Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Against the Current

Like any belief system, Taoism can't be boiled down into one word, phrase or principle. In reading the ancient words of sages, topics range from how to live to how to govern to how to wage war. That said, one of the central theses of the Taoist perspective is wu wei or, what I've been discussing for the last 24 hours or so, going with the flow.

In its simplest form, wu wei means not to force actions -- to move within the flow of life in natural ways. I find this to be great advice in terms of our individual lives, but, where I've struggled, is in trying to apply this suggestion to our collective lives -- society.

How does one go with the flow when said flow is the driver toward capricious misery and oppression? If we look at the current state of our planet and the beings who inhabit it, the flow of global capitalism is leading many to death and ruin.

In many ways, it seems that Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu would say to let the flow go where it may. But it's hard to adopt this kind of philosophy if one is a caring and compassionate person. If you see injustice before you, you will want to remedy it.

So, for many years I struggled with Taoist principles on one side versus my progressive activism on the other. The problem has been mitigated to a great extent due to my growing physical and psychological disabilities, yet the dichotomy itself still persists. Were it not for the fact of my chronic pain and severe social anxiety, I would probably still be out on the front lines.

I have resolved the issue a tad, but not in a way I can verbalize at this point. In the last few years, I've learned that there's more than one way -- formerly, in your face activism -- to try to broker a problem. So, from that standpoint alone, the message of going with the flow has some resonance.

I'm still struggling with the action/non-action perspective when it comes to many of our society's most vexing issues. If an individual or group wants to try to stop or avert war, doing nothing is not an option. If you want to save the planet from ecological ruin, you don't want to get into a flow that you believe is moving in the wrong direction.


Forty-one years ago on this coming Saturday, Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. If he were alive today, he would be 80 years old. MLK was far from perfect; he struggled with the same vices and foibles as the rest of us. Despite his human struggles, he was a man of undying principle and courage.

He has become a hero to many, including me. It's not simply because of his activism in the area of civil rights; he also spoke out against the Vietnam War when it wasn't chic and championed the cause of economic justice.

While he wrote numerous books of an inspiring nature and delivered countless rousing speeches, his most famous address came on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Every time I hear his words spoken on that day -- and I'm not the least ashamed to admit it -- I'm filled with such emotion that the tears easily wash down my face.

Most people have seen and/or heard brief snippets of the "I Have a Dream" speech, but I've discovered that many people today have not heard it in its entirety. If you've never heard the whole thing or you'd like to hear/see it again...

Let freedom ring!

You Are the Universe


Monday, March 30, 2009

Stepping into the Whirlpool

In my previous post, I asked the question: How do we live? Each belief system attempts to answer this question. For philosophical Taoists, one answer comes from the metaphor of water. When we can learn not to force things and "go with the flow", we can lead lives most influenced by Tao.

In one sense, this seems like clear and straightforward advice. Don't fight against yourself. Go with the flow.

The problem, however, is figuring out what the flow is and where it is going!

Every so often, we look at our life and it takes on the appearance of a gentle meandering stream. On these rare occasions, it's easy to discern the direction of the flow. We grab an old inner tube and blissfully dangle our feet in the water as we slowly make our way downstream. We think to ourselves, "Why can't my whole life be like this moment?"

Far too often though, our lives look like raging rivers. Yes, we are still able to determine the direction of the flow, but find it very difficult to make our way into the channel. Sometimes the waters are moving so rapidly that we don't dare jump in for fear of drowning. Even when we rise to the challenge, jagged rocks and obstacles in the stream can knock us silly or worse. Going with the flow in these cases can be downright dangerous.

But the problem I think most of us encounter the majority of the time is when the waters of our life look like a whirlpool. The waters are swirling in all directions and it becomes next too impossible to discern any rhyme or reason to the flow. We are pulled in so many directions simultaneously -- by partners, parents, children, colleagues, friends and our own confused mind -- that it is very hard to know which way is up and which way is down.

So, how do we extricate ourselves from the whirlpool of complex society? There is no singular answer. What may work fantastically in one situation may fail dismally the next time. The best answer I can provide is to be open to a variety of strategies and possibilities.

Of course, most humans don't like to hear an answer that states there is no true answer. In a world of constant change, we crave certainty. For me, this explains why there are so many self-help gurus ready to fleece us of our money in exchange for false 1-2-3 recipes. They offer us the mirage of certainty where none actually exists.

If I ever write a self-help book, I already know the title -- I Can't Help You! Hmm. I probably wouldn't sell very many copies. :-)

So How Do We Live?

In almost every religious faith and in philosophical perspectives like Taoism, there is constant discussion of moving beyond current reality to a different state of consciousness. We are urged to become one with and follow the will of Jehovah, Allah, Brahma or God. In Buddhism, we are urged to give up cravings of self which will end suffering. In Taoism, we are urged to center and quiet ourselves to receive the power of Tao.

Regardless of which of these perspectives speaks to each of us most poignantly, one questions eats away at most of us -- How do I obtain this unity while still leading a meaningful life in a complex modern world? The answer to the question eludes all of us.

Both Christianity and Taoism speak of addressing the world with the innocence of a child. In theoretical terms, that's all well and good. However, how does that manifest itself for a person who is married, holds a full-time job, has 3 children and likes to go dancing with your partner every Friday night?

If you think I'm going to offer an answer here, you're dead wrong. I'm just as confused as everyone else. I'm constantly perplexed at how to best incorporate my Taoist beliefs with my routine life. Some days I do really well, but, most of the time, I fall miserably short.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Facing Up

I'm a person with many phobias. I'm afraid of heights, enclosed spaces, small rodents, social situations and/or crowds, poisons (real and imagined), prescription drugs (I always imagine I'll suffer from all the side effects), feeling high and needles. These last two take on particular importance because I desperately need to go to the dentist!

My mouth has become a dentist's dream. I'm guessing one dentist could use the money from all the work I need to send one child through four years of college or to buy a yacht! I have more cavities than I can count, two broken teeth, two more that have already fallen out and I'm in need of a root canal for one of my lower molars.

I haven't been to a dentist for...gosh, I don't know how long it's been. One of the main reasons I haven't been is because of finances. It simply would cost too much. However, that's not the only reason. During those times over the past few years when we did have enough money to get some of the work done, I chose not to go because of my fears.

Years ago when I did have dental insurance, I had to be in abject agony before I could get up the nerve to make an appointment. I remember one time back in the 80s when I got up and walked out because I couldn't handle the idea of the Novocaine shot. My dentist was very easygoing and he didn't give me a lot of grief. I eventually made it back in to get a root canal or two and several crowns.

On another occasion, he suggested nitrous oxide to help calm my anxiety. Initially, I was up for the idea...that is until I started breathing it in! My head started to feel like it was swimming in clouds and that is a feeling I do not like at all. So, I knocked the cup off my face and told him to stick a needle in my mouth.

My best experience at a dentist appointment was the time they knocked me out with general anesthesia to pull two teeth. One minute I had an IV in my arm and the next I woke up with gauze in my mouth. Unfortunately, that type of procedure is fairly expensive and is not favored for filling cavities and the like because of potential complications due to the breathing tube. Darn.

But the time is growing short until I have to face this fear again. For all my various issues, I've developed an infection in one of my molars and it has become extremely temperature sensitive. My diet is suffering as I've had to switch to softer foods and, frankly, I try to avoid eating as much as possible.

So, sometime in the next week or two my anxiety level is going to shoot through the roof because, for health reasons, I can't put this off any longer. I just hope I can muddle through it.

Voices Along the Path III

Here's the last in a series of three posts about new blog links added this year in the right column. These eight come under the category heading of "Fellow Wanderers".

Sour Apples - For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Superstition Free - Thoughts from an atheist living in Northern Arkansas.

