Peculiar Effects of Travel

ce-travel

The tyranny of the necessary has a way of gobbling up our one true (and most fleeting) possession: time.

For this reason, and others, I haven’t made travel a priority in my life.

I did, however, commit this year to get up and go adventuring, at least a few times, beyond the borders of Illinois (my home state).

Early in 2019, I flew with a friend to San Diego for a few days. We casually biked and strolled along the ocean shoreline, walked in an exotic garden, dined and drank a little, shared some laughs, and just hung out.

This summer, I drove to Minnesota to meet up with a group of church friends for some pretty serious cycling on gorgeous trails that had once been railroad tracks. We pedaled, coasted, chatted, laughed, shared, philosophized, and encountered some lovely pies.

Just yesterday, I returned home from a visit with a friend in Denver. We hit a bike trail in the mountains, went hiking at Red Rocks in Morrison, saw Bruce Hornsby at a beautiful outdoor music venue, and enjoyed deep conversation and warm companionship.

Each of these small adventures was a nice break from the well-defined rituals and necessary chores of my daily life. I got to see new places, have some fun, and enjoy the company of people I like and admire.

But there’s something else about these travels that make them unique among human experiences.

The movement itself, the traversing of distance … watching mile after mile of American topography pass by … brought some things into sharper focus for me.

I’m on a planet.

Duh, right? Of course, this is something we all know; but, when you’re mostly occupying such a very small and familiar patch of ground, it can start to feel like this is it. Like, my reality is this fifty-sqaure-mile zone. We make the mistake of sensing that the truth is what we can see.

Ah, but no. The truth is bigger. So much bigger.

Vast, stretching plains, forests and farmland, rolling hills, creeks, lakes, rivers, mountains … it’s all out there under the sun, visited by wind and rain, beautiful and alive, teeming with every variety of plant and animal life, humming and thriving. Whether we see it or not, it’s there.

Our home isn’t just the structure over our heads or the geography of our hometown.

We live in a state, in a country, on a continent, within a hemisphere, on a planet with a total surface area of about 197 million square miles.

You feel that just a little more when you actually see a stretch of 1,000 miles—one moving image at a time—in a single day. I’ve been reminded of my world’s glorious expanse, and that reality hums in my head now like a newly discovered favorite song.

Telescope out, and we see that we’re in a solar system that’s in a galaxy that’s in a universe … and we start to feel pretty small.

Yet, here we are. Living, conscious beings, uniquely equipped to take in and translate all this natural wonder through the astonishing gift of sensory perception. Lucky us.

Truth is big.

The other thing that came home to me as I zipped through all that territory, is the subtle reality of impermanence.

There I was, moving on a highway at 70-80 miles per hour, across a planet that is spinning (if you’re on the equator) at 1,000 mph, as it hurtles through space at 66,667 mph. So, every micro-second my position in the universe is … well, radically shifting. I’m virtually never in the same space for any kind of measurable time. Which is much like the present moment. It comes and goes at lightning speed, already fading away as soon as it arrives. This is the impermanence of time and space.

The gift we get is now. Right now. This very second is the only opportunity we have to live on this spinning sphere. It isn’t when the workday is over, or when the weekend gets here, or when our vacation arrives, or when we find love, or when we retire. It’s NOW. Always now. Always fleeting, and always a gift beyond comprehension. This breath. This heartbeat. This step. Seize it, squeeze it for all it’s worth, baby … ‘cause it’s whizzing by faster than the speed of light!

We can convince ourselves that this material world is solid, because that’s how we experience it. Your body, a table, the ground under your feet, mountains … you can touch them, push against them, and feel their substance. You forget they’re composed of invisible particles in constant motion. Every visible thing is made up of madly-spinning invisible things. Crazy.

Your body loses and gains atoms, all day, every day. Ninety-eight percent of the atoms in your body are replaced yearly. You are literally, materially, a new person, every year. It’s an invisible truth, but truth nonetheless.

This is impermanence.

