Monday, August 10, 2009

Someone has to do this: A fool and clown for God and humanity's sake

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Shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday, Carl Kabat arrived outside a N-8 Minuteman III nuclear missile silo near New Raymer in Weld County. He donned his signature clown costume and breached the fences that surround the silo.

He hung banners on the fence. He kneeled in his yellow wig, his one-piece blue jumper adorned with patches and smiley faces and his outsized red shoes. And he prayed.

"St. Paul says we are fools for God's sake. I change it to say we are fools and clowns for God and humanity's sake," he said, explaining the clown get-up.

I never will forget his response when I asked him why he does such things, always landing himself in prison.

"Someone has to do this," he said with a laugh, adding that the missiles he attacks are 20 times more powerful than the one that wiped out 100,000 people in Hiroshima.

"Just one of those missiles could kill 2 million human beings. I have to do this."

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(And for my nitpick friends, please overlook the foolish misspelling on his placard and get the point.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Buddhist approach to happiness, according to Pico Iyer

We can’t change the world except insofar as we change the way we look at the world — and, in fact, any one of us can make that change, in any direction, at any moment.
You make your way to happiness not by fretting about it or trafficking in New Age affirmations, but simply by finding the cause of your suffering, and then attending to it, as any doctor (of mind or body) might do.
Think in terms of enemies, he suggests, and the only loser is yourself.
Happiness is not pleasure, they know, and unhappiness, as the Buddhists say, is not the same as suffering. Suffering — in the sense of old age, sickness and death — is the law of life; unhappiness is just the position we choose — or can not choose — to bring to it.
True happiness, in that sense, doesn’t mean trying to acquire things, so much as letting go of things (our illusions and attachments).
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Right Here, Right Now

Beautiful mash-up of Alan Watts & Chögyam Trungpa from YouTube:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mathematician sculpts "shadow" of 4th dimension

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New mathematics-based sculpture unveils fourth dimension

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From the linked story:
"The sculpture, designed by Adrian Ocneanu, professor of mathematics at Penn State, presents a three-dimensional 'shadow' of a four-dimensional solid object."
Wow. Just wow.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seeing small, beautiful joys

This hangs over my desk at work, and I wanted to share it with all of you:

I am not accustomed to rejoicing in things that are small, hidden, and scarcely noticed by the people around me....

Somehow I have become accustomed to living with sadness, and so have lost the eyes to see the joy and the ears to hear the gladness that belongs to God and which is to be found in the hidden corners of the world....

[Seeing the small and beautiful] is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded by lies....The reward of choosing joy is joy itself....There is so much rejection, pain, and woundedness among us, but once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy.

from The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The practice of mediocrity

By making un-extraordinary acts and behaviors our ordinary practice, we entrap ourselves from knowing how precious life really is. We don’t use opportunities that come our way as a means of expressing how special we really are. Instead, we walk the walk with the rest of the herd and soon find ourselves in such a deep rut of limitations we lose sight of our own value. We become trapped in mediocrity.

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I am guilty (more than I would like to admit) of making mediocrity my ordinary practice.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Important Truths, according to David @ Raptitude

David at Raptitude has posted a series of Nietzsche-esque aphorisms, most of which (OK --- all of which) are real gems.

Each one is worthy of serious reflection, but due to the word limit of Clipmarks (and because David wrote these, not me --- you must visit Raptitude for the whole shebang), I've only been able to post a sample.
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16. Cynicism is far too easy to be useful.

17. Every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as compelling and complicated as yours.

18. Whenever you hate something, it hates you back: people, situations and inanimate objects alike.

25. Putting something off makes it instantly harder and scarier.

27. Nobody knows more than a minuscule fraction of what’s going on in the world. It’s just way too big for any one person to know it well.

32. The greatest innovation in the history of humankind is language.

34. Everyone you meet is better than you at something.

35. Proof is nothing but a collection of opinions that match one’s own.

38. What makes human beings different from animals is that animals can be themselves with ease.

40. Whoever you are, you will die. To know and understand that means you are alive.

43. Almost every cliché contains a truth so profound that people have been compelled to repeat it until it makes you roll your eyes. But the wisdom is still in there.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Two salient comments on the passing of Michael Jackson

From The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan:

I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.

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From Julian Vigo, in Counterpunch:
I can only hope that Michael Jackson's death offers us all a moment of sobriety to reflect on how, what and why we believe the things we do as individuals and why our culture so often feeds off the fictions of negativity and violence produced by our media, rather than gravitate towards the dreams, the creativity and love that Jackson's music, dance, words and actions have given us all.

