POEM: Censorship

The worst thing about censorship is

This short, one-line poem could be mistaken for half a poem.  This poem may leave the reader wondering what I, the author, consider to be the worst thing about censorship. This poem may even beg the reader to fill in the blank, the censored blank, for themselves.  Part of the point of the poem is that we will never truly know what we are missing when our ability to express ourselves in censored.

There are at least two types of censorship: self-censorship, and being censored by another.  Most often censorship refers to the latter, typically in objection to censorship as an unjust social relationship.  This type of censorship is important to identify and address because it is a direct threat to free speech.  This type of censorship creates a climate of fear among those whose expressions may be threatened, and a mistrust of authority among those who question the legitimacy of such censorship.  Censorship stands in almost direct opposition to free speech.  No doubt, some expressions should not be considered free speech, such as the proverbial shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nonetheless, I suspect that such cases are quite rare.  The fear and social control generated by direct censorship ripples far beyond a person’s expression being squelched, and beyond potential recipients of that expression losing out on that expression.  The fear of some social sanction leads to countless forms and incidents of self-censorship.  This is the insidiously successful child of direct censorship.

If those in a position of power to censor can cow us to become sheep, then their mold of our culture will grow more pronounced in our silence.  I suspect self-censorship accounts for much, if not most, of the seemingly miraculous hold that the powers that be have over the masses.  Self-censorship allows the illusion that power comes from above, top-down, rather than power being derived from the consent of the people.  Of course, power from above, in the form of sheer force, is a scary reality.  Social sanctions for simply speaking out can be large.  In fact, the presence of a disproportionately large social sanction merely for speaking out is perhaps the surest clue that the underlying reality is unjust.  After all, talk is cheap.  But if questioning power structures is not dealt with early enough on, then the precarious illusion of top-down power masquerading as authority, and the seeming futility of bottom-up power, will continue unabated.  A little shock and awe is sometimes needed to remind people of who is in control.  Learned helplessness will do the trick the vast majority of the time.

Overcoming self-censorship is a necessary condition for a free society.  We can only deal well with reality if we know what that reality is.  This requires liberal self-expression.  Heavily redacted realities make poor citizens and sick societies.  This may be the best single reason for either avoiding most of popular media, or consuming it with a high degree of literacy, to see it for the spectacle that it is.  The images and messages, both overt and subtle, in media have a powerful effect on how we view reality.  The simple fact that there is a whole genre of “reality” television that has little to do with reality is probably the best illustration of how far afield we have become.  TV is a poor representation of reality.

Overcoming self-censorship requires courage and sacrifice.  As Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We can flow with the idolatrous, heavily redacted realities that invade our consciousness unrelentingly through media and advertising.  Though such illusions are unsustainable in many ways, there is a lot of force applied to maintain them.  Adding your consent to those forces may benefit you in many ways.  Or, we can freely and courageously express our own realities which often differ profoundly from the heavily promoted narratives around us.  This may exact a price, but, at least it is a price paid in homage to reality, not illusion.  Who knows, we may very well find that the realities of the vast majority of humans on this planet have more in common with one another than the dreams foisted upon us.  This is the making of peace.  As Gandhi so simply and profoundly stated, “Peace is possible.”  This reality is so routinely obscured.  You can be a living expression of this reality.  You are the channel.

POEM: A Forgetting God

Remembering God is almost as hard as God forgetting us

Remembering God can be difficult.  Remembering God can be particularly difficult if we are not trying to remember God.  I believe that we all experience God, though some of us may not name it that.  Most simply put, God is love.  If we remember love and imbue our life with these loving experiences, then we will be well on our way to living Godly lives.  Every healthy relationship is reciprocal.  While remembering God may be difficult at times, recalling occasionally that it is even more difficult for God to forget us can bring comfort and serve as an invitation to a deeper relationship.  God’s call is better characterized by the woo of a lover — Love itself! — than a jilted lover in an unreciprical relationship, waiting by the proverbial phone for a call back.

