Saturday, February 28, 2009

Knowing Not Knowing

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.
~ Alan Watts ~
One of the hardest concepts for each individual member of humankind to wrap his/her head around is knowing not knowing. We live in a world in which knowing is supreme -- the time, our age, how much money is in the bank, our address. Smart people rise to the top. Those who think they know run the world.

But too often, smart individuals aren't necessarily wise individuals. Wise people are those few who accept knowing not knowing. In fact, the more they know they don't know, the more they don't know they know.

Yes, I know that sounds (in the common vernacular) like unmitigated gibberish, but knowing not knowing is pure science and poetry. It is the only part of existence we can each be sure of, then again, can we be sure of anything?

Acknowledging knowing not knowing is a tad bit scary. The one common fear that our species shares is the fear of not knowing that which we cannot know, the unknown. In those quiet moments when we are deep alone within our souls, we grasp that the unknown is ten times ten times ten more than the possibly or potentially known.

So, for me, the greatest irony of ironies is that in our materialistic world the wisest of the wise -- those who fully embrace knowing not knowing -- are the people most likely to swept aside. The people most likely not to be listened to. The people most likely not to be used as societal models.

But they shed not a tear for knowing not knowing deflates the ego and so, what's there to cry about?

The Projected Self

"He seemed like such a friendly guy!" "They kept to themselves, but were always polite and cordial when we saw them in the neighborhood." "My son played over there a lot. He seemed like such a great father." These are the kinds of statements we often hear about a person who has committed some sort of heinous act. Friends, family and coworkers expressing shock that this person -- of all people -- provided no inkling of the carnage that followed. (Of course, there are just as many cases in which people close to the person aren't shocked at all.)

As much as we might like to think otherwise, it is next too impossible to know another person. What we so often see only is what they want us to see -- the projected self. Even in long-term monogamous relationships, it's fairly routine to learn new things about your beloved 40 or 50 years into the relationship!

Not only do other people not truly know us, but we really don't know ourselves that well either! That's a topic though for a different post than this one.

This general topic came to mind as I was thinking about our rather loose community in the blogosphere. There are several of us that visit each others blogs daily and through posts and comments have become virtual friends. It strikes me as a rather weird phenomena since we really don't know each other.

This is not to suggest a person can't catch a glimpse of another person's soul through their writings, but we sometimes err when we confuse that brief glimpse with actually knowing. For all the eloquent words posted on any blog, we have no way of knowing if the person behind the words is sitting at their keyboard buck naked and viewing porno on their monitor in between keystrokes!!

This is particularly pertinent to this very blog. Unlike most people, I share a great deal of personal information in this space. It's not because I'm exceedingly open nor drastically naive; it's because of the way my brain is wired. I've always shared more information about myself than I'm sure most people would consider prudent, but it's just the way I've always been.

Yet, for all the information I DO share, there are volumes that I don't. Sometimes -- solely because of my patent inability fully to express myself -- I don't know how to explain certain things so that anyone else would understand. At other times, I don't share things simply because it's not the part of myself I want to project.

The upshot of this specific rambling entry is to remind all of us (me included) that the person we come to know through a blog is not the bona fide person behind it. We only get to scratch the bare surface and really have no inkling of what lies below.

Loonier Still

As I've reported in this space, I have applied for disability, both with state and federal agencies. I recently won one case on the state level (it means I qualify for Medicaid) after being seen by a psychologist at the behest of the state. I requested my file and received portions of it yesterday.

While we each have certain images about ourselves -- some that agree with the opinions of others and some that do not -- it's a rather interesting experience reading what several professionals think about you! It's even more interesting when the deciding diagnosis is NOT something you listed as the cause of your disability.

I expected that the rationale regarding the approval of my claim would center around my physical disabilities (fibromyalgia and Klinefelter's Syndrome) in combination with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). However, this turns out not to be the case at all! My physical issues basically were ignored and the psychological diagnosis was not AS; it is Schizotypal Personality Disorder (SPD).

I don't know about you, but, any diagnosis with the label "schizo" at the front, is rather alarming. Most people, me included, generally associate schizo with schizophrenia. It turns out though that, while SPD is in the same family as schizophrenia, it's definately not the same thing. Whew! That had me really worried.

In fact, after doing some web research tonight, I found that SPD and AS are very closely related and many of the symptoms overlap. In Europe, many mental health professionals believe these two conditions describe the same general malady; in the US, each is treated as distinct.

Here are the general symptoms of AS and SPD from the Mayo Clinic. I've placed a red X next to the symptoms that I seem to have.

Asperger's Syndrome
  • Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject X
  • Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures X
  • Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes X
  • Appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings X
  • Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor X
  • Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
  • Moving clumsily, with poor coordination X
  • Having an odd posture or a rigid gait X
  • Incorrect interpretation of events, including feeling that external events have personal meaning
  • Peculiar thinking, beliefs or behavior X
  • Belief in special powers, such as telepathy
  • Perceptual alterations, in some cases bodily illusions, including phantom pains or other distortions in the sense of touch X
  • Idiosyncratic speech, such as loose or vague patterns of speaking or tendency to go off on tangents X
  • Suspicious or paranoid ideas
  • Flat emotions or inappropriate emotional responses
  • Lack of close friends outside of the immediate family X
  • Persistent and excessive social anxiety that doesn't abate with time X
So, looking at the scorecard, my score with AS is 7/8 and for SPD it's 5/9. To my untrained eye, AS seems more on target with some overlap with SPD.

But what do I know? I'm loony. :-)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Like Yabadabadoo

For scores of children throughout the late 60s all the way to the present day, the animated TV show The Flintstones is your typical cartoon. The setting and characters are funny and irreverent. What surprises most children, however, is when they learn that the program was aired from 1960-66 as a prime time show aimed at adults. In fact, shows like The Flintstones and Gilligan's Island (another prime time show), showcase double entendre humor -- jokes and gags that have different meanings related to the age of the viewer!

Now, for a rather odd transition, this got me to thinking about the bible. Actually, I didn't wake up this morning thinking about the bible, but was intrigued by a post at A Time to Rend entitled "Different Angles". The thrust of the post had to do with how two people -- coming from differing perspectives -- could read certain passages in the bible and arrive at completely different conclusions.

From my perspective, one of the inherent problems with modern day Christianity is that adherents read and understand their holy document out of context. Most of the bible is written in the midrash literary form. Midrash is never taken literally as it is an allegorical form open to multiple interpretations.

Because midrash is not prevalent in modern western society, today's believers take a great deal of the messages contained in the bible at face value. It's sort of like watching The Flinstones from a child's perspective without understanding the more mature aim of the jokes and pratfalls. While a child may glean out of the jokes a fragment of the intended humor, there's no way in the world the majority will understand the more adult nature of the material.

So, when a present day Christian reads a passage in a particular book, they replace the intended context with a present day context and this difference can radically alter the perception of what a particular author may be trying to get at.

Some Thoughts on Vanity

If we're at all honest with ourselves, a blog is a form of vanity. It's a modern way of saying, "Hey, look at me. Look at what I can do." It's true of every blog I visit and it's just as true for me. I'm certainly not suggesting that there are not other motivations involved -- as for most of us there ARE -- but when we clear the cobwebs from our eyes, there is a streak of vanity staring back in the mirror.

I once wrote here that one of the things I like about blogging is that I seem to collect and integrate my thoughts better in writing. So, I reasoned, this format allows me the opportunity to put pen to virtual paper and then to read what I have written. But let's get real! I could very easily set up something akin to a blog on my own computer for my eyes only. I have chosen instead to put my private thoughts and words in a public forum. Vanity strikes again!

While a lot of people view vanity as a bad thing, I believe that a certain amount of vanity is healthy SO LONG AS WE EACH KEEP IT IN BALANCE WITH EVERYTHING ELSE. Of course, that's the problem we each share. It has a tendency to thrust itself to the forefront and to blot everything else out.

It's a constant battle for every one of us to keep our egos in check. Though many of us would hate to admit it, deep down almost all of us can identify with the song by Tears for Fears, Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Question for You

As I travel around the blogosphere, I've noticed that more and more blogs utilize comment moderation. While I respect each blog author's right to moderate comments left, I must be honest to say that I don't understand it UNLESS you've been a victim of incessant spamming. Under that one circumstance, I can understand why you might wish to cull out the consistent junk.

Are there other reasons so many people moderate the comments section? If so, I'd like to hear them.

