BICYCLING POEM: Mother Earth And Her Cycles

Mother Earth
Has her cycles
Look out!
Respect her cycles
Don’t be a fossil fool
Ride that bike!
Powered by living humans
Not dead relics
Exorcise those fossils, fool!
Ride that bike!
Get that warm feeling
And cool breeze
The perfect combo
Of vigor and refreshment
Ride that bike!
It’s in your nature
And even if it don’t make cents
It’s in your interest
Do it!
Just cause
Your Momma
Has tolled you too

I wrote this poem at the beginning of bicycling season this year. I get great joy and satisfaction from biking around, human powered, in sync with Mother Nature. I find biking in the city a natural for practicing mindfulness, simply by virtue of the attention required to stay alive and un-maimed from motor vehicles operated by licensed zombies. I appreciate the exercise that biking affords. As I am in my fourth year without a car, my instinct that my car getting totaled was a gift has proven true. I am grateful that I can live well with the sometimes inconvenience of not having a car. I feel some solidarity with the majority of humankind that doesn’t have a motor vehicle. My love affair with Mother Earth grows deeper…

POEM: Of Coarseness

Don’t put won over me
F every won
Flunk sexism
Flunk racism
Flunk classism
Flunk nationalism
And sow on
And sow on
In effability
Of coarse
They say
Vulgarity vulgarity
Every ware
I look
In just US
The capital of the whirled
Spinning lies
Wile iniquity runs rampant
Fore public office
As up right
The riotous
Will be herd
If scuff law in order
To re-buff amoral cents
And counting dullards
Drilled simply for being crude
And unrepentantly unrefined
Tolled to keep off the crass
In a tour de farce
As if
In decency
Merely unappetizing crudités
Interrupting
Our place
At the table
Only too be taken away
Be for serving
The entree
To the winners of our discontent

This poem plays on the nominal vulgarity of swear words versus the substantial vulgarities of endemic sexism, racism, classism, amoral capitalism, nationalism and the unlike.  Civilized Nations Have Best Implements for War--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONI am struck by the hugely disproportionate reactions by so-called civilized society to the nominal vulgarities of swear words and the substantial vulgarities of rampant iniquity and inequities.  This reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching (chapter 38):

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety

CIVIL WAR - When Oxymorons Run Amok ANTI-WAR BUTTONThis passage captures the devolution of society and politics when propriety is the central reference point and standard for judgments, having devolved from simple morality and core virtues. Of course, even virtue and morality are devolutions of Tao, the ineffable and mysterious source from which life flows and finds its being.  Propriety is a pitiful veneer covering a morally bankrupt society, where unmoored virtue makes alienation the norm, and nothing is sacred.  What could be more coarse than a society where power, privilege and status are self-aggrandizing and injustice is but a chronic inconvenience?

I am proud to have written a poem about vulgarity without directly using verbal vulgarities — though the implied vulgarities may make the poem PG-13.  Vulgarities may not be necessary, but when our concern is over words rather than from the underlying realities which deserve much more attention, we get sucked into dangerous distraction.  My increasingly surreal experience of the gap between popular awareness and underlying injustices seems like a good basis for the full employment by this poet of awe words, vulgar or not.  May we see beyond the superficial proprieties of language to see clearly the grinding injustices which bespeak vulgarities.

Managed Democracy And The Illusion Of Politics

This article pretty much sums it up.  Managing the air, apparent electorate, and the “for most” illusion of politics.  Great contribution from The African American Intellectual History Society, Managed Democracy And The Illusion Of Politics:

Now that another sordid election cycle is almost behind us, the pundit class has begun to issue the customary pleas for reconciliation. We are told that we must “come together” after the votes are counted. We must “unite behind our new leader” and help affirm the “peaceful transition of power.”

At the end of the day, the narrative goes, we can all celebrate the stability and integrity of our democracy.

Such platitudes offer a fitting conclusion to an election season designed to entertain and hypnotize ordinary Americans, distracting them from capitalism’s escalating crises of social decay.

Appeals to civic virtue cannot conceal the ugly truth: American democracy is a hollow shell devoid of substance or meaning. It is a festival of ignorance whose purpose is to empty the skulls of an already benumbed and manipulated populace.

