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Life's Word PDF by Anonymous

Life’s Word

by A Friend

Visiting the Middle East is always a wondrous experience. Few places offer such a unique and rich combination of warm and hospitable people, delicious cuisine, and beautiful cultural customs. And one of those many customs is use of the Arabic expression, “En Shallah,” when speaking about the future. In English, “En Shallah” translates as: “If it is Allah’s Will.”

The following book, “Life’s Word,” expresses this understanding with absolute clarity.

This short book has quietly circulated through spiritual work communities for many years. The hand that penned the book is anonymous. The author is declared in the opening sentence.

As a tip, read this one slowly and without distraction. Aside from the archaic English style of writing, there’s a lot said in this book. Perhaps few texts have ever said so much in only 9,000 words.

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What is Black Magic?

by A Friend

Spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff once described ‘Black Magic’ as “…to use people for some, even the best of aims, without their knowledge and understanding, either by producing in them faith and infatuation or by acting upon them through fear.

In essence, black magic is the the artful, covert manipulation of human beings for purposes of control.

The following video explores the dynamics of black magic and offers some tools for Fourth Way students engaged in the work of self-observation.

For those viewing this video who have not engaged in the lessons on this web site, we encourage you to complete lessons 1-4 to derive best understanding from the ideas presented in this discussion.

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Gnothi Seauton

by A Friend

An Xpression by Ralph Waldo Emerson. –

I

If thou canst bear
Strong meat of simple truth
If thou durst my words compare
With what thou thinkest in my soul’s free youth,
Then take this fact unto thy soul,—–
God dwells in thee.
It is no metaphor nor parable,
It is unknown to thousands, and to thee;
Yet there is God.

II

He is in thy world,
But thy world knows him not.
He is the mighty Heart
From which life’s varied pulses part.
Clouded and shrouded there doth sit
The Infinite
Embosomed in a man;
And thou art stranger to thy guest
And know’st not what thou doth invest.
The clouds that veil his life within
Are thy thick woven webs of sin,
Which his glory struggling through
Darkens to thine evil hue.

III

Then bear thyself, O man!
Up to the scale and compass of thy guest;
Soul of thy soul.
Be great as doth beseem
The ambassador who bears
The royal presence where he goes.

IV

Give up to thy soul—–
Let it have its way—–
It is, I tell thee, God himself,
The selfsame One that rules the Whole,
Tho’ he speaks thro’ thee with a stifled voice,
And looks through thee, shorn of his beams.
But if thou listen to his voice,
If thou obey the royal thought,
It will grow clearer to thine ear,
More glorious to thine eye.
The clouds will burst that veil him now
And thou shalt see the Lord.

V

Therefore be great,
Not proud,—–too great to be proud.
Let not thine eyes rove,
Peep not in corners; let thine eyes
Look straight before thee, as befits
The simplicity of Power.
And in thy closet carry state;
Filled with light, walk therein;
And, as a king
Would do no treason to his own empire,
So do not thou to thine.

VI

This is the reason why thou dost recognize
Things now first revealed,
Because in thee resides
The Spirit that lives in all;
And thou canst learn the laws of nature
Because its author is latent in thy breast.

VII

Therefore, O happy youth,
Happy if thou dost know and love this truth,
Thou art unto thyself a law,
And since the soul of things is in thee,
Thou needest nothing out of thee.
The law, the gospel, and the Providence,
Heaven, Hell, the Judgement, and the stores
Immeasurable of Truth and Good,
All these thou must find
Within thy single mind,
Or never find.

VIII

Thou art the law;
The gospel has no revelation
Of peace and hope until there is response
From the deep chambers of thy mind thereto,—–
The rest is straw.
It can reveal no truth unknown before.
The Providence
Thou art thyself that doth dispense
Wealth to thy work, want to thy sloth,
Glory to goodness, to neglect, the moth.
Thou sow’st the wind, the whirlwind reapest,
Thou payest the wages
Of thy own work, through all ages.
The almighty energy within
Crowneth virtue, curseth sin.
Virtue sees by its own light;
Stumbleth sin in self-made night.

IX

Who approves thee doing right?
God in thee.
Who condemns thee doing wrong?
God in thee.
Who punishes thine evil deed?
God in thee.
What is thine evil meed?
Thy worse mind, with error blind
And more prone to evil
That is, the greater hiding of the God within:
The loss of peace
The terrible displeasure of this inmate
And next the consequence
More faintly as more distant wro’t
Upon our outward fortunes
Which decay with vice
With Virtue rise.

X

The selfsame God
By the same law
Makes the souls of angels glad
And the souls of devils sad
See
There is nothing else but God
Where e’er I look
All things hasten back to him
Light is but his shadow dim.

XI

Shall I ask wealth or power of God, who gave
An image of himself to be my soul?
As well might swilling ocean ask a wave,
Or the starred firmament a dying coal,—–
For that which is in me lives in the whole.

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swimming lessons

Swim Lessons

by Craig

For a boy living in Pennsylvania, summertime life centered around the Macungie swimming pool. Each year as school ended, a ten-week festival commenced recalled now in slices of memory as cannonball plunges, skin burn, hot concrete, concession stand hot dogs, and frolicking with girls.