For myself, since I value a free flow of opinion, I have never turned comment moderation on and I don't plan to. In the 4+ years this blog has been on the web, I've only deleted one or two comments in total because of one person bodily threatening another. Short of making a direct physical threat, you can say almost anything here your little heart desires.

I reason that they're your words and thoughts, not mine.

Every Heartbeat

We live in a modern technological society that has become overly enthralled with all the gizmos and gadgets we have created. So many people express oohs and aahs at the newest iPod, cellphone, or whatever else hits the market. We go gaga at the thought of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes.

While I certainly won't deny that I too sometimes find myself awestruck by our rate of technological progress, there's one type of contraption that I think exceeds all these other marvels by a wide margin -- the human body.

If a person owns a vehicle that lasts for 300,000 or more miles, most of us will be royally impressed. Most autos bite the dust long before this time. But when you compare a Honda or Toyota to the human heart, there is no comparison whatsoever.

A human being that lives until the age 70 will possess a heart that will beat approximately 2.6 billion times over a lifetime. That's a mind boggling number, particularly when one considers how poorly we treat our bodies! We drink, smoke, toke, exercise too little, eat too much and generally treat our bodies in the shoddiest of manners. Yet, despite this ill treatment, we can expect hundreds of millions and even billions of steady heartbeats.

Whatever we can envision and whatever we will build, I find it hard to believe that we could ever create something as magnificent as a heart or a waterfall or an eagle. Life itself is the greatest marvel of all and it's a marvel we can't begin to comprehend.

A Big White Blanket

Last night it snowed and snowed and snowed. I awoke this morning to a winter wonderland; a big white blanket on everything. It will melt in short order as today's high will be in the mid 40s (it's already 34 degrees as of 8:44 a.m.) and all this snow will be a distant memory by tomorrow.

As I slipped into slumber land last night while watching the huge flakes fall from the sky, I asked myself, "Why snow?" Of course, the local meteorologists can describe the scientific basis for snow -- clouds, moisture, temperature, etc., but none of us can really know why snow!

In fact, we can't answer the real why of anything. Why earth? Why people? Even why tuna?

The best we can do is to conjure up descriptions of things we will never understand. In the end, that's all science really is, a discipline that sets about to describe what we can't truly define. (Conversely, religion attempts to define what we can't define!)

So, as I drifted off to sleep, I left behind the conscious world amidst a different question -- Why not snow?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kinda Sort of Frank

A few weeks back I was on a blog that was reporting that in a poll fundamentalist Christians show less human foibles than atheists, so America would be far better off with conservative Christians in charge. Being the indomitable skeptic that I suppose I am, I questioned the veracity of the poll because it was a self-reporting sort. Who's to say that all the folks taking the poll answered honestly?

In fact, I submit that chances are really strong that the fundamentalists were less than candid. Why do I think this? Well, if you put forth a certain perspective of the world, the last thing most of us wish to do is paint ourselves as hypocrites! So, even if a stranger asks you a question, most people wouldn't want to expose that they believe one way, but behave quite to the contrary.

For example, let's say you've self-identified yourself as a devout pacifist. The interviewer asks if you've ever struck someone in anger. If you answer YES, then you're admitting that your beliefs obviously aren't that strong. Since many people obtain their feelings of self-worth through the labels that separate them from others, admitting that you're just as flawed as anyone else shreds that veil of separation.

Even if a person is filling out a questionnaire on paper anonymously, providing genuinely honest answers might mean having to admit to yourself that you're indeed a hypocrite. That is sometimes worse than admitting it to others!

Of course, during my comments on the aforementioned blog, someone pointed out that a conservative Christian would believe that lying is bad, so we must believe that such people answered each question honestly.

For me, this requires a great leap of faith. Since polls of this nature are purely voluntary, people who have something to hide -- from the outside world or themselves -- might simply refuse to participate. If you don't allow difficult questions to be asked, then you don't have to be frank. You can continue to delude yourself that your behavior is always in line with your beliefs.

In the end, I don't believe fundamentalists are any better nor any worse than other segments of the population. We all make mistakes. We all make miscalculations. We all take more than we need and give less than we should. And we all fail to live up to our high and mighty opinions of ourselves.

Don't Worry, Be...Content

Back in 1988, it seemed a person couldn't go anywhere to escape hearing the song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin. Deejays played it constantly and, even years later, it kept popping up in a variety of ad campaigns. While the song is certainly light and lyrical, there's one aspect of it that sort of bothers me -- the message!

I don't know about you, but I really think the emotion of happiness is greatly overrated. This ideal causes many people to feel down on themselves because, at any given moment, they discover they aren't happy. Discovering that you aren't happy, when you're told by society that you SHOULD be, only makes a person more unhappy than they were to start with! Talk about a double whammy!

Another problem with happiness is that it tends to produce smiles. Now I'm not suggesting that a smile here and there is a bad thing -- far from it. However, being continuously happy necessitates maintaining a smile for long periods of time. From a physical standpoint, keeping a smile plastered on one's face places a lot of stress on the facial muscles. In time, those muscles will encounter fatigue which will cause the corners of one's mouth to droop and, thereby, will turn into a frown. A frown is a sure sign of unhappiness and, as discussed above, we already know what society thinks about that!

Another problem with happiness is that it only holds meaning in light of its opposite. Consequently, the truly happy person must concurrently be a truly unhappy person. It's sort of like living on a wild roller coaster. You go surging upward (happy) to be followed by plunging downward (unhappy) and you follow this same track over and over again.

If a Taoist had written a similar song, it would be entitled, "Don't Worry, Be Content". Contentment is not synonymous with happiness. In fact, in my view, it represents the middle ground between happiness and unhappiness. It encompasses embracing the wonders of this life, while not fretting over what's beyond one's control.

In essence, the content person goes with the flow and enjoys the ride, wherever it may lead.

Everywhere One Looks

When I tell people about where I live -- in a small town in a rural county on the edge of the forest -- many will say that it's far easier for me to get in touch with nature. In one way, this is true. I often hear coyotes howling in the evening across the bay. It is not infrequent that I see deer, opossums, raccoons, chipmunks and a wide assortment of birds in my back yard. On occasion, I might even spy an elk, bobcat or fox in the general vicinity.

But anyone, anywhere can get in touch with nature. All one needs to do is look.

I don't care if you live in the penthouse suite of a fancy building in the heart of New York City or Paris. It doesn't matter if you live in a slum or a ghetto. Nature is all around all of us every single moment. The key is to look.

While I may watch a raccoon scurry between my house and the neighbors, I'm sure you can find a butterfly, moth, ant or ladybug to watch. While I may sit drenched by a sheet of rain, you can sit under the sunlight or watch rainless clouds float overhead. While I can relish the silence that comes with living in a small community, you can relish the many noises that come from living in a big city.

If you desire to be one with Tao, you can accomplish your aim regardless of where you call home. The only requisite is to look.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Priceless as Nothing

A common sentiment expressed in everyday Americana is "It's better than nothing". The thought is usually uttered when someone has received something of what they believe is of little value. It's as if to say, "It might not be much, but it is better than nothing at all."

It's certainly not a surprising statement when one considers the general ethos of western, Christian-based society. Our world is about possessing things, people, ideas and money. A person's status in the community is tied to the amount of things they possess. A person's piety is defined by their relationship with God, the great something. Heck, even our own self-worth too often is married to the idea of having or being something. To have nothing is thought to be the worst thing imaginable!

Yet, from the standpoint of Taoist thought, nothing is the greatest element in the universe. It is priceless beyond compare. If nothing never existed, then no other thing could exist too.

Every thought, feeling, object, person or concept only finds its definition when juxtaposed to nothing. It is the very space of nothingness that envelopes each of us that leads us to distinguish between ourselves and others.

When all is said and done, chances are that, when we die, we are [re]united with nothing. We become nothing and nothing becomes us. It is in this complete nothingness that we find ultimate harmony and peace.

It could well be said that nothing genuinely is a something...all its own.

Lessons from a Cedar

Catty-corner from our house in back stands a vacant home built in the latter portions of the 1800s. It's owned by a local real estate person who had started to fix it up, but dropped the project in mid-course. So, it's not a derelict; it's simply old and vacant.

The piece of property the house sits on is gorgeous. There is a sloping yard ringed by several large majestic trees. One of these trees -- the 3rd tallest cedar -- has struggled mightily with our many storms. It has lost two main limbs and numerous branches. During the major storm of December 2007, it took, what I thought at the time, would be its fatal blow.

