem is to impose fewer definitions onto reality. Meditation is a practice that seeks an experience of reality without imposed definition. Meditation seeks to reduce the activity of the “narrative mind,” the mind that is imposing definitions on everything. Beginner’s mind is a state of cognitive innocence and openness where, instead of imposing preexisting definitions onto reality, we approach it with child-like wonder and see what it has to teach us.

Another approach to the problem of reality definitions is to bring them into awareness where we can adjust and modify them to work more creatively and positively with various relationships and other situations. We begin by realizing that “The map is not the territory.” A reality definition is a map we superimpose onto a territory that is usually much more complex than the map. When we look at our reality definitions it is helpful if we remind ourselves of what J.B.S. Haldane said, “Reality is not only stranger than you think, it’s stranger than you can think.” We recognize, therefore, that our reality definitions are incomplete and provisional but are sometimes helpful, working constructs. We check to see if our reality definitions are incompatible or poorly adapted to particular situations. If we are in a conscious relationship with someone, then we both look at and compare our reality definitions and work to modify them so that they can play well together.

Consider this a propitious time to bring reality definitions into consciousness and to remove or modify them to allow for greater life-affirming possibilities.

“In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?…[the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.” — Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) wrote this in 1974

Pattern Seeking

(click title to read this card)

Relating to Ambiguity

(click title to read this card)

Respecting the Otherness of Others

(click title to read this card)

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  1. Otherness of Others.

    A curious mention from within Egyptian hieroglyphics alerted me to – Ducks – as symbols for soul. The duck – in essays of archetypal German mythology held significant in Jungian times was viewed
    as a sign of transition. Illustrated from stories in Folklore such as Hansel and Gretel escaping from the wicked witch – fleeing home yet prevented from doing so by the difficult crossing of a river or lake when a duck fortuitously turns up and carries them across the waters.
    A Duck appears symbolically when anyone is emotionally or spiritually blocked and unable to go forward. Ducks are revealed as direction finders, always pointing towards new joys.
    A small duck in the corner of a large painting exhibited in a National Gallery drew the attention of a foreign tourist who recognised the name of the duck’s artist (a signed cameo drawing) as his
    own. An outlandish name not found in most phonebooks anywhere which then reunited two families with a past history of tragic disconnection originating from a small Finnish town of mutual ancestors. A duck really can do that! Transitional joys and ways forward to greater under standing of others’ otherness.
    Ducks have rounded golden bills are playful creatures with soft comforting feather down and a likely humour. They are very important to American Plains Indians as symbolic guides and in
    elsewhere lore, amphibious birds are like messengers who – bridge – this world and the otherworld. Ducks can change direction rapidly. So if you dream of flying with ducks perhaps you feel your need to change direction and you may be wondering how to communicate your message effortlessly without disruption.

  2. Shamanic SOTKA Wisdom Finland

    Ancestral Symbols and meanings for Others.

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