April 24, 2017

4 LWL – What She Meant by Intuition

Over a series of sessions talking with Mimi, I came to realize that when she talked about “seeking understanding” and “diving deeper” she had something very specific in mind. I had initially thought perhaps she was talking about studying at the library, doing an investigation, meditating or some other well-known practice for discovering the truth about something. Like forensic science studying clues to discern or deduce what had happened. Or like using transcendental meditation to dive deeper into the transcendent, whatever that is. Or gaining a deeper rational understanding by studying the history of something.

Then she began to discuss intuition as the equivalent of a sixth sense. She spent a lot of time – as she often did on many things – telling me what she was NOT talking about. Not “a woman’s intuition.” Not intuiting something like a feeling or a guess or a quick sense without a connection to reality. To the contrary, she told me over and over, what she meant by intuition was a sense of direct perception. A skill or ability or sense that had to be trained and tested. A sense or skill that rose out of natural ability, dedicated effort and careful training (or lots of luck, apparently!). A sense that was like directly seeing or hearing something in that it gave actual knowledge. Even then, she said, what you thought you perceived could be twisted or incomplete or wrong in some way based on incomplete perception or a trick of perception or a mistake based on expectations or prejudices.

In other words, she said, it was not perfect but could be developed into a reliable resource And it was powerful.

Finally, the umpteenth time I asked her to explain again (or differently) what she was talking about, she said, “Think about Einstein.”  I gave that some thought. Looked out the boathouse lounge window at the river flowing by. Watched the afternoon juniors practice begin with oars being put on the dock. Gazed for a while at the fluttering green leaves of the weeping willows along the river’s other side.

He was a brilliant man, I said. He saw things differently from the rest of us. He understood more. Is that what you mean?

“He had a good analytical mind, yes. He worked hard at understanding things rationally, yes. But he also used his intuition to ask how and why and to understand at a deeper level than reason can take you. Then he – and other scientists since him – use reason and experimentation to study and try to verify that what he postulated is in fact true. So how did he know? Was his brilliance based on his ability to reason? Only partly. It was based on his skill discerning the truth through intuitive exploration of reality. A means of perception that for him was very productive. That for most of us is ignored – or simply enjoyed in unknowing bursts or glimpses, if at all.

“I think if you study how he worked you will see that it was a combination of serious and careful rational study – using the old gray cells, so to speak, together with what some may have thought of as day-dreaming or imagining. But I think closer study would show that he was not just imagining things until he found something that his reason told him might be true. To the contrary, he was perceiving aspects of reality through his intuition, in a way that went beyond what his reason could tell him.

“What we do [and here I know she said ‘we’ but I could not get her to explain who ‘we’ was] is carefully and deliberately develop the skill of using intuition to plumb greater depths of truth about reality.”

I pressed her more over time to explain this practice or skill she called using intuition. But at that point when she had explained it the first time as geared toward deeper understanding, I simply challenged her to give me some examples.

“There is the earth’s twin,” she said. Now that was a tale she told. “And the sentient ability of other creatures on the earth. Anyone can question our saying the birds and animals do not think even though they are aware simply because they do not speak a human language, but intuition allows us to understand them. And the civilizations under the ocean. And the ability to understand children, the aged and the infirm, the ability to know what is happening, what is true ‘on different planes.’ And don’t get me started on spiritualism. This is not guess-work or memory of hidden experiences.”

I had a hard time understanding what she was talking about. But it became clearer as we continued to meet and to discuss it over the weeks that she remained under investigation. Ostensibly, we were meeting to discuss her case and the search for her husband’s killer. But most of our time was spent on intuition and understanding and this apparently unformed band of compatriots she would not identify. I told her I wanted to know how she did this. And who else had this skill. Did she practice or use intuition with other people? Was there a group dedicated to it? Were there lessons or tests for it?  She told me so much, and yet there remained a great deal I did not understand.


March 25, 2017

3 LWL – meeting Mimi

My first conversations with Mimi tended toward the ordinary. I was focused on getting her out of the police station and on discussing their investigation of her as a suspect. Luckily, the detective was a high school rowing coach and knew Mimi from the boathouse. He had seen the racing schedule and knew she had three races coming up in the next month. Not that someone guilty of murdering a spouse would not flee for that reason, but it was good enough to satisfy him, given the lack of a substantive case tying her to the death. Or maybe it was my stellar advocacy, reminding him of her reputation at the boathouse for being the quiet but dependable one, the teacher who was always the first there and last to leave.

Mimi was a bow rower who sometimes filled in at seven, the one no one thought of as powerful but whom everyone wanted in their boat. She had not rowed in college, had picked it up through the learn-to-row class just a few years before. She was short, not a six-footer. Slender but reputedly tough in a quiet way. And known for precise blade work. She was the type of rower who seemed to know that what mattered was what you did in the boat, not what you said. And any boat she was in seemed to go faster, glide more on the recovery.