The largest limb from the midpoint was ripped from the tree. Not only was the limb thrown to the ground, but a huge chunk of the main trunk came with it! When I surveyed the damage, I was certain that the entire tree would come crashing down the next time we had even a modest windstorm.

Though we've had several windstorms since, including a small one last night, the tree remains standing. I gaze up at it every night before I fall asleep and every morning as I awaken. I've even gone over to talk to it several times. What do I say? I thank it for its powerful message.

Life isn't always pretty. Storms are natural and each one can take a little or a lot from the best of us. As we age, we each resemble this majestic cedar -- we sustain nicks, cuts and gouges. But if we follow our path (as this cedar follows its own), we can continue to stand strong despite our less than wholeness.

We can still provide shelter for others. We can still nourish the community. Most of all, we can stand as testament to Tao, that mystery of life.

Inevitably, the mighty cedar will one day die just as each of us shall die. Trees, however, continue to generate and sustain life around them. As they decay, they enrich the soil which brings forth new life.

We can only hope that our deaths do the same.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Note on Followers

As should be readily evident, I haven't switched my template from the classic blogspot setup. Consequently, I don't have access to many of the new tools available on blogger. That's okay by me because I didn't establish TRT to do anything fancy. I'm not suggesting that some of the new widgets aren't really cool, but my concentration here is on exploring topics and ideas.

Since I don't have the necessary widget automatically to add "followers" of this here blog, I have added the list manually on my own. For me, this offers a key advantage. When you use the widget, all you get when you click on a person's name is their blog profile. When you click a follower's name here, you're magically transported to the person's blog (or one of their blogs).

This difference is important to me because my purpose is not simply to invite people to read my words and ideas. Since Taoism is a tapestry of thought, I genuinely want visitors to explore other Taoist and like-minded blogs as well. And that's why I work so hard every week to add more and more links to the right side column.

One of the most gratifying aspects of this whole experience is the number of visitors who regularly make use of the links provided. It is my sincere hope that the words and ideas of all of us inspire and motivate you to look at the world in a manner you may not be used to and for you to reciprocate by causing us to be inspired by your thoughts and words as well.

Exchanging This for That

By the mid 1980s, I realized that mainstream Christianity -- the faith I had grown up in -- didn't speak to me. There were too many aspects that one was supposed to accept on faith alone that didn't compute in my cerebral cortex. When I would express my doubts to clergy or fellow adherents, the simplistic answer I received over and over again was "Put your faith in God". However, if humankind was created in the image of this being AND he/she endowed us with a rational intellect, why are religions so bent on asking their followers willfully to ignore their capacities for complex reasoning?

So, for nearly a 20 years, I went searching for a belief system that seemed to make more sense to me. For awhile, I didn't look very hard and counted myself as somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. In the late 90s, I made several friends who were Quakers and I even tried out a Friends Meeting for a time.

What drew me to the Friends was the open-ended nature of their beliefs. There were no confessions of faith or creeds a person had to ascribe to in order to take part. More importantly, their "church service" didn't resemble any other church service that I'd ever been involved with.

One section of Quakers (though certainly not all) held that there was no need for clergy because God or whatever you wished to call it didn't need an intermediary. The supreme one lives inside each of us and all we need to do to find it is to look inside ourselves (foreshadows of my move to Taoism).

Rather than have an organized service replete with programs, unison readings, preselected hymns, confessions of faith and a sermon, a Friends Meeting is conducted in silence! We would arrange the chairs into a circle and then sit there meditating/contemplating for the better part of one hour. If someone felt moved to speak, they did. If you didn't feel moved to speak, you didn't.

The rationale here is that most Christian rituals were devoid of personal meaning. Attendees get so used to the weekly formula that they perform their actions as robots without really thinking about the importance or significance of why they are doing whatever it is. By eschewing these rituals, Quakers hope to instill a deeper personal relationship between you and your creator.

They convinced me of their particular way...for about two months. One day as I was sitting quietly in the circle, it dawned on me that the Quaker's non-ritualized service was a ritual all its own. Every Sunday we followed the same script -- circle the chairs and sit quietly. In the end, it wasn't that much different from the ritualized services they thought they were avoiding.

Something else dawned on me. I didn't need to come to this particular place on a given day at a given time to meditate. I didn't need to sit in this circle with my friends to get in touch with the cosmos inside of me. Some Sundays I just didn't feel like it, so I'd sit their plotting out the coming work week or, maybe, try to remember the words of a song I'd heard on the radio!

I realized that finding the depths inside my heart was such a personal experience that, for me, it was best done all by my lonesome. I didn't need a church, religion or group of fellow believers to help me get there. All I needed was a quiet place to empty myself.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting a Bad Rap

We humans are complex beings. There are a whole host of variables that make us what we are. Of these variables, the one that tends to be criticized the most is our emotions. In fact, many people seem to believe that, if we could strip away our emotions, we could be perfect beings.

Religions constantly warn us about "sins of the flesh". While it's certainly true that their emphasis is on actions, the impetus for these so-called carnal behaviors comes from our emotional selves. People don't engage in gluttony, avarice or 24/7 sexual pursuits unless they are spurred to activity by base emotional needs and desires.

On the other side of the pond, many believers in Eastern philosophies (Taoism included) tend to treat emotions with the same suspicion. We are urged to move beyond emotion to a place of emptiness to find nirvana or tranquility. In this vein, emotions are viewed as obstacles in our way to self-enlightenment.

For me, neither thought system does adequate justice to our emotions. Our emotional selves are not the enemy; they are part and parcel of being fully human. In fact, emotions are part of our individual paths -- they are integral to our way.

While Taoistic thought sometimes gives a short shrift to our emotional makeup, I think it comes closest to acknowledging it has equal footing with all our other human aspects. The chief mantra of Taoism is balance or harmony and our emotions are important facets in obtaining this end.

The key simply is not to allow our emotional states to overrule other variables. If a person is forever negative -- hateful, violent, and self-loathing -- then positive opportunities may come knocking at our door, but we miss them because we are blinded. Just the same, a person who is forever positive -- loving, kind, gentle and filled with self-worth -- may overlook genuine dangers strewn in our path.

More importantly, emotions are what provide us with the delectable flavor that we call life on planet earth. A person devoid of emotion can't revel in the ecstasy of poetry, art and music or learn from the seemingly unstoppable pain of mistakes and misfortune.

In essence, we are what we are because we laugh and we cry.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Forward Toward the Past

With the two-headed monster of climate change and a depressed economy staring millions in the face, much attention has been turned toward mass public transit. Local governments are clamoring for larger state and federal investments in bus systems...and train systems.

The town where I grew up -- Kansas City, MO -- once boasted of one of the best streetcar systems in the nation. There was over 300 miles of track that supported streetcars, trolleys and one subway. But in the 1950s, during the Eisenhower push for more highways, Kansas City turned its back on this wonderful form of mass transit and the last streetcar finished its run during the year I was born, 1957.

A few trolleys continued to run after that time because I vaguely remember catching one a few times at the Waldo station during the late 60s. But soon the trolleys too were dead and so the tracks lay vacant.

Eventually, a lot of the tracks were torn up and the rail beds were converted into walking/biking trails. The trains themselves were shipped to other cities or simply destroyed. In essence, a once thriving infrastructure was reduced to nothing.

There are some people in Kansas City (lots of other cities too) who believe that one answer to the city's transportation woes would be an intercity train system! So, work has begun to investigate the feasibility. It's a fairly easy guess -- in today's bleak economic times -- that such grand ideas will prove to be far too expensive to implement.

Had people not been so short-sighted, the basic infrastructure would still exist today and all it would have needed was some modernizing. As indicated above, tracks used to crisscross the city connecting north to south and east to west.

Hopefully, painful lessons such as this will teach us something. When looking forward, don't get so caught up in the new vision or technology that you end up throwing away something that is valuable. Sometimes, the best way to look forward is to look backward first.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Each Has Its Own Way

The tragic incident of the pet chimpanzee attacking the owner's friend has spurred a lot of comments on the news and in the blogosphere. I had wanted to let the issue sit within me for a few days before offering my opinion.

In one respect, I think it's very important to honor all beings. The animals who live in our homes should be afforded respect and dignity. They ARE part of the family -- both individual families and the family of Tao. We need to treat them as unique individuals with their own specific personalities.

That said, Sandra Herold went too far. It's one thing to nurture a "pet" (personally, I don't like that word), but it's quite another to treat one being as if it is something else. In this specific case, Herold treated Travis the Chimp as a human being. According to published reports, she bathed with him, slept with him and treated him as a surrogate for her late husband.