Reality Television: Big Media Control--POLITICAL BUTTONThe corporate media’s endless coverage of the gyrations of the candidates ensures that few civilians escape the spectacle or recognize its inanity. We are bombarded with accounts of the vile behavior of manufactured political personalities. Yet we remain oblivious to social realities, unable to perceive or confront the forces that actually shape our lives. This is the point, of course: the political carnival exists to control thought, to prescribe acceptable discourse, and to protect the ruling class from the threat of real democracy.

If nothing else, this election offers compelling evidence that we have entered a new stage in the permanent crisis of monopoly capitalism. The system can no longer maintain even the semblance of legitimacy or decency. The empire is not only declining. It is imploding.

Let us face facts. America is not a democracy—a system in which people have the ability to participate meaningfully in the construction and governance of society. This is so not only because a militarized police force, bent on crushing dissent and containing oppressed populations, routinely monitors, represses, brutalizes, and slaughters us. It is so not only because the major political parties conspire with their corporate masters to manipulate the electoral process. It is so not only because insular political clans (from the Bushes to the Clintons) hoard power within an oligarchical, dynastic elite.

Defeat The Elite POLITICAL BUTTONAmerica is not a democracy because, at the end of the day, its political system is incapable of producing the structural changes that must occur if human beings are to live with dignity on this planet.

Who truly believes that this election—or any election under the current arrangements—will restrain our bloated warfare state? Or restore the social safety net? Or end state terrorism against black and brown people? Or defeat mass imprisonment? Or rebuild unions? Or transform our energy system?

Yes, genuine policy differences divide the Republican and Democratic parties. Republican, Democrat, Not Playing Your Silly Games Anymore POLITICAL BUTTONBut both organizations are giant business syndicates. And on questions most vital to the survival of Earth and its inhabitants, they are united in their contempt and indifference.

So let us stop viewing presidential campaigns—this quadrennial feud between rival wings of empire—as opportunities for real political expression or advancement. The people who actually run the system are bankers and plutocrats and architects of the international trade agreements that ravage our economies and destabilize our lives. And none of them are elected.

Vote if you wish. But do so knowing that a new social order will emerge only when the current capitalist regime is replaced with a more humane system.

If we want an end to war, white supremacy, and mind-boggling inequality, we must rely on ourselves. We must build popular movements able to storm the structures of power while offering people positive social alternatives. Only a permanent revolution of the oppressed can bring about meaningful change. Democracy cannot be orchestrated from above. It must be engineered from below.

May wee the people rise up as won humanity and make just us at the heart of democratic governance.

Free Election Poster: VOTE FOR

This free election poster makes a profoundly simple assertion: VOTE FOR.  This message endorses voting, but takes no position on WHO you vote for.  This campaign poster addresses more HOW you vote.  This election poster is a simple plea to vote FOR your candidates, candidates that represents your ideals and principles.  This political poster rejects the cynical notion that voting against candidates is an effective way to get good candidates, good government, or a political system that will manifest our highest ideals and most cherished principles.  This election poster nudges US to vote without fear, in unabashed hope and tenaciously high expectations.  This campaign poster asks that we simply and directly register our political commitments and opinions by voting for candidates who can truly represent our political views.  This political message rejects reflecting our political representation in some fun-house mirror of political candidates whose best virtue is not being “the other” candidate.  Such convoluted political expressions are best suited to politicians committed to securing abundant wiggle room, to avoid commitments and accountability rather than securing your best interests.

Free Election Poster: VOTE FOR

If a candidate cannot represent your political views with honesty and integrity, then vote for a candidate who can.  If you can’t find a candidate who can represent your political views with honesty and integrity, then work to create a political system that makes this a workable option.  Your political views matter.  Your political views deserve representation.  Democracy deserves candidates who truly represent us.  Don’t settle for less — or you will surely get less.

Check out Top Pun’s other free downloadable political posters or election and voting designs.

POEM: Awe That Is Fine Her

Sheez
Know more than
Know less than
Then any won ails
In whatever
Whirled
Privileged to breathe at awe
Fenced buy abets
Dis regarding
Weather grate her
Or less her
As any won object
Is any thing worth wile
Over looking
Hi her
Or lo her
More than
A parity girl
Beyond sum
Sublime whole
As summon to be respected
As things aren’t
As they peer
And with won voice
Even as winsome and surrender some
Make us as we were
Mend to be
Engendering awe that is fine her
In every weigh

This is a poem about a certain sublime equality to any path toward enlightenment and more particularly about the struggle of a female protagonist engendering courage and healing in a patriarchal world.  I am grateful for women sublimely manifesting the so-called feminine virtues.  This helps me achieve balance in my own masculine existence.  Of course, I am in particularly awe of folks who can transcend socially prescribed gender roles and model the full range of virtues and vices that whole human beings embrace.  May we find wholeness along the serpentine and twisted paths of our lives.  May you eagerly welcome whatever may be coming around the next bend.