Mimi was not the captain and always stood off to the side when the team met with the coach or planned a workout with other masters rowers. She did not join committees or hold a leadership position in the rowing association. She was a worker bee, a journey-woman rower, a team “player” but not one of the leaders. She was more ignored than noted, at least by those who did not row with her.

So I was a bit surprised as we talked in the boathouse lounge about her husband’s death that she was willing to talk about something bigger than the immediate problems she faced. We had agreed as we walked out of the police station that we would meet the next morning after her eight finished its morning practice. After my meeting with the regatta committee chair, I saw Mimi’s boat was landing. After they put the equipment away, the boathouse quickly cleared out and we had the lounge to ourselves.

I do not know what surprised me more – how open she was or how self-assured she seemed. She quickly put to rest any concern I had about her being involved in his death or devastated by it. As we discussed him and his life – and who could have done this, she described him as not very happy. Those are my words. She put it in terms of the ways in which he did not have a life others would admire, a life worth living. It took me a few meetings to realize this theme was going to be central to our conversations.

“He was stuck on the surface,” she said. I tried to find out what she meant by that. The surface of what, I asked. Stuck? What do you mean?

“The surface of life. Most of us spend our time on the surface, at the surface, stuck in "the shallows." It is a two-dimensional facet of life. You know, like a comic book version of reality. Like television shows or conversations about politics that do not dig deep into causes and effects but just hover over the surface with banter.”

I told her I did not understand and asked what this had to do with him.

“John was caught up in what you might call finessing his job. He worked in natural resources. But his attention was constantly on how he could use his contacts and his position to take advantage, to use his contacts to take rather than contribute. So, for example, although he got into it because of a fascination with the wild, he changed.  After a while, he was not trying to understand how wildlife existed in its own world, what its needs were or how he could protect it better. He wanted to use it for his own purposes.” Then she went off on a point that seemed like a complete break to me, although she made it sound as if she was still explaining her point to me. “It was like a gossip or a road hog or a spoiled child. All they think about and all they do arises out of their narrow, personal view of the world. They are not trying to gain a deeper understanding - and that really is the point of all this, isn't it? - but instead are caught up in a world view that is centered on a particular want or desire.”

She saw that I did not put it all together and tried another tack. I did not think at that point to ask her why she was sharing this because i was just trying to follow her train of thought.

“Think about the opposite of trying to understand. There are so many ways we all can relate to the idea of a life NOT worth living. It may depend on what matters to you.  Different things irritate different people, lead them to react against someone else and say "they ought to be shot" or thoughts to that effect. Driving behind someone throwing cigarette butts out the car window may not bother you, or it may make you feel that that litterer’s life is a life not worth living simply because they are damaging the environment willy-nilly and so needlessly. Or the driver who sits out in the left lane and blocks traffic for miles could be the person you feel contributes only negatively, disrupting other people’s lives as they mindlessly hog the road. Is there any redeeming value in such a life, some may wonder – at least while sitting behind them in your car. Of course there may be in some other facet of their life. It would be foolish to judge someone by such a small sampling of their behavior. But the point is that we all see or experience things in others we do not admire, things that make us see a certain pointlessness.  And that is the point.

“In a more serious sense, examples include the neglectful parent or the spouse abuser, people who may be so ‘bent’ or twisted as to deserve no protection or support regardless of other "redeeming" qualities. And what does that come from? Their own focus on their own wants or desires without concern for those of others? On a larger scale, dictators who deprive people of rights or leaders who send their citizens into the risks and depravities of a war that is not necessary are playing a game without regard for the cost to the many lives involved. Even a well-meaning president or prime minister may condemn others to great trials or death by mistakes made or mis-judgments about reality.

“John had a problem and, most likely, it contributed to his end. He was so caught up in his desire to gain for himself out of the monetary value of wildlife that he banded with others who bought and sold protected species for profit. I urged him to get out of that business. Most likely, someone in that group or their contacts got sideways with him.”

So you have an idea who did this, but don’t know exactly who it was? I asked. Is there someone we should point out to the detective?

“I am just speculating,” she said. “Sharing some thoughts, since you asked. But my primary point has to do with the difference between getting stuck on the surface and diving deeper to try to gain a greater understanding, something too few of us pursue. That, I would say, is one way to describe the difference between a life that is not worth living and one that is.”

I cannot tell you how we got into a continuing series of conversations on this topic. But we did, and happily they focused most often on what made life worth living rather than the opposite. It became clear that her focus was looking for what made life worth living. Or, as I think she would describe it, searching for understanding – and that that search is what makes life worth living.

We met almost daily at the boathouse lounge after her practice or at the office or sometimes at other places and times of day. And we talked. Mostly, she talked. I listened and learned – with increasing amazement, to her tales of a process, of a group (although she kept saying there is no group, no organization, no hierarchy) of seeking a deeper understanding, how she did it, what she learned and what it meant to her and to others.



March 11, 2017

2 LWL – the beginning

Three eights were racing downriver along the western shore. They were rowing a long piece at a 22 and were competitive with one another, so there was no open water between them. The high school girls were rowing impressively, with clean blade work, pulling hard, good timing, eyes in the boat – so they relied on their coxswains to let them know what was going on outside the boat.