I want it to remind me of the stunning miracle of being alive. The incomprehensible gift that belongs to me every time I draw a breath. I want to see that there are no mundane moments. They’re all amazing. I want to feel that there’s no such thing as a wasted breath. Each one is an unrepeatable and miraculous occurrence. It’s mine. And it’s yours.

So often we seem to be seeking comfort in what we think we can know about our world, looking for “facts” to shape our reality, as if this were where comfort and safety might be found.

As if what our intellects can grasp, were the truth.

Ah, but no. The truth is bigger. So much bigger. In the realm of human experience, accurate data are very useful; but meaning is what we crave, not some sort of list of ingredients of which material reality is composed.

What does impermanence tell us about what life means?

What matters? What’s critical and what’s trivia?

A question for us all to ponder as we make plans on a world that spins at 1,000 mph, as it hurls through space at 66,667 mph, no two micro-seconds alike.

How, then, shall we live?

HOW TO BE FREE FROM ALL YOU HOLD AGAINST YOURSELF

freedom

NOTE: The following applies to most ordinary bullshit. HUGE bullshit, like a terminal disease, or a loved one who is suffering profoundly … these are struggles of a different magnitude. Our discussion here pertains to regular old human suffering, so much of which has to do with the ego and its endless needs.

And so …

1. TAKE INVENTORY OF ALL THE THINGS YOU SEE AS YOUR DEFICITS.

This includes all perceived body flaws, personality flaws, financial situation, living situation, relationship issues, perceived state of success/failure, moral/spiritual failures, past choices you see as regrettable.

Go ahead and make that list. The whole enchilada. Leave nothing out. Write it down, if you like. Or just make a mental list. I’ll wait.

Okay. Done?

2. NOW, IMAGINE YOU ENCOUNTER YOUR PERFECT PARTNER AND THEY ACCEPT AND LOVE YOU EVEN THOUGH THEY KNOW ALL THAT STUFF YOU JUST LISTED IN THE ABOVE INVENTORY.

Think of what that would do to you. What a colossal relief, right? You can stop pretending you have it all together. You can quit “putting on a happy face.” You’re done with all that bullshit. You can just be who you are, and you’re absolutely accepted and loved. Imagine how you’d carry yourself with this person: no fear, no worry, no self-consciousness. You’ve won the Inner Peace Lottery, right?

3. NOW, FORGET THAT PERSON. YOU CAN’T BE SURE YOU’LL FIND THEM. IF YOU ALREADY HAVE FOUND THEM, QUIT YOUR WHINING AND GO GIVE THEM A HUG. IF YOU HAVEN’T (ON SECOND THOUGHT, EVEN IF YOU HAVE), THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE YOU KNOW WHO CAN ACCEPT AND LOVE YOU JUST AS YOU ARE, DESPITE ALL YOUR PERCEIVED ISSUES/PROBLEMS. AND THEIR OPINION OF YOU IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT OF YOUR FANTASY LOVER/FRIEND/PARTNER.

That person, of course, is YOU.

Can you do it? Can you look at that list and say, “I accept and love myself just as I am in this moment?” If you can, then you’re off the hook you’ve placed yourself on! You’re free!

This doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve yourself. If you are bothered by some aspect (or aspects) of your life that you have the ability to affect? Go ahead and make plans for improvements. But don’t wait until you’ve accomplished your plans to approve of yourself. If you do, you’ve placed unnecessary emotional tension in your way. You are in conflict with what IS. That’s a surefire setup for unhappiness. ACCEPT what is, even as you engage in a plan to improve what you can.

Easier said than done? Yes, it is.

The truth, though, is that MOST people are holding a lot of things against themselves. Their lists look much like yours (and mine). Maybe the details vary, but the general idea is the same: “I am unacceptable and unlovable for these reasons.” And we carry this in the form of many thoughts that build up into one helluva destructive emotional snowball … we’ve given that fast-rolling sonofabitch SO MUCH power! The power to sabotage our happiness in the here and now, and on through the rest of our lives, right to our graves if we let it! LET’S NOT LET IT!

