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Idiot Compassion and Mindfulness
Compassion is an important concept, and even more important practice to integrate into one’s life. Like all ideas, layers underlie the meaning. One of the most fascinating is what Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche termed ‘idiot compassion.’
His well known student, Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron, explains:
It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can't bear to see them suffering.
Chodron exposes the danger in this: instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison—at the very least, you don’t take it away from them. This, she says, is not compassion at all. It’s selfishness, as you’re more concerned with your own feelings than attending to your friend’s actual needs.
Granted, saying uncomfortable things to someone close to you is no easy task. If they are violent or depressive, criticism could send them spiraling. Yet enabling is not good either. Stepping up and being a teacher in challenging situations requires great tact and care, and does not always work out how you intended it to.
As I’ve been exploring this concept this week in my yoga classes, I began thinking about the ways we enable ourselves as well. We are extremely good at self-deception, using bad habits as crutches for some future good we imagine is right around the corner. We trick ourselves with the ‘one more’ syndrome: one more cigarette, one more drink, one more email to the ex who refuses our pleas.
The issue is really expectation: we fear upsetting our friend, or ourselves, because we don’t want to make things uncomfortable. We choose short-term avoidance over what we perceive to be longer term suffering. Since we don’t inherently know what the future state holds, we choose what we think to be the most comfortable path, persisting in our folly without becoming wise.
The hardest part is not imagining the future. Hypothesizing is what our brains do, which is why suffering lies at the heart of Buddhism. Two things keep us locked in a perpetual state of conflict: expecting reality to conform to what we want it to be and demanding the future unravels as we hope it will. When one or both of these projections fail, we blame the situation rather than our expectations.
One powerful form of changing these habits of enabling is mindfulness meditation. As neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson has written, habitual manners of dealing with emotions are the product of both genetics and experience. Some of us are genetically inclined to be more resilient and compassionate than others, but it is our life experiences that define our outlook, and how we treat others (and ourselves). As he writes,
Mindfulness retrains these habits of mind by tapping into the plasticity of the brain’s connections, creating new ones, strengthening some old ones, and weakening others.
In his research Davidson has found that mindfulness practitioners exhibit greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex—they are able to redirect thoughts and feelings while reducing anxiety and strengthening resilience and well-being. Put in Tibetan Buddhist terms, meditators are able to shift both their reactions to situations, as well as their reactions to their reactions.
Oftentimes when something happens in our lives, we say, ‘Why did that happen to me?’ as if the weight of billions of years of history has led to this moment just for you. Fortunately meditation helps one overcome this overbearing sense of self. It loosens the grip of the brain’s ‘me center.’ You begin to view the world in terms of collectivity instead of individuality, and thus are able to process your emotions better.
When this occurs—when you are mindful of your thoughts from a third-party perspective and attain some level of control over the direction they unfold—idiot compassion becomes impossible. You no longer aim for long-term habits or short-term pleasure. Rather, you do what’s best for the present you, or the friend you’re engaging with. In that way, everyone benefits, even if it takes a little while for the medicine to kick in.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
- Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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