Beautiful and Compassionate Marketing from some Buddhists

Byron Brown, teacher and student of the Diamond Approach.  Image from 

Byron Brown, teacher and student of the Diamond Approach.  Image from 

A few years ago, I imagine about four or five years ago, the Diamond Heart school that I'm a student of made a decision to start marketing their courses and materials online.  For example, three days ago, I got an e-mail from the Diamond Heart advertising a course called "Soul Without Shame" with a 37-minute Vimeo teaser clip of a teaching on how we developped our sense of who we "ought to" be, our Superego.  It's a compassionate look at the ways we feel restricted as adults, and the judgement and anxiety we feel about whether or not we're living the way we should be.

Based out of California, the Diamond Heart school is, in my opinion, the best place to seek enlightenment while still living in the real world-- having a job, raising kids, growing your retirement fund, and being a member of your community.  If you wanted to leave the world, yes, you could go live in an ashram or become a Buddhist monk or devote yourself to full-time service to the Church, or you could just quit your job, stay home, and live off of social services while meditating all day.  But for those of us who want to participate in life, but at the same time, want to heal from the wounds that were inflicted by our very participation in that life, there is the option of the Diamond Heart.  By way of their teachings, you develop among other things, an understanding of the Buddhist philosophy of non-reaction and a mindfulness practice that are decidedly Eastern in origin, and a practical and profound understanding of your own individual ego structure that is unique to Western philosophy.  The integration of these tools helps you become more present in and to the various low-key and explicit traumas we have all experienced- for example, the trauma of being told in different ways you were not enough, or the trauma on the opposite side of the coin, or being told you were too much.  Or that you were not quite right in a different way.  The "goal" of spiritual work, if there is one, is to unfold into a healthier and less restricted version of the person you were meant to be.

As Buddhism in North America is relatively new-- only about 50 years old-- there are still questions about "how to be in the world".  Should a Buddhist be a political activist in the hate-driven and unpredictable times we now live in?  Buddhist practitioners in the US today are wrestling with whether or not to stand up and resist current trends, or are they changing the world enough by being non-reactive and teaching others how to find inner peace from the ravages of the human experience?  There are studies, after all, that demonstrate that just the act of meditating as a group lowers the crime rate in the city where the meditation is taking place, for the duration of the practice.  Isn't that enough?  I imagine a similar conversation started happening in the Diamond Heart school about four or five years ago as online courses became mainstream.  Should we advertise?  Is advertising spiritual?  From time to time throughout history, Buddhists have organized missionary efforts.  How about those- were they ego-driven?  Or a were they a selfless sacrifice?  Modern-day Enneagram teacher Don Riso famously said, "Nothing to fear, nothing to defend, nothing to promote."  Do we need to promote spiritual work?  Only those who are really ready to start their inner journey, it seems, find their way to the path, so why go looking for people if they're not ready?  If they're ready, don't they just naturally come to us?

I can imagine it wasn't easy to nagivate these conversations; nevertheless, within the last three years, you could tell there was an increased marketing effort and alignging with current online trends.  The DH started being more deliberate about their newsletters, they put together a [beautiful] new website, started paying more attention to their sound and video quality, became more tech-aware, improved the back-end so our user experience of their online portals wasn't so belabored, and most importantly, they started offering online courses to non-members- first for free, then at a cost.  Most recently, they have started offering online inquiry groups of eight-to-ten weeks long for people to do some inner exploration guided by a group leader.

Marketing is such an uncomfortable topic, but I find what they are doing to be very graceful, generous and compassionate.  For example, in the above-mentioned e-mail, Byron Brown's talk on the Superego was such a lift to my day this afternoon, I thought I would share it.  The reason this talk in particular stands out is that the exerpt isn't actually 37 minutes long-- it's 25 minutes and 33 seconds, to be exact.  The rest of the time is a departure from its low-key and inconspicuous metropolitan snobbery that's been embedded in Diamond Heart culture since I've learned about it.  It's not like you'd ever hear them say it-- they probably weren't even really conscious of it-- but there's always been, at least for me, an unspoken judgement underneath the surface that you should be doing this work in community, and if you don't live in a big sexy city where a Diamond Heart group meets, or if you can't afford to travel twice or three times a year to one of these groups, your experience of inquiry is necessarily going to be limited.  

It is true- you do need community- but the lack of attention to those outside the bigger city centers has always bugged me a bit.  However, at the end of this video, it's ten minutes of Byron looking into the camera and doing the inquiry with you in case you didn't have a partner.  I was deeply moved by this acknowledgement: "we can't all be there together".  Sometimes you live in a city where you don't know any other inquiry practitioners, or maybe you do, but you're too busy to meet, and you do have those ten minutes right there, and that's when you want to do the work. 

