POEM: Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Jaden’s skepticism
Was like a cannibalism
That learned to crave
The taste
Of it’s own flesh and blood
And could settle for nothing
Less
Then a connoisseur
Of embalming
Empty vein hopes
Of immortality
In some unremitting pâté
With every golden goose cooked
In a dish best served cold
A first course
Able to stave off
Most kind of appetites
With well-bread relish
Where one helping
Is too much
For the rank and file
Of such a prison
Making ciao of anyone’s best guest
Too have your cake
And not eat it
For what may be
Inside
And passably left

I am very skeptical of skepticism.  Skepticism is most warranted when exploring empirical truths, those facts of the physical world, the realm of reductionistic science.  Skepticism has diminishing returns, and can even become cannibalistic, when applied overzealously to metaphysical or subjective truths.  While skepticism has its place, it can blind ourselves to subtler, higher truths, those of our subjective realm.  Many of such truths in life can only be taken in with a measure of grace.  Those refusing to risk being taken in are at risk for missing out of some of the best things in life.  Hope, love, and faith will wither in the face of unrelenting skepticism.  If your quest is for passable reasons to bypass hope, love, and faith you will almost certainly be rewarded with their loss.  Reducing them to mundane forms of psychological or sociological constructs will strip them of their transcending power.

Unrelenting skepticism is perhaps most dangerous at home, in one’s inner life.  Our own experience is the direct access we have to the world of subjectivity, a world mold-able to our free will.  This direct personal evidence cannot be shared in a verifiable or provable manner with others, as the methods of reductionistic science follow.  This does not mean that such realities experienced do not exist, or that subjectivity does not exist.  It simply means that they fall outside the methods of reductionistic science to examine.  Nonetheless, our experience, or consciousness, is at the center of our lives, not just some afterthought.  Plus, it can offer insights into others, as experiencers of their own human subjectivity.  Knowing thyself is the foundation for knowing others, the most important aspect of navigating the human world.  Metaphysics deserves our attention.

Some committed cynics consider free will an epiphenomenon, a mere shadow, illusion, or ghost, in a deterministic world.  Such determination is unwarranted, and cripples our abilities to perceive the world.  Of course, most people, and most philosophers, recognize that metaphysical realities exist.  To move from perceiving physical realities to perceiving metaphysical realities, one needs to move increasingly from skepticism (doubt) to openness (faith).  Such a move is not blind; it is based on experience.  Still, it requires a growing acceptance of uncertainty.  This veil of uncertainty is somewhat analogous to the veil of uncertainty in reductionistic science.  As our observations and experience grow, the veil moves.  The key difference is that science moves to include knowledge that we can know with scientific certainty, whereas metaphysical knowledge always includes a much greater degree of uncertainty, and the metaphysical veil can never be fully lifted, since it represents an intrinsic limit to human knowledge.  The metaphysical veil has a mysterious nature that becomes self-fulfilling in our approach to it.  If we approach the veil with too much skepticism, our knowledge of higher truths will be stunted and the resulting ignorance will appear as justification for a too constricted veil.  If we venture down the rabbit hole of such things as hope, love, and faith, we learn much more of such higher truths, and the territory once bounded by the veil will recede, even revealing vast expanses previously unimagined.

Fortunately, the payoffs of metaphysical knowledge are well worth the uncertainty and risk. As Saint Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out: “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”  Exploring our own hearts, and risking relationships with others’ hearts requires courage, one of the highest things.  Clinging only to dead stuff, inanimate matter, because it is the most certain is the height of human foolishness.  Here the truth lies, in this grave of lifelessness.  Wisdom resides elsewhere.  Find it and you will find yourself, and a whole world as well.

POEM: Wage Slave Be Free

I am not a wage slave
I am free
And worth every penny

This week, I celebrated 10 years free from wage slavery!  My ensuing poverty has been a small price to pay for this freedom.  I am the richest person I know.  This short poem is a stab at de-linking our worth from what somebody will pay for our labors.  Also, this poem seeks to de-link the dangerous, though widespread, notion that our quality of life is pretty much directly proportional to our income.  Both a rich set of research and my own personal experience have proven that beyond meeting our basic needs, money is very ineffective at increasing our happiness.  At this point, money is not much better at improving overall quality of life either.  Some may squeak out some extra years, but may very well be less happy.  In my case, I am confident that the last ten years have produced more health in me than the previous ten years as a wage slave.

Some may contend that “slave” is too harsh a term.  This may be true, but I have a poetic license, and I’m not afraid to use it!  However, the constellation of realities for many wage earners is little consolation for the wages they earn.  Having to sell yourself wholesale to another for a wage is a relatively new addition to so-call Western civilization and in human history.  This package deal tends to serve employers and corporate interests more than individual employees.  This is increasingly so.  This millennium has seen virtually all of the gains in productivity, rooted in human labor, go to the top few percent of the richest Americans.  Corporate power has been extremely successful at hogging up all of the economic gains of labors increasing productivity.  This trajectory is degrading the value of work for most people.  Some have simply opted out of the work force.  There are fewer people in the American work force now than at the beginning of the millennium.  I’m not convinced this is a bad thing.  However, the way it is happening is brutal.  High unemployment across a wider range of job categories, including higher skilled jobs, drives down wages for all.  Of course, many jobs lost are replaced with lower paying jobs.  Some people, in some households, have come to the conclusion that they can’t afford to work!

