POEM: Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl Sunday

Guess what I herd
It’s Super Bowl™ Sabbath
Quite coincidentally on Sunday
And I’m not sure who’s playing who
Perhaps the Cowboys and Indians
Or the Lions and the Christians
The eternal argument weather
Its just
A little gamey
Or THE GAME
Either weigh
Teeming
It’s all-American
Only more so
Unlike baseball
Hear the greatest fans
Are on the bench
Couching their devotion
In hyperbole
Still
Ever hoping that
The game
Is more interesting
Than the commercials
Praying for a comeback
If only we can just stop ’em!
The incessant commentary of the retired
Mature men
Alternatingly offensive and defensive
Only sew I’m tolled
And sow I will
Endless possibilities
Each with much deeper rootings

As you might have guessed by this poem, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I don’t necessarily have an inherent problem with sports.  I do see sports obsessions as a big part of the playbook to distract people from the real issues in their life.  As some mild catharsis, this may be fine.  Nonetheless, I suspect that for the millions of Americans who spend time following sports second only to work, this probably doesn’t represent a healthy balance in life. Of course, if people are actually playing sports, I find this much more worthwhile. Unfortunately, we have bred a spectating American culture more than a participatory one. Western civilization may not be able to stand (and may have to settle for sitting on the couch) without living vicariously through celebrities.  I suspect that if alien anthropologists visited America, they would likely conclude that sports and/or making money were the leading religions, outdistancing traditional faiths.

I don’t think that it is an accident that one of the most violent American sports, football, is among the most hotly contested among its fans.  This strikes me as not too far removed from fomenting patriotism in the run up to war when Team America is scheduled to go up against loathsome Team Anybody Else.  Competition is one thing; world domination is another.  For instance, has anyone else wondered why the World Series in baseball only includes U.S.!  Such blind arrogance and American exceptionalism makes the world a more dangerous place to live.

I do love rooting for underdogs, so you can reliably guess which team I’d root for, even if I’m not even aware of the game. So, whether it’s Team Tweedle Dee or Team Tweedle Dumb, you may just find me silently somewhere else…

POEM: I Went AWOL

One day
I went
AWOL
A
Well
Ordered
Life
I’m not sure
If anyone noticed
If they did
Judging me
By my backside
I would be too
Looking forward
Mirrorly suggestive
Of one’s self
In what might
A peer
A site to behold
But not
Aiming for the moon
In lieu of stars

Walking away from the dominant and dominating culture is an informal way of going AWOL, that is, the military acronym for Absent WithOut Leave.  In this poem, the AWOL acronym stands for A Well Ordered Life.  When you find yourself facing away from the dominant culture, you can expect that others will judge you by your backside.  In traversing the road less traveled, the price the dominant culture extracts by any counter-cultural behaviors, is more than made up for by aligning oneself with the stars, rather than the moon, a lower site to set for brown-nosers and mere associates of all types.  Much of modern life in Western civilization is built around group identities rather than passionate pioneering.  We idolize celebrities.  We cozy up to those with status and power.  We our often possessed by our possessions, identifying more with what we own than with our own character.

The opposite of traversing down the road less traveled is living vicariously through the lives of others.  Perhaps one of the greatest illustrations of this is in the cinematic great Cool Hand Luke.  I find this movie one of the most way existential movies ever.  The main character, Luke, played by Paul Newman, quickly develops a reputation as a “cool handed” man hell-bent on finding his own way in his own way.  Here I am referring to the “stop feeding off of me” scene, where Luke, broken down, pleads with his fellow inmates to stop pinning all of their hopes and dreams on him; in essence, saying “get a life of your own!”  In this scene, Luke had escaped from the chain-gang for a second time, having been away for a while, stoking freely the fantasies of his fellow inmates left behind.  Here is the script containing that scene from Cool Hand Luke:

It is Saturday afternoon. Carr is distributing mail and
packages, the men clustered around; others lying on bunks,
making wallets, etc.

CARR
Magazines for you, Dragline!

ANGLE ON DRAGLINE

Dragline sits up from his bunk, astonished.

DRAGLINE
Magazines? Who’s sendin’ me magazines?

He looks at the package. Carr has tossed on his bunk.

DRAGLINE
From mah uncle? Ah never heard from
him in eight years and now he’s
sendin’ me magazines. He musta gone
crazy.

He has torn open the package, looks through the magazines,
which are movie fan books, lies back to flip the pages. In
background. Carr is continuing the mail call. Suddenly Dragline’s
eyes widen, his mouth opens, but he catches himself and closes
it before he has revealed himself.

INSERT THE PICTURE

It is taped to page in the magazine. It shows Luke in a suit
and tie, holding up four aces and a joker in one hand, arms
around two buxom over-made strippers. On the table in front
of them is a giant bottle of champagne and glasses. Scrawled
across it is something in Luke’s writing.

ANGLE DRAGLINE KOKO SOCIETY RED OTHERS

Seeing Dragline’s reaction, they have gathered around.

DRAGLINE
Looka that! Two of them. Oh my…

KOKO
I’m dyin’. I’m dyin’.

Dragline suddenly realizes the danger and closes the book so
Carr and the Wicker Man don’t catch on. The others reluctantly
move away. Dragline casually hands the magazine to Society
Red.

DRAGLINE
(whispering)
What’s the writing say?

SOCIETY RED
(opening to the picture, reading)
Dear Boys. Playing it cool. Wish you
were here. Love, Cool Hand Luke.

DRAGLINE
Oh my. Oh my… Give it back here!

Red surrenders the magazine. Dragline opens it again and a
look of pure bliss settles over his face.

KOKO
Lemme see it!

DRAGLINE
(violently)
Get away!

He looks over at Carr but Carr has moved away, is talking to
the Wicker Man, his back to the men. Koko, Loudmouth Steve,
Gambler and the others hurriedly cluster around Dragline.
Their voices are eager intense whispers.

KOKO
Lookit the brunette…

BLIND DICK
The blonde’s gotta better set.

GAMBLER
Some legs.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
They must be six feet tall.

TATTOO
…And the champagne.

SOCIETY RED
(from his bunk)
Domestic.

TRAMP
Wonder how he got the dough.

ALIBI
He’s probably a salesman. You can
make pretty good money if you know
what your doing in selling.

GAMBLER
A salesman! Cool Hand Luke a salesman?

BLIND DICK
He’s probably a gigolo.

MECHANIC
Or a con artist.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
The head of the rackets.

KOKO
(reverently)
Oh lookit that brunette.

DRAGLINE
Mah baby! We’re diggin’ and dyin’
but our boy Luke is lovin’ and flyin’.

They all gaze at the picture with loving, dreamy, painful
rapture.