As fun as that may sound, the boy’s first summer at the pool wasn’t quite so exciting. Having grown up in New York City, the boy didn’t know how to swim when his family moved to Pennsylvania. And the first summer at the pool was largely spent wading in the shallow water and crafting excuses to conceal his embarrassment. Eventually his parents took notice and decided it was time for swim lessons.

Few childhood memories are associated with dread as much as that week of swim classes.

On the first day, he was told by the swim teacher that all people were born with natural ability to float. And learning to float required surrendering fear and all notions of effort. Just trust the water and it will keep you afloat. Although simple in concept and natural once discovered, learning to swim that week was like an extended visit to the dentist’s office.

Trust the water? Was he nuts? People drown in water! It gets in your face and stings your eyes! How the hell can anyone trust the water?

Yet, the boy had no choice in the decision to be there. His parents had made that decision for him. And so the swim lessons carried on.

Each day the boy wrestled with the teacher’s advice. Maybe he wasn’t trying hard enough. So he put ambition to work and tried to float with all of his might, only to find himself sinking like a rock. After his face plunged repeatedly underwater, ambition was quickly extinguished by reinforced fear. Naturally, the sinking continued and this whole hellish affair perpetuated through repeated cycles of effort and failure.

Then on Saturday that week, he caught a break.

With swim lessons on pause for the weekend, he was able to hang out with friends at the pool with no expectations or pressure.

While having fun, the other boys encouraged him to join them in a game of ‘how long can you hold your breath underwater.’ The idea was a little intimidating at first, but he felt somewhat safe. He was standing in the shallow end and all he needed to do was close his eyes, pinch his nose, and hold his breath. It seemed harmless enough. And after a little hesitation, he gave it a shot and quickly discovered that he could submerge his head underwater and return to the surface alive. What a moment of epiphany! And within a matter of days, he was swimming from one end of the pool to another.

He didn’t return to swim class the next week. A teacher was no longer necessary.

That boy, now a man, hadn’t thought about the summer of swim lessons for some time. The memory only recently returned while coaching his daughter on swimming.

As he was encouraging her to float by supporting her back with his hand, he felt rigidity in her body and observed tension on her face. Fear and force of effort had turned her into a block of stone. No amount of reassuring words or advice made a difference. So he decided to drop the lesson and just let her play. The pointers he gave her were enough for now and there was no value in pressing her or offering further instruction. It would only contribute more to frustration.

Several days later, he glanced at the pool and caught a surprise. She was floating with her hands behind her back, gracefully drifting in a circle, silent and still. Similar to a leaf gently resting on the surface of a pond.

It appeared so natural. So effortless. It appeared as if she had always known how to float, yet only now was remembering a capability that was always there.

Perhaps the previous difficulty she had learning to swim was simply suppression of primordial memory. A kind of amnesia resulting from fear cultivated by the discomfort of getting water in her face and repeated warnings from trusted adults about the dangers of the pool.

And by just playing around without worry about “learning to swim,” the kid discovered trust in the water all on her own.

And shortly later, she was swimming like a fish.

Isn’t it interesting what kids can do when they absorb some tips, ditch the teacher, forget about technique and intention, and just simply play?

A Message for Advocates of Swimming Schools

It is not the intention of this essay to criticize swimming lessons, swim teachers, or students trying earnestly to learn to swim.

Swimming lessons are quite useful. Swim teachers offer valuable advice and encouragement. And getting past a lifetime of accumulated fear of the water and discovering why one keeps sinking often requires some experienced coaching.

Yet at a certain point of learning, the value of a teacher’s words are exhausted and it rests with the swimmer to remember their intuitive capability.

Trust in the water cannot be taught or learned from words.

Sometimes it’s best discovered by heeding the useful advice of a teacher, then just playing around in the water.

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Grigori's Diary - A Fourth Way Spy Story

Grigori’s Diary

by Craig

So what do spies, cigars, and Sufi’s share in common? Welcome to Grigori’s Diary—a story about a disenchanted CIA officer who discovers an unexpected secret during his pursuit to recruit a mysterious Russian professor.

The story concept originated from a humorous thought about what an uninitiated person might think if they read someone’s spiritual work journal with its catalogue of self-observations, intimations, third-person references to identity, etc. In the role of vocation, the author is a security consultant and travels occasionally to locations were national security services are  known for invasive curiosity of Americans working in security capacities.

Just some fun expressing spiritual work ideas in the form of a screenplay.

For those new to reading screenplays, here’s a key to some terms:

  • INT. – Interior (e.g., building, room ,etc.)
  • EXT. – Exterior (i.e., outdoors)
  • (V.O.) – Voice over. Used to indicate dialogue spoken by someone not currently seen on screen.
  • (BEAT) – Indicates a pause in speaking.
  • (45) – Age of the character. Only used when a new character is introduced in the story.
  • SUPER: – Text superimposed on the screen.
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Last Toast to Bassmi

by Craig

On October 26, 2019, Bassmi Ibrahim departed the party.

The art world knew Bassmi as an abstract expressionist with a painting method and vision which often strips people of words. Although art critics often focus on his talent and technique, I suspect Bassmi’s popularity stemmed from the way his paintings convey a mysterious, yet familiar understanding we all share as human beings.