I'm attaching the link to the video here.  I hope it provides respite to anyone who needs it on this Sunday afternoon.


A GRE Question I Loved

It's rare to find beautifully clear and concise writing on the brain that makes you feel informed about actual brain function, but doesn't get bogged down by technical terms and laborious digressions into background neuroanatomy and physiology.  The following piece on how carnivores and herbivores developped different styles of attention for survival stood out to me for its simplicity and fluidity.  They say that if you want to really get a handle on a difficult topic, try explaining it to a child.  Obviously the audience here is a bit more sophisticated- a university undergrad studying for the GRE- and it's about animals, but it's applicable enough to humans that it helps you envision your own internal process when trying to concentrate or be mindful in the moment.  This exerpt is from the 2017 Official Guide to the GRE.  If you're interested, the four attendant GRE test questions and answers are available here

I love their definition of attention: "that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next".  Image source.

I love their definition of attention: "that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next".  Image source.

The evolution of intelligence among early large mammals of the grasslands was due in great measure to the interaction between two ecologically synchronized groups of these animals, the hunting carnivores and the herbivores that they hunted. The interaction resulting from the differences between predator and prey led to a general improvement in brain functions; however, certain components of intelligence were improved far more than others.

I actually own the rights to this one comic.  I bought them for 15$ in 2012 I think, and I have a receipt printed on pink paper somewhere in my filing cabinet, but for legality's sake, the source is Dilbert.  Obviously in the office context, Dilbert and his boss won't be evolving to predator any time soon.

I actually own the rights to this one comic.  I bought them for 15$ in 2012 I think, and I have a receipt printed on pink paper somewhere in my filing cabinet, but for legality's sake, the source is Dilbert.  Obviously in the office context, Dilbert and his boss won't be evolving to predator any time soon.

The kind of intelligence favored by the interplay of increasingly smarter catchers and increasingly keener escapers is defined by attention — that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next. It ranges from a passive, free-floating awareness to a highly focused, active fixation. The range through these states is mediated by the arousal system, a network of tracts converging from sensory systems to integrating centers in the brain stem. From the more relaxed to the more vigorous levels, sensitivity to novelty is increased. The organism is more awake, more vigilant; this increased vigilance results in the apprehension of ever more subtle signals as the organism becomes more sensitive to its surroundings. The processes of arousal and concentration give attention its direction. Arousal is at first general, with a flooding of impulses in the brain stem; then gradually the activation is channeled. Thus begins concentration, the holding of consistent images. One meaning of intelligence is the way in which these images and other alertly searched information are used in the context of previous experience. Consciousness links past attention to the present and permits the integration of details with perceived ends and purposes.

Cock-blocking endocrine system: This guy isn't bad with names so much as his adrenal glands are flooded with adrenaline every time he tries to get her name.  Evolution (and getting laid) turn out to be only for those who can harness the flight or fight response.

The elements of intelligence and consciousness come together marvelously to produce different styles in predator and prey. Herbivores and carnivores develop different kinds of attention related to escaping or chasing. Although in both kinds of animal, arousal stimulates the production of adrenaline and norepinephrine by the adrenal glands, the effect in herbivores is primarily fear, whereas in carnivores the effect is primarily aggression. For both, arousal attunes the animal to what is ahead. Perhaps it does not experience forethought as we know it, but the animal does experience something like it. The predator is searchingly aggressive, inner-directed, tuned by the nervous system and the adrenal hormones, but aware in a sense closer to human consciousness than, say, a hungry lizard’s instinctive snap at a passing beetle. Using past events as a framework, the large mammal predator is working out a relationship between movement and food, sensitive to possibilities in cold trails and distant sounds — and yesterday’s unforgotten lessons. The herbivore prey is of a different mind. Its mood of wariness rather than searching and its attitude of general expectancy instead of anticipating are silk-thin veils of tranquillity over an explosive endocrine system.


The Fours in Tarot

I have made the case on this blog before that the Enneagram and the Tarot had similar origins back in Ancient Egyptian and Greek days.  The Tarot has become, in my mind, a powerful tool for explaining the different mental, emotional, and instinctual reactions for each Enneagram type.  Maybe someone figured somewhere back in the day that if we could see our neuroses depicted as harmless cartoons, we could feel more comfortable accepting how we went off course and became "blocked from the divine". 