POEM: Can She Be Eunuch?

She stated
No one else can do what I do
To witch
They rejoined
Realing in whore
Accept that you are a cog
You intractable wrench
Unfit for cloning round
And unstranded
She cut out
From the puppet tier
Knot to be
Am ployed
As if
She were eunuch

This poem is about breaking away from the artifice and inhumanity of the machine, aka, capitalism, which is designed to monetize you in any way possible.  When someone discovers the passion of their unique role and contribution to the world, the machine pushes back as it has difficulty incorporating one’s soul eccentricities into it’s standardized system and dehumanized algorithms.  Generous portions of creativity easily overwhelm “the way we have always done things” as well as distant, disconnected orders from big bosses.  Creativity is so unnatural to the machine that it ultimately creates huge inefficiencies, even amidst its seeming devotion to efficiency.  The machine typically finds it much more expedient to grind cows to hamburger than even milk them for all that they are worth.  Workers’ humanity routinely suffers the analogous outcome.  Creativity that cannot be easily plugged into the machine is ignored, discounted, or actively stifled.  In this poem, the sheer stupidity and foolishness of a system that fails to adapt to the unfathomable creativity of the human spirit is represented by the rhetorical question that is the title: Can she be eunuch?  Beside the overlayed meaning of the pun eunuch/unique, the definitional absurdity of a female being a eunuch (a castrated male) illustrates how the machine fundamentally misunderstands and misuses the very people it is alleged to serve.  The machine is indiscriminate in its castration!  Of coarse, such crudeness does serve some people, just not workers within the system.  Even though a system well designed to incorporate human creativity and eccentricities could unleash incalculable efficiencies and productivity AND be well aligned with the desires and needs of each of those working within such a system, the capitalist system is not intended to produce the greatest good, particularly the common good, but instead is geared and cogged to produce material wealth for an elite few who pull the levers of so-called industry.  Private profit at the expense of human potential and the common good is the only real order of the day in capitalism.  The common good is reduced to foolhardiness as it is wide open to being robbed by the capitalistic princes of virtue, greed being the organizing principle of capitalism.  Human attributes not easily monetized atrophy in capitalism.  Turning humans into cogs for personal profit may very well be one of the better definitions of evil.  Robbing others of their God-given creativity and eccentric passions for a few bucks and a cynical acceptance of a diminished humanity is a pathetic way of honoring the countless gifts humanity brings to the world.  Courageous creativity, the bold commitment and determination to find a way to be who you were created to be, is the answer to the dehumanizing capitalistic machine.  Reveling in the infinitely greater portion of life that is not easily monetized assures a home and hearth for your own humanity and all those who take the time to be present to such gifts.  May you find your unique passions and the courage to boldly follow them in their many serendipitous consummations.

POEM: Her Beatify Regime

She offered her life for others
Occupying the known and unknown
In a humanity so rare
As a piece of raw flesh
Nourishing friend and faux akin
Wear life and dead meet
Sow mysteriously
Anew humanity
Becoming
In awe weighs
With winsome
And grace
Waiving her rights
In the face of unseemly fortunes
And a parent fate
Like in experienced chide
Passing into a door
A mist reluctant fallowers
Wont to cling too
A certain fate
For what remains
Secrets of eternal youth
Borne again
A head of her times
And a big art for all
Letting go of earthly flatter
As some age ode flyer
Hanging round
Until taken down
By pluckers of all forms
In that primeval
Of wrongs and rites
Rising once more
As ballads fly
As so many
Untried convictions
So long side
In dis belief
As refuse
The un-altar-Abel
Steaking won’s claim
From whence I live
As never never land
Un-till
We meat again

This poem is yet another ode to feminine virtues, as a mother’s patient strength and wisdom that fights fiercely and elegantly for all of earth’s children, sacrificing many earthly pursuits to give rise to not a little heaven on earth.  This poem plays with issues of both inner beauty and outer beauty, as inner beauty incarnates itself into the outer world, making the world both more beautiful and us grateful for the beauty ever-present before us.  Inner beauty is real — not merely sentiment — bursting into creation, fulfilling our inborn desire to be beautiful and share that beauty with others.  This grace and elegance in the face of ignorance and cruelty is the heart of nonviolent living, recognizing and paying tribute with one’s life to the transcendent superiority of love over hate and service over domination.