Like with each human, animals have a way (or path). Much of their way is instinctual -- biologically pre-programmed. Each species reacts to stimuli based on their instincts and, when we forget this, it is at our own peril.

So, from a Taoist perspective, what went wrong in this particular situation is that Sandra Herold tried to force Travis on a path that was unnatural for him. She tried to supersede her will for his and his will ultimately won out (as it should).

This analysis is not to suggest that future chimpanzees cannot evolve to the point in which they are more human-like. If this turns out to be their way, then, maybe, the world's future will mimic Planet of the Apes. But for right now, this is not their way and no amount of a person's willing can change this fact.

Not Knowing

The understanding of the small cannot be compared to the understanding of the great. A few years cannot be compared to many years. How do we know this? The morning mushroom does not know of the waxing and waning of the moon. The cicada does not know of spring and autumn, for theirs are but short lives.
~ The Book of Chuang Tzu, a snippet from Chapter One ~
Over one week ago in a post entitled, "A Limited Frame of Reference", I discussed the above concept in far less eloquent terms than Chuang Tzu. As the sage aptly points out, all we need do to understand our small perspective of the cosmos is to look at the natural world than surrounds us. Since we are part of nature, we likewise follow these same patterns.

We genuinely "know" only that which we can experience through our senses. While humankind has certainly been endowed with the abilities to imagine, contemplate and theorize, none of these abilities confers knowledge upon us. Since we can only experience death when we have died -- and we're not even sure we even can experience it then -- any discussion of what we believe re death is pure conjecture.

Likewise, any ideas we have about the ultimate source of life is also speculation. We truly don't know what it is and, like the cicada, there is no way possible for us to know as our lives are too ephemeral to grasp the length and breadth of infinity.

What can set us free is not what so many people think. Pretending that a person knows God (or whatever term you prefer) is both pretentious and delusional. Even worse, it doesn't really answer any of the key questions on the minds of the faithful. Religious adherents are just as apt as most anyone else to wonder what the purpose of life is and how does a person find the ultimate answer.

No, what sets us free is knowing that we can't know. When we come to understand that the answers are entirely elusive, we no longer incessantly need to ask the same questions over and over again. We just let them float away into the ether and embrace the absolute freedom that not knowing bestows.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Once the Dots Are Connected

One question that each of us entertains, at one time or another, is: Why am I here? We each wrestle with trying to understand the purpose of our individual lives and that of our entire species. This topic becomes more pertinent the older we get because, as we age, the end of this worldly road is no longer merely a shadow on a distant horizon -- it's waiting for us around only a few corners!

For me, how a person views their connection with all things makes all the difference in the world. If a person takes the view that he/she is an isolated atom amongst billions upon billions of other isolated things and beings, the discovery of purpose is elusive and becomes bound up solely in what is inside of the person.

If, on the other hand, a person takes the view that she/he is but one strand in the overall cosmic tapestry, then the search for purpose is a lot less burdensome and is not focused solely on self. The question itself takes on a whole new meaning. It's not what is MY purpose, but what is purpose or, even further, is there purpose at all?

If we think about it, the whole concept of purpose is a human construct. It is derived from the artificial need both to recognize and understand cause and effect. Consequently, another way to ask the proverbial question is: What effect will my existence cause on the world?

To be truthful, it's a question that can't genuinely be answered because each existence creates ripple effects that move from the center toward points known AND unknown. There is no way for any of us to know how far and wide our ripples will travel.

For example, I have no way of knowing what effect the words in this entry will have on anyone else. For the most part, I don't know who will read them and who won't. And I certainly have no way of knowing how and if my words here will impact another life (heck, even my own life) who will create ripples of their own which may impact other lives that will create ripples of their own and on and on and on...

In the end, I think the drive to find purpose is greatly overrated. So, I've decided to quit trying to figure out something that I know, going in, I can't figure out. Even if I could assemble all the data in a cosmic spreadsheet, my feeble human brain wouldn't be able to make heads nor tails of it!

I just accept that what is, is. In reality, what more do I or any of us need to know?

We're here.

We're alive.

We're connected.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A New Place to Hang?

Woody over at The Path of Water has launched a new website, The New Taoist Community. Here's how he describes the purpose of this virtual gathering place:
Welcome to the New Taoist Community - an experimental site for philosophical Taoists, Pantheists, Zen Buddhists and others with an interest in the fundamentals underlying Taoism to explore the subject and find ways to develop a meaningful communal approach to expressing their beliefs in the 21st century.
The site already features several good articles on [philosophical] Taoism plus he's set up a forum for discussions. So, check it out. A bunch of us have a new place to hang!

Dropped Line

Here's another thing to add to the "Poverty Sucks" file. In an effort to hold down our expenses, we (muffled crying here) gave up our unlimited calling plan and dropped down to basic service. In doing so, we lost one tool that we hadn't even considered -- voice mail. Now, when someone calls our home, if we're not there to answer it, it rings and rings and rings and rings and...

It's amazing how our technology becomes so indispensable in our lives. When a service or product is new, we often think not having it is not such a big deal. Since we're use to doing the things the old fashion way, many of us resist the very idea of change! However, once we decide to take the dive and jump on the techno merry-go-round, it feels really strange when the music stops.

Say It Plain

It often drives me crazy that so many of us have difficulty saying anything plainly anymore. Tonight on the news I heard again three words that have become media mainstays: "improvised explosive device". Why don't they just say "bomb"? That's what it is!

Of course, I already know the answer. It's the very same reason many call creationism intelligent design. It's rebranding -- taking a word or phrase with a negative connotation and trying to give it an aura of something less toxic.

Calling a bomb an "improvised explosive device" doesn't sound as violent and calling creationism intelligent design makes it sound more mainstream. In the end, though, it doesn't matter how one tries to dress up a concept.

A bomb is a bomb.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One Explanation

The Taoist perception of the real world differs essentially from our usual Western one. We tend to think, diagrammatically, of a world of separate things -- some of them alive -- arranged in an independent space. We take it for granted that these lumps of independent "thing" "cause" each other, "act on" each other as they "move about" in empty space, and pass through a series of static states of change.

Even our philosophy and science limit themselves to finding substantial "things", carefully divided from one another by definition, which will "explain" the real world. Idealism calls them ideas, materialism calls them atoms, with their sub-atomic particles. We act on the assumption that our world is a structure assembled of solid building-bricks in many different shapes and sizes, all quite independent of the observer; each concept which denotes one of these building-bricks, its connection with others, or its activities, we take to exclude for ever its opposite or its own negative. The shapes of the building-bricks are fixed, mutually exclusive, and, by implication, unchangeable.

Change happens, we assume, by one "thing" turning into "something else". The way we experience and measure time is by dividing it up into countable moments, each of which is separate and, in an abstract way, identical to all others, however large or infinitely small we may choose to make them.

Taoism sees all this as schematic, vulgar and absurd. It recognizes that, though fixed concepts referring to things and states can be extracted by human thought from the mobile reality, and can be useful, there is actually no way of reconstructing the mobility of the real by adding up fixed concepts.

Therefore, the most important element -- the only element that matters -- is always left out of the ordinary ideas most of us have, on which we base our worlds and with which we try to come to terms with them. All static conceptualism is in the last resort impotent. For even our most sophisticated cosmological reasoning arises from, and leads back to, integral concepts which have this enormous primary fallacy built into them.

The Tao which Taoism knows, and with which its art is concerned, is a seamless web of unbroken movement and change, filled with undulations, waves, patterns of ripples and temporary "standing waves" like a river. Every observer is himself an integral function of this web. It never stops, never turns back on itself, and none of its patterns of which we can take conceptual snapshots are real in the sense of being permanent, even for the briefest moment of time we can imagine.
~from Tao: The Chinese Philosophy of Time & Change by Philip Rawson and Laszlo Legeza ~

Looking Up

Every person is shaped by their experiences and habits. Though we often don't think about it deeply, many of our routine activities greatly influence how we interact with the world around us.

Here's one example. Unlike most people in the western world, I don't sleep a foot or so above the floor. I sleep on an old futon mattress ON the floor. I haven't regularly slept in a bed for nearly twenty years and the few times I have slept in a bed during this time, it messes up my equilibrium as I feel as if I'm perched on a skyscraper.

