Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Difference Between Experience and Theory

Some people claim that intellectual knowledge is just as good as experiential knowledge, that you don't have to actually practice what you preach to be considered a credible source of advice. That there is little difference between being able to describe how to do something, and actually doing it. That theoretical knowledge is a sufficient substitute for experience.

I really couldn't disagree more.

To me the whole point of a theory is practical application. Certainly both philosophy and practice are important, but I would have to say that experience is even more important than theory, because without practical application, all your theories are little more than unsubstantiated fantasies.

The whole point of brainstorming ideas, of proposing speculative theories, is testing them, and putting them into action, otherwise what's the point? Life is about living, doing, implementing, interacting, not about daydreaming in isolation.

For instance, if you are thirsty, you don't go read a book about water, or visualize a picture of water in your mind, and expect that to quench your thirst. If you read about water, or think about water, you do so for the purpose of helping you actually find water, or to improve your relationship with water (how to find it, purify it, store it, use it); and unless you actually apply this information to the real world, you will die of thirst.

No amount of theorizing on its own has the power to sustain or enhance life. The value of anything depends on whether or not you find it useful. Does it add value to your life? Does it help you in anyway?

Real world experience and the practical application of ideas, is the only thing giving an idea substance, the only thing giving an idea life. An idea is like a seed, and the experiential application of the idea is like a seed bearing fruit. Unless an idea is actually applied, it remains barren, like a disembodied spirit without a body.

If all you do is understand things on an intellectual level, without ever actually applying the things you know experientially, your life will remain very much like that seed that does not bear fruit.

I'll give you another example.

Imagine there are two little boys who both dream of someday riding a bicycle.

1. One day one of the boys is given a bicycle. He rides his bicycle all the time all over the place, to such an exent that he becomes quite an expert cyclist. Not only does he ride his bicycle well, but he knows what foods and drinks provide the most efficient fuel for his body, he knows how to fix his bicycle, how to maintain it, how to prevent it from getting stolen, and also how to travel well over any terrain and in any weather, in the city, in the country, off road, uphill, over long distances, and riding with traffic. Everything he needs to know about bicycles, he learned from riding his bicycle. He may have paged through a few books on bicycle repair, but only through the trial and error practice of actually working on his bicycle and riding it, did he actually learn how to fix his bicycle and ride it well.

2. The other boy did not get a bicycle, but instead he got a pile of books about bicycles. So he read them all and became quite an expert on the subject, memorizing everything that he read. You could ask him any question about bicycles, and most likely he could answer it. Except that the ideas were not really his own, he was just repeating what he read, as he still hadn't actually road a bicycle himself. He hadn't even seen one in person, only pictures and descriptions in a book is the closest he ever got to one. His knowledge of bicycles was very much like a blind man describing color after being told what to say, but because his memory was so good, he spoke like someone who knew what he was talking about.

Who knew bicycles better? The person who actually road them, or the person who only read about them?

Isn't it fucking obvious?

The major difference between these two ways of knowing bicycles, is that one is a spectator, the other is a participant.

One is based on fantasy, the other is based on reality.

Both intellectual theory and practical experience go hand in hand, it's helpful to have both, but the whole point of knowing about something is putting it into practice; otherwise without doing it, you're engaging in little more than a fantasy.

The boy who knows all about bicycles from having read about them, but who has never actually rode one before, can't actually call himself a cyclist. He could call himself an expert in bicycle history and trivia, but he will never be a cyclist until he actually rides a bike.

It's all well and good to speculate upon things, to contemplate abstract philosophical concepts, but unless you can actually apply it to your life in some way, to put the philosophy or theory into practice, it's like doing nothing at all, and where is the value in that?

A person possessing intellectual knowledge without experience, is like someone looking into a reflection of reality as an outside observer, but not actually participating in it. Like watching a dance, but not dancing; like reading about bicycles, but not actually riding one. It's not the same thing. To know something you must participate with it. Trying to do otherwise, is like describing the taste of fruit, based on what you have read about it, without ever tasting it yourself. It's fake. It's hollow. It's like a blind man accurately describing color without ever seeing it for himself, because he's memorized someone else's description of it.

The point is that there is a substantial difference between knowing things from experience and knowing them from a theoretical perspective, and that the only thing that really makes ideas come alive, is when they are applied.

Failure to apply any idea, to demonstrate its practical value to the world (and practical in this sense does not only mean utilitarian, but is anything that adds personal value to your life, including entertainment and the arts) is an indication that you are engaging in a fruitless pursuit, a form of intellectual flatulence. Unfortunately there seems to be a lot of that going around lately, especially here in blog land. If you like gas, all the power to you, otherwise maybe you ought to try something else.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Running

Been thinking about running lately. I’ve walked ten miles, road my bike 30 miles, but I’ve never run longer than one mile at a stretch. For all my talk about being into fitness, that’s kind of pathetic, huh? A mile run is basically a walk in the park. Not much of an accomplishment. It’s more of a warm up exercise for more experienced runners. Why haven’t I run further? I guess I’ve seen no point in doing it. Haven’t had the need or the desire. Felt more comfortable walking. Yeah there was pain and weakness after a mile of running, but I saw no incentive for getting past that and being able to go the distance. Five miles. Ten miles. Twenty miles. Fifty miles.

But considering that I don’t drive, have no plans of ever driving, and prefer to get around through the power of my own locomotion as much as possible, being able to run further makes practical sense. Sometimes riding my bike isn’t a good option. Mechanical problems can be a hassle, and the worry of my bicycle getting stolen may be a legitimate deterrent from taking it certain places. I walk, but walking is slow. Walking is like traveling on cruise control, while running is like your natural born acceleration. We’re both natural born walkers and runners, the two complement one another; the only difference is in the speed of our movement. Running is faster. Walking is slower.

When you need to travel faster and further, running is much more efficient than walking. If speed and distance is not a priority, walking can be a much more relaxing experience, where it’s like going on a leisurely sightseeing stroll. You can see the sights while running too, but when you need to see more, to be more aware of and immersed in your surroundings, you need to move slower. You can only process so much at a time, and the faster you move, the less time you have to focus on one single thing. I usually stop a lot on my walks, to smell the roses, so to speak. I do the same when I run; to really listen, you need to be still.

The only reason why I haven’t attempted to run further in the past is that I saw zero utilitarian value in doing so. I’m not interested in the sport aspect of running. I have absolutely no interest in racing, running faster, or beating records of time or distance. And the health benefits can be obtained in other ways; weight training, calisthenics, aerobics. But I now see that running does in fact have a utilitarian value. It’s about getting places. It’s a viable means of transportation. I never even thought it would be possible to run to the Pacific Ocean from where I live. It was news to me when I recently discovered that the Hopi Indians of Arizona used to run not only to California, but all the way down to the southern tip of Mexico, averaging 100 miles a day. I didn’t even know that it was possible to run 100 miles in a day, let alone running a thousand miles in a week and a half. That’s pretty cool.

I had no idea about the history of long distance running among the native Americans, and other indigenous tribes around the world. It’s fascinating to me. The trick is learning how to run long distances without injuring yourself in the process. That’s what I need to work on. Not sure I’ll be running a 100 miles in a day, but now that I see a practical value for it, I think I need to add long distance running to the repertoire of my skills. Even if I only use running as a tool for scouting out new places to walk and to sit, it’s a good skill to have.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

As if You Were Dying

Easter Island Statue
"Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case." -- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life.

Another way of putting this, would be to live each day as if it were your last; to seize the day, to make the most of whatever time you have.

If you are dying, there is no time for procrastination, no time to wait around for a better time, another day, another year; there is only today, so it's got to happen now or never. But that is only true to some extent. What you want, may not be possible today. If it is dry, and you yearn for the rain, no amount of yearning is going to make it rain if the conditions are not ripe for rain. So what it means is that you make the best of what you've got, and you make the attempt for what you want, today, to the best of your ability. If you want rain, you don't wait around for the rain to come to you, you come to it.

That's good advice, but it's much easier said than done.

In this quote she is directing her advice to writers, to look upon yourself and your audience as dying, as having limited time, so you've got to really make the most of it. Perhaps this is it. Last day on earth, for me and you. Is this really the last thing I want to say? Is this really the last thing you want to read? Is this really it? Is this really the best we can do?

Shit, that's a lot of pressure. Don't think I can follow her advice, completely, but I do appreciate the sentiment. No, I hope you spend you last hours offline. The last place in the world I would ever want to be in my final hour is on my computer. I'm a gambler though, so this is my crap shot, racing against time, trying to beat the odds.

But what Dillard says is a reminder how extremely precious each of our lives are, yours and mine both, that there really is no time to waste on being mediocre. That we really need to make the most of it as soon as possible. Pay attention. Breath deeply. Smile widely. Be excellent. Be passionate. Be courageous. Be honest.

