Month: June 2018

Maybe Insane

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We are each the gatekeepers of our psyches, while the Internet is a vast soup of pictures, facts, lies, opinions, promotions, stories, attempts at critical thinking, and faux profundity, that flows by as fast as you can scroll. If you let it all in, you’ll become exhausted and maybe insane. So you have to make choices.

People who post pictures of aborted fetuses or tortured animals are the first ones I block. Then I go after people who post the same thing over and over. Fat guy and his wife at dinner. OK, I tried to be nice and “like” the first couple of times, but now I can’t do it anymore. Likewise the dog sprawled on the couch or bed. If that’s all you’ve got going on in your life, then keep it to yourself.

Unfortunately, I am most impressionable early in the morning when I am least critical…

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If Present Conditions Allow

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We all know that we’re only here for a while. Just passing through. We might as well dig what can be dug and not bemoan not having what advertising and simple envy have told us we must have in order to be happy. We can be really happy right now once we decide to conclude that present conditions allow it.

If that feels like self-delusion or selling ourselves short, again blame advertising. Is the light coming through the window and falling onto the bed coming it at the right angle, or could it be improved? Is that wrinkle on the pillowcase perfect the way it is or is it all wrong? How about the chirping of the birds outside? Too loud, too strident?

It’s obvious that the inability to enjoy the present moment is something learned. These documentary films that heighten our expectations about natural beauty actually do a great disservice. They’re like photos of fall foliage where they crank up the color saturation. They neither inspire nor accurately portray what is real. Just more hype.

 

Nowhere To Go and No One To Blame

 

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If you’re not comfortably at home in your own head, chances are going somewhere else isn’t going to achieve the desired result. Nothing will prove so diverting or distracting as to make you feel at home. You will always be a restless visitor.

So running away won’t put you at peace, and creating a bunch of drama won’t allow to you forget about your fundamental unease. The only way to face the music is to stop playing musical chairs.

Chances are, whatever is tormenting you isn’t coming from outside yourself. There’s something you’re not willing to face, and that something is already part of you. You may be hounded by remorse, fretting in insecurity, or re-hashing old insults hoping for some new insight as to whom you can blame for the way you feel right now.

You already know that these efforts will not work. You will never break through this disturbing wall to find peace on the other side. There is no other side. There is only you and your mind and the time is right now.

Objects vs. Actions

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Hoping to be able to do something is a more noble goal than hoping to own something. Objects don’t thrill in the long run. Tools enable actions, and actions can often be generous and include others, which diminishes loneliness. Objects make lousy friends.

I have an OK electric piano. I know there are better ones out there, but I don’t think buying a better one would substantially change my life for the better. Learning to play the piano better would. The piano I already have would be up to that task. But would I do the work?

Buying things online is so easy you don’t even have to pull yourself away from your computer. I can imagine an object and thanks to Amazon Prime, it could appear on my doorstep in a twenty four hours! Is this progress?

Most of the time the answer is “not really.” It’s just shopping, and I already know what that feels like.

The reason it’s easier to put your hope on a physical object is because we’ve had a lot of help with that from the advertising industry. Actions are complicated and must take into account many variables. Objects sit on a shelf until they are sold. All the seller has to do is to convince the buyer that owning this object will solve some problem. Usually, all it takes is suggesting there is a problem and this object is that problem’s solution.

Maybe you don’t get asked out of dates because you have bad breath. Listerine in the cure. Your best friends know this, but they’re too delicate to say it to your face. Your friends who sell Listerine share no such compunction. After all, they want you to be happy!

The Bully in the Schoolyard

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When you have a group of five thirteen-year old boys, they have a collective mental age of about eight. The larger the group, the lower the mental age. They have the same ability to discern right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate as someone five years younger than their physical age.

I was just watching a group of such boys playing at the swimming pool and they kept getting into my lane, but I realized that none of them could be reasoned with, because they didn’t know why they were doing what they were doing. They were simply following the group. When a group of boys lights a homeless person on fire, and you ask them individually why they did it, they will say “because Joe said it was a good idea.” And if you then ask “why didn’t you object?” they’ll say, “I don’t know. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Joe’s usually pretty smart.”

