Category Archives: Psychology & The Mind

Day 255-256: MLwC and Prop 1 in Seattle

My neighbors Susan and Tom stopped me in the driveway yesterday asking if I’d read Jay Inslee’s opinion in the Seattle PI from Thursday regarding his endorsement of the hotly contested Prop 1 transportation bill. I like Jay Inslee so I was interested to hear he was supporting this thing, but indicated I’d already voted, and my vote was No.

I read the opinion and we returned to the discussion later in the evening around their always-welcoming kitchen table–good old fashioned grass roots political discussion, you don’t have much of that anymore. So, I announced up front that Inslee’s editorial not only didn’t change my mind, it actually knocked Inslee down a few pegs for me. Why? Let me quote a couple of paragraphs back to back, and we’ll go from there:

Prop. 1 also would improve bus service, create new bike lanes and add HOV lanes — additional means of getting commuters out of single-passenger cars.

Alas, there’s not much explanation of how it would improve any of those things, and those things–bus and bike–are very important to me. So far, I’ve seen “bike lanes” all over the city that amount to a white line separating the main street from the street parking area. If there are no cars parked there, you can use that space as a bike lane. And buses–don’t get me started. Now the corresponding quote:

Second, efforts to move to a carbon-free economy may be advanced as much by revolutionizing automobiles as eliminating all lane building. By the time we fix the U.S. 2 bypass in Monroe, we’ll be able to drive plug-in hybrids that charge in our garage at night, drive 40 miles off that charge, and then run off environmentally friendly biofuel produced in the Evergreen State. We can’t rely on a strategy of doing away with all passenger vehicles, all the time. But it is a realistic strategy to get next generation green cars mass produced and supplemented with mass-transit projects, such as those in Prop. 1.

Excuse me? Prop 1 has nothing to do with revolutionizing automobiles. What’s interesting to me is that this part of his article is very articulate about something that doesn’t exist, while the very real need of improved mass transit barely gets two lines. So Inslee’s article was, well, not convincing. We’ll leave it at that.

Now for Prop 1 itself. Interestingly, Inslee’s article title is “Take Bold Action by Passing Prop 1,” and that where I have to laugh. Bold? Isn’t Bold a code word for lots and lots of money? Bold in this case certainly cannot be referring to more of the same–the bottom line on this Prop. More of the same: more north/south light rail, more HOV lanes to Redmond, more and wider roads….where is the breakout thinking? Where is the vast new plan that suggests proprietary lanes for bikes and buses, for example? Or that closes most roads into downtown like London did? Give me a truly bold plan and I’ll give you my vote, but don’t give me more of the same and ask me to believe it’s going to change anything.

Susan riffed for a while on how myth makes us suffer, and it seems applicable with regard to transportation. The myth is we can buy our way out of our current single-occupancy-car-addiction without having to change or do anything different. That’s the myth. We hold onto it, we invest in it, and the more we invest, the harder it is to change our thinking. The truth is we have to change the way we think and the way we do things. We have to make more room for bikes, buses, rapid transit. We have to actually give up something to get something new. No one wants to propose truly Bold action because the public doesn’t want to have to do anything.

To quote Carless in Seattle once again:

Excess demand for roadways during peak hours is the real problem, to which congestion is the most feasible solution.

And for that reason alone, I’m sticking with my vote for Prop 1. It’s simply not Bold enough.

Daily stats (Fri, Sat)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 5
Bus: 16

Days 246-251: MLwC and the wild fear of no exit

Whoa–this blog got away from me for a few days. Like a LOT of days. I’m not sure where I’ve been….

I’ve been thinking a lot about the insight I had the other day which I described in 64 miles to mindfulness. Of course, the idea of No Exit has been around in various forms for a long, long time, from Sartre to Pema Chodron. It seems that for a lot of us, the idea of No Escape or No Exit drives us to extremes in behavior and thinking, and I’ve been aware of that in my own jungle-mind since that experience in traffic the other day.

Cars give us the feeling that there is always an escape: we can just hop in our cars and away we go! But it’s not true. The expectation, the hope of that ideal gets us in the car, but the reality is quite different and the jarring difference between the two may be at the bottom of everything from mild irritation and a buzzing disappointment in your brain, to road rage and worse. Cars promise escape, but they can’t deliver–not with all of us driving on the same roads, going in much the same direction.

Perhaps that’s why buses have the sort of stigma they do. They represent the opposite: you’re just going where you’re going. There’s no ideal of Escape. No glamor of hopping in the convertible and heading down the road, all care-free abandon. Could be.