The author knew Bassmi as a friend and fellow companion on The Way.

Cultural tradition says today is a day to wear black as proper expression of grief and sorrow.

But I can’t wear black today. For black was never a dominant color in Bassmi’s palette.

As reflected in his art, Bassmi was a man of true light–bright, dynamic, loving, and joyful!

And beyond the veil of his quiet humility, lay deep wisdom and insight into the mysteries of life.

And one of the mysteries Bassmi knew well is that life and death are inseparable parts of the creative act…the process of form emerging into and out of being, the abstruse dance of God’s hand, which Bassmi expressed so beautifully through his work.

And with his passing, a humble artist brushed the final stroke of his greatest masterpiece.

That being the life of Bassmi Ibrahim, himself.

A friend and mentor.

A most beautiful man.

If you’d like to see more of Bassmi’s Xpression, visit: www.bassmi.com.

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Craig Gundry - TEDx

In September 2019, a public version of the “How to Love a Mass Murderer” talk was delivered at TEDx BoggyCreek exploring the psychology of mass murderers and proposing that perhaps these ‘evil monsters’ are not so very different from you and I when explored at a fundamental level.

Although the title theme of the talk focuses on the psychological pathway to mass violence, the inner message is about self-knowing and universal characteristics of our conditioned selves which obstruct the genuine experience of compassion, love, and our greater spiritual identity.

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Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

As English speakers, it’s easy to assume that our language is somehow superior due to its status as an international standard in many fields. But, truthfully, our dictionary often pales in comparison to the rich vocabulary of other languages when expressing subtleties in concept.

One good example is the word, Love.

The Ancient Greeks recognized that not all love is the same, and used different words to describe variations…Storge, for love of family. Philia, as love of friends.  And of course, Eros, as romantic love.[i]

And as perhaps the crown jewel of them all, a fourth kind of love called agape—altruistic and unconditional love of fellow humans.

It seems natural to experience love for family, friends, and those who appeal to our sexual desire. And despite our differences, it seems most of us also experience a natural degree of empathy and compassion toward humanity at large.

But what about the Omar Mateen’s and Nikolas Cruz’s of the world?….People who commit such horrific acts as the massacres at the Pulse Nightclub or MSD High School in Parkland.

This question arises occasionally when discussing the subject of love. In my day job, I work as a consultant specialized in managing risks of mass homicide…terrorism, workplace and school shootings, and similar types of violence.

When this subject arises, I like to begin with the word, Empathy.

Empathy is defined as: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

With this definition in mind, it’s quite obvious we cannot experience genuine empathy (the precursor of agape) if we view mass killers as ‘evil monsters’ beyond sensible understanding. So let’s start there…

What really differentiates us from the mass killers of the world?

Almost all acts of mass homicide are characterized as predatory aggression resulting from a process of ideation, planning, and preparation.[ii] The phrase, “He snapped,” is largely a myth. Although acts of mass homicide are often triggered by an event, such as a termination or dismissal from school, the pathway to violence is usually established long before the carnage commences.

Although this pathway process is largely universal, the motivation for violence is often different between terrorists and non-ideological perpetrators.

Terrorists rationally adopt the use of violence to further an ideological cause. The key characteristic distinguishing a terrorist from any other idealistic visionary is that the terrorist views the use of violence as necessary, morally-sanctioned, and values their ideal over the lives of others…and often their own life too.

Sounds pretty messed up, huh?

Well, let’s pause for a moment.

In early youth, I was enamored by the hero myth and American ideal of global freedom. I was a true product of Cold War era nationalism and cultural suggestion that being a warrior was the ultimate expression of masculinity. And at the age of 17, I joined the Army.

During those days, I would have killed any enemy soldiers as instructed with a conscience cleansed by the noble aim of saving humanity from communist oppression.

When I look at it closely today, perhaps the only fundamental difference between me in those Army days and the terrorists of this world are the specific ideals motivating violent intent, and the rationale for distinguishing which human lives are valuable from those that are not. The individual ideals and beliefs were different, but the underlying mechanics are exactly the same. We both perceived violence as justified, necessary, and valued an ideal as greater than human life.

So what about those who never wore a uniform?

Well, I propose mass killers aren’t fundamentally much different than you too.

Most non-ideological mass murderers align with Dr. Park Dietz’s definition of a pseudocommando.[iii] These individuals often evolve from angry, narcissistic personalities and harbor perceived injustices as a grievance for revenge.[iv]

Violent fantasy becomes a refuge for the pseudocommando’s damaged ego and provides a sense of power and control. If this process of continues unabated until nihilism takes place, commitment to violence is affirmed and often commenced in a planned manner or initiated by a trigger event.[v][vi]

So what does any of that craziness have to do with you and me?

Well, perhaps the pseudocommando’s pathology is nothing but an exaggeration of behavior we witness every day in most human beings.

Starting with narcissism, it seems most people spend the majority of life viewing the world through a subconscious prism of “What does it mean to or for me?”

