The Will to Kill

Leaving the gun control issue aside (I know we can’t really, but it’s not what this post is about, if you have the will to read on), I find myself pondering how it is that so many young people (and others, not so young) in this country have arrived at a mindset where they have calculated that slaughtering a large number of people—children, adults, whatever—is somehow a thing that they’re ready, willing, and able to meticulously plan and carry out with absolute cold hearted ruthlessness. Knowing they’re likely to die, or even planning on dying themselves as an end result.

How is that rational, or even sane?

How are we not spotting this level of mental instability? Or hatred? Or evil? How can someone be appearing to conduct a relatively “normal” life then suddenly commit an appalling atrocity? What’s going on out there? Are there no warning signs? Can we point to a root cause or causes?

Even if you could erase every gun from the face of the earth (which might be really awesome in the long run, as long as you never find yourself faced with a violent attacker you were unable to subdue with your martial arts skills), how is it we would still have so many people walking around on our planet with such an astonishingly callous lack of regard for human life, and such a grim desire/determination to exterminate it?

What in the actual fuck is happening in the hearts of the folks who are pulling the triggers, and the ones who are wanting to do it right now, the ones whose private journals are being written even as I type this sentence? God help us as a civilization if we don’t figure that shit out.

Riddle me that, however you plot your political position on the continuum.

By the way, I don’t own a gun and probably never will. I’m not really that emotionally invested in gun ownership. I’m all for banning assault rifles and toughening laws regarding ownership and responsibility for safe storage. All that, and more, would be fine with me. That’s not my inquiry here. It’s about the prevalence of the WILL to KILL–not just some individual that slept with your wife or ruined you financially with an evil scheme, but–large numbers of people, even children. To murder them. Mercilessly. This seems a largely modern phenomenon.

Who I Am Not

When exploring the question, “Who am I?” I consider first a list of things I am not.

I’m not my body or my mind. I’m not my personality. I’m not my thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. I’m not the story I tell about my life. I’m not a list of chronological events that happened to me.

Let me clarify.

I seem to be (for now) “inhabiting” my body, but I am not arms, legs, a torso, and a head—I am the one within that house of flesh, bone, and blood.

I have a mind. It analyzes and dissects data (with the brain as its engine); but I am not simply a brain or even the data-sorter I call my mind. I’m the one who sees the mind’s activity.

I have a personality, which is largely a construct, a “face” I put on. This is who I want the world to see. Maybe it’s authentic, maybe it’s artifice; most likely, it’s an ever-shifting combination of the two. Subject to change. I am not that. I am the unchanging presence observing the machinations of the personality.

I have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs which arise from my personal narrative which includes the “history of me” from birth to today. Milestones. Trauma. Joy. Heartbreak. Ecstasy. Hurt. Loss. The good and the bad. All of these things matter, they have value—they should be examined, honored, evaluated, understood, felt, even cherished. They are the ways I experience being human. But they are not me. I am the one who thinks, feels, and interprets. I am the believer. I am the one who is aware of all these things. I am the one who is there, the witness.

Thoughts, feelings, beliefs—all the things I have listed—they are passing phenomenon, always in flux, varying in expression and intensity, they come and go like clouds or the weather.

The true “I” is like the unchanging sky, visited by clouds and weather.

Author and teacher Rupert Spira uses the metaphor of the movie screen and the movie to illustrate this concept.

The movie appears on the screen. In the movie, the image constantly changes. There’s a sunset. A bird soars across a darkening sky. Then, an explosion! No matter what the movie image is, the screen is unaffected. It is simply the medium upon which the images appear. The movie has a story. It’s happy. It’s sad. There are defeats and victories. Suffering and rapture. Life and death. The screen remains the same.

I am the screen. My life is the movie.

As the movie of my life unfolds, I will relish happy feelings and honor sad feelings; but I realize I don’t have to totally identify with them. They are not who I am. My thoughts and feelings very often aren’t entirely accurate and frequently they’re complete bullshit, arising out of fear, ignorance, and insecurity. They are subjective, confused, and biased—usually in a negative way. I don’t have to give them any real weight. I don’t have to be that bullshit story. I can question its legitimacy and relevance. I can get out from beneath the crushing negative narrative. I have a choice! I can find comfort in the pure being that is aware of my mind’s constructions.

Indian yoga guru Sadhguru puts it like this:

“There is a psychological reality in your head, and there is an existential reality which is life. Most people are mistaking their psychological reality to be existential.”

“Your thought and emotion,” he goes on to say, “have become more significant than the cosmos, isn’t it so?”

Yes! So often, we walk about totally immersed in the tiny drama we are generating inside our heads, as if it were somehow more real, more true, than the universe, than existence itself.