This poem has allusions to a heavenly afterlife.  The time is always right to do what is right -- Martin Luther King, Jr. quote.I am not a big fan of heaven as some delayed reward, some divine carrot, to get us to behave well on earth.  Rather, the heavenly allusions are to poetically lift up the triumph of life over death, the ultimate affirmation of good as stronger than evil. Plus, I have a more seamless view of the good as good in itself and inevitably offering good up to all residing here and now in the earthly plane.  Justice is just because it is just.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “The time is always right to do what is right.”  Still, while I am agnostic regarding any specifics of any afterlife, I have experienced enough profound serendipities in my life that any pleasant surprises would be entirely congruent with my experience of life.  May you do the right thing now, accept the great gifts ever-present before you, and expect to be pleasantly surprised as the future unfolds.

POEM: The Taoist Dowager

The Taoist dowager
Bends gently to that before her
Inclined to bless
Those below
Indivisible
To the high and mighty
Wholly touched
Braille beyond the see
Maid of tender harmonies
Composed
Of one, a chord
The maladies of life joyfully singing
Farming the music of our years
Covered by perfect lines
Of what may be
Momentarily forgotten
Only later recalled
By progeny
And prodigy
And even those
Occupying there posterity
Like some kind of bum
Or a baggy lady
Udderly fool of it
From cradle to grave
Fully pampered
Content
To cede generations
For a moment
For hour
A muse meant
This consummate ode lady
Siren from beyond hear
A thirst only quenched
By water on the rocks
Having strung out
Countless improbable moments
A mist
An impossible life
Beyond contemplation
Not getting bent
On 100% proof
With a taste that smacks of grace
A singular savor
Unpalletable to sum
Treated like a fragrant
Bye others
Having
Perfected that groovy hide
From a rash
Of uncommon sense
Fore hers
Such an inconceivable vehicle
As chary it
Like the wind borne
In quiet the mine
A sentience unabridged
Having awe ready arrived
A slow motion ninja
Only to be
In what will be
Carried away
In eternity

This poem emanated from the title phrase, Taoist dowager, that emerged from one of my many ruminations.  As is often the case, a phrase that is too good to pass up grows into a complete poem.  I am drawn to Taoist philosophy and Eastern thought in that it seems to quite reliably offer balance to Western modes of thought and being.  The dowager metaphor is apropos in that it is typically a feminine sensibility that is the antidote to afford balance to dominant and domineering Western male culture.  Plus, wisdom is often rightly associated with increasing age and experience, not the least of which is experiencing and reflecting on the vulnerability inherent in senescence.  Buddhists make a practice of meditating on their own inevitable death, not as popular a practice among the young and seemingly invulnerable.  Nonetheless, Taoism claims the ever-present and eternal as accessible in the now, a certain holy equality, a pathless path, perpetually wooing us with enlightenment experiences that cannot be grasped but hold the key to living in harmony with reality and all living beings.  The folly of every age is to try to reduce such knowledge and wisdom to some type of elixir that can be bought, or more to the point, sold.  Even after being taken countless times, the allure of the latest snake oil quite reliably rouses our more base instincts.  The basest instinct blocking our experience of the Tao, the Way, is to take, for our self to acquire something from an other.

Clearly, in the Way of things, things come our way.  However, being given, to receive something, and taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, are opposite perspectives.  Being given, receiving, is an attitude of gratitude and selflessness.  Taking is an attitude of greed and selfishness.  Now, Taoism is lauded for its mastery of complimentariness, the understanding that opposites interpenetrate each other and are only conceivable in contrast to one another; e.g., you can’t conceive of light without dark, or tall without short.  There is little doubt that a deep appreciation for the complimentary nature of reality is a powerful tool to keep us honest and on track in perceiving and aligning our life with reality.  Still, there are clues within each opposite to their relationship to the Whole, the Tao.  Its conceivable to me that people could live in perfect harmony, without contradiction, with an attitude of gratitude. It is inconceivable to me that people can live as greedy takers without contradictory and irreconcilable selves.  In the mysterious light of the Whole, gratitude is more consonant with reality.  Further, taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, without any claim upon it from elsewhere is simply self-assertion.

