The Ghosts of Other Stories

Every time an unpleasant event happens we try to make sense of it. How do we do that? By focusing on a person/race/group/country to blame, an original cause that led to the effect of the unpleasant event. This pattern works the same way in a marital fight, in interracial violence, in almost all forms of conflict from individual to international. How much suffering and damage does our search for a scapegoat add to the conflict and help to keep it alive forever after…
There are no stories in a riot, only ghosts of other stories,” says a voice over in a film about the racial riots in England.
Let us take a most common example of a conflict: a marital fight. I can basically think of no fight that is only about the thing it claims to be. The ghosts of past resentments, little disappointments, previous unsolved conflicts, personal anxieties, identity pains, etc., whisper in an incomprehensible voice covered by our loud matches of the blaming game. Our mind tries to simplify all the complex web spun by those ghosts by pointing a finger: “It is your fault.” The irony is that a pointed finger does not solve any conflict but it invites the other finger to point as well: “No, it is YOUR fault.” Let us unpack the ghosts a little bit: a conflict between 2 people is produced through the unsuccessful interaction of two people, both coming to that interaction with their own inner worlds. Person 1 is a whole world in itself in interaction with person number 2, another whole world in itself.
Our pasts speak through us: our parents, our education, our traumatic experiences, our gender, racial or national identity.
Our imagined future also speaks through us: our desires, our needs, our expectations about our lives and the world around us.
A conflict happens when there is a rupture in the connection of the two worlds, a failure to communicate and listen to the other. And boy, do we have great skills at solving it!!! “You started it.” “No, YOU started it.” “You should be the one punished.” “No, YOU should be the responsible one.” This way we make sure we will both be punished through other future conflicts. The walls we build through blaming will isolate us further and deepen the conflict.
Making sense should not be an act of reduction but one of expansion: I need to understand your world, you need to understand my world and we both need to understand the interaction between these two worlds. When we give a voice to the ghosts and offer them a place at the discussion table they will stop haunting us.

Soul Beauty

It is mind-boggling how much money, time and effort people, (especially women), spend for a beautiful appearance. A study shows that in U.S. people pay more for their bodily beauty than they pay for education. They do that for a good reason. Research shows that beautiful people tend to be more successful, have higher salaries and generally better life satisfaction. There is a hidden catch to the results of that research: beauty makes people be better at relationships because they feel more at ease in their bodies and in the presence of others. In other words, they are more successful because they feel better about themselves. When it comes to close relationships a lot of people prioritize inner traits and qualities that make others attractive.
How much money, time and effort do we pay for what we mysteriously call “inner beauty?” How much do we invest in becoming happier, kinder, more compassionate, more peaceful and accepting? How much would the quality of our lives improve if we invested not more but just as much as we invest in taking care of our bodies? There is an assumption that inner beauty or what I called soul beauty is a quality we are born with, lucky if you have it and going on with your life somehow if you don’t. Somewhere deep down in our hearts we all hope we have it but maybe we cannot see it because of the stress, the job, those annoying people, the endless problems we have in our daily lives.
There is also the belief that soul beauty is the contribution of the family we grew up in and if we don’t have it, then it must be our mother’s fault.
Yes, soul beauty may be a personality trait and also a reflection of the family environment but I want to make the case that it is much more than that, it is a skill that can be cultivated. Most of us cultivate it without the specific intention to do it, we simply feel attracted to do things that make us feel happier. When we feel happier we tend to gravitate towards positive thoughts and actions that make us pleasant to those around us. Research in neuroscience, psychology and medicine shows that the qualities I mentioned above can also be intentionally cultivated. If we think of the age old idea that whatever you pay attention to will only grow, self-cultivation need not only be what monks and a small group of strange people do. Soul beauty or inner beauty means an orientation towards positive ways of thinking and feeling that we develop with meditation, acts of kindness, opening to new possibilities, doing what we love, sharing with others, loving ourselves (genuinely, not narcissistically).

Who Are We?

Who are you? Such a benign, common question…Please spend a minute before you read to give a few answers. We usually respond with our name, followed by gender, race, nationality, social or family roles, followed by some traits that define us. The truth is that we are a complex set of relationships between mind, body, soul/spirit and the external world. We all know what the body is because it is material, but what are the mind, soul and spirit?

Some people use the larger concept of the mind or consciousness to include all non-material aspects of who we are: thoughts, beliefs, emotions, perceptions, values, etc.

Other people like more clarity so they define the mind as the conscious processing of thoughts, sensations and perceptions. Soul is seen as the unconscious processing of emotions and spirit as our connection to something larger than ourselves (nature, God, universe, etc.). Our Western worldview was based on the difference between the body and the mind, with a fair amount of suspicion versus the soul and the spirit. They have been seen as these mysterious aspects of who we are that until recently science has abandoned to the domain of religion.

Who we are as human beings ranges from the unique aspects of our individual names (and traits) to what we share with other people and ultimately what we share with the entire world.  There are also core, unchangeable aspects of who we are and there are aspects that change with our life experiences. Each part of who we are asks for its right to existence and the more we allow each part to manifest and to transform, the more whole we are as persons.

I started this blog in order to help readers understand the complex set of relationships between body, mind, soul, spirit and the external world that make us who we are. I believe that health and well-being depend on the integration of the body, mind, soul and spirit.