So often, it is this psychological drama that is causing our deepest suffering.

I know this has been true for me most of my adult life.

In the midst of heaven on Earth I have generated hell, simply by superimposing my primitive, messy, fucked up, hurt, lost, selfish, fearful, psychological drama over the simple, clear, beautiful reality of being a piece of life, given the profound privilege of watching the unfolding of God’s dream.

This doesn’t mean life can never be a nightmare. It can. But even when it is, I have a choice as to how much suffering I cause by getting caught up in the story I tell myself about it. Like the story about how unfair life is, how everything would be so much better “if only” this or that, and on and on with the never-ending self-pitying story my imagination is weaving, all about “poor me.”

May we shine more brightly in the light of the glorious beings we really are.

Namaste, friend.

Parallel Teachings

I encountered two “teachings” today, one in the digital world and one in the real world. One from a Christian perspective, the other from a Buddhist perspective.

Here is the Christian:

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God… This little point … is the pure glory of God in us. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…”

–Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Here is the Buddhist:

“Buddha compared our Buddha nature to a gold nugget in dirt, for, no matter how disgusting a person’s delusions may be, the real nature of their mind remains undefiled, like pure gold. In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion and wisdom. Unlike the seeds of our delusions, which can be destroyed, this potential is utterly indestructible and is the pure, essential nature of every living being. Whenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. This will not only enable us to regard them as special and unique, but also help to bring out their good qualities. Recognizing everyone as a future Buddha, out of love and compassion we will naturally help and encourage this potential to ripen.”

–Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, How to Transform Your Life

Parallel teachings. What a lovely gift on a Sunday.

Namaste. Amen.

The Beatles, “Get Back”

To be clear, I’m a huge Beatles fan. If you’re not, I’m fine with that. Music, like most forms of artistic expression, hits our senses and sensibilities very differently. Debating the Fab Four’s relative creative worth is a waste of time. The music moves you, or it doesn’t. End of debate.

For me, The Beatles collective body of work is impressive in its quality and quantity; it’s an evolving musical landscape that can be raucous, silly, plaintive, intelligent, poignant, and beautiful … sometimes all in the same song. I don’t love everything they’ve ever done, but I love a lot of it. It moved me upon first hearing and it continues to move me decades later.

If you’ve watched, or are watching, the (long and winding) Peter Jackson documentary “Get Back,” I’m guessing you’re a pretty serious Beatles fan too. I’m helplessly fascinated, watching the four of them interact: being loony, inspired, frustrated, brotherly, undisciplined, petty, generous, cheeky, and brilliant. Time, talent, and pop culture have turned these guys into living legends, so everything they say and do becomes somehow larger and more significant than it likely was while it was happening.

I’m amused by the (seemingly) infinite articles being written about the documentary. They seem intent on interpreting every little word and gesture with articulate flair, as if the authors of the articles have any real idea what these four young artists were thinking nearly 60 years ago. My guess is if you could (magically) talk to each of The Beatles—and if they answered honestly, without filters—you’d have four quite different versions of the filmed events and none of them would remotely resemble these incessant long-distance interpretations.

My advice about watching “Get Back?” Don’t bother with the futile guessing games or trying to reconstruct why The Beatles broke up. If you’re a fan, watch the documentary for the sheer joy of it. Watch John, Paul, George, and Ringo as they piece together iconic songs that have become a permanent part of your musical psyche. Soak up this moment in time and enjoy sitting in with these compelling personalities that have improved your life and mine with their wonderful library of songs.

To Life!

Consider the amazing conspiracy of circumstances working non-stop to keep you alive.

Without you having to do a thing, your heart beats and your lungs breathe. Even when you’re fast asleep, these two persistent rhythms quietly manifest themselves, keeping the machine-that-is-you running.

Most of the time, your injuries heal and your illnesses surrender again to good health.

Conclusion: your body wants you to live.

Gravity holds you to the earth. The sun warms you. Phytoplankton and trees offer up oxygen for you. Plants and animals feed you. The sky gives you water to drink.

Conclusion: the universe sustains you.

These are pretty awesome powers that seem to be concerned with making sure you have the things you need to stay alive.

Of course, you can’t realistically ignore the forces at work in the world that might just take your life: tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, poisonous plants and creatures, viruses and bacteria, and even a small fraction of human beings with bad intent. Add to this list countless random incidents and accidents that wait around every corner with the potential to injure or kill you, and you’re compelled to reckon with the unpleasant fact that there are plenty of threats out there.

Conclusion: the world is sometimes a dangerous place and, on any given day, remaining alive is not a guarantee.