There seems to be a consensus among philosophers and theologians of all stripes and perspectives that human beings cannot be the ground of their own being.  On one end of the spectrum this was most famously articulated by John Paul Sartre in his book, nay tome, Being and Nothingness, which built the intellectual foundation of modern existentialism.  On the other end of the spectrum, most human beings throughout human history have claimed life to be a gift from God (or gods).  Sartre and some others are content to contend that human freedom is condemned to naked self-assertions, however well-clothed in rationalizations.  God-seeking humans have sought a source of life, a ground for their being, a giver who is also a subject, not a happenstance collection of stardust within a serendipitously profoundly ordered universe.  The harshest and most minimalist existentialists settle for an existence where subjects cannot truly meet, or, if taken most strictly, cannot even be confident that other subjects even exist.  Such a bizarre assertion is welcomed by God skeptics who cannot fathom a Subject, but the corollary laughable denial of other human subjects’ existence is kept conveniently and shamefully out of public consciousness.  Taoists and many philosophers of consciousness posit something akin to a Consciousness that all consciousnesses partake in, a whole in which each part is inescapably in relationship with, even if well-clothed in ignorance and plausible deniability.  Christians speak of being made in the image of God.  Taoists, perhaps the least literal in their claims, allude to a dynamic Whole that informs our being of the Way.

A beloved metaphor often employed by Taoists is water, with all of its life-giving and unusual properties yet part of daily, seemingly-mundane experience.  The one who lives fluidly like water moves easily around that which is hardened.  Yet water, given time (an equally mysterious aspect of life), wears down mountains [see patience as the mother of all virtues!].  This poem gives a tip of the hat to this water metaphor with the lines: A thirst only quenched/By water on the rocks.  Thirst cannot even be conceived without quenching — unless perhaps you have the brutally masochistic tendencies of an orthodox atheist existentialist who braves permanent and absolute alienation (from even one’s self).  The line, Siren from beyond hear, intimates the dangerous half of thirst.  The water on the rocks alludes to the sober attention needed to recognize that water and ice (on the rocks) are fundamentally the same stuff, just in a different form.  Having strung out/Countless improbable moments/A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation.  When faced with conundrums and uncertainties, there is a common tendency to hear beguiling Sirens and throw ourselves against the rocks.  Sober minds recognize this as A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation/Not getting bent/On 100% proof.  In embodying an attitude of gratitude and selflessness connected to the One, one can quiet the mine/A sentience unabridged/Having awe ready arrived/A slow motion ninja/Only to be/In what will be/Carried away
In eternity.  May it be so.

 

POEM: Silver Bullets

Beware of cellars of silver bullets
Proffering too for won buys
As wear wolves clothing
In the face
Of murder-suicide
Know if, and, or butt
Totally transmogrifying
In a fool moon rising
A dark knight
A bastard sun
Offering kool aid
As a final solution
A straw man choosing
Short cut
Or going long
Whether thirst or lust
The buyer be ware
As passably souled
If the prize is right

This poem is about hucksters of all sorts.  There is something about human nature that leaves us vulnerable to quick fixes, the proverbial “silver bullet.”  I suspect that this has a lot to do with laziness, the resistance to exerting effort, and a commensurately lazy view of reality where if just one thing were fixed then all would be right with the world.  Impatience is a cousin of laziness, as patience is the mother of all virtues.  Also, humans seem attracted to the clever, often at the expense of intelligence.  Even the apparently novel can beguile us to bypass ancient wisdom or just plain common sense.  Wile sellers of silver bullets must be held accountable; of coarse, the buyer must be ware, willing to be sold.  A certain steeling of our souls may lead us behave shrewdly to salespeople.  Not wanting to peer a fool is often the salespersons best tool.  Exorcising wisdom as a passing fad allows us to be taken and retards us from excepting what is given.  May you be forever souled, in awe ways rooted in that beyond accost.