In essence, we find ourselves perpetually motivated by desire for the ‘good stuff’ (pleasure, comfort, approval, attention, superiority) while simultaneously seeking to escape the ‘bad stuff’ (pain, discomfort, disapproval, rejection, inferiority).

And if we watch closely, we can see how these primal impulses dominate our attention and behavior.

Now I suspect these polaric driving forces served a great value in evolutionary survival. Perhaps they’re the reason we derive pleasure from sex and eating calorie-rich foods, or seek warmth when our body temperature drops low.

But in the modern world, these subconscious urges often result in a rollercoaster of irrational wants and fears resulting in all manner of mayhem. Just look at some of the things that stress people today…“Do I look good in that picture on Instagram?”, “Will my boss disapprove if I’m out sick today?”, “Will my kid be a future failure because she got an F in math class or dyed her hair blue?”

Now, I am sure a few listening to this may be offended by the notion that people are largely narcissistic in varying degrees.

If you disbelieve me, great! Try an experiment to disprove my hypothesis:

Over the next week, consciously observe how much attention you devote to things that suggest possible reward or threaten harm.

Watch closely and you may get a glimpse of just how deep and subtle this gets.

Another defining characteristic of the pseudocommando is ‘injustice collection.’[vii] [viii]Also described as held-resentment or more simply stated—Blame.

Here’s another area where maybe we don’t differ so much from the pseudocommando.

Most people can’t navigate a single waking hour without experiencing blame to some degree. It usually begins early when we blame our kids for leaving the milk out overnight or blame ourselves for misplacing our keys. This blame circus then continues up to the time we go to bed when we blame our dog for barking or our spouse for hoarding the bed covers.

If you don’t believe me, try an experiment:

For the next few days, observe how many thoughts or statements you make in conversation expressing blame and its related behavior, complaint.

And just as a tip, keep a counter handy!

Take it a step further if you really feel adventurous:

Observe how often blame and the emotions that often accompany blame (like annoyance, anger, guilt, and resentment) actually change past events, fix situations, or make anything better in any way.

And you can extend this experiment further to include all negative emotions for that matter.

When was the last time anxiety prevented an undesired event from occurring? When was the last time jealousy caused Santa to pop up and grant your magic wish?

It’s truly amazing how much attention and energy we devote to these emotions which, when we look at them closely, seem to function like an “appendix for the human soul.”…Serve no useful purpose and only make us sick when they get inflamed.

Perhaps in the end, the only difference between the average Joe and the pseudocommando is the degree of attention and importance devoted to blame.

So where does this blame stuff come from in the first place?

It seems blame is just a default cognitive response to situations where perceived reality doesn’t match our ideal (our vision of what ought-to-be). And this point circles us right back to beliefs and ideals.

We humans seem stubbornly committed to the imaginary concept of a “Perfect World” and correspondingly spend a huge amount of time and energy trying to ‘fix’ what is, worried, or otherwise spinning our wheels in frustration.

Here’s another fun experiment:

Choose an uneventful weekend and write an essay about your “Perfect World.”

Just let it flow in a ‘Finnegan’s Wake-style’ of whatever nonsense comes into mind. Really put some heart into it! It’s actually quite fun.

Here’s a sample from Craig’s Perfect World:

“All traffic lights turn green as he approaches intersections.”

“All cigars taste like black pepper and cocoa.”

“Planes always fly on time.”

“And all women on the planet are petite brunettes with specific features, and find him sexually attractive…And his wife is fine with that too!”

Exhaust this exercise well and note any realizations that emerge.

And by the way, if you wrote less than ten pages, just keep going because you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

When we really peel the onion to its core, perhaps the only difference in motivation between us and the mass killers of the world are the specific ideals that occupy and fascinate our imagination.

Well, maybe mass killers just have delusional (or incorrect) beliefs and ideals

After all, my beliefs are the right beliefs! My perspective of reality is the true perspective of reality!

When conducting threat assessments, we try to emphasize focus on understanding how a person of concern perceives a situation (such as bullying or mistreatment by others) over just the facts of the situation itself. What the subject thinks is going on (in essence, his or her perspective of reality) is ultimately what matters in identifying a possible motive.

For instance, Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui wrote an angry, vitriolic manifesto detailing his perceived persecution by people over the years. But when investigated later, no one in Cho’s life ever remembered him being mistreated in any way.[ix]

Roger Eliott, responsible for the 2014 Isla Vista attacks, wrote a lengthy autobiography describing his hate for all girls because they didn’t want him, and boys for having the girls. Perceived sexual rejection was his grievance for revenge.[x]

From the way Elliot described the situation, you would think this rejection stemmed from some condition of extreme unattractiveness such as obesity or physical disfigurement.

Quite the contrary, he was a good-looking kid. It was basically all in his mind.

And that last statement, “all in his mind,” is a critical point in this discussion.

Most people approach life with the belief that they experience reality as objective truth. When in fact, all experience of reality is a constructed mental process influenced by countless subjective variables.[xi]

In waking states, information is received through sensory organs and processed into a mental image of physical reality.[xii] This sensory data is then interpreted through a complex cognitive process to provide context actionable for functioning. And belief plays a tremendous role in that final composite experience of reality.

Belief gives birth to ideals. And ideals give birth to judgement.