Spiritual Diversificiation

It's been about four months since I last blogged, and now suddenly, I have all these ideas for posts.  One reason might be because the Toronto Raptors start their 2017-2018 season on Oct 19- less than a month away- and I'm ramping up for another season of basketball with Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.  So whether my creative juices are linked to the NBA or not, let's get back in the game.  If you read this blog, you probably know

Why Things Don't Turn Out As Planned: The Law of Octaves

A few years ago, there was a video circulating around the internet of a blogger who was trying to start a blog, but kept getting distracted with Facebook and Reddit, so he posted an ad on Craigslist for someone to sit beside him and slap him across the face every time he got distracted.  Apparently the experiment was relatively successful.  Maybe not everyone has wished for a personal slapper, but everyone has certainly experienced the dissapointment of having started at point A with every intent on reaching point B by a certain time, and then, hours later, found themselves deep in something else. 

The Enneagram and Tarot

Over the last two years, I've had the most interesting and frustrating journey with tarot cards.  I started learning them two years ago and early on, began to see the connection between its archetypes and those of the Enneagram, which drove me to understand tarot as much as I could.  Surely, somewhere in humanity's distant history, the two modalities were used side-by-side, or at least they cross-pollinated each other over time.

Being Self-Pres on a Social Team

Patrick Patterson

Patrick Patterson

I was watching the Raptors versus Knicks game yesterday, and the TSN commentators brought up Patrick Patterson and Demarre Carole.  Yesterday was the Raptors' 50th win this season, so they're doing extremely well.  Yesterday it was mentioned that, due to coach Casey's work on the team over the past seven years, this is the golden era of Raptors basketball.  But no matter how good you are, there's still tension and excitement in the air because playoffs are starting in five days.  Moreover, the Raptors are playing the Cavaliers this Wednesday, who are #1 in the Eastern Conference.

Demarre Carroll

Demarre Carroll

So the TSN commentator, Jack Armstrong, was saying that if Patrick Patterson and Demarre Carole can take their game up a notch, this team can be a definite contender against the LeBron Jameses and the Steph Curries of the playoffs.  They need to work on their 3-point shooting, and if they can do that, the Raptors will have a serious chance going forward. 

As if on cue, Patrick Patterson starting scoring a bunch of threes in the fourth quarter, but it made me think about these two guys because they stand out to me for a different reason.  Apart from DeRozan himself, they are two of the only Self-Preservation guys on the team.  (I've written a lot about the Self-Preservation versus Social versus Sexual instincts here on this blog, but you can also google it.)  Their team has a really Social feel, and when you're Self-Pres around a bunch of Socials, it takes a little more work to get grounded and feel part of the team's groove.  "Reading the groove" in a group is a language that takes some skill- it comes super naturally to Socials of course; Self-Preses have to be more mindful about relaxing into it, and when there's nerves, three-pointers tend to get missed.  Of course, I don't know these guys personally, and there is also Sexual (a more intensely-focused energy, not necessarily "sexual" as in sex, and definitely not in this context) energy on the team as well with Ibaka and Tucker being brought on recently. 

But my heart goes out to two guys who have a bit extra work to do in the Social department to not only fit in as a Raptor, but also respect their own groove, because when you're a minority around Socials, it can make you feel less smart, less capable, and less present.  (DeRozan is a different story.  As a Type 9, he's got something different going on.  Nines blend into anything, and Self-Pres Nines just don't care what anyone thinks of them.)

Anyway, that's my Enneagram perspective on those two guys.  If anyone has different insight, let me know!

Math Problems

There was once a man who was given a particular set of math problems to solve during his lifetime.  Everyone on earth was given some kind of problem, and for him it was math.  He was a great orator, saying many things at length, but over the years, people eventually saw that his speeches were lacking in substance, for he couldn't solve his math problems and was just saying a lot of things without saying anything, although how impressive were his words!  And his confidence!  And his voice!  Thankfully he was discovering this his growing teenage daughter could solve the math problems.  He'd call her into his office and say, "Iris, solve this for me."  And she would.  Happy to move on to the next problem, he'd thank and dismiss her.  By the time he was in his fifties, he was overwhelmed.  The problems were getting too complex for him.   Although he loved the attention he got for the sexiness of the problems he was getting assigned, he hated math, and didn't like spending time on the equations when he could be speaking in the market square.  He needed to give the entire assignment over to his daughter.  He organized a big ceremony in the neighborhood to honor her, made great speeches about math, how coincidentally gifted his daughter was, and at the apex of the night, in front of her family and all her neighborhood friends, handed her his entire folder of math assignments.  The attendees cheered, and so, under pressure to be smiling, but feeling her eyes sting with tears, she clumsily curtsied and accepted the "gift". 

The party continued late into the night, and when people came up to congratulate her, only a handful of people noticed that now Iris had two sets of assignments in her arms- her fathers bourgeoning folder, and a smaller, thinner folder.  Her own assignments had only recently been delivered to her, and the delivery person had his face covered when he came, so she had very little to go on.  Not nearly enough to pay attention to.  So the next day, she packed up her things and went on a long journey to find the answers to her father's math problems. 