OMITTED

INT. BARRACKS (NIGHT)

Blackass time, dull, sad, boring. Koko sits idly flicking
cards from the poker deck, men staring into space. The cards
sail by Society Red who is clipping his nails.

SOCIETY RED
Stop that.

KOKO
How about you tryin’ to make me?

SOCIETY RED
Oh for…

They slowly subside.

KOKO
Dragline, lemme look at the picture.

DRAGLINE
(feigned innocence)
What for?

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
Yeah, Drag. Get it out for a look.

DRAGLINE
You’re just a kid. Whatta you know
about it? You don’t wanna see that
dirty picture. Luke and those broads
an’ all that booze.

KOKO
Come on, Drag. Lemme take a look.

DRAGLINE
It’d go to your coconut head. You’d
start getting ideas. Maybe even pass
right out.

BLIND DICK
Dragline! Be a buddy!

DRAGLINE
How much you figure it’s worth, a
peek at this here picture? A quick
look, I’m not talkin’ about no
memorizin’ job.

KOKO
A cold drink.

DRAGLINE
A cold drink? You mean one cold drink?
To feast yore starvin’ fishy l’il
eyes on The Picture? A true vision
of Paradise itself? With two of the
angels right there in plain sight a-
friskin’ round with mah boy?

KOKO
A cold drink? Okay?

DRAGLINE
Well — okay. It’s a deal. One cold
drink, if’n you please. In advance.
One chilly bottle right here in mah
hot l’il hand… That goes for the
rest of you mullet-heads, too.

Activity as the men dig out coins to purchase drinks. Dragline
pulls out the magazine and the men all gather round, gazing
into it as though it were a crystal ball. Suddenly the wicker
door slams open and as the men look up…

THEIR P.O.V.

Luke is dumped to the floor, face down, unconscious, by Boss
Paul, Boss Kean, others. The Captain is standing there over
him. Luke wears a new prison uniform and two sets of chains.

CAPTAIN
(to Luke)
You run one time, you got yourself a
set of chains. You run twice, you
got two sets. You ain’t gonna need
no third set because you’re gonna
get your mind right… And I mean
right.

He looks at the men who are stunned by the juxtaposition of
their hero in The Picture and the reality of the unconscious
figure before them.

CAPTAIN
Take a good look at your Cool Hand
Luke.

With his foot he prods Luke over onto his back.

CLOSE ON LUKE

As he rolls over we can see he has been badly beaten.

OMITTED

NEW ANGLE THE MEN

As the Captain turns and walks out past the guards who follow,
and the wicket chute CLANGS shut, Dragline, Koko and others
move forward and gently lift Luke onto the poker table.

DRAGLINE
Oh mah poor baby. They done you real
good… I don’t know if you gonna
have them gals chasin’ after you for
a while…

CLOSE ON LUKE

lying, eyes closed.

SOCIETY RED’S VOICE
I’ve got some aspirin.

KOKO’S VOICE
They half killed him.

ALIBI’S VOICE
He should have a doctor.

DRAGLINE’S VOICE
Don’t you never learn nuthin’? They
ain’t gonna let no doctor see what
they dont to him…

ANGLE ON DRAGLINE, OTHERS

Dragline looks up at Carr who stands hovering above them.

DRAGLINE
Carr, kin we use your razor to clean
up where they cut his head?

Carr moves off to his canteen area.

CLOSE ON LUKE

as Blind Dick, Gambler, others move in…

GAMBLER
How you feelin’, buddy?

TRAMP
He don’t hear.

TATTOO
Somebody get him something to drink.

SOCIETY RED
Here.

Gently he tucks two aspirin tablets into Luke’s mouth, holds
a cup of water to Luke’s mouth. Luke’s eyes slowly open, he
drinks the water.

DRAGLINE
That’s my baby.

KOKO
He’s gonna be awright.

NEW ANGLE ON MEN

as Carr moves in with a razor, bandage, etc. The men clear
to give him room.

KOKO
Luke?… We got the picture! See?

He holds it up.

CLOSE ON LUKE

His eyes squint open, close.

BLIND DICK’S VOICE
A pair of beauties. Best I ever seen.

TATTOO’S VOICE
You really know how to pick ’em.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE’S VOICE
Tell us about ’em. What were they
like?

CLOSE ON LUKE

as his lips open. He speaks slowly, painfully.

LUKE
Picture’s a phoney… Cost me a week’s
pay.

NEW ANGLE THE MEN

KOKO
A phoney? Whatta you mean, a phoney?

GAMBLER
We saw the broads.

BLIND DICK
Yeah. Did you have them both at once
or —

LUKE
It’s a phoney. Made it up just for
you guys.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
Aw, come on. We saw it all.

TATTOO
The champagne.

TRAMP
Some life.

FIXER
You really had it made.

LUKE
Nothin. I had nothin, made nothin.
Couple towns, couple bosses. Laughed
out loud one day and got turned in.

KOKO
(about to cry)
But — but —

LUKE
That’s all there was. Listen. Open
your eyes. Stop beatin’ it. And stop
feedin’ off me. Now get out of the
way. Give me some air.

Stunned, the men shrink back.

DRAGLINE
He ain’t himself. He’s all beat up.
Cain’t you see that? He don’t know
what he sayin’.

I would definitely recommend watching Cool Hand Luke — again if you’ve already seen it!  Great movie, and a way more entertaining way to get a lesson in existentialism than reading Sartre!

POEM: Not Right in the Head

I am just
Not right
In the head
Just left
Of center
Heart beats
For know reason
To love

The mathematician, physicist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.”  For most of human history in most cultures, the heart has been considered the center of our being.  Modern Western civilization is a notable exception.  In fact, the infant modern state of America suffers from an exceptionalism founded on narrow logic gone crazy.  This everyday insanity routinely considers it wisdom to destroy the natural world to grow business.  We have rationalized ourselves into a path of destruction that seems necessary.  We have come a long way since the so-called enlightenment, with its iconic cornerstone of “I think, therefore I am” famously penned by the philosopher Rene Descartes.  I sometimes wonder if Descartes was actually at a bar when he scribbled his scrambled thoughts on a bar napkin, got home and couldn’t quite make out his writing: “I drink, therefore I am.”  These days, it is common to consider nature secondary to business, a natural resource to be consumed in the course of making a profit.  Of course, our war on nature cannot be won.  Most people will assent to the overwhelming stupidity of this cruel logic, but our hearts may be so atrophied that we may no longer be able to muster enough courage to change our lemming ways.  Fortunately, humans need not be bound even by logic.  The heart has its reasons.  The heart has its ways.  No business plan can imprison love.  It may be no accident that our hearts are situated left of center.  Without love, logic starves.  Now, the danger of a desperate, starving logic should not be underestimated or discounted.  Nevertheless, when hearts reconnect and souls unite, human communities can be rebuilt, and in such a way that nature thrives rather than being consumed.  When the logic of our dominant culture is self-destructive, only a fool would stay that course and not look elsewhere.  That elsewhere is not some sci-fi future uncharted.  That future is reconnecting to the ancient and eternal wisdom of the heart.  There is a solution to not being right in the head.  To delve into the workings of our hearts, not simply the machinations of our brains, is eminently reasonable.  Let’s make it so…

