Friday, June 29, 2007

1000th mile on my bicycle

Here, an expression of reverence and thankfulness
for safe journeys, pushing myself hard, having fun,
for a few scars, a broken bottle cage, sand everywhere,
no crashes, no wipeouts,
that I can, and do, and will it,
And wishes for many thousands more.

It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing the row of zeros replace all the nines
As though it all starts over, an ephiphany in itself
In an instant, one counting ended and the next began.

Imagine watching a diver in first person;
hearing the inhale, exhale, footsteps on the platform
leaping, watching the water approach
but it's all in black and white, and you don't feel a thing
until hands break water; then it all rushes back at once
the exhilaration of chill water and mastery of air
and freedom.

That, and that, but at the same time, ordinary.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Music, Emotion, Perception

Trev commented on worship music in response to Jon's post on exotheism. I'll add something tangential here.

How much of worship music ends up being an emotional high seeking to fill an emotional void, I don't really know anymore. Sometimes jumping on that boat is a fun ride, sometimes it ends up falling flat. Something about those three-chord songs with fourteen words.

Background to the comment: People (maybe it was at have talked about that sort of emotional manipulation being so easy in kids, with all the insecurity that naturally goes with being a kid - of course there's a void there. And they promise that Jesus will fill the void. My suspicion is that everybody's still got the same void, to some extent, in some way.

Background 2: I hung out with Pentecostal people in college, played guitar/bass on the worship team, got saved (yes, I was raised Catholic), was on fire for Jesus, was on the leadership team, listened obsessively to Christian music, the whole nine yards.

Other comment: I also feel that God-as-separate is an integral part of Christian teaching. (I want to acknowledge that I'm addressing my impression, not whether it is deliberate or whether it is technically part of church belief or whether it's historically integral.) Also, there's a perception that being theologically educated makes one closer to God, or able to be closer to God, than those not theologically educated. That perception stands on the assumption that knowing about what people say about God is as good as knowing God himself. But that's part of a bigger trend.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Smallest and the Biggest

It amazes me, as I read Fire in the Mind, to learn just how these things we take for scientific knowledge come about. There are a few tenuous connections to observable reality, and from there it's all a house of cards.

Subatomic particles. Mathmaticians make equations to fit the data, but to make it all work, to explain some kink, the equation ends up factoring in some particle or other that hasn't yet been observed. There are quarks and muons and red, green, blue (and anti- of each color) and leptons and truth and beauty and up and down and charm and strange particles. After math predicts a particle, scientists design an experiment that would create (and instruments to detect) these particles. Except now there are particles in the equations that, for whatever reason, won't be detectable. But the equation works.

At the other end of the scale, you can use trigonometry to find the distance to the sun or to the moon, from earth. There are a few other celestial objects that can be measured from earth because the earth is so far from itself at one point in orbit from another. And from there on out it's all cards. Theories had to be revised because geologists had conflicting information based on more concrete data. This is the essence of the first two chapters of my book.

A few months ago, I read about how the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception came about. Short story, it was building the logical framework, story form, to support a belief that people wanted to hold. I was amazed to read this in a Catholic publication, and that other people didn't seem to see the meta-story.

In school, I enjoyed and did well with sociology and philosophy because I played like it was a game. It happens that I'm skilled at learning and working within a given logical framework. This is a game I'm learning to play at work - and my objective is to play their game such they give me what I want. I will win.

Life, rather than being a series of confusing dense mazes, is becoming a group of jungle gyms, each with a few point attachments to the ground, that I'm free to play on, or not, as I please. It's interesting to watch whole groups of knowledge be lifted into this new category. I get a sense of the direction my viewpoint is taking, and of its effects: life is going to be more (carefree, and) fun.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The trip so far.

The trip, so far, has been better and worse than expected. (The bad parts have been worse than expected, but less frequent than expected.) The true typical interactions of the family have surfaced, but I'm not the only observer. This isn't to say it's all bad, but everyone's character is out in full force. Peter, my aunt's fiance, (and a successful architect!) is also seeing these things, him for the first time, and he's fascinated by how my aunt and her sister (my mother) can be so different, and by how my sister and I are so very different. I've had some good real conversations with him, and with my aunt. It was good and affirming and sad all at the same time - the family situation won't change, but she and I both see it the same way, and are having similar experiences. I wish that we saw each other more often; maybe we will.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Condemnation: the general case

Andrew responded to my last post: The lower road avoids condemnation because it doesn't know any better; the higher road avoids condemnation because it's able to discern. Maybe?

Such is the general subject of today's ramblings, and I invite the you to add your own thoughts/interconnections/questions/observations.

The suggestion holds merit. I note that the distinction places value on what's driving the action, not merely the action, of itself.