Since I spend so much time at ground level, I notice things that most people never see. I often watch little wisps of lint as they float about along the carpet. I sometimes get to watch small bugs as they navigate across the floor. My bedroll is near a bare window (with only woods behind our house, I see no need for a curtain) and so I go to sleep watching the clouds or stars.

When a person constantly is towering over things, it makes it easier to see separation. However, when a person's orientation is at ground level, it makes it easier to see the web of interconnection. So, me thinks my outlook on life is greatly impacted by the fact I willingly sleep on the floor.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Little Piece O' Me Heart

Want seems to be a large part of the ethos of western industrialized society. While we tend to deride more "primitive" cultures for concentrating on need, we have become societal hoarders. We collect all sorts of unneeded garbage in the form of possessions that then need to be protected from others by the powers of the state and, for many, by the personal barrel of a gun.

Over the past two decades or so, I've really tried to focus on needs rather than idle wants. To be quite candid, it's been a constant struggle. Like far too many Americans, I was suckled on the idea that more is better and I learned my lesson well.

Throughout my life I have been a consummate pack rat. There. I said it. I have collected all sorts of things -- a few needed, most decidedly not.

As a child, I had a coin collection, a stamp collection and a sports card collection. The first two were foisted on me by well-meaning relatives. I wasn't that interested in either, so each was a fairly pathetic collection. However, the latter -- particularly baseball cards -- was my passion and I amassed over 18,000 of them.

As I grew older, I started collecting anything and everything. I didn't want to toss aside anything because...well, one never knows when you might need it! I collected wood scraps, carpet remnants, office supplies, books, magazines, etc. Our home back in Salem, Oregon began to resemble a mini scrap yard!

Around the time I began to seriously contemplate Taoism, I realized I had surrounded myself with way too much stuff. So, I went through the emotionally agonizing task of getting rid of it. A small portion was sold, while the lion's share was donated to area thrift shops.

Since moving to Washington in August 2005, I've continued the culling process every few months. Last night I went through my computer's program folder to search out those programs that have languished on my hard drive for years. In the end, I cleared several gigabytes of space.

But it wasn't easy!! I've retained programs that I once used a great deal and, who knows, might need to use again in some distant time. I also had a bunch of programs that I've never had a reason to use, but the need might arise in the next decade or so. :-)

Though I feel far wiser than in my early years, each time I hit the uninstall button it was like losing a little peace of my heart.

For me, such feelings contain a valuable lesson. Who we are really is not bound up in what we have. A person could own oodles of doodads and still be hollow inside or could own little and be rich beyond compare.

I have a lot more culling to do.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Children and the Flowers

Unlike a religious order, Taoists don't have hymnals, songbooks nor anthems. What speaks to one person may not speak to another. What moves one person to tears may spark a smile in someone else. So what I share below merely represents two favorite songs of this particular Taoist and nothing more.

While some people think that the late singer John Denver was a fundamentalist Christian, he was nothing of the kind. In fact, after doing a little research today, I discovered that he was an early follower of Erhard Seminars Training (EST). EST was greatly influenced by Zen Buddhism which, in turn, was greatly influenced by Taoism.

Below are two of many of Denver's songs that express a Taoist-like theme: Rhymes & Reasons and Rocky Mountain High. Of the two, I once read that Denver considered the former his favorite song.

What songs or music speak to you?

Show Me THE Way

I wonder how your feeling
There's ringing in my ears
And no one to relate to 'cept the sea
Who can I believe in
I'm kneeling on the floorThere has to be a force who do I phone
The stars are out and shinning, but all I really want to know...
Oh won't you show me the way
I want me the way
~ Show Me the Way - a song by Peter Frampton (1974) ~

A great many people seem all-consumed with finding someone to show them THE way. Many undertake this task via religion. They look to an external being, prophet and/or savior to get them moving in and staying on the correct heading. Others look to celebrities, trying to pattern their lives in the form of their heroes. Still others look to the thousands of self-help books published each year.

Yet, regardless of the form sought, most people continue to feel lost and so they jump around amongst religion, celebrity and self-help pop psychologists trying to find someone who can provide them with THE answer. It's like the overweight person who jumps from diet to diet trying to find the absolute plan to lose the unwanted weight.

In my estimation, one of the chief reasons most people fail to quench this insatiable thirst is that they keep looking for the answer in the wrong place! Instead of looking for an external savior, one could save inordinate amounts of time, energy and money by simply looking in the mirror. The face looking back is the only person who can provide each of us with our own unique answer.

To be certain, there's absolutely nothing wrong with seeking insight or advice from others. Often a kernel of wisdom you may glean along your path may spark an insight for me along mine or vice versa. An observation that you make may deepen my own understanding.

But that's as far as it goes. Your answers won't be my answers anymore than my answers will be your answers. Each of us must experience life for ourselves and it is only by experiencing life that we can come to understand how we fit into the overall tapestry -- or that we are the overall tapestry!

In essence, it's an illusion to think there is one way (THE way). There are as many ways or paths as there are beings (in the full sense of the word) and, the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can begin to tread our own path.

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

There's a whole industry that's popped up around the subject of dreams. There are trained [and untrained] folks ready to help you analyze and interpret them. Just browse the internet for a minute or two and you can find scads of sites that deal with the topic in one way or another.

I tend not to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what my dreams mean. For one thing, I don't dream that much. One of the many aspects of my fibromyalgia is that I generally don't sleep long enough at a given time to enter the kind of sleep needed for dreaming and, even in short bursts, I rarely attain the level of deep sleep.

It hasn't always been this way. When I was far younger, I dreamed almost every night. As my condition has progressed, the dreams have faded. Nowadays it happens every once in awhile.

I awoke this morning to one of those rare occasions. I'm not going to share with you the particulars, but the main premise behind this dream has to do with my AS. The dream involved a recurrent theme in which I was supposed to be somewhere for an important event and, through a comedy of errors, I arrived far later than I was supposed to and turned away before anyone realized I was there.

In real life, because I loathe crowds, it is imperative that I arrive early so I can set up my safe haven and plans of escape (in case I become too discombobulated). Once other people show up and start milling around, I become very nervous. If I don't arrive early enough -- I'm often the first person there -- I end up not going in at all because I simply lose my nerve.

I'm fairly sure I know what sparked this dream. My wife & I will need to travel to Portland, Oregon next week to pick up our virtually new car. While I'm excited finally to have reliable transportation, I'm just as horrified that I have to go to a large city to get it!

Mind you, when I lived in Salem, I went to Portland frequently, though not always willingly. But it's quite a different thing traveling to a metro area of around 1 million from a mid-sized city of 200,000 than it is making the same trip from a hamlet of 1,750!! Heck, there are more people and cars in almost any given Portland neighborhood than in my entire county!

Today's modern large cities boasts a highway system -- often an interstate -- that is like quasi-controlled chaos. Most people tend to drive faster than the posted speed limit and vehicles play a sort of musical chairs by changing lanes at the speed of light. For a person who likes things well-ordered and deliberate, I do not handle the traffic of large communities well at all.

Naturally, I'm becoming very anxious at the prospect of having to drive to and in Portland. Who knows? I may be having more strange dreams in the next few days.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Can't See Straight

I've spent the better part of the past three days looking for used cars on the internet. I bet I've pored through several hundred ads. It's amazing how expensive automotive transportation has become! I can remember, only what seemed like a few short years ago, when an inexpensive new car could be had for $10,000 or less. Nowadays that barely covers an old clunker!

Of course, the wife & I have barely enough money to buy a tonka truck or a matchbox car. There's no way in the world we could afford payments of more than $25 per month and you can't even buy a clunker for that meager amount. So, my parents are going to buy a car for us.

That's an amazingly generous gift on their part. I'm very thankful that they're are in a position to help in this way -- my father is an attorney. Having a working vehicle is critical for my wife's employment. Still, while I certainly will not turn down the offer, I feel a bit uncomfortable about it. As a mature adult I'd like to pay my own way in life, but my disability makes this harder and harder to do. (At least, I finally won one of my disability cases which means I'll soon get to go to the doctor for the first time in 3+ years!)

We've decided on a 2008 Chevrolet Aveo 5. It's a very small car with a hatchback. It doesn't come with a lot of options, but it gets great gas mileage. It's summer yellow, so, if it turns out to be a lemon, it will look like one. :D) If it turns out to be a reliable car, then it will look like the top banana.