I wish that traditional religion would harness this metaphor of lovers, the wooer and the wooed.  I think this meets resistance because some people think that it may imply some type of equality of humans with God; though most religious conservatives don’t necessarily see a reciprocal equality in human sexual relationships as an ideal anyway.  However, perhaps most importantly, institutional religion seems to have real issues with sex and sexuality.  The story of the virgin birth is perhaps the pinnacle of this disconnect: God has sex without really having sex, or daring to imbue a human sex act with divineness.  Then, Jesus is overwhelmingly seen as some asexual being.  My view is that these narratives are massive barriers to Christianity embracing a healthy human sexuality.  Jesus is purported to be fully God and fully human, yet the Christian narrative is notably silent on how Jesus manifests divinity as a human sexual being, except for not engaging in sexual acts.  I don’t consider total, lifelong (in Jesus’ case until age 33 at his death) abstinence as a feasible model for the perpetuation of the human race, or as particularly helpful for most people’s lives on earth.  Surely, there is a fuller picture that can be drawn.  Intimate sexual human relationships strike me as fertile ground (time to pull out the big puns!) for experiencing deep love, which is the stuff of God.  I pray for a way for Jesus to better redeem sexuality, which would go a long way to redeeming Christianity.  And the Church said, “Woo!”

 

POEM: Breathing

Thinking about breathing makes it more difficult

Amazingly, and quite fortuitously, people can breathe without thinking.  Breathing is something we know how to do without having to think about it.  Thankfully, thousands of bodily functions fall into this category.  Fortunately, we don’t have to think about digesting a meal, or even know the intricacies of how digestion occurs.  Breathing is somewhat special in that it occurs without our volition — and even against our volition if we try to stop breathing — yet we can alter our breathing if we want.  Breathing is under both unconscious and conscious control.  This is why many meditation experts use breathing as a focus for developing awareness of and harmony between our conscious will and the many natural, well-regulated processes outside our consciousness.  Most people who have ever tried breath meditation techniques immediately learn that conscious thought can interfere with the natural process of breathing.  Some things are better left alone.  This poem is intended to cause reflection in the reader about the benefit of leaving alone these many natural, well-regulated processes outside our consciousness.  Humans have a bias toward conscious control of themselves and their environment.  The great gift of volition needs to be balanced with a respect for life and nature and its own wisdom, that doesn’t require our will for harmony to exist.  Perhaps ironically, willing ourselves to let go of the need to will is often the best solution for us and the rest of life.  Of course, adding another few thousand tasks to our do-not-do list can be more freeing than free will itself!  May you freely relax into your life.

 

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: Disillusionment

You say that you’re disillusioned like it’s a bad thing

My whole life I’ve heard people talk about being disillusioned in one way or another.  Not once have I heard this with anything but a negative connotation.  This one line poem alludes to another way.  Some years ago, it dawned on me that losing your illusions is a great thing.  Disillusionment may, in fact, be one of the grandest goals in life.  What greater meaning can be attained than aligning one’s life with reality, as it is, not as we happen to think it is.  And how can this happen except by letting go of our illusions?  I would like to see humanity reclaim the term disillusionment.  Will you join me in claiming an attitude of gratitude when our illusions run into reality and those illusions lose handedly?  Let’s rejoice at this inescapable process of disillusionment on the way to enlightenment and more truthful living.  Alas, hope springs eternal, even in the face of determined cynicism.

POEM: Rumi-nation

I live in a perpetual Rumi-nation

This simple one-line poem reflects a basic experience in my life, in general, and as a poet.  As a poet, my mind, at times, drifts into aha moments of epiphanies, and at times, races to find connections between the infinite aspects of reality.  This calls to mind another favorite, one-line poem of mine: Everything reminds me of everything else.  Of course, the mystical place of the Rumi-nation, unlike nation states, has no border patrol or illegal immigration statuses.  This eternal place can be accessed from anywhere at any time, for only the cost of paying attention.  May you visit often!

POEM: Paying Attention

Are you too broke to pay attention?

This one-line poem most directly seeks to de-link material wealth from perhaps the greatest tool available to humans: consciousness, or mindfulness.  Being able to access mindfulness, regardless of wealth, status, or “worldly” power, is perhaps the greatest foundation for achieving justice and equality, as well as “enlightenment.”  Being mindful of our inner life and our outer life, particularly other sentient beings, better aligns us with reality. Mindfulness is necessary to mine the inner life of our own subjectivity and how this may resonate with others’ subjectivity (including any conception or belief about God).  Mindfulness is necessary to accurately, minimizing bias, “objectively, ” understand the outer world we share with others.  While mindfulness is simply a process, the end result is compassion and empathy, which I believe is the glue that holds humanity together.  By truly paying attention to the difficulties of life encountered by ourselves and others, it is nearly impossible to avoid developing compassion and empathy.  This includes humility for ourselves, in facing the daunting challenges of life.  This humility serves as a shield from hubris, the arrogance that distorts our own view of ourselves in relation to others and discounts our many ignorances about ourselves and the world in which we live.  I am not too broke to pay attention.  However, I am just enough broke to appreciate humility and the many graces which even allow me to ponder such matters.

