In Defense of Discourse

Today, a co-worker and I had an earnest and intelligent discussion about food philosophies.  She espouses a certain food lifestyle that I wished to know more about.  I had read opposing views and seen conflicting statistics and wondered what the “real” story was.  To be perfectly honest, I leaned a little bit against her views, but sincerely wished to understand the other side better.  We had a wonderful and serious debate, where she allowed me to present the views which clashed with hers.  She listened to me.  I listened to her.  And then we went back to work.

Does it ever seem to you as if this situation RARELY happens?  Why does it sometimes feel as if you CAN’T express a contrary opinion, even if you are just searching for answers?  Why can’t we talk about our various beliefs and inquire about the why’s and wherefore’s of someone else’s views without it becoming a heated argument?

Now, perhaps someone’s dietary choices are not a sufficiently inflammatory topic, and so of course our conversation was civil.  Maybe if we had talked religion or politics, the outcome might have been very different.  (I really don’t think so, however, knowing what a sweetheart my co-worker is.)

Does the topic matter?  Do the personalities of the conversationalists matter?  I think “yes” on both those counts.

But wouldn’t it be a relief if we could all temper our egos a bit, let the other side to be heard, and allow for the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the thoughts that rumble around in our heads might be incomplete, or even wrong?


It’s winter here in North America.  Today is an especially grey, chilly day.  A chance of snow according to my weather app.  Cold weather and limited daylight make for a sleepy, uninspired combination in my book.  It’s no wonder our animal friends invented hibernation for this time of year.  We humans seem to invent holidays and reasons to have parties to get us through the winter. 

Solitude and introspection are difficult, and I sometimes think we come up with ways to avoid it.  Sitting with our thoughts and feelings can be painful, humbling, and even depressing.  It’s much more fun to come up with St. Knut’s Day and National Cornchip Day and Superbowl parties to distract us.  We are a “seek pleasure, avoid pain” kind of people, aren’t we?

But what if we weathered the storm of our thoughts?  What if we allowed ourselves to experience the winter and the cycle of light and dark?  What could we learn if we bravely faced our internal January?

Remember, spring will come again. . . .

The Downside of Awareness?

Awareness, I think, is one of the better qualities we can cultivate.  By paying attention and by striving to know ourselves, we can turn experience into wisdom.

But sometimes paying attention turns into navel gazing, where we get so focused on our own thoughts and our own Self that we forget to live in the real world with the other human beings.  Or we fall victim to spiritual materialism, as described by Chogyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (  There is a fine line between being aware and being egocentric.

Recently I came across two interesting items that highlighted this phenomenon of going down the proverbial rabbit hole.  The first was a television show on the National Geographic channel about the Mayan calendar and the now-infamous date of December 21, 2012.  The documentarian travelled to Guatemala and, through an interpreter, questioned several locals of Mayan descent.  He asked them about the so-called Mayan prophecies.  To a person, every one of them stared, nonplussed, at the interpreter and claimed no knowledge of such a prophecy.  Now, my Spanish is sufficient enough to know that the interpreter did indeed ask the question that the documentarian wanted, so there was no mix-up there.  Why the denial, then?  Perhaps everything could have been staged.  Perhaps there is a conspiracy by Mayan descendants to keep the knowledge secret and away from the white men.  But I think the more likely explanation is that the locals were aware enough of the Mayan calendar to know that 12-21-12 is just another day in the great circle of life, but not so overly aware and full of self-importance as to make it into a big deal.

I read about the second item in the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno.  According to their findings, in cultures where older women are viewed as respected elders, menopause symptoms are almost unheard of.   The authors even state that osteoporosis is extremely rare in those cultures where achieving old age is seen as a sign of divine blessing and great wisdom.  But here in the West, where eternal youth is valued, women experience hot flashes, headaches, and forgetfulness.  In fact, Western medicine classifies menopause as a disease.  They conclude that if our Western society would adopt a different cultural view of older women, then menopausal symptoms would cease to be.

The point here, in my opinion, is that our perspective is indeed our reality.  So is your reality one of spiritual materialism and navel gazing, where your thoughts imprison you in an apocalyptic world filled with hot flashes and night sweats?  What do you think?


Rhymes with Plateau, not Carrot

I woke up this morning thinking about tarot cards.  That tells me that my unconscious mind has my back.

You see, I’ve recently been struggling with understanding some things about myself and about my current personal life.  In my typical Virgo Rising, over-analyzey way, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to sort these things out.  Sometimes I feel like some kind of mental ninja, attacking every thought and idea in my own head, tearing them apart to see what makes them tick.  But this time, I wasn’t having much success at getting to the heart of them.

Enter the tarot.

A standard tarot deck contains 78 cards, with 22 major arcana and 56 minor arcana.  The major cards deal with the larger turning points in life; the minor ones, then, are about the everyday events.  Each card has a symbolic meaning, and the cards can be arranged in several ways to help us understand particular dilemmas or answer general questions.

Now, please don’t think that I am suggesting that tarot cards are for fortune-telling or magic in the Harry Potter sense.  While I would absolutely love to have my own elder wand, I do not believe in fate or anything that would make fortune-telling possible.  Predictions imply that I have no say in my own destiny.

Rather, I think tarot (and astrology and other similar sorts of magic) is for helping us to see what is in our own unconscious mind.  The unconscious mind contains so much information, but much of it is too scary or heavy to deal with.  That’s why we wrestle with stuff for so long sometimes.  We might not yet be ready to hear the information the unconscious has to offer.  So it gets parceled out in manageable bits.

By looking at a spread of tarot cards, we get information that we ourselves have chosen, and it’s in a symbolic language that forces us to slow down and think and uncover meanings for ourselves.  In other words, we declared ourselves a willing student, we chose our own curriculum, and we went to work voluntarily.  I don’t think that lessons that are handed to us really stick, at least not the same way that experienced lessons do.  It’s the difference between being told not to touch the hot stove and actually touching the stove so you know for yourself that it’s hot.

For me, then, thinking about tarot cards this morning tells me that I am ready for more information and that I am ready for some new insights.  My unconscious mind gave me a little nudge, suggesting a new route for my train of thought.  Who am I to ignore that?  So, if you will excuse me now, I am going to drink my coffee and ponder the Moon card.




Today’s column is written by guest author Jennifer Erickson, licensed professional counselor.  This column originally appeared on Facebook and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Be gentle with people today. That person who cut you off really could be en route to the hospital. The spouse who says “I can’t today” may really mean it for reasons neither of you fully understand. That jerk customer might have served our country and suffered a traumatic brain injury that affects his mood. The woman who seems bitchy at the grocery store may have been raped as a child.

It’s perfectly ok to avoid these people or to feel mad with the knowledge of exactly what they should or could be doing differently…. Just please remember they do not have your distance or clarity about their situation. Not yet anyway. In the spirit of them gaining insight and behaving better, please render a heartfelt prayer or thought – rather than a harsh judgment – as you walk by or away.

Sad likelihood: They really are doing the best they know how to right now. Happy thought: Your kind smile or wish may somehow nudge them closer to wanting help or gaining sensibility of some kind. Whatever compassionate vibe you can leave in the space between you is good hard work, I know. So on behalf of whomever you do it with, thank you. May it uplift you both.
Do you have something to say that fits in with the aim4wisdom theme?  Let me know!  And remember to add your shorter bits of wisdom to The Wisdom List!  Entries accepted until August 31st.  Winner announced early September.