POEM: A Farcical Foundation

A Farcical Foundation

An abundance
Of people
Build
Bank accounts
And resumes
In lieu of a better world
In the face of scarcity
Hoarding ourselves
Leaving our shares as chump change
Our resumes bankrupt
In grate sell deception
Talked into ahead in arrears
Left behind as good as a rite
A pauper wresting place
For a loan and a fraud dwelling
Only in habiting the largesse heart
As a lust resort
Fabricated upon a farcical foundation
Unable to settle what has been billed
Dropping all in loo
Of a better world
Too mulch
To imagine
For those with
The lyin’s share
Only as per jury
Of one’s peers

This poem gets to the heart of the matter.  The great divide in life is between wholehearted living and heartless living, which, of course, is not really living art all.  Choose life, not lifelessness!  As Jesus aptly put it, “You can’t serve both God and money.”  The love of God is the beginning of wisdom.  The love of money is the height of foolishness.  Of course, you only need to worry about this when God and money compete for your allegiance, say, most of the time you are awake! In modern monetized existence, a rather full assessment of what one values can be ascertained by how one spends their money (or not spends as the case may be).  Unfortunately, such an assessment process happens to be accurate precisely because of the great poverty in our lives which focuses on money (not God). A better accounting might include looking at how we spend our time.  Not surprisingly, in a culture which seems only to serve money as its highest value, Western civilization has managed to bastardize the typified 1950’s quest for leisure time by increasing work hours (and decreasing leisure time), even though productivity has grown by multiples.  There is way more money and “stuff” in the world than a few generations ago.  Still, the quality of life for the majority of the world’s population languishes.  As has been true for centuries, if not longer, there has been enough “stuff” to live good lives, except for the stubborn fact that humans have not learned to share well.  When will we accept the sociological and spiritual reality that beyond meeting our basic needs, money contributes little to happiness.  Perhaps more aptly put, if we hoard money for our own use beyond our basic physical needs, we will pay a social, political, and spiritual price for it, which will negate the perceived benefits of hoarding or consuming more.  In choosing disciplined simplicity for ourselves and generosity toward others, we can build more than bank accounts and resumes, and experience the most valuable stuff in life, the stuff that money can’t buy.

POEM: Picket Fences

More people are imprisoned
By picket fences
Than steel bars
Sometimes by splinters
Sometimes by stakes
Through the heart
Lonely in the end
To come home

Dreams of white picket fences have waylayed many more lives than prisons or jails.  The temptations of desperation and criminality that lead to prison are much more easily identified, and such temptations have obvious negative societal reactions that help keep them in check.  The temptations of materialism and comfort are much more subtle, and even more pervasive.  The structure and mores of Western civilization reinforce, even laud, such temptations.  The fact that the worldview where “greed is good” can persist at all is the best evidence for the backwardness of modern, capitalistic society.  Religious folks have commented that the greatest accomplishment of the devil is to convince you that he doesn’t exist.  This is a stunning metaphor for recognizing the powerful human tendency to downplay, ignore, or even lift to the highest value, our dark side.  Only by a steady awareness of our dark side, and a commitment to an equal compassion for ourselves and others, can we hold in check our baser instincts.  Of course, wrapping our most base instincts in dreams of white picket fences may pass for civilization, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. The sadness and disillusionment reflected in this poem is about the all-too-common reality that chasing our dreams may leave us feeling alone, even in our dream house.  May you set your eyes and heart upon the finest things in life, and wherever this leads you, may you feel at home.

POEM: Civilization

Dogs pee to mark their territory
Humans build walls
This is called civilization

There are up sides and down sides to civilization.  Western civilization shares at least one thing in common with canines: they both demarcate their territory by the waste they leave at the interface between their territory and the wild.  A dog’s territory is just seems less removed from the rest of nature.  Nature has a way to deal with waste, with its intricate recycling processes.  Nonetheless, humans, in their quest for advancing civilization, put increasing pressure on natural resources and natural processes which maintain balance and health within ecosystems.  Not surprisingly, it appears that humans cannot build a wall secure enough to separate itself from the very environment that it depends. The human race does not yet seem to see the finish line as harmonizing with nature, but rather as exploiting and controlling nature.  This reality is a backdrop for this short poem.  The main gist of this poem addresses the larger issue of human nature.  Humans have their own culture, which seems to be a quantum leap different than other life forms found in nature — separate if you will.  Is this epic clash between human culture and many harmonies of nature at the essence of human nature?  Our propensity to building walls physically, emotionally, and metaphorically, seems as evidence that this might be the case.  Or, are these clashes and divisions simply stepping-stones in the evolution to some higher balance?  The advancing complexity of civilization strikes me as a confounding mechanism that is a barrier to achieving such a higher balance.  There is something profoundly simple in appreciating the harmony of nature.  We should not discount its value by its omnipresence; on the contrary, we should heed omnipresence!  Western civilization’s apparent addiction to increasing complexity and control, in my judgment, is a dangerous substitute for the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature.  Western civilization’s current heading is dangerously imbalanced.  Reestablishing this fundamental balance resides in the already present wisdom of nature rather than some further development of technology to control an unruly nature that can only bend so far to our whims.  Ultimately, we must make peace with nature, or humanity will suffer great harm, perhaps even extinction.  Perhaps this is exactly the awareness humankind must gain before it can evolve to a higher level.  May we grasp the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature and resist the temptation to worship our own ingenuousness to temporarily forestall impending doom.