Anyway, I’ve been watching myself and these back-of-the-mind thoughts about Exits and Escapes.

thelma-and-louise.jpg

The other issue I’ve noticed the last couple of weeks is a definite change in car usage, and a definite reason why. In summer, the activities are outdoors, you can walk to the beach, hang out at the pool, run in the park, read a book out in the hammock on a summer afternoon. But as the days draw shorter and the temp drops, my activities tend to be more involved with others, in their homes–dinners, game nights, stuff like that. We move indoors and I, anyway, find I’m driving a lot more. Hmmm.

Daily Stats: (Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon)
Car: 21 miles (dozens of tasks and activities)
Bike: 18 miles
Ped: 5 miles
Bus: 0

Days 218 thru 221: MLwC, the rainy season and the restlessness of desire

The rainy season has come early to the Northwest this year. The temp has dropped quickly and I’m having to pull a lot of tomatoes off the vine and ripen them indoors. I was thinking today of how this new season will impact my fledgling transportation habits…for example, I’m nervous taking my laptop in my pack when it’s raining super hard and I have an appt out and about.

Or am I just reluctant to change habits? Think things through and come up with new approaches? All through this project I’ve faced that reluctance. Sure, after a while I come around but at first, my response is always: couldn’t I just take the car? It’d be so much easier, not to mention drier. But I just bought two new bus ticket packets and I’ll be using them. And the bike is still a brisk alternative on a windy Autumn day, making me feel more alive and connected than the other two alternatives combined.

Speaking of which, I read a post over at NoImpactMan the other day which echoes some of the feelings I’ve had at various points in this project. To whit: he finds himself more able to be grateful for things when he has less of them. Makes me think of “less is more,” a truism throughout the world of design, art, and life.

But NoImpactMan isn’t talking about art, he’s talking about living in a state of gratitude rather than desire. And when you start to cut the unnecessary out of your life, and get back to more grounded ways of living each day, it becomes easier to cultivate gratitude and recognize socialized desire when it pops up.

Have you ever read the magazine Ad Busters? It’s pretty interesting, though sort of depressing sometimes. What I love about that magazine is how they nail our culture of desire and strip it bare to reveal the inner workings. Some of their pieces on how women are taught to view themselves through media bombardment as inherently flawed without the intervention of multiple products are at once spot-on, sad, and hopeful–that last because it’s good to see the issue discussed so intelligently and by people who truly understand the advertising media.

Here’s an interesting article by Bill McKibbon in Ad Busters, from a while back, that discusses the possibility of seeing ourselves not as individuals but as part of a larger system, a very very large system. Seeing ourselves thus takes satisfaction out of the hands of media and puts it back into our own hands, our community, our neighbors, our own lives:

The dirty little secret of our individualized consumer age is that it hasn’t made us quite as happy as it promised it would. In fact, to the degree that we can track such things, our sense of well-being has retreated almost as fast as the Arctic ice. Polling data on ‘life satisfaction’ shows it has been falling since the mid-50s; even a growing chorus of economists has begun to wonder if their constant prescription (More!) has lost its curative powers, or even turned subtly toxic. It’s not precisely clear why we find ourselves less happy, but the sociologists and psychologists seem to think it has something to do with loss of community. The same loss of community that the fossil fuel infrastructure made inevitable.

As we continue to strive for happiness through “more,” we fall further into despair. I hate to be so focused on this driving/transportation thing, but I really did find the same exact thing happened when I stopped driving everywhere. When I was driving all the time, I felt like I needed to drive even more and faster, faster! I needed to get past everyone in front of me! I didn’t even know why, I just needed to. Only when I stopped driving, and speed of arrival wasn’t the only unit of measure that counted, I felt happier. Less is more.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun) (This office project must end soon!)
Car: 9.5
Bike: 6
Ped: 4
Bus: 15

Day 145: MLwC and the little things

La Marguerite and Substrata both commented yesterday on the radical act of simply paying more attention (those are my words, their comments are here). There are all kinds of ways of being more conscious–writing a blog is a way of noticing things. Talking about your stuff with a friend–your friend helping you to link your life together–that helps you to be more conscious.

And watching what happens when you decide to do something different, that’ll really help you pay attention. I’ve learned that so vividly on this MLwC project.

