Blue Screen Life  


Ideas and Philosophy.

October 13, 2006

It's been really clear to me lately that love is a fundamental need of the human psyche. The experience of unconditional love and acceptance is a profoundly positive influence, and truly necessary for the realization of one's potential. If you haven't heard of Maslow, he's pretty good and relevant.

It's also been clear that forgiveness really is good for those who do it. If you've got a devil on your shoulder, there are a few things to do: you can fight him, but he'll use that tension against you... you can outsmart him, 'cause the things he says are actually pretty stupid... or best of all, you can just ignore him and say hello to the angel on the other side, who has some pretty amazing things to say.

If that's not enough armchair philosophy for you, here's another idea: an essential difference between liberalism and conservativism is the amount of personal responsibility one is assigned for one's problems. To a liberal, a poor person is more a victim of inequitable social structures, a lousy family environment, or just plain bad luck, whereas for a conservative, it's more likely to be a matter of poor planning or a lack of work ethic. I'm not arguing for either pole here; like with any duality, the concepts are absolute but the realities are relative. Erich Fromm identified compassion (liberalism, forgiveness, unconditional love) as a more feminine value, and justice (conservativism, earned punishment, earned approval) as a more masculine one... it seems to me that the feminine values are very beautiful, but can also be enablers for ugliness. And so as usual, yin plus yang is the good way to go.

August 2, 1997

A little blast from the past, one that still holds true today:

"Here I am, camping on the French River. It's a beautiful place: so beautiful that when I first arrived I could think of little but Mother Nature's perfect creation, and I admired the intricate beauty of every rock and tree while I canoed. Those few places that mankind has left untouched are by far the best. Out here there is peace of mind that city-dwellers never know; there is a certain soul-soothing joy and the joy of being part of nature once again. Our culture still intrudes, in the things that we bring with us, and in us, but we realize just how ridiculous it is when we walk on land that has never known mass consumption or blind progress, land that remains the way our mother created it. Every tree, every stone, every piece of moss is a more beautiful work of art than any human has ever created. Together, all these works of art create enough beauty to soothe any troubled soul. I love Mother Nature and I feel great anger for the people that are destroying her. The ignorance, no, idiocy, that causes people to see nature as an expendable source of profit must be stopped. If it isn't, Mother Nature will die, and Man, who is her creation, but who is ever building barriers between himself and his mother, will die with her."

June 18, 2006

The Tsalagi believed that within each person was a battle between two wolves. Sitting with his grandson, a grandfather explained that one of the wolves was evil and was driven by anger, envy, regret, ego, and the worship of war.

The other wolf was good, and was driven by love, hope, compassion, and the promise of peace.

Thinking about the wolves already growing within him, the boy asked, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?"

And the old man replied, "The one you feed."

(from The Tao of Willie)

May 28, 2006

Here's a nice insight that I've heard from two different people lately. For every strength in one's personality, there's a corresponding weakness, and for every weakness, there's a strength. I think this is a good idea to think about... it should bring one closer to the 'golden mean' of confidence and humility working together, and that balance is always a great idea.

February 27, 2006

Today I was listening to Loveline, a radio show dealing with sexual issues, and heard a story of sexual abuse that I'd have been better off not hearing. First let me say that these abusers need a good karate demonstration... violence is bad enough, but to turn something as potentially wonderful as sex into a source of lasting pain is worse. But it resonates more widely than that: for many people, even those who aren't directly affected by abuse, male sexuality comes to be defined as inherently violent and manipulative. Then you have women with varying degress of mistrust for men, and proportionate inhibition of their (hetero) sexual enjoyment... and you also have men who repress their own sexuality, because they feel that by expressing it they'll be doing something - or worse, being someone - morally wrong.

I've seen the former and I've lived through the latter, and I want to say right now that there is nothing inherently wrong with male sexuality. Assertiveness is central to masculinity, but assertiveness doesn't rule out compassion... and telling a woman what she wants to hear doesn't make a man a liar, when what he says is true. There are lots of bad examples of men, especially in the media, which amplifies and panders to sick fascination and fear. But there are lots of good examples too, of men who truly care for their lovers, who balance their passion with just as much compassion. I'd encourage all the women out there to find one of those men, and all the men out there to be one... 'cause we need more good and healthy sex in this world.

Also, I'm aware of the hypocrisy involved in wanting to practice karate as revenge on abusive people, and it's far better for that to be done as prevention by the presumed abusees. Let's hear it for practical self-defense. Loveline's Dr. Drew had an interesting insight on why women like ' bad boys': the misperception is that they'll be powerful and protect the woman, when in fact they're more likely to turn their aggression upon her. I'd rather see those women learning to protect themselves, avoiding the bad boys, and embracing the good men. We're not that hard to find.

February 13, 2006

Over the past year or so I've been endeavoring to eating more slowly, more consciously and less at a time. I've been pretty successful at that, and bringing a more meditative attitude to my meals has changed the way I think about eating. I'm starting to see it as an intake of qi or subtle energy as well as physical matter. If you're interested in acupuncture you'll know that the tongue and the pallet form a major conduit for energy, and the tongue seems to be able to absorb a lot of it. Maximizing the surface area of food that you expose to your tongue (by chewing the food well and tasting it just as fully) seems to increase the amount of qi that you gain by eating. It's also good to keep a thankful attitude, remembering that food is a gift from the universe to us, and that other forms of life died selflessly to keep us alive. If I do go back to meat, it won't be from factory farms, and it won't be from mammals either, since I'd like to stay high on the ethical ladder and eat low on the evolutionary one... but I'm not sure vegetarianism is still the best choice for this body, and I'm going to have to look into that.

December 26, 2005

"The work we do on ourselves, whether it is psychological or spiritual, is not meant to calm the waves on the ocean of life. It's meant to teach us to surf."

- Ken Wilber

June 20, 2005

Why do people who have the power to help others (I'm thinking of first and third worlds here) so often fail to do so? I've written before about the mind, heart and body; today I want to argue that deficiency in any one of these will allow social injustice to continue. If our mind is lacking, we don't know what's going wrong, and our failure to help is somewhat forgivable but no less harmful. If our heart is lacking, we simply don't care, and we go on acquiring and consuming and ignoring the state of the world around us. If our body is lacking, we don't act; our knowledge and compassion are countered by feelings of distraction or helplessness, and the problems continue unsolved. It is only when our minds, hearts and bodies activate that we overcome ignorance, selfishness and laziness to effect a positive change. And that's more important than any "Descartes+1" model of a human being, however interesting it might be.