The Naked Soul - The Naked Soul is a blog about my spiritual journey. First I should define “spiritual”, spiritual in the sense that I will be using it, does not have anything to do with any “ism” or organized religion. I am not a subscriber to any one organized belief. The naked soul is a reference to me, my soul, me spirit, my energy. It is the evolution of my awareness of my soul and the detachment of my ego. A fully aware soul, with a detachment from a ego is in essccence a naked soul.

The Path of Enlightenment - I’m so glad you are here. You may be somewhere between wondering about enlightenment and enjoying the beautiful experience of your real Self. That is what The Path of Enlightenment is; the continuing path of experiencing, enjoying and becoming you. In this blog I, we, will consider ideas that further our maturity on our path of enlightenment. This is a very personal path that cannot be traveled as a follower. Each one of us on this path is here as a result of our own personal effort.

The Sun Bear's Den - Having spent the last forty (or so) years of our lives letting the world push us to and fro, my wife and I are beginning to go after the things we want from life. I'm in my early forties, a husband, father of three, and grandfather of two. I've done a few things. Raised those kids. Got lucky there. They're great. Passions – family, friends, martial arts, cooking, gardening, writing, peace, conservation.

The Urban Monk - I'm just a man trying to live life with kindness and without causing harm - a daily vow and a daily failure. I'm a Zen Buddhist monk, a social activist and a writer, and the Abbot of The Sitting Frog Zen Sangha. I'm from Scotland, but have wandered far, and now live in Phoenix, Arizona, where the orange blossom meets the smog.

The View from Raindrop Ridge - My thoughts from a pantheist perspective, finding the extraordinary in simple everyday life, and the awesomeness of nature...

Unreasonable Faith - A former Christian's thoughts on faith, science and skepticism.

Who Is Favored?

Over at the blog Superstition Free, several of us have had quite a discussion centered around the post, "Open Letter to The Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church". Of all the various back-and-forth comments, this one by host Robert Madewell really caught my eye.
Seems that a mustard seed portion is quite a bit actually. Because, thousands of hungry children who pray every day for a little bit of food can't seem to pool together enough faith to make food (or even a mustard seed appear).
I've always found it exceedingly odd that the so-called creator -- who created all of us -- seems to favor white-skinned male capitalists over everyone and everything else. If you are unfortunate enough to have been born a woman, dark-skinned or in a non-capitalist country, the telegraph lines of prayer seem to have a short in them.

Both television and the internet are filled with conservative Christian self-help gurus who, for a hefty price tag, will provide spiritual guidance to white-skinned male capitalists so that they can increase their already egregious wealth and power. Such people are exhorted to ask God to help them succeed in business, philanthropy or social circles. Each time one of these types increases their pocketbook or climbs the social ladder, all glory rests with God.

So, it would seem that God is listening to them. It doesn't appear to matter to the almighty that many of these folks don't have a moral or ethical bone in their body.

Yet, the people who genuinely need God's grace to survive don't seem to merit the same kind of results. There are Christians in Iraq right now who, I'm sure, have been praying fervently for an end to their violent nightmare. There are innocent Christian children the world over who live in abject poverty and pray to God each night. And there are decent Christian women across the globe who are subjugated and oppressed. They cry out to their Lord for deliverance from their misery.

In all these cases, it looks like God has left the receiver off the phone and he's not checking his email either!

What legitimate reason can there be for rewarding the comfortable while neglecting the impoverished and needy? What glory can there be in providing the haves with even more while providing less to the have nots? What kind of perverse being is this Christian God?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

That Was The Year That Was

Back in the 1960s, Tom Lehrer was a preeminent musical satirist. I've listened to his hilarious songs for over 40 years and, though I know all the words by heart, I still laugh whenever I pull out the CD. Recently, I discovered some old footage of Lehrer plying his trade. His subject matter is still topical today. See for yourself!

Note: This is a series of videos. For some reason, the second video doesn't always play. If you move your cursor to the bottom of the screen, you can select other videos in the series.

Testing for AID (No "S")

According to a report Thursday by the Associated Press, "Lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing." The main message supporters of this scheme want to send is "you don't get something for nothing."

Most of my lefty comrades will be against such laws and regulations because, they will argue, it amounts to nothing more than an invasion of privacy. While this argument indeed has merit, I could actually get behind such efforts with one small proviso -- that states apply the very same criteria to those receiving corporate welfare too!!

If the families of people needing a boost to survive will be forced to submit to random drug testing, then I think the CEOs and board members of any company receiving outright grants, guaranteed loans, property tax abatements and other forms of taxpayer-funded handouts should do the same because we don't want to give them something for nothing!

Drug abuse should be a medical/mental health issue, not a criminal one. It spans gender, age, ethnicity, race and financial standing. It's certainly not a problem of the poor only. Rich and middle class Americans abuse drugs too.

So, if these lawmakers really mean what they say, then the rule should apply across the board. If they don't want public funds used to feed drug habits, then turn off the spigot for everyone.

Voices Along the Path II

To call oneself a Taoist is just a label. Labels don't really do justice to who and what a person is; they are merely contrived conveniences to make it easier for folks to identify people of a certain conceptual ilk.

The blogs listed under the category "Fellow Wanderers" often are Taoist, in nature, but the blogger doesn't specifically identify themselves as such. Some use the labels "Buddhist" or "Ex-Fundamentalist" or something similar. Here's the first of two posts for links added this year to the category.

A Ku Indeed! - A blog by Christopher Panza, an associate professor at Drury University of Springfield, MO. It focuses on an analysis of eastern and western philosophies.

A Time to Rend - …christian, ex-christian, agnostic, atheist, seeker, free-thinker, liberal, progressive, ok, I really don’t like labels…I grew up in a liberal progressive agnostic family, became a christian at around 20 or so, and left the faith 18 years later.

Awake in This Life - Essentially, this blog is about how we can lead deeper, more conscious lives. It is a rough map that points out how any of us can consciously uncover an enlightened understanding that can then be expressed in ways that benefit everyone, and everything.

Barefoot in the Garden - Welcome to my garden. Come in, take off your shoes, and let me offer you a seat in the shade, a cool drink, and friendly conversation while we enjoy the beauty of the day...

Confessions of an Urban Druid - I was raised an Episcopalian, have been Neopagan off and on since I was thirteen and read The Spiral Dance, discovered Druidry in my early twenties, went back to the Church, left it again when the Anglican Communion began to implode, eventually discovered Tibetan Buddhism while studying hermetic magic, took refuge, and then realized I was still a druid anyway. So I’m an Anglican Hermetic Buddhist Revival Druid.

Daily Inspiration - Welcome to Daily Inspiration - Daily Quote - daily inspirational quotes, sayings, and insights on self-respect, self-worth, choice, positive attitude, happiness, vision, perspective, intent, forgiveness, and gratitude. Gain comfort, hope, and self-awareness through beautiful posters with inspiring sayings, and penetrating inquiry on the meaning of life and finding your purpose.

Howling Dragon - Zen Reflections of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

Like Fresh Air - I love to discover new truth, or remind myself of it, for it truly is just like tasting “fresh air:” it’s light, energizing, and invigorating. I love everything and anything that inspires or connects with the Higher Self. This blog, in which I attempt to make daily entries, contains a mixture of things that I find inspiring, uplifting, and enlightening.

On Leaving Fundamentalist Christianity - In 2005, I finally decided to listen to my rational self and conceded that Christianity was flawed. I am now an ex-Christian, and I've been writing my thoughts on leaving the faith for a long time. Look at my archives and you will see the progress of my de-conversion from anger and turmoil to self-respect and free thinking.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Voices Along the Path

As I've stated here many times before, I spend a bit of time each week scouring the web for other blogs that deal with Taoist themes and like-minded content. Each time I find a new resource -- at least NEW to me -- I add it to one of the categories in the right hand column. Since the beginning of this year, I've added quite a few. Below are some the links added to the "Taoist Wanderers" category. Over the weekend, I will post two different entries for those added under the "Fellow Wanderers" category.

