Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Let's explore the concept of territoriality in humans.

What is a territory, exactly? It seems to me that it's a pattern of boundaries imposed on something by individual decision or group agreement. That means an individual or group can decide or agree to change the pattern. The pattern itself is established by a set of rules that define the pattern, so changing the pattern is done by changing the rules. The rules are changed by changing the symbols we use to form the rules, i.e. words, images, feelings and actions. When a territory is threatened, then, we can either defend it, attack the territory of the attacker, suffer the trauma of invasion, or change the rules of the territory.

As territory we can consider physical territory (the physical body, real and personal property); social territory (family, intimates, clan, tribe, peer group, club, associations, other social, cultural or religious groupings); and psychic territory (thoughts, opinions, theories, philosophies, plans, purposes, dreams, memories, time).

It is possible to think of humans as basically territorial animals, and to think of evil as based on a violation of territory or territorial rights, and good as based on an opening up or giving up of territory or territorial rights.

Among the things we consider evil and worthy of punishment are the destruction, damaging or appropriation of life and property; the breaking up of social ties and reputations; and the theft of ideas, the breaking of rules, the attacking of ideas, the frustration of plans, the invasion of dreams, the changing of memories and the wasting of time. Interestingly, any of these are less than evil and perhaps not evil at all when done to a being not of one's own social territory. To the warrior-oriented mind, the invasion, destruction, and/or appropriation of territory belonging to another social group may even be deemed as good, since it expands the territory or territorial influence of one's own group.

Among the things we consider good, loving and worthy of reward are the giving up or allowing the use of life and property; the strengthening and extension of social connections; and respect or tolerance for psychic territory. Also the healing of territorial violations.

A curious aspect of human territoriality is how we sometimes assign human territorial concepts to certain non-human entities and not others. For instance, many humans will acknowledge the spirit of a mountain, or a glen, or an ancient structure and show respect for that spirit by asking permission to cross into what is perceived as its territory. Yet, those same humans will blithely trespass the territorial boundaries of the birds, animals, insects and plants who live in the area. The logic is something like asking the spirit of a city for permission to enter and then freely roaming through anyone's home that you care to. The point is not that we should ask every entity's permission to cross boundaries, especially if they don't think in the same terms that we do. The point is to show how arbitrary our territorial ideas are.

Another such arbitrary territorial idea comes under the heading of "personal space." Having lived in and visited many parts of the world, I can assure you that different cultures, and even different people within those cultures, may have quite different ideas of personal space. A "typical" American prefers to speak to strangers literally at arm's length. A "typical" Swiss prefers a distance of twelve to eighteen inches and a "typical" Japanese prefers about two arm's lengths, both of which may discomfort many Americans. Of course, friends in any culture are usually allowed closer within one's personal territory. If personal territory is violated too frequently it can cause severe stress.

It might be interesting to look at illness as a symptom of territorial conflict, too. Illness might be considered as a reaction to a sense of real or potential invasion or disruption of territory. The fear and/or anger resulting produce the stress that produces the illness. Healing would result when a state of territorial integrity was restored. Perhaps different things affect different people differently because their sense of territory differs, as does their sense of personal power in regard to defending or expanding it.

The different solutions to the problem of human unhappiness may be looked at in a territorial way, as well. There is the path of control, which seeks to extend influence over more and more territory (Louis XIV: "I am the State"); the path of release which seeks to give up all territory (Yoga: the master/beggar; Buddhism: beyond all desire); and the path of peace, which seeks to reduce or eliminate conflict between territories (New Age ideas: unity in diversity models, NATO, the UN).

The territorial imperative for humans seems to be to expand one's physical, social or psychic territory, and denying all territory is the same as claiming all territory. Assuming this to be so, what is your territorial imperative? What can you focus on that will stir you to your bones, fill your life with passion and purpose? Can you create that effect by your will? It would seem that you would have to if nothing stirs you on its own. 

A good direction might be to carry on and intensify something you have already begun, i.e., to make that something into your territorial imperative. To identify with it, increase it and expand it; to focus on it intensely and energize that focus with all your love, power and skill. Who knows what amazing things might result?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why Is There War?

People engage in war because they want to love or be loved. Although this may sound absurd at first, let's give it a closer look, because if we can understand the motivation for war then we might be able to redirect it.