Is it possible that having all the time in the world, gives you all the more time to waste on trivial pursuits? That the more time you think you have left, the more likely you will waste  your time, and not give it your 100 percent.

So, the advice to live as if you were dying, is not telling you to give up and to stop living, but it's telling you to live more. It is a reminder to be more mindful of each moment, to make the most of each experience, and to never take life for granted. Because death is like your shadow, that is always with you, is like your personally appointed judge and guide, watching your every move, just waiting for you to slip up, and to sneak up on you and tap you on your shoulder when you least expect it.

Death XIII Tarot Card

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being is Becoming

Being is an ever unfolding process of becoming.

It is what it is and you are what you are, but "it" or "you" is more of a fluid process than a static thing.

I've encountered a few people over the years on various philosophical themed blogs, who are opposed to such things as "self-improvement" and "inner cultivation" or basically any attempt to change yourself in some way. Those who espouse such views are usually Westerners under the influence of Eastern philosophy.

Their reasoning is that you are what you are, and it is not possible to be anything but what you already are, therefore any attempt to do so is unhealthy and inauthentic. That trying to improve yourself, is an attempt to change yourself into something that you are not; effectively resisting your true nature, akin to going against the genuine current of who you are; and that you do not need to improve or change because your inner nature is already perfect in and of itself, if you would only realize this.

It always angered me to hear this, because not only did I think they were dead wrong, and that their reasoning was based on a flawed understanding of personal nature, and the true nature of being and becoming, but that such advice was actually detrimental to anyone who listened to it and tried to apply it to their own lives.

Why? Because self-improvement and personal cultivation is less about changing who you are, and more about discovering who you are and increasing your overall awareness and understanding of the world. It's like the tuning of an instrument, adjusting your awareness so that it achieves harmonic resonance with your true nature, and then learning to play the instrument well.

So it's less about changing who you are, and more about centering and refocusing your awareness, similar to a camera, on what is true. A camera is much like your nature, it is what it is, but the quality of pictures taken, whether they are blurry or clear, depends on the quality of your awareness, and the ability to bring the image into focus.

I exercise not only to become stronger, but because it clears my thinking and makes me feel better. It's very much like eating or sleeping, a necessary function. I feel the same way about reading. So perhaps you could say that the pursuit of knowledge and fitness, self-improvement and personal cultivation, for some, is an expression of their true nature.

What is your true nature?

It is your essential being, or personal essence actualizing itself through the process of becoming. Your true nature, or essential being, is an energy overlapping your entire body and consciousness, moving in a specific direction or pattern unique to yourself, much like a magnetic bearing on a compass, a point of reference out of which all else proceeds. It is your particular direction, or unique pattern of movement, current of energy, or personal flow of being, influencing thinking, feeling, doing, and the processing experiences.

Your inward nature, is not a fixed entity or solid structure, but is more of a moving energy, like a current of wind, water, or the energy of fire, which interacts with its environment in which both are modified by the process; being both influenced and influential, affected and affecting, attracting and repelling, being and becoming, self-actualizing itself through the experience of living, learning, and interacting.

For instance, the nature of sand is sand, the nature of water is water, but when water interacts with sand, each is modified by the interaction. True?

The same could be said about one's genuine nature, it is what it is, but when it interacts with different things, and is exposed to different environmental and cultural influences, just like the water and sand, it too is modified ever so slightly, even if it is only a subtle shift of awareness. And a modification, or adaptation, is not always a bad thing, sometimes it just is what it is, a necessary change, an unavoidable reality.

Therefore, self-improvement and personal cultivation, rather than taking one further away from oneself, could actually bring one closer to oneself; self-actualizing your genuine nature through an adjustment of awareness.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I think versus I know

Reading over many of my posts, I notice that I have the habit of beginning many of my sentences with "I think". I think this, I think that, bla bla bla.

What does that suggest to you?

Hesitancy. Doubt. Lack of conviction or confidence in what I am saying.

Example:

1. I think that it is important to exercise regularly.
2. It is important to exercise regularly.

3. I think that the scent of orange blossoms is one of the loveliest scents in the world.
4. The scent of orange blossoms is one of the loveliest scents in the world.

What is the difference between these two ways of communicating?

One is passive, the other is assertive.

Why do you suppose I frame many of my sentences with "I think", rather than just making an affirmative declaration?

I think it is because I am trying to keep an open mind. (Yes, the use of "I think" at the beginning of this sentence was intentional.) Or rather, that by beginning my sentence with "I think" is to speak from a perspective of open-mindedness and humility. It is also to distinguish an opinion from an absolute fact, and to acknowledge that I may be wrong, or that other points of view may be equally valid.

But is it really necessary? Does speaking passively really help?

In any case, I think the best answer to my question as to why I begin some sentences with "I think", is to indicate that it is an opinion and not a fact. Just as the previous sentence illustrates, it suggests that I am not 100 percent certain that I am right, and by using the words "I think" says that I am open to the possibility of being wrong, and that I am willing to modify my beliefs or assumptions as new evidence becomes available.

That is what I believe is going on when people begin sentences with "I think". But it also suggests that they do not know.

So not sure whether this is a good or a bad habit, but I suppose it would depend on the sentence, and on whatever it is you're talking about.

I guess the lesson to be learned from this, in regards to writing and speaking, is that whenever choosing words, it is important to ask yourself whether it is more appropriate to communicate in a passive voice or an assertive one.

For example, is it better to say:  "I think muscular men are more attractive than skinny men." Or simply a declarative: "Muscular men are more attractive than skinny men."

I know that's a shallow example, but hey, it works.

The difference between the two, is that the one being more open minded and less confident, weakens its own argument. It casts a shadow of doubt on itself. Which may be entirely appropriate, or not. It depends on the situation. Being open minded is generally more of a virtue than a vice, but sometimes the facts clearly out weigh the theories, and in such a case being open minded may be more of burden than a help.

Saying "I think" also suggests that I am not really sure. And that's fine if that is in fact the case, but one should also be aware that by communicating in this manner, beginning sentences with "I think" weakens your statement.

As the old adage says: It is best to say what you mean and to mean what you say.

It would be completely unnecessary to begin that sentence with I think, because in this case it is not something I merely think, it is something I know.

That is the primary difference between thinking something and knowing something, one is weak, the other is strong; one is lucid, the other is confused; one is uncertain, the other is confident; and one may be clever, but the other is wise.

One knows, the other thinks she knows, but isn't really sure whether what she knows is right or wrong. Therefore, the difference between knowing and thinking, is the difference between being awake and being asleep.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scattered Reading Habits

Hmm, while looking through the list of books I've read over the last six years, it's come to my attention that strangely enough for someone who professes a primary interest in the subjects of health and fitness and longevity, I've only read five books on those topics since 2006. Isn't that odd?

Of course, this list only mentions completed books, and not books I may have browsed through but not read from cover to cover; or magazines and websites related to health and longevity; or books I've read prior to 2006.

But still, for someone who reads a lot, it is peculiar to me that I haven't read more on these subjects. Is it because I feel like I already am well educated in these matters, that I no longer need to read books about it, because I already know all there is to know about health and longevity? Well, if that were the case, I better start writing about it then, right? But no that's not the case. So what is the conclusion then? That I better get cracking; meaning that I better start reading some health and longevity books soon.

Of course my problem, as far as independent study goes, is that I tend to jump around. I lack focus. I get bored easily. As soon as I read one thing, I find something else to read that is extremely interesting to me but completely unrelated to what I just previously read. It happens every time. When it comes to my education, I really don't have a definite plan, or specific goal. All I know is that I like to learn, and enjoy reading about whatever interests me, which changes from month to month.

Which means that I acquire a basic understanding of several different topics, but attain mastery of none. Instead of reading five good books on one topic, I read five good books on five different topics, and then I read five more books on five other topics, and then after a few months maybe I'll read a book on a topic I've already read about. It's sort of a scattered approach to learning; it's a very slow and unfocused process.

Although the more I read, no matter how different the subjects, I suppose it's improving my overall reading proficiency, my vocabulary, reading speed, and comprehension, which I hope is also carrying over into the way I think and communicate, and especially in the way I write. As they say, if you want to become better at anything: practice, practice, practice. If you want to become a better reader, spend more time reading. If you want to become a better writer, spend more time writing. If you want to become a better speaker, spend more time speaking. If you want to become better at anything, spend more time doing it.

It's really as simple as that. So while reading a lot of unrelated topics may not give you mastery of those topics, it will improve your general knowledge, your reading skills, as well as your overall competency with words, whether that be reading, writing, or speaking. But, reading in itself, is not my primary goal. The goal is knowledge, understanding, wisdom. Reading is the means, not the end. If you are interested in health, it pays to read a lot about health. If you are interested in business, it pays to read a lot about business. The more you concentrate on a specific thing, the more you read about it, think about it, speak about it, write about it, the more you will learn about it, the more you will know about it, and the more successful you will be in this subject.

