On loving your neighbor as yourself

 I find the great invocation, “love your neighbor as yourself” which finds expression in many of our world’s religions, to be problematic, not because I have any trouble with the idea of loving my neighbor, but because as I look around my world I simply do not think that many (if any) of us love ourselves all that well. Love your neighbor as yourself. How well do any of us really love ourselves? Psychiatry, psychology, social work and self help industries would not be flourishing to the degree that they are if authentic self love flourished. Rather self love stands as an anathema, it is more often taken as self indulgence rather than acceptance and cherishing based on awareness, knowledge and insight.  More often those who begin to walk the path of self-acceptance experience a duality within themselves – good and evil, angel and demon, love and hate – and then work to nurture one side while banishing the other. But, a house divided against itself will never stand. Until we each learn to fully cherish our selves for all of who we are, in all of our wonderful, delicious complexity, there will be no loving the other well. Until we each learn to fully cherish our selves for all of who we are, in all of our complexity, and until we learn to love each other well, there will be no justice, no respect for human rights, no peace.

 ‘Love yourself well, and love your neighbor as yourself’ is perhaps a better rendition of the precept. Karen Armstrong has eloquently described a path to loving our neighbor in her book, “twelve steps to a compassionate life.” The first step: learn about compassion progresses to look at your own world; develop compassion for yourself; develop empathy with others; practice mindfulness; take action; be aware of how little we know; consider how we should speak to one another; act with concern for everybody; continuously develop your knowledge; expand your recognition; and love your enemies.

 And as I come back to ‘love yourself well’ and Armstrong’s second step, ‘develop compassion for yourself’ I find myself thinking about how little we seem to appreciate the depth and breadth of human complexity, of how the trajectory of understanding trends toward parsimony and simplicity. But we are neither parsimonious nor simple beings. To bring Occam’s razor to understanding ourselves (and others) may be nothing more than self injury and cutting at best and perhaps slitting our wrists at worst.

 Recently, as I was reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, on page 75 I came across a particularly apt metaphor for what I am trying to get at here:

A person designs for herself a garden with a hundred kinds of trees, a thousand kinds of flowers, a hundred kinds of fruit and vegetables. Suppose, then, that the gardener of this garden knew no other distinction than between edible and inedible, nine tenths of this garden would be useless to him. He would pull up the most enchanting flowers and hew down the noblest trees and even regard them with a loathing and envious eye. This is what we do with the flowers of our soul. What does not stand classified as either man or wolf, what does not fit neatly into our predefined dichotomies we do not see at all.

 In order to love our selves well, we need to learn to look at ourselves with open hearts and minds, with the eyes of loving kindness and fierce open hearted compassion. Then we can begin to love our neighbors as our selves. Then we can begin to work together to build a world of justice, a world where human dignity (in all of its messy complexity) is respected, a world of peace where differences and diversity is celebrated!

The Scorpion and the Frog

Once upon a time in a land where anthropomorphism was alive and well, there lived a scorpion who lived on a secluded mountain. The scorpion was well known in throughout the community, and was regarded with wariness by one and all. The scorpion grew weary of this, was hoping for a bit of challenge and intrigue. So the scorpion set off down the mountain and across the valley looking for change and adventure. Soon enough there came the Delaware River. Just the day before there had been a heavy rain storm, and the river was at near flood level, it was wide and running swiftly.  The scorpion stood on the bank, considering the situation. New Jersey was calling out. It was the land of Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious, and The Real Housewives of Jersey. This was the place to be. But as the scorpion paused and looked, there was not see a way across the river. Running upstream and downstream, and the waters looks too wide, too deep, too fast to be forded even by a mean and lean scorpion.

 Just on the verge of abandoning hope, then the scorpion came across a frog sitting on the bank just across the river, “Hey, Froggy, would you be kind enough to carry me across the river?” the scorpion shouted across.

 “Yo, scorpion, what kind of fool do you take me for!” the frog responded. “How do I know you won’t take me out with your stinger?”

 “Easy queasy” replied the scorpion, “If I kill you, I will drown! I can’t swim; otherwise I would just pop in the river and swim across on my own.”

 The frog thought about it, and then asked, “so, how do I know you won’t wait until we are close to the other side, and then you would sting me and kill me when you don’t need me anymore?”

 “Gratitude,” said the scorpion. “Once you have carried me across the river, I will be so grateful to you my gratitude would prevent me from such an action.”