May 11, 2005

Ah, beautiful Gabriola: nestled between Vancouver Island and mainland BC, full of pine trees and native reserves and streets named after the savage whale hunters of Moby Dick. I've spent most of the last week landscaping for my mother and missing my girlfriend back home, but today was more eventful, and not in a good way. My mother's cat had a heart attack this afternoon, and I was there for all the pity and sadness, for images that linger unwelcome in my mind. In understanding death, one seems to be drawn inevitably to the same perennial ideas, even for cats: that a life well lived was most important, that the deceased is now at rest, and that some sort of transfiguration must have taken place. The cat led a good life in this beautiful place, and she seemed peaceful in death, but I don't know where she is now, other than in the grave I dug for her. I believe that birth and death are as cyclical as anything else in nature... but I don't know how the cycle will begin again. All I can do now is comfort my mother, be glad to be alive, and help myself and others make the best of every day we're given.

April 10, 2005

I was thinking the other day about prejudice (premature judgment) and how ubiquitous it is in our personal relations. Many of us deal with people more easily as concepts, and this tendency leads us to stereotype strangers and acquaintances, or to more subtly characterize and predict behaviour from the people we know better. Both stereotyping and characterization make real understanding of a unique, changing person difficult... and it's especially difficult when they do the same things to themselves, either by conforming to mainstream culture, a smaller subculture, or a superegoic ideal. People's concepts of another and of themselves keep them from interacting (and intra-acting!) genuinely, because they fail to see the real person behind the idea of who they are.

I probably don't need to explain how misunderstanding of another can lead to alienation and conflict, or how misunderstanding of one's self can lead to bad decisions, unhappiness, and the impossibility of intimacy. What I want to say here is that everyone you see around you - even celebrities and world leaders - are real people. They are, as Hesse put it, "the unique, particular, always significant and remarkable points where the phenomena of the universe intersect once and for all and never again." So you can never really know another person very quickly or completely, and they will not always act consistently, and they do not embody some idea or stereotype even if they unconsciously strive to. And all of that applies to your self. I hope that we can all relax our mind's ideas about people, including our selves, and begin to see and to treasure our uniqueness and complexity and depth, by relating with the heart as well as with the head. The world and its people are more intricate and beautiful than we think...

January 21, 2005

I've always believed that one should be happy on their own, before they can be part of a really good relationship. And now I can better explain why. Falling in love is a frightening experience, for at least two reasons: you take some responsibility for his or her happiness, and you give up some control over your own. Each lover offers the other some of their happiness, in the hopes that the other will nurture it to greater levels, and not treat it carelessly or throw it away. And when love goes well, the joy and peace that two can find together is absolutely beautiful, and fun.

But finding independent happiness is at least as important. A lover who has done this is stronger, more able to offer love and still be happy if it's lost, and so their loss of control & the other's responsibilty are smaller causes for anxiety. Furthermore, in creating their own happiness, one learns how to create it for another, and they also become less self-centred, so their own responsibility is much better handled.

It's not necessary to be perfect to be a good lover - indeed, one of the best things about love is that it can help you become a better person. But the healthier you are, in body and mind, before you begin, the more generous, undemanding, trustworthy and free of fear you can be. You might not need the other person as much, but you'll probably love them better, and more, if you know how to be happy without them. And like all matters of love, that works both ways.

January 13, 2005

Another idea that's inhabited my head for a long time now, that I haven't gotten down until now. What we have here are four personality types. On the horizontal axis is the objective experience of pleasure or pain in one's life; on the vertical is the subjective experience of fulfillment or life affirmation.

1: Hedonistic. The most common type, the hedonist seeks to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, limited only by the skill with which they pursue this goal. However, the objective life is likely to be a cycle of loss following gain and pain transitioning to pleasure, and the hedonist's subjective experience is therefore likely to be mixed, as opening to pleasure and also closing to pain may be impossible. Desire for one's own pleasure must include a concern for the pleasure of another.

2: Stoic. The stoic type is most fulfilled in a state of peace, with neither strong pleasure or pain in his or her life. The life tends to be lived internally, in intellectual or spiritual pursuits. The favorite type of religious people everywhere, it is also temporarily embraced by all other types in the times of psychic regeneration that follow loss, and can be permanently embraced by hedonists who fear the pain that often comes along with great pleasure.

3: Chaotic. What fulfills the chaotic personality is the intensity of the involvement in one's life, whether that life is objectively good or bad. Risk-taking, especially in matters of love, does not intimidate the chaotic type. Chaotics live for the world while stoics live for ideas, and they sample the breadth of experience while stoics focus on depth. Chaotics risk addiction to stimulus and may be easily bored, but they make excellent artists and their adventurousness can be quite inspiring.

4: Masochistic. The masochistic type actually prefers pleasure to pain, and is more common than intuition might suggest. The masochistic tendency usually shows itself unconsciously as part of a pathology of low self-worth, or more consciously as an ethic of sacrifice that puts the happiness of others above one's own. While this sort of altruism is laudable, one must make certain that the actual gain of pleasure to another is greater than the pain of one's own sacrifice.

The real optimum is a synthesis of opposites: a combination of stoic and chaotic that affirms both peace and excitement, being relaxed and yet full of energy; or a combination of hedonistic and masochistic that enjoys its own pleasure, while making some sacrifice for the pleasure of another. As a final point, one that brought these old drawings back to mind for me: falling in love is an act of intense involvement in one's life, and it may bring great pleasure or pain. Fulfillment is found through balance: as love waxes, have the joy and the courage of the hedonistic or chaotic; and as love wanes, find the peace and compassion of the stoic or masochistic. The odd-numbered types are also more suitable for youth, and the even for old age. And now that I'm done playing at philosophy, it's time to go to bed.

December 5, 2004

Sometimes - rarely, I'd say - one is given an overwhelming sense of how beautiful life is, and also how impermanent. These times bring rainbows of tears and laughter, for bittersweet, fleeting beauty... but one must always remember the following. The sweetness is here and now, it's all around us, while the bitterness is only in the future or the past, in our fear or our remembrance of loss. Future and past, fear and remembrance, exist only in our minds, and the same is true then of bitterness. When one learns to live in the moment, without fear of the future or longing for the past, there is nothing but sweetness and laughter, and impermanence doesn't matter at all. What fool would see the northern lights, and not be glad to see the stars?