POEM: Free Will Compelling

I find the experience of free will very compelling.

I like this simple one line poem because it juxtaposes two seeming opposites.  Free will is often viewed as some kind of absolute.  Compulsion is on the other end of the spectrum, except that we also typically view it as some kind of absolute, that which one has no choice about.  Of course, this reminds me of perhaps the only quote I can recall from the complex, sophisticated and difficult-to-read author and philosopher, John Paul Sartre: “We are condemned to be free.”  I view neither free will nor compulsion as absolute.  Free will always has limits, and the very existence of free will and human beings bring some freedom to any situation no matter how compulsory we view it.  However, let’s get back to the poem.  What I mean by finding the experience of free will very compelling, is that it is predictably surprising how free we are, meaning that we always have a choice in any situation.  By exercising our free will, our awareness of this essential and irreducible freedom can grow.  We are faced with an infinite number of choices at any given moment.  If you don’t believe this, you may have just flunked the first question of a creativity test.  The reason I like Jean-Paul Sartre’s quote so much is that it also juxtaposes two apparent opposites.  Being condemned, or forced, to be free.  Of course, this is what drives John Paul Sartre into an existential frenzy, being unable to pin down any ground of our being, or God, he is left with a conundrum of being condemned by some unknown or unknowable reality, yet mystically or coincidentally, he happens to experience the good fortune of gaining freedom within this reality.  In fact, freedom can be viewed as a nuisance, in that facing that infinite number of choices at any given moment, and seeming to have no ultimate basis for making any particular choice, leaves us to our own subjective devices.  I actually find it kind of funny and ironic that Sartre felt so compelled to find the determinants (sic) of free will.  Of course, I’m teasing him a bit.  More fairly, he did groundbreaking work in epistemology, the study of the limits of human knowledge.  Quite obviously, one cannot find the determinants of free will.  However, one may be able to map out certain boundaries to where and how free will operates.  Since he won the Nobel prize for literature, I’ll assume that is genius exceeds mine in this respect, or perhaps, no one could understand what he was saying and thought that giving him a prize might be appropriate to not appear stupid.  In my own experiments with free will, I feel compelled to experiment more — to exercise my free will more and more.  This seems to be more practical than writing a 300+ page book about the structures of consciousness.  But that’s just my choice…

POEM: Metaphors be with you

Metaphors be with you

This simple one line poem which is only four words is a takeoff on the Star Wars saying, may the force be with you.  Is it any surprise that one of these four words is a pun?  Of course, I love metaphors way more than Star Wars, which I enjoy quite a bit.  I love metaphors because they can hit you right in the face with an apparent literal meaning while simultaneously launch a much grander and ephemeral meaning.  I suppose that literalists are confused by metaphors.  However, I might note that literalists are confusion.  This poem is also a simple blessing that the metaphor rich reality in which we live is ever accessible to you.  Like another poem of mine, everything else reminds me of everything else.  Rather than a reality that is barren of meaning, reality is so robust with meaning that it nearly busts out everywhere.  So, metaphors be with you!

POEM: Everything Reminds Me of Everything Else

Everything reminds me of everything else.

This one-line poem is a quick way to get into my mind and how it works.  I probably love metaphors as much as I do puns.  This short poem cuts to the chase, so you don’t really have to deal with all those messy details.  My thinking and belief is rooted in the idea that everything is connected.  Thus, if one is paying close attention, then everything and anything that you see, think, hear, or feel, can be traced back to everything else by some undisclosed number of degrees of separation.  Poetry is just playing with all of these connections and associations.  Metaphors are just representations of the next level of connections and associations that recognize that everything is connected.  People who are not poets may consider such things eminently impractical.  However, consider this:  if everything reminds me of everything else, then I don’t need Post-it notes.  Who says the mind of a poet isn’t practical?

POEM: Arguing with Atheists

Arguing with atheists is like panning for gold in a bathtub.