And judgement, in turn, dictates how we value, relate, and react to our environment.

It’s the complex prism through which everything we experience occurs.

Belief is defined as “something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction.” Beliefs frame the architecture of what we call reality. Without them, we couldn’t function as human beings. In the absence of complete knowledge, we need to operate on some degree of assumption.

It seems where we get tripped up in life isn’t the existence of beliefs. But rather when we hold our beliefs as empirical truth, rather than simply acknowledging belief as confident hypothesis.

It’s easy to point at mass killers and label their beliefs as delusional. However, how many times in our own lives do we pridefully defend beliefs that we later discover are untrue?

 As another underappreciated fact about human behavior, whatever you, I, or the mass killer does is perceived as being right or justifiable at the moment it’s done. Now we might experience conflict coming to that decision or feel differently five minutes later, but at the moment we act, the action is perceived as right or justifiable.

So not only does the killer perceive their act as right or justifiable at the moment it’s done, but perhaps it was the only thing he could do at that moment considering all factors of influence.

When we blame mass murderers and ponder how someone could commit a horrific act of violence, we speak with the assumption that the killer acted with a conscious choice.

But if we observe carefully, it seems most actions executed by human beings are largely dictated by personal conditioning…these beliefs, ideals, gain/escape impulses, and the circumstances that provoke or influence that conditioning. In essence, something ‘pushes our buttons’ and we react. Sometimes life pushes a ‘happy’ button, other times an ‘angry’ button. But most people live from button-press to button-press with an inner experience largely dictated by circumstance.

When circumstance takes form as a suggestion promising something desirable or threatening harm, we often behave quite predictably in accordance with our conditioning. This power of suggestion can be witnessed everywhere in the form of advertising, sales, politics, leadership, education…and maybe even TED talks too.

Consciously or not, we all know this truth and use it every day to our advantage when interacting with others. But when it comes to us personally, people often stand in denial.

Now if the notion of behaving mechanically offends you, make note of that feeling of offense. Did you consciously choose to feel offended? Or did my words dictate your inner experience?

Once we understand how people function, we may begin to see that the killer’s conditioning resulted directly from a seamless chain of interconnected events beginning at birth and right up to the moment he picked up a gun or strapped on a suicide vest.

And that principle seems to be true for all of us.

For the speaker, that chain started in August 1968 in a Pennsylvania hospital and continued through 51 years of interconnected experience right up to the moment of speaking to you today.

So what does any of this have to do with loving a mass murderer?

 A poet once wrote: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Maybe there’s a profound wisdom in those words.

Perhaps love is like light naturally radiating from a sun that never sets. You don’t have to look for it. It’s always there, shining. Only it’s eclipsed as we stand with our back to it, blocking its warmth and luminescence. Instead, we often live like Plato’s cave dwellers, experiencing reality overcast and distorted by the shadows of our beliefs, our ideals, and ultimately, judgment.

So where do we begin?

Well, the four experiments presented in this talk are one possible place to begin. Shine a light inward. Just watch. Perhaps the simple act of observation can be a catalyst to something quite remarkable—a depth and availability of love you never knew was possible!

Thank you for letting me share with you.

[i] Philosophy of Love. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://www.iep.utm.edu/love/ Retrieved 10/23/2019.

[ii] Meloy, J. Reid, and Hoffman, Jens. International Handbook of Threat Assessment. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2014.

[iii] Dietz, Park D. “Mass, Serial, and Sensational Homicides.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.  62:49-91. 1986.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Meloy, J. Reid, and Hoffman, Jens. International Handbook of Threat Assessment. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2014.

[vi] Knoll, James. L. “The “Pseudocommando” Mass Murderer: Part II, The Language of Revenge.” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 38:263–72, 2010

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Calhoun, Fredrick, and Weston, Stephen. Threat Assessment and Management Strategies: Identifying the Hunters and the Howlers. CRC Press. Boca Raton, FL. 2016.

[ix] Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech. April 16, 2007. Report of the Review Panel. Virginia Tech Review Panel. August 2007.

[x] Roger, Eliott. My Twisted Life. (Unpublished Autobiography) N.p. 2014.

[xi] Heuer, Richards. Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Central Intelligence Agency. Washington, DC. 1999.

[xii] Ibid.

 

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Taoism Zen Forrest Gump

Spiritual teaching stories often come in one of three flavors. First, teaching through allegory and parable—the dominant medium of teaching in biblical tradition and western esoteric schools. The second is contemplative riddle, common in Sufi and Zen traditions. And a third type of story which appears most frequently in contemporary entertainment, teaching by demonstration.

The movie Forrest Gump is an example of the latter.

Few films celebrate of the fullness of human experience as much as the movie Forrest Gump. As a teaching story, Forrest’s compassion, humility, and freedom to experience events without resistance is a wonderful example of Zen in living practice. And Forrest’s approach to all human beings, devoid of judgement and self-interest, resonates with a healing effect on everyone he encounters, including those seemingly lost in struggle and conflict.

And the feather in the last scene…well, what more can one say?

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If you haven’t seen Forrest Gump (or haven’t watched it in a while), maybe check it out some time when you’re searching for something on Netflix or Amazon.