A friend of mine sent me a link the other day to a site I’d forgotten but is worth visiting. I was stuck working on something and his email came right at the perfect moment (thanks Paul!). I was able to take a break and play with Brian Eno’s site Oblique Strategies for a while. It really helped to jog my brain a little!

So, why am I mentioning this? Because doing one unexpected or different thing helps you see everything differently for at least a little while, and sometimes even longer. I’m convinced that’s why Marguerite mentions (as well as a few commentators on her blog) that before she knew it, she felt things in her life were shifting just a little–just on the basis of having changed a few habits.

I recently finished A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson–a great read, highly recommend it. One of the things they discuss is the link between mess and creativity and specifically: it’s tough to be very creative if you do the same thing, the same way, all the time. Mess it up, they say, and find your brain more than a little woken up simply by taking a different route to work.

So, yeah, if you decide to take on change such as committing for 90 days to turn off the water when you brush your teeth, or taking the bus to work one day a week, the rewards are huge. Yes, you’ll get instant enviro-karma/dharma points but even better: your brain will wake up, colors will be brighter, ideas will appear out of nowhere…who knows where it could lead. A happy, active brain is a good brain.

Daily stats: (Monday)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 0
Bus:0
Desk day, and do I feel it in my body!

Strangers to Ourselves

I’m reading Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy Wilson and trying to digest what he’s getting at with his discussion of the “adaptive unconscious.” His theories don’t sound new or ground-breaking at first–after all, notably Malcolm Gladwell has raised the discussion to a more popular level with “Blink,” but Wilson’s approach is a deeper dive with a lot of science behind it.

lobes of the brain

Wilson is interested in finding out what the vast unconscious world in our brains is up to with the 10 million bits of information it’s absorbing every second. That 10 million bits covers everything from making your fingers coordinate with the keyboard to hearing the fan in the background to considering if the scorching sun is frying the vegetable garden out back. In this last instance, it appears that when the unconscious mind has decided that the vegetable garden is indeed at risk, it will hopefully manage to get a message to the conscious mind, even if it is non-verbal and just a “have-to-go-water-the-garden” impulse, one that make me get up and go outside…sometimes before I even realize that I’m out there for this very good and time sensitive reason.

So, like Gladwell, Wilson is giving us lots of reasons to clear defensive thinking, conscious perceptions, pre-conceptions and the like out of the way so our great big unconscious can get some timely information to us on a regular basis.

process-information.jpg
In amongst the studies he cites is this one about people who have suffered damage to left and right lobes, destroying communication between the two. The left lobe controls the right side of the body, the right controls the left. The study involved showing pictures to each eye, with the other one covered, and seeing what information could be communicated about the picture. To the right eye (left brain) they showed a picture of a chicken claw; the participants associated that picture with a chicken.

Next they showed the left eye (right brain) a picture of a snow drift and the participants associated that picture with a shovel. After this, the participants were given their associated results but since the right brain cannot communicate the association of the snow with shovel, the participants didn’t know why they had chosen a shovel.

Here’s the kicker: in the blink of an eye, the left brain (story-telling, conscious part of the brain) came up with a story for the selection of the shovel that combined it with the chicken: the chicken lives in a chicken coop which needs to be cleaned with a shovel. Is this really what happened? No. Is this now what the participant thinks happened? Yes. And that story will be the official story until such time as the individual finds out differently.
Wilson’s point again and again is that the conscious mind is way more fallable than we ever thought and that fallability can lead us as individuals and a part of the collective group to make assumptions and decisions based on information that is simply not correct. The conscious mind’s drive to create a story for what it perceives, whether or not that story is in any way true, is its raison d’etre. And doesn’t every successful marketer and lawyer out there know this instinctively!

The ability of the conscious mind to create stories without getting input from or listening to the unconscious is a bit of a design flaw, it seems to me. It inhibits us from perceiving correctly AND from getting, trusting and using information from our unconscious minds.

Strangers to Ourselves is full of good studies that cause one to consider how we get and process information. Few of us are willing to really listen to our “intuition.” It can’t be measured, it can’t be controlled, its processes are vast, random and unexpected. But when Jack Welch popularizes the notion of managing “from the gut,” whether he knows it or not, or even cares, he’s talking about getting information from the adaptive unconscious.

The more I allow myself to draw from my unconscious, the more interesting my solutions become.  The more spot-on, the more creative, the more unexpected and exciting.  Bringing intuitive solutions into a corporate setting is edgy and exciting!  And often just what’s needed. Dump the old stories.  Allow a new story to emerge!