Furthermore, whenever you pass by a cemetery, you’re reminded that there will come a day when your heart and lungs will stop expanding and contracting, regardless of any contrary plan you may have. So, even if you evade death by natural disaster, deadly stings or bites, homicide, or any of a thousand careless human blunders … you’re still going to die when your body decides it’s had quite enough.

Conclusion: we’re all going to die.

These truths make up the fulcrum upon which our lives are balanced.

I’m thankful that my body keeps on ticking (despite the fact that I haven’t always treated it well). So far, it’s seen me through more than 60 years of life. Maybe I should do a better job of caring for it, you know, to show my appreciation.

I’m thankful that the universe continues to operate as it does, constantly providing the things I need to live. I try not to take for granted the sun’s rising or the downpouring of rain beneath a harvest moon. I want to remain aware of the marvels of plant and animal life and how they contribute every day to my being alive.  

I’m in awe of the ocean and the night sky. I’m astonished at the inexplicable variety of living things crawling, slithering, swimming, flying, and walking upon this amazing planet we call home.

I want to keep my mortality in mind as I go about my daily life. Life is uncertain and fragile. I want that to motivate me to live my best life. To love myself and others better. To prodigiously forgive myself and others.

Conclusion: let’s squeeze every drop of deliciousness out of the grapefruit that is our one earthbound life.

To life!

Having Faith in Matter

“…you regard yourself as an accident—a biological accident—in a stupid universe. A vast, pointless gyration of radioactive rocks and gas in which you happen to occur.” — Alan Watts

If we assume that the current scientific model for the origin of the cosmos is accurate, then we have accepted that at one time all of the matter in the observable universe was infinitely dense; which is to say, it had no size at all. That’s all the stars, planets, space, and other matter in 2 trillion galaxies … being smaller than a single atom.

(2 x 10 to the 23rd power: that’s an estimate of the number of stars alone.)

All of it crunched into a singularity so teeny tiny that it cannot be measured.

Everything is nothing, essentially.

Can you picture that? No, I mean really try to see that in your mind.

Does it stretch credulity at all to try to imagine such a state?

How did it get there?

I understand that the expansion of the universe, and the existence of background radiation, are reasons to believe it was there—I’m asking how it got there.

The most pertinent question, for me, then, is this:

What, exactly, is the cause sufficient to produce such an effect?

“Since the universe by its definition encompasses all of space and time as we know it, NASA says it is beyond the model of the Big Bang to say what the universe is expanding into or what gave rise to the Big Bang. Although there are models that speculate about these questions, none of them have made realistically testable predictions as of yet.” (https://www.space.com/52-the-expanding-universe-from-the-big-bang-to-today.html)

“The Big Bang theory makes no attempt to explain how structures like stars and galaxies came to exist in the universe.” (https://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/bb_cosmo.html)

So, the scientific answer to our question (what caused all matter in the universe) is “we don’t know.”

After that meaty question, another one naturally follows.

How did this infinitely dense singularity come to contain the perfect “recipe of stuff” that unfolded itself outward into the unimaginable abyss to become our universe, which contains our galaxy, which contains our planet, which has produced such a vast array of highly complex living things, some of them being both conscious and volitional (as opposed to merely instinctual)?

If we are going to embrace pure materialism, we are doing so understanding that we must believe that non-life ultimately gave birth to life, unconsciousness generated consciousness, mindless matter produced the human mind (super-gradually, without any intention or “end goal”) … and all of that was derived from an invisible ball of matter the origin of which our best scientific minds can’t explain.

This is a kind of faith. And a rather fantastic kind of faith at that.

Science is pretty good at creating models that rewind back to that singularity and carry us forward to the present-day state of the cosmos. But anything that took place before that is outside the realm of testable theories. I think this is an incredibly important admission that isn’t talked about a lot.

Science is essentially saying: “Give us one massive, inexplicable, odds-defying phenomenon (a.k.a. ‘a miracle’), and we’ll explain how it eventually made everything.”

This, to me, is the atheists’ version of Genesis 1:1.

Maybe the opening verse of the atheist Bible would say this: “Once upon a time before time, all matter was infinitely dense.”

We’ve substituted scientists for priests. They tell us they’ve had a revelation (the origin of which they can’t prove), but we should believe them because they have some very sophisticated instruments with which to examine the things of the world. This world where everything that is visible is composed of invisible things that are in constant motion.

The only way we can see an atom is if we look in a million-dollar instrument called an electron microscope. Very few of us have done so. Yet we believe in atoms. Having never seen one. We have faith in atoms. And in their astonishing power to “self-organize.” Science has yet to decipher those mechanisms of self-organization.