November 21, 2004

This is something I learned from meditation, about how to add discipline to your life. Let's say you want to move forward in life, but some negative pattern of thought or behaviour is threatening to push you back. If you fight that regressive force with all your might, denying it and pushing forward against it, you might succeed, but you'll be struggling really hard and it's going to slow you down. A better strategy is just to ignore it, to step to the side and watch it go by. If you're quitting smoking, forget about cigarettes and go do something else. If you're meditating, don't try not to think, just relax your mind.

November 12, 2004

Things are going well and I'm happy... but there's no way everyone can say the same thing. In Buddhist philosophy (here I go again) there are two types of saints: the Arhat, a holy person who reaches Nirvana and dissolves into transcendent bliss, and the Bodhisattva, the saint who stands at the entrance to heaven, but turns around and heads for hell to rescue his fellow person. The lesson of the Boddhisattva is that compassion is just as important as wisdom... and sometimes my happiness feels like selfishness, like I need to do more to help other people. I know I'm a positive force in people's lives, but I'm not sure that's enough, and so many people are so unhappy. So I'm going to see if I can evolve towards greater compassion... and in the meantime, I'm going to climb the Niagra Escarpment. Sounds like fun...

October 23, 2004

I'm sure I sound like a big hippy in this journal sometimes, but I don't exactly do drugs anymore. I've chosen deep breathing and cardio over pot smoke, I drink moderately about once a month, and I won't touch the hard stuff... but I sometimes do miss the altered states. I miss the breathless, surging energy of a good mushroom trip, where every sensation is a world to get lost in, and every idea is a secret from the mouth of God... I miss the way good music sounds when you're high, and I miss the chaotic creativity of a good alcohol buzz, the fits of laughter over completely random stuff. I've had some really good times with this stuff, especially in my teen years, and though I choose not to do it now, I still don't think it's without value.

When you commit to sobriety, your state of mind can slowly elevate in a stable way, and that's very rewarding. But when you take drugs, it can rise fast to amazing new peaks, or take you on surprising tangents (lateral thinking) to places you've never been. The problem is that every drug's peak comes with a trough, not to mention side effects, and most worringly, a long-term degradation of mind and body. I've written before about the benefits and costs of using, and my conclusion now is the same: moderation. In the meantime, I'm sticking with the slow mental & physical rise that my clean lifestyle is bringing me... at least until someone bakes me some hash brownies. =D

But sometimes, just for a moment, life feels like a lucid dream, like the laws of physics have been suspended, and anything can happen... sometimes the images that linger in my sleep, people and places I've dreamed of as long as I can remember, come to me in a flash and are gone before I can grasp them. I'm very much drawn to those moments, but I don't want to reach them through drugs; so if any dzogchen dream yoga masters are reading this, please appear in my sleep with instructions. =) Ciao for now.

October 22, 2004

I'm going to write about meditation, but before I get to why, I should probably start with what. The colloquial connotations of the word "meditate" are very misleading. Meditation is about relaxing the mind, not using it to think things over, and the two states of mind are as different as night and day. The idea is to quiet the mind to a clear blue sky, simply observing the clouds of thought as they drift by, then letting them fade back into blue... this involves the relaxation of all mental effort. As any good Buddhist knows, trying to relax is a form of tension, so meditation allows rather than forces the mind and body to relax: the clouds clear from the sky, and the sun of the spirit shines through. Along the way, one learns to observe his or her thoughts and thought patterns calmly and objectively, and begins to understand them; then they can be brought under conscious control. This helps one choose positive perspectives and behaviours over negative ones, and therefore, to a very large extent, to choose happiness over sorrow.

Because the body is more easily controlled than the mind, sensory awareness is often used to relax wandering thoughts. This is the idea behind mantra, which uses sound, and trataka (visualization), which uses light. This is also why attention to the breathing is so useful in meditation: long, slow breaths build relaxation in the body and that spreads to the mind. Breathing also links us to the subtle energy or chi that flows through our bodies, awareness and control of which can be very rewarding. In this intermediate stage, as awareness moves from the mind to the body, sensual awareness and refined perception are developed. One begins to find fascination in sound, vision, taste and touch, and life begins to become more colorful, more of a joy to live.

Yet awareness of the senses is not the final stage - in time there is a subtle awakening which I'm barely able to describe. When the mind withdraws from thought and from sensation, there is an experience of eternity, of the absolute calm in which the universe unfolds. There can be mind-blowing experiences of energy and insight, but more often there is simply peace and calm, which can be recalled at stressful times in one's life, bringing perspective and humour where it's needed most. One begins to become wonder-full, playful, compassionate, alert and aware... and that's why I like to meditate. If I were to sum it up, I'd say awareness enables control and choice, and relaxation enables joy and love. Om.

October 5, 2004

One thing that's always puzzled me is the Catholic restriction on priestly marriage. It seems to me that personal love is in no way an impediment to universal love; rather, the former can be an especially poetic and powerful manifestation of the latter. As I put it most simply a few years ago, "better to love the world than to love a woman, but best to love both." However, running counter to that little one-liner are entire spiritual traditions, from Catholicism to Therevada Buddhism to non-Tantric yoga. All of these traditions see our spiritual goal as something otherworldly, some transcendent bliss that the maya of this world keeps us from reaching. Hence comes the denial of sexuality and of sensuality, the rejection of personal and emotional attachments, and the renunciation of the world that characterizes all asceticism. It is this idea, perhaps, that influenced the Church to keep its priests away from romantic love.

Taoist priests, of course, are not forbidden to marry... because this forbiddance is based on a fallacy of dualistic thinking, and Taoism will have nothing of the kind. To deny the Many for the sake of the One, to search for peace without joy, to practice wisdom without compassion... all of this is world-denying and futile, but most of all incomplete, yin without yang. Love is not enough as an abstract universal, it must be particular and concrete if it is to have any hope of changing the world. So the great 'nondual' traditions - Vedanta, Taoism, Zen - encourage their priests to live in this world, not some ideal one; they are free to use their bodies and their senses as vehicles for a greater awakening (Tantra - not just about sex); and they are free to love the people around them in a very particular, personal and intimate way. What matters is that all this is done with sensitivity, wonder, and joy, and especially with compassion.