With less than a kilometer to go, they passed the wetland where the current eddied and the river was shallower due to the greater width of the river. Emily’s eight was closest to the western shore. She kept her boat in tight to the cat-tails to take advantage of the inside of the long slow curve of the river to the west.

She saw someone in the swamp and turned as they approached and passed, wanting to make sure that her boat was not in danger of a collision from the side. As her head turned, her stroke Maggie saw the motion and glanced to the side, too. As hard as she was concentrating and pulling, Maggie had no energy to deal with anything outside the boat but, when Emily looked back, mouthed “What?” as she kept rowing at full power.

Emily spoke to Maggie, not broadcasting through the speakers to all in the boat, “Just a guy on a jet-ski, having a cigarette.  Weird!”

Then she turned her attention back to her point, the other eights and their progress, and called out to her boat, “500 meters!” Using a pre-arranged signal – her yelling to the other boats that hers was moving, with three taps to the gunwales and a nod by Emily to her and a quick shout over the system, “Now!” Maggie took the stroke up two beats and seven through bow followed. In ten strokes they gained three seats and kept moving.

“The boat felt good,” Maggie said later. “We were winded and exhausted but it felt like we could go on forever. I felt no rushing and Emily was not getting checked into her seat back at all. When we took the stroke up a bit at the end, it felt like the boat surged on its own. We did not lose any of our spacing and the last 250 meters was over before I knew it. I wish every piece felt like that!”

When they got to the dock, Emily and the other two coxswains took charge. The coach had called to Emily as they waited for dock space to land, “Did you see that jet ski?” Emily nodded but raised her hands as if to ask, “So?” The coach called, “I am going back to check on him,” and tasked the coxies with managing the end of practice – putting the equipment away and team stretching.

Only later did Emily and Maggie find out what their coach learned a kilometer upriver. The man on the jet-ski was posed to appear to be sitting with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, but he had been dead for hours. As Emily said when the detective questioned her later, she hated the way some jet-skiers would race past them and wake the team as they practiced, but she did not wish them any harm.

The man was Mimi’s husband Tom.  They had a small house along the river a couple of miles up and he was a regular jet-skier, while Mimi was a member of the masters rowing group at the local rowing association at the same boathouse the high school girls rowed out of. Mimi had not seen Tom since the day before and, when the detective learned she had no alibi and seemed – to him, at least, unconcerned, he took Mimi in for further questioning. That is when she called me.

And that is when our discussions began about what makes life worth living. My job was to provide her a legal defense, but somehow we got into a series of discussions about life. I never would have guessed what she had to tell me.


March 4, 2017

INTRO/1 - LWL (copyright 2017 SP Ventures)

The provost introduced the keynote speaker.  Jules stepped up to the podium and began.

            Let me tell you the story of a woman I know, he said, and what it means to live a life worth living. I first met her when I got involved representing her after they found the body in the river. But before I get to the tale, let me try to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding and just tell you what the lesson is. The point I want to make to you has to do with the purpose of life; and that is that the purpose for each of us is to seek to understand as well as we can. What do we try to understand and how do we do it? Well, some of that, at least, is what this tale is about.

            I hope recounting her story will help explain the point, make it more sensible for you, something more than words. I will try to keep this simple because it really is about a very basic point. On the other hand, I have to admit that some of the things I will share still sound like science fiction or wishful thinking even to me. I wish she could be here to explain it herself because, in effect, I am translating.  One thing I have to say up front is that she often cautioned me that words often fail to convey content accurately, that there may be more to “reality” (but is that the right word for it?) than seems to be conveyed with a given word.  And I will try to avoid using words like “faith,” “belief” and “knowledge,” but inevitably I will use words that may at first seem to mean X when the point is really X+/- or “kind of X.”  Languages are enlightening; language itself is really just an attempt to communicate, I think she would say.  Words that signify something other than an open-minded search for the truth through a basic human capability would not be acceptable to her.  And this is a story about her – although she would say it actually is a story about all of us. But let me not get ahead with all these qualifiers and explanations; the story can speak for itself.

February 25, 2017

LWL - short for A Life Worth Living.

What makes a life worth living - or not worth living, if there is such a thing?

This serial will explore those questions, starting with a girl's crew powering on their dawn row past a jet-skier, immobile on the device and, as it will turn out, deceased.  The narrator's explanation how this event caused him to get to know the jet-skier's wife as she was charged with her husband's murder and the narrator, an attorney, defended her against those charges.

Their discussions quickly moved away from her whereabouts at the time of the husband's drowning to a discussion of what makes life worthwhile (something, she says, about seeking understanding).  They spend a little time on what consumes so much of our attention, namely the many parts of our lives that annoy and disturb us - that make life NOT worth living - and keep us on the surface rather than empowering us to dive deeper into the unknown, to a revealing discussion of what many people over the centuries have done out of the limelight to work toward a deeper understanding of life and its mysteries.

As Einstein once said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” 

Society in general perhaps, but not entirely, Albert.