Unless and until you accept and love yourself unconditionally, radically … you will be stuck in a bad place, somewhere between mere discontent and full-on depression.

The power is yours, and yours alone. What will it take for you to LET GO of all that bullshit you’ve been holding against yourself? When will you get around to unlocking the chains you’ve put on your soul?

Examine each item on your list. Say each one OUT LOUD and say you accept it, as it is in this moment.

Examples:

“I accept how my body looks and feels right now in this moment. I am letting go of the desire for my body to look and feel any different than it does right now in this moment.”

“I accept my job situation as it is right now in this moment. I am letting of the desire for it to be any different than it is right now in this moment.”

Remember, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look to drop a few pounds or get a new job. If you deem those things important, start mapping your strategy RIGHT NOW, even as you accept things as they are, right now, in this moment.

Do this with every item on that list.

And mean it. In your heart. This is not just an intellectual thing, not just an acknowledgement thing. Maybe it starts as that. But it MUST BECOME something you believe and feel to be true in your heart.

IF you can do this, then you are free from your bullshit, it no longer has to be an impediment to your present happiness or future growth.

Congratulations on the first day of the rest of your life.

Now. Full disclosure.

I believe everything I’ve just written. The ideas aren’t mine, they are very old ideas. I’ve laid them out in my own way, but they’re in a million self-help books, spiritual and non-spiritual.

I wrote them down this way FOR ME.

Because I hold so many things against myself. I’ve given these things COLOSSAL life-killing power over decades. And I still struggle with them. Every day.

I feel I’ve made important steps forward. I have begun with the acknowledgement of the truth that my holding on to these things has been, and clearly is still, sabotaging my happiness. I have spoken this struggle out loud to others I trust, even disclosed some of it to my entire church community in a video sermon. I am actively engaged in a process of radical self-acceptance, even as I recognize that I have far to go.

So, I’m still working on it.

I hope you are too. If so, tell me how.

And, if you’ve conquered it, if you’re surfing the waves of radical self-acceptance right now in your life? I bow to you and congratulate you! Tell me what has been the most helpful insight for you. Together, we can lift each other up.

I’m pretty sure that’s the highest thing we can do as humans.

Love each other to wholeness.

May it be so. Peace to you.

Continue reading “HOW TO BE FREE FROM ALL YOU HOLD AGAINST YOURSELF”

Lopsided Indiginity

duplicity

I describe myself these days as a “political atheist.” By this I mean I don’t believe in any political party.

Like you, I try to sort out what I believe about the moral and social issues that matter to me then vote for people who claim to believe in principles that (more or less) are in alignment with that.

Problem is, I don’t believe most politicians (of any party) truly give a rat’s ass about what you or I believe, want, or need. I just don’t. If the show were really about us (ordinary Americans) and not about power and greed (this refers both to the politicians who are busy preserving their gig and the ruling class who are busy preserving theirs), then things would be radically different.

All of the outrage over the lies spewing forth from High Office in 2018? I get it. I do. But let me pose a question.

Which do you find more disturbing: the lies that are so obvious a seventh grader can point them out, or the lies that are so carefully crafted and eloquently delivered that you’re applauding and wiping away a little tear as they reverberate in your ears?

They’re equally disgusting, yes? The clever lie is being delivered by a Statesman, likely one with a formidable academic background, and the obvious lie is being delivered by a delusional fool. At the end of the day, it’s the lie you believe that presents the greater danger, though both are a great offense.

Do you really imagine that “your party” and its leaders are the good guys and “the other party” and its leaders are the bad guys? You weren’t lied to about the Watergate break in? You weren’t lied to about what was really happening in the Viet Nam war?

Do you think your party’s leaders aren’t lying?

Do you believe what you read in history books is unvarnished truth? The whole truth?

What is CNN telling you? Or FOX news? You think there is no agenda, no pullers of strings, no money influencing “your” media while “the other guy’s” media is a pack of filthy lies?

Follow the money.

What do you or I know?

We know the story someone else is telling us.

By all means, fact check. By all means, call out bad behavior. Go ahead and be indignant.