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For Michael Jackson, and for the anonymous billions on this planet whose lives are twisted and warped by the satanic values of the global corporate capitalist culture, we must work to build a new culture in the shell of the old. May we turn from judging one another in order to avoid our own flaws and miseries, and instead gravitate toward dreams, creativity, love, forgiveness, and kindness.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Sutra of the Crushed Volvo: Stuff, anxiety, and community

I got an important reminder today that at least where the country’s economic crisis is concerned, it’s really mostly just about stuff.

The reminder came in the form of a very large limb, about two feet in diameter, projecting out over my driveway from an ancient horse chestnut tree. The limb suddenly decided it had been hanging around long enough, and it just broke off, unannounced, and landed on top of my car....

A thing like this can be pretty depressing, but after a cold beer I got to thinking, “Heck, it’s just a car.” ...

And so it is with our economic crisis. Homes are plummeting in value, jobs are being lost (magazines I have depended on for assignments have been folding or cutting back their freelance budgets). But most people have places to turn to—relatives, churches, friends, food stamps. Losing a house to foreclosure can seem like a tragedy, but it’s not terminal cancer. It’s stuff. Renting isn’t the end of the world.

What makes our national crisis seem so terrible is that so many people have been so focused on their wealth, their possessions and their standard of living, we’ve stopped thinking of ourselves as part of a community. We see a house in foreclosure in the neighborhood, and we don’t think, “How terrible. I wonder if those people need help.” We just drive on by and go home to watch TV....

This all might seem a far cry from having a tree take out your old car, but my point is simply that a lot of what causes people to freak out these days in America is our fetishism of material goods. And a lot of our anxiety about the current crisis has to do with our loss of any sense of community.

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May I remember that life is about love, relationship, forgiveness, compassion, and community.

Not stuff.

In praise of Golden Boy Peanuts

Occasionally I'll hear a catchy song that celebrates the wondrous ordinariness of life, a stellar example being the song "Gold Boy Peanuts" by the Mountain Goats. Apropos of nothing, I found the chorus bouncing around in my head a few minutes ago,
there are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
so you can't buy golden boy peanuts
there are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
so you can't buy golden boy peanuts
and decided I wanted to hear the actual song, rather than just my mental reconstruction. A few Google searches later, and I'm still without the song (which is no real bother--I have the original Object Lessons:Songs about Products EP at home), but as a consolation I stumbled across this wonderful description of the song and its lyrics:

The Golden Boy peanut becomes the main attraction on the flashy streets of heaven. It is the reason for life—that elusive thing everyone searches for and few find. Don’t squeeze life for meaning anymore. Take a jaunt to your local pan-Asian supermarket and it can be yours for a low, low price.

The peanut seems like a good choice for ultimate meaning. Unassuming, nutritive, delicious. Why not? I’m not sure that life is best captured by the moments of high drama and intrigue. A huge percentage of it is occupied by thinking about food, staring at walls, and laughing senselessly. Why not valorize these small experiences over the scarce moments of capital-letter life (Bravery, Courage, Love, and the like)? Maybe we wouldn’t be in such a stressful hurry to do something Meaningful if we valued peanuts (literally and metaphorically).

In “Golden Boy,” The Mountain Goats cordially invite us to remember these wonderful little details of a day, to exalt and worship them. Do so and your heart will fill with lovely minutia until it overflows and spills red confetti on the dirty back of a winter street.

"There are no pan-Asian supermarkets down in hell."


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Ties that Bind

This beautiful, short sermon by the Rev. Scott Gerard Prinster (UU) reminded me of how crazily blessed my life has been, and how many of those blessings can be credited (or blamed, depending on my mood) to my parents.

Nothing has made me appreciate these often challenging blessings more than being a father myself. (Being a dad also revealed the constantly changing perspectives that growing and maturing afford you, particularly if you're willing to pay attention. Suddenly I was far more compassionate for my parents than I'd ever been in my pre-parent days.) I never really understood what my Mom and Dad meant when they said "I love you" until I said it to my daughter. It's like having a supernova right below my sternum, an explosion of bittersweet wonder and joy. Coming full circle, round 1.

The puzzle of our identities is indeed more complex than we want to admit, and how much of it is attributable to our folks, to their strengths and failings, we'll probably never know. So here's to you, Mom and Dad!

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I’ve also come to see that manhood is a changing state rather than a fixed set of qualities. In older adulthood, the man my father has become is almost nothing like the caricature I once created. Last week he left a phone message telling me that he was drinking green tea from the coffee company I had introduced him to. Green tea? Maturity has made us increasingly alike, and I’m grateful that my father is now both a man I like and one I don’t mind being like.

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You can listen to the sermon here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The spirit of Richard Feynman

I'm pretty sure the late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman would not have wanted to be seen as some sort of spiritual teacher, but I can't help feel buoyed and inspired by the joy, thoughtfulness, and genuineness he conveys in this series of interviews. To me, those are spiritual qualities. Enjoy!

