Beating the dead horse

January 30th, 2015

I live not far from a pretty little town with a ‘medical marijuana’ economy. Even the street people are prosperous. Business is flourishing. Recently, an academic spent a couple years evaluating the economic impact of the pot business: bigger than everything else.

The academic interviewed local growers, talked to political leaders, chatted up shopkeepers and dropped by the banks. Everyone was cheerful and flush, and not one of them had any plan for the future. Sure, maybe pot will be legalized next year and all the cash will disappear – but how do you really put your head around that?

For some reason I think of Europe, where there’s so much money banks are paying negative interest rates. You know, loan a hundred euros and get paid back ninety-nine. I’m not sure their shopkeepers and heads of state have solid plans for next year, either.

In the good ol’ homeland, wages have been flat for forty-five years. Now this is truly remarkable: both the unemployment rate and interest rates are historically low. Interest rates, in fact, are lower than they’ve ever been. In short, our economy is what the experts call ‘growing’ – just like in the little town next door.


Living on faith

January 20th, 2015

It’s never clear to me whether enlightenment ‘ends’ in self-satisfied awareness, or if its practitioners are actors in some larger creative event. This is important: did Moses come down the hill with a new set of laws which transformed his people – or was he just the guy smart enough to see the rules rewritten by the desert, and announce them as a revelation?

Lots of people say lots of interesting things about ‘engines of history.’ Most of the time it seems we don’t do much changing at all. That is, most of us don’t. Presumably, there are always periphery people who can step in and lead when the earth dramatically shifts under foot. Or maybe not.

The Mayans are now famous for suddenly disappearing after burning down their forests. Must I believe the average Mayan, well before doomsday, awoke every morning to survey smoke plumes in all directions and announce to himself, ‘Ah, another fine day!’?

More likely, he put his faith in his king and his priest (who controlled his bank account) and just worried like hell. As the sky grew greyer, he knew full well (as do you and I), that Toto wasn’t in Kansas any more. Alas, only the wise can save us!

About the ‘wise.’ It turns out our relative state of consciousness is a simple function of our material excess. Famously understood, even the guru in his cave would be nothing more than a grunting, angry peasant without his daily bowl of rice. But unlike his hosts of western admirers, he arrived where he is needing no more than that daily bowl to keep him there. Today’s wise require legacies running to the billions, just to elevate them into that heady space where wisdom might be found.

No doubt they believe they’ve attained it.


Dying with mom

January 14th, 2015

I remember driving on a highway a few years ago (I don’t remember where), and unexpectedly accepting that I wished my mother would just die. All the predictable, noisome thoughts thrashed about. But they settled down and it was true.

She had an overwhelming personality, but over the decades I’d been able to watch her closely. I learned so much from watching her: that confidence isn’t about truth; that ‘love’ speaks about others but cares for itself; that convictions are always brittle self-persuasion. When I was a child, of course, she could debate me into my helpless corner, and scoff about my observations – ‘so you really believe that!?’

She herself was invisible, a schizophrenic with nothing solid for me to look at. There was no part of her that projected out to others. We were simply figures in her imagination. She claimed to know us; to understand us. She could be maddeningly seductive, suggesting she might suddenly care; she might suddenly caress. But she didn’t. She was simply looking for the stroke herself. I would try – oh I would try! – to touch her, to shore her up, to make her laugh. But she wasn’t really there.

For a long time I thought of our experience as something that created me, as if growing up in her space had shaped who I am. As if my efforts to turn her into a real person translated into my general willingness to defeat myself, or explained my compulsion to see people as so much more than they genuinely are.

This noise about being created by our histories, about somehow being the sum of our experiences – it’s a vanity. We have no accurate memories. We merely take deep thought and create whatever warms our bellies (small wonder we have to practice every day just to think we’re who we are). What I am occurs as its uniqueness with whoever I encounter. I grew up with my mother, and so – disappointed, afraid, and angry. No more who I am than a photograph.

I visit her in the nursing facility. I am the child who visits her. I visit and I watch. If I think, ‘we are all like her,’ then I can tell myself stories about what people ‘truly’ are. The wild complexity of her active mind has been reduced to a few simple steps, and yet those steps accord precisely with the prior elaborate structure: she thinks she’s important; she thinks she’s being lied to.

Her conversation is now about a single thing: the 8:30 appointment for her nightly medication. She points to the clock, but can’t figure out what time it displays. She asks, ‘Is it 8:00 o’clock?’ I say, ‘No, it’s ten after five.’ She asks me what she has to do to get her meds, and I say, ‘Nothing, you just wait until 8:30.’ Briefly, the ancient sarcastic disdain shows up in her eyes and her forehead, and she exclaims, ‘so you really believe that?’

Then she looks long at the clock, repeats her question about the time, and we do it again.


Making history

January 3rd, 2015

I read a general talking about attacking ISIS, deploring his inability to understand its popularity. A slippery slope indeed. He’s getting close to thinking beliefs take action in the real world. Next thing, he’ll fall into a war of ideas. And so pass into obscurity.

The discontented and the self-pursuing have already climbed every hill. They can tell you, the mind is everywhere the same; the many maps lead to the one place – and nothing to report is happening there (enlightenment is like figuring out the stock market – nobody who really does ever says another word).

I think, rather, the general is being disingenuous. He understands perfectly the enemy he faces. The fighter in the middle East identifies family and tribe as the ‘self’ he wakes up with. He may dig our women’s hips, but he worships from a different soul.

Ambitions are always designed by the bodies they live in. The general’s enemy will kill himself if he’s got a chance to take the general with him. No-one worth partying with makes peace with dying (until that boredom-filled disintegration toward the end).

The occupier can only offer the next generation his own style of collecting food for the table, and chop their fathers to pieces until they’re gone. Still, the bitter taste will take long to form into poetry.

