Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pragmatism

I read things that run contrary to my comfort zone. I do it on purpose in hope to be more compassionate through understanding. Sometimes I fall short and skip right on to judgmentalism, a character defect of my very own with which I do battle when it comes to religion. I don't battle because it's not "nice" to be judgmental (yes, I'm from Minnesota) but rather, I don't like how being judgmental makes me feel. It separates me from some of my fellow human beings. However, in my old age I'm beginning to suspect that a little separation from some might be a good thing. See, there I go again.

With the recent rise of right-wing fundamentals in politics, I have been reading theologian/philosophers of our time. One such person was Paul Tillich.

"Tillich was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century. He is known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957). In his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), he developed his "method of correlation": an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis." - a wikiquote http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Tillich

Paul Tillich, in my opinion, was besot with "magical thinking" and had an uncanny ability to create verbal fluff-age that was palatable to those afflicted with the same sort of "magical thinking" or people seeking platitudes to cure their mental and emotional ills. Here is an example of his fluff: "The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt." Here's another: "Man's ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate." Although I do certainly grasp what he is saying ....what the heck and so what? It is a pure distraction from what is. Like a great stage magician's skill with "slight of hand" causing us to look the other way and then ooo and awe at the bird in his hand, Tillich uses quite skillfully a "slight of mind and spirit" to distract us from what ails us. A glow-in-the-dark theological bandaid for the human condition.

However, I do not dismiss him entirely as I have adopted what he has taken from so many before him, the "Eternal Now". A practice and helpful little excersise from time to time, a practice that Tillich could have used a bit more often but I'll get to that later. P.D. Ouspensky better explained the "here and now" and so eloquently too, the most difficult task of waking and staying awake, being aware of ones own person looking out ones own eyeballs, resisting the reflex to go back to sleep. Being in the "eternal now and awake" but without the religious verbiage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._D._Ouspensky

Like many in his position, Mr. Tillich was also a theologian who couldn't keep his pants up. He was a serial pants-down person. Oh, he was faithful, but to what or who? I'm not sure. Like Tillich, one can go through lots of mental gyrations and angst as he did about mind/body, eros and love, wrestle with anxiety and guilt over ones indiscretions, dip into self indulgent depressions and appear on the surface as an intellectual martyr to the cause of human sexual/spiritual development to attempt to justify the pain they have caused others by their dalliances. (this is where I quit reading him with any respect)

It all can be quite simple though. If love is an ideal that one holds dear, then it is perhaps a good idea to be loving, to not to hurt the feelings or trust of the one you share that love with by screwing your neighbour. Easy peasy. Of course the consequence of this fidelitous behavior is often fraught with whining and unbecoming self pity about not "getting any". Well BFD! It can be an opportunity to grow, to become a better human being, to examine values and what one holds dear, a time to discover compassion and understanding for the one to whom you are faithful. There is no post-moralizing to be done in keeping one's pants on. No intellectualizing the crap outta things either. No "spiritual gymnastics" required. There is no guilt in fidelity.

I am a pragmatist.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Love?

Unconditional love on the face of it seems like a lovely ideal, something we should strive for. The ideal of unconditional love strikes some people as the purest, most ideal way to define the essence of love. Sounds so appealing. Unconditional love is an undiluted love they say. But this seems to me to be a horrible conundrum. To love unconditionally is to love without reason. When you are selected for unconditional love then it must be arbitrary with no reference to your goodness because if it were because of inherent goodness then it would be conditional. Some folks of the Christian persuasion say that their God loves them unconditionally. He will love you no matter what, warts and all they say. Comforting thought until you look a bit closer. If God loves them "unconditionally" then he cannot refuse them on the condition that they do not accept his love. Unconditional love is impersonal and hollow to me it seems. Some people hurdle over this with the concept of only loving the good in someone and overlooking the bad. I have heard many times in my past work as a therapist for example that it is important to be able to separate the behavior from the person. We often tell this to parents and spouses. If I love only the good in you but do not love the bad in you, then I do not entirely love you in the sense that I do not love the entirety of what you do or the entirety of what you are. This is not unconditional love either in fact I'm not sure it's love at all. I could prattle on but suffice to say I think unconditional love is mental gymnastics and a myth. A load of crap we are spoon fed and encouraged to aspire to.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Winter is coming

Off to crank on the furnace and take a long hot shower after my daily wander to inspect my ward.

The lumpy Hummocks of the tundra are turning deep into themselves and grumble sweet groans while they slowly settle into the familiar snowy blankets of dreamseason. Geese, assembling in great gaggles, preparing to flee with their children, south by air in their rubbery shoes. It's bone cold but I shall remain as always to keep watch over what will soon become a silvery wilderness of tuft-headed Hummocky lumps, tight little wads of lightly snoring squirrels...and wolves. Yes, there will be wolves. Soon.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthday on the Plains

These last many months I've had my head buried deep in my work, hardly ever coming up for air. I live a rather hermitty existence anyway but lately for weeks on end the only persons I see with any regularity are the grocer and the post master.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining one little bit. I love my work and my quiet little life out here in the wastelands. But yesterday was my birthday, a day to celebrate I guess. I'm not a big cake person but instead baked a small pan of brownies the night before. When one lives alone and not expecting company, some social graces can be packed up in a box for later like one does with their summer flip-flops or a sleeping bag. So, I ate the molten goo-ey middle right out of those brownies and chucked the crusty edges. A hermits birthday delight!