Our Congress is like a group of thirteen year old boys. There is a bully in the schoolyard, and a group of stronger boys has appointed themselves his lieutenants. They are afraid of him and envy his power. If you intend to challenge the bully, you will have to deal with them first. They will sneak up behind you while are distracted by some outrageous bully act, and then you will have to deal with them as well as the bully.

If you could candidly talk to the members of Congress who form Trump’s core support, they might individually admit they disagree with his policies, but none will go on record with that. Besides, they like this bully better than they liked the last bully, who did not hold them in esteem.

No individual can take on the bully or his cohorts. It will take overwhelming force. And reasoning with a group of people with a collective age of a preteen will get you nowhere.

 

Cleverness is Overrated

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Some days it pays to be clever, other days it’s best to put a sock on it. Limit invention. Just dig what’s up.

For those who have been rewarded for their cleverness, this is hard work. Sometimes you can only change your behavior a tad, a wee bit, and only for a short amount of time. You can pretend to be less clever than you actually are for half an hour. Then, “ding!” it’s time to don that thinking cap.

I have met people who are just as “intelligent” as college professors, but to whom it would never occur to try to tell other people what or how to think. They simply are too humble to want to go there. It would be obnoxious, impolite, intrusive, arrogant, and distance thesmselves from others, which in the West is considered virtue and in the East, a vice.

Interestingly, and maybe paradoxically, strong…

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A Sure and Certain Hope

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More like a promise. What do I have to look forward to? This is OK. With the right attitude, it can be downright fun at times. Something like peace of mind can creep up and take hold. But the long term prognosis is grim. Decline. Loss. That’s sure and certain, as well.

So the ace in the hole is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Those notions sound corny and old fashioned to modern minds, but just because our lives are more comfortable and less fraught with danger than most people experienced in the past, doesn’t mean that the bitg payoff isn’t still the game-changer.

There’s a python living the in the grounds of an abandoned temple across the road from where I live. His body is as thick as one of my thighs. The villagers know of his presence and let him live because he performs a useful function by eating rats.

I’ve lived in a lot of different places recently, roaming the globe since my retirement from the work force six years ago. I’m reasonably healthy, maybe even healthier than most men my age. And yet I wonder, if the resurrection of the dead is real, why don’t I act like it? And if it’s not, why do I even waste a few seconds now and then wondering about it?

Every time someone close to me dies, I’m forced to face the issue. Here they cremate people. They burn them up in full view of the people who have come to the ceremony. Seeing one of your friends turn into a flowing ember gets your attention.

The line “sure and certain hope” comes from the Anglican funeral service. Other religions, mainly Protestant may use it as well. It’s a comforting phrase for those who are mourning a recent death. The fact that it’s comforting doesn’t mean it’s referring to anything real. To believe that, you must have Faith, which as I remember from sixty years ago when I studied the Baltimore Catechism is along with Hope and Charity, a form of grace, an unearned “gift from God.” Quite often you have to ask for it.

The python as thick as my thigh reminds me of the continued presence of death in my tranquil, retired life here amidst the ruins of thousand year old temples. If I die here, I’ll escape burial and be cremated at the nearest temple. They’ll probably shoot off fireworks. Maybe a few of my friends will come.

I imagine there’s a good chance I could write this when I’m safely on the other side.

So that was it? That was death? I didn’t even notice. Sure, I could tell that something had changed, but it was really not the least bit traumatic. I must admit I feel good. Full of confidence and hope. I don’t know what goes on over here, but I’m sure it’s going to be every bit and interesting and pleasurable and what I experienced when I was alive.

Dying reminded me of the first time I dove into water. I had been struggling to learn how to do a simple plunge dive, but fear had me doing countless belly-flops, which were painful and demoralizing. I finally concluded I was anatomically incapable of diving. Then I tried one last time and I did it! It was over in a flash! It wasn’t the least bit painful. And from then on, I could do it anytime I wanted.

What I Think About While Swimming

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When I am swimming laps, I am only doing that. My mind is unhinged from any other task. Like my body, it’s floating.

Usually, I’m doing nothing more productive than sitting in my room at home and trolling through Facebook, which is a lot like shopping in a junk store. I’m hoping to delight or at least distract myself with some unusual, impractical, maybe unique photo. Such shopping engages my mind, so it’s not floating. It’s concentrated on Facebook, on voyeurism.