Challenge Your Beliefs - Don't follow this blog...if you start to follow someone, you cease to follow truth. Be your own follower and your own leader.

Gigantic Jet - This is a webpage but it would rather be a cowboy in a spaghetti western.

Nexus of Now - A Drink of Spring Water from a kinda Zen Taoist Stream of Consciousness.

Sit in the Clouds - The inspiration for Sit In The Clouds comes from my readings about Chinese Hermits. Many were Taoist and Buddist Monks who were in search of greater solitude for their meditation practice.

Tao Wow - Tao, Dharma, Vedanta, and findings in new physics, mixed together and given a direct aim at shattering illusions to expose the Wow.

The Gnarled Oak - A place where the winds of dependently arisen thought rustle the leaves in a forest of emptiness.

The Native American Taoist - Thunderhands (waki ya nape) or "Thunder" for short is a Writer, Artist and Healer, who has studied with, and been exposed to some of the worlds most gifted healers. He has been a student for over 30 years, of indigenous peoples spiritual traditions. His goal is to help direct and align his fellow man with the "Natural order of things."

The Stephen Sphere - An assortment of curio -- I am a carbon-based biped.

Tao of Simplicity - Praveen Puri is a Chicago-based writer with 20 years of experience in unix and financial markets, who has a passion for simplicity.

Thoughts of a Taoist Babe - I am your average blonde American woman walking down the street with her killer cocker spaniel on a pink leash, sporting four inch stiletto heels and a pair of over-sized designer sun-glasses to die for. Not very Taoist, am I? Still, every once in awhile, I take my head out of the clouds and I survey the landscape of reality, and what I see convinces me that I was put here on earth to do more than just exist, day-to-day. In fact, I am really here to learn how to live — truly live.

Remember that their words, like mine, won't lead you to find Tao; you must do that on your own. That said, the thoughts and contemplations of these Taoists may inspire you to look at an old topic anew or to walk a different path.

What Would Happen?

As the economic situation grows more dire and leaders of various national governments try a bunch of different strategies to lift us out of this quagmire, one line I hear again and again in the mainstream media is that we can't allow the likes of AIG to fail. If AIG fails, all hell will break loose, they tell us.

Here's what I want to know: What would actually happen if we allowed AIG to go belly up? If any reader has any idea of the consequences, I'd be more than happy to hear it.

I find it strange that capitalism is supposed to be about the vaunted "free market" system, yet it is the capitalists themselves who are championing government intervention, the so-called bane of free market policy. Isn't this a bit of a contradiction?

When these sorts of problems befell the average consumer, small business or family farmers, we're told that such people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The capitalists will yawn and say, "You've got to learn to sink or swim." If you can't cut it, then the free market system dictates that you will [financially] die.

Yet, when the captains of commerce run into these same kinds of problems, the aforementioned mentality is swept out the door. No longer is it an individual problem; it becomes a community problem in which we're all equally compelled to pull on the bootstrap. It's no longer a question of the individual firm learning to sink or swim, it's the entire economy.

Tongue, Dancing

As reported in this space earlier this week, we've added to a new dog to our brood, Jasmine. We had set out with the intent to adopt an older dog because aged mutts generally are harder to find homes for and we have a lot of experience with adopting four-legged senior citizens. We had decided going in that we did NOT want a puppy.

Therefore, it was with a bit of surprise that we settled on an adolescent (estimated age 1 - 2 years old). In a very pleasant way, our home and all its occupants have been turned upside down within a very short period of time!

Up until a few days ago, we led a very quiet and sedentary existence. No more!! Jasmine is a bundle of energy. Every time Della or I move from room to room, our mid-sized tail-wagger is right on our heels. If we aren't on guard, we may find a tongue exploring our faces (including in the mouth, nose or ear) at the drop of a hat. Though Jasmine weighs about 50 or 60 pounds, she seems to think she's a lap dog!

She has a happy-go-lucky personality and has made every effort to become friends with our other four-legged creatures. Our aged collie/shepherd Heidi (comparable in age to a 110 year old human) doesn't know what to make of this constant bundle of joy. She no longer has the energy to play, but we suspect she's gaining some vicarious enjoyment by watching this new whirling dervish of a dog.

Our two older cats (Dylan & Mookie) have established their parameters and, at times, seem oblivious to the new member. Mookie has even gotten to the point of rubbing noses with Jasmine. The only hold out in the family is our one-eyed kitty, Little Bit. He's a very skittish being and it will probably be several weeks before he decides the new creature won't eat him.

There has been one definite upside to bringing in a younger dog; my wife and I are getting more exercise! Taking Jasmine on walks is mandatory and that means one or both of us must walk too. I suspect we'll both look like models within the next year as we log hundreds of miles along the bike path near the river. :-)

All in all, regardless of the personalities involved, welcoming a new member into the family is about change. It offers a microcosm of life itself. It has provided us with a glimpse of the workings of Tao.

Today is a good day.


Why search all over for Tao? The sage knows that the Tao can be found anywhere, even in the seeds of the gourd growing in your garden or the caterpillar spinning a cocoon to become a butterfly.
~ A Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Defining Power

Wasn't it not too long ago when liberals and leftist decried the Bush administration for redefining words like torture? Didn't we come unglued with the creation of new terms (misnomers?) like "enemy combatants"? Thank goodness Barack Obama is here to save the day. He would never try to redefine words or would he?
Despite Obama's Vow, Combat Brigades Will Stay in Iraq
by Gareth Porter

Despite President Barack Obama's statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.

A spokesman for Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.

But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.

Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on Meet the Press Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission", and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterised differently."

"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."

Obama's decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along - the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010...
You see, this is one of the perks of power -- defining words and concepts. When you're in charge, you're the one who gets to make out the agenda, draw up the orders or set the table. President Obama simply is following in the footsteps of every other American president and power broker.

I'm not giving him a pass, though. As much as I was irked with Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. for playing these kinds of games, I'm just as mad with the new guy.

Rash Decisions

At times, all of us find ourselves in situations where there appear to be no good options. The sage withdraws to gain a better perspective instead of making rash decisions.
~ Today's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~
In our modern society, indecisiveness is looked down upon. We're socialized from birth to thrust ourselves into the world to make bold moves. This lesson is a byproduct of our economic system of capitalism. He/she who waits stands to be left behind. The early bird catches the worm. Winning is all that matters.

Is it any wonder that too many of us make one rash and little contemplated decision after another? Is it any wonder that mental health clinics, AA, NA, psychiatrist couches and taverns are filled with humans suffering the consequences of these same rash decisions?

There are times in life in which quick and forceful decisions are needed. If a bus is hurdling toward you at 60 miles per hour, there's no time to sip a cup of tea to mull over the options. Tarry too long and you stand an excellent chance of becoming fresh roadkill!

But most decisions in life aren't like this. Most of the time we have adequate time to weigh the options, if we would only take the time. In essence, we each need to learn to slow down to smell the roses.

Just as important, we must each realize that, when we're too close to an issue, potentialities look far larger or smaller than they actually are. If I hold the page of a book flat against my nose, the words look like an unmitigated jumble of letters. It's only when I move the book back a ways that each word becomes clear.

In this same vein, as today's quote punctuates, often the best way to render a seemingly difficult decision is to step back to provide ourselves with a much broader perspective.