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Kansas – The Wall

by Craig

The 1970’s was a rich era for music exploring questions about the nature of existence and spiritual discovery. As one band among many, Kansas produced several songs celebrating these themes which became popular hits. One in particular, “The Wall,” seems uniquely articulate in expressing common feelings of overwhelm and yearning which can emerge during early spiritual puberty when we begin to see how densely overgrown and resilient the Tree of Knowledge has become. A tree symbolized in this song as “The Wall.”

The following music video was prepared for use in a talk in 2018.

NOTE: The last quote in the video was incorrectly attributed to J. Rumi. The correct source for the quote is “A Course in Miracles.”

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The Wall Lyrics

 
I’m woven in a fantasy, I can’t believe the things I see
The path that I have chosen now has led me to a wall
And with each passing day I feel a little more like something dear was lost
It rises now before me, a dark and silent barrier between
All I am and all that I would ever want to be
It’s just a travesty, towering, marking off the boundaries
My spirit would erase
 
To pass beyond is what I seek, I fear that I may be too weak
And those are few who’ve seen it through to glimplse the other side
The promised land is waiting like a maiden that is soon to be a bride
The moment is a masterpiece, the weight of indecision’s in the air
It’s standing there, the symbol and the sum of all that’s me
It’s just a travesty, towering, blocking out the light and blinding me
I want to see
 
Gold and diamonds cast a spell, it’s not for me to know it well
The treasures that I seek are waiting on the other side
There’s more that I can measure in the treasure of the love that I can find
And though it’s always been with me
I must tear down the wall let it be
All I am, and all that I was ever meant to be, in harmony
Shining true and smiling back at all who wait to cross
There is no loss
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The following article has been updated since its original posting on LinkedIn in December 2018. |

For many, Christmas is a time of year when we can slow the pace of our busy work schedule and honor the special people in our lives. Aside from its obvious significance to Christians, the holiday is appreciated by many secularists and people of different faiths for its charming cultural traditions and celebration of family. Although Christmas holds different meanings to people in today’s society, most universally appreciate Christmas for its symbolic theme of love and goodwill to others.

As a young Episcopalian, I was frequently reminded of the Second Greatest Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” For many it’s the quintessential ideal and ultimate example of Christian practice. Even outside Christianity, the concept of ‘agape’ (altruistic love of fellow humans) is regarded as one of the highest expressions of philosophic and spiritual living. Regardless of one’s religion or personal beliefs, most would agree that life feels pretty damn wonderful when one experiences other people with a genuine sense of deep connection unbound by the constraints of condition.

Unless one lives isolated on an island of narcissism, it’s natural to experience love for family, friends, and those who share our common opinions. It seems most of us also feel a natural degree of empathy and inner connection toward humanity at large. But what about the Omar Mateen’s and Nikolas Cruz’s of the world? People who commit such horrific acts as the massacres at the Pulse Nightclub or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

This question arises occasionally in conversations when discussing the subject of love. In my day job, I work as a consultant specialized in managing risks of mass homicide…terrorism, workplace and school shootings, and similar types of violence.

When this subject arises, I like to begin with the word, Empathy.

Empathy is defined as “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” With this concept in mind, it’s quite obvious we cannot experience genuine empathy (the precursor of agape) if we view mass killers as ‘evil monsters’ beyond sensible understanding. So let’s start with that line of inquiry…

What really differentiates us from the mass murderers of the world?

Almost all acts of mass homicide are characterized as predatory aggression resulting from a process of ideation, planning, and preparation. The phrase, “He snapped,” is largely a myth. Although acts of mass homicide are often triggered by events, such as terminations or dismissals from school, the pathway to violence is typically established long before the carnage commences.

Although the pathway to mass homicide is largely universal, the motivation for violence is often different between terrorists and non-ideological perpetrators.

Terrorists rationally adopt the use of violence to further an ideological goal. The key characteristic distinguishing a terrorist from any other idealistic visionary is that the terrorist views the use of violence as necessary, morally sanctioned, and values their ideal over the lives of others (and often their own life too).

Sounds pretty messed up, huh?…Well, let’s pause for a second.

In early youth, I was enamored by the hero myth and American ideal of global freedom. I was a true product of Cold War era idealism and cultural suggestion that being a warrior was the ultimate expression of masculinity. And immediately after high school, I joined the Army. During those days, I would have killed any enemy soldiers as instructed and with a conscience cleansed by the noble aim of saving humanity from communist oppression.

When I look at it closely today, perhaps the only fundamental difference between me in those Army days and the terrorists of this world are the specific ideals motivating violent intent, and the rationale for distinguishing which human lives are valuable from those that are not. The individual ideals and beliefs were different, but the underlying mechanics are exactly the same. We both perceived violence as justified and valued an ideal as greater than human life.

So what about those who never wore a uniform?

Well, I propose mass killers aren’t fundamentally much different than you too.

Most non-ideological mass murderers align with Dr. Park Dietz’s definition of a pseudocommando.  These individuals often evolve from angry, narcissistic personalities and harbor perceived injustices as a grievance for revenge. Violent fantasy becomes a refuge for the pseudocommando’s damaged ego and provides a sense of power and control.  And without intervention, rumination and fantasy may become obsessional until a stage where violent fantasy becomes a template for action. If this progression continues unabated until nihilism takes place, commitment to violence is affirmed and often commenced in a planned manner or initiated by a trigger event.