An unhinged mind is one open to inspiration. New ideas simply pop up. The “me” who is swimming and thinking is a familiar presence, but I’m not sure it’s any more real or important than the water or the swimming pool. There is only the action. Swimming. Scrolling.

Sometimes I go home after swimming and write down what I’ve thought of while swimming.

Learn to cultivate gratitude

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There is a better place. It exists and it’s just as real as this one.

Because it is this place. We’ve already arrived, but for some reason we didn’t hear the conductor announce our stop.

Any time we waste fretting or scheming is time just as fully wasted as if we had been playing an inconsequential video game. It’s not a bad or good action, just a wasteful one.

Learn to cultivate gratitude. That often works when nothing else does. Take a genuine interest in the welfare of those around you. If you can get out of yourself, you’ll have less time to fall into self-pity.

I knew a man who got burned by gasoline while filling his lawn mower in his garage. He was in the hospital and they were giving him pain medication, but he was never really pain free no matter what dosage they gave him. The only way he could forget about his pain was to visit other people on the burn ward and try to cheer them up. He found that if he read stories to burned children, he forgot about his pain, but as soon as he went back to his room, it returned.

His case is not unusual, for most people who are not only content but often happy have something bigger than their own comfort to live for. You can’t pull off avuncular if you’re simply looking out for yourself, pressing your advantage whenever possible, and getting away with whatever you can.

Slick operators are rarely well thought of, even by themselves. The brief triumph of pulling something over on someone else doesn’t create lasting satisfaction. We can learn through suffering or we can learn my imitating others who have what we want.

This is school. Nobody really likes school much. We’d much rather be using the skills we learned our in the real world. We’ll get there, eventually, but whoever designed this decided some of us needed to be schooled first.

Avoid the Deliberate Manufacture of Misery

Since happiness is largely a decision, and cultivating gratitude the best way to make that decision on a daily basis, why are so many people not happy most of the time?

We must be manufacturing our own misery. Why?

There must be some hidden benefit which we aren’t eager to admit. Teenagers often sulk because they think it makes the look cool. Twenty-something artists look on the dark side whenever possible because they think it makes them seem profound. But what about the rest of us?

Blaming others or your circumstances for your misery is obviously a zero-sum game. If it’s all up to us, why choose misery?

We’re probably afraid of something we can’t admit to or recognize. Habitually looking outside ourselves, we can’t see the benefit we’re “enjoying” of not being truly free and happy.

Why risk self-employment when blaming your job is so much easier? Why risk being with someone you really want when

feeling trapped by someone you don’t desire protects you from the risk of real loss? Think how much it would hurt if someone you really wanted rejected you!

We can see that this pattern started a long time ago and has continued habitually ever since. By the time we recognize it and snap out of it, much of our life may already have passed. Too bad, but it isn’t the kiss of death. Not yet.

Nobody Knows What’s Going On

The fact is, everybody’s faking it to some degree. Some of us do a better job than others of pretending to be in charge of our lives, of knowing what’s going on, of taking decisive actions based on careful study of the facts, but most of that is theater.

We’re all puppets in the same play. The puppet master is clever and kind most of the time, but every once in a while he shows his dark side.

I live in a Buddhist country, and if I get up early in the morning, right before dawn, I can see monks of all ages walking barefoot down the streets and lanes, begging for food. On cold mornings it looks uncomfortable. They do this to practice total surrender to the benevolence of others.

A business man in a high tower, lounging about in a thousand-dollar suit and making what he assures himself and others are good decisions and taking decisive actions would have a harder time seeing that he is floating on a cloud of grace.

But, as the sorry little priest in the film Diary of a Country Priest whispered just before he died, “Grace is everywhere.” The film Babette’s Feast makes the same claim. There’s no point in trying to take credit for your successes or failures, it all pales in comparison to the majesty of God’s grace.

So if it makes you happy to think of yourself as a go-getter, a successful whatever-you-think-you-are, then go ahead and do it. Likewise, if you get some sick pleasure out of blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault, that’s OK, too.

It doesn’t matter in the long run. Things are the way they are and how we interpret them only matters to us, and from a distance, even that not much. Tears will dry. Memories will fade.