And, lo, the subatomic particles did bond together to become atoms (something which had never existed before). Atoms then bonded together to become molecules (which had never existed before). Molecules bonded to become cells (never existed before). And these cells mutated countless times to create untold species of plants, insects, and animals, ending in intelligent, conscious, self-contemplating human beings. All of this from a blind, stupid universe.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT09JbaEh_I – start video at minute 10)

This is a picture of an unthinking, purposeless cosmos that is self-transcending on an incomprehensible scale.

Given enough time, and just the right circumstances, nothing becomes everything.

What are the odds? Really?

And all the materialists said, “Amen.”

I Just Burped Garlic Into My Mask

bread

That’s a sentence I never imagined myself saying. But, damn, the bread at that little restaurant in Galena was off-the-freakin’-chart delicious!

What a weird world we’re in.

It’s hard to think of any aspect of life that COVID hasn’t made just a little suckier.

Yes, there I go, one of those people whining about some trivial inconvenience while people are dying. Which just proves my point.

I, myself, am a little suckier here in 2020. Apologies to all for my crass, thoughtless, callous, self-indulgent complaining (except you, coronavirus—you can go f**k yourself).

Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could say some super noble thing about what’s happening on the planet right now? Something that would reveal my amazing human compassion, my deep insight into pandemics and the sociopolitical truths behind the paralyzing media infodump coming at us from every corner, from every angle.

Yep, I really want you to believe that I know which news source is telling you the truth and which power monger, which asshole politician, has “no agenda but the truth.” (AS IF!)

As it turns out, I can actually do something sort of like that.

Because I have recently deployed a small army of omnipresent, invisible, undetectable, stealth drones that, even now, are hovering about the hallways, toilet stalls, secret rooms, and torture chambers of global power.

That’s right. I know what’s being said by people who don’t want you to know what they’re saying.

Of course, I can’t give you specifics. Or else they’d kill me. Duh. I’m not stupid. I don’t wanna be the next f****ng Alexei Navalny, dude. Not at all.

What I can tell you, is that people in positions of influence are consistently saying a few kinds of things.

  1. Things they think are the truth but aren’t because their source is shit.
  2. Things they know are lies but they want you to believe are true because it serves their narrative which they hope enhances their chance to implement their self-centered, power-and-greed motivated agenda.
  3. Things that are partial truths with certain critical details presented very selectively, other details embellished, and yet further details omitted entirely. Because such careful revision of information (this may sound familiar) serves their narrative which they hope enhances their chance to implement their self-centered, power-and-greed motivated agenda.

Sure, somewhere (no one knows where) someone is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But how would we recognize it? Who are we counting on to do the fact-checking? CNN? FOX news?

I want to believe my government cares about my well-being. I want to believe it is informing me out of its great reverence for human life.

Then I think about how my government has behaved throughout human history. Not just my government, but pretty much all governments. And institutions. Judicial. Military. Religious and secular. Conservative and liberal. Left and right. All of them doing things and saying things that serve their narrative which they hope enhances their chance to implement their self-centered, power-and-greed motivated agenda.

This is what they do. This is The Machine.

Some people in The Machine are well-intentioned. Some of them believe they are speaking the truth. Some of them are really trying to do good things.

Not too fucking many.

But some.

I’d let you know who they were but … well, you know what would happen.

Truth tellers are an endangered species. They don’t generally run for any public office. They’re usually outcasts.

Sometimes they’re executed.

Other than that, I’m fine.

How are you doing?

Teensy Brain

Most of the time, the world feels small. It’s the room you’re in. Familiar streets. Your neighborhood.

That’s the illusion though, right? Because we all know the world is … well, it’s really, really big.

crab nebula

You telescope out and it’s fucking big beyond all belief.

It’s a planet, a galaxy, a cosmos. You can’t even get it. Not really. The immensity of it is mostly abstract. Like when you look at a Hubble Space Telescope image that is mesmerizingly beautiful, but you don’t have any real understanding of what it is, not even after you read the description of it, which goes like this:

“The Crab Nebula, the result of a bright supernova explosion … is 6,500 light-years from Earth. At its center is a super-dense neutron star, rotating once every 33 milliseconds, shooting out rotating lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and light — a pulsar (the bright dot at image center). The nebula’s intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion.” (https://hubblesite.org/image/4027/gallery/35-supernova-remnants)

I mean, if there’s a quiz you’re fucked. I am, anyway.

I’m a teensy-weensy living being with my teensy brain gazing at the indefinable, the unimaginable, the incomprehensible. Still, I reduce it all down to the Google pin I’ve plotted on the map where I am.

pin

This is the truth to me. My spot on Earth. My field of vision.