But never forget that, within the framework of history, “your team” is as guilty as the other guy’s team. If we catalogue all the lies and crimes of our political leaders, neither party comes out looking saintly.

It’s the “lopsided indignity” that chafes me.

If you’re gonna hate one man’s misuse of power (and you should), you must hate the other man’s equally. Even if he’s better looking and more intelligent. Even if he accomplished things you thought were good. If you’re going to despise one man’s womanizing (and you should), then you must despise the other’s with equal fervor. Even if your guy was the leader of a cause you believed in. If you’re gonna hate one man’s approval of torture, you must hate the other man’s approval of Napalm. Even if your guy said a bunch of neat stuff and wrote a lovely book. One man’s collusion is another man’s drowned mistress. Don’t idolize these people, don’t make of them anything more than they are.

Be an equal opportunity hater of injustice, lies, and misuse of power. That’s all I’m saying, people.

The endless self-righteous political talk (from both sides, from all sides) is incredibly tired and terribly lacking in context.

“I don’t wanna live in a world of darkness, I wanna live in a world of light. I don’t wanna live in a world that’s heartless, I wanna live in a world of sight.” – Steve Miller

Yes, that’s right. All the best wisdom has been summed up in pop music lyrics.

 

 

Travesty of Modern Language Use

rs

Lexicon mystery: could someone explain the modern (as far as I know, it’s a modern development) habit of people dropping the letter “t” in certain words?

The first time I remember hearing this was in The White Stripes song, “The Hardest Button to Button.” Most of the time, when Jack White sings this phrase within the song, he drops the “t” out of the word “button,” so we get “buh in.” Thus, “the hardest buh in to buh in.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4dx42YzQCE

Regina Spektor does this, too. In her song, “Fidelity,” she sings the word “better,” dropping the “t,” rendering it “beh uh.” As in, “All my friends say that, of course, it’s gonna get beh uh, gonna get beh uh…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wigqKfLWjvM

When I was in Pennsylvania a while back I was asked in a Dunkin Donuts if I wanted my iced tea “swee-ened or unswee-ened,” thus the removal of “t” from a description of tea, which must be some sort of linguistic irony that would make the King (of “King’s English” fame) get all flustered (if he were a real person and not just the name of a book published in 1906).

Recently, I heard a guest on NPR drop the “t” from the word “certain” to give us “cer in.” NPR. Where I thought, maybe, language was safe from such absurd frivolity.

What is this???? Is it regional? Did it start in pop music?

Who can I blame for this? Do you know someone who does this? Do you?

Truthfully, I don’t really care. I’ve just noticed it and find it amusing/puzzling/intriguing. I haven’t heard anyone address it.

These are the times that try men’s souls (and women’s, probably more with the women’s souls being tried, to be accurate).

If someone would just explain to me this horrifying language travesty, I’d feel so much beh uh. You know?

Word Love,

JW

Art Made by A**holes

220px-Dustin_Hoffman_Cannes

What would you do if you spent an hour in an art gallery, found an exhibition of work that astounded you, moved you, made you laugh and cry and think so hard that you were exhausted and elated by the time you’d seen all the pieces … and a week later you found out that the artist was a chauvinist jerk, or a misogynist, or guilty of sexual harassment? Can you still admire the man’s work? Or has everything he’s done as an artist become so tainted that it’s no longer worthy of a spot in the gallery?

Can you still enjoy a Harvey Weinstein film? A Woody Allen film? The work of Dustin Hoffman? Kevin Spacey? Bill Cosby?

It’s weird, isn’t it? The curtain gets pulled back and people we may have thought highly of turn out to be assholes. Or worse. Maybe they’re assaulters. Rapists.

Still, there’s this body of work out there: movies we love, television shows we love, albums we love, books we love. Has it all become shit in light of the moral failures of these men (let’s face it, it’s mostly men doing the harassing)? Does it depend on how great the failure is? Is there a scale?

While I would never, never, never attempt to in ANY way excuse these moral failings/crimes, I think there are issues here worth exploring before we simply relegate all of these creative works to the entertainment trash bin of history.