So what does any of that craziness have to do with you and me?

Well, perhaps the pseudocommando’s pathology is nothing but an exaggeration of behavior we witness every day in most human beings.

Starting with narcissism, it seems most people spend the majority of life viewing the world through a subconscious prism of “What does it mean to/for me?”

In essence, we find ourselves perpetually motivated by desire for the ‘good stuff’ (pleasure, comfort, approval, attention, accomplishment) and seeking to escape the ‘bad stuff’ (pain, discomfort, disapproval, rejection, failure).

And if we watch closely, we can see how these primal impulses dominate our attention and behavior.

Now I suspect these polaric driving forces served a great value in evolutionary survival. Perhaps they’re the reason we derive pleasure from sex and eating calorie-rich foods, or seek warmth when our body temperature drops low. But in the modern world, these subconscious urges often result in a rollercoaster of irrational wants and fears resulting in all manner of mayhem. Just look at some of the things that stress people today…“Do I look good in that picture on Instagram?”, “Will people disapprove if I go to the store without doing my makeup?,” “Will my kid be a future failure because she got an F in math class or dyed her hair blue?”

When I discussed this matter with a friend recently, he responded by countering that his main focus these days was his company and family. Note the word “his” in this situation. Perhaps his attention was not centered on his personal desires and fears, but “his” company and family had become extensions of his identity by virtue of possession (“I” by association).

I am sure a few reading this may be offended by the notion that people are narcissistic in varying degrees. If you disbelieve me, great! Skepticism is the best launching point for using the scientific method. Try an experiment to disprove the hypothesis.

Experiment I

For the next few days, consciously observe how often you use the word “I” and “my” in thought and conversation. While at it, observe how much attention you devote to things that suggest possible reward or threaten harm.

Experiment II

(OPTIONAL)

Over the next week, observe what initial feelings arise when people approach you with a problem, bad news, or inopportune demand.

Another defining characteristic of the pseudocommando is “injustice collection.” This can also be described as held-resentment or more simply stated…Blame.

Here’s another area where maybe we don’t differ so much from the pseudocommando. Most people can’t navigate a single waking hour of the day without experiencing blame to some degree. It usually begins early when we blame our kids for leaving the milk out overnight or blame ourselves for misplacing our keys. This blame circus then continues through the day and up to the time we go to bed when we blame a stressful work situation for insomnia or our spouse for hoarding the bed covers.

I recently conducted a few experiments while having conversations with people and counted how many times someone expressed blame and its related behavior, complaint. I lost count after thirty minutes!

If you don’t believe me, great. Try an experiment…

Experiment III

Over the next few days, observe how many thoughts or statements you make in conversation expressing blame or complaint.
(Tip: Keep a counter handy!)

Experiment IV

(OPTIONAL)

If you have difficulty observing your own thoughts and behavior, go to a coffee house and sit next to a group of people and eavesdrop on the conversation. Make a game of counting how many times you hear people complain or blame.

Experiment V

Observe how often blame and the emotions that often accompany blame (e.g., annoyance, anger, guilt, resentment, etc.) actually change past events or improve situations.

In the end, perhaps the only difference between the average Joe and the pseudocommando is the degree of attention and importance devoted to blame.

So where does this blame stuff come from in the first place?

It seems blame is just a default cognitive response to situations where perceived reality doesn’t match our ideal (our vision of what ought-to-be). And this discussion point circles us right back to beliefs and ideals.

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As satirized in that Walgreens commercial, we humans seem stubbornly committed to the imaginary concept of a “Perfect World” and spend a noteworthy chunk of time and energy trying to ‘fix’ what is, worried, or otherwise spinning our wheels in frustration.

Here’s another fun experiment…

Experiment VI

Choose an uneventful weekend and write an essay about your “Perfect World.” Just let it flow in a ‘Finnegans Wake-style’ of whatever nonsense comes into mind. Really put some heart into it! Exhaust this exercise well and note any realizations that emerge.

Here’s some old examples from Craig’s Perfect World…

When we really peel the onion to its core, perhaps the only difference in motivation between us and the mass killers of the world are the specific ideals that occupy and fascinate our imagination.

Well, maybe the problem is simply that mass killers have delusional (or incorrect) beliefs and ideals.

After all, my beliefs are the right beliefs!…My perspective of reality is the true perspective of reality!

When conducting threat assessments, we emphasize focus on understanding how a person of concern perceives a situation (such as bullying or mistreatment by others) over just the facts of the situation itself. What the subject thinks is going on (in essence, his or her perspective of reality) is ultimately what matters in identifying a possible accelerating motive.

Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui wrote an extensive manifesto detailing his perceived persecution by people over the years. When investigated later, no one in Cho’s life ever remembered him being mistreated in any way.

Eliott Roger, responsible for the 2014 Isla Vista attacks, wrote a 137-page autobiography describing his hate for all girls because they didn’t want him, and men for having the girls. Perceived sexual rejection was his primary grievance for revenge. From the way Elliot described the situation, you would think this rejection stemmed from some condition of extreme unattractiveness such as obesity or physical disfigurement.