I am one conscious being of nearly eight billion on the planet. One of 107 billion who have ever lived. (https://www.prb.org/howmanypeoplehaveeverlivedonearth/)

Yet, I am the center of my world, as you are yours.

My life is a momentary flicker that will wink out and be utterly forgotten in a generation or two. I am destined to be a worn, faded photo in a dusty box someone will look at one day and say to themselves, “I don’t know who this is.” The photo, then, is a thing to be thrown away because it no longer fits a narrative anyone is living.

I am nothing. I am everything. This is the irony, the paradox of being mortal.

Seize it. Love it, every little bit of it, while you can.

Love yourself, your body and soul. Love your family, friends, and tribe. Love strangers if you can. They’re amazing, all of them. Just like you. A flicker in time, occupying a pinpoint in space.

Part of the whole.

Dropped onto the playground of life from the hands of God.

(The “God part” is something I believe, but I don’t mind if you believe that you and I are merely astonishing biological accidents and the universe is simply “one of those things that happens from time to time.” I respect that conclusion and raise a beer to the audacity of my belief and your non-belief.)

Your life. The best gift ever. Can we agree on that?

Play on, brothers and sisters.

Prayer is a Weird Thing

4-funny-prayers

I grew up in a Christian church where there was a pretty significant emphasis on prayer. We prayed over everything: family meals, sick relatives, algebra tests, moral dilemmas … misplaced shoes. Seeking God’s blessing and help was an automatic response to the fraught drama of being human.

What did we think was going on in heaven? God was just lounging around, not sure what he ought to be paying attention to … then he heard us pray for Aunt Dorothy’s open-heart surgery to go well, so he sprang into action because we were so sincere? I mean, he was going to let her die, but since we prayed and all, God changed his mind and Dorothy came through with flying colors, going on to live another decade.

It would be pretty weird if God operated like that, arbitrarily intervening in human affairs: holding up airplanes through turbulence, guiding people home in blinding snowstorms, seeing to it that little Timmy survived brain cancer. Because the other side of that idea is that God is also allowing some planes to crash, letting some people freeze to death, and standing by while some children die of cancer.

Maybe I once believed something like that. I don’t anymore.

Yet I still pray. All the time, about all kinds of things.

My theology isn’t what it used to be. If you tried to pin me down about what I believe God is like, I’d struggle to sound coherent. Yet, I am a theist. And I don’t view God as an impersonal blob of energy.

I acknowledge that everything I believe may be wrong. It might just be the bullshit I tell myself so I can face life: this life that is full of wonder and terror, good and bad fortune, pleasure and pain, love and hate, joy and desperation and death. Maybe I’m not brave enough to handle all that without my “invisible friend.” I accept that possibility.

But my faith matters to me. God matters to me. Prayer matters to me.

So, when I pray for strength, for wisdom, for an extra dose of love and courage and faith to get me through something, or even for the welfare of others … what do I think God is doing in response?

I don’t know. It’s not my problem.

Everything is energy, right? We’re made of invisible spinning particles. We’re made of what the cosmos is made of. The universe made us. Our thoughts and emotions are energy. You can feel them move through you. When your heart breaks with love for someone who is suffering or in danger, that energy burns in you like an all-consuming fire. When you hope desperately on behalf of someone you love, that hope has weight and substance, it exists in the world as a measurable phenomenon.

My dear atheist friends, when you tell your loved one that you’ll be thinking of them while they’re having an operation … that’s your version of a prayer! When you wish someone “good luck” on their job interview or entrance exam … that’s you praying for them in your way. You are saying, “This is the intention of my heart for you. That you are well. That you are happy. That your life is good. That you find love and peace and purpose.” As an atheist, you see no divine agency moving in the background, still you are lobbing the energy of your positive intention into the universe, even if you believe at the end of the day that the universe is ultimately absolutely cold and indifferent to the desires of your heart.

Prayer is the energy of hope, lobbed into the universe.

Does prayer change how things turn out?

I don’t know. Maybe.

Prayer changes me. It alters my disposition. It softens me toward those I might perceive as enemies. Prayer reminds me that the sun is giving off light and warmth even when it is hidden behind clouds. It reminds me that I still feel the energy of love left behind by people who no longer walk among us. Prayer is the voice of human consciousness speaking to itself, connecting to a conscious universe that gave birth to mind and matter and love. Prayer (like faith) is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Prayer is a weird thing. But, it’s a weird thing in a pretty damn weird and mysterious universe. Life, it seems to me, frequently calls for silly things like faith, hope, and love, to get us through the challenges of the human drama. That’s my story. And I’m sticking with it.