True spirituality, to me, affirms both the One and the Many, Heaven and Earth, the Ideal and the Real. It is not an expectation of perfection laid upon the world, nor is it a passive acceptance of the way things are. Rather, it is a transformation of one's life - and through one's life, the world - that makes it more peaceful and more full of joy. It is this latter aspect, joy, that's too often missing from orthodox religion... and it's the former aspect, peace, that's too often missing from our pleasure-seeking culture. If we can balance the two, laughing while we learn, evolving while we enjoy... we're doing all we're supposed to do.

September 11, 2004

Today a few interesting threads of thought came together in my mind, and here's the result. Perhaps the main idea of Taoism and Zen is wu-wei or actionless action: spontaneous, uninterrupted, natural movement that comes "from the core of one's being". Zen especially emphasizes that this way (this Way) takes practice, often years of fairly intense training. Seen from another context, the final stage of learning, unconscious competence, comes only after the other three.

So why is this "actionless action" such a favorite philosophy of mine? Well... the stages of learning run through just about every process of skill development or personal growth that a person can go through. And for people who are "gifted" with a high-powered left brain, the transition from third stage (conscious competent) to fourth stage (unconscious competent) is almost always the most difficult. The logical mind has trouble letting go and releasing control; it associates the dis-order of the first stage, also unconscious, with the radical freedom of the fourth. So development stops at the third stage, and you have people who are always thinking about what they're doing, often at the expense of doing it... people who are intelligent but not really wise. I have been such a person, but Zen and Taoism - and by that I mean not the books or the names of the systems, but the realities that they represent - have taught and are teaching me to trust my first reactions. I'm learning to combine intellect and intuition, to be free and light and open, without hesitating and without overthinking... I'm learning how to just do things, to take hold of my life and live it all in full, vivid colour. I'm obviously not all the way there yet, but I do get closer every day.

There's a lot more to Zen as well... perhaps as a follow-up to this entry, I'll write about how meditation can change your life. But now it's well past my bedtime... so sweet dreams to you, O reader of this blog, whenever you go to sleep.

September 6, 2004

I spent this evening serving food at a local soup kitchen, which was a new and a good experience. Observing and talking to the people who came in for food was an eye-opener... underneath the suburban dream of North America (comfort and luxury, culture and community) there's a whole underclass of people living very difficult lives, lives that are dangerous and unhealthy both mentally and physically, and yet also more intense and more real. The manners and pretense of the middle class are minimal at most, and a few moments of conversation can reveal a human heart with unclosed wounds, or in the cases that are somehow more tragic, unfeeling scar tissue. There is the gratitude of the lonely for a kind word or touch; the blankness of eyes that have seen too much violence; and the boisterous laughter that says yes, in spite of all this, my spirit feels strong. And there was I, the privileged middle-class youth, seeing how much difference a few hours of time can make, and taking a good step out of my self-concern.

I know now that one evening working in a soup kitchen doesn't mean enough, and that by writing about it for others to read, I risk devaluing the real reward of service, replacing it with my own vanity and the recognition of my peers. But I want to share this experience, because it really did touch me, and I feel more grounded now, humbler, more compassionate. I'd encourage all you comfortable North Americans to open your eyes to poverty... and I'd encourage myself not to get lazy and close them.

July 20, 2004

Lately some friends have come to me for advice about the ends of their relationships. One of them had his trust betrayed, and the other one found that love wasn't enough to make it work. Now I'm no expert on this sort of thing, but I'll share what I told the former person, the one dealing with some pretty serious emotional hurt.

First of all, don't try and bury what you're feeling. It's all completely valid, and our cultural ideal of masculine invulnerability is not ideal at all. You've got to address your feelings fully and honestly before you can set them free, and setting them free, not burying them, is what you want to do. So be aware of whatever you're feeling, and feel it, because the best way out is through. Sad music can help draw out the emotion, and remind you that you're not the only one to feel this way. During the releasing process, it's important to keep in touch with your center, to be able to see what's going on calmly and clearly. If you can replace your fear (of permanent heartbreak, etc.) with understanding, you'll be far less anxious, less prone to self-pity and dramatization, and more willing to see a positive future. You might even learn something. Consciously or not, the mind should say "I'm pretty fucked up right now, but that's okay... I'm going to take some time to get through this, and things will be better when I'm done."

After a while the emotions will lose their intensity, and you may have an empty, drained feeling - a sign that the pain has mostly been purged. It's here that the downswing ends and the upswing begins... and it's here that mental awareness is key. Sometimes the mind has the idea of being hurt, even after most of the pain is gone, and this perpetuates the whole situation. If your awareness is clear you'll realize this is happening, and you can consciously direct your thoughts to better places. It helps here to do things you enjoy, to be with friends, to pursue hobbies or interests that you may have been putting off. Do whatever cheers you up... and for one last thing, take care of your body. Exercise goes a long way towards beating a bad mood.

So the gist of my advice is: have a good cry, and if you need to, have more than one. Let all the sadness out, and when you're done, find something good to smile about. Approach the whole experience with a sense of wonder, know that this is part of being human, that you can learn from it and it can make you a better, stronger, more conscious person. And if all else fails, there's always heroin. =O

July 9, 2004

My first tattoo was a leaf and a flame intertwined in a yin-yang circle on my right bicep. I got it a few years ago, and it still reflects my take on metaphysics very well. I still see the universe as an interplay of opposites, or more precisely, of counterparts... and therefore "my" take on metaphysics is an ancient Chinese one. The two sides of the yin-yang represent the polarity of the universe, as listed below; the circle as a whole represents the underlying synthesis, the necessity and unity of both. The smaller circles show that yin and yang are non-exclusive... that even the darkest outer space is lit by stars, and even the brightest of those stars does not fill all the space around it with light. If this is all too abstract for your taste, I don't know what to tell you, other than "go start your own blog". =)
Light / Day / Waking / Sun
Atomism / Diversity
The West
Dark / Night / Sleeping / Moon
Holism / Unity
The East
Two aspects of happiness
Meaning of Yang & Yin
Kunderian Physics
Relativity (Matter=Energy)
Freudian Drives
"Big Bounce Theory"
} Ecofeminism
Meditation = Neither, Both
Hegelian Dialectic

July 2, 2004

The Gospel According to King, part XCVII: The Stages of Learning.