The journey took many, many years.  She travelled all over the world by foot, by boat, by cart and bus, and after quite some turmoil, ended up at a fair in a dry and dusty desert.  She walked past a booth where a young, enterprising man was speaking to a small crowd- a handful of people only- maybe just 5 or 6 men; and she stopped and joined the crowd.  He was the creator of her father's math problems.  He had three small, white packages in his hands, and he was explaining what happened when someone didn't complete their own math assignments.  With the first package in his hand, he explained that if someone completed all the math problems themselves-- he held it above a pool of water-- it floated above the surface of the water, and no damage was caused to the contents of the package.  With the second package in his hand, he went on to explain what happened when a student saddled other people in his life with his math problems here and there.  He dropped it in the pool of water, and this one stopped short of falling in the water, but just touched the surface of the water.  Slowly, through osmosis, the contents of the package became wet and were ruined.  Finally with the third package in his hand, he demonstrated what happened to a student who gave his assignment completely over to someone else, and he dropped the package in the water, and it was fully submersed.  The men around the booth gasped; the contents were completely ruined-- at least they thought so.  Knowing that the math problems that the weary, dust-covered woman was carrying were not her own, the teacher leaned down to open up the third package.  He pulled out its contents and gave it to Iris.  It was a gift for the person who carried someone else's assignment: a set of tarot cards sealed in a plastic wrap.  The cards were dry!  And they were for her!  They were beautiful, too; the reverse was black with little designs of jewels and flowers, and the pictures themselves looked hand-drawn by a real artist. 

Iris couldn't contain her happiness, she left the booth smiling broadly with the cards in her hand.  Over the next few years, she taught herself how to use them.  With them, she made friends and established a life for herself in her new country.  She still had her father's math problems with her, but she never carried the folder around like she used to.  She could go out and leave it at home.  Every once in a while, she'd peek in, but mostly she was concerned with her own growing assignment.  She was eager to understand the problems in her own folder- they were not math- they were of a different nature- her set of assignments dealt with music, but she couldn't figure out how to solve them, an they were growing heavier and heavier with each passing year.  She tried doing what her father had done- "sub-assigning" them to hapless passersby, but nobody took the bait- at least not like she had with her father.  Resigned to being burried under a mass of music assignments, she carried them as much as she could in a carry-on strapped to her chest, and as the paper piled higher, she noticed how they covered her face, and she was glad to note one day that if no one could see her face, they couldn't hand her any more assignments!

One day, the answer came.  She was in the market square with two of her friends.  They were at the garlic and ginger seller's booth, when a short, well-dressed man approached them from behind and tapped Iris on the shoulder.  She whirled around quickly, and amidst loose assignment papers flying around her, she saw a stout, important-looking man holding a pen and paper, looking up at her.  He wore a white, ruffled shirt and from within the ruffles around his neck arose a dignified voice.  "Iris", he said, "a committee has met and noticed how strong your ab muscles are from all that carrying you're doing."  He motioned to her laborsome carrying pack.  "Every year, the most talented musicians and lyricists are commissioned to write three songs for three lucky winners, and with that powerful diaphragm of yours, you are one of them.  I am the composer of one of the three songs."  Iris was caught off guard and had to hold on to the ginger booth behind her to support both herself and her carrying pack.  She wasn't used to winning anything, but she loved the idea and she accepted a time to meet with the man to learn his song. 

The next day, at the agreed upon practicing space, he asked her to leave her carrying pack at the door.  She walked to the piano in the middle of the room on her tippie toes, surprised at how light she felt, and she sat down at the piano.  He taught her how to play, and he wrote her lyrics for her as she played.  She was to be ready to perform at next year's big concert, and ready she would be.  But for now, Iris was overjoyed at the beautiful music she was playing and singing.

Using the Right Vocabulary for The Id in Types 4, 5, and 9

Every time I give an Enneagram talk, I discard the old one and completely re-write it.  I don't know why because it ends up being very similar to the previous one, although I do get something out of the repetition.  Writing the material over and over again gets me more and more familiar with each psychic structure, reinforcing how our personality types are triggered as we descend down the levels into a contracted state, and what landmarks we meet as we go up into the realm of expansive emotional well-being.  

The Three Types To Worry About Not Voting

According to the 19th century psychoanalyst Karen Horney, there are three categories of people in the world, those who become more assertive under stress, those who become more dutiful to the Superego when stressed, and those who withdraw from the world.  The Enneagram, with its nine types, fits neatly into this model of human behavior, with three Enneagram types in each Hornevian category.  Types 3, 7, and 8 become more assertive, types 1, 2, and 6 become more compliant toward Superego demands, and types 4, 5, and 9 withdraw into themselves.