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: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

Wile in cathedrals
The atheist
Dares claim
The title
Of mass debater
As little comes
From behind the veil
That doesn’t exist
In the slightest
Hint elect
To believe
Methods to their madness
Seemingly beyond approach
However rue derangement
Identifying any genus
By its feces
So commonly specious
In its origins
By means
Naturally selective
Preserving favored races
In the struggle
For life
As fashioned
From flights of fancy
For the birds
In plain English
Triggering an evolution
Of rapacious masculinity
Vanquishing femininity
As it sees fit
Too survive
And nothing more
As awe is derived
As so much
Ground Chuck
No longer
A yin without a yang
A homme with only half a story
In tell gents design
New ways of poker
Without reason
Fueling themselves
With fantasies
Of being porn again
Any come hither looks
Reduced to contrivance
Goddesses none
Any go whither looks
Annunciating to the world
A piece of class
A coy that must be played with
Bastards and bitches all
Wed to nothing but progeny
Incesting that the best demands it
Endless reproductions
Preying for deviant genes
To a god of chance
Just for the novelty of it
Tails you win
Heads you lose
Either way
Stuck only
By wieners and losers
How fare
Abet
Between fancy pants
And the un-gaudy
Next to uncleanliness
Soully lovers of dirt
However complicated

This poem is a commentary on atheism, evolution, and gender.  Of any belief group in America, those unaffiliated with religion are the most male, 60%.  As much as religion may be a problem for women, it seems that lack of religion is even less attractive.  If reproduction is the key to human evolution, then perhaps unbelieving men should pay attention to the keyholes.  Both atheism and evolution often strike me as dominated by male pattern balledness.  Reducing human evolution to sexual reproduction strikes me as some form of porn, a way to partner sterile abstract thinking with screwing, an unproductive mating of reductionistic thought and base sexual impulses.

I find the conundrums of atheism well captured in this poem’s title: Lovers of Dirt.  Atheism may be the most poorly equipped belief, or disbelief, system to deal with love.  Perhaps because God is love.  For whatever reason, atheists cannot bring themselves to believe in God, fortunately, I have met many who quest for love.  This poem is partly inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester outside the Toledo federal courthouse, when we were protesting corporate personhood, as promoted and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  This man was clearly offended by considering corporations on the same level as humans, and willing to hit the street to make that point.  In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was an atheist.  He could clearly tell the difference between the legal fiction of corporate personhood and actual human personhood.  However, he could not articulate the difference between people and dirt.  A parently, people are simply complicated dirt. This claim to be able to make higher level distinctions while being unable to make lower level distinctions seems to strike at the ultimate heartlessness of atheism.

Maybe there are other forms of atheism, but I have found this creep of distinctionless infecting virtually every atheist with which I have ever had a conversation.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t believe in atheism, I do believe in atheists, certainly inasmuch as they embody love.  Plus, I am a big fan of distinctionlessness.  However, I view distinctionlessness as a spiritual aspect of reality, by definition outside the realm of science which only deals with distinctions.  Distinctionlessness might be cited as unity consciousness, the oneness of all reality (which includes consciousness).  Now, to give props to John Paul Sartre, the great atheist existentialist, and author of Being and Nothingness, he might consider distinctionlessness to be represented by nothing.  Sartre dealt in-depth trying to explain the structure of consciousness which necessitated a relationship with nothingness, a perilous journey where we are reduced to alternating between subject and object.  I am a subject and you are an object of my subjectivity.  Then, you are a subject and I am an object of your subjectivity.  And never the twain shall meet. Ad inifinitum!  Perhaps not surprisingly, Sartre was famous for saying, “Hell is other people.” (see No Exit, a one-act play). According to Sartre, other people, in the experience of subjectivity, must reduce others to objects.  Sartre believed that there can only be NO connection between subjects, no underlying unity.  I am at a loss how Sartre can even claim that other subjects exist, if he can only experience them as objects!?  Of course, this self-contradictory assertion is the basis for his atheism.  In this case, God would be Subject with a capital S.  The logic goes like this: if God existed, we would experience God as an object, and since there is no convincing evidence that such an object exists, then God does not exist.  Of course, this same logic, applied to other humans, would necessitate concluding that other people (if you can call them that) don’t exist as subjects.  These are the foolish places that highly rational and completely unreasonable men end up.  Except Sartre was not a fool.  He acknowledged that other subjects existed — only that these subjects existed outside his experience!  He could only experience their objectively ghostly apparitions masquerading as subjects, and occasional buyers of his books.  By beginning with an assumption of nothingness, he ends up with much, much, much, much, much less than if he had begun with an assumption of somethingness.  Both are assumptions, mere propositions or assertions.

Descartes launched modern Western philosophy off with “I think therefore I am,” taking existence as evidence against nonexistent.  Simple but compelling.  Sartre breaks this tradition in a striking way, he appears compelled by nothingness, nonexistence, perhaps quite appropriately, for no apparent reason.  By Sarte’s same logic and assumptions critiquing God’s Subjective existence, Sartre could just as easily made a profoundly good theist had he only explored the logical sequence of knowledge unveiled by allowing that just another subject may exist, another Subject may exist.  This seems a great leap of faith to some.  How could you equate little old me, a subject with a lowercase s, on the same par as God, a Subject with a capital S?!  Yet, this is exactly what Sartre did with his chosen path.  By Sartre’s own logic and apparent experience, he is the only subject that exists!  If there is only one subject, then this is the closest to God one can expect.  Sartre had no basis for distinguishing between a subject with a lowercase s and a Subject with an uppercase S.  Sartre was God!  And God is dead!!  Case closed — and it was a very cold case!  This should come as little surprise, that God was so little.  When being must have a relationship with nothing in order to generate consciousness, subjectivity is necessarily imprisoned: condemned to be free; with nothing to ground its being.  Now, to be fair, Sartre has nothing to stand upon.  By claiming that it was the relationship to nothing that generated consciousness, the breath of subjectivity, he allowed other subjects to exist (spookily as God allows).  All you have to do is believe in nothing.  How hard could that be?  Except that the other ethereal pillar holding up Sartre’s world is that nothing can be the ground of our being.  So, our being comes from nothingness.  Is this magic less objectionable than our being coming from somethingness?  I would agree that God is a no thing, in that the fullness of God, what God IS, cannot be ascertained from studying objective things, anymore than the fullness of human subjects can be understood by simply studying their junk.

