Sunday, May 31, 2015

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
-  Karl Marx

Friday, May 29, 2015


Mothers against drunk drivers, the Pope is against the pill
The unions against the workers working against their will
The President's against the Congress, the Senate is against the House
People are against politicians and I'm against cats in the house.

- Hank Williams Jr.  

Actually, we have a cat-friendly policy around here,

Sunday, May 24, 2015

This Weekend

For those of you wondering, the weekend is turning out wonderfully, every bit as good as one could have hoped.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Our possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

Psychologists and neurologists have shown that the brain has two different processing systems for listening to music. The sequential system responds to new and unfamiliar music and once it "gets it" or figures out the rhythm or melody or emotional content of the music, it rewards the brain by releasing dopamine and other endorphins. You may have experienced this sensation when listening to something unusual, and all of a sudden, say, the drums kick in and it all immediately makes sense and then you enjoy the rest of the performance, and maybe even want to hear it again.

The veridical system (I'm not the one who made these names up) responds to music it's heard before and once it recognizes a passage, it too releases dopamine and endorphins. This is that sensation you get when a familiar songs comes over the radio and the world suddenly seems brighter and lighter.

So basically, I hate to tell you this, but it's not the music we enjoy, it's the drugs the music allows our brains to manufacture that we enjoy.

I'll go a step further.  Certain people, due to our past experiences, elicit certain reactions in our brains, and we become quite fond of the combination of hormones, adrenaline, and serotonin that particular people cause our brain to release.  So from one point of view, we aren't actually attracted to those people - our spouses, lovers, friends, and objects of desire - it's the drugs our brain creates to which we are attracted.

Behaviorists and materialists may conclude from this that in fact there is no such thing as "love" - it's all just a chemical reaction to which we've become addicted.  I think that's taking it too far, and that point of view misses the poetry and the beauty of our existence, but it is something to consider, especially when we find ourselves caught up in the emotional thrall of love and attraction - to others, to ourselves, and to music.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

They often say "life is short," but I take exception to that.  Your life is the longest thing you'll ever experience.  Anything longer than your own life, if even by a day, is just your imagination.  You'll never know anything longer than your life.

I'll go a step further.  Time itself is a construct of the mind, a narrative we put together using these incredibly complex human brains to understand the apparent sequence of the endless moments of "now."  First we have this "now," then we have this "now," and then we have this "now."  The brain remembers those previous "nows" and assembles a narrative of the events in the order they appear to have occurred, and we refer to the length of that narrative as "time."  But it's always right now, and the past is only memory and the future is mere imagination (sometimes the past is imagination as well).

There is no actual past or actual future.  There is nothing longer than you.  It's all in the mind.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The human brain is undoubtedly the most complex natural object yet encountered in the universe, and we still know very little about it.  It's entirely possible that the functioning of the human brain is beyond the comprehension of the human brain.

I took a free, Ed-X course back in 2013 on Neurology 101 and was amazed at the intricate level of detail and sophistication in just a single neuron.  How the network of millions of neurons in the brain behaves is simply staggering to consider, but think about this - each neuron in your head can be connected to any one or more of the millions of other neurons, and the mathematically possible number of different configurations is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe.

Let me put it this way - if the mind isn't exactly infinite, it's far greater than anything you can ever know.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sometimes I think that the whole of the way can be reduced down to "Be kind to your cashiers and wait staff."  

Watch how a person treats the employees of a supermarket, a restaurant, or a government office, and you'll know a lot about that person's spiritual progress.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

That tenacity for life to persevere despite the myriad challenges, even in the harshest of conditions.  
That tenacity to cling to the illusion of self, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Backyard Surprise

I may have missed my April azaleas, but these are blooming today, much to my surprise.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Don't Be Tolerant

For the most part, you should avoid people who consider themselves to be "tolerant," and whatever you do, please don't be "tolerant" yourself.

There's something I find insidious and suspicious about the whole concept of tolerance.  For tolerance to exist, you first have to view others as separate from yourself (the original sin), and then you have to find something lacking in that other that requires tolerance.

But not to worry - the tolerant believe that within themselves is some special gift of virtue, or compassion, or equanimity, or patience, or whatever, that allows them to "overlook" the shortcoming of the other and be "tolerant" of that shortcoming and of that person.

So the tolerant are not only judging others and finding faults, but they are also  placing themselves on a pedestal of higher virtue.  "You're shit," they've determined, "But that's okay because I'm so highly civilized that I don't mind."  They take it for granted that you're very lucky that they're so perfect.

So if anyone says they're tolerant, they're really not - they've already separated themselves from others, found themselves better than the others, and want you to acknowledge their superiority. Avoid that kind of person at all costs.

But when I say "don't be tolerant," I'm not encouraging you to be intolerant - that's even worse.  Be intimate.  Don't consider yourself separate from others (or separate from anything else in the universe, for that matter).  Don't judge ("lest ye be judged"). Don't try to cultivate some internal attribute to accept that which you find difficult to accept.

The universe is a big, big place, but we're all, every last one of us, an integral part of that universal whole.  Embrace the totality of existence, and stop distinguishing between self and other.  

Don't be tolerant, be intimate.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I finally (finally) got WiFi installed in my home today.  Getting everything all fixed up here for my big Memorial Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The ocean is not a natural habitat for man.  Those at sea are in a perpetual state of potential danger, their lives beholden to the sturdiness of their vessel, the reliability of their equipment, the experience of their crew.

There's a long tradition, backed by an international treaty, that any boat at sea that can help rescue any other boat in distress is obligated to do whatever it can to assist.  It's been that way for years, and regardless of politics, rivalries or hostilities, sailors have assisted sailors regardless of the flag flying on either ship.  Fishermen have quit