 The frog thought a bit more, what the scorpion said made sense, and so the frog swam across the river, jumped up the other bank and agreed to carry the scorpion across the river from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

 The scorpion crawled onto the frog and with his claws, held onto the frog’s delicate back for dear life.  The frog jumped into the Delaware, but stayed near the surface so that the scorpion would not drown. The current carried the two unlikely travelers downstream, much as it had as Washington attempted his crossing of the very same (but different) river some years before, and like Washington before them, they made progress across the river. They were just about half way across the Delaware when the frog felt a sharp sting, and turning to see what had happened, the frog saw the scorpion pulling a stinger from the frog’s back. The frog was stunned! How could this be happening! The scorpion had sworn an oath! As the frog felt the numbness permeate limbs and his body, the frog croaked out, to the scorpion, “you fool! What did you do? Now we will both die! And for what?!?”

 The scorpion shrugged and said, “It’s my nature, I just couldn’t help myself” even as they both sank to the river bottom.

 Just one’s nature! Do we have an immutable nature?

 Is change possible?

 Should we trust? Who? When?

 Is altruism foolish?

 Does no good deed go unpunished?

 There are no answers here today, just questions. But, maybe wisdom is knowing the right questions?

Last night I wrote the strangest blog — the bull and the butterfly

Now and again I find myself thinking, wondering, not quite worrying about where the next story will come from. When I find myself in those quandaries I meander over to the computer and google (how DID we ever live without google?).  So, recently I googled “social change” and “stories.” When that didn’t yield what I wanted, I tried “parables” instead. That lead to some interesting links.  One was a parable about a bull and a butterfly. 

 In my version of the parable there was a bull named Butch who wanted to trash a china shop because the rumor around the farm was that the owner of the shop not only did not carry fair trade china, but also participated in human trafficking. But, Butch resisted the urge because he did not want to feed the ‘bull in a china shop’ stereotypes, and he didn’t want to wind up in the slaughter house becoming nothing more than burger meat for some fast food chain. So, butch stomped around the pasture storming and steaming, but getting nothing much done. As he paused under a tree, a butterfly, Mariposa, landed on Butch’s ear, and asked him what the trouble was. Butch twitched his ear, to be rid of her, but Mariposa was not to be dissuaded.

“Butch, what’s up with you today?” She persisted.

Butch was nothing if not a realist, so he told her the story.

Mariposa laughed at hearing the story, paragon of empathy and compassion that she is not. “Butch, you have been rendered impotent by your self-consciousness and social anxiety. Big as you are, I have more power than you. I am fast, I am nimble, I can flit, I can fly. I can render the butterfly effect. I flap my wings in California and incite a tornado in New Jersey.”

At that Butch laughed, and said, “Well, Ms. Mariposa, I suppose then we are about equal, if you have all of that power and don’t bother to use it.”

 And the meaning of this parable? So many I suppose … impotence rendered by excessive worry about what others will think, by fear of consequences, by attachment to identities. 

 And, as I thought about the meanings and implications I found myself caught on the idea of attachments and identities, and I remember Chuang Tzu’s dream about a butterfly. One night Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly, flying here and there and seeing the world from new heights, gaining a new perspective on life and living. He woke with a new sense of lightness. And then he thought to himself, “yesterday, was I a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or today am I a butterfly who dreams about being a man?” And, as he rose to greet the day, he said to the sangha, “last night I had the strangest dream.”

 And, that phrase of course led me to remembering the Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel tune …  

 Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

words and music by Ed McCurdy

 Last night I had the strangest dream I’d ever dreamed before I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war

 I dreamed I saw a mighty room Filled with women and men And the paper they were signing said They’d never fight again

 And when the paper was all signed And a million copies made They all joined hands and bowed their heads And grateful pray’rs were prayed

 And the people in the streets below Were dancing ’round and ’round While swords and guns and uniforms Were scattered on the ground

 Last night I had the strangest dream I’d never dreamed before I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war.

And I know that dreaming is not enough. But I also know that dreaming is a necessary first step. Dreaming, meaning making … and then action, yes? yes!

 All of which led me to write this strangest blog.

 And, so, please … it really is time to share!  What meanings can you find in the parable of the bull and the butterfly? What meanings can you find in any of this? What actions are you taking for peace and justice?