I'm hoping for the latter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stepping Out

On Monday, I needed to drive to the neighboring town (Raymond) to pick up my wife from the local community college where she was taking a computer course. Along the way, I had to stop at our local Community Services Office (CSO) to submit some requested documentation. Having completed that, I returned to our lemon of a car so I could drive to Raymond.

I never made it there. When I attempted to start the car, nothing happened. I mean absolutely nothing!! No sound at all and this lack of sound signified something my wife and I had been dreading -- dead car. Not a car that needed to be repaired, mind you, but a completely dead car. (We had been warned by a local mechanic that our car had a major problem -- one that is way too expensive for us to fix -- and one day soon the car would simply cease to work at all.)

The CSO in South Bend is on the opposite end of town from where we live. Because I had my dog with me, it meant I couldn't catch a bus. I had to walk.

While walking is a great form of exercise for most people, I have fibromyalgia and degenerative arthritis. I tend to consider a long hike about 2 - 3 blocks; I was about 1 1/2 miles from home. Despite these facts, I had to walk. I called my wife and left her a voice mail, then Heidi and I set off for home.

As Murphy's Law seemed to be at work, I had not walked more than 2 blocks when it began to snow in torrents and a strong west wind hit me in the face. Needless to say, I was not dressed appropriately for this type of adverse weather -- it had been predicted not to commence until around midnight -- I was wearing a light jacket and on old pair of torn up converse high-tops.

So, in a few short minutes, I was freezing my arse off. The rain/sleet/wet snow mixture kept freezing on my glasses and, within two or three blocks, I was sopping wet. As I'm sure anyone could guess, I was not a happy camper!

Wet and miserable, we trudged on. We had completed about 50% of our trek, when my next door neighbor happened by. "Want a lift home," he yelled from his truck. I'm not even sure if I said anything audible, but my face provided the answer. As I climbed into the cab, I said it was very fortuitous that he was there. Not at all, he replied. My wife had called him to ask if he would come fetch me 'n the dog!

I'm very fortunate that my wife was looking out for me and that Larry the neighbor was concerned too. I only ended freezing me arse off for about 3/4 of a mile. Still, I was utterly exhaustive when I arrived home and I've been paying royally for my physical excursion for the past two days.

I won't be posting quite as often as usual because priority number one is shopping for a new car. My parents will assist a lot with the financial end, but I have to find the vehicle.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kudos to Brian

Over at Church of the Churchless, Brian has uncover a very interesting article, "Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God" from the New Scientist. You can read Brian's analysis here. Below is a brief snippet from the article.
The origin of religious belief is something of a mystery, but in recent years scientists have started to make suggestions. One leading idea is that religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. In this view, shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to outcompete others. In this way, the theory goes, religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society (New Scientist, 28 January 2006, p 30)

The religion-as-an-adaptation theory doesn't wash with everybody, however. As anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor points out, the benefits of holding such unfounded beliefs are questionable, in terms of evolutionary fitness. "I don't think the idea makes much sense, given the kinds of things you find in religion," he says. A belief in life after death, for example, is hardly compatible with surviving in the here-and-now and propagating your genes. Moreover, if there are adaptive advantages of religion, they do not explain its origin, but simply how it spread...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Valuing Life

I was reading a blog post (where? I don't remember offhand) about the controversial topic of abortion. The writer was pro-life and the entry dealt with better strategies to woo the undecided. While I am ardently pro-choice, I did leave a comment that pro-choice is not synonymous with pro-abortion.

The point of this entry is not to thresh out the pro-choice and pro-life positions. There are thousands of web resources for that. That said, I would have far less issue with many in the pro-life camp IF THEY WERE CONSISTENT on the valuation of life.

In so many cases (though certainly not all), the very people who so rabidly support the "rights" of the unborn are callous toward the rights of the already born. Such individuals tend to be pro-war (if we're the ones waging it), pro-death penalty, anti-public education and anti-social safety net. So, their battle cry seems to boil down to this: We will do whatever is necessary to ensure you're born, but once you pop out, you're completely on your own and don't even think of moving in to my neighborhood!

If a person values the potential for a viable human life, then you should value the viable humans already alive. If not, what's the point?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Little Green Men

As I continue to contemplate the origins of life and the possibility of "alien" life forms, one rather strange idea bubbled up through my consciousness. When we talk of being visited by life forms from "outer space", we tend to envision flying saucers and little green men (rarely little green women -- interesting).

While I certainly wouldn't dismiss this possibility, I'm just as open to the idea that it would be altogether different than our cultural expectations. In fact, maybe these life forms are here among us today and have been here for quite some time!

Maybe they are here, but simply in another dimension or as a bodiless form of consciousness. They are here in a form that we cannot detect with our senses or our computerized technology. Sure, it may not be likely, but it IS a possibility.

Don't get me wrong. I haven't been eating magic mushrooms and I'm not writing these words from a ward inside the insane asylum. I'm not even suggesting that I necessarily hold to such an opinion. It's more of a case of trying to think and visualize outside of the proverbial box.

So, do any of you ponder these sorts of weird things? If so, do you think there are other life forms on other planets or in other galaxies?

A Limited Frame of Reference

If a slug was asked to explain the inherent capabilities of a puma, it would be as clueless as 3 week old human infant trying to expound on the intricacies of quantum physics. Both our intellect and consciousness are constrained by biology and our frame of reference. From time to time, certain individuals have been able to expand this frame ever so slightly, but the overall constraints remain in place.

In the ongoing discussions about the God of Judeo-Christianity, we must first admit that our ability to understand and comprehend such an entity is also confined by theses same restraints. It borders on [sinful] pomposity and arrogance for any of us to think we can view the totality of creation through our limited frame of reference and to believe this represents the overall frame.

Each of us is nothing more than one tiny grain of sand on an endless beach or one tiny droplet of water in a bottomless sea. The portion of the vastness within our view is so small as to represent almost nothing. If we could see, feel or comprehend what God (or Tao or Allah or Buddha or whatever name you'd like to place here) can see, feel or comprehend, we would be so overwhelmed that we might instantaneously combust on the spot!

This point intersects with the discussion of what a God can or cannot accomplish. It is an inherently difficult topic for we humans to discuss because of the constraints of our consciousness. It is very difficult to contemplate ideas that, for us, appear illogical, untenable or unfathomable. What we must try to understand is that the rationality that we exhibit necessarily only represents a fraction of the overall rationality of the universe.

Discussions of this nature are made even more difficult by the very fact that our language and the ways we express our ideas serve as constraints as well. It's hard to describe something one can't envision. It's near impossible to expound on concepts that we will never be able to formulate.

About all we CAN do is to be open to the myriad of possibilities that what we think and know about life either is completely wrong or, at least, a pale facsimile. If one holds to the belief of a supreme entity -- be it a personified god or a process or anything in between -- we must acknowledge that it's frame of reference is so much wider than ours that all that we "know" only represents one grain of sand on an endless beach.

Placing Parameters on the Divine

As I've continued to discuss issues at Tough Questions Answered and here at TRT with Tyler, I am struck by the human parameters that these Christian men have placed on their own supreme being. Of course, it's not just them, this is part and parcel of the Christian perspective.

When something miraculous happens -- something that defies a rational explanation -- we're often told it represents the "hand of God" and that the great he can do far more than we mere humans could ever fathom. Yet, when these same believers encounter a skeptic like me and we start making probative points, the response gets back to more earthly terms whereby the actions of God are limited and restrained.

For example, in our discussion of the roots of evil and God's reluctance to eradicate it, Bill Pratt wrote, "What you fail to understand is that if God defeats evil now, then you are toast. People commit evil every day, so the only way to defeat evil is to get rid of people or at least quarantine them from the good."

And the logical question to this type of response is: Why? Why must God kill or quarantine us to rid evil from our hearts? Who's to say that he couldn't simply remove the evil and leave us be as we are now?

In this same vein, Tyler wrote in one of his responses to "Bogeyman", "He could create perfect beings that "lovingly" worship him day and night if he had decided too. However, this would be the same as programming your computer to send you "love" messages night and day."

How do we know that such a design would be similar to programming a computer? With this supposed God, all things are possible, so it's just as possible that he could have created us in a way to exude love all the time and it wouldn't be at all like a computer program.

Consider all the miraculous deeds this supposed almighty creator has wrought that defy human explanation.
  • He created the entire universe in 6 short days
  • He instructed one fellow to build an ark and then flooded the earth
  • He impregnated a woman who had not had sexual intercourse with a man and she bore a child
  • He fed thousands of people with one loaf of bread and a few fish
  • He raised his son from the dead
None of these phenomena can be explained through physics, biology or any other science known to humankind. So, if you believe all these things to be true, then you must concurrently acknowledge that God can do anything -- even things further beyond our comprehension.