For My Wife

Here's a great article -- one that my wife easily could have written. When she checks in to see what her hubby has been writing about recently, I hope she appreciates that I posted this article! (It speaks well for me too, though I'm NOT a woman.)
My Uterus, Husband and I All Agree -- No Children
By Juniper, Divine Caroline
Posted on March 25, 2009

I am a woman. I have all the biological requirements to have a child. Yet, I do not have the instincts or rational desire to do so. Does that make me less of a woman to not want to have a child either by using my body, my eggs, or my money to adopt?

My parents are the only people who, when I said I didn’t want to have kids, responded with, "Sounds like a good idea." They married because I was on the way and had two more after me. They know how hard it is to raise kids, but they also love us very much. They wouldn’t change what had happened, but they wouldn’t force their want for a grandchild on me. Besides they have two already (I’m off the hook!)

How many times have I heard after saying that I don’t want children:

* "Oh, I’m sorry." Sorry for what? I’ve made a conscious choice and I’m proud to have the courage (because that’s what it takes in this society) to say no.

* "Don’t you like kids?" LOVE ’EM! They’re cute, huggable, sweet smelling, curious, and all that. I just don’t want one in my home relying on me.

* "You’ll change your mind." Isn’t it possible that as an adult, I’ve learned how to make a decision and stick to it?

My husband and I talked about kids before marriage. We both agreed we didn’t want any and the forward in our future rested on that. He had a bad first marriage and I had little instinct or physical and mental desire to invest. Subsequently we have prepared responses for those who invade our personal lives with the question, "Do you have kids?" as if that is the only characteristic about us that makes us worthy to get to know. How about, "Do you travel?" "Have you been to ... ?" "What’s the last movie you saw?"

Why choose to be child-free? Well there are the selfish reasons (that’s what you tell me, I’m selfish) such as wanting a clean house, peace and quiet, financial and personal freedom, as well as an identity that isn’t bound to someone much younger than you. Then there is the "carbon footprint," impact on society, society’s impact on the child, and overpopulation. Those are real concerns, but for our primary ones.

We’re very free people and enjoyed fulfilling single lives before marrying. It’s been a journey to merge those lives alone that adding another wouldn’t give us the opportunity to learn about one another. Sure, after eighteen years the kids move away (but that’s not so sure anymore) and then you have time, but until they move out it’s all about the kids. I want it to be all about my husband; my happy, funny, loving, appreciative, and adorable husband. I want his life to be all about me, too.

If I re-read this I would agree that I’m selfish. I’d rather be selfish, know it and not have a child than to do otherwise. Don’t you? I’ve read your stories about resenting moms that have (or make) time to spend on themselves. "They should be taking care of their kids!" you say. "How dare they improve themselves? I can’t!" But shouldn’t you be happy that people, who know they don’t want to have kids, don’t have them? How many people have children, don’t appreciate it, end up on Nanny 911 because they don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing and ruin a child’s life? No parent really looks happy in the grocery store or mall. Few look happy when they’re in the park with their kids. Why would I follow in those footsteps?

I see having a child as a status symbol. It’s like that huge one day event we call a wedding (didn’t have one of those either) The months of preparation, cute little clothes and toys, the parties and such that results in a day of labor and boom ... reality -- marriage and/or child.

I could be mad at my uterus for placing me in a caste of women who aren’t worthy to be part of the in crowd dominated by mommies. I could be mad that I endure criticism for making a choice that is right for me (other than following the crowd.) Instead I embrace my uterus (and praise God for the IUD) as the logical partner to my brain that said to me, "I’m not going to define you. You define yourself. Forget I’m here."
My favorite sentiment about children is --I love kids. I'm just glad that when I go home that they aren't there.

What Every Parent Knows

If a person had to sum up the Taoist philosophy in one solitary word, either harmony or balance might come to mind. Both words are taking center stage in our household as we welcome a new member -- Jasmine -- while trying to reassure the other dog and 3 cats that they haven't lost any status.

It's a dynamic that I'm certain every parent knows well! Every time a new child is brought into the fold, much effort must be made to ensure the other children don't feel any less loved and this balancing act continues from that point onward until death.

With domestic animals, the situation is a little different because they and we humans don't share the same language and cognitive abilities. Over the past 15 hours, I've tried to spend equal time with the new recruit and the old crew.

Jasmine needs to feel comfortable in her new digs. She's found a cloth monkey (one the other dogs never seemed interested in), so my wife & I have spent a lot of time playing tug-o-war and throw and fetch. She carries her new toy from room to room looking to play with each creature she comes in contact with.

Our other dog Heidi feels a bit slighted. As she is a senior citizen, she no longer has the energy to play much. We can tell she wants to play -- maybe she's remembering herself as a more youthful dog -- but she can't seem to summon up the needed verve. I've taken her into my office twice without the new dog present so she can enjoy her one-on-one time with me as before.

Of course, the cats are on high alert! They are each so used to Heidi that I don't think they consider her a dog at all; more like a really large cat. The new dog, however, right now is most definitely a dog and an unwelcome intruder in their lair. So, I've gone out of my way to sequester the cats in another room on my lap with lots of petting.

To provide the crew with a better semblance of normalcy, I decided last night to have Jasmine sleep with me in my room with the door shut. My thinking here was that they could move around as always without having to be ever watchful for the intruder. However, as I led Jasmine to my upstairs "cave", I discovered Mookie & Little Bit already asleep on my bed!

Three eyes (remember, the one-eyed cat!) immediately opened wide and sustained hissing became evident. I gently picked up each cat and placed them in the hallway. I then shut the door, so Jasmine and I could settle down for a brief nap.

Just as I was falling asleep, Little Bit -- obviously forgetting that the DOG was in my room -- came to the door and started his pitiful-sounding meow. This sound is his way of saying he wants to come in to curl up in my arms for the night. I tried to tell him through the door that he really didn't want to come this night, but he kept up his melancholy meowing. Finally, I went over and opened up the door; he started to come in until he saw "it"! He looked at me with a sense of betrayal, then scampered back out of the room!

First thing I did upon rising this morning was to find Little Bit and he's sitting on my foot as I peck out this post. Tonight, Jasmine will sleep downstairs and Little Bit will be able to claim his rightful place in my arms for the night. :)

It's all about balance and harmony -- welcoming a new family member with open arms while, simultaneously, providing warmth and reassurances to the older family members.

Here's What I Don't Understand

Let's say my wife and I are deeply in debt. So, to brighten our financial outlook, we begin to borrow like crazy AND all sorts of people lend us money. We take out ten credit cards and max out each credit line. Next, we get 10 bank loans and we quickly spend all the money on upgrading our home plus we take some courses at the local college to improve our employment skills. Next, we hit up all our friends and family members for money -- they throw thousands of dollars at us.

Would most people think our actions were prudent and based on sound financial principles?

My guess is that the answer would be no. I would think that most people would suggest that we were settings ourselves up to go bankrupt or worse. Yet, this is the kind of tact our government is taking to try to steer the country out of the throes of the current economic debacle.

I find myself today in uncharted territory -- I happen to agree with many conservatives! I can't remember a time in my adult life when this has happened.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no economic guru. I have only a vague idea of what the Dow Jones Industrial Average is and what it's suppose to mean. I earned a paltry D in college economics class. So, I'm not suggesting I have the firmest grasp on micro or macro economic policy.

That said, the strategy the Obama administration has decided to pursue simply seems strange to me. My biggest worry is that sometime in the not-so-distant future the bill for all this spending will come due. What will happen if we're not that much better off than we are now? What will happen to our economy if we don't have the requisite funds to pay back all this borrowed money? What if China, who holds a significant portion of our treasury notes, calls in their loans?

We've already seen what happens to mega corporations when this occurs; they get a government bailout. But who does the government itself turn to when the balance sheet is seriously out of whack?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Last night at around 11 p.m. I announced to the world our family's new canine addition. At the time, I wrote the following: "Our 3 cats are all discombobulated, but Sophie doesn't seem particularly interested in any of them." It seems I spoke too soon!