The Bengali Tea Boy & Be Grateful to Everyone, Change Yourself

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was a 13 century Muslim poet, theologian and Sufi mystic in Persia, today’s Iran. His thoughts and ideas continue to offer a wealth of wisdom and inspiration. The one that I find myself thinking about today says: “yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Well, not that I have any claim to wisdom, but if charity begins at home, then maybe social change begins at home as well.

 Pema Chodron is one of my favorite Buddhist teachers. In her book, “Start where you are: a guide to compassionate living” she tells a story about Atisha, a renown Buddhist teacher from northeast Bengal, today’s Bangladesh, who lived between 980 and 1050 CE. Atisha was preparing to travel to Tibet where he was going to share his knowledge of Buddhism with the people there. As he prepared for his journey, he heard reports that the Tibetan people were very good-natured. His scouts told him that the people of Tibet were earthy in their understanding of the world, flexible in their thinking, and open to new ideas. On one level this was very reassuring and gave Atisha great joy, as he hoped he would be welcomed and his teachings well received. On another level Atisha was afraid that his personal spiritual growth would be stunted. One of his beliefs was that our greatest teachers are those people we find most obnoxious, frustrating or contemptible because they mirror and reflect back to us those very aspects of our selves that are obnoxious, frustrating or contemptible – what we most dislike in others is that which we do not accept in ourselves.

As he developed his itinerary and roster of traveling cmpanions for the trip to Tibet, Atisha invited his tea boy to go along with him on the trip to Tibet. All of the other monks in the traveling party were quite surprised by the invitation, as the tea boy was known for his mean spirited irritability, but the young man was also from Bengal, and the monks thought that perhaps this was Atisha’s was of keeping his home culture close to him. When Atisha caught word of the monks’ presumption, he laughed, and corrected their misconception. Rather he told them he wanted the Bengali tea boy near him to ensure that his spiritual growth would not be stunted by the equanimity of the peoples of Tibet. The story has it that once Atisha arrived in Tibet he discovered much to his delight and chagrin that he need not have worried about his need for the Bengali tea boy, the Tibetans themselves were just as obnoxious, frustrating and contemptible as the rest of humanity. Challenges to foster Atisha’s spiritual growth were bountiful – the people there were not as pleasant as he had been told. 

And so it is, we are all, each of us obnoxious, frustrating or contemptible each in our own way. And so we can each work to change ourselves as a foundation for building virtues and a vision of a world where fairness and dignity are respected and honored. And, in the meantime, we can each be grateful to everyone who as they visit us with their obnoxious, frustrating or contemptible behavior stands as a mirror inviting us to witness those very characteristic in ourselves.

Now, I am a child of the 60’s – OK, really the 70’s, but it is still so much cooler to claim the 60’s – the point is, I remember pacificism, and “Be grateful to everyone” is not a naïve all accepting defenselessness. If you are in danger of getting mugged, defend yourself or run for safety. “Be grateful to everyone” gets to at a complete change of attitude. Pema Chodron reminds us that the  slogan actually gets at the guts of how we perfect ignorance through avoidance, not knowing we’re poisoning ourselves with our ways of being, not knowing that we’re putting another layer of protection over our heart, not seeing the whole picture. In our own lives, the Bengali tea boys are the people who, when you let them through the front door of your house, go right down to the basement where you store the things you’d rather not deal with, pick out one of them, bring it to you, and say “Is this yours?” “Be grateful to everyone” means that all situations teach you, and often it’s the tough ones that teach you the best.

So, be wise, change yourself. Be grateful to everyone, even – maybe especially your very own Bengali tea boy.

the butterfly effect and efforts to help

Alchemy is all about change. And, if there will be justice and respect for human rights in this world of our, then some fairly serious change is necessary. And, yet, the right change, at the right time, in the right place, with the right people, in the right way is essential.  I am much more inclined to believe that the means define then ends than I am to accede to the ends defining the means. As story that I love to tell about the important of patience and ends and means and about respect for the dignity and abilities of others involves a little girl who LOVED butterflies. The way I tell it …