So, it's just as easy to imagine that God could have created beings not prone to evil and unlike programming a computer or he could remove evil from our hearts without killing us. Either of these acts would be no more astonishing than impregnating a virgin!

In the end, you've got to go one way or the other on this issue. If you believe your God is all powerful, then you must accept the notion that anything -- whether you view it as conceivable or not -- is within the scope of possibility. It flies in the face of your own beliefs if you place limitations or parameters on what your God can and cannot do.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Close Encounters of a Weird Kind

I just finished watching an interesting movie. I felt the director didn't do a very good job as the film seemed to lack continuity and the transitions from scene to scene were clumsy. The special effects bordered on amateurish -- many times it was readily apparent that I was looking at cheesy models. Yet, despite these weaknesses, I really enjoyed Mission to Mars (2000).

In my opinion, the strength of the film was the storyline and it certainly didn't hurt that 3 of the film's stars -- Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle and Gary Sinise -- are some of my favorites.

I'm not going to explain the entire premise here -- use the link above to read the plot summary -- except to say it has to do with humans encountering an "alien" life form. What I really liked about the storyline is that, unlike most films in this genre, the first impulse wasn't to attack the life form and destroy it.

I've often wondered why it is that most people believe that, if we ever come in contact with life forms from other planets or solar systems, said beings will be violent toward us. After watching this movie and contemplating afterward, I think I know the answer -- we judge potential others by our own human reflections!

If we look over the annals of human history, explorers of new lands immediately tend to want to oppress and subjugate the indigenous. When Columbus landed in the Caribbean or the pilgrims encountered Indian nations, that's precisely what transpired. It's the same pattern seen in Africa, Asia and Australia. The so-called conquerors, who believe themselves to be technologically and morally superior, sweep into "new" lands and, almost without exception, their first substantive move toward these unknown people is aggressive.

Since we humans behave in this manner, we project that other life forms must necessarily follow suit. So we end up with films like War of the Worlds, Alien and Independence Day as the norm with films like Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, ET and Starman as the exceptions.

I submit that one of the chief motivations behind our assumption that advanced life forms will necessarily be aggressive like us is borne out of many of our religious beliefs. Since in Judaism, Christianity & Islam the human species is said to be created in the image of the creator, we necessarily assume that other life forms cannot have achieved the level of moral consciousness that we have. Since we tend to be aggressive and warlike, it follows that other life forms must be too.

I will grant that this assumption may well be true -- if other advanced life forms do exist -- but I choose to believe the opposite. For all our technological advances, the human species, in many ways, hasn't advanced that far from our primitive origins. I'd like to believe that visitors from other worlds have surpassed our weak and relative morality to embrace peace, sustainability and harmony.


From time to time, as I traverse about the blogosphere, I come upon a "Christian" blog. Most of the time, I quickly exist and return to my search. On occasion, however, a post title will jump out at me and I will feel compelled to read it and, possibly, leave a comment. This happened the other day at a blog called Tough Questions Answered.

The post that caught my eye was "Does God Take People's Lives?" If you're interested in viewing the back-and-forth dialog, I suggest you go there.

In the course of the discussion, one of the most troubling aspects for me of the Judeo-Christian belief system was raised -- where does evil originate? I have always found the answers proffered by the true believers to be anything but convincing. In fact, their explanations seem to be a labrynth of contradictions.

From their perspective, God is the source of all things. Initially, there was only God and a great void. At some point in time and for his own reasons, God decided to create life. He created the heavens and earth plus all life forms. So, God is the source of everything.

It would follow then that God is the source of evil. If there was once nothing but God and evil now exists in the world, it seems logical to deduce that evil came from God.

Hold on! Christians will tell you that God didn't create evil. If we accept this explanation at face value, then this means God is not the source of all things -- one of their key beliefs. So, if God didn't create evil, where did it come from?

The blogger at Tough Questions Answered says that God gave man free choice and evil sprung from that. Yet for free choice to be viable, different options must be available. If humankind was only provided with one choice -- goodness or love -- then the concept of free will would be meaningless. So, if we are provided with the choice of choosing between good or evil, it again becomes logical to deduce that God created both options and evil is one of the two.

Besides, as I pointed out in our back-and-forth discussion, if we accept the argument that humankind, in fact, created evil, then that would suggest we're just as powerful as God because we would have created a pervasive and dynamic force that counters goodness.

Of course, no Christian would make this argument because God is great and the rest of us are chumps.

In the end, I have yet to hear a salient explanation of how evil can exist in the world and yet God is not responsible for it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Make Me One With Everything

This blog serves two purposes. First, like any other personal blog, it's filled with my observations, experiences, insights and questions on a myriad of topics. It's second function is to serve as a sort of hub for those seeking to learn more about Taoistic thought. To this end, I search the web every week to find new blogs and websites to add to the right sidebar.

For those of you visiting because you want to become a Taoist and/or you want to deepen your understanding of this philosophical perspective, I thought I would take the time today to provide a more detailed list of the links. What you will find below are predominantly websites that are educational, in nature. I will highlight Taoist blogs at another time. [Note: Italicized words indicate they are quoted from the site itself.]

About the Tao
In ancient China, the keeper of the Imperial Library, Lao Tzu, was famous for his wisdom. Perceiving the growing corruption of the government, he left for the countryside. On his way, the guard at the city gates asked Lao Tzu to write out the essence of his understanding to benefit future generations. Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching, left, and was never heard of again.

The Tao Te Ching (also called "The Tao", "The Dao" or the "Dao De Jing"), by Lao Tzu, is one of the most influential books in history. It is the source of famous Chinese sayings such as "Those who know do not speak, those who speak, do not know" and "Even a 1,000 mile journey starts with a single step".

This site includes images and quotes of Lao Tzu as well as explanations of yin & yang, and Taoist philosophy.

How to Become a Taoist (wikiHow -- The How-to Manual That You Can Edit)
Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that is becoming popular in the West for its emphasis on simplicity, naturalness, and harmony. It is sometimes classified as a religion, but unlike most religions, modern philosophical Taoism does not require any specific form of initiation.

Center of Traditional Taoist Studies
The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies is a non-profit 501(C)(3) religious organization committed to promoting Taoist ideas and practices. Our mission is to make available unambiguous teachings in Taoist philosophy, physical arts, and religion; and to further instruct individuals in ancient practical techniques that improve health and inspire contentment in everyday life.

Dao Is Open
The Dao Is Open website is devoted to developing a better understanding of Dao (Tao) and De (Te), as exemplified in the works of Laozi (Lao Tzu) and Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu).

Mr Sage's Philosophical Taoist Website
Hello, I'm a Philosophical Taoist. This site has other pages dealing with Taoist theories and other great links. This website's intent is to give a more scientific, astro-physics, philosophical, as well as traditional esoteric view on Taoism. May you find harmony along your path. :)
[Note: The link takes you to a web archive of this site. I have yet to find the site reconstituted with a new host.]

Taoism Directory
This site provides numerous resources.

Taoism Info
Lao Tzu and Taoism can not be separated. Lao tzu is considered the father of Taoism, so when one studies Lao Tzu he/she studies Taoism too.

The Taoism of Lao Tzu is not a religion as one may think. Though Taoism exists as religion - the Lao TzuTaoist religion - the Lao Tzu's Taoism is a philosophical path. That is the path uniting man and Tao. This is why when we talk about Lao Tzu and Taoism we may Talk about Tao or the Way too.

When we study Taoism and Tao we follow some classic books like Tao Te Ching. This book is wrote by Lao Tzu and presents the main Taoist terms and concepts. Here you can learn about what is Tao and what is meant by the concept of Taoist Way.

This site provides teachings about the life and concepts of Lao Tzu, about Tao, and Tao Te Ching . You may browse it by clicking the links published in the summary section below.

Taoist Philosophy (from
A brief exposition on the topic.

The Taoistic Source
Taoism is not a religion. Gods and the afterlife are vague, almost non-existant. It is all about here and now: how to live a pleasant life, without causing unnecessary commotion or distress. Tao, the Way, is a kind of natural law behind all of creation. The one who can harmonize with it is sure to find bliss.

The TaoWoods Center
The TaoWoods Center is a Taoist spiritual organization located in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We provide our members with a variety of products, services and resources they can use as they follow their path of spiritual growth and development. The following announcements are for the benefit of our members and visitors. [Note: You can sign-up for a free Taoist Daily Quote to be sent to you via email.]