Quite the contrary, he was a good-looking kid.

It was basically all in his mind.

And that last statement, “all in his mind,” brings up a critical point in this discussion.

Most people approach life with the belief that they experience reality as objective truth. When in fact, all experience of reality is a constructed mental process influenced by countless subjective variables.

In waking states, information is received through sensory organs and processed into a mental image of physical reality. This sensory data is then interpreted through an unconscious cognitive process to provide context actionable for functioning. And belief plays a tremendous role in that final composite experience of reality.

Belief gives birth to ideals. And ideals give birth to judgement. And judgement, in turn, dictates how we value, relate, and react to our environment. It’s the complex prism through which everything we experience occurs.

Belief is defined as “something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction.” Beliefs frame the architecture of what we interpret as reality. Without them, we couldn’t function as human beings. In the absence of complete knowledge, we need to operate on some degree of assumption.

It seems where we get tripped up in life is when we hold our beliefs as empirical truth, rather than simply acknowledging belief as confident hypothesis. It’s easy to point at Cho Seung-Hui and Elliot Roger and label their beliefs as delusional. However, how many times in our lives do we pridefully defend beliefs that we later discover are untrue?

If the previous point wasn’t obvious, here are a few experiments to try…

Experiment VII

Reflect on how many times you wrongly held something to be true. It’s easy to remember major examples which resulted in undesired consequences. But if you observe closely, you may notice that it probably occurs on a daily basis.

Experiment VIII

Knowledge is defined as “facts and information acquired through experience.” With that definition in mind, ask yourself how much of what you regard as knowledge is actually unproven belief. Contemplate this for a while and you may discover something huge.

It seems there’s another underappreciated fact about human behavior: Whatever you, I, or the mass killer does is perceived as being right or justifiable at the moment it’s done. Now we may feel conflict coming to that decision and we might feel differently five minutes later, but at the moment we act, the action is perceived as right or justifiable.

Don’t believe me? Try an experiment…

Experiment IX

Reflect on how many “regretful decisions” you made in life where you later asked yourself, “What was I thinking?”

And that last point brings us to the most provocative idea in this essay…

Not only does the killer perceive their act as right or justifiable at the moment it’s done, but perhaps it was the only thing he could do at that moment considering all factors of influence.

When we blame mass murderers and ponder how someone could commit a horrific act of violence, we often speak with the assumption that the killer acted with a conscious choice. Yet if we observe carefully, it seems most actions executed by human beings are largely dictated by personal conditioning (e.g., beliefs, ideals, gain/escape impulses, etc.) and circumstances that provoke or influence that conditioning.

In essence, something ‘pushes our buttons’ and we react. Sometimes life pushes a ‘happy’ button, other times an ‘angry’ button. But most people seem to live from button-press to button-press with an inner experience largely dictated by circumstance.

When circumstance takes form as a suggestion promising something desirable or threatening harm, we often behave quite predictably in accordance with our conditioning. This power of suggestion can be witnessed everywhere in the form of advertising, sales, politics, leadership, religion, education, etc. I know a few marketing professionals, CEO’s, and retired spies who can strongly testify to this fact.

Consciously or not, we all know this truth and use it every day to our advantage when interacting with others. But when it comes to us personally, people often stand in denial.

Now if the notion of behaving mechanically offends you, make note of that feeling of offense. Did you consciously choose to feel offended? Or did the words in this article dictate your inner experience?

Better yet, try a real experiment…

Experiment X

Make a conscious decision to be continuously happy for the next three days. Make up your mind that nothing or no one can push your buttons. Attempt to disprove the hypothesis proposed here.

Once we understand how people function, we may begin to see that the killer’s conditioning resulted directly from a lifelong chain of seamless events beginning at birth and right up to the moment he picked up a gun or strapped on a suicide vest.

And that principle seems to be true for all of us!

For the author, the chain started in August 1968 in a Pennsylvania hospital and continued through fifty years of interconnected experience right up to the moment of writing these words tonight.

So what does any of this have to do with loving a mass murderer?

A poet once wrote:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Perhaps there’s a profound wisdom in those words.

Most humans beings approach life with a mistaken understanding…believing love is the product of favorable conditions which resulted in a spouse, or a child, or meeting others with similar beliefs and ideals. Some even believe they can willfully make themselves feel love to fulfill a religious obligation, only to feel guilty later when intention is insufficient. Love does not seem subject to the command of our desire. Rather…

Perhaps love is like light naturally radiating from a sun that never sets.

You don’t have to look for it. It’s always there, shining!

Only it’s often eclipsed as we stand with our back to it, obstructing its warmth and luminescence.

Instead, we often live like Plato’s cave dwellers, experiencing reality overcast and distorted by the shadows of our beliefs, our ideals, and ultimately, judgment.

So where do we begin?

Well, the experiments presented in this article are one possible place to begin.

Shine a light inward. Don’t worry about changing anything…Just watch.

Perhaps the simple act of observation can be a catalyst to something remarkable—a depth and availability of love you never knew was possible!

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