I drove out of town to the U of MN where my daughter is a student for a long mid-day meal and a great interesting natter about her subjects. I can't think of anything I enjoy more than time with her.

The sun was still shining on the way home and being buoyed by time with kidlet, and not having taken a day off for weeks, and it being my birthday, and having a semi full tank of gas, and the roads being clear for the first time this month, and after having wrestled with every reason not to do it....I drove on past my town in the other direction.

The casino, a place I hardly ever frequent, a glittery little hell-hole on the flat white tundric wilderness, owed me a free birthday turn on the Wii bowling for a shot at 30 bucks, a drink and a free buffet. Hardly something one would drive an extra 30 miles for is it? But I was feeling a need now that I was actually out of the house, to see some people. I didn't want to actually talk to any of them but just see them and enjoy a bit of clatter and sparkly lights. I won the 30 bucks, I lost the 30 bucks, gave away my free drink and late before I went home I enjoyed a snack at the free buffet where I dined alone watching people from my booth. No surprises. It was all as I had expected but had hoped it wasn't. In my bed by 11pm.

But here you all are today wishing me a happy birthday. I was surprised and so warmed by your greetings. You're all people I picked, people I care about, people who inspire me. And you picked me too. Folks say that the interweb is a great wild wilderness, cold, impersonal and unforgiving but not nearly as much as the Minnesota plains. Thank you all for your kind and happy words. I only wish you didn't live so far away. I'd come out of my hermitty little box for you :o)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

(Derek Walcott)

This poem...reminds me to be mindfully aware; aware of being right here in this very moment. Reminds me to let go completely, at least for as long as I can, of thinking and simply be with the authentic person that I am at my very core.

Thinking is a wondrous thing, don't get me wrong. I do an awful lot of thinking. Taking time to simply "be" though, to wrap my heart around my heart is often and quite easily forgotten. Life gets busy, brain gets moving, and I forget myself as I'm swept away from my core by my thoughts and doings. I heard a man once say that we people should be called "Human Doings" rather than "Human Beings". In my own case, I spend much more time doing than being.

As a child I read quite a lot of Philosophy. I was much too young for the physical whims of the 70's but instead I attempted to indulged myself in the literature of Eastern and Russian philosophers in particular. Yes, I was an odd child as you might have already suspected, but I was on a search for meaning, a search for answers in that tumultuous time. I should perhaps write more about that but later.

In my wanders through old pages of text and books I came upon the writings P.D. Ouspensky. While I don't attest to many of his ideas, he did have an excersise that has stayed with me these many years. He called it self-remembering. A way to hold ones own awareness of self. In short, it is a practice of holding and being aware of the "you" that is peering out ones own eye-balls. Being aware of occupying ones own body and head space for a period of time. He expounds on the idea that humans are asleep for the most part, simply doing the next thing in a somnambulist state. Sounds trite but I began the practice of looking out of my own eyes, holding that attention of occupying my physical form for as long as I could. Sounds easy, right? For me it was a struggle to remain wakeful. Even 5 minutes was a great feat before I slipped back into a "sleeping" state, back to simply doing the next thing.

Similarly, I learned to "breath" as taught by Charles Bates, a Raja Yogi I had the pleasure of spending time with when I was 15. For me, the teachings and practice of breathing from Charles seemed to arrive at the same place of awareness and self-remembering. It was simply another approach to arrive at the same destination. So when I remember, I breath :o)

I'm not saying at all that I'm self-aware in the fullest sense. I'm still woefully lacking for the most part. I've quit judging myself harshly in my struggle for wakefulness though. The poem "Love After Love" by Derek Walcott is a reminder to me to embrace my being. Reminds me to "remember" myself. Reminds me to peel off the thoughts and attachments to my outer world, even if just for a moment as they are a distraction from wakefulness like a familiar woolly blanket pulling me back into sleep. Reminds me to not struggle and simply be with the being who has been with me from the very start.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On branding your product and reputation

When I first started making the wee woolly Jacabobs, I was always at a loss for boxes to ship them in. I often went hunting for boxes around town and asking for them among my mothers old friends. After a while I had the distinct feeling I was bothering some friends and business people with always inquiring for boxes so I reverted to searching for them in back ally ways and dumpsters.

I'm quite a short person from a long lineage of rather height challenged people. My mother, also short, had one of those pincher tools on a long stick designed to be used to reach items on a top shelf. She loaned the tool to me for my box hunting excursions into the forays of local trash bins.

I will note here too that this is a tiny farming community filled with elderly folks, tight-lipped church-going Lutherans, gossiping government workers, snots and the underclassed. I will also note that I'm a hermitty sort of person, often dressed rather funny and who is not often seen in public with the exception of trotting round town with a set of long seen-on-TV pinchers in hand and a bag full of tiny boxes. The locals, not knowing me personally or where I had come from had begun to talk. Mostly in low whispers.