POEM: A Ghastly Alchemy

For just
Some
Dam
Weepin’s permit
I protect and serve
Up my enemies
Like
Cold
Turkey
Shoot
Only to rifle
But growing ode
In a ghastly alchemy
Silver bullets turning to lead
Down the wrong path
Instantly poisoned
Hearts and minds
In the cruelest democracy
Community going
For broke
The simplest solution
Drunk
With wons
Britches down
In a flash
A bad moon rising
Eclipsing gumption
In the forced
And bye-ways
Camouflaging knights
And daze
Seeing evil
Through darkness
And narrow sites
Seeing in for red
Aimed for more heat than light
As mirror man
Shutters a mist
The in side out
As awe the rage
For their own
Good
I mean
Bad

Here is yet another poem against gun violence.  When it comes to ballads not bullets, I have plenty of ammunition.  Besides just being cruel, violence is inherently anti-democratic.  There are inescapable conundrums in eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, other people as a form of building community.  Of coarse, many people are willing to sacrifice another than do the hard work of making high ideals manifest.  Even the concept of “self” defense razes issues of human rights, inclusiveness, and the sacredness of life.  There is little doubt that practicing nonviolence takes great discipline and sacrifice.  This is in sharp contrast to the so-called “last-resort” of violence that so lazily creeps up to number one.

At what price do we give up our freedom to practice nonviolence?  The Faustian bargain of violence offers an escape from the rigors of morality and authentic community by claiming, “They made me do it,” a convenient denial of one’s freedom — and another’s!  Of course, the enforcement of might makes right extracts the bulk of the price from others, the opposite of self-discipline and sacrifice.  Creating community is costly, just as destroying community is costly.  The real question is: Who pays the cost and who reaps the benefits (in the case of destruction, of what remains)?  As in the dysfunction of capitalism, where greed and selfishness are raised up as virtues necessary to “progress”, violence is about getting the most benefit for oneself (and one’s kin) at the lowest cost to oneself.  Not surprisingly, when the lowest common denominator is oneself, and greed is a virtue, community, which prospers on the common good, suffers. The fundamental problem is that the destruction of violence extracts a cost from the whole (community) that can only be rationalized in piecemeal, selfish fashion.  Violence is an attempt to shift a cost to others.  This works in part when you force others to experience loss due to your violence, and the cost of this is disproportionately shared by your victims.  However, there is no substitute for your own moral agency.  Your responsibility cannot be “cost shifted” to others (only the effects of your irresponsibility can).  This is the irrevocable loss of moral failings. Morality is simply exercising your freedom in a responsible way.  Saying you don’t have a choice, e.g, “They made me do it,” is a cop out.  Morality isn’t easy; if it was, everybody would be doing it!  In short, wielding lethal weapons is perhaps the worst way to demonstrate personal responsibility.  Guns are the lowest form of community.  Even if guns are the last resort, this is not a resort in which I want to live.

POEM: Success Can Be Trying

She was not a success
Nor was she even a failure
For failure has a prerequisite
Trying
Not reaching
The successful cobble
The stones of failure
So becoming
The rode integral
Too success
Finding that success can be trying

The people who fail the most are usually also those who are also the most successful.  Exceedingly few people succeed on their first try.  First comes trying.  Then, comes practicing, or trying something different.  As my daughter was growing up, I remember us watching Olympic figure skating, and she asked, “How do they do that?!”  I answered, “Lots of practice.”  I repeated, practiced, this response with her over the years.  When she was about ten years old, she talked about wanting to play the guitar.  Her Grandma got her a junior-sized guitar for her birthday.  She picked it up and held it in a similar fashion as she had seen the folks she had admired play it.  She immediately exclaimed, “It doesn’t work!?”  The guitar didn’t play.  She had thought that somehow just holding the guitar would somehow draw music out of her.  I don’t think she even tried after that.  Not to worry, my daughter has tried many other things since then, and persistence is one of her strongest traits.

In trying, there is great wisdom in knowing the difference between when to hunker down and keep practicing the same thing and when to move onto something different.  Some of this depends on balancing our desires to be a virtuoso at something and our desires to experience many different things, being a proverbial jack-of-all-trades.  Being a virtuoso opens up new possibilities by being able to perform at a level that few, if any, can match.  Taking a more liberal arts approach, you can learn at little bit of everything, though perhaps not be an expert in any particular field.  This may strike some as indecisive, unfocused, or even lazy, but it takes advantage of a foundational principle of learning: we learn much more at the beginning of the learning curve than later in the learning curve.  For many things in life, there are diminishing returns, less output per unit of effort, by doing/practicing the same thing over and over.  By moving to areas with less mastery, we can harness the “first fruits” effect.  By harvesting the low hanging fruits in many different fields, we can learn accelerate the total amount we learn.  Plus, cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences is at the core of creativity: combining two or more things in a way to produce something new.  Higher level learning is about making robust connections in the brain.  Virtuosos achieve deep grooves in their brain and mastery of a particular skill at about 10,000 hours of practice.  Of course, devoting 10,000 hours to a greater variety of activities may not produce similarly deep grooves in specific areas of the brain, but perhaps more robust, complex connections.  Perhaps the connection between these two different approaches is persisting in a level of challenge that develops and strengthens brain connections.  The virtuoso is challenged by a necessarily greater singularity of focus.  The jack-of-all-trades is challenged by the awkwardness of regularly venturing into new fields and having to make sense of much new information.  Both require patience, which I consider the mother of all virtues.