"I don't feel frightened not knowing."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cooperation as a factor in evoution

Steve Davis does a fantastic job of arguing that evolution isn't simply about selfishness and competition, and that, in fact, cooperation seems to be the framework within which competition coheres.
Cooperation is a form of goodness, but how prevalent is it in nature? Well, we see cooperation between molecules, between cells, between organs, between organisms, between groups, and between groups of groups. How much cooperation do we need to see before conceding its significance? How blind do you have to be to ignore cooperation as a factor in evolution?

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Closed mind always wants to protect its right to be closed

Some insights from Deepak Chopra on how to open your mind:
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1. Stop believing that you're right. Examine the compulsion that forces you to be right all the time.

2. Don't make every argument us versus them.

3. Be less attached to winning and more attached to the truth.

4. Don't color every issue with morality. Right and wrong are generally useless when it comes to finding creative solutions.

5. Write down the five fundamental beliefs that guide your life. Now write down the best arguments against those beliefs.

6. When you are the most emotional about any issue, assume that you are blinding yourself. An open mind is calm, centered, flexible, and tolerant of opposing views.

7. When you are thinking of saying an idea that you know came from someone else, let go of it.

8. Most people either automatically agree or automatically disagree. Examine this trait in yourself and give it up.

9. Be aware of how you feel before you speak. Feelings are closer to the truth than words.

10. Walk in someone else's shoes before you judge them.

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We need to create a new culture

To reverse what is happening, we must create strong alternative ideas and hardy alternative institutions and communities, a counter culture that rejects the myths of Washington and Wall Street just as, in the 1960s, a generation put the establishment on the defensive or in the closet.
In any case, we need to act, but independent of those responsible for the mess, those exculpating them, those offering remedies that are mere manipulated shadows of the failure, and those engaged in misleading or misguided organizing on their behalf even if with purportedly noble intent.
The collapse of American culture was an inside job. Its cure is to be found on the outside, in a counter culture that is clear and worthy in its goals, eclectic in its alliances, and which builds community, recovers integrity and helps us to sing again. If we can't save our culture, we can at least create a new one.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

No greater love

A friend of mine played Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" to accompany the crucifixion scene from Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. I so loved that combination that I worked for a couple of hours early Easter morning to mash it up for my blog. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how the crucifixion speaks to me and what it means (I'm not your "usual" Christian --- whatever that looks like), but I cannot deny its power in my life.

Happy Easter, whatever you may believe!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The goal of the spiritual life

The goal of the spiritual life is to so transform the personality so that there becomes a natural, charming and attractive outpouring of focus on God, and compassionate identification and action toward our neighbor (wife, mother, lover, child, fellow worker, friend, enemy, opponent, etc.) The personality is permeated with the fruits of the Spirit. The discipline of the spiritual life leads to freedom from obsessively trying to keep rules which in the end fall short of loving action. 

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Free Will Astrology: Horoscopes for week of March 5th, 2009

"If you have ice cream, I will give it to you. If you have no ice cream, I will take it from you."- Rishi Suzuki

"For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." --- The Parable of the Talents, Gospel According to Matthew, 25:29

(July 23-August 22)
This horoscope presents three clues for you to work with. Here's the first: I know a psychotherapist's son who, while growing up, rarely received the benefits of his father's psychological expertise. "The shoemaker's child has no shoes," my friend says. Here's your second clue: In the Bible's book of Mark, Jesus declares, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house." The third clue: A neurologist of my acquaintance suffers from migraine headaches that he has been unable to cure. Now, Leo, I invite you to meditate on how these alienations may reflect situations that you're experiencing. If they sound familiar, take action. It's prime time to heal them.

Virgo (August 23-September 22)
One reason I've been put on this earth is to expose you to a kind of astrology that doesn't crush your free will, but instead clarifies your choices. In this horoscope, for instance, I'll crisply delineate your options so that you may decide upon a bold course of action that's most in tune with your highest values. Study the following multiple-choice query, then briskly flex your freedom of choice. Would you rather have love: 1. knock the wind out of one of your illusions, thereby exposing the truth about what you really want; 2. not exactly kick you in the butt, but more like pinch and spank you there, inspiring you to revise your ideas about what it means to be close to someone; 3. spin you around in dizzying yet oddly pleasurable circles, shaking up your notions about how to keep intimacy both interestingly unpredictable and soothingly stable.

The original source.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Don't Malign Others"

That is the text of this week's lojong, or mind-training, slogan. I think it is pretty self-explanatory, and is very appropriate for me, since I tend to transform my frustration with the world's imperfections into condemnation for the many "idiots" surrounding me. As my wife noted, that can make hanging out with me a drag. It's also not a good way of fulfilling my aspirations to become more loving and compassionate. (Duh.)