The most fundamental human need is to be accepted, and the most fundamental fear is to be rejected. The old idea that survival comes first just doesn't hold up in the light of experience because it doesn't account for those who risk their lives for others, even strangers, and for those who commit suicide. And the fear of death is the fear of the ultimate rejection: by life itself.

Acceptance can be sought from oneself, one's environment (including people), or one's God, and many different strategies are used to ensure acceptance. If these strategies are pursued without fear, including fear-based anger, the result will be peace and cooperation. But as the fear of possible rejection increases, so does the tendency to seek acceptance by control or submission. Then the result is emotional repression, social suppression, and the use of violence to prove one's power or to make others accept oneself whether they want to or not.

In the case of war, the leaders who make the major decisions set standards to judge behavior by the "other side" as acceptable or unacceptable, motivated by their personal or group standards of self acceptance or acceptance from those around them. And those who obey the orders to march off to death and destruction are motivated by the desire to be accepted by doing "the right thing" or the fear of being rejected, and/or punished, for not doing it. What's so sad is that the fundamental intention is so good.

The "glory" of war lies in the experience of incredible bravery, intense companionship, demonstrations of skill, the overcoming of limitations, successfully protecting one's country or loved ones or companions, and the adulation for the winners. Yet, until we find a better way to satisfy the need for acceptance and the desire for real power, people will continue to go to war out of love.

Our great challenge, therefore, is not just to end war, but also to develop alternatives to war which still provide the benefits that only very intense experiences can generate, as well as satisfying the need for love.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Rules We Live By

Many people spend their entire lives seeking to know the laws or rules of the universe, so I've decided to save them a lot of time by giving them out now, for free. Be forewarned that this is based on a shamanic view of the universe in which everything is alive, aware and responsive.

The Universe and everything in it has three aspects: Spirit, Body, and Mind. Each of these aspects has its own rules. The better we understand these rules the easier it will be for us to grow, to heal, and to have a good time.

Spirit has one rule only: "Experience existence." That's it. No conditions, no shoulds, no limits. And no avoiding it.

The Body only has two rules: "Seek pleasure" and "Avoid pain." Since the way to do this is not always clear under all circumstances, the Body will sometimes move toward pain in order to experience some associated sensory or emotional pleasure. This would be like climbing a mountain for the pleasure of the view, working out for the energy benefit, or undergoing surgery to get well. Sometimes pleasure does not seem to be an option, in which case the Body will try to move toward the least available pain. We can see this in people who drink themselves sick to suppress emotional pain, people who stay in bad relationships for fear of having none at all, and people who commit violent suicide. Then there are those who move away from pleasure for fear of an associated pain, such as people who avoid success for fear of criticism, those who believe that pleasure is a sin punishable by God, and those who believe that pleasure makes you weak. For the most part, however, it is easy to note that all spontaneous, intuitive and subconscious behavior follows the rules of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

What about the Mind? Hooboy! The Mind is a rule-making fanatic. It makes rules - lots and lots of rules - about everything imaginable. It makes rules about language, rules about religion, rules about behavior, even rules about the Universe. And when it wants something badly enough, why it goes ahead and changes the rules. So we have hundreds of languages around the world, hundreds of cultures based on their own ideas of right and wrong, hundreds of ways to relate to God, hundreds of scientific theories about hundreds of subjects, hundreds of countries with their own variations on political systems, hundreds of thousands of laws governing behavior in different societies... you get the idea. Ask anyone's opinion about anything and what you will hear are the rules they live by. They may call their rules opinions, beliefs or facts, but they are only rules, some inherited, some borrowed, and some made up.

Breaking rules is tricky. Just try to break the rule of Spirit. Non-existence does not seem to be an option. And when you try to break the rules of the Body you usually get severe and immediate physical or emotional consequences. The Body wants its pleasure and fears all pain, so woe to the Mind that tries to alter its natural inclinations without good reason.

There are consequences to breaking the rules of the Mind, but they depend on which rules are involved and who else is involved with them. You can break a legal law with impunity if no one else is around, unless you confuse legality with morality (they do coincide, occasionally). If you break a moral law, one that you've accepted as your own, when no one else is around, you'll probably punish yourself. You can break the rules of language, but you risk being misunderstood. You can break the rules of science any time you want, as long as you are not seeking a grant, but some things may not work the way you want them to. You can break the social rules of your group, if you don't mind being cast out.