This one line poem is certainly provocative, and probably dangerous.  First I would like to concede that I cannot prove that God exists.  Secondly, and equally, I don’t think that is a proper understanding of reality to conclude that God cannot exist.  Thus the chasm between theists and atheists.  Actually, the term “God” is so loaded for people I would like to suggest a different tack.  I think the issue boils down to an argument between subjectivity and objectivity.  I find that the predominant view of atheists that I have met or read about seem to take an objectivist view, what I would call scientific reductionism.  While this view can be very helpful for understanding part of reality, it specifically rules out any subjective reality.  While this seems eminently reasonable to most modern people of a scientific bent, it ignores the most basic experience of human life: that humans are subjects, subjective.  If folks would argue that people are not subjects or subjective, then we don’t have much to talk about, and perhaps all that we do have to talk about has been predetermined in the infinite cascade of objective cause-and-effect.  The philosophy or arguments that preclude or exclude subjects or subjectivity destroys both humans and God in a single stroke.  Now, while it seems quite easy in terms of simplicity or Occam’s razor, to just eliminate God, the “Subject”, from the equation, eliminating oneself and all other subjects seems much more dangerous, even foolish.  I can probably appreciate absurdity as much of the next person, probably more.  However, scientific reductionism comes to a nice clean and neat end when it reaches absurdity, which perhaps ironically, it inevitably does.  It can go no further.  I wish to go further.  This requires uncertainty, even absurdity.  However, I think that this is where the gold is found.  Panning for gold can be a long and tedious process, and it may not even pay off for many, maybe even most.  Nonetheless, such gold cannot be found in a bathtub, the proverbial scientific reductionist billiard ball world.

One last note, on the concept of arguing.  Arguing is often seen as an intellectual exercise.  Unfortunately, the intellect has its limits, and there are places for which it is not an adequate instrument to explore.  These are the matters of the heart, of subjectivity, of life itself, which cannot be reduced to a machine, at least not with the unintended consequences of killing life.  Residing in the heart, centering our experience around the heart, living a wholehearted life, is a way existential enterprise.  There is meaning, and we discover that meaning through our subjective faculties.  I must surpass or transcends mere intellect.  I must literally vote with my life, my life force, the subjectivity that is mine.  Ultimately, talking about or arguing about things is inadequate.  What we do matters.  How we live our life matters.  Ultimately, our life is our message.  If someone else’s life seems argumentative with our own message, then so be it.  A certain amount of conflict and absurdity is necessary in life.  I don’t think many would argue with that.  Though feel free to pan my views…

POEM: Actual Pie vs. Pi

Actual pie is way more than 3.14159 times better than mathematical pi.

This simple one line poem makes fun of Western civilization’s fixation on the quantitative versus qualitative.  It is big business to reduce everything to a number, preferably dollars if you can!  Of course, actual pie is quite enjoyable, whether it is apple pie, cherry pie, blueberry pie, raspberry pie, rhubarb pie, coconut cream pie, pumpkin pie, banana cream pie, key lime pie, blackberry pie, elderberry pie, cranberry pie, chocolate cream pie, peach pie, gooseberry pie, huckleberry pie, or lemon meringue pie; you take your pick!.  While there is definitely a quantitative nature to this long list of great pies, mathematical pi cannot compare.  Using the term way more is a device that can connote both a qualitative and quantitative sense to it.  In contrast to the 3.14159 of mathematical pi, the precision of mathematical pi seems quite ridiculous.  Some may argue that the unique nature of mathematical pi has a certain beauty to it.  I wouldn’t disagree.  Nonetheless, it’s their incomparability that I am comparing.  One of the interesting things about mathematical pi is that it never ends, its digits past the decimal place continue forever and ever.  Still, this holds nothing on actual pie which comes to an eventual end, probably gracefully, hopefully gracefully!  But alas, if you really must have it all, and you are quite the daredevil, you may have actual pie while simultaneously meditating upon mathematical pi.  Unfortunately, this falls into yet another trap of Western civilization: the illusion of multitasking.  We can really only focus on one thing at a time.  To alternate our focus back and forth between one thing and another can certainly be done but it almost as certainly alternately robs the experience of each thing focused upon.  An exception to this might be pie a la mode.

POEM: Those who take things literally are often thieves.

ONE-LINE POEM:

Those who take things literally are often thieves.

Here it is folks, my first one-line poem!  Quite appropriately, this short poem is a poem about poems, as well as a poem dealing directly and simply with social and political philosophy.  Not surprisingly, even this short poem contains a pun.