1. Unconscious Incompetent. You don't know what you're missing. All of us are in this stage for any number of skills that we haven't bothered to think about... for example, I've never played canasta, probably suck at it, and couldn't really care less.

2. Conscious Incompetent. In this stage, you DO know what you're missing, and it's the most difficult stage psychologically. This is the time of trial and error, and where patience and perseverance are lacking, failure. Things look up after this, however...

3. Conscious Competent. Things start to come together, and the skill begins to be mastered. As long as the mind is engaged, it is performed with growing proficiency.

4. Unconscious Competent. "Second nature"... another way of looking at Zen. Mental guidance is no longer necessary, and the skill is performed intuitively, easily, and at the level of excellence.

One can apply this framework (which I didn't invent, by the way) to almost any process of self-improvement or skill development. Another interesting point is that the Western cognitive tradition, with its emphasis on reason and logic, squarely aims at #3... whereas most Eastern practices emphasize meditation-in-action, stage #4. Alfred Whitehead in support of this idea:

�It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

And the same goes for people. Of course, one musn't confuse meditation (stage 4) with vegetation (stage 1). Both are unconscious in the sense that the mind is quiet... but one is a clear blue sky, and the other is a fog. There's not much else to say about this, so you might as well surf on over to it's interesting, I promise. =)

June 28, 2004

Today was the day of the federal election, and like most (but not all) intelligent Canadians, I went out and cast a ballot. I'm certainly not in love with our political system, but I'm not unconscious or cynical enough stay home on election day, so I hoofed it over to my old grade school and drew a little X by someone's name. I'm sure it made a small difference, since 1 (election) divided by 10 million (votes) does not equal 0... and at the very least, it's more of the popular vote for the a party that ought to be taken more seriously. So that's all right.

Those of you who know me well know that politics is not one of my main concerns. My thinking is very much concerned with freedom, but it's freedom from repression, not from oppression... psychological freedom, rather than political freedom. I suppose that reflects my privilege in living in North America. As far as activism goes, I believe that the best way to change the world is by changing one's life, by cultivating peace and joy in one's own soul, and spreading that to all the people one meets. Of course I'm aware that the impacts of modern life extend well beyond those people, and that's why I don't eat drive or eat meat or consumerize... but I'm not a very active activist, maybe because I'm too sensitive to handle thinking that critically all the time. =)

Economically, I'm not a socialist - this world is far too intricate for a central planner to be successful - but I see big problems with modern capitalism, especially the externalization of social and environmental costs, and the emergence of global trade without international parity in (high) health, safety and labour standards. Consumerism and environmental destruction also make me sick and angry; but their solutions, I think, are coming through a shift to more moderate values that could work within the framework of capitalism. In fact, I see most of the world's problems as problems of values, as effects of the human psychological makeup. Pride leads to war, greed to poverty, and ignorance, a shrunken circle of conscience and consciousness, to all manner of nasty side effects. I suppose that's oversimplified, but I don't suppose it's untrue.

As for the liberal/conservative axis, I tend to believe that 'bad luck' is most often self-induced, that people are reponsible for their lives... and if we want to help the unfortunate, we need to make them empowered and aware enough to stand on their own two feet, rather than trying to catch them when they fall. So (for example) preventative health care and public education make a great deal of sense to me. When this philosophy fails, when people need help and it's their own fault, I tend to oscillate between this right-wing, paternal, conditional theory of justice ("they should have helped themselves") and an unconditional, maternal, left-wing compassion ("they need our help") that would make a cold decision very difficult. This latter gentleness, this yin energy, is why I'm not a judge or an executioner. And when people are genuinely victims of bad luck - this has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, labour-intensive though that might be - compassion and help are the only sensible responses.

The Canadian political system has problems, of course... the approval of an unelected senate, currently packed with members of the Liberal party, is required on all bills; the constituency system keeps up from a true representative democracy, which would be based on the popular vote; and voter apathy certainly keeps us from a participatory democracy, which is the true democratic ideal. We also suffer from a milder version of the USA's problem, where all the parties are essentially the same and the choice is not a significant one. But in spite of all that, I went out and cast my vote today, because it was more rewarding than staying home and counting my toes... and 'cause everyone else who lives in this country should have done the same.

June 3, 2004

I'm back from a long, moonlit soak in the hot tub. It brought my attention back to the senses, spreading relaxation from the muscles to the mind, and I felt like the baboon in the hot spring in Baraka. It was great. But I want to write about something more philosophical... there've been a few ideas rising my mind lately, that I'd like to set to writing.

First is the interaction between mind and heart, or less metaphorically, between left brain and right brain. The former is rational, careful, orderly, while the latter is impulsive, dynamic, emotional... and this may be a prosaic insight, but the two are ideal complements to each other. Much of my life has been lived from the left brain, that logical thinker who derives a false superiority from our culture's near-worship of the scientific method... that critical thinker who, without the heart to drive him, becomes paralyzed by doubt, fear, and indecision. This provides insight on a few previous journal entries. The Dec. 12 entry describes how, a few years ago, I tried to weaken my mind to move toward a balance; entries since then are all in the context of my wiser efforts to reach that balance, by strengthening my heart. It also matches the April 19 entry where I see a strong yin energy in my character, and a need for stronger yang. I know, I'm talking about myself again, but you ARE reading my weblog...

Another idea came up after one of those all-too-rare philosophical conversations the other night. Lurz was talking about the historical rise of agriculture, and it occured to me that, if you transfer that change in technology to one in psychology (and I suppose it does work both ways) you may see a certain mental inflexibility develop, one that not only leads to dogmatic conflict, but also creates a lot of unhappiness through an inability to adapt to circumstance. I'm not one to idealize the whole hunter-gatherer thing here, but the problem of conditioning and the value of the "beginner's mind" are something I'd like to devote some writing to.