This morning Sophie had run ins with all 3 cats. In fact, she broke the cardinal rule of our household -- she chased Little Bit (our one-eyed kitty) down the back stairs and out of the yard. While we can't be sure if Sophie would have hurt Little Bit, if she had caught him, we decided we were simply unwilling to take that chance. So, for the first time ever, we returned an adoption back to the shelter.

We felt bad because Sophie seemed like a nice dog and, in time, we might have been able to work beyond this problem. Little Bit is the baby of the household -- any new animal must get along with him or the deal is off. In addition, Heidi (our 15 1/2 year old dog) didn't seem like she was warming up to her new sister. She kept hiding each time Sophie entered a room that she was in.

When we made the decision to take Sophie home yesterday, we had debated between her and Jasmine, a pointer-blue heeler mix. We chose Sophie because she was older (5 years old). Upon our return, we ended up taking Jasmine home.

Heidi seems to have taken to Jasmine almost immediately. They sat together peaceably for the entire 45 mile drive home. Upon entering our house, Jasmine immediately greeted 2 of our cats (Dylan & Mookie) with little fanfare. It may be a day or two before Little Bit comes home, but we think he will get along with this dog a lot better.

Below is a photo and description of the new [replacement] dog. Hopefully, I won't have to provide an addendum to this addendum. :-)


More About Jasmine
Jasmine is around 1-2 years old and a bundle of fun! She was a transfer from another town and is hoping someone comes and adopts her soon! She like most young dogs needs to have some basic training but she is eager and willing to learn. At this young age she is looking for someone to teach her how to behave, we like to call it "fine tuning" as with just some basics these dogs can really blossom.

A Clean House

If you know that friends, family or colleagues will be coming to your home for a visit, do you clean house? If you're typically a neat and tidy person, do you still do a little straightening? If you're not typically neat and tidy (like our animal-based house), do you vacuum, sweep, mop, dust and throw all the extra junk in a closet?

The impetus for the question concerns climate change/global warming. While many of us take this as a given, many others believe it is based on false science and liberal propaganda. So, this question is aimed at those who believe human-caused global warming doesn't exist.

Since future generations are the people coming to visit soon, shouldn't we present them with a clean and uncluttered planet? Shouldn't we sweep the floors, dust the shelves, set the table and plump the pillows? What kind of hosts would we be if we left our house in complete disarray?

Laughing Out Loud

Not sure if any of you are familiar with Dustfilms Literal Versions of a few popular songs. The concept is to take a popular music video and to replace the words with what is actually going on in the video itself. The young guy who put these together even makes the singing sound like the original band.

You can use the link above to go to his site to view all 4 songs, including my personal favorite -- Take on Me originally by Ah-Ha. Below is the literal version of Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears. (I like to watch these videos whenever I need a good chuckle.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Addition

Now that nearly 3 months have passed since our little Scruffy died, we decided the time had come to get another dog. So today, we traveled down to Long Beach to the South Pacific County Humane Society and picked out Sophie.


As you can see, while not a purebred, she has a lot of redbone coonhound in her. We don't know a lot about her because someone found her wandering in the woods and brought her to the shelter. The vet estimates she's around 5 years old.

We've never had a coonhound before; this should prove interesting. Our 15 1/2 year old shepherd/collie, Heidi, isn't quite sure yet what to make of this new canine. They've had one minor run-in, but have mainly steered clear of each other. Our 3 cats are all discombobulated, but Sophie doesn't seem particularly interested in any of them.

Anytime a new being is added to a family, it takes everyone involved some time to adjust. I'm fairly confident she will fit in...eventually.

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy VII

True Tao is Universal
by Brother Beatnik
February 5, 2004

Sectarianism and Mathematics

2+2 is 4 in China as it is 4 in the USA. It would also be 4 in the Andromeda Galaxy. It would be 4 in heaven and hell too.

Notice that there are no sects in mathematics. For instance, there isn't a sect called "2+2=5" and there isn't a sect called "2+2=100". Note also that issues about truth in mathematics are not settled through warfare, as in religion, but are settled through reason and logic. This is why the Greeks were obsessed by mathematics. They thought that only mathematics could guarantee certainty and truth. Pythagoras thought the mathematics contained the key to salvation, truth and reality. Pythagoras based his teaching on number mysticism. A basic tenet of the Pythagorean School was that the book of nature was written in mathematics. Scientists are discovering that the laws of the universe are written in mathematics.

Tao is Universal

Tao is also like this. Tao is everywhere. Tao is not an invention of the Chinese mind. Tao is universal. Tao is the foundation of everything. Tao is true in China as it is in Jamaica. Tao is like mathematics. Tao is the real. Tao is truth. Tao is found in all traditions and cultures but it is called different names. These names are subjective projections, and they differ from culture to culture and from religion to religion. But true Tao is beyond name and form. However, to speak of Tao we have to use words, understanding that the words are only a shadow of the reality of Tao.

Tao is called God. Tao is called Brahman. Tao is called Dharma and so on. But these are just names. The true Tao is nameless, beyond conception, beyond definition, eternal, immutable, absolute…

Named Tao(s) are not the nameless Tao. Named Tao(s) can lead to Tao, though not always. Tao cannot be stated in words. Tao cannot be grasped. Tao is subtle. Tao is mysterious. Tao is near. Tao is far. Tao is in all and beyond all. Tao supports all. Tao nourishes all. Tao does not discriminate. Tao does not hate. Tao does not expect to be thanked or worshiped. Tao cannot be owned or possessed, but Tao possesses all. Tao can be accessed by rich and poor, black and white, male and female. Tao is the Power that powers everything. Tao is the shaper of all things, but has no shape. Tao is formless. Tao is the mother and father of all.

True Tao cuts through the confusion of tongues, cuts through the confusion of religion, cuts through the confusion of cultures. The clarity of Tao slices through the Tower of Babel like a laser slices through metal. True Tao cuts through illusion, through darkness, through ignorance, through fanaticism, through hate, through hell. When connection with Tao is lost, worlds plunge in to war and there is poverty, disease and environmental disaster. When the world is in harmony with Tao is there is peace, prosperity and justice everywhere, and the light of Tao shines without obstruction over all. Just like the sun shines over all on a cloudless day.

Don't be a victim of the Tower of Babel. Walk round the pit of sectarianism. Don't fall in!
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy VI

Spiritual Languages
By Brother Beatnik
April 6, 2004

Four people were given some money. The first was a Persian. He said, "I want to buy some angur." The second man was an Arab. He disagreed, "No, you're not buying any angur because I want inab." The third was a Turk. He said, "Hang on, I don't want angur or inab, what I want is uzum." The fourth was a Greek, and he said that what he desperately wanted was stafil. The four started bickering and fighting; each did not understand the meaning behind the names. They had information but no knowledge.

A man passed by; the fuss and the racket in the street had alerted him; he walked over to the four men who were bitterly arguing about how to use the money. To put an end to the tumult, he said, "Give me the money and I'll get each of you what you want." The four men agreed. The stranger bought what each of the men wanted: grapes.

This is a traditional Sufi story told by Rumi in his masterpiece the Mathnavi. The passerby in this story is a linguist. He understands what the men want because he knows their languages. The Sufi is described as a spiritual linguist. He understands the spiritual languages of humankind (Taoism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc) and speaks with each according to his or her understanding. The Sufi thus understands that although the names and sounds of religious concepts are different in different religions the underlying reality that they refer to is the same.