In Western civilization, great value is placed on specialization, so that you have easily identifiable, easily marketable skills to navigate “successful” careers.  I think that shifting our balance toward trying things new would produce greater returns in quality of life, perhaps be challenging what is meant by “success.”  Of course, much is perspective.  Thomas Edison tried 10,000 materials to perfect a light bulb filament.  When asked whether he thought that represented a waste of time, he declared that he had learned 9,999 ways not to make a light bulb filament.  I am with good old Tom, that in if we approach life with a positive attitude toward the trying task of learning, nothing will be wasted.  And even then, if you enjoy time wasted, it’s not time wasted.  This I have learned — and keep trying to remember…

POEM: Confused

If you are confused, you are well on your way

Life can be complicated.  If you delve into the intricacies of most any situation or topic, you will find many shades of gray, and undoubtedly some paradoxes or contradictions.  If you find this confusing, then consider that a sign that you are well on your way.  Another version of this is: “If you are confused, then you are beginning to understand the problem.”  Certainly, having a deep and nuanced understanding of any situation or topic can offer great benefits.  Knowing the facts about reality can be much better than not knowing the facts about reality.  However, sheer knowledge has its limits and can bring diminishing returns with increasing effort exerted.  At some point it may even bring negative returns.  This brink or end of knowledge can be the beginning of wisdom.  The learned add something each day; the wise let go of something each day.  A key facet of wisdom is unlearning, letting go of ways that no longer work well.  Increasing complexity is not the strength that wisdom offers, but rather simplicity.  Organizing one’s life around a few things that one is confident about is much wiser than building an increasingly complex, teetering pile of less certain and less valued stuff.  In the wise words of Lao-tse: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”  Of course, in modern, capitalistic, Western civilization, complexity, impatience, and unadulterated self-interest are virtues cultivated.  Complexity overwhelms simplicity in a juggernaut of competing interests meeting shallow needs.  Impatience serves as a superficial imposter of the eternal now.  Greed trumps compassion.  If you find these clashing values confusing, take simplicity, patience, and compassion for a test drive. Still, don’t be surprised if many around you find your new ways increasingly confusing.  Knowing the world is knowledge.  Knowing others is wisdom.  Knowing oneself is enlightenment.  And many get stuck on knowledge.

POEM: A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse

A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse (Tao Te Ching 38)

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety
Yet oddly
Even when
Awe is lost
Tao remains
The eternal rest
Giving rise to awe

The Tao Te Ching is the ancient Chinese sacred text of Taoism.  The authorship is attributed to Lao-Tse, which may have been an individual or a group.  There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching, which seem to differ greatly.  The above poem is my take on chapter 38, which seems to have stuck in my mind.  I was struck by the truth of the progression, or deterioration, from the ineffable unity of Tao to virtue, then morality, then propriety, which is the beginning of chaos, with propriety being the shallowest foundation for life.  While the Tao Te Ching is necessarily perplexing, “the Tao that can be described is not the Tao,” this foundation which escapes our grasp is the very foundation which secures our hope.  No machinations, cruelty, nor any power on earth can overturn it or control it.  This irreducible hope persists as an untouchable in a world bent on holding and controlling way more than called for.  This irreducible hope gives rise to awe!