Finally, I was thinking about ethical development. My own as of late has been characterized by a dismissal of the need for moral rules, which is a hard stance to justify, but let me try. I'm starting to see a difference between superego morality and the genuine ethic of compassion, a distinction between repression and transcendence. There is a Chinese analogy that relates antisocial impulses to a wild horse. The superego puts on tight reins and tries to fight it, punishes it with internal conflict and guilt; in time it may reach an uneasy peace, leaving the horse to either lash out later, or slowly waste away in captivity. A wiser viewpoint understands that these 'harmful' impulses (towards sex and violence) are better understood (through meditative observation) than reflexively excluded. The horse is given a wide field to run in, tires itself out, and can then be calmly approached and have its powerful energy directed to better ends. I'm in no position to write about this authoritatively, and I'm sure that's already been done, but this should at least get someone thinking.

If I were to list three major interests in my mental life right now, they'd be physiology, psychology, and spirituality. It's a shame I'm not studying any of them in school. I hope I'm able to renew my interest in what I am studying, by the time I graduate... and on that note, I'm getting off this computer. If you're not, this site should keep you entertained. It sure worked for me.

May 24, 2004

I spent the long weekend backpacking near the Georgian Bay, stoic (mostly) against the rain and cold, living some great moments in a landscape full of divine design. My favorite part was climbing through the space between boulders, between mammoth cliffs and the breaking waves... and jumping from stone to stone, making a game of standing atop each one, laughing in spite of my cold hands and wet feet. It was also fun to hike across the slippery trail to our site in the middle of night... I found a meditation in following the flashlight with my footsteps, searching and stepping without thinking, Zen. It was a fun trip.

Camping can take a lot of energy - when you're not hiking or gathering water or (my favorite) skinnydipping, you're at least standing around scoffing at the people who bring portable chairs. So I eat a lot of food and sleep with great intensity, and one night I had some vivid dreams, with one recurring figure who interested me. A thin man in dark grey robes, with close-cropped hair and large eyes that matched his clothing... a silent man who saw the pleasure of diners in a fine restaurant, and the anguish of a child in a car accident, without ever changing expression. This man was the last thing I saw as I successfully willed the child to heal, as the sudden lucidity brought me out of the dream and into another. In this last dream my feet were stuck in the mud, and I looked up to see none other than the Grim Reaper rushing towards me. His face was a death's head and his hand held a wicked blade, and I felt fear and adrenaline rush through my body... but I lifted up my eyes and looked at him, and I said... "You're wearing a scary mask, but I know you. You're the man who keeps giving me advice." And with that his fearsome aspect faded, and I saw the man in dark grey... not terrifying, murderous Death, but calm, stoic, pensive Time. I nodded to him, he nodded to me, and I awoke to the sound of raindrops on the tarp.

So what does this mean? It has to do with an Indian philosophy of death, as I encountered it in Ram Dass' book Still Here. Here in the West, aging and death are objects of incredible fear and anxiety. So much that hopelessly painful and sick lives are prolonged artificially, either choosing great suffering over the unknown, or having it chosen for them. There are healthier attitudes towards death. Some believe that the soul takes human form in order to learn, and returns over and over until the lessons are taken. Death is then transformation, not extinction, and time is teacher, not destroyer. As Stephen Covey put it, "we are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey."

Whether or not you believe in reincarnation (and I'm not sure I do), time can give you wisdom, and wisdom can certainly make you happier. Even the most strictly rational viewpoint towards death that I can think of likens it to deep dreamless sleep, which logically scores a 5 on the 0-10 scale. The losing battle to stay young for the sake of sensual pleasure, and the overwhelming fear of death, are both bogeymen for adults. I'm not saying that one shouldn't live life and youth to the fullest - that's why I went camping =) - but one should also live age to the fullest, and face death with less fear and more curiousity. We're all pretty lucky to have been born at all.

May 9, 2004

In the spirit of, I've made a list of my interests. It was fun to make and says a lot about who I am. =)

aboriginals, acupuncture, adventure, aesthetics, animals, ansel adams, baraka, beat, beauty, buddhism, calvin and hobbes, canoeing, carpentry, chess, children, classical music, comedy, consciousness, conversation, cooking, creation, cuisine, cycling, dancing, david lynch, dim lighting, dreams, drunkenness, dying, egypt, einstein, elliott smith, energy, environmentalism, erotica, evolution, exercise, existentialism, feminism, film, forest, freedom, friendship, gandhi, god, haiku, handcraft, herbalism, hermann hesse, hiking, huang ti, impressionism, jazz, jesus, jim jarmusch, karate, ken wilber, kissing, krishnamurti, kundalini, laughter, leo cohen, listening, lovemaking, marimba, massage, meditation, metaphysics, mysticism, mythology, nakedness, nature, neil young, nietszche, nonsense, nutrition, oceans, opera, origami, painters, panentheism, philosophy, photography, physiology, piano, pilates, play, poetry, pomo, post-rock, pranayama, pre-raphaelites, psychology, rain, relaxation, religion, renaissance, rock climbing, romance, rumi, shiatsu, simpsons, singing, snow, space, stained glass, sufism, surrealism, swing dancing, synchronicity, tantra, taoism, tattooing, tea, thunderstorms, tibet, timelessness, tom robbins, tom waits, touching, travelling, unlearning, vedanta, veganism, walt whitman, water, weightlifting, wilderness, wine, woman, wonder, yoga, zen.

May 1, 2004

Sometimes, like tonight, the last thing I want to do is read this journal. These are the times when I want to escape myself, all the accumulated conditioning, the established ways of thinking and behaving. It seems to me that the self is the sum of the ways the mind has locked.... and I want my mind to open. I want to forget who I am.

Buddhist philosophy has something to say about this. In meditation the seperate self - the ego that I'm feeling trapped in - is transcended, and awareness returns to its source, formless Emptiness, where everything is clear and calm and utterly peaceful. The feeling is one of harmony with the universe as a whole, of fear and confusion melting away to reveal a timeless peace that is always there and needs nothing more. This is the ultimate stress cure. Zen takes it a step further, or rather completes the circle... once this meditative state is present in daily life, usually after years of training, one reacts freely and naturally to the world around them, living in the now that lasts forever, without all the doubts and interruptions of the ego and mind. In a sense the human being stands aside, and lets the Divine shine through... the vernacular of "becoming one" representing a complete immersion in the world, an engagement of one's life with freedom and wonder and joy. This is meditation in action.