It almost seems a given that men who are driven to seek fame have intense power issues. And once they achieve it, once the adulation starts to puff up their egos, rises them to “rock star” status, is it really a surprise that they abuse their celebrity? Especially if they start getting treated like little gods who can do no wrong. Power corrupts, as we know.

Even folks we might be tempted to valorize can fall mightily. Right, Bill Clinton? JFK? MLK? Here’s your power and … whoops, you abused it. Whaddaya know? It takes a strong man indeed to react with restraint, remain faithful to his wife, when he has scores of young, beautiful women falling at his feet. (In Weinstein’s case–and others’ who are guilty of assholery–they weren’t “falling at his feet,” but rather they were vulnerable in the shadow of his perceived power.) The onus of responsible, moral choice remains on the man, clearly, but I don’t think it’s a great shock that the area of sex and sexual attraction is an Achilles heel for most men. Kingdoms, literally, have fallen.

Was it a mistake for us to have supposed these beloved (by many) figures were particularly good, decent, moral men? It seems pretty safe to assume that a fair amount of the art we enjoy is being made by assholes of varying degrees … but, in many cases, we just don’t know it. No doubt, there are authors of great works of literature written long ago who we will never know were abusive jackoffs.

We now live in an age where it’s getting harder and harder to have secrets. Hell, ya can’t even run a stoplight at 3 a.m. without some damn camera taking your picture. Phones with cameras are everywhere. News spreads Twitter-fast. And, while men still have way too much institutional power, the voices of women are, more and more, being heard, respected, and believed. Men can’t just dismiss women as “hysterical” and get away with a wink and a nod. These are all good things (except the red-light cameras) for most of us, but not so good for men who believe they ought to be able to behave badly and never be held to account.

The #MeToo movement is a hopeful sign of our times.

We’re likely at a cultural turning point. More and more diversity (of race, gender, and sexual orientation) in our world means ever-more diversity in our businesses, politics, and art. Sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism … these ideas have been falling out of favor in the wider world for decades and this will probably only accelerate. The kinds of values and attitudes that helped “create” men who thought they could touch any woman or girl they wanted because of their status as an actor or director or artist or politician are ever-diminishing. This, too, is all to the good. As it should be.

But we still have the creative legacies of many fucked-up men; quite an archive of art made by assholes that’s unlikely to disappear in its entirety any time soon.

Films are not singular efforts. Weinstein may be an unforgivable monster, but if writers and actors and directors have made something memorable that happens to bear his name … do we refuse to watch it? Do we never watch “Rain Man,” or “Kramer vs Kramer,” or “The Graduate” again?

Tell me, where’s the line for you? How bad can a man behave and yet you are still able to admire the body of work he leaves behind? Is there a way in which you would feel comfortable separating the jerk from his work?

Why I’m a Believer

cosmos1

This is not an argument for the existence of God.

This is not me trying to convince you of anything. I, of course, understand that for any point I might make supporting my view there is a counterpoint tearing it apart. I’m not really interested in debates.

This is simply me telling you what I believe and why. Nothing more.

When I watch a show about animals or space, about life’s origins or the origins of the universe, I can get downright tingly. I can’t help being moved when I see the majesty of the heavens and the astonishing variety and complexity of life on planet Earth. Nebulae, the Aurora Borealis, spiraling galaxies, transparent fish, flying lizards, bugs that walk on water … these are awe-inspiring sights to be sure.

But, while watching these shows, I have never once thought, “Gosh, isn’t it neat what random forces can produce given enough time?”

I’ve heard the story where Matter is King. It starts like this: “Once upon a time, all matter was infinitely dense.”

That’s right, kids. Every bit of matter and space in this universe—you know, the universe that contains TWO TRILLION GALAXIES (this is 10 times more than the previously believed 200 billion galaxies)—was once so very teeny tiny that it couldn’t be seen. It had NO SIZE. Let’s not forget that each of those 2 trillion galaxies contains 100 billion stars, more or less.

