Monday, January 25, 2021

Coyote

"Coyote, old man, wanderer, where you going, man?" 
from “A Good Journey” by Simon Ortiz

Coyote was the trickster of Native American lore in North America. He was always mixing it up with the Native Americans wherever their paths crossed. Sometimes Coyote got the best of the human beings and sometimes those human beings bested Coyote and benefited from his blundering, braggart ways.

I believe that Coyote exists inside me. In fact, Coyote dwells in all humans in my philosophical understanding. Coyote is a spirit animal that takes control of me and causes all kinds of mischief. He makes me playfully roughhouse with grandkids, kids, nieces, nephews and all assorted little human beings. He makes my hugs a little too rough. Coyote nature persuades me to tell tall tales that my wife has trouble believing, even if I am telling the truth (or often times not). My conversation holds exaggerations and colorful bits of extravagance.

This strange Coyote behavior seems to give my journey through life a younger feeling pace as if by inwardly deceiving myself, I will not grow old quite so fast. And that puzzling Coyote behavior won't allow the surrounding human beings to ever totally understand what is "me." Fellow human beings shouldn't mind me this slight, sly mystery. There is nothing bad or wrong about its nature, it just travels with and preserves me...silent, sacred, peacefully alone among my fellow human beings.

And as I wander here and there as did Coyote, and my journey passes within your space and time, be prepared for my tricks, touching you with a bit of wonder about what is me.

And please, share some tricks of your own. Make us other human beings wonder where you have been and what roads lie ahead for you to travel, what tricks are up your sleeves.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Ecclesiastes or the "Gatherer"




"For in much wisdom is much grief, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow." — Ecclesiastes, Chapter (1:18)


American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, "I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound." I couldn't agree more. I recently explored once again this short chapter out of renewed curiosity when I read somewhere that it had been suspectedly written by the great biblical King Solomon. 

In one of my college sociology classes, I had been given a new awareness of the vast sociological differences in the way I viewed the wide range of wealth and privilege in the world. So I was recently thinking, “What better way than to look through the eyes of what was possibly one of the most wealthy and powerful rulers to ever breathe the air of the Earth.” Also, I could explore his perspective from the twilight of his lifetime.

What I found was a book filled with the despair that could only come to someone who seemingly had everything—wealth, power, privilege, love—yet realized that it was meaningless against the vastness of the outstretched eternity and the far-flung past. It was filled with words like "vain", "futile", "empty", "meaningless", "temporary", "transitory", "fleeting," or "mere breath."  For most of this book, Solomon—if indeed he wrote thisseems to be unable to comprehend and ascribe any type of eternal meaning to the wisdom of his life.

The older I get and the more I personally look for more wisdom and more meaning to my existence, yet it begins to feel that those "words" are all that apply. They overshadow all opportunities for the enjoyment of life. I find fault in the order of things, the purpose of being, the why of deeds. Where and when is the spirit to find its rest? With every rock I overturn or every bush I look behind I simply find more to trouble me. One interpretation of the word Ecclesiastes is the "Gatherer" and I have become a "Gatherer" of all sorts of confusion when I seek answers.

But perhaps that is the natural state of manto question, seek answers, constantly probe the unknown, improve this world in any way possible through individual power, and to define the commandments of our God and ourselves in a way to live by and be proud of.

It is fitting from my viewpoint, that the book of Ecclesiastes concludes with "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13). After all, both fools and kings, become just dust in the end.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Middle Has Never Felt So Dangerous

"The middle path is the way to wisdom." - Rumi
Some days, some times, seem darker and more menacing than other days. The hate filling the atmosphere of the present moments is a bit disturbing. I keep searching through the Left and Right rhetorical fog for the wisdom and the soundness of action and decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. However, I only hear and see partisan soundbites and outright distortions of truth. Or omitted and edited versions of talking-point opinions by the talking heads of journalists, commentators, movement-leaders, or politicians. 

Alas, I suspect I expect too much.

I find it is now very difficult to impossible to walk the middle path, or as I have always believed, the political center. I define that political center as an outlook or specific position that involves accepting or supporting the balance of social equality with social hierarchy. Taking this position makes me oppose political changes which would result in a significant shift of society strongly to either Leftists or Right-wing zealots. Tyranny for citizens by the proposed extremes of the Left or the Right.

These are the times that John Adams wrote about where "In politics the middle way is none at all." Similarly, a German poet once wrote, “In times of extremes, the middle path is deadly.” So why do I want to walk the middle path so badly? Perhaps it helps me to be kind to everyone, to be empathetic, to look at the human condition with compassion in a nonjudgemental way.

However, that middle path has never been protected by the promotion of milquetoast policies everyone already agrees on, it’s protected by taking the time to understand and defend foundational principles such as free speech, open and transparent inquiry, and due process. Now, when forced to defend those foundational principles, we are asked (or shouted down) to shut-up and tow a radical left or right line.

When did having opposing opinions become unacceptable? I am beginning to understand now why people find caves in Idaho to live in. Or become Anarchists.

I used to believe what Rumi said but these days it seems like the German poet and John Adams understood it with what I find uncomfortable correctness.

Monday, June 17, 2019

What Are You a Slave To?

"Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave." -- Frederick Douglass
What are you slave to? Are you a slave to an ideology or a belief system? To technology? Do you end up with questions that you need to spend too much time thinking about and trying to find a base of scientific support for them? Are you a slave to a government program or entitlement? A slave to voting? Are you a slave to the opinions of others? Are you a slave to...

And the list goes on and on.