For myself, I am less about the money than fairness.  I am less about the money than maintaining a free and fulfilling lifestyle.  I am less about the money than about living simply, consistent with an anti-consumer lifestyle, to live a sustainable lifestyle that won’t contribute to destroying our environment and planet.  There is more to life than money.  This seems like a trite statement.  However, I see many gaping inconsistencies in the way people talk and the way people live.  Such talk is a leading cause of global climate change.  Such a walk seems to be producing ever-diminishing returns in our quality of life.  Closing this gap would be better for both people and the planet which sustains us. We can do much better…

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: Fringe Benefits

Living on the fringe
Has benefits

I thought that this short poem would have been the seed for a larger poem, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to mess with the simple elegance of it.

Since I quit my “regular” job to run my own business full-time, I have learned that time is way more valuable than money.  This has been confirmed along my journey with much less money and much more time.  Research confirms that once we have enough money to meet our basic needs, additional money offers little increase in happiness.  Apparently, the proverb, “you can’t buy happiness” is largely true.  On the other hand, having additional free time, to do what we really want to do, does not seem to be limited by the principle of diminishing returns as money is, that is, after meeting our basic needs.  I would say that trading money for time would be a good deal for most Americans.  Of course, my approach is not to purchase time through vacations or hiring help, but rather to free up time by not selling myself pay any more than I have to.  Living simply and frugally is part of my vocation.  Such a vocation allows my life to better resemble a vacation.  Every dollar I don’t spend is a dollar I don’t have to earn in the not-so-free market.  If you are fortunate to have significant assets available to you, I would highly recommend transitioning to a much simpler life, by ransoming your life with whatever assets you have available.

A transition to a simpler life requires letting go of certain things.  For instance, I am living on the fringe, in the fact that I have been without health insurance for almost a decade.  Though I might add, our health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system, and now is as good of a time as any to be on the fringe of this non-system.  Fortunately, I am healthier than most of my peers.  I eat nutritiously.  I get plenty of rest.  I have much, much less stress than most.  I get a decent amount of physical activity.  I have something that the finest doctors in the world are unable to give their patients.

So, what are some other benefits of living on the fringe?  In recent months, I have written a poem a day, and a blog commentary to boot!  Just yesterday, I broke my record for length of a blog commentary.  I can’t remember the last time I set my alarm to get up in the morning — this is something that the richest and most powerful people in the world cannot claim!  One of my greatest hopes is for people to have morning without mourning!

I recently spent a couple of hours most days for a couple of months with a friend dying in hospice care.

I have spent most of my life on a quest for simple living.  I contemplated and calculated quite thoroughly the costs and “affordability” of quitting my regular job.  Perhaps the greatest single epiphany in my life has been how grossly I underestimated the benefits of working for myself, relaxing my security reflex, and living fully into the serendipitous benefits of simple living.  I feel like I have won the lottery!  Only without the money…

Like a former pastor of mine says, “If you aren’t living on the fringe, then you are taking up to much room.”  May you find the space and time in your life to discover fringe benefits beyond your dreams!

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: Wrong Ballpark

Being in the wrong ballpark is a mere scheduling error
Maybe I need a game changer

This simple two-line poem is meant to challenge the reader regarding both the size and nature of change that may be needed to change one’s life, to better one’s life.  Being in the wrong ballpark is a generally recognized phrase for being in the wrong place to accomplish what you want to accomplish.  This poem plants the idea that being in the wrong ballpark may be merely a scheduling error, a matter of timing.  Of course, timing is often said to be everything, and a timing error or scheduling error itself can be fatal to one’s enterprise.  However, in combination with the second line of the poem, the nature of the error committed and the change needed to correct such an error is put forth as potentially a mere distraction.  Even the second line, maybe I need a game changer, has a double meaning and is more than what it first appears.  The typical usage of the phrase game changer refers to a significant event that changes the course of the game.  However, the second and intended meaning of this phrase refers to changing the game itself, not merely playing the current game better.  Self-help gurus and inspirational speakers like to talk about paradigm shifts.  The reality of needing a paradigm shift hits home when one finds oneself doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results (which many define as insanity).  This usually doesn’t happen all at once, and the incremental nature of getting progressively diminishing returns on one’s investment in an enterprise often leads one with the illusion that if one just works harder, or perhaps even smarter, that one can change the nature of the unsatisfactory results one is getting.  Thus, it is often not immediately clear when changing the game itself is needed, when a paradigm shift is needed.  The image that comes to mind is a frog in a pot of heating water.  If a frog were thrown in a pot of boiling water it would immediately jump out.  But, if a frog is placed in a pot of cool water that is slowly heated, the frog will adapt to its changing conditions and desensitize itself to its impending demise, being cooked alive.  Do you have something in your life that gives you a warm satisfaction, perhaps even because you have adapted so well to changing and difficult circumstances, but you are seeing red flags of some impending doom?  If so, you may want to ponder changing the game.  Go ahead, hop to it!  Saunas can be nice for limited times but knowing when a change of venue is needed can be life saving.