Most people fall into the category of the four men, squabbling over differences in names, concepts, procedures and practices. These people miss the essence and get obsessed by the form. They confuse the container with the content.
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy V

Religious Advertising
By Brother Beatnik
March 22, 2004

The 'goods' that people seek are spiritual - goods like peace, wisdom, happiness, confidence, contentment, certainty, security, courage, patience, truth, love, joy etc. But they think that they can get these 'goods' through indirect, external means that is through material possessions. What they don't realize is that this imaginary inner lack, this imaginary inner poverty, cannot be filled by external riches. You already have everything you need - the Kingdom of God is within you! You already innately possess the perfection of Tao. All you have to do is realize this by looking within.

Religions advertise (in their sacred scriptures) spiritual products like peace and wisdom. This is okay but when you have the 'goods' already, it makes no sense to devote the rest of your life to studying the advertisements. Nothing compares to actually having the goods in your hand. Why be just satisfied with advertisements? Don't spend all your money (your life) on studying, memorizing and writing commentaries on advertisements. Leave that to theologians.

Watch out for spiritual fraud. Many religious evangelists of all creeds are just waving about banners and advertisements - they've never seen the goods themselves. What they're selling are the advertisements themselves. Ask for the goods and they'll say study the advertisements and the goods will magically appear. This is just like handing a menu to a hungry man and saying to him, 'Focus on this menu fervently and the food will appear'. If the food fails to appear the 'chefs' (imams, lamas, vicars, gurus) and 'waiters' (their disciples) accuse the hungry man (the seeker) for not trying hard enough and not having enough 'faith' in the process. Just believe in the adverts, they say, and don't questions about how and where to obtain the goods.
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy IV

One Size Fits All
By Brother Beatnik
February 21, 2004

You go to a shop and they have ready-made sizes. Whatever size you are, you must fit into one of the standard sizes and, if you don't fit in to a particular size, you must squeeze yourself. You must adapt yourself to the clothing, even if it is tight and uncomfortable.

Most religious teachings are like this. The founder has defined the size and limit of the teaching. The founder has defined all the rules and dimensions, and you must fit the 'size' of the teaching, no matter how baggy or loose the teaching is. This is the “one size fits all” approach to religion. The problem is that people come in different shapes and sizes (i.e., people are of different spiritual levels, temperaments and personalities).

What often happened in the past was that, if people didn't fit the teaching, they were accused of being the wrong shape. Therefore the drastic step of surgery was taken to make them fit the standard size. That is the shape of their life was forced to fit the shape of the teaching. Thus the body became the clothing and the clothing became the body! The secondary and primary were switched around in importance and living ones were sacrificed to dead letters. The body (the individual's life) became unimportant and the teaching (the clothing) became all-important. So, instead of tailoring the clothing to fit the body shape, people started tailoring the body to fit the clothing! Thus the clothing (teaching) became a sacred straightjacket and people were regularly sacrificed for the sake of the clothing. (A similar approach has been used in the field of medicine. If an individual did not meet the requirements of “normality”, lobotomies were performed on the brain to correct the “abnormal” behaviors.)

Teachings of Tao are not like this. Taoist sages made no final statements. They did not set limits or boundaries to Tao. All the discoveries of Tao have not been made. Sages of Tao did not ban further developments and advancement in the knowledge of Tao. Sages of Tao journeyed in the Tao, but they did not come to the end of Tao. How could they set limits to its vastness?! Thus sages have always added to the science and technologies of Tao. The poetry of Tao flows without interruption. The teaching of Tao is like a living evolving organism, not a dead fossil in a museum!

Each student of Tao is free to make his own discovery of Tao. Each follower of Tao is free to express Tao in her own life in her own unique way, through art, poetry, music, and creativity. Each practitioner of Tao is free to discover new spiritual laws of Tao. You are free to experiment with what works and what doesn't work. In the end, there are as many ways to Tao as there are people under the sky. You have to find your own way to Tao. Follow your own Inner Light and you will find your own voice. Your life is your own song. Sing your own song. You know the way.

The book of Tao is not a closed book. Tao is open-ended. You are free to write in its pages and express your spiritual understanding and intuition in its pages. The revelations of Tao are continuous. Sages of Tao have done this for thousands of years. The knowledge of Tao goes on increasing because Tao is limitless. Tao exhausts knowledge.

The teachings of Tao are not a straightjacket to confine. Teachings of Tao are like keys to free the prisoners. Teachings of Tao are like light to those in darkness. Teachings of Tao are like wings to fly. To chain yourself to the concepts of Tao goes against the grain of Tao. A bird that has tied its legs with a piece of string is limited by the length of the string. You must cut the strings of attachment, if you want to enjoy the freedom of Tao.

Fly away home!
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.

Taibbi Lets 'Em Have It

There are a lot of good writers out there these days, but few pundits can match the power and straightforward wrath of Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. In "The Big Takeover", Taibbi lets the power elite have it with guns a'blazing. Here's a snippet:

It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. no empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.

The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).

So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. When Geithner announced the new $30 billion bailout, the party line was that poor AIG was just a victim of a lot of shitty luck — bad year for business, you know, what with the financial crisis and all. Edward Liddy, the company's CEO, actually compared it to catching a cold: "The marketplace is a pretty crummy place to be right now," he said. "When the world catches pneumonia, we get it too." In a pathetic attempt at name-dropping, he even whined that AIG was being "consumed by the same issues that are driving house prices down and 401K statements down and Warren Buffet's investment portfolio down."

Liddy made AIG sound like an orphan begging in a soup line, hungry and sick from being left out in someone else's financial weather. He conveniently forgot to mention that AIG had spent more than a decade systematically scheming to evade U.S. and international regulators, or that one of the causes of its "pneumonia" was making colossal, world-sinking $500 billion bets with money it didn't have, in a toxic and completely unregulated derivatives market.

Nor did anyone mention that when AIG finally got up from its seat at the Wall Street casino, broke and busted in the afterdawn light, it owed money all over town — and that a huge chunk of your taxpayer dollars in this particular bailout scam will be going to pay off the other high rollers at its table. Or that this was a casino unique among all casinos, one where middle-class taxpayers cover the bets of billionaires.

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'état. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers...

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy III

Mistaking the Container for the Content
By Brother Beatnik
March 17, 2004

In the field of culture, the effects of mistaking the container for the content can be seen quite clearly: e.g. the obsession with celebrities, the obsession with externals, the obsession with fashion, cosmetics, status and 'image' and the general trend towards the 'Hollywoodization' of politics, to name but a few. But the effect of mistaking the container for the content can also be seen in religion. This happens when religious devotees become fixated on method, technique and dogma. Religious externals begin to obsess people, and they become obsessed by religious paraphernalia – by beards, bells, robes, and hats - religious rituals and religious formulas.

Literalism – meaning-blindness, a characteristic of all religious fundamentalisms – assumes that the container (words of the teaching) and the content (spiritual meaning) are the one and the same, and that there is no other meaning other than the surface, the external, the literal meaning. Mystics, on the other hand, understand that language is the container and the spiritual meanings are the content.

Different shaped containers (spiritual traditions) may in fact contain the same content (the same spiritual essence, truth and wisdom). Water can be poured into many different shaped containers. But because the shape of the container obsesses religious people over the content, religious people fail to see the content. Much religious grief and conflict has resulted from the obsession with containers.

To a thirsty man, however, whether the container is hexagonal or octagonal, blue or red, made by manufacturer X or Y, is irrelevant; what is important is that the container contains something that can satisfy one's thirst like water. A container full of sand would be of no use even if the container were of the "right shape". The content (the essence) is therefore the most important thing.
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy II

Map & Territory
By Brother Beatnik
February 6, 2004

Groups of people are pouring over maps. They are sweating. These are the "experts". A mountain is directly ahead of them. The mountain should not be there: there is no mention of a mountain on their maps. An engineering firm has been contracted to knock down the mountain. It's a formidable technical and engineering challenge. All the top scientists, geologists and engineers are working round the clock on this hard problem. The country is widely expected to go bankrupt in this heroic endeavor. Various methods have been proposed including using nuclear weapons...