In my book, Sartre should have devoted his keen intellect to a masterpiece call Being and Somethingness. In studying Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in my college existentialism class, what I most keenly remember is a footnote, and perhaps the only ultimate foothold in my book.  This footnote stated that his arguments did not preclude the possibility of hope, but that his purpose was not to explore that possibility.  This existential choice on his part left his work despairing.  John Paul Sartre was intellectually clever and outside of his formal philosophy, in real life, fought to be compassionate to others, though chronically despairing and doubting that he could ever really connect with them as fully human.  Perhaps Sartre’s greatest distinction is how well his worldview resonated with those cynical enough to be satisfied with studying the nooks, crannies, and shadows of this deeply pessimistic, foundationless-yet-sold-as-foundational worldview.  He created a lifetime of available preoccupation in his self-proclaimed hell.  And if there truly is no exit from this deadly state of affairs, aspiring to screw some less cruelly than others; then, being right will have to serve as a poor substitute for happiness.  Religion will be reduced to self-fulfilling prophets.  Humanity will never graduate from preoccupation to the much harder vocation of bringing hope to an obviously hurting world.  Hope requires the study of human nature, of which Sartre is so absolutely skeptical, even of its existence.  Such absolute skepticism begs for a different perspective, in that it worships subjectivity, our apparent ability to will one thing over another, either assenting to or rejecting preconditions.  Sartre aspired to build the slimmest possible precipice from which to perch looming subjectivity, a philosophy with as few assumptions as possible, resting on as narrow an objectivity as possible.  But rather than finding a holy grail, he found himself, and apparently the whole world, on a throne of spears. This creates perhaps the largest overreach possible in underestimating both objective reality and subjective reality.  Unity consciousness is the oneness of all reality, which includes consciousness.  Sartre’s arena was human consciousness, and declining to leave that arena, shortchanged the fullness of reality.  His reality lifts human consciousness beyond its ken.  Though he was perhaps within grasp of an occasional barbie — no offense to Simone de Beauvoir, his lifelong lover, to whom one day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, said, “Let’s sign a two-year lease.”  They never married.  Near the end of her life, de Beauvoir said, “Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry.”  In fact, there was no dowry that could cover the deficit in Sartre’s worldview.  Sartre’s reality became, through his own volition, human consciousness married to nothing, and no divorce laws.  His denial is nearly unfathomable.  His consciousness only unifies with reality in some zombie apocalypse fashion — which seems enduringly fashionable for some reason.  Sartre strips objective reality of any subjectivity but his own, except for those ghostly apparitions (that would be you) who are condemned to walk the earth, a living hell, negating his subjectivity with a moments notice.  His justice: he returns the favor, jousting with lifelike windmills.  This farcical, impossible dream, leaves Sartre riding his knight mare in a one horse town.  His reward: he is the grand marshal and sole entrant in this ludicrous parade.  Though quite miraculously, Sartre ends up joining an elite pantheon of self-fulfilling prophets of epic disproportions.

I can see how many people are deeply reluctant to believe in God.  What I find much more difficult to understand is people’s deep commitment to disallowing for even the possibility of God. In other words, agnosticism seems justified (though a bit indecisive), whereas atheists must take on a mantle of hubris unbecoming to open minds and open hearts.  Sartre proclaims that there is no exit in a house that he built with no doors!  In the end, using Sartre’s arguments against God, the Subject with a capital S, one must argue against subjectivity itself, all subjectivity.  It is to this that I object!  Sartre built an inhospitable house, a testament to his objectivity (or testament to his lack of subjectivity), and he has nothing to blame.  By leveling subjectivity, he finds, least of all, himself.  Not by humility, but by hubris.  And from nowhere comes a call, “Philosopher heal thyself!”  Yet, the great metaphysician, Jesus also begged the question of the physician healing thyself.  Jesus is recounted to have said in Luke 4:18-28 (NIV), in launching his public ministry, by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

People are lazy enough to want miracles.  Some just want to be entertained enough to provide a break in their existential ennui.  A rarer few are happy being unhappy.  Jesus’ hometown crowd called for him to reproduce for them the miraculous events that they had heard transpired elsewhere.  Surely he would put on an even better show for the hometown crowd, they thought.  When Jesus implied that his prophetic acts would not get any traction amongst this hometown crowd, accurately citing history, the crowd got pissed.  They bypassed the good news and didn’t even get a good carny show out of it!

Interestingly, the crowd was incredulous even when the heard good news — “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” — asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  You remember, that snot-nosed kid who used to run around here some years back.  And we all know about Joseph, don’t we?  They just couldn’t believe that such good news and authority could be present in one from such humble and ordinary beginnings.  Jesus made it clear that enlightenment or salvation cannot just be handed to someone like an everyday object, miraculous relic, or even apprehended through the world’s best philosophy.  In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the condemned rich man upon his death and agony wants a heavenly message sent to his sons on earth, so that they might be saved, he is told: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:21)  The good news that Jesus proclaimed was to the poor, not the “successful” in society who have mastered the conventional wisdom.  Jesus proclaimed that freedom for the prisoners is possible, and that recovery of sight for the blind is possible, that setting the oppressed free is possible.  The miraculous is not concerned with overturning the impossible, but with the possible not yet manifest.  This is the realm of faith and hope.  This is the realm that Jesus calls us into.  Some hear this and are deeply moved.  Some hear this as a carnival barker.  Some more recalcitrant few hear this as a carnival barker who never even existed!  There are few problems that denial won’t solve, eh?

I think that Sartre’s cynicism ultimately lies in this fact that you can’t force people to be enlightened.  Jesus understood this.  Sartre knew that our choices literally create meaning by placing value behind some actions and not others, all within the realm of the possible.  Jesus understood this.  Unfortunately, Sartre neutered himself when it came to the realm of the possible, the worst form of self emasculation, with militant atheism — which ironically seems much more popular among men.  The attraction to overt force and militancy seems more hegemonic among men.  Though please note that I don’t think that spirituality is better suited or more fully manifest according to gender.  Nonetheless, I do think that there are specific forms of foolishness that are predominantly occupied by men.  The same goes for women; but that’s another story…

I commend Sartre for trying to tackle the immeasurable perplexity of the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.  Such a task should vex even the greatest minds, of which I consider Sartre among.

Atheists typically claim to be concerned solely with science.  Fair enough.  Science is about understanding and manipulating the outside “objective” world, the visible, measurable world which makes the world more conducive to usefulness, or better means to some end. Spirituality is about understanding and experiencing the subjective world, the oft invisible, oft immeasurable, typically elusive world conducive to elucidating what are good ends and worthy states of being.  What unkind of world could we possibly expect if we studied only the ways to get places but refused to ponder the full range of places or states of being which are better to move toward?

The study of subjectivity includes understanding ourselves, others, and at least offering a shot at discovering or understanding God, if such a present manifests at any time.  The legitimate existence of metaphysics, the area of study beyond the physical world measurable by reductionistic science, surprisingly to some, is not really controversial amongst professional philosophers.  Of course, in the ever-changing, heated climate of rampant spirituality, there are always some climate change deniers in the crowd.  In the end, reducing the transcendent or spiritual nature of subjective existence to mere objectivity — i.e., humans are complicated dirt, nothing more — is amputating half of one’s existence, and the only half that can ascertain which is the “better” half (which is the one that can make us whole).