In other words: the more you concentrate, the faster you'll learn; the less you concentrate, the slower you'll learn.

This is so obvious that it probably doesn't even need to be said. And yet, despite being so obvious, why is it so difficult for me? Why do I continue to jump around? Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because my mind is so active, and has so many different interests, that if I don't add variety to my reading I become easily bored.

This I think explains my lack of success, or rather my lack of mastery of any single topic. The fact that I jump around a lot, means that it could take me years to master one topic that someone else could master in months.

I think besides having an overactive mind, another reason for my scattered reading habits is due to indecisiveness, of not being able to make up my mind of what I want to master. I'm over 30 and I'm still struggling with the idea of what I want to be when I grow up. Am still conflicted over whether or not I should integrate my passions and interests (which are just as scattered and unfocused as my reading habits) with my employment, or if I should continue to keep them separate. The idea of the latter, being that you develop a business plan that would enable you to make more money working fewer hours, which doesn't necessarily need to be a job you love, but would be lucrative enough to give you an abundance of free time to pursue your real passions in life; like what The 4-Hour Work Week guy suggests.

The second of the two options is what I've unsuccessfully been attempting to do over the last few years, but unfortunately the income has not been lucrative enough to give me the time I need. Instead of working 4 hours a week, it would be 40 hours of hell, multiplied by several months, all done with the aim of taking an extended vacation to pursue doing the things I love. This plan works out all right the first or second time around, but as the years go by, you find out that you're still spending more time doing what you hate, than doing what you love, which is not a very healthy long-term plan. Option two only works if you have a lucrative business or skill.

So you basically have three choices: you either have to figure out a way to make a lot of money in a short period of time, or a job that enables you to have fewer hours with higher pay, which will give you the free time that you need to pursue the things you love; or you have to love what you do regardless of how little you make; or you just make the best of your situation and stop complaining about it.

And what does this have to do with my scattered reading habits? My scattered reading habits are a reflection of my scattered employment habits. The difference between having a focused goal and not having a focused goal, is the difference between having a job you hate and a job you love.

Successful people are focused people. They have goals, and they achieve them. Without a plan, what have you got? Chaos. Weakness. Uncertainty. Indecisiveness. Being lost. Not knowing where you are, who you are, or where you're going. Very easy to be taken advantage of or manipulated in such a situation. The strong shepherd the weak, but the strong are not always your allies, the strong do not always have your best interests at heart. The strong have their own goals, they know exactly what they want, and will use other people to get it. Which reminds me of the Occupy Movement, a mob without a clearly articulated goal or unified objective, is easy prey for outside manipulation from those who do know what they want, but whose longer range goal may not have the mobs true interests at heart. In other words, a leaderless mob, will gravitate to a leader, any leader, even the wrong one, even a tyrant.

As far as my scattered reading habits go, it's good that I at least continue to maintain an interest in learning, that I continue reading books on my own without being required to. Surprisingly many people once their out of school, stop reading all together. Or if they do read, it's limited to magazines and newspapers and novels. Reading is certainly not the only way to learn about things, but I think it gives a decided advantage. The only danger though, is that while it's good to read, you shouldn't read too much, to such an extent that reading become a substitute for thinking. When that happens, you stop learning, and your imagination starts to die. You could read a whole library of books in this way, and not have a single original thought of your own to contribute. In fact you would become more like a robot, and less like a human. What a sad state of affairs that would be.

You want to think about what you read and apply it to your own life and your own experience, to synthesize the ideas with your own, rather than thoughtlessly regurgitating everything you read word for word like a parrot; this is the difference between thinking and repeating, and between understanding and memorizing without understanding.

So the point is that scattered reading is probably better than no reading, but you'll achieve more from your reading with focused concentration. Having a clearly articulated goal, while at the same time being flexible enough to modify your course as necessary, will yield faster, more concentrated, and more productive results than not having a goal at all.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cycles

I'm someone who's always for as long as I can remember been attuned to natural cycles. I have very strong pattern recognition skills, and the strongest patterns I see around me are those occurring in nature: diurnal cycles, seasonal cycles, celestial cycles, circadian cycles.

And I'm particularly observant of the transition points from one cycle to another. Such as the meeting of day and night, night and day, also known as dusk and dawn, the setting and rising of the sun, the setting and rising of the moon and the stars, and the changes from one season to the next. I've always felt those times to be magical, having a special quality in the air that is only present at those times. I didn't have to read about these things to pay attention to them, to value them, it is something that has always intuitively come natural to me.

I've always tried to make an attempt to be outside during those times, to be present, watching, listening, soaking it in, acknowledging the change. I don't always succeed, but whenever I do I walk away feeling blessed by something special, a certain intangible quality, like a subtle inspiration that bathes over my whole being. I walk away feeling inspired, revitalized, in awe of a mystery. Perhaps this too is key to longevity. Making the time to greet the day and the night, to bear witness to the passing of the torch, the points of transition between seasonal and celestial change, and being thankful for its continuity.

Why do people not notice these things? Perhaps because they do not like their surroundings. Maybe they live in an ugly place, where the objects of man distract from the objects of nature, where it is unpleasant to be outside. Where the streets are loud, and the buildings are oppressively large, and people are physically too close together and mentally too far apart. Where there is a feeling of separation and animosity and alienation and apprehension, and the consequential feelings of frustration and boredom. Or maybe the objects of man are architectural wonders, objects d'art, that keep us enthralled, and distracted from nature's own magical moments of artistic wonder. Or maybe you are just really busy, and would rather be inside doing whatever it is you do, paying little attention to nature's holidays, these special moments during the day and night and on certain days of the year that mark changes in the landscape, that whether we notice them or not, subtly effect the quality of our lives, the quality of our moods and frames of mind.

If you've been reading for awhile you've probably noticed that I label each post according to whatever astrological sign it was in during the time it was written. This is an experiment of mine, to see if I notice patterns in my blog posts, to see if I write about certain topics more frequently during different signs. For instance, do all the posts written in Libra share something in common, that sets them apart from other months? Libra is a sign that begins in late September and occupies most of October, pretty much from September 23 to October 23. It's a sign that is closely aligned with the advent of Autumn. Virgo is the end of summer, and Libra is the beginning of fall.

There probably are noticeable changes in my posts at this time, primarily due to the cooler weather, which is especially apparent here in Arizona, where summer lasts much longer than other places, and we are just now finally reaching the end of a long cycle of approximately six months of temperatures in the hundreds. The hot weather puts me to sleep. I become lazier, not just physically but mentally, and I usually complain about the heat and how much I dislike Arizona. I do like warm weather, but when it is in the hundreds it pretty much puts a break on all outdoor physical activity. It is simply not safe to move around much in that kind of heat. You pretty much have to stay indoors for most of the time, or stay in the shade and not move around much. Six months is a long stretch of time to be indoors, especially for someone who is very physically active and who loves the outdoors, and who doesn't drive and must ride a bike or walk for my primary form of transportation. Which means I have to go outside when it is extremely uncomfortable to be outside and is actually dangerous to be outside. Fortunately that cycle is ending, and we are slowly entering a cool down.

The cooler air that correlates with the onset of Libra, is characterized by a more logical influence, my thinking becomes clearer, I'm less likely to complain about things, my sense of humor returns, and I have more of a propensity to post more frequently, to post more pictures, especially fine art, and more likely to explore themes concerning mythology and symbolism, and topics that require a deeper level of concentration and awareness. The writing seems to come more easily too, because it is easier to concentrate when I do not feel like my body is in a vise, and like I'm slowly suffocating to death as I'm being baked alive in this desert oven. That is my experience of six months of 100 degree temperatures. Despite my proclivity for exaggeration and melodrama, the comparison to hell is really not all that far fetched.

I would say that each astrological sign is a reflection of the seasonal changes present at different times of the year, changes that alter not just temperature, but also the qualities of moisture and light. Cool, Warm, Moist, Dry, Light, Dark. There are distinct patterns that are present in each month. The essence of Libra is the essence of October, and the essence of October is most noticeably shaped by the weather patterns, by the unique seasonal changes occurring at this time. But you could say, why not just label each post by its month...September, October, November, etc.? Well the beauty of the astrological signs is that they each contain the transitions between months, they each overlap months, containing the seeds of their opposite, the cusps between one month and the next. So that Libra begins in September and ends in October, and Scorpio begins in October and ends in November. It makes it kind of interesting, I think.

Anyway, the astrological signs mirror the changes of the seasons, embody the qualities of a particular time of the season, which may be warmer or cooler, wetter or dryer, or darker or lighter. The weather effects our mood. But of the course, the weather varies from place to place. A desert Libra will differ from a tropical Libra. A northern Libra will differ from a southern Libra. But the changes will be more similar than different for those living in the same hemisphere. For instance, although the Arizona desert is still warmer in Libra than it is in Wisconsin, there is still a noticeable cool down at this time effecting both places, which gives it its unique Libra "vibe".