But I'm not a Zen master and I've only tasted that freedom... and now I feel the weight of all my conditioning, the way I see what I expect to see. I feel the knowledge of who I have been, keeping me from becoming someone new. My life is a journey towards freedom, and I've come a long way, but I still have a long way to go... but then again, maybe I'm already there. =)

April 25, 2004

"(Love) does not turn away from the external world; on the contrary, it clings to the objects belonging to that world and obtains happiness from an emotional relationship to them. Nor is it content to aim at an avoidance of unpleasure - a goal, as we might call it, of weary resignation; it passes this by without heed and holds fast to the original, passionate striving for a positive fulfillment of happiness. And perhaps it does in fact come nearer to this goal than any other method. The weak side of this technique of living is easy to see; otherwise no human being would have thought of abandoning this path to happiness for any other. It is that we are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love. But this does not dispose of the technique of living based on the value of love as a means to happiness..."

Nice to see such a strictly rational and (reputedly) cynical man as Sigmund Freud positively affirming the value of love. See the February 15 entry for my agreement...

April 21, 2004

Speaking of yang energy, last night was full of drunken laughter, spilled take-out food, dancing at the rock show, and hilarious letters of apology for drinking Emily's booze. I'll transcribe those later on... right now I'll just say that there's nothing like a good time.

April 19, 2004

Tonight I was thinking a lot about duality, about "the one gives birth to two". I have a tattoo of a leaf (yin) and a flame (yang) on my right bicep, and I'm still very happy with what it represents. A balance that is not mediocrity, but capability and appreciation for both sides: yang and yin, creation and completion, action and introspection, enjoyment and evolution, waking and sleeping, passion and companionship, strength and flexibility, simplicity and intricacy, energy and space.

I'm seeing that art can embody either side, it can be passionate and inspired or complex and thoughtfully crafted. And that people who practice the greatest art, soulcraft, can be dynamic funnels of divine yang, or subtle refiners of divine yin. I'm understanding that I'm yin in character, innately more calm, deliberate, more classical than punk. The challenge of my will is to increase the yang to balance the yin, to become more energetic, extroverted, passionate and forceful. My ideal is to live in the exercise of both counterparts, to create music that demonstrates both technique and soul.

Speaking of balance, I walked 137 steps on the edge of a railroad track today. I found it a perfect exercise in meditation... lose your calm and focus and your feet step off the track. I also moved back into my dad's place, and although it's cool too see my brother's new family, the familiar surroundings are something of a regressive force upon my personality. I don't want to get trapped in anyone's image of who I used to be. I'm going to miss Guelph, the new friends, the orange apartment, the drop-in yoga; but we'll see what this summer has in store. I'm hoping for piano lessons, a white yellow belt, and bass/vox in a new band. Let's just see what happens. =)

March 23, 2004

Here's a good example of a double-sided coin. If you follow every trend, blindly, you're letting other people control you. This is obvious. Less obvious is this: If you won't follow any trend, you're just as much being controlled. You're only conforming to non-conformity. The answer is to know yourself and to be yourself.

Similarly, if you give in to all your cravings, for junk food, cigarettes, orgasm, booze... you're letting your impulses control you, and you'll end up fat, coughing, limp and drunk. =) But if you deny every impulse, you're equally a slave to your cravings, and equally unfree. The answer is to be aware of your impulses, and enjoy fulfilling them once in a while. All things in moderation...

March 21, 2004

My nephew is freakin' adorable. A happy, healthy baby, six months old; smile at him and he smiles back, and that makes you smile even more. Eyes full of wonder, drooly chin, his father's one-sided smile. =) And yet today, waiting for a bus, a girl of about twenty made much older by drugs and hard living, pushing a stroller with a girl of about 1 year in it. This little girl looks decidedly, finally sad. Smile at this baby and nothing happens, she looks about to cry while her mother bitterly smokes a cigarette. William Blake:

Every night / and every morn / some to misery are born.
Every morn / and every night / some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight / some are born to endless night.

That poor little girl and happy little Dylan. I hope they can both have some fun.

March 5, 2004

Now that I'm done with rants and social criticism... it's back to the celebration. =)

I've mentioned the Tao a few times in this journal. For those of you who need an introduction, Taoism is an ancient Chinese "religion", or way of life, that emphasizes being natural and following one's heart. It teaches compassion without moralization, freedom without insanity, moderation without self-denial, and great love without possessiveness. It is both deeply profound and beautifully simple, and teaches receptive wonder, excellence of character, and "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world". Along with Vedanta Hinduism and Zen Buddhism, it is one of the most beautiful philosophies I've encountered.

My (extracurricular) learning about this way of life has led me to an aspect that is of great interest to me as a healthy young man. I've been deeply impressed by the Taoist approach to sex. While most religions repress sexuality, and Western culture reduces it to physical self-gratification, the Taoist approach celebrates it as an almost sacramental exchange of energy and love. Empathy and mutual care is the basis of the whole experience, and to this is added great sensual awareness, freedom of mind, refined technique, and spiritual connectedness. The Taoist lover treats his health with the greatest respect, works to perfect his mind and body, and uses sexual energy - the strongest energy in our lives, that which creates us all - as a force toward greater spiritual awakening.

The "three treasures" of Taoism are jing, which is sexual or physical energy; chi, which is breath or vital energy, and shen, which is mental or spiritual energy. Conserving and refining all three is a pathway to excellence... and I've also come to see romantic love as an connection of all these energies between two people. Jing brings passion, chi brings affection, and shen brings respect. Respect, affection and passion - now placed in the order in which I tend to feel them - sounds to me like a recipe for a wonderful relationship.

March 4, 2004

I had an interesting moment yesterday morning. I had vivid dreams all night, and when I woke up, I felt that my idealism, and all the related criticism and unhappiness, was gone. For a few moments my mind was open and free, not judging right or wrong, and I loved the world and all its people exactly as they are. It was beautiful. I was reminded of the Zen state that I've always wanted, with all the freedom, the emptiness of self, the total immersion and childlike play in the world.

I read what the sages tell me, about loving my enemies, about releasing perceptions of good and evil... and yet sometimes sickness is all I can see. I see natural beauty pillaged and destroyed in our cities, lust for money and power running the world, women portrayed as sex objects, whole countries enslaved for our North Atlantic greed... and I see people lied to and manipulated, businesses pushing weak minds to waste their money, men exploiting alcohol-impaired judgment at clubs, politicians lying outright and having it accepted as normal. How can I unconditionally affirm a world that is so full of separation, sadness, exploitation, and ugliness? How can I see all the wrongness in our culture and its people, without ignoring it or becoming resigned to it, and not have it bring me down?