If you remain a slave to "things" you may never utilize the opportunities knowledge affords where we can gain practical skills, expertise at a task or of a subject, or better understand a concept. This is how the concept of knowledge and slavery are diametrically opposed to one another. Knowledge involves the very complex tasks of perception, reasoning and communicating information, facts or skills, either by educating others or being open to the ideas expressed by others. Importantly, the absorption of knowledge is a choice.

Slavery or being a slave to "things", on the other hand, is force. It is a no-choice. It is problematic with any concepts of freedom for individuals, and the acknowledgment of human beings being autonomous.

So whether it might be coffee, adrenaline-inducing feats, work, or killing it in the money-making department, it could be worth looking at what is the force that is driving you forward or is it a force that is enslaving you. 

And does the knowledge you are discovering along your path feel liberating, or is it dragging you down? 

Work to make yourself unfit to be a slave.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

I Should Abandon the Word Should

“Should is a futile word. It's about what didn't happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.” ― Margaret Atwood, from the novel 'The Blind Assassin'
I recently came across an amazing list of “shoulds” on the Psychology Today website, and to summarize it, try reading the following in one breath: "You should be grateful to be alive, forgive, be compassionate, meditate, give back, be able to do nothing, be productive, de-clutter, take more trips, appreciate what you have, spend more time with your kids, want to spend more time with your kids, have more fun, spend less time on technology, have more sex, want to have more sex, laugh more, lose weight, exercise more, drink less, and be happier."

Whew! Not my list but I sure can relate.

But what is my point? For me, should is a word that is usually related to something that I feel I need to do but not necessarily something that I may want to do. It is actually an enemy to my healthy mental health hopes. Even though some of the things in the above list are awesome, fulfilling, and satisfying things to do, like meditation, exercise, and sex, “should” can’t be trusted. Many times with me, I use “should” in relation to how I believe I need to feel about something. It is tied to physical actions, emotional responses, and hunches while still involving taking actions, having feelings and expressing emotions. "Shoulds" try to make something out of what may be nothing.

Simple examples from me: I am sick, but I should still go to work. I should learn that skill to be a more well-rounded person. I should not feel bad about what has happened.

Expectations that our brain puts on our actions can be assholes and dictators, who try hard to tell us who we should be, what we should be, and how we should be. A great alternative to what you say and think is to replace should with could.

" I could learn a new skill."

"I could go to work even though I am sick, or I could stay home." 
"I could choose what emotion to dwell on about what happened."

It also helps when the wife reminds me that "There you go 'should-ing' yourself again" when she catches me at it. 

I am lucky to have her in my corner.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Invaluable Nature



"Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. — Thomas Hobbes describing man’s life in the state of nature
Wilderness is not only valuable in our modern world, but it is also invaluable. Now it is important to define the difference between invaluable and valuable, as it can be subtle, however in my opinion, not in this case. Try and think of it this way: valuable usually applies to things that have monetary value, while invaluable usually applies to things that can’t be valued in monetary terms.

The smell of a cedar swamp, the aroma of a field of summer grass ripening in the sun, or the sounds of a lake's shore washed by waves hold no monetary or treasure value, but speak a higher language to the human soul, the spirit. Thus, nature holds the invaluable within itself.

Until very recently, humans have not had much time to spend in the appreciation of the profound lessons that nature's primitive places offer them. In the above notable quote worth sharing here once again, Thomas Hobbes eloquently states man’s life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” thus highlighting the fact that in most ways, human life is filled with the struggle to survive against dangers that wilderness offered—disease, oppressive weather, limited resources, even wild beasts. 

Humankind, often working as rugged individuals, carved out a place in the wilderness, and I believe civilized themselves enough to have learned to understand that the remaining pockets of it needed protection. 

At least, some people have this attitude, and those people are invaluable to the human race. However, many people in charge of important things still measure only what holds monetary value.

So spend a little time with what is valuable and invaluable, and drink in what those feel like, and what you would need more of in a deep and satisfying way.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Borders, or Chalk Outlines in the Sand.

“The best way to look at countries on a map is like a chalk outline drawn by the police when someone dies… what you are seeing with the borders are just outlines of historical crimes… past warlords… empires… its nothing to be loyal to. Have loyalty to reason, to evidence, to ideals… not to lines drawn up mostly by criminals.” — Stefan Molyneux
I agree with almost zero of what Molyneux usually says--and less of what he stands for--however, somehow this quote strikes a chord with me. Even a blind pig finds an apple on occasion. 

Countries are basically these magically attached, by mostly invisible lines, defining chunks of land. They are then united by historical thefts, atrocities, and other criminal behaviors. For example, the United States of America basically stole the southwest part of the country, including California, from Spain. Spain stole it before that from the Native Americans that lived there previously, and even those people overtook it from earlier tribal nations such as the Anasazi nations.

So why is this important? In my humble opinion, it reflects the human need to define itself in all matters of existence, to establish it's tribe, determine it's social and cultural norms, to inclusively segregate. The need to isolate not only cultural and social norms from differing ones that may lie across an invisible, magically determined line is somewhat a recent problem in relation to enforcement. Migration, emigration, immigration, famine, war, and other triggering events have always moved populations of people from place to place.

It seems that the real compassionate question that is not being dealt with is how to get along as a people who share so much in similar human characteristics, yet divide themselves so sharply in cultural, social or religious concepts. The figurative wall that needs to be built would be one filled with bricks of understanding, the mortar of social exploration and designed with open communication of shared values and possibilities of positive growth.

You still might have to place some guards here and there, to ensure some circumstantial and situational incursions of "bad" elements along parts of the wall are addressed, but if you build it with no way to see and engage the humanity of others, is it worth it?