These days, I think that, as in the Vietnam era, some very spiritually, politically, intellectually intelligent people were opposed to [what's going on in the world] and trying to find a better way of being in the world.

By "better" I mean a way that more closely reflects our values. Both groups of alter-culturalists were doing so, really. What outsiders lacked was an insight into the peoples' motivation. I suspect that both kinds of people (seeking a better way and seeking a hedonistic good time) show up at Burning Man, too. Small wonder that Christians tend to condemn the event.

I think it's pretty common that people judge what they see without understanding the rest of the iceberg. I wonder if that'll ever change.

Longing to get away.

This week I brought headphones to work; in listening to music I can more easily block out my immediate surroundings to concentrate on my work. I also find myself with one foot in one world and one in another.

So I'm looking forward to a different kind of time and space and environment for more than a couple of brief weekend days.

Edit: Forgot to mention that on Thursday, I'm heading out of town for a few days. Family will be around so it's not a total retreat, but it is a change of pace.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Burning Man

I wrote a response to Trev just this morning that mentions what I purpose for my existence - to make and enjoy beautiful things. At the same time, I am troubled by the malevolence in the world. It makes me sad. I can't or don't want to reframe every bit of shit that I witness in a way that makes it palatable.

Last night I wrote a bit about Burning Man, which I include below. There's not a solution written in, because anything I might suggest would be too pat, not acknowledging how incredibly messy life tends to be. I can, however, live in the way that's most conducive to what I want (cf purpose above), and thus, perhaps, be the change I want to see.

I'd heard of Burning Man before. Christians have described it as a hedonistic and evil festival.

Pronoia has a very different, relaxed, positive, life-giving description. Though I might be a bit uncomfortable being there, it sounds like a blessing upon those who attend.

People fail to understand others' point of view every day. Sometimes they condemn, sometimes they live and let live. One result of condemnation is that any genuine exchange of ideas is avoided - everyone's mind is already made up. The negativity makes me sad, sick, exhausted.

The higher road avoids condemnation. (There are a plethora of assumptions built into that statement, yes.)

Peripheral to this post is the knowledge of how my mother and sister consider an aunt, who has departed from the family's Catholic faith. (Brother, father, cool grandparents, and assorted others, I don't know about.) By implication, they'd condemn me, too. That weighs on me.

About those alternate views.

I zipped back through "Hardcore Zen" at the end of last week, and this time some commentary at the end caught my attention. Warner says (and I paraphrase) that Ken Wilbur (Yes, the great KW, specifically) and his alternate consciousness states are spiritual fantasies, and not reality.

I want reality to be no more than this, but I want there to be more.

On the other hand, I've spoken with this other Zen master (not my label), who has claimed some interesting unexplained experiences, that would invoke some unconventional acts of physics. He doesn't claim to understand the mechanism or be able to repeat whatever-happened, so there's not much scientific value to be had.

I've no reason to doubt the sincerity of either "expert", but if asked about the ultimate reality, I suspect they'd have very different views. I think they'd both say that they are the universe, and vice versa, or something like that.

Faced with such opposing views, I tend to want to reconcile them, or pick a side, or something. But all I have is my own experience.

My own observations are varied. They're primarily of the mundane, but of beauty in the mundane. The morning sunlight casts shadows into Lower Randolph that are mesmerizing. I've never known anything to vanish without explanation, found myself instantaneously transported to another place, or walked with someone into a different dimension. I have felt the wind on my skin, enjoyed laying in bed on a Saturday morning, and slowly chewed a fresh-baked bagel. I've been threatened by strangers and recieved malevolence from coworkers. I've closed my eyes and felt what seemed like the depths of the ocean of reality, opened my eyes and felt as though I were standing at the bottom of it. I've opened my eyes and everything's been exactly the same, but completely different. I've opened my eyes and the same damn things are still there. Each was real to me when it happened.

One thing about Hardcore Zen that's so wonderful is that it encourages us to focus on what's going on right now, rather than pining for something else, somewhere else. A seeming tenet of Christianity is a tendency to look toward later - Jesus is gonna come during our lifetime! - rather than looking, wide-eyed and wondrous, at what's already here, now. The teachers who encourage people to think that getting somewhere else is desirable, do just the same thing.

What a ramble. The office has gotten loud so my train of thought is gone. Honestly, it's like being trapped in a Seinfeld episode, sometimes.

Accepting whatever comes along, not striving, seems to be a very Zen thing, but is there room in Zen for when the things that come along are just a little... odd? (In other words, does any existing system have room for reality-as-I-experience-it? Does it matter, and do I care?) There's a lot of pressure out there to fit in.

Sometimes I wish somebody would just tell me I'm on the right track, but there's nobody from whom I'd trust that proclamation.... save myself.

Enough. I can't think during this cacophony of voices.

There will probably be more on competing views: Pronoia is an odd chaser to Hardcore Zen.