The Tao Te Ching is more of a comprehensive series of hints than a textbook.  I view it as an essential companion for any mystic. Of course, I see mysticism as the heart of any true religion.  The Tao Te Ching is very short read, especially when compared to the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, or especially the Hindu Vedas!  Plus, unlike perhaps most other religions and their sacred texts, a devoted Taoist would probably suggest burning your sacred text at some point!  This speaks of a truer reverence than the all-too-familiar Bibliolatry of Western civilization.  As a child of Western civilization, I would heartily recommend the Tao Te Ching as an antidote for many of the imbalances acutely present in modern society.  Western civilization’s addiction to scientific reductionism makes us hellbent on focusing on one thing in isolation, pressuring us to ever narrower contexts and ever greater specialization.  Central in the practice of Taoists is complimentariness, Yin and Yang, that the myriad of things that comprise our world, though arising from the unity of Tao, can only be comprehended by their opposites.  Perhaps the greatest formulation of this in Christianity is Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  Only by reconciliation with our enemies can we become whole.  Any demonization of the other necessarily degrades our own humanity.  We are defined by our enemies.  If our enemies don’t define us, then we are free, and in accord with Tao.  May it be so…because it is so…

POEM: Ad Dulled State

Ad Dulled State

Well come
To this ad dulled state
What will it take
To see the light
Tell a vision
Divining every yen
Razing the whys
Jacking up
All that meters
Taxi’ing every quarter our
Static being drug
Swallowing minute libations
To our own
Dram nation
Pros astute
Shop lifting thirsts and seconds
Feigning coy
Eat us
Interruptus
Lusting an instant
To be
A loan
Stop the word and let me get off
Yet in the end
A foreign language oui read
LITTLE PRINTS
Exposing
Astor risks
Like a John going down on the Titanic
Can that
Be conceivably kosher
Such an untold clip
That diabolic scroll
In nothing flat
Can we circumspect nothing else
So ordained
A diction
Razing
High couture
That calling
NOW
To see double
Speak easy operators
Reaching the hype
Of pop culture
Soda whatever happens
The dream of auto pilots
Every wear
Fashioning model consumers
In compassing all the rage
Insuring all lost
A luxurious cell
With the laidest technology
Everyone fast
Food again
Con fronting counter fits
With an app petite
To be ravenous nevermore
Conquering SOBs hankering
Whatever man
You fractured
To undemanding specks
Whatever you craven

The near omnipresence of advertisements in so-called advanced civilization can lead to an addled state of mind.  Capitalism cannot resist, and even lifts to a virtue, monetizing everything possible.  And where does this road lead?  To one big commercial, occasionally interrupted by life.  The need to convince people about all of the needs that they didn’t even know they had takes unrelenting programs of repetition assaulting our senses in increasingly novel and clever ways.  Our brains can find little refuge from such assaults.  Weather coy interruptions or sensory overload, the lowest common denominators of sensuality, status, and power tempt and train our baser instincts to buy products basking in their glow.  Unfortunately, the glow of big-screen televisions, neon lights, and fancy packaging rarely deliver even a fraction of their alleged benefits.  The truth evaporates like ethereal promises scrolling by as incomprehensible fine print.  We are expected to rest upon verbal promises not even worth the paper they aren’t even printed on.  Such means produce similar ends.  The consumer is consumed.  Elusive wants grow larger the closer we get.  In our dreams, we Chase Freedom™ like a fairy tail.  Our simplest needs are crushed under the weight of gadgets, accessories, and the inevitable infestation of bugs in Life v.16.2.01.   What we need is life unplugged.  A blackout might reveal what is truly electric.  Even in the darkest of ages, those who are be-wild-er-ed will find a road less travelled.  The best things in life cannot be manufactured.  The best things in life are free — that is, if you can pay the cost…

POEM: The Deep End

The Deep End

I fell
Off
The deep end
Only too narrowly
Missing a shallow end
As was my aim
The river is wide
Full of whys
Like some
Chicken of the see
Not to swim
To the other side
To get over
The waterfall
Planted from above
To churning, disorienting bellow
Grasping for breath
Vainly trying to separate
Water and light
Wallowing in a rainbow
How becoming
I am
Proclaiming
Deep and wide
Once
Is enough
Or, yearning only
Too due it
Again

The deep part of the river of life is the center.  The point is not merely to cross over the other side — as if efficiency in this matter were some virtue — but to experience it longly and deeply.  Of course, going over the deep end in a river is a waterfall.  Again, the point is not merely to “get over it,” but to embrace it in awe of its churning and disorienting bellow.  Drink life in, even choke on it, rather than leave via a “shallow end.” Accepting the sheer beauty of life in its totality can be a powerful spiritual practice leading to more robust experience — though some may recognize that you have went off the deep end.  Without incessantly trying to break life into good parts to be sought and bad parts to be avoided we can better appreciate the epic arc of life, and our own story within it.  Of course, lived well or poorly, most of us can identify with both feelings that “once is enough” and “let’s do it again!”  May it be so.