Once, in a place far away and very near, there was a young girl who was fascinated with butterflies.  She loved to see their colors, to watch them glide and sail on the breezes.  Her favorite plant in the field next to her home was the resplendent butterfly bush.  One spring, just before she turned 13, just as she was beginning to see with clearer eyes and a heart yearning to mend the suffering of the world, she was meticulously watching the cocoons, watching for the first butterflies to emerge.  She ever so patiently watched, attending to the suffering of the chrysalis  as it struggled to break the bonds of the cocoon, straining for the freedom of life as a butterfly.  Her heart yearned to help. She ached with sadness for the struggle. And, then it came to her. She went into her fathers workshop, found his exacto knife, and ever so gentle, ever so delicately, she cut the slightest incision in the cocoon, transforming the chrysalis in to the butterfly it was meant to be.  It burst out of the cocoon, spread its beautiful wings, floated gracefully for a moment, and then tumbled to crash into the red maple tree next to the butterfly bush. She watched as the infant butterfly struggle to straighten its wings. It struggled, and seemed to tire, and then just faded into the mulch at the base of the tree.  Heartbroken our girl-child ran to her grandmother and told her what happened. 

Grandmother gathered the girl into her arms, smiled through her tears, “My granddaughter,” she said, “your heart is warm and wonderful. You must challenge your intellect to grow to the same depth in its knowledge and wisdom.  The chrysalis in the cocoon must struggle for its freedom to build its strength for flight and freedom and survival in this world.  When you rescued it before its time, when you cut it free too soon, it had built the strength in its wings to fly, and so it could not do what it needed to do to live.  Each of us, Child, must live through our own struggles, to build the strengths and skills we will need for our lives. If you would help, you must know when and how to enter the struggles of others so that each finds her own best strength and power.

What you see is what you get — A visit to a Quaker community

Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Psychology, says that 90% of what we see is projection. It is pretty well known that witness testimony can be unreliable. This story is a nice example of why seeing should not be believing. And, if we will work well for social justice and human rights, we need to be able to ‘play well with others’, we need to be able to share clear and accurate empathy for each others’ circumstances, situations, beliefs, practices and feelings.

The story is a well known Quaker story, told by Kenneth Boulding in his article “the ethics of rational decision” which was published in Management Science, vol 12, no 6 pp 161 -169.

In the story a Quaker Friend  was asked by a new comer to his community, what type of people lived there.

The Quaker asks the newcomer, “Well, sir, what kind of people did you live among before you came to be here?”

The newcomer replied, “Oh, I lived among a mean, suspicious, unfriendly, treacherous bunch of people.”

Whereupon the Quaker replied, “Well, I am very sorry, sir, but you will probably find the same type of people here.”

Going down the road, the Quaker meets another newcomer to the community, who asks him the very same question about the kind of people she can expect to encounter in the new community. And the Quaker similarly asks her, “What kind of people did you live among before you came to be here?”

“Oh,” said the woman, “I lived among a fine group of people, friendly and honest, and I was heartfelt sorry to leave them.”

Whereupon the Quaker said, “I am glad to say, friend, you will find the same kind of people here.”

Clear and accurate empathy was NOT the strong suit in the expectations voiced in this story. It is kind of a humors example of projection. Empathy for others is tricky business.  Without significant self awareness empathy is not possible. Our expectations and personal biases frame and shape the meanings we attribute to experiences and interactions. To develop empathy for others, we need set aside our personal biases and to “feel the meeting of their consciousness and the world, to feel the full value of the meanings of emotions and ideas in their relations with each other, and to understand, in the glimpse of a moment, the freshness of things and their possibilities (Rukeyser, 1949, 1974, 1996, p. x).”

the elder and the two wolfs

I like this story a lot because it helps me to think more kindly about myself and about others and our struggles and imperfections ….


There is a story that is told by a Cherokee Elder to her grandchildren. She speaks of a terrible fight going on inside each of us. It is a feral and fierce fight between two wolves.  One wolf embodies fear, anger, regrets, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment and hubris. The other wolf embodies love, compassion, joy, equanimity, peace, kindness, generosity, sharing, truth and humility.  This battle rages within each and every person.” She paused here for a moment to sit back and ponder, to let the story settle and find its depth.

One of her grandchildren whispers, “which wolf wins?”

Laughing, she answered, “the one you feed.”


three questions from Russia with love

 Lev Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a prolific Russian writer who is widely known for his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was also a philosopher. And he also wrote essays,  poetry and short stories.