Jesus Christ, version 2.

January 2nd, 2015

The crisis of scientific materialism is immanent in the philosophies of twentieth century atheists – the embrace of the completely atomized self. In its metastasized form, it appears as individuals conducting life entirely in self-reference (people look for what this means to ‘me,’ what this has done to ‘me,’ how this is helpful to ‘me,’ etc., and believe that’s all there is to it).

Of course the eastern philosophies were viewed as an easy companion to this. The grinning Buddha is just a grinning Buddha – that’s the point!

If you’re uneasy, steady yourself with an active listener. Two hundred twenty-five an hour.

The core of all this, of course, is that nobody’s enlightenment actually means anything. But our comfy little space is thoroughly justified by our pain – and we are morally correct!

The master of your choice relentlessly guides you inward because, well, the master of your choice can’t heal you. But in the proper light you may see your pain isn’t suffering at all. At least, well, that’s what the book says.

Jesus Christ – ah, Jesus Christ! He didn’t look at your rotten, broken leg and say, “what’s the problem?” He didn’t answer, “commit to the program; find it in yourself.” He encouraged you to live for others – then he touched you with his fingers and he fixed your fucking leg!


January 1st, 2015

The highest wisdom of all masters: nothing is. Get it?

We are a recursive self-discovery with the single task of letting go. If you’re unhappy with yourself, deal with it. If you’re having a good time, don’t wake me up with the news.

Ironically, now – smile!

I love it when the days start getting longer.

December 30th, 2014

The ‘self’ is too obviously a construct to be the ground I walk on. Since I experience myself as being, I imagine I am ‘pre-choate’ – I have a ‘pre-choate authenticity’ which seems to have a bit of temporal coherence. But really I know nothing about it.

How I receive it through the world is my constructed ‘self,’ which is ‘aware,’ but capricious and easily unplugged. Basically, everything that has ever been taught about the thing I am concerns this self’s struggles with its own authenticity.

The simple lessons emphasize ‘harmony’ with externalities. The contented self rarely asks difficult questions. With complexity, the rebalancing gets focused inward, until I live in a sort of ‘dream’ where all my externalities are simply personal experience, and ‘others’ exist only as I intend them to. Still, this is not authentic, and cannot rest.

The only satisfying rest I have known is in ‘loving,’ which has been fleeting because – I am told – I am unable to direct it toward my self.

Looking up

December 26th, 2014

I have this recurring dream where I’m flunking out of college. I know I’m flunking out because there are four required courses and I’m only taking three. That is, I’m pretty sure I’m taking the three; I go to them sometimes and I’ve written a couple of papers. But I can’t remember, even, what the fourth one is. So I know I’m not attending, but I don’t know how to find out where the classroom is or what the course is about.

Not dreaming (I think), I’m in conversations about ‘new’ ways of thinking I don’t know how to fully embrace. I’m reminded of the words from a song: ‘hang me out to dry – I’ve been wrung out too many times.’

I cling very tightly to my belief in who I am and what I want. I’m not happy with suggestions I might be and want differently later on. But it’s a limitation others don’t suffer. If you can survive the shock of its implications, you can learn pretty quickly that building ‘super-intelligent’ machines is darn likely – and those ‘machines’ are going to occupy and modify our bodies and minds in ways unrecognizable. Plenty of people see that as a thrilling ‘human’ opportunity.

There’s no way to extricate this talk from other conversations thousands of years old – the deep philosophies of self, meaning, and experience.

I talk to my son and describe myself as ‘thinking about the future,’ – saying I don’t want to be hurt, I don’t want to be frightened, I don’t want to be hungry and cold. He says, ‘if those are your motivations, then you’re incapable of doing at all.’

There’s a thing I believe is my ‘self,’ that I want to preserve. But I can read posts on my own site from four years ago and quite clearly ‘I’ no longer exist. There’s a way of embracing that; there’s a way of holding that as the ‘real’ opportunity. I don’t know it, but I want to learn it. I’d like to start looking up.


December 24th, 2014

There are times (especially when I’m ‘parenting’) I’m so dissociated from my personal activity I’m my own bystander. Not always a happy one. “Why am I giving this lecture? I don’t even believe this lecture. But this lecture is the truth, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

I’m pretty bummed out I’m not like the guys I admire: the guys who are always cheerful ‘cuz they just ‘know’ the ending comes out well – the guys you want to leave your kids with for a week because when you get back they’re animated, eager, and stronger.

I’ve discovered this: there’s nothing I can do that’s really impressive. My best or worst; I can spill my blood and guts all over your good intentions, or I can lend you a pair of strong arms and laugh with you in your own center – but it was just sufficient to the moment. For me, just like most everybody else, there’s never any applause.

My kid stands there telling me about how the crowds are waiting. And I’m giving this lecture: “no, they’re not.”

I have to love this boy so much I disbelieve myself. And maybe I do.


December 19th, 2014

‘Hacking’ used to be a good thing – it meant being able to take some non-functioning code on a system and use your own programming ingenuity to get things up and running. Now, of course, it means doing anything with software which isn’t ‘supposed’ to be done.

Certain circles probably benefit from this, because the term makes it seem like something deeply nefarious, complicated, and difficult is going on – like the government of North Korea is now a major threat because it knows how to run ‘brute-force’ attacks against known database targets (or whatever technique they’ll be alleged to have used).

In fact, it can get to be rather comical, as multi-star generals no doubt sit around discussing bomb deployments for behavior regularly indulged by your own pre-teen working around your parental controls.

But it’s serious stuff, really, for at least the two obvious reasons: nothing is private, and pretty soon you’ll be able to get yourself into a hot war for embarrassing a movie star. This is not a joke.