True Tao
A site with a bevy of resources and links.

Taoism Initiation Page
Another site with oodles of information.

Provides a FAQ about philosophical Taoism

If you know of a site or resource related to Taoism not listed in my right sidebar, please point the way in the comments section or send me an email directly.

Tao of Intention

There was once a man, a sailor by profession, who was very fond of seagulls. Every morning he went into the sea and swam about in their midst, at which times a hundred gulls and more would constantly flock about him.

One day his father said to him: "I am told that seagulls swim about with you in the water. I wish you would catch one or two for me to make pets of". On the following day, the sailor went down to the sea as usual, but lo! the gulls only wheeled about in the air and would not alight.
~ Book of Lieh-Tzü, from Book II ~

For me, this simple story cuts to the heart of intentions. When we are lost in the moment, not pursuing a goal or acting out of self-interest, we can become one with Tao. However, the moment we try to figure out what we can get out of the experience, the magic disappears.

In other words, when we engage in any type of activity with the intent of achieving or obtaining an end, our focus is borne out of self-interest and this selfishness erects walls that separates us from the whole of creation. When we engage in any type of activity without intent, there are no walls.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

White As Black

A man, having lost his axe, suspected his neighbor's son of having taken it. Certain peculiarities in his gait, his countenance and his speech, marked him out as the thief. In his actions, his movements, and in fact his whole demeanor, it was plainly written that he and no other had stolen the axe. By and by, however, while digging in a dell, the owner came across the missing implement. The next day, when he saw his neighbor's son again, he found no trace of guilt in his movements, his actions, or his general demeanor.

'The man in whose mind suspicion is at work will let himself be carried away by utterly distorted fancies, until at last he sees white as black, and detects squareness in a circle.'
~ Book of Lieh-Tzü, from Book VII ~

We each are guilty of prejudice and allowing preconceived notions to take on a life of their own. We get an idea about something and no amount of contrary observation or evidence will sway us from our original idea.

While this is true for people from all walks of life, it's especially true of fundamentalist zealots in every religion. They interpret their beliefs within very narrow confines and every type of thought or phenomena is forced to fit into this tiny worldview -- even if they have to shove it in violently.

A few years ago I had an email exchange with two fundamentalist Christians who both believe that the Holy Bible was the inerrant word of God (which, by the way, I find to be laughable). As we discussed this one topic, I kept citing obvious contradictions in the text (e.g., two different books of the Gospel report a different lineage for Jesus).

One of the fellows, a pastor of a very conservative Christian Church, went through all sorts of histrionics to try to resolve the contradictions. In some instances, he would say one passage was literal while the other was symbolic or both were symbolic. From a rational viewpoint, the man was all over the map and, not surprisingly, the other fellow didn't always agree with him as to what was literal and what was allegorical -- so they would argue with each other independent of me.

In my mind's eye, the pastor had invested too much of his life in this particular belief system and so, come hell or high water, he was going to defend it, even when such a defense defied credulity!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

If They Asked Me...

As the Senate continues to wrangle with the many aspects of President Obama's economic stimulus bill, I was thinking what I would tell them IF, for some crazy reason, they actually cared what I thought. Here's what I would recommend.

Scrap most of the plan!! Most of it is nothing more than a repackaging of many of the same economic strategies that got us into this mess in the first place. Our mantra should be sustainability and that should be the driving force behind this plan.

I would allocate at least 50% of the money toward the recreation of FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA) with a nod to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This would put millions of unemployed Americans back to work and would go a long way toward repairing our degraded infrastructure. We could repair millions of miles of roadways and bridges, hospitals, and schools plus retrofit thousands of other buildings to withstand tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

I would divide most of the rest of the funds between pursuing sustainable renewable energy resources (far more than the piddly amount of money earmarked currently for this major undertaking) and for bringing broadband to every nook and cranny of the nation. I would also ensure there was significant money available for Amtrak and other means of public mass transportation.

Of course, I'm very certain no one will ask for my opinion and the signed bill will look nothing like the above.

All That Glitters

There was once a man in the Ch'i State who had a burning lust for gold. Rising early one morning, he dressed and put on his hat and went down to the marketplace, where he proceeded to seize and carry off the gold from a money-changer's shop.

An ordinary thief would have gone at night, and probably naked, after smearing his body with oil.

He was arrested by the police, who were puzzled to know why he had committed the theft at a time when every body was about. 'When I was taking the gold,' he replied, 'I did not see anybody at all; what I saw was the gold, and nothing but the gold.'
~ Book of Lieh-Tzü, from BOOK VII ~
Isn't it interesting how one can read a text from centuries ago and yet you almost feel as if it was describing an event in the present time?

As soon as I read this passage, I thought of the bankers and financiers who, having been bailed out by everyday American taxpayers, have continued to lead lives of opulence. Though one would think that these individuals would understand they are under increased public scrutiny and would modify their behavior (if only for a little while), all they can see is the gold! Nothing else seems to matter to them.

Books and Their Covers

Far too often, we're each guilty of judging a book by its cover or a person by their appearance. We make snap judgments that seem to take on a life of their own. We initially adjudge another to be good or bad and no amount of contrary evidence is apt to change our mind.

For a different look at this topic, I invite readers to read a very interesting and thought provoking article at Alternet, "Women Have Boobs -- Get Over It". It chronicles one young woman's travails because of having large breasts. Here's a brief snippet:
I liked my breasts when they first appeared. I was a 28A for a long time and, while I felt a little self-conscious about these new additions to my physique simply by virtue of the fact that most other 12-year-olds didn’t yet have any at all, I liked them. They were small and perky, in proportion with the rest of me and didn’t get me any unwanted attention.

All of this changed virtually overnight when I was 14. In the space of about three months, I went from an A to an E cup. The way I was treated by people I knew and by strangers completely changed.

My peers began to see me as "slutty," despite the fact that I had never even kissed a boy. The bitchy, popular clique of girls at school tried to recruit me, not seeming to understand why I had little interest in wearing a truly hideous amount of makeup to school and making other girls’ lives hell.

Teachers began to see me as troublesome, giving me detention for minor things. And overnight, I went from being able to walk down the street without even being looked at, to having strangers lean out of car windows to inform me that they would like to fuck my brains out.

Groping my breasts became almost a sport among the boys at school. It would happen in class, during break times, while I passed them in the corridor -- any time that I was within groping distance...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ice Princess

According to an article from BBC News, Iceland's new Prime Minister "is the first openly lesbian head of government in Europe, if not the world - at least in modern times."

If you think about it, this first is rather shocking -- not because it occurred, but because he hasn't occurred before! While certain elements of the world's population -- predominantly religious fundamentalists -- still view homosexuality as an unholy blemish on humankind, most of the rest of us understand that a person's sexual orientation is of little consequence when determining fitness for political office.

What should matter is a person's character, not the color of their skin or which [consenting adult] gender they choose to sleep with.

Gold to Rust?

We live in a world of heroes. We lionize certain individuals because they excel in sports, music, acting, politics and a whole host of other things. While society idolizes these creations, we don't truly idolize them as human beings; no, we objectify them. So, when we one day find out that they put on their pants one leg at a time like we do, we become distraught at the idea that each is not as perfect as the image of them we had created.

The latest tempest involves Olympic champion Michael Phelps. A photo has been circulated all throughout the media which strongly suggests he used marijuana. My reaction to this sensational news is: So what? A sizable portion of US males age 23 years old have tried or use pot. Just because he's a hero doesn't mean he's not a human being too!

All humans have flaws (note: I'm not necessarily suggesting that using pot constitutes a "flaw"). It's one of those things that makes us who and what we are. Regardless of one's standing with other human beings, this one fact doesn't change.

In fact, I prefer flawed heroes to supposedly perfect ones. One of my personal heroes is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was my hero when I was young and I didn't know what I know today. Now that I know he drank, smoked and was a womanizer, he's still one of my all time heroes.

What makes MLK remarkable in my eyes is that, despite his many human foibles, he was able to rise above them to achieve greatness. This informs me that each of us shares the same capacity. We too can each rise above our own frailties and peculiarities.

A "perfect" hero sends the exact opposite message. Since we're each flawed in our own way, it would be impossible for us to achieve the kind of greatness they have, so we become armchair human beings. We passively live our greatness vicariously through others.

In my book, that's a really pathetic way to live.