Theologians have been wrestling with the co-existence of God and evil for millenia; and I've been wrestling with idealism for years. Neither of us have reached a resolution. Yet if the Taoists are right, everything is divine; even the spreading desert, the choking exhaust fumes, the starving of children and the use of violence. Can this be true?

It seems to me that it is. But paradoxically, I still see an important place for activism in our culture, much like I see a place for negative thinking in our lives. Its value is in productive discontent, in diagnosis and prescription, in motivating us to improve. The lesson here is one that I've already learned in another context: that people should enjoy their lives 95% of the time, and use the other 5% to focus on the negative; not with self-pity or helplessness, but with an aim to making it better. It is this combination of spirituality and activism that characterizes some of history's most noble spirits: Gandhi, Christ, Martin Luther King and all the other Bodhisattvas. These people worked hard to elevate the evil in the world, without ever letting it pull them down, and their strength and wisdom is something we can all aspire to.

March 1, 2004

I'm probably due for a rant or two, so here goes.

First of all, about economics. The law of diminishing returns DOES apply to the collection of material goods. So does the law of increasing costs, and even when the environmental costs of consumption are left out, the costs of lost leisure and overwork are huge. In layman's terms, more is not always better, yet we often fail to realize this.

It is said that consumption improves the state of the economy. I ask, to what end? Creating a strong economy leads to higher incomes that enable more consumption; we consume so we can consume. This does not necessarily improve anyone's quality of life - in fact it does the opposite, leading to pervasive discontent with what we have, and an endless desire for what we don't. Gautama would be sick.

I hesitate to use the word "consumerism" to describe this attitude, because that brings up images of some deviant buried in electronics and kitchen gear, and there's nothing deviant about consumerism today. Consciously or not, almost everyone sees material acquisition as a cure for the massive boredom and loneliness that characterize modern people. Well, our loneliness and boredom are symptoms of our overstimulative, impersonal and superficial society. They are not the results of not owning enough. And yet the god-forsaken ad industry tells us that their products will get us affection, respect, and satisfaction. They pander to our greed, our insecurity, our disconnection and discontent, offering solutions that are superficial and fleeting, leaving us always wanting more. And our wanting more is just what they like.

What I'd like is for people to look around and see how much they already have. I want us to see that most of life's deepest and most fulfilling joys - health, intimacy, art, nature and thought - are without price. I hope I'm not blindly anti-money, and if someone makes a good income because they have something valuable to offer people, that's fantastic. I hope to do the same, using the money to help others and to buy me more free time. But if I end up leading a simple lifestyle, with enough for necessity and a few simple pleasures like good food and music... I can't imagine being unhappy about it.

February 15, 2004

I wrote last time about being in love. Now this was not the type of love I described at the end, the all-embracing spiritual feeling; there was a powerful feeling of desire, of passion and fixation, and at the same time, uncertainty and fear. I wanted her, badly, I felt that her kiss would be a supernova, and her dismissal a black hole. I gave up control of my own happiness, and that's something I haven't done since.

Since then, I've worked very hard to increase that control. I've learned to look at my problems calmly and objectively, without getting caught up or upset about them; I can stand like a redwood amidst all the storms of change and desire. This is one of many lessons I've learned from this guy. Nothing much moves me now, but the feeling is not numbness; it's essentially peace with a good dose of joy.

Yet falling in love has little to do with peace or with stability. It's more about being swept away. You have to let yourself feel, intensely; there can be no comfortable cloister in your heart, no reins to control your emotions. You must first overcome all fear and doubt, and renounce all comfort and safety; then you become open to the most incredible highs, and the most miserable lows.

For the stoic personality, one who values calm happiness over excitement, and reason over emotion, this does not happen often. Desire works on me like water on a stone, and it isn't until I know someone well that respect becomes affection and attraction turns to lust. I still fall slowly and deeply, the way I did the first time, and there's yet to be a second. The potential is there with one young lady, but I've yet to see if it'll ever develop. In the meantime, I know how to be happy on my own... but I'm still willing and eager to fall in love, which is intense and memorable enough to be worth the loss of control.

February 5, 2004

Being in love is one of the most intense, most memorable experiences possible. I remember when it first happened to me. She was and is a beauty, with smooth ivory skin and ringlets of curly brown hair... and she had the clear mind that I need in a woman, the love of music and art, the courage to be herself. This was about five years ago, when I was a shy, idealistic young lad in his last year of high school... and the two of us became close friends, spending our lunch hours by the chapel talking and laughing, and our nights on the phone doing the same. She was already dating someone - uh-oh! - but I saw our interaction as a simple friendship between a man and a woman, and for a time I was happy without anything more. Still, the closer we got, the more I daydreamed about kissing her, and touching her, and being naked together... and it was on a trip between rainforest and ocean, in beautiful coastal BC, that I realized my feelings ran much deeper than friendship. Every natural beauty seemed like a reflection of hers, and every thought and movement lead back to her... and for a time the world glowed with beauty, the way the woods come alive when spring takes hold. It was wonderful... but it wasn't long before it all came crashing down.

I shortly realized that I could never have her. She was committed to a friend and I was far too honourable, too moral, to interfere with that. I became a wreck of desire and denial, and the very thought of her became a source of conflict and pain. Fairly quickly I stopped spending time with her, and sought therapy through friendship and especially through poetry. Most of the poems were as unrefined as you might expect from a lovesick teenager, but one in particular, "the sand and the snow", reflects perfectly what I was feeling and is still one of my favourites. I gradually got over her, taking what lessons I could from the experience. I learned something about being in touch with my feelings, and something more about communicating them. Now, five years later, those feelings are dust in the wind, but that experience is part of my story, and I still look back on it with a certain fondness.

I could share what I've learned about love or about romance since then, but rational analysis seems like the wrong approach. Suffice it to say that love is the opposite of fear. It is a smile on a cold winter's day, laughter in the summer, and arms opened wide to the world. It is the moment when we realize that none of us are alone, that the soul of the world shines in every one of us... and thus it is a force toward unity. There are other forces at work in this world, some that burden and some that enlighten, some that bind together and some that drive apart... but what saves us all is our ability to choose between them.