Why can't the "experts" just re-draw their maps? Which is easier, to re-draw the map or to detonate a mountain?

Galileo was tried by the Inquisition because his suggestion that the Earth orbited the sun did not agree with the Catholic Church's map of reality. Therefore Galileo was a threat to their map making business and had to be silenced. Galileo retracted his "heresy" and was spared a traditional burning at the stake.

To many religions truth is not that important; what is more important is conformity to dogma and belief.

Clearly territory (reality) is more important than the map (dogma). The map is only valuable so long as it matches reality. When it does it is called accurate. When the map does not match reality it is called inaccurate and the consequences can be fatal, as any explorer or sea captain will tell you.

Imagine the "sky-clad" Jains (i.e. naked Jains) emigrated to the North Pole. Imagine further that the priests and authority figures of Jain society insisted that they conform to Jain teaching at all costs and go about naked in sub-zero temperatures. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what the consequences would be!

The first line of the Tao Te Ching ("Tao that can be stated is not the true Tao") says that the map is not the territory. That is you can't sleep on the word "bed"... that is eating the paper menu cannot satisfy your hunger...that is a stuffed tiger (extinct) in a museum is not equivalent to a living breathing tiger etc. Thus, if you want to see the moon, don't become fixated on the finger. Thus, the philosophy of Tao is a healthy antidote to obsession with maps (dogmas). In fact, the first of Tao Te Ching makes religious fundamentalism impossible!

Taoism is the way of water. Water follows the contours of the land flawlessly. Thus, water maps out the land to perfection. Water also takes the shape of the container. Water has no fixed form of its own, unless it is frozen in to particular shape (dogma, fixed ideas, prejudice). Therefore, people of Tao are more concerned with reality and less attached to maps; like water they map out reality accurately. Thus, Taoism is a flexible spiritual path and does not suffer from the maladies of fanaticism and obsession that plague other religions.

If the map (dogma) does not conform to territory (reality), then it is the map that must be changed and not the territory, and reality must not be sacrificed to protect inept maps. Unreality imposed by force goes against the grain of Tao

A note of warning:

All maps -- even maps drawn by sages and buddhas -- are only tools for navigation and orientation, and not sacred relics to be worshiped. The map is the not the territory. Fingers are not moons. Fingers point to the moon. Do not confuse the two.
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.

A Beatnik's Guide to the Galaxy

Over the course of today and tomorrow I'm going to share with you some short expositions by someone I only know as Brother Beatnik. The gentleman hailed from England and was one of many participants (as was I) on a Taoist forum approximately 5 years ago. I communicated with him briefly via email and then one day his email address started bouncing. So, needless to say, I don't know what happened to him nor much of anything else about him.

What I do know is that he was an excellent writer on topics concerning and related to philosophical Taoism. He impressed me so that I've saved on my computer many of his commentaries. I read them every so often and they always inspire me.
Tao is Beyond Religion
By Brother Beatnik
Feb. 25, 2004

Tao is beyond religion/irreligion, beyond definition, beyond conception. The infinite, nameless, living Tao cannot be imprisoned in the finite bottle of religion. The one Tao covers all. Tao cannot be imposed, enthroned or dethroned, by force. Tao does not require armies because it is Truth and truth does not require an army to defend it, only falsehoods, like 2+2=5, require armies. Nothing can threaten Tao because Tao is the Real. Tao does not demand tribute in terms of belief, worship or prayer. Tao freely provides for all and does not expect to be thanked. Tao is not a possession or personal property of anyone. Tao is not a person. Tao does not have the prejudices and biases of a person. Tao is impartial. Tao is impersonal. Tao exists whether you acknowledge Tao or not. Tao is. That's all.

Tao cannot be taxed, organized, monopolized, turned in to a business to make money. Beware of those who say that their way is the only way to Tao. There are as many ways to Tao are people. There are many entry points to Tao.
  • Teachings that promote compassion are in harmony with Tao.
  • Teachings that promote love are in harmony with Tao.
  • Teachings that promote wisdom are in harmony with Tao.
  • Teachings that promote tolerance and co-operation are in harmony with Tao.
  • Teachings that promote freedom, justice and equality are in harmony with Tao.
  • Teachings that promote peace are in harmony with Tao.
  • Teachings that respect the natural world are in harmony with Tao.
Therefore teachings and practices that contribute to human misery and oppression run contrary to Tao.

Any teaching, no matter who the teacher is, that promotes compassion, wisdom and peace is in harmony with Tao. It does not matter whether the teacher is ancient one like the Buddha or modern one like Eckhart Tolle. It does not matter whether the teaching is Western or Eastern, Northern or Southern; if it promotes peace, human happiness, compassion, wisdom, justice, freedom and equality, it is in harmony with Tao and is a teaching of Tao. The same goes for political practices and ideologies. Tyrannies and dictatorships run contrary to Tao. True democracies, as opposed to sham ones, are in harmony with Tao. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a document that is in harmony with Tao.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Scary Future

An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water
March 22nd, 2009

In this post, I will examine the key impacts we face by 2100 if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path. I will focus primarily on:

* Staggeringly high temperature rise, especially over land — some 15°F over much of the United States
* Sea level rise of 5 feet, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter
* Widespread desertification — as much as one-third of the land
* Massive species loss on land and sea — 50% or more of all life
* Unexpected impacts — the fearsome “unknown unknowns”
* More severe hurricanes — especially in the Gulf...

So begins this important post from Climate Progress. Check it out -- if you dare!

High Noon

I come from a family of history buffs. My brother can tell you most anything you wish to know about Janis Joplin and he can also recite the entire dialog from movies like Little Big Man. My father is a Civil War buff and George Armstrong Custer authority. Each year he and a friend travel to Montana to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. (This trip has spawned a funny annual exchange between my dad and I. Me: Is Gen. Custer still dead? Dad: Yes son, he is.)

I too enjoy history. As I've written here before, one of my obsessions is the sinking of the Titanic. For the most part, however, like me pa, much of my historical reading focuses on the American West during the nineteenth century. I've read several books about historical figures such as Custer, Sequoyah, Cochise, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and, my personal favorite, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.

I'm currently reading "Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend" by Casey Tefertiller. Extensively researched, the author tries hard to separate what we really know about Earp from the multitude of legends that have sprung up over the past 100+ years.

This long preface leads me now to the point of this post -- context.

One problem that contemporaries of any era face is applying present day values and morality to bygone days. What to many in 21st century America might seem shady or vulgar may not have been viewed in the same way in the frontier American West.

For example, Tefertiller details how many upstanding women were involved in various forms of prostitution. While many today may view such involvement as morally bankrupt, in 1880s Tombstone, Arizona, it was taken as a given. There weren't that many jobs available to women on the frontier and, if your relationship with a man came to a sudden end, you still had to eat. So, many respectable women of the era found whoring to be suitable employment.

Another interesting fact is that many of the days lawmen were also professional gamblers and barkeeps. In fact, at that time, many believed gamblers made the best lawmen! This seems to fly in the face of movie depictions of the era. In a whole host of famous films, the law (the guys in white hats) were juxtaposed against the villainous gamblers (the "bad" guys) in a stark morality play of good vs bad. In reality, the lines were often blurred.

The lesson here is to remember that culture and social mores change with time. What is sinful or bad form in one era may be acceptable in the next or vice versa. In essence, it is difficult to judge the character of historical people without a certain amount of an understanding of the context of the day.

This is a point I've tried to highlight again and again in reference to religion. Too often, contemporaries view religious precepts or historical events through the lens of modern life without taking into consideration the context of the then current social structure. When context is lost or ignored, the opportunity genuinely and clearly to understand the situation and message is lost too.