If you get nothing else from this post, get this: Pay attention to nature's cycles. Be present to the transition from one natural cycle to the next, between day and night and night and day, sunrise and sunset, moon rise and moon set, star rise and star set, the changes between one month and one season and the next. And just to make it more interesting how about paying attention to the transition between zodiac signs, between Virgo and Libra, Libra and Scorpio, etc., or how about Chinese astrology, commemorating the twelve year intervals between the year of the snake, the year of the dragon, etc. If you don't like astrology, don't worry about it, but do pay attention to the natural cycles around you, and within you, that influence the rhythms of your life.

These are special times. I can feel it. They have special lessons to impart. I've been studying them all my life. They are lessons of transformation, wordless teachings that get etched into the tapestry of our experience as a sort of unspoken wisdom. I don't know why or how, but there is magic during these times of transition. They are good times to meditate with your eyes wide open, or to simply be outside, being mindful of the experience of being outside and aware of the natural landscape and aware of the subtle changes of light and moisture and heat that are especially visible during these times.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Samsara and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

I thought I'd use this passage from Endgame: Volume 1 as a writing prompt. It is Derrick Jensen's thoughts on Buddhism, as it pertains to civilization; followed by my response:

"I have friends who are Buddhists. They too, are trained away from their bodies, away from the real, away from the primary, away from the material, away from their experience, away from what they call samsara (literally the passing through in Sanskrit: what my dictionary calls "the indefinitely repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma," and what one Zen Buddhist calls "the hellish world of time and space and the shifting shapes which energy assumes, the fluctuating world which is apprehended by the senses and presided over by the judgmental ego," all of which sounds like an awful drag, and really, to be honest, does not sound in the slightest like life as I experience it), away from what they call illusion, and toward what they tellingly and pathetically call "liberation" from this earth."

He says this is not his experience of life, but it sure does sound like his experience of civilization. And how can you separate the two?

"In short, Buddhism and Christianity do what all religions of civilization must do, which is to naturalize the oppressiveness of the culture -- get people (victims) to  believe that their enslavement is not simply cultural but a necessary part of their existence to which they've been "condemned" -- and then to point these people away from their awful  (civilized) existence and toward "liberation" in some illusory better place. How very convenient for those in power. These are religions for the powerless. These are religions to keep people powerless." 

So what is he saying here? That samsara is a lie? That the idea that suffering is a fact of earthly existence was a lie invented to justify the injustices endemic to civilization as we know it? How does he know that when he knows nothing but civilization? All of his ideas about life without civilization are speculation.

I'm not denying that religions have been used to control people, to justify evil, inequality, and injustice, but I do not believe that civilization is wholly responsible for any of it. I think the problems of civilization are symptoms of a much deeper problem that has always existed in human nature, which is the potential to be evil, to be selfish and greedy and cruel, to lie, to steal, to cheat, to control, to abuse, to cause harm, and to selfishly and greedily pursue power for power's sake. Each person has that potential. No matter where they live. No matter who they are. Maybe civilization has a higher concentration of it, maybe civilization as we know it is unhealthy and unsustainable, but the problem of evil I think will always exist no matter what. It's not just a problem with civilization but a problem with human nature itself.

Jensen says civilization will crash whether we want it to or not. I'm not sure I understand what that means. The collapse of the global economy? The collapse of nation states? The collapse of our money system, where the dollar becomes worthless, and all the jobs disappear that are not immediately connected to survival? Non-essential jobs will disappear (and we all know that means most jobs), because there is no longer money to pay people, and little incentive to do meaningless work if it doesn't pay anything, if it doesn't put food in your belly or joy in your heart. Or does he mean ecological collapse? Where we have depleted our resources and exceeded our carrying capacity, where there are simply too many people and not enough resources to sustain them? Not enough food? Not enough fuel, to cook, to heat, to cool?

If this is so, the collapse of civilization will inevitably result in a massive die-off, a major reduction in the population, caused by widespread starvation, disease, exposure to the elements (when there is inadequate shelter and no fuel to heat or cool homes), and war where people fight among themselves for the last remaining resources. Got food? Other people will want it. Problem is there won't be enough to feed everyone, not if crops fail, and food surpluses are depleted, and all that people have to rely on is what they are able to hunt and gather and grow themselves. Since most civilized people are unskilled in those matters, people may attempt to steal food from those who have it, from those who do have the skills to obtain it, to grow it, to hunt and gather it.

Also when civilization collapses where do think all the world leaders, social planners, corporate executives, military and law enforcement personnel, the wealthy and intellectual elite, basically all the people that have power now in civilization, where do you think they will be when civilization collapses? Do you really think they are just going to disappear? Also, civilization is not just a way of doing things, it is a way of thinking about things. The only reason why civilization will collapse is because it is unsustainable. It's motto of endless growth and endless expansion can't go on forever. Perhaps it's collapse will force people to live more sustainably, simply because they will have no other choice, living "green" will become a matter of survival. But just because people are living in a more ecologically sustainable manner doesn't necessarily mean they are going to be better people, nicer people, kinder people, more compassionate people, or more enlightened people. In fact Hitler was a big advocate of developing green sustainable technologies, organic gardening, using renewable sources of energy, and yet he was seriously lacking in the kindness and compassion department.

So running out of resources isn't going to eliminate all the negative qualities that Jensen pins on civilization. It's not going to completely eliminate hierarchical thinking or authoritarian control. It will simply become civilization on a smaller scale, with fewer people. There will still be evil. There will still be exploitation. There will still be violence. There will still be rape and theft and murder. There will still be war. There will still be inequality and injustice. There will still be people and all the ensuing conflicts that occur whenever people arrange their lives together, forming different societies, different groups and subcultures. We don't all get along. We have different ideas. Different personalities. Different objectives. Sometimes others are opposed to what we want to do, and they will resist us, sometimes with force, sometimes unreasonably and unjustly.

The collapse of civilization does not mean the end of societal conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, or armed conflicts. It just means that everything will be on a smaller scale, but that things will get very bad, before they get better. A lot of people will die, a lot of plants and animals will die, resources and habitats and whole landscapes will be destroyed, because you really can't believe that civilization will collapse without a war, as the last remaining world states fight for the last remaining resources.

So, my whole point is that the main problem I have with Jensen is that he seems to project everything he hates about the world onto civilization. Civilization is his monster, his devil, the source of all the evil in the world, that if it could just be brought down and destroyed, everything would be so much better and we would all enter a golden age. But I don't think that's going to happen. Certainly life may be better and more comfortable for some, but not all. Because the nature of samsara is suffering. Life is beautiful, but it can also turn ugly really quick. Just when you think you have gotten your shit together, have found peace of mind, have formed good friendships, have a high quality of life, and love your life, whose to say it will last? You could be a really great person, friendly, courteous, diplomatic, non-violent, willing to help anyone in need, and one day someone may beat the shit out of you and burn your house down and murder your family and friends for no reason at all...just for the hell of it. Because while you can control your own actions, you have no control over the actions of others. You may find enlightenment, but that may not stop the unenlightened from destroying everything that you've built, everything that you've accomplished, and discrediting everything that you've ever said or done.

Samsara. Not just the natural world and civilization as we know it, but also the human heart and mind. What does it mean? That suffering is a natural characteristic of life, whether we live in a civilization or not. That life is not perfect. That people are not perfect. And bad things have been happening to good people for as long as people have walked the earth. It doesn't matter what kind of social structures are in place, what kind of society we live in, what kind of government we have, what kind of economy we have, whether we live in villages or cities, even if we all lived in sustainable eco-villages things will never perfect, there will always be conflict of some degree or another, and the choice between good and evil is something that will always remain within the human heart; to respect or disrespect, to help or to harm, to give or to take.

Civilizations come and go. That too is samsara. Could it be that this world that we live in, this reaching the tipping point of overpopulation, resource depletion, and over polluting the earth is something that has happened before and will happen again? Maybe our history is wrong. Maybe there were ancient civilizations going back further than what we have a record of. Maybe they were destroyed in some major cataclysm, buried beneath the sea, left without a trace. I don't know. But maybe the rise and fall of civilizations come and go in cycles of expansion and contraction. So when our civilization collapses whose to say it won't build itself right back up again? Certainly not in our lifetimes, but eventually, and that too will pass, as it always does.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I am Not a Gadget

I recently started reading this really interesting book called You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier, offering a critical look at online technologies written by a man credited as being "the father of virtual reality technologies". I recommend it for all bloggers, certainly for all readers of this blog, and anyone who spends a great deal of time online, especially those who have dabbled with social networking sites, or anyone having an optimistic view of it all.