I don't recommend breaking rules. I recommend using the rules of Spirit and the Body, and playing creatively with the rules and rule-making talent of the Mind. With rules of the Mind it's much easier to make different rules than to try and break old ones. Rules that are not used any longer just fade away. You can make up any rules you want about anything you want (I'm not giving you permission; this is just something anyone can do). You can make different rules about how you think and how you feel, and what is possible, and what you can do, and about what the past means and what the future will bring. The rules you use affect your behavior and your experience. Change your rules and your life will change. Maybe it's time to examine the rules you live by, and to create some new ones.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Friendly Kind Of Love

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

This statement of Jesus from John 15 has become so familiar that it's easy to miss what's really being said. In context it is saying that there is no greater kind of love than friendship. Not brotherly, or sisterly, or parental or devotional or altruistic love. Friendship tops them all. The rest of the chapter contains equally important and related statements that are seldom quoted. Here's the whole thing:

"This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends ... Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my father I have made known unto you."

This is a relationship of equals, the highest form of love that Jesus can offer his disciples. It is also worth noting that at other times when Jesus greets someone, even Judas, it is as "Friend." Never as Brother or Sister, for instance. As a matter of fact, Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Of course, if a brother is also a friend, that changes everything.

A couple of other things worth noting from the Bible: Exodus 33:11 says "And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." And in the Book of James it says that Abraham was called the "Friend of God." Obviously this term was used on purpose to convey a very high kind of mutual love.

In modern times a psychological study of happiness showed that it was mostly attained by people with at least one close relationship and a circle of supporting friends. An apparent anomaly in the study was that soap opera buffs tended to rank higher in happiness than non-buffs, and it has been suggested that the buffs think of the actors as their friends. The friends don't have to be people, either. Other studies show that people with pets as friends tend to be not only happier, but healthier, too.

Is there a difference between friendship and love? Apparently not. In Middle English the word "friend" means "lover," and it stems from a word in Old Gothic meaning "to love." If anything, it implies a deeper kind of love, one that goes beyond obligation.

Hawaiians had many terms for "friend" that signified varying degrees and types of friendship. Hoaloha (beloved companion), for example, is a general term for friend. Makamaka (face to face) is a friend with whom you share freely. Aikane (probably "dependable") is a close, personal friend of the same sex. Pilialoha (sticky love) is a romantic friend. And here's a great one: 'au ko'i (axe handle), a trusted friend.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said "The only way to have a friend is to be one." But many people have trouble making friends because they don't know how to be one. So here is a set of guidelines to help you remember:

F = Freedom (give up control)
R = Respect (respect your differences)
I = Interest (take an interest in your friend's interests)
E = Equality (treat your friend like an equal)
N = Nurture (nurture your friend's best qualities)
D = Devotion (be loyal and helpful whenever, wherever, and for as long as you can)

These aren't new ideas. You can find all of them in the sayings of many well-known people.
Here are some of my favorite quotes on friendship.

Let's start with a couple by that famous author, Anonymous:

"Don't walk in front of me. I may not follow. Don't walk behind me. I may not lead. Walk beside me. Just be my friend" and, "You know you have found a friend when you walk in their house and your WiFi connects automatically."

Writer Elbert Hubbard said, "A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you."

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, "It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages."

Artist Linda Grayson said, "There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate."

A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh, wrote "You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes."

Poet and Cartoonist Shel Silverstein wrote this little poem:
"How many slams in an old screen door?
Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
Depends how good you live 'em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends how much you give 'em."

French author of The Three Musketeers Alexander Dumas said, "Friendship consists in forgetting what one gives and remembering what one receives."

The Greek historian Plutarch said, "I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better."

Celebrity Oprah Winfrey said, "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down."

Another good one by Friedrich Nietzsche: "Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes."

Writer Jess C. Scott said, "Friends are the family you choose."

Self Help author Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

And I'll close this list with a simple, but powerful Hawaiian proverb about friendship:
"Pili kau, pili ho'oilo - Together in the dry season, together in the wet season"