One of my favorite short stories that he wrote is “The Three Questions” (Muth & Tolstoy, 2002; Tolstoy, 1903, 2005). In the story a King decides that if he knew the right time to begin anything, the right people to listen to, and the most important thing to do, he would never fail in his endeavors. And so the King sets off in search of answers to his questions.  After much searching, the King comes upon a hermit, who ignores the King and continues with his own work. After a time, the King takes up the hermits spade and helps him with his gardening, and subsequently helps to bandage and care for a wounded man who comes upon the King and the hermit. These actions indirectly save the King’s life – through the delay in his travel, and his care of the wounded man the King circumvents a revenge plot on the his life by the wounded man and his sons. As he prepares to leave the hermit, the King asks his questions once more. The hermit replies that the questions have already been answered:

“If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else.  And the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life! (Tolstoy, 1903, 2005)”

When? Who? What? When is the right time for to work for justice and human rights? Who are the right people to engage in our work? What are the right tasks to bring about the alchemy of justice and rights?  Now those are some questions worth tackling with all the love in our hearts!


where are we? is it tortoises all the way down?

So, where are we? It is a common enough question. It can refer to where we are in the process of a discussion or analysis of an issue or problem. It can refer to where we are geographically (especially if I am the navigator). It can refer to the status of a relationship in the process of flux, growth or some developmental junction. It can refer to most anything in the process of change.

So, ‘where are we’ is worth thinking about as we think about change for social justice and human rights, yes?

Where are we? Maybe one of the more famous responses to that simple poses, where ever you go, there you are!  Most area maps will clearly demarcate ‘You are here.’ But … where is that? Ah, I feel a story coming on ….

Well, Steven Hawking, in a Brief History of Time credits this story to Bertrand Russell.  Hawking says Russell was giving a lecture on astronomy, and was discussing how the earth orbits around a vast collection of stars called the galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a woman stood up and said, “what you have told us is rubbish. The world is a flat plate supported on the back of four elephants, who stand on a great tortoise.”  Russell is said to have smiled, and asked what the tortoise stands on. The woman very calmly replied, “very clever, but of course it is tortoises all the way down.” [of course the earth is round and not flat, but the elephants could just as easily be holding up a giant globe, no?]

Ken Wilber is a fairly prolific author. He writes about integral theory. Wilber tells a very similar story that he attributes to Hindu mythology/cosmology.

And, so I ask: Where are we? And what is at the base of it all? What ground do we really stand on? Or is there any? Are we really just floating/flying through space?

100th Monkey

I love the story of the 100th monkey — the monkey who tumbles everyone else over the tipping point of social/cultural change. It is one of those stories that floated around in the back of my awareness, and then, MAGIC! I was reading a book by Jean Shinoda Bolen, and she detailed the story in her book.  The glories of the internet enable highlighting bits of narrative detail all the more readily, so here are the words of Jean Shinoda Bolen, followed by story as told by Ken Keyes to whom she gives source credit!

Magic is alive! Change is afoot.


Circles of Compasson and The Millionth Circle 
by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.

*antidote: 1: a remedy to counteract the effects of poison. 2: something that relieves, prevents, or counteracts. ~ Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

 The Hundredth Monkey

An idea whose time has come depends upon a critical number of people embracing a new way of thinking, feeling, or perceiving. Once that critical number is reached, what had been resisted becomes accepted. What was once unthinkable, and is then adopted by more and more people reaches a critical mass, and then becomes a commonly held standard of belief or behaviour.

When an idea is ridiculed, especially when men discount the possibility and label it as illogical as well, a story to hold onto while continuing to work on bringing about a change is a powerful inspiration. That concerned citizens could be effective in ending the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia was a ridiculed idea, for example, and yet people began to try and the movement grew, inspired by the idea of a critical mass examplified by the story of “The Hundreth Monkey” written by Ken Keyes and spread by word of mouth. Predicated on the intuitively grasped morphic field theory, postulated by theoretical biologist Rupert Sheldrake, it told the story of how new behavior initiated by a young female monkey spread through her colony and then was observed by scientists to now be done in all other monkey colonies on separated islands, without any means of direct influence. “The hundredth monkey” was the one who became the critical number, after which all monkeys now did this new thing because every member of the same species is connected to the same morphic field.

The 100th Monkey

A story about social change.

By Ken Keyes Jr.

The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years.

In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.

An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes — the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let’s further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.


By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

But notice: A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea…Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes.

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind.

Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people.

But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!

From the book “The Hundredth Monkey” by Ken Keyes, Jr. 
The book is not copyrighted and the material may be reproduced in whole or in part.

Read the whole book.

One hundered monkeys and tipping points — have you ever notice a time when a critial mass was reached around an issue you were struggling to transform? Have you been witness or participant to the birth/growth of justice? what were some of the key elements that fed the alchemy?