*Unless otherwise noted, direct quotes from the book are printed in bold, followed by my own lengthy commentary.

Regarding your presence on the internet: "These are some things you can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others."

-- "Don't post anonymously unless you really might be in danger."

This I only semi agree with. I would be extremely uncomfortable posting my personal mailing address, phone number, complete birth name, and resume online in connection with this blog. Because, as much as I value openness and honesty, why should I blindly share personal info with you which can be traced back to my exact physical location, when you the readers are mostly anonymous, invisible, quietly reading without commenting, or sharing anything personal about yourself? After all there are such things as cyber stalkers and identity thieves waiting to prey on gullible bloggers who reveal a bit too much about themselves, setting themselves up to be exploited, to be attacked, robbed, blackmailed, or conned in real life by unsavory predators just waiting for the opportunity to pounce.

Nevertheless, I believe in the value of posting a real photograph of myself and using my real name. Yes believe it or not, Cym is not an acronym, nor is it a pseudonym, but it is in fact my real name: the name I use offline. It is not my full name, but it is the name I am most known for. It is pronounced like the words symphony and symmetry, like the musical instrument the cymbal.

If anyone wishes to comment, to send me an e-mail, to interact with me online, I would prefer that they identify who they are, using their real name, providing a real photo of themselves, and preferably have a blog or website, so that I can have a better idea of who they are; as the way a person writes, especially when writing about oneself, gives probably the clearest reflection of how a person thinks. It may differ slightly from the spoken word, from a person's real-time face to face persona, but the written word does offer the clearest reflection of a person's internal thought processes.

I no longer feel comfortable interacting with people online who hide behind the masks of anonymity, who wear false names and cartoonish avatars (it's okay if you use that for your online profile so long as you have your name and picture posted elsewhere), and those who wish to continue hiding, who are unable to be upfront about who you really are, it is probably for the best that you remain in hiding, because I do not wish to talk to someone who cannot be honest about who they really are. I will no longer respond to anonymous comments, and unless I know the person in real life, it is unlikely that I will respond to e-mails in connection with this blog who do not provide a link to a personal blog, website, or social networking profile.

So while I do not believe in full public disclosure  -- there is no need to post your resume, birth certificate, or photo id online -- I do believe in at least providing a real name and photo attached to your online web presence, to give it a more authentic human presence. That is what I do, and ask that anyone who wishes to interact with me here does the same. Fake pictures and fake names will not be tolerated, and anyone who does such a thing is just a creepy bastard who if I ever find out that is going on, will become permanently blacklisted from any and all future exchanges of communication.

--"Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won't fit into the template available to you on a social networking site."

Twitter and Facebook on their own are shallow attempts at creative self-expression. A blog or website can be anything that you want, it is up to you what you share, but really, if you want to authentically share the depths of who you are, to be known to a wider audience, to expand your circle of associations, and you want to do it online, a blog or website is the way to go. Creative self-expression is not a priority to everyone. Not everyone feels the call to share themselves in this way, to keep a public diary, to share their personal passions, to keep a website that is devoted to some hobby or social cause that you feel passionately about.

It is not for everyone, blogging and website creation (aside from its business angle) is primarily in the realm of the artist and the teacher. There are those who feel the impulse, the call to create, to share what they know with others. And then there are those who are here solely to read, to feed, to learn what they can, for creative inspiration, or to observe for purposes of strategic analysis, similar to how a scientist studies the habits of a laboratory subject. In any case, whether you are here in the role of a teacher or a student, a creator or one who appreciates observing the unfolding creative process in others, a website or a blog is the most fruitful online tool available for creative self-expression. If you limit yourself to social networking sites, like facebook or twitter, you limit yourself to a much more fragmentary tool of self-expression.

-- "Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out."

This is the main difference between a blog and twitter. A thoughtful blog post is more like the uncorking of an aged fine wine, or a fine cup of tea which has had time to steep to perfection, where an experience has really had the chance to soak in and become more refined in its subtleties of expression. Whereas a twitter entry is like a cheap bottle of MD 20/20 (aka Mad Dog) with a shallow depth of flavor and a nasty lingering aftertaste, which though it may have been fun in the beginning, when you were young and inexperienced and afflicted with the poor taste and poor judgment of youth, but in hindsight was as unmemorable as suffering a terrible headache or a terrible head cold years ago on a boring and lazy Sunday afternoon.

-- "If you are twittering, innovate in order to find a way to describe your inner state instead of trivial external events, to avoid the creeping danger of believing that objectively described events define you, as they would define a machine."

This is why I no longer use twitter. Though it certainly is possible to innovate, to make the most out of twitter, to make it less of a trivial fragmentary expression than it normally is. But I myself prefer the creative fluidity of a blog, where I can post all manner of media, pictures and videos and words of any length and depth I choose. And I'm doing everything in my power to not allow external events to objectively define me as they would define a machine. Because I am not a machine. I am not a gadget. I am not an artificial intelligence or a virtual reality robot, but I am an individual free thinking human being with a real body mind and soul, who lives and breaths real air, and who thinks and feels and senses and speaks and stands in real time in real space. I will not be restricted or limited or diminished by this technology; this technology serves me, I do not serve it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Travelogue: Backyard Round-Tail Ground Squirrel Observations

I've had the good fortune these last couple of years of having my bedroom window overlooking a mesquite tree and a couple of creosote bushes, which has been home to several generations of round-tail ground squirrels.

Never before in my life until moving here have I had this opportunity to observe several evolving generations of squirrel families. I've seen these primarily vegetarian omnivores fight each other to the death, kill and eat birds and reptiles, even resort to cannibalism.That is not a regular occurrence, but usually only happens due to extreme weather conditions, excessive heat and drought, when food or water becomes scarce, and both animals and people alike may be driven to madness. Under more normal conditions I've seen dozens of babies peacefully playing together like puppies, learning to climb trees, wrestle each other, burrow holes in the ground, forage mesquite seed pods and creosote blossoms, and generally learning how to fend for themselves.

Here are some pictures of the latest generation.


This picture reminds me of a scene right out of one of my favorite childhood story books called The Wind in the Willows. If you haven't read that yet you should, it's a great book. One of Pink Floyd's early albums The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was named after a chapter in that book.

This little squirrel appeared to me as if he were the village messenger coming out to greet me, intermittently sending out its high pitched alert signal whistle, and checking me out seeing whether I posed any kind of a threat to the round-tail ground squirrel village community.


I do not pose any threat whatsoever, but unfortunately I cannot say the same for some of my asshole neighbors, who appear to be at constant war with the wildlife, viewing them as pests to be eradicated, rather than as friendly peacefully co-existing neighbors who actually have more of a natural born right to this land than they do. This is their home, where else do you expect them to live? And yet they take away their food source, tell people not to feed them, spray poison all over the place, for no other reason than just because some people associate them with "dirty rats" and don't like to see them.


There are admittedly some legitimate concerns when removing animal and insect pests may be warranted, for instance if they are damaging crops, property, or are a genuine threat to public health. But in this case, these squirrels pose no threat, are living in the place they are designed to live in, in the most natural most suitable way they know how to live. And yet some idiots don't care. They don't like them, and for them that is reason enough to destroy them all. People can be really stupid sometimes. Don't even get me started on one of my weed killer rants. I'll save that one for another day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Inspiration of the Stars

And by stars I don't mean those celebrities pictured on the covers of magazines, but those far brighter and much more magnificent glowing objects visible in the nighttime sky. You know: Stars. Suns. Each of those stars is a sun similar to our own, and sometimes larger, but each millions of miles away and surrounded by their own unique moons and planets.

I PREFER THE NIGHT, not generally for reading or social gatherings, but for being alone and thinking deeply about things, contemplating the majesty and mystery of the universe under the quietude of the star filled sky.

I enjoy the night primarily for the silence, the solitude, and the stars. Which is why I generally don't like spending too much time outside on a cloudy night.

It is only when the sky is clear and the stars are bright, that I am intuitively aligned with illuminated insight. Don't you like how that rhymed? And it just happened on its own effortlessly without me even trying.

The celestial sky mirrors the inner self. Looking upwards I see a reflection in my own mind of certain thoughts, imagery, and insights which would otherwise not be visible to me. Isn't that awesome? You ought to try it sometime.

You need at least an hour though before your eyes actually properly adjust to the lower light, an hour of just being outside and looking upwards. Though it helps if you're having a beer (or substitute with your own drink of choice). Yeah I have found that SMALL amounts of alcohol can in fact be inspirational, and that is NOT the closeted alcoholic in me resurfacing and inventing an excuse or justification to drink, but really it's true. Alcohol can be an aid to inspiration. A good way to determine a healthy level of alcohol consumption, is if after drinking you wake up the next day feeling good. Then you can safely say that you didn't have too much to drink, and may repeat the same amount next time. But if you wake up feeling like shit, sore throat, headache, dizziness, nausea, cloudy thinking, then ya (my Chicago-ish accent kicking in) may want to cut back the ratios a bit next time.