The best boxes can be found in this little dirt spot of a town behind the pharmacy in the ally between the post office and the local cafe. (don't ever look for boxes in cafe dumpsters. trust me on this.) Pharmacy boxes in particular are pristinely clean and most are just the right size for Bobbaloos although marked with words like Oxycontin, Darvon, Viagra etc... Not ideal for my brand but they worked.

So, there I was one hot afternoon leaned over the edge of the pharmacy dumpster , my blindingly white legs flailing in the sunshine. My toes had slightly lifted off the ground so I could pinch a perfect box near the bottom of the dumpster bin. I struggled, balancing precariously on my chubby hip bones, ass over teakettle. I had after all, been the captain of my high school gymnastics and track team many decades ago and dexterity was a thing I had great confidence in.

I might tell you too as just side information, that when ones head is immersed in an iron dumpster filled with cardboard and plastic, and you're tilted downward with blood rushing to ones head with great rhythmic whooshing noises in ones ears, that sounds from the outside world tend to be a bit muffled.

I didn't hear him stealthily rolling up the ally, creeping along in his squad car, warily approaching and sizing up the odd and perhaps dangerous sight facing him. A perhaps drug-crazed dumpster-diving lunatic. He got out, not closing his door and sidled up to the pharmacy bin where my legs and toes hung struggling and my heiney doing a salutation to the sun. "Hey there! Whatcha doin?!" he said. Startled, I went in fully head first to the bottom of the bin. Someone had called the cops! Really, who could blame them? He kindly helped extract me from the dumpster but has never quite looked at me in the same way again.

Since then, I buy my box making materials from a sheltered workshop here in town for the developmentally disabled, the mentally challenged. All the money goes to support their worthy cause for which I feel quite good about since some day, considering my sorely lacking sense of judgment, I may soon become a full-time resident.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The search for eggs and meaning.

I'd only been in Bucerias a few days and was already tired of eating in restaurants every single meal. As delighted as I was at the complete surprises I received by pointing to my best guess on the menu, my mouth was finally set on a breakfast I could recognise, a breakfast I could count on.

I had moved to this quaint little town on the Mexican Riviera without speaking a word of Spanish. I had my reasons but that tale is for another day. I was at least wise enough to bring a Spanish/English dictionary with me. I began looking up and jotting down the words for the breakfast items I wanted to purchase taking care to get them right, practicing pronunciation while I wrote a list. I had to be clear about what I wanted because I didn't speak enough Spanish to be able to explain myself if asked.

With my list in hand, dictionary tucked under my arm and my basket, I headed to a family run grocery just around the corner. It was a small building hugging the uneven sidewalk with a tiny open door, its frame speckled with the finger smudges of every person in the neighbourhood. Inside behind a long wooden counter separating the goods from the shoppers, the walls were packed high with cans, bottles and boxes of food on tight shelves. Along the sides and under the counter were paper and cleaning supplies and in the back room there were a few noisy refrigerators and a freezer.

I sidled up to the counter with my list and was greeted by the owner, a wrinkly man with sharp eyes that suggested he'd had a very good nights sleep. I took a deep breath while he waited with his hand on his apron covered waist.

I cleared my voice and then timidly uttered "Leche, por favor". To my amazement he headed to fridge and brought back milk. "Jugo de Naranja, por favor" and he brought the orange juice. With my confidence building, I asked for bread and it came. Mantaquilla? Back to the fridge for the butter he went. This wasn't so hard.

With my ego bolstered to new heights, I searched for a verb. Being a native English speaker without a clue about personal and impersonal verbs, armed with a dictionary I would later learn was meant for Spain rather than Mexico, I landed on the verb "tener" meaning "to have". I'd had an introductory two week course in Junior High School a couple decades ago and was sure I could remember a bit about verb conjugation.

I wanted eggs to complete my shopping and had added them to my list before coming to the shop without bothering to look them up in the dictionary. I'd eaten Huevos Rancheros a multitude of times and certainly knew the word for eggs. Huevos.

Thinking quickly as there were people now waiting behind me for groceries of their own, I very politely and proudly asked "Tienas huevos?" and smiled widely.

There was an audible chortle and snort from the women in the now crowded entry behind me as the man behind the counter put his hand on his hip and seemingly cross proclaimed "Si, como no!" "Of course I have!" Then with a laugh, he trundled off to get the eggs from the refrigerator.

A woman beside me who spoke English very well, seeing I might be feeling a bit bewildered and left out of the joke, explained quite nicely that I had inquired about the mans testicles. I'd asked if he personally had any balls.

Feeling greatly embarrassed, I put my goods in my basket blushing from ear to ear. On his return with the eggs I paid for my things. Recovering slightly I looked up at the man and said "Lo siento" "I'm sorry". In English plain as day he replied with a smile "It's okay. There are things you can't really know or prepare for until you get there."

The saga continues next week when more lessons are learned.
#1 The difference between La Madra Pura and La Pura Madre
#2 Agencia de Viajes and Agencia de Viejas
#3 Running from immigration in Mexico (I know...lol)