Three Wishes

Most people know the story of Aladdin and the genie. Freed from a lamp, the latter grants the former three wishes. This same general theme pops up in general conversation from time to time. If you could have three wishes, what would they be?

As a youth, my answers were typical. At various times, I would have wished to win the heart of the "girl of the month" (or week in junior high), fame, power, fortune -- the usual stuff.

As I entered adulthood, my priorities changed to things like a good job, good health, lots of friends, the well-being of my family, etc.

By my 30s though -- as I started to become involved in progressive activism -- my wishes were no longer focused on myself and immediate family. My wishes back then centered on world peace, an end to hunger, an ethos of love and respect for diverse groups, saving the environment and so on.

Today, however, I think I would simply walk away and refuse to make a wish. While I would love to enjoy a long life or see our world at peace, I now believe that such things must happen organically. Consequently, even if I had the power to make things better simply by wishing for them, I don't think I'd use it because whatever magic the genie wrought would not be authentic.

I don't want world peace if it means turning people into automated robots. I wouldn't want a long life if it meant that the natural processes of my body would be altered. I don't need friends who are friends solely because they're under some weird spell.

How about you? If you were granted three wishes, would you utilize them and, if so, what would you wish for and why?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Am I a Christian Hater?

From time to time on this here blog, various folks leaving comments have suggested that I appear to hate the religion of Christianity and the people who call themselves Christians. So, I thought I would take the time today to offer my analysis of this supposition. Am I a Christian hater?

From my perspective, the answer to that question is a resounding NO...but yes. How's that for stark ambiguity?

From my humble standpoint, the very idea that there's an elderly-looking bloke high in the sky who gives one iota about you or me is nonsensical, at best, and wholly delusional, at worst. Such beliefs would seem to me to be the bastion of an irrational and weak mind.

That said, this is solely MY perspective and I certainly would not expect you to hold this opinion just because I do. While I may certainly urge others critically to reexamine such beliefs with a more rational eye, if said beliefs provide you with comfort and a sense of stability in a chaotic world, I'm okay with you holding onto them.

So, from that particular standpoint, I don't dislike the followers of Christianity (or any religion) at all.

My great distaste arises when you decide that your rigid and nonsensical beliefs are the ultimate truth and, by gum, everybody else must believe as you do or else people like me are social pariahs or worse. When that happens, my sentiments start tilting closer to the hate column.

I realize that, whatever a person's spiritual or religious beliefs are, this will filter into the manner they interact with the world around them. If, for example, you believe that homosexuality is a mortal sin, you will have trouble interacting with gays and lesbians in a productive manner. As long as this remains a personal issue, I may simply feel sorry for you, but when you make it a community issue -- supporting laws that reflect your personal religious beliefs -- I start going a bit berserk.

This is the crux of my anger toward the Christian religion. It's not enough that Christians hold irrational beliefs close to their hearts, but they want to make these beliefs universal through laws and societal mores.

Even worse, there is no room for cogent discussion! In order to have a scintilla of conversation, you must first accept all of their crazy notions as unmitigated fact and, if you don't, then the discussion ends (because you're a heretic or a pawn of "the devil"). It's a top-down authoritative system that eschews any type of questioning or skepticism.

So to sum up. If you want to believe in concepts that I personally think are ludicrous, that's your right. I certainly won't despise you for it because I realize that not one of us knows the answers to life's most basic questions. The truth is probably either a conglomeration of all beliefs or we're all so far off-base that it would make every head spin.

You will earn my ire, however, if you postulate that what you believe is the ultimate universal truth and all creatures great and small must kowtow to your version of reality. This is the mindset of evangelical (fundamentalist) Christians -- heck, all orthodox religious followers.

I do not like you. I will fight you tooth and nail. If that makes me a (fundamentalist) Christian hater, then I'm guilty as charged!!

Accept Nothing

Firm beliefs are often dangerous as false assumptions surely lead to wrong conclusions. The sage assumes nothing, and questions everything before forming any conclusions.
~ Today's daily quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

Western society is all about conforming to external ideals; whether it be precepts from ancient religions or peer pressure from one's clique or neighborhood. Optimism and idealism are favored, while skepticism is panned. However, as today's quote highlights, dogma (in any form) is dangerous because it leads us to accept false assumptions as reality.

Dogma would be quite okay in a fixed world. If nothing ever changed, then what someone discovered or uncovered 2,000 years ago would be the same as today. Ancient truths would be contemporary truths and vice versa.

But we exist in anything BUT a static world. Change is constant and continual. What may be true one moment may be horribly untrue the next. There are billions upon billions of variables involved and the human mind can only account for a scant few of them, so we must constantly redraw our life map, lest we go off in the wrong direction.

In my book, skepticism is a highly valued trait. Those individuals willing to question anything and everything are the ones I respect the most. This is one reason I'm suspicious of ANY guru or leader. Such individuals present themselves as hard and fast answer people. Anyone who even thinks they KNOW all or most of the answers is a fool and the people who follow them are fools times ten.

Friday, March 20, 2009

In My Little World

As a follow-up to the previous post about a potential demise of evangelical Christianity, here's how I'd like to see the good 'ol US of A set up in relation to religion. Despite the fact it could be easily argued that I'm a rabid left winger, I would actually support allowing religious institutions to discriminate against people based on their own peculiar belief systems.

Let's say a fundamentalist Christian church decided it didn't want to allow gay marriage services to be performed within their hallowed walls. I'd be okay with that. Let's say this same church went even further; they decided they would not allow gays, blacks, Arabs or people with more than three hyphens in their name to join or take part in their religious activities. Again, I'd say "No problem."

If this church ran a college or owned apartment buildings, I'd be okay with allowing them to discriminate there as well.

What's the catch? If a church or other organization decided to enforce rules that ran contrary to federal or state statutes, they would lose their tax-exempt status. Why should they benefit from a secular arrangement if they choose not to uphold secular rules?

I realize some people will argue that a system such as this would foment the creation of religious-based discrimination enclaves. Folks, these already exist today -- I would just make them more overt. Religious groups would be granted the ultimate freedom; to live their institutional lives by their own precepts.

Of course, using history as a judge, we know that a lot of Christian institutions would SAY they uphold basic civil rights while discriminating all the while. In such cases, the institution would be judged both on their explicit and implicit behavior. If it could be shown that they were applying their own standards to situations and were not following civil rights law, they would again lose their tax-exempt status.

In addition, while this scheme would apply to each religion as an institutional body, it would NOT extend to the conduct of the individual members outside of the confines of the religion itself. If your church decides that people of color aren't allowed inside the building, you, as a private landlord or employer, would not be allowed to apply the same rule in your dealings with others within the secular society.

Prediction: Evangelical Christianity Near Collapse

The Coming Evangelical Collapse
By Michael Spencer

We are on the verge -- within 10 years -- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

Why is this going to happen?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up...
Stories about the decline of various religions and ideologies rise up all the time. If each were true, we'd be living in a philosophically dead world. While this particular author may be crying wolf, in this particular instance, I hope he's correct.

I have nothing against people who wish to embrace evangelical Christianity as long as they don't try to shove their weird beliefs down my throat. And that's the rub. This is what such folks seem to live for!

It's one thing not to believe in the concept of gay marriage and not to allow gays to get married in your church -- it's quite another thing to work to outlaw gay marriage everywhere!

It's one thing to believe in "intelligent design" and to teach your children that the earth is only six thousand years old -- it's quite another thing to work to mandate that this pseudo-science be a mandatory component of all science education.

It's one thing to believe in an invisible man in the sky and to thank the invisible man for all your own glories and successes -- it's quite another thing to try to make everybody else kowtow to your imaginary "father".

So, I welcome the predicted demise.