To advance metaphysics we must ponder other subjects – you, me, and even God.  Harkening back to the discussion of distinctionlessness, atheists with which I have conversed, seem to be pulled back to distinctionlessness.  I would like to draw a distinction between two forms of distinctionlessness.  There is the ground zero of distinctionlessness that atheists default to, apparently in the face of nothingness, the abyss.  This casts a pall over any ability to discern good from evil, or to carve out any solid ground for our subjective being, even going so far as to doubt whether others or oneself even exist (as a subject), let alone whether God exists!  I contrast this with unity consciousness which is present in the oneness of all reality, which happens to encompass consciousness.  I think that this distinctionlessness of unity consciousness is a fuller representation of reality than the atheist existentialism a la Sartre.  Oneness can only be present with consciousness because if consciousness was not encompassed, then consciousness would be separate, and there would be two disconnected realities, not one.  If these two disconnected realities seem familiar, it might be because they are eerily parallel to Sartre’s alienating description of alternating subject-object, object-subject relationships between so-called subjects — more like objects masquerading as subjects.  Sartre cleverly avoids the problem of two separate realities by defining nothingness as one of the two disconnected realities.  Many people might be willing to agree that nothing is not separate from our one reality, which seems somewhat different than saying nothing is separate from our one reality.  This clever configuration jury-rigs the vexing question of something coming from nothing.  Recall that Sartre views consciousness, a necessary aspect of subjectiveness, as arising from nothingness.  Or put somewhat differently, subjects are dependent on nothing. So which makes more sense: subjects are dependent on nothing OR subjects are dependent on something?  If subjects are dependent on nothing, then they should have no constrains on their freedom.  Deeply ironic, if Sartre is correct that a subject is dependent on nothing, then he has accurately described God!  Further, he has described a monotheistic God, because there could not be two absolutely free God’s operating in the same reality without clashing and limiting each other’s freedom.  Back to human-scale experience, I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is dependent on nothing.  Clearly, any coherent account of human experience testifies that human freedom is bounded, dependent on something.  If subjects are dependent on something, then an accurate account of reality must include a description of Being and Something, not simply Being and Nothingness.  Of course, existentialist thinkers following Sartre claimed that subjects could actually meet, dare I say, without distinction.  So, the limitations on our freedoms could arise from other subjects (as well as from objects).

But could Sartre be correct?  Yes, if you expect to learn the full truth from an incomplete truth that is factually accurate.  No, if you consider half a picture the full picture.  I think that Sartre is a freaking genius, and that his facts are correct.  Of course, I take some of this on faith, since he was wicked smart, perhaps too smart for his own good!  After all my critical analysis and occasional mocking, I will say that Sartre had all his facts right, he just didn’t have all the facts, or the full truth.

Like I enjoy saying, “Truth lies in the neighborhood of paradox.”  There is a persistently perplexing dualism present in human contemplations of reality.  I think that Sartre nailed down half of this dualism.  On one hand, the nailing down of hard facts was old-school, meaning it was completely consistent with the 400-plus year tradition of the enlightenment and the chain of progress that is Western civilization (as distinct from the contributions of the ancients).  On the other hand, his intellectual work was cutting edge and timely, even before its time.  Seriously, he was working with NOTHING!  This anchored the accomplishments of the enlightenment in a new way.  Of course, for those ultimately not happy with his militant focus, it could be viewed as the last nail in the coffin that is postmodernism. I think that the answer illuminating the full truth involves pursuing both-and answers rather than only either-or answers.  In this light, I would slightly restate an earlier proposition: I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is ONLY dependent on nothing.  Sartre was ahead of his time, and prescient of modern quantum physics, which has shed light on nothingness.  In quantum physics, particles arise out of nothing, seemingly independent, though subject to probabilistic behavior when viewed as waves.  And the best answer we have about which state of affairs is true is: both.  Subatomic physical behavior is best described as both waves and particles.  This answer, which is as perplexing as the original question, rests on the fact that it depends on how you look at it.  Literally, observing something changes it.  Conscious awareness affects reality in predictable ways (that is, probabilistic).  Translating this into our larger discussion, the freedom present in human consciousness arises from BOTH nothing AND something.  Possibilities collapse into specific actualities based on our observation and intent.

To be fair to Sartre, I’d like to think that had he lived much longer (he died in 1980), he may have been able to incorporate some insights from modern physics into his worldview.  However, the wisdom of the ancients was available to him.  As Jesus pointed out, witnessing miracles won’t necessarily make someone a better, more whole human being.  The power of skepticism and cynicism is strong.

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

POEM: Ounce of Prevention

An ounce of prevention
Is worth a pound of cure
Unfortunately, stuff is sold
By the pound and dollar

Virtually everyone knows that prevention is preferable to cure.  As Ben Franklin put it, “A stitch in time saves nine.”  Much of prevention takes relatively little knowledge but a good dose of long-term thinking and patience/persistence.  So why is prevention often poorly practiced?  First, as this short poem says, “stuff is sold,” meaning that tangible goods and more-easily defined services are easier to sell than intangible goods and complex, difficult-to-define services.  For example, in health-related fields, it is easier to sell a pill or distinct procedure than a whole lifestyle that offers healthy eating, regular physical activity, lower stress and adequate sleep.  Such healthy lifestyles are not achievable with a small number of simple, easy-to-define products or services.  Moreover, overall, the desire in Western civilization to monetize everything possible plays into our more base instincts that favor the concrete, the simple, and the immediate.  This profoundly affects what we make and do in our careers.  Those vocations which may advance human progress but are not easily monetized are at-risk for atrophying in modern, capitalistic culture.  Human creativity is relegated to a too-narrow focus to come up with solutions adequate for our problems.  We end up focusing on solutions that create as many or more problems.  If Western civilization where a pharmaceutical cure being advertised, the list of side-effects would literally take us to our death beds!  If we cannot together create a culture where the organizing principle is more than buying and selling, then our lives will continue to be bought and sold to the highest bidder, down to the last pound of flesh.  May we live our lives in such a way that we treasure and guard our ounces of prevention as it reigns pounds of easy cures and silver bullets; and may the fruit of our labor enrich us all.

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: Eminently Bad Business

Some might suggest that we run everything like a business
This is eminently bad business

The notion that everything should be run like a business runs like a disease through Western Civilization.  This delusion leads some to believe that capitalism is the answer to all human problems.  This pathetic reduction of humanity to economic beings is at the core of most major human problems that the world faces.  Most people would consider it absurd to run your love life like a business, or raising children, or being a best friend, or virtually any enterprise that would benefit from centering one’s life outside of one’s own parochial interests.  The most valuable things in life are not things.  Such “things” should not be imprisoned within profit margins and subject to usury for every asset we possess.  What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?  If you can’t articulate some sacred ground for your soul to reside, then the only advice would be: make sure you get a really good price for your soul; don’t sell yourself short.  Of course, if your soul has a price, and you are selling yourself, don’t be surprised that others treat you like a prostitute when going about your business.

“Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it! For I should suffer the misery of devils were I to make a whore of my soul.” — Thomas Paine.

POEM: Sinking Ship

When a ship is sinking
It may be wiser to follow the rats
Rather than the humans
That is, if you can tell the difference

This Titanic poem juxtaposes the zeniths and abysses of humans, created only a little less than angels, and rats, a generally unappreciated part of the human experience.  This poem sets up a contrast of the ingenuousness of Western civilization and the oft underappreciated wisdom in nature.  Amidst the myriad of human-created crises, looking to nature for wisdom can cut through a lot of foolishness.  Rats are less complicated creatures than humans, not as prone to confused and conflicted decision-making.  This simplicity can be lifesaving in life threatening situations.  Of course, when humans are at their lows they are less reliable guides for behavior than rats and exceedingly more dangerous.  Calling a human a rat is considered derogatory, but in some situations rats exceed human performance.  Maybe we should cut rats some slack.  Similarly, in our foolish scurryings about, perhaps we should refrain from the term “rat race,” as this also may be unfair to rats.

POEM: Author Author Original

Author Author Original

Many great authors
Veritable prose
Composed
Many glorified pages
Of legends owed
Epitomizing a theme
Depicting perfect variations
Epic anecdotes
In firmity
Contracted
By edifices
Of many stories
I prefer the novelty
Of a single sentence
Unleashing countless perspectives
Leaping tall buildings
Condemned
To freedom
Facing immanent decomposition
A tale doggedly wagging
Kneading not
A collect
The preyer of singular digits
Followed by zeroes
Offering
No cure awe
Beyond
Ne’er rating
Guttenburgers
Serving billions
In the court
Of public opinion
In loo of
Author original
Nameless

This poem is an ode to the commercialization of the art of writing.  This is less an indictment of authors trying to make a living than the nature of others trying to make a living off authors.  Also, this poem speaks to my preference for poetry versus prose.  I must confess, I had a great laugh with the epiphany of “Guttenburger,” a literate hybrid pun, unduplicated in its meatiness.  The image of a hurried run of trashy novels on the jacked up modern equivalent of the Guttenberg press, like fast food burgers on a conveyor grill, about sums up art meeting modern civilization.  As Western civilization quickly monetizes and copies right any art sufficient to the task, artists continue the eternal struggle to pay worthy homage to the original author nameless and unnamable, reproducing endless originals.

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: Efficiency Expert

The efficiency expert asked me
How many poems can I write
Per hour
Well, if I only
Had but one hour
I would guess a singular poem

Western civilization seems obsessed with efficiency.  Of course, high efficiency is no guarantee of high effectiveness.  You can be very efficient at doing the wrong thing, and it will get you nowhere fast; or worse yet, actually farther away from what is desirable.  Western civilization’s desire to quantify every thing can become a distraction by leading us to ignore those things that are difficult to quantify.  I would posit that the most important things in life are difficult to quantify, and at some point trying to quantify them will likely do more harm than good.  What would be a unit of love, friendliness, hope, trust, courage, integrity, or humor?  Yep, sometimes dissecting something kills it!

I must admit that I am a big fan of blessed inefficiency!  The best things in life — a good meal, making love, a good joke, or all three — are not good subjects for efficiency.  Time wasted that is enjoyed is not wasted.  I like the variously attributed quote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  Joy is a singularly better marker for guiding success than any quantitative measure.  So, how many units of joy have you experienced today?

In this poem, there is a stark contrast between quantity and quality.  The efficiency expert inquires with numbers in mind, typically assuming that more is better.  The poet takes one hour, but one hour, as all that they have; and such a profound limitation can provide clarity and depth of which an efficiency expert may not even dream.  The answer: a singular poem OR one poem per hour. Is not the answer clear?

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”  — Henry David Thoreau, from Walden (a read I would highly recommend as an antidote to frenetic modern civilization)

POEM: Work Week

One day I didn’t feel like going to work
Some people call them weekdays

This one goes out to all of you who feel, chronically and/or acutely, that going to work is, well…work.  I wouldn’t mind being the guy who was known for proposing the 3-hour work week.  My suggestion of a 3-hour work week is based on the concept, and with some experience, that working on average more than 45 minutes per day for four days per week is detrimental to human well-being.  Now, I define work as doing something you don’t want to do.  As the economic beings that we are often reduced to, this largely means those activities where we simply exchange your life energy for money — most people call them jobs, where you sell yourself to someone else — and shortchange your quality of life .  Of course, it could mean squashing spiders occupying your living space — which generally fits well into one’s 45-minute allotment.  No doubt, one of the handier practices in achieving a 3-hour work week, is learning to like what you do.  A version of this would be called Karma Yoga in Hinduism.  However, those of us living in Western civilization may be better able to relate to following our passions, structuring our life in such a way that our passions flow more freely.  Unfortunately, Westerners are socialized from birth to achieve security through money, and that money will give us freedom.  Perhaps the best illustration of why this doesn’t work can be had by simply observing Western culture over my lifetime (50-odd years — some would say very odd!).  For instance, the U.S. has over three times the material wealth that it had when I was born.  Also, a dream from those days, and perhaps these days still, is for increasing leisure, often brought about by technological advancement minimizing boring or routine tasks.  Well, this hasn’t happened.  In fact, Americans work longer work weeks than they did in recent generations — with the added “benefit” of having more household members selling themselves outside their home. We are no happier.  I suspect that a more workable solution to living consistent with our passions would be to downgrade the whole money gives us freedom thing and start with the question, “What would I do if money were not an issue?”

You may have noted that clustering the work over four days implies that at least three or more days a week should be free of work.  I see the practice of sabbath as essential to create and re-create our lives.  My own personal take on this progressive spiritual practice would be to take off every seventh year, every seventh month, every seventh day, every seventh minute, and every seventh second.  This represents the re-centering our lives around something other than “work” — read “money,” and practicing mindfulness at all times, in all that we do (or don’t do).  Plus, as an addendum to this progressive journey of sabbaths, I am partial to the Jewish concept of the year of jubilee practiced. The year of jubilee is a sabbath year of sabbath years (every 49th or 50th year), where property returns to its original owners, recognizing that God owns that land (and all), and serves to prevent accumulation and concentration of wealth due to the vagaries and greed of human life.  Making such a grand project a reality definitely provides a lot of work that I can be passionate about!

POEM: Incompetent Evil

I don’t care much for evil
I don’t care much for incompetence
Though when present together
Incompetence becomes a blessing

As in math, sometimes in morality, multiplying two negatives can produce some positive results.  There is at times some hope to be taken at the all too frequent observation that many stupid things happen in the world.  Specifically, there is hope to be drawn from evil actions accompanied by incompetence.  In this case, incompetence is an ally of the good, truncating evil, preventing it from manifesting its complete intent.  If you are an optimist such as I, you might even dare call this a blessing.