So, there it was: all the matter in the universe just hiding out in nothingness, smaller than a single atom.

How’d it get there? Where’d it come from? Why was it so itsy bitsy?

No one can tell you with any certainty.

“It popped into existence from nothing, out of nowhere,” is one answer science gives. It seems to be the most plausible one out there.

Okay. So, this is different than Genesis 1 how? Oh yeah, no Creator. Now it makes SO much more sense.

The fact is, both of these ideas, the idea of God and the idea that everything came from nothing, require us to believe fairly nutty things that absolutely CANNOT be proven.

My God-view requires faith. Just as the everything-from-nothing-view requires faith.

Here’s where I admit that the idea of God is sort of whacky. I mean, if we’re going to approach it rationally, we have to ask where God came from, right?

Well, no. No, we don’t. If you’re going to propose that everything came from nothing (without any proof), then I think I get to go ahead and assume the existence of God without having to come up with an origin story.

For me, God is the one utterly inexplicable thing that makes everything else possible.

The First Cause of life must be living. The First Cause of consciousness must be conscious. The First Cause of intellect must be intelligent.

Look at the observable universe. It’s so bloody amazing.

Everything is made of invisible particles in constant motion. THAT is amazing. Your smartphone looks like it’s stationary, a solid object, but it’s composed of madly spinning particles, as are you, as am I.

That’s insane! Yet I believe it.

Interesting fact—I believe in atoms. And so, probably, do you.

But why do we believe in atoms?

Can you prove they exist? Not without an electron microscope, my friend.

Unless you’re a renowned scientist working at a super high-tech lab, you’ve never looked into an electron microscope. They cost nearly one million dollars, so I guarantee neither PoDunk High nor Big Town University have one in their science wing for you to play with on your lunch hour.

You and I believe in atoms because we read about them in a book, or maybe we saw some blurry image of one in a YouTube video. The truth is, we believe in atoms, even though they are entirely outside of our sphere of experience; atoms are an article of faith—a thing we believe in even though we can’t prove it. I understand that we’re confident that someone can prove it, but we can’t and that’s my point. We’re relying on the testimony of others, which requires faith.

Modern science, with all its impressive gadgetry and seemingly limitless cosmic imagination, still can’t give a satisfactory explanation of what human consciousness is.

When it comes to the question, “What is gravity?” our friends at NASA are forced to answer, we don’t know!

So, the most fundamental things we should understand about ourselves and the world we inhabit are fucking mysteries. Surprise!

Another thing, dear reader. I believe in God because of you. Yes, you. You are a freaking stunning, mind-blowing miracle.

Here’s something about you that maybe you haven’t thought of. You were inevitable. Just as you are. Your eye color, your height, your personality. Why do I say this?

Because YOU ARE. When the universe unfolded you were already an inevitability: all the conditions being what they were, this moment in time with you in it reading this absurd essay right where you are … it all HAD TO HAPPEN. Because it did.

I take it further and say, you are an INTENTION of the universe, of the God that forged your consciousness in the infinite past.

In summation…

I believe in God because:

  1. The “purely material” answers are unsatisfactory on every level.
  2. Faith in God is no less crazy than the faith it takes to believe everything came from nothing.
  3. The marvel and awe of the cosmic universe and this living planet make no sense without an intelligent being to observe them.
  4. Everything about the observable universe is infused with intelligence, from humankind to trees to ticks, it is all bound together in an unfathomable symbiosis.
  5. If this is the one and only universe, the odds that it would come up with you and me and all this life are as good as zero. And the fact that one of science’s answer to that dilemma is to suggest an infinite number of universes (so that, of course, one of them would have to result in us, right?), smells of desperation (and not a single one of those “other” universes can be demonstrated to exist).

But, most importantly, I believe in God because:

  1. I need to.
  2. I choose to.

And that’s it, people. For what it’s worth.

I also totally respect your non-belief, or your belief in fairies, or your it’s turtles all the way down theory.

So it goes.

And amen.

Peace, my brothers and sisters.