Spending some time outside at night, or before sunrise, looking up at the sky when it is still dark and the stars are still bright, can be extremely inspirational. I have so many interesting, thought provoking, philosophical ideas, observations, spontaneous questions and answers that enter my mind, too many to write everything down fully intact without sacrificing one insight for another. But it's prolific. The key is to be relaxed though, free of worry, and not in any hurry. That's an essential ingredient, because inspiration generally isn't visible to a stressed out mind. So it's not enough to merely look at the stars for inspiration, but to look at the stars in a relaxed, unhurried, worry free state of mind.

What is it about the darkness of celestial space and its canopy of stars millions of light years away that illuminates my thinking?

Could you imagine what life would be like on this planet if the stars were no longer visible to the naked eye? Or if they were never visible, in the whole history of the earth, without actually leaving the planet?

What would life be like if it was always cloudy at night, with no celestial objects ever visible, no moon, or stars, only the daytime sun?

The night sky is our window to the rest of the universe. Without this view, our view would be significantly diminished. Seeing the stars deepens our perspective, gives us a more accurate idea of where we are. It shows us that our planet is very much like a spaceship, not stationary, not only in space, but traveling through space. When looking up at the sky this is an insight that should never once leave your mind.

The earth is precious and beautiful, but seeing the moon and the stars reminds us, teaches us, that there is more to this world, a whole deeper dimension and a far wider universe extending beyond our planet, which is largely unexplored and vastly mysterious. This is why I love to sit outside at night looking up at the stars, to remind me that this planet is not all there is, that there is so much more out there.

And yet it's all a matter of perspective, just as the universe is immeasurably vast in its hugeness, so also is the microscopic dimension immeasurably vast in its smallness. It's like a perplexing riddle, how the macroscopic and the microscopic seem to be inverted mirrors of each other, infinitely nested, ever-present overlapping parallel worlds and dimensions of big and small.

I've written about the inspiration of the sky and the stars before, and I will probably write about it again. I think the reminder is useful, is something worth talking about repeatedly so that you never lose sight of its importance. Life doesn't last too long, so we need all the helpful reminders we can get, because you never know which day will be your last. You've got to seize the day. See Random insight #3. Don't hold back. That's been my main problem, holding back too much, thinking that I have all the time in the world. But as they say, he who hesitates is lost.

So what are you going to do tonight? If the sky is clear, make a date with the stars tonight, they won't disappoint.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Difference Between Thinking and Reading, Realizing and Repeating

Our creative faculties are all too often stunted from living in noisy overdeveloped urban environments, and spending too much time indoors watching television and looking at computer screens, but did you know that even reading too much can also be detrimental to your creative faculties?

How so? Well as someone who absolutely loves books, spends a lot of time reading books, and whose life would be significantly diminished without books, what the hell do I mean?

It's not that reading in itself is detrimental. Of course not. Reading is good. Reading is the surest way of rapidly improving your education. But reading too much, without regularly taking time out for personal contemplation, to process what you've read, to think for yourself, to directly listen and observe and ask yourself questions and form your own answers, without doing that, both reading and watching television, or doing anything that becomes a substitute for thinking, can become detrimental to your intellect.

It is possible to be an avid "well read" reader without being a thinker, without being much of a creative, independent, or innovative thinker.

There are a lot of repeaters in this world, many who are overpaid and overrated, people who dutifully repeat whatever the experts say, without really understanding or verifying the facts independently for themselves.

It is possible to appear quite learned and intelligent by merely memorizing what you have read or what you are told by others, to be a walking encyclopedia, a human computer regurgitating assorted facts and trivia, while at the same time being little more than a thoughtless repeater, a programmed robot parroting other peoples ideas without having any actual experiential grasp or understanding of those ideas independent of books or words, or without even having any original thoughts and ideas of your own.

Well maybe you'd counter that there are no original ideas, that there is really nothing new under the sun, everything is borrowed, recycled, rediscovered, and re-exchanged. That all ideas are a collaborative affair, and that nothing is truly independent or original. Maybe so, but in this case, when I speak of an original idea, I mean it in the sense of the idea arising from the quiet contemplation of your own mind. It doesn't matter if that idea was partially shaped and influenced by other ideas not uniquely your own, nor does it matter if you are not the only one, or are only one among thousands receiving the same insight or realization. What matters is the experience of the idea arising seemingly independently within your own mind, rather than being feed a prepackaged version that requires little to no thinking or experiential knowledge.

I hope I inspire you, but ultimately your inspiration is your own, is a personal relationship between the inner you and the outer world. You may feel as if the inspiration comes from outside of yourself, but actually inspiration always originates from within each person. Or rather, it is an experiential connection between the microscopic and macroscopic, between self and the cosmos.

Inspiration is like a radio frequency that's always on, but is only received if you are tuned to the right channel. When you are inspired by someone or something, it's not that they are the source of inspiration, but that all that is happening is that they've helped you turn the channel within yourself in alignment with the frequency of inspiration, that they too are tuned into, but it is up to you how long you maintain the connection, whether you raise or lower the volume, or whether you change to a different channel completely.

All knowledge and insight emerges from a receptive state of mind, but there is a difference between receiving ideas from others in their finished product already translated into words, and having the same ideas emerge independently in your own mind. There is a difference between experiential knowledge obtained on your own, and theoretical knowledge obtained from others. Theoretical knowledge can be experienced if the abstract ideas can be applied to the real world, as theoretical principles visualized affecting objects in space, or otherwise conceptualized having some real world application. And of course experiential knowledge can be translated into theoretical knowledge the very moment it is articulated into words.

If you get most of your ideas from books, from other people, without actually experiencing the insights yourself or applying them to the real world in your own way, how many ideas in your head are actually your own? Not only that, but to what extent do you truly understand and have personally tested what you are reading, and to what extent are you merely repeating?

That's the primary danger of reading too much, that of thinking too little. When reading and absorbing other people's ideas becomes a substitute for thinking, that's what I mean when I say that reading too much can potentially be detrimental to your capacity for independent creative thought.

Read to enhance your mind, not to completely erase your mind and replace it with somebody else's. The goal should be the expansion of consciousness, not the annihilation of consciousness. So by all means don't stop reading, but do consider turning off the television and going outside more.

Just make sure to also spend some time thinking, questioning, contemplating, realizing, and better yet reading the wordless wisdom written in the tapestry of the earth and the sky, and listening to nature's wordless sounds circulating all around, within and without, above and below, and beyond the written word of pseudo experts, thoughtless repeaters, and other overrated clowns.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Meaning of 'Dissent is Patriotic'

Earlier last month I wrote a post called Dissent is Patriotic. Well, it's been getting some traffic lately, but it was really nothing more than a rambling rant, that didn't really do either the title or the subject justice.

In fact, I see now that I didn't even explain in that post exactly what that slogan means, because I took it for granted that it was self-evident.

Well, I'm sure the phrase 'dissent is patriotic' has probably been used by many people, but it is officially attributed to the historian Howard Zinn. That is where I got it from. But what does it mean? I'll tell you what I think it means.

To say that dissent is patriotic does not mean that all dissent is patriotic, or that dissent in and of itself is patriotic. What it does mean is that dissent, which generally means the opposition to official policy, can be patriotic in certain circumstances. And not only that, but the right to disagree with official policy, or the freedom to have a dissenting opinion without fear of suffering unreasonable punishment for disagreeing, is built into the very fabric of a free and democratic society.

For instance, if your country is founded on a specific set of rules and principles, and the people in charge institute actions and policies that violate, undermine, or subvert those rules and principles, dissent (meaning rebellion, opposition, protest, the failure to comply or support the people in charge and their polices), would in such circumstances be considered patriotic.

Patriotism simply means love and support of country. By country we mean not only the land and its people, but our collective society, our culture, our government, and the founding principles and laws of our nation.

But laws can and do change. Just because something is lawful, doesn't necessarily mean that it is true, or just, or morally sound. For instance, slavery was once legal. At the time of legalized slavery, would you say it is patriotic to support the institution of slavery? If the founding principles of your country support slavery, than perhaps you could. However, if you believe that the institution of slavery violates what your country stands for, than supporting slavery would in fact be quite unpatriotic.

If you believe that all men and women are created equal, and that all human beings have a natural born right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and such a belief is written into the very laws and principles that your country was founded on, support for slavery, or anything else that opposes those principles, would be inimical to not only patriotism, but the ideals of truth, justice, and democracy.

So in such a circumstance those opposing the legalized institution of slavery, would be a good example of dissent being patriotic.

In a society based on democracy and the rule of law, patriotism does not mean uncritically supporting your country, right or wrong, no matter what. Country in this sense meaning government, your elected representatives, their official policies, and the military. Patriotism means supporting certain fundamental founding principles, values, and laws inherent to a democratic society, and holding your elected officials accountable to them.