Here is what varied teachers of the Buddhadharma have to say about the meaning of this seemingly self-evident slogan:
You would like to put people in the wrong by saying disparaging things. However pleasantly coated with sugar and ice cream, underneath you are trying to put people down, trying to get revenge... You think that your virtues can only show because other people's are lessened, because they are less virtuous than you are. - Chogyam Trungpa

The next one is very easy to understand: "Don't malign others." We put a lot of energy and time into gossiping about others. Perhaps there's somebody, maybe it's just one person, that you have a problem with. Maybe it's Pearl, who is so pitiful. She is always feeling left out, and you find yourself reminded of your mother, who's also like that. Somehow Pearl and your mother become all mixed up together, and you find yourself continually irritated and disgusted by the pitifulness of Pearl, and it keeps triggering a lot of stuff in you. Yet you don't have the slightest interest in actually getting to know Pearl and finding out what's going on there. You have no desire to communicate with Pearl and find out who she is. Instead there's some kind of satisfaction that you get from not liking her, and you spend a lot of time and energy talking to yourself about Pitiful Pearl, or whoever it might be - Horrible Horatio or Miserable Mortimer. - Pema Chodron

Here the slogan is translated as "Don't Be Excited by Cutting Remarks":
In general, don't take joy in disparaging others. In particular, when another person says something bad about you, don't respond by talking maliciously about him to others. In fact, even if some injury has resulted, strive always to praise the good qualities of others without blaming this or that person. - Jamgon Kongtrul

Translated as "Do Not Laugh at Malicious Jokes":
The commentary here says more than the verse itself. Do not make bad jokes. The author is not advising us to avoid bad puns, but is referring to malicious sarcasm. Don't make fun of other people in ways that would bring pain to their hearts. The temptation is especially strong when it entails the double satisfaction of disparaging another person and exalting ourselves at the same time by showing off our cleverness. Those of us prone to this type of humor need to address this by changing the conditioning of our speech. All types of harsh speech should be abandoned to avoid harming ourselves and others as well. - Allan Wallace

Translated as
"Do Not Meet Abuse with Abuse":
If people say to us, 'You are not a good practitioner. You vows are useless,' we should not respond, by pointing out their defects, for instance telling a blind man that he is blind, or a lame man that he is a cripple. If we act like this, then both parties will be angry. Therefore, let us not utter a word that will harm or make others unhappy. When things are not going well, we should not blame anyone else. - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Simple and self-evident but oh so hard to put into practice.

The original sources for these commentaries may be found here.

Free Will Astrology: Horoscopes for week of February 26, 2009

I always get two horoscopes because I'm on the cusp.

Or is that the brink?

An American residing in Berlin had leukemia as well as AIDS. Doctors did a bone marrow transplant to cure the leukemia, obtaining stem cells from a healthy donor. The operation was a success -- the leukemia disappeared. As an added and surprising bonus, the HIV also left the patient's body. He has been free of both diseases for two years. I predict a psychological version of this double cure for you in the coming weeks, Leo. The healing you receive for one type of suffering will unexpectedly heal another kind, too.

There's a rung missing on your ladder of success. I suppose you could see that as a problem. It means you won't be able to climb higher by taking two manageable steps, but will be compelled to attempt a giant upward stride. I see this as potentially a good thing, though. The missing rung is exactly the kind of glitch that could activate your dormant reserves of ingenuity. It might even force you to become so smart and resourceful that you'll ultimately rise to a point you wouldn't have been able to if your ascent had come more easily.

Dual healing, dormant reserves of ingenuity, and difficult ascents. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered for these disturbing times.

Check out more from the original source.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

LSD makes soldiers laugh too much to kill well

In this minute and a half of footage, we can see why LSD scared the living bejeezus out of the powers that be and why it had to be completely demonized. After all, you can't blow people up when you're laughing your head off pondering the living, breathing mystery that is the cosmos all around you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thoughts on indulging in guilt

There is an Oglalla aquifer of guilt sitting a few inches below the surface of the American psyche, and it is sapping us of our power. Is there a solution? We are a positive-thinking and results-oriented nation, we tell ourselves, so if I were really going to play the American game, I would spell out some E-Z tips for managing this anxiety and present them in handy numbered form. You might even try to follow them, only to discover a week later that you have done nothing of the kind. So I will forbear with solutions. After all, I don't want to make you feel guilty about continuing to feel guilt.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On joint kinships and permanently partial identities

Engage with and relax into my ambiguous, manifold nature.
"People are not afraid of their joint kinships with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints. The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point."[6]
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