I like this short poem mostly because it illuminates perhaps the most fundamental division in human reality — physics and metaphysics, the mundane and the transcendent.  Physics is basically the realm of modern science, the sometimes uber-successful reductionistic approach characteristic of Western civilization.  Great advances have been made in understanding how the physical world works, the means of controlling the “outer” world, the so-called objectively real.  Modern science breaks things down to understand each of its constituent parts behaves (cause and effect) and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, this is only the crudest form of how things work, and only “half” of the picture (in the sense of balance, not quantitatively).  At its worst scientific reductionism kills the whole to study the dead parts.  Dissecting a frog may produce a lot of knowledge but it does kill the frog.  Similarly, our quest for knowledge can kill life to study its lesser constituent parts.  Metaphysics is the opposite, the complement to reductionism, which studies life from the perspective of the relationship of the whole to the part, not the relationship of parts to each other.  Most people recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — due to humans’ metaphysical faculties.  Sadly, an overfocus on scientific reductionism has allowed our higher faculties to atrophy (use it or lose it!), and we literally cannot tell apart life from death.  My favorite example of the manifestation of this is our apparent inability to distinguish between human persons and corporate persons (which are famously said to be made up of human persons — well they got the “made up” part correct!).  When we can’t differentiate a human worker from a brick — reducing them both to “expenses” — we are in deep trouble as a human race!  We seem to be able to produce a lot of things, and cool stuff, but the art of human happiness seems resistant to such machinations — perhaps because we are not machines.  We need to strike a healthier, life-affirming balance between physics and metaphysics.  As often happens, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said much of this much more succinctly:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.  The two are not rivals. They are complementary.  Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

POEM: Barbarian Hordes

Only after building the wall
To keep the barbarian hordes out
Did I realize
That we are the barbarian hordes

Exclusion is the most barbarian practice.  Inclusion is the most enlightened practice.  To evolve in our humanity we need to move beyond our self.  Xenophobia, and its companion egocentricity, is a stubborn barrier to enlightenment.  Recognizing the oneness of all things is a spiritual practice that moves us out of an ego perspective.  As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

I am fascinated with meditating upon what I see as the most fundamental paradox of human reality, the juxtaposition of the oneness of reality with the “myriad of things.”  Of course, this apparent paradox is most pronounced, perhaps paradoxically, if one accepts no difference between anything.  My most clear and palpable retort to folks who assert that there is no difference between anything is to ponder a hypothetical punch in the nose — I avoid the actual punch in the nose because I believe that there is a difference between violence and nonviolence!  It seems that the post-enlightenment, modern scientific reductionism characterizing Western civilization lies silent, levelled if you will, stubbornly incapable of granting legitimacy (authority) to any difference or hierarchy, even though differences and hierarchies are omnipresent.  How do we move or evolve beyond the self-mutilation of scientific reductionism to a self-transcendence?  I am partial to E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed, which I would highly recommend if you are perplexed in most any way.  On nugget in this regard:

There are physical facts which the bodily senses pick up, but there are also nonphysical facts which remain unnoticed unless the work of the senses is controlled and completed by certain “higher” faculties of the mind. Some of these nonphysical facts represent “grades of significance,” to use a term coined by G. N. M. Tyrrell, who gives the following illustration:

Take a book, for example. To an animal a book is merely a coloured shape. Any higher significance a book may hold lies above the level of its thought. And the book is a coloured shape; the animal is not wrong. To go a step higher, an uneducated savage may regard a book as a series of marks on paper. This is the book as seen on a higher level of significance than the animal’s, and one which corresponds to the savage’s level of thought. Again it is not wrong, only the book can mean more. It may mean a series of letters arranged according to certain rules. This is the book on a higher level of significance than the savage’s . . . . Or finally, on a still higher level, the book may be an expression of meaning…

In all these cases the “sense data” are the same; the facts given to the eye are identical. Not the eye, only the mind, can determine the “grade of significance.”

To make the grade and avoid continually devolving our humanity into some nihilistic cynicism where meaning can find no root in our being we might benefit from looking up to a higher power, living in an ever-higher perspective — and thousands of years of meditation on such things informs us that this should not involve looking down on our fellow beings.

POEM: Pillar of the Community

I have a well-paid job
I am a captain of industry
I am a member of platinum circles
I am a pillar of the community
My name will live on
On plaques
And maybe a street
I need not
Pay the devil his due
For I’ve already been checked off his list

There is an African proverb: “Where there is no wealth there is no poverty.”  Many inhabitants of Western civilization have the notion that eliminating poverty comes from wealth.  Not true.  Eliminating poverty comes from sharing.  Without sharing, no amount of financial wealth can eliminate poverty.  The greed (anti-sharing) that accumulates financial wealth is a disease, of which poverty is a symptom.  As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  Make your choice — the devil has — and you decide which is the pillar of community.

POEM: A Taste for Happiness

Dining with Kings and Queens
Courtly balls
Knightly duels
And priestly indulgences
You can avoid it all
If only you are happy
Eating beans

This short poem goes out to all of those people who feel conflicted about all the contradictions in politics, especially during election season; contradictions about power and so-called “lesser evils.”  I find great comfort and happiness in the project of simplifying my life.  When it comes to politics and doing the right thing, I believe that the complexity of Western civilization offers a vast array of temptations to disorder our collective lives by mis-ordering our values.  In this regard, I see the value of simplification as keeping in proper order and priority a relatively few core values, and not letting these values be undercut by however tempting sophistication, pomp, and circumstance.  On a more practical note, I believe that leading a simple lifestyle materially is a great aid in minimizing the myriad of temptations to introduce personal bias into issues of power and control.  The simple fact is that the less we require materially, the less that our spiritual resources and spiritual center will be challenged by material needs.

This poem was inspired by a Sufi story of Nasrudin who is eating a poor man’s diet of chickpeas and bread.  His neighbor, who also claimed to be a wise man, was living in a grand house and dining on sumptuous meals provided by the Emperor himself.  His neighbor told Nasrudin, “if only you would learn to flatter the Emperor and be subservient like I do, you would not have to live on chickpeas and bread.”  Nasrudin replied, “and if only you would learn to live on chickpeas and bread, like I do, you would not have to flatter and live subservient to the Emperor.”

Maybe you don’t think this story is worth beans.  Maybe this poem, my two cents, seems irrelevant.  But, I am in good company:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’ ” (Mark 12:41-44, NIV)

Do not be deceived: wealth and poverty, power and politics, is not about money and its many denominations; it’s about something much deeper, much richer.