If on the other hand a democratic nation is for instance taken over by a fascist tyrannical coup, that subverts democracy and the rule of law, it would not be patriotic to support such an administration's policies or military engagements.

So in conclusion, to reiterate my points: The phrase 'dissent is patriotic' basically means an opposition to tyranny and evil, corruption and injustice, and the abuse of power in high places, while actively seeking to change the people and policies responsible for subverting democracy and the rule of law.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Hope Matters

What is hope?

Hope is the optimistic expectation that things will change for the better.

That where there is ugliness, someday there will be beauty.

That where there is sickness, someday there will be health.

That where there is weakness, someday there will be strength.

That where there is poverty, someday there will be prosperity.

That where there is confusion, someday there will be clarity.

That where there is injustice, someday there will be justice.

That where there is cruelty, someday there will be kindness.

That where there is animosity, someday there will be forgiveness.

That where there is hatred, someday there will be love.

That where there is fear, someday there will be courage.

That where there is sadness, someday there will be happiness.

That where things are wrong, someday they will be made right.

Hope is the momentum that keeps us moving positively forward into the future.

Hope is intimately tied to inspiration and creativity, meaning and purpose.

Hope is life affirming. Hope is positive. Hope is a life saver. Hope is redemption.

Hope is a beacon of light pointing to a gloriously happy and prosperous future.

Hope is a yearning in your heart for something better, and the belief that something better will come.

Not someday distant, but someday soon.

"Hope in a Prison of Despair" by Evelyn de Morgan

What is the opposite of hope?

Without hope there lurks apathy and despair.

Hopelessness is the feeling of futility, that there is no possible solution to a problem, no chance of changing things for the better, that there is no escape and that all is lost. That your life has fallen into a deep hole. Where all you see is the bad, to the total exclusion of the good. The city is miserable. The housing is miserable. The jobs are miserable. The food is miserable. The weather is miserable. The scenery is miserable. The neighborhood is miserable. The people are miserable. The quality of your life is miserable.

To feel hopeless is to see no end to the misery, just more of the same and no way out.

Despair is a dead end. To live in despair is to die a painfully slow mental and emotional death. To be hopeless, is to give up your joy, and your passion for living. To allow the unfavorable circumstances of your life to obscure your vision and to overwhelm you into seeing no way out of the ugly darkness of despair.

How do you keep your hope alive?

The best way to nurture your optimism is to nurture your health: fitness, cleanliness, sobriety, and peace of mind.

Do everything within your power to stay healthy and mentally alert, to be of sober mind, relaxed heart, and clear conscience. To not break the law. To not descend into the abyss of drugs and alcohol and criminal associations. To keep your head clear and your mind sharp and your body fit and clean.

Cleanliness does wonders to promote a more positive frame of mind.

Keep your hair and finger nails clean, manicured and short, and your clothing laundered, even if you must wash it out by hand. It's easier to keep a shorter hair style clean, and having only minimal body hair inhibits the growth of bacteria and foul odors.

Dirty sickly bodies weaken the mind and dampers the spirit.

So you must do everything in your power to stay strong. To stay healthy, clean, well groomed, sober, and physically fit. This is not the only thing, but it is extremely beneficial.

Clean body, clean clothing, clean mind, plenty of exercise, and healthy food, free of all intoxicants: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sugary, salty, fatty toxic processed foods with minimal nutrition. Those things are the destroyers of health, and the destroyers of health are the destroyers of hope.

An interesting piece of trivia concerning hope:

Hope is one of the Seven Virtues of Catholicism. I'm not a Catholic or a Christian or even religious, but you can sign me up for these. I give these virtues my complete endorsement.

1. Prudence
2. Justice
3. Temperance (Restraint)
4. Courage (Fortitude)
5. Faith
6. Hope
7. Love (Charity)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Esoteric Notes Redux

This is a picture of one of my notepads filled with my handwritten notes. If you know anything about handwriting analysis this picture could possibly provide a goldmine of information, that is if you can read it. I write so fast that my handwriting is barely readable - which in certain circumstances could be a good thing - but I can read it just fine. I've even thought about using a mirror to write backwards, to conceal my private handwritten journals from prying eyes. Haven't done that yet, but I very well may.

Esoteric Notes
Cym's secret notes - Click to see LARGER

I'm always reading and taking a lot of notes. I have several notebooks, notepads, and binders filled with notes: passages from books, famous quotes, lists of books to read, names of people and places, words to define, subjects to look up online, and random insights that enter my mind written down in short form to possibly explore and elaborate upon another time.

Obviously many of my posts here are written randomly in the moment, as stream of consciousness musings in varying degrees of lucidity, some are written from memory, and others are based on an idea saved in one of my many notepads. I use these notes as writing prompts, and thinking prompts, as inspiration for future posts, or topics to think about and explore further.

It's particularly frustrating though when I sometimes forget or am too lazy to attribute the source of a quote. Seeing as though these notepads of mine are a mixture of different kinds of notes, some are my own original ideas written in my own words, and others are found and quoted word for word, so when I return to these notes months later, if I don't write down the source, I may not remember whether I wrote it or if someone else wrote it.

You could say it is the idea itself that matters most, not the person who thought of it, but I think it is useful to attribute the source, not simply as a token of credit and appreciation, but as a reference for finding additional related material. For instance, if you like a quote and know who coined it, you can look up the author and find more quotes of a similar nature.

So even if your notes remain private and unshared with others, it is a useful habit to get into to always attribute the source of your notes whenever possible, such as the name of the book and its author (or movie, website, song, or whatever), because later down the road when you page through your notepads, you may find that the name of the source may become a valuable note in itself - a word prompt leading to further investigation.

I am a very curious person and a very creative person. I am always learning. My mind is very active. If I'm not engaged in learning something, reading, thinking, and actively studying and contemplating the world, I would probably wither away. My mind would shrink. My confidence and will to live would fall. And the overall quality of my life, my sense of meaning and purpose, would become greatly diminished.

My interest in learning is a lifetime pursuit. But I am not an academic by any means (obviously). I have no interest in even going back to school, unless it were a job requirement, I feel that most of my learning can be done independently. To me learning is not merely vocational, it's recreational and inspirational. It is a way of life, not just something you do to make money or to get ahead materially, that's the least of it.

I'm not looking to be a walking encyclopedia, I'm looking to be a creative genius. I'm after wisdom. Not useless information. Any robot can memorize books and regurgitate facts. I'm looking for something more than that. I'm looking for freedom and creativity, independence and innovation, a deepening of awareness and an expansion of consciousness. I don't want to be a machine, I want to be a fully conscious, fully realized, creative, free thinking human being.

Learning, reading, note taking, is something I do in my spare time, but it makes up a very large chunk of how I spend my time. It is just the way I am. Like I've said here many times before: reading, thinking, exercising, and spending time in nature is pretty much my primary preoccupation.

This is another reason why I blog, because blogging is an extension of this creative note taking process, but it is interactive. Even if you never leave a comment, this blog is interactive. When you're sitting in your home, or wherever you may be reading this blog, unbeknownst to you you may actually be reading this at the same exact time as someone else on the other side of the planet.

What may initially appear to be a solitary individualistic experience, is actually a shared group experience. We are all observers and participants here. As soon as I'm finished writing, I'm a blog reader just like the rest of you. And the interaction occurs by reading or looking at what is here, engaging with it mentally, being affected by these words, makes you a participant too. You participate by being touched by these words, and responding to them in thought, in your own way.

It's kind of a trip if you think about it. I watch the watchers. You watch the watched. This insight is in the domain of quantum physics. How the observer becomes a participant, and the participant becomes the observed. Both influence each other. Your presence of attention influences the observed and the observed influences the observer. Rough. In my own words. Couldn't find a better quote. I had a great quantum physics quote that I think I accidentally threw away.

Here are a couple of relevant quotes transcribed from my notepad:

"No reality without a perception of reality - is the first rule of quantum physics."
- John A. Wheeler

"The universe as we know it is a joint product of the observer and the observed" - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Inspiration of Owls and other Nocturnal Sounds

This post is dedicated to an owl, for had it not been for this owl, this post would never have been written.

I sat outside Tuesday night nursing a beer, enjoying the soothing silence of the midnight hour. Within minutes I noticed the silhouette of something up at the top of the pine tree in front of me, with the moonlight slightly reflecting off of it, but didn't quite know what it was at first, until I heard its distinctive "hoo hoo".

Yes, it was an owl. Then I got the idea to mimic it, to call back to it in my very best Sagittarian Owl voice, but it was either too good, or not good enough, because it must have startled it and caused it to fly away. Yes, this is what I do. Drinking beer and hooing like an owl after midnight. Ha ha. No, I haven't fallen off the deep end yet, but I very well may end up living under a bridge. Don't you just love my melodrama? And my propensity for both exaggeration and self-deprecation? If I keep this up, I may have to look for work at the National Enquirer.

