Lenten Bitching

I’ve got something I want to write, but I’m having trouble with how to do so and not have it come out as a bunch of mealy mouthed new age crap. I believe in the validity of these precepts, but at the same time they are easily abused.

An excellent example would be the Kairos Foundation. I’ve done a couple of workshops with them and generally found their ideas useful, but some of the people who work with them get too dogmatic. I wanted to look up a website for them and the first Google Search for “kairos foundation” is a page denouncing them as a cult.

A big part of what distinguishes a cult from more benign groups of like minded people is tied in with exclusivity. One of the things that makes me squeamish about the LT stuff is that they’ve taken several concepts from cognitive and humanistic psychology and repackaged them. I understand that they are selling to a Average Joe and that he isn’t looking to get a psych degree. All he needs is some methods for straightening out problems with his brain.

Some people get to thinking that the only people who get these ideas are the Kairos people and therein lies the danger of cultishness. It isn’t like they’ve got a monopoly on the phenomena. I come from the buckle of the Bible belt. I grew up with people who knew God personal and who knew all the rest of those heathens were headed straight to Hell. The difference between fundamentalist Christians and Kairos people is there are enough fundamentalists that you aren’t allowed to call them a cult anymore.

Anyhow, I’ll try not to sound like I’ve given over my autonomy of reasoning. One of the things the Kairos people do during a weekend is make all the participants take on a set of disciplines. I can’t remember most of them, but they were stuff life:

  • No more than one cup of coffee a day
  • No smoking
  • No non-prescribed drugs
  • No cursing (Maybe, I forget)

There was a general broad spectrum of things covering the sorts of things that people do without thinking or which they do to calm themselves down.

It is based around the idea that you’ve got a map of reality in your head. (I think Peck explained the idea pretty well in The Road Less Traveled.) Every moment of every day you’ve got data coming in and you’re making hundreds of choices about what you’re going to do. The vast majority of these are made without conscious intervention. Sort of like pachinko game where the pegs are set, an event comes in, and a decision pops out the bottom.

The basic configuration of pegs (i.e. values, fears, etc.) that most people have come from their parents. Most everyone has at least a couple things they are not happy with in themselves. Perhaps you’d like to be more outgoing or more caring or more disciplined or whatever. Dealing with those issues requires that one can recognize what’s there now. A big reason for the disciplines is to make what is normally unconscious and smoking and cursing are things people often do without thinking. Breaking those routines can be used to help someone get used to paying attention to the stuff that’s going on inside.

The other major part of changing is gaining the actual power. This hits on another generally hokey subject: self-esteem. Self-esteem has come to mean self-aggrandizement in the popular vernacular. As baseless warm-fuzzies it has little meaning. As a recognition that people both have self concepts and that these concepts frequently affect their behavior in self-reinforcing ways; it can be very important.

People are not all reliable to the same extent. I have friends for who if they tell me they are going to do it then that task goes into the “done” bin. I have other friends that I know to check up on. This awareness of reliability holds true on an internal level as well. People have some idea of whether they can be counted on. Take a look at your New Year’s resolutions. How serious were you when you made them? How do you stand with them now?

Knowing that I can make a decision and stick to it even when it is not entertaining is one of the things that meditation helped with. Sitting staring at the wall for twenty minutes can get really boring. To sit down and do it even when you know it is going to suck requires discipline. (More than I’ve got currently since it was a part of Lent and I’ve done it a grand total of three times.)

The ability to change how your reactions is based on those two aforementioned characteristics: perceptivity and reliability. Disciplines tie into the development of both of these. This, combined with being easily bored, is why I do Lent. It has been frustrating having people talk to me about God being upset if I break my discipline. I don’t generally correct people since if they didn’t bother with finding out I was a Taoist to begin with, I figure not much will be gained by disillusioning them.

I suppose that I prefer the God arguments to the more informed arguments of people who tell me that I’m just wasting my time and no self-improvement will come of this. The first is just uninformed whereas the second is my friends in what I consider a breach of their duties of friendliness. As a friend I consider it my job to, if not agree with, at least tolerate the eccentricities in my friends if it seems to be something really important to them. Oh well, I suppose everyone can’t be as good a friend as me. ☺

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