Western Wisdom

There are many ways in which western thought is making a difference across the world in beneficial ways. These teachers and teachings have had a huge impact on many of us at Cowboy Dharma, and we refer back to them regularly as some of the most useful tools we have found. What you see here is just a taste of the great wisdom these "paths" have to offer, so if you find one that resonates for you we suggest you dig deeper for books, videos, and other sources to expand awareness and growth.

Western wisdom started a long time ago, and took a great leap forward with Greek philosophy. Keep in mind philosophy simply means love of wisdom so fits in perfectly with the theme of this post. Follow these links for a quick look at Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle

These great thinkers influenced many people and movements through-out history, three of which we would like to highlight here. The definition of these terms has changed a lot over the centuries, so we were very surprised and happy to discover the truth of these classic traditions. Read on and you too may be surprised by what these seemingly negative terms actually represent.

The first tradition offered a life of rigorous life of virtue in accord with the natural world. They sought a life free of cumbersome possessions, wealth, power, and fame. Rather they would seek self sufficiency, equanimity, openness, honesty, and indifference to misfortunes. They boldly challenged laws, customs, and social conventions while pursuing inner happiness and peace. Physical fitness was seen as necessary for mental fitness. This was/is Cynicism

Next was another path that sought a life of virtue in agreement with God and nature. This path also practiced mindfulness, resilience to misfortunes, self control, reason over passions, and inner freedom. They also believed in a universal Higher Power. This was/is Stoicism

The last of our three virtuous Greek wisdom paths saw a life of modest pleasure as most worthy of our efforts, though this was mainly an inner mental happiness over external physical pleasures although these were important as well. They espoused the equality of all men and women, valued friendship highly, and tried to do no harm. They saw the Gods as expression of human ideals. This was/is Epicureanism.

Psychology has done much to explore and map the depths of human experience. Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis) and B.F. Skinner (Behaviorism) were the pioneers of this very important and controversial field, but Humanistic Psychology and its subsequent schools such as Gestalt and Positive Psychology have gone much further to advance the understanding and dignity of the individual and help to alleviate suffering. Click here for a closer look at Humanistic Psychology.

The most powerful teacher we have seen lately is Brene Brown. She set out to study connection and love and found these are what give our lives purpose and meaning, but kept hearing about heartbreak and disconnection. The research clearly illuminated what it is to be human, in all its joy and misery, and really worth a look. Here is a post, here access to her viral videos, and here a link to her books.

Another of our favorite teachers is Dr. Dean Ornish. According to Dr. Ornish stress has been shown to cause as much as 90% of chronic diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and reducing stress can also reduce arthritis, Alzheimer's, and insomnia. For more on his program of stressing less and loving more please see the post on Dr. Ornish's book "Undo It". He also has been an expert on eating well for many years and as such has an excellent video "Healing Through Diet". For a written summary click here.

A practice we find very powerful and useful is Eckhart Tolles' work on The Power of Now. It takes Buddhism, psychology, A Course in Miracles, and other paths and melds them into a seemingly new way of thinking, feeling, and living. This one is really worth a good look, and the books well worth reading over and over. For his books click here, videos here, and his website here. You may also enjoy a written synopsis of his DVD Awakening in the Now.

Joseph Campbell's work on the mythic archetypes of personality gives great depth and meaning to how we process and live out our lives. Campbell also inspires us to take a Hero's Journey to find wisdom and healing for our selves and others. There are videos here, and books here. Lastly, notes from a short video on his hugely popular, entertaining, and informative book and video series The Power of the Myth here. The video series hosted by Bill Moyers is six hours long but worth every minute. Start the first segment on YouTube here. 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's work on processing death can also be very useful processing loss and grief and be a pivotal part of recovery and living a full and complete life. We have included our take on it with a Twelve Step focus here. She also has many interesting videos accessed here, books accessed here, and a foundation here. You may also enjoy seeing Kubler-Ross notes from an ACA retreat workshop entitled Good Grief!

Another favorite sage is Matthew Fox. His book on Creation Spirituality (Original Blessing) is a game and life changer. In it he brilliantly shows how our focus on "Original Sin" has caused centuries of damage and dysfunction. For a written synopsis of one of his best videos click "Wisdom From Our Spiritual Ancestors". For a side by side comparison of "Fall/Redemption" thinking and Creation Spirituality click here.

Another very powerful and useful bit of wisdom is Erick Erickson and others work on the stages of development. This also has a Twelve Step flavor and can be viewed here. Erickson also has informational videos here, and his books here. You can also see notes from an ACA retreat workshop on Erickson's developmental stages here.

The Fight or Flight Response was first identified in 1932 by Walter Bradford Cannon in his book The Wisdom of the Body. It remains a very popular and useful perspective of how we react to all types of stressors through our bodies, emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Awareness is the first step to understanding, wisdom, and transformation, so if you want to respond to stressful situations with all your faculties rather than being stuck in reactive cycles, take a look.

For a much more modern approach to how fight or flight  severely reduce our capacities for intelligent rational responses we have a link to Dr. Alan Watsons video entitled "Being Brilliant Every Single Day". It is a very intriguing, informative, and even entertaining expose of how, as he says, stress creates "A do it yourself frontal lobotomy". Really not what we want during tests, public speaking, and other important but stressful situations. It is forty five minutes long, but worth every minute.

Another very interesting viewpoint that also ties together the fight or flight response and some of the work of Dr. Alan Watson on Complete Coherence is The Triune Brain. Here we see how the development of brain functioning has, and still does affect us on a variety of higher functions as well as at the deepest levels. Good information on "How to Beat Your Lizard Brain".

Non Violent Communication has been taking groups that have been been enemies for decades such as gangs, Israelis and Hamas, and others, and helping them find common ground where they can at last work together towards peace and freedom for all. It is revolutionary and very effective. For a post with notes, books, and video information click here.