Okay, moving on, back to the story.

The owl had a pretty good size wing span, though I didn't see it well enough to identify what type of owl it was. But it reminded me of the dream I had last year of being hunted and eaten alive by a bird. It was either a hawk or an owl, though in my dream it was much bigger than myself. Either it was a giant bird, or I was a miniature person. Owls are cool, but I'd hate to be eaten by one.

Anyways, hearing this owl was pretty much the highlight of the night. I can count on one hand the number of owls I've ever seen in my life. So it was quite the momentous occasion. Set the mood for the entire night, to be one of sustained concentrated listening. Not to star gaze like I usually do, and not even to really be absorbed in thinking about anything at all, but to just focus entirely on whatever I could hear, zooming in on it and following each sound for as long as possible. The more you listen, the more you actually hear. Your hearing actually improves to some extent with focused awareness.

So I resume drinking my beer, ever more conscious of the sounds of the night. A few minutes later, I hear a rustling in the bushes just a few feet away from me. What could it be? There was definitely something out there, something big. I'm thinking, maybe it could be a dog, or something bigger, maybe a bear or a mountain lion. It turned out to be pack of wild javelinas, a family of five. Pretty cool to see an owl and some javelinas on the same night. Doesn't happen too often, actually it was a first.

I listened to the javelinas meander away into the darkness of the night, cutting through my neighbors yards. It was pretty quiet outside. After midnight is pretty much the only quiet time around here. The day is loud. Too loud. Constant air traffic. Air force jets. Commercial airliners. Flight for life helicopters. Military helicopters. Cargo planes. Automobile traffic. Construction equipment. Loud voices. Too damn loud for me. That's the price you pay for living next to a busy highway, near a busy shopping center, and under a busy flight path. It's noisy all day long.

Things could be worse though. At least the nights are quiet. That I am very thankful for...but I really do want to get out of here. I feel like a forlorn sailor stranded on a desert island in the middle of an endless sea of sand, and running out of water FAST. Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets, like all the other desperate fools. I've had my fill of Arizona. In fact I think I may have had my fill of America. And no I'm not anti-American...I'm pro-paradise. Still looking for my Shangri-La.

But where to go, where to go? How about another planet? Seriously. Or how about a different time period altogether. Sometime in the distant future where ignorance and suffering has become extinct. Where there is no more war. No more crime. No more idiocy. No more greed. No more dishonesty. No more mindless destruction. Where everyone is operating on a higher octave of consciousness, smarter, kinder, juster, happier, healthier, wiser, and existing for the sole purpose of mutual evolutionary advancement...enlightenment for all.

Enlightenment for all? How about enlightenment for one. Better than none. I don't know if it is even possible to enlighten anyone other than yourself. You can say the wisest possible words, but if a person isn't ready to receive them, it won't do them the least bit of good.

See my post: The Lonely Road to Enlightenment.

Part 2 - The Art of Listening.

Listening is a skill that can be improved with practice. Concentrated listening is a form of concentrated awareness, where you focus all your attention on listening. Over time exercising your listening skills will not only improve your hearing, it will also help you become more attentive overall.

There are two major types of sounds: verbalized sounds associated with human language, and non-verbalized sounds, which may either be natural or man-made. Consequently there are also two main types of listening associated with these two types of sounds, each utilizing a different hemisphere of the brain. One is verbal, the other non-verbal. One is more logical, the other more intuitive.

Listening to someone talking, is much different than listening to non-verbalized sounds, because with speech you are not just listening to sounds, you are also processing ideas, making sense of intellectual abstractions, are actively engaged in interpreting the symbolic meanings of language. There's a lot of work involved in that. It's also easier to be distracted by people talking. Personally I find it next to impossible to concentrate on reading in an environment with a lot of talking going on, but I can tune out non-verbalized noises much easier.

In other words, since words are associated with very specific ideas, whenever you are listening to someone speak, you are listening more so to ideas, than sounds.

Whereas I have found that listening to natural non-verbalized sounds are more melodic, less-distracting, and actually engage that part of the brain that helps stimulate intuition, the ability to know directly beyond words.

It is therapeutic to take a break from sounds associated with human speech. To spend some time outside listening deeply to the non-verbalized sounds of the earth. Leaves rustling. The wind howling. The rain pouring. Water dripping. Fire burning. The sounds of birds, insects, and other animals. The sounds of footsteps. Walking. Chewing. Scratching. Digging.

It's interesting listening to these things. To listen to these sounds with undivided attention. Concentrated listening. Focused listening. Sustained awareness. A meditation on listening. The quieter it is outside the more you will hear. The more time you spend actively listening, the better your listening skills will become.

Personally I find the midnight hour to be an extremely valuable time for listening. Because depending on where you live, it is usually the time of day when man-made sounds are at their quietest, making it much easier to focus on other sounds you may not ordinarily hear.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Exercise as a Moving Meditation

What exactly does that mean to say that exercise is like a moving meditation?

I suppose that would depend on what you mean by meditation, and the reasons why you are meditating. Whether you are seeking relaxation, improved concentration, enhanced creativity and cognition, clearer thinking, deeper awareness, and a more lucid understanding of yourself and the world you live in.

Those are actually all very good reasons for meditating AND exercising.

I like to do both, to sit still and to exercise, to relax and to think deeply upon things, and sometimes to just completely empty my mind and not think about anything at all, experiencing things directly. I like to do both but I have found that getting regular exercise actually enriches the experience of my sitting still time.

Exercise is comparable to giving your car or bicycle a tune-up, where you are prepping your body (mind, brain) for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Physical exercise stimulates blood flow to your brain, improves the efficiency of your oxygen intake, and releases natural endorphins into your bloodstream. The result being that not only is exercise good for your physical health, but by also making you feel better and your thinking clearer, it's also good for your mental health too.

In other words, if you exercise prior to engaging in some form of creative mental activity, such as reading, writing, or meditating, you will see an increase in productivity. At least I do, perhaps I can only speak for myself, but it is difficult for me to imagine this not being true of anyone else. Try it sometime. Make it into a science experiment. Write down your results. See if you notice an improvement.

I've done this several times myself, and I have noticed an improvement. Which is why I speak so highly of exercise, and truly believe it is like a wonder drug that everyone SHOULD liberally partake in.

Anyways, getting back to the original question of how physical exercise is like a moving meditation, I will expand upon that here.

Movement deepens awareness. Vigorous movement outdoors vigorously deepens awareness of the outdoors. Exercising, moving vigorously, running, lifting weights, makes me feel more alive. Being in movement makes me feel more alive and aware.

Think about it. What is the difference between life and death?

Things that are living are in movement, things that are dead are in stagnation, the only visible movement being disintegration, dust unto dust, until nothing visible remains. To be alive is to be in harmonic movement, a dance between your body and your mind, between body and the physical space you occupy. Self and the world. Body and Earth. Earth and Sky. Microcosm and macrocosm. Masculine and feminine. Creation and destruction.

To live is to maintain an equilibrium between the two opposing forces of creation and destruction. Equilibrium is not stationary, it is ever flowing, it is moving with the movement of the universe, dancing with it, like wind, like water, like fire, and the earth dancing through intergalactic space.

Exercise aligns you with this cosmic movement, to momentarily ride the wave of living through movement. Or something like that.

I've also noticed that exercise makes me more alert to my surroundings, where I see more, hear more, and feel more. Pumps me up. Makes life more energized.

If I sit too long I actually feel more sluggish and less aware of my surroundings.

This is why I call exercise a moving meditation, because not only is it simultaneously relaxing and energizing, it also helps deepen your awareness of your surroundings. At least this is true for me. I learn everything through trial and error. All advice I give has been acquired through direct observation by personal experience.

Stillness has its place too. Can't always be in movement. Need time to rest, to reflect, and to introspect. And yet, when is the mind not in movement? When is the breath not in movement? When is the heartbeat not in movement?

There is no stillness in life. Without movement, life ceases to exist.

If there is no absolute stillness in life, what do people mean when they speak of sitting in stillness and stilling the mind? It means to slow down, to relax and to become more aware, not to stop completely. When you stop completely, your body stops completely, and what happens then? You die.

Which is why it is during sleep that you are closer to a state of death than you will ever be so long as you are alive. Because death is more closely associated with stillness, and life with movement, exercising brings you closer to life.

So exercise already! No more excuses. Whether that means running in a circle, lifting some weights, or walking across the country, just do it! Get moving. You'll feel better, and you'll feel more alive, in a good way.

Then afterwards while sitting in stillness, contemplating the things you've learned, letting the insights pour forth freely like a vibrant energizing rain, you can joyously soak it all in.

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