Oddly, the phrase “take things literally” means taking something at its most obvious face value, without presuming or exploring any deeper or metaphorical meaning.  I would take the phrase “take things literally” to mean something to do with literature and literature’s aspirations to communicate at levels much deeper and richer than considering language to be something that just matches a particular symbol with a particular thing like a rock or a box.

I would submit that meaning itself is something that transcends particular things like a rock or a box.  If literature is ever to rock, or if we are ever to think outside the box, we need to have a rich and robust appreciation for metaphors.  In fact, we should rely on them.  Anything less would not even qualifying as an aspiration.  And we dare to wonder why we find it difficult to find inspiration in such an aspiration-free world. This is another version of a common theme that I deal with in my life and how I see the world, that there is much more to life than the scientific reductionist, materialistic world.  This is a key factor in why I increasingly see the world as surreal.  We are human beings, subjects not objects, that seem intent on reducing the world to things, such as rubble.  It seems that the modus operandi of Western civilization is to take things literally, thus accounting for imperialism and capitalism. It seems that taking such a way of being to its logical and cruel conclusion is to conspire, as opposed to aspire, to the pirate motto of ”  Take all that you can and give nothing back.” And worse yet, our co-conspirators are only of use to us in as much as they assist us in taking things literally.  Therefore, we are literally at war with one another.  Further, we are literally at war with our self, since the subjective realm is inaccessible or denied when we are held captive by taking things literally.  Well, enough political philosophy, let’s get back to the poem.

We all know what a thief is.  A thief is a robber, someone who steals things.  However, this short, one-line poem begs the question of what exactly is being stolen.  With the above philosophical discourse on objects and subjects, I hope that you can guess that I am not wanting the reader to lock their doors for fear of their stuff being stolen.  Rather, I’m hoping that the reader will open their mind, and better yet, their heart, to infinitely more important things that can be stolen from us, if we are not careful and paying attention.  What could be infinitely more important than my stuff?!  What I’m referring to is something that is qualitatively different than stuff, or things.  Qualitatively different means that it cannot be substituted for.  The most obvious and even trite example is “money can’t buy you love.”  Money is clearly, and literally, the currency the modern Western civilization uses for virtually everything.  Not surprisingly, this explains why neglect more important matters, matters of the soul.  It qualifies as sheer vanity and insanity to engage in a commerce of the soul that attempts to exchange stuff for our humanity, the essence of what separates us from dirt, our soul if you will.  Of course, I believe that people, human beings, are more than complicated dirt.  If you believe that you are just complicated dirt, then there is much more remedial work that needs to be done for our minds and hearts to connect, to communicate.  Of course, ironically, if we are just complicated dirt, a wild statistical outlier from most of the rest of the barren material that we can identify in the known universe, and we are  just billiard balls in a mechanistic, cause-and-effect universe, then all that we do is fated, determined, a grand illusion of free will.  If you’d like to go to even one more level of irony, I find myself compelled to believe this!  Ah, the places such spiritual musings take you!

There is one word in this eight-word poem that could easily be overlooked and its significance missed.  That word is: often. Taking things literally is certainly not always a mistake.  Usually when we say “rock” we mean a rock.  Usually when we say “box” we mean a box.  Now, I chose the word “often” to access what I think the reality is, that the deeper metaphorical meanings are ignored or even stolen from us with great regularity (know shit!).  In speaking about subjectivity and objectivity, things and transcendence, dirt versus souls, and the like (and love), people often mistake me for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. More truthfully, in my own dyslexic fashion, it might be more apt to say, “throwing the bathwater out for the baby.”  To be clear, for the literalists in the crowd, I am not opposed to bathwater.  Bathwater is great!  My underlying point is that babies are more important than bathwater.

Okay, there is another word in this poem that probably needs to be mentioned for its significance.  Note that I use the word “those” rather than the word “people”.  This is intentionally meant to be ironic, since devoted literalists seem to be living in a world that denies the very fact that they are people.  Hey, aren’t you glad that this is only an eight-word poem!

Let me try to keep it simple.  Here are some of the things that I think are qualitatively different from stuff, the barren building blocks of our material universe: compassion, hope, gratitude and mercy.  Feel free to talk among yourselves.  Let me know what you think. My hope for you, and my hope for us, is that the trials and tribulations of this billiard ball world will neither destroy nor defeat you, nor steal from you the most important matters in life, and that you will live wholeheartedly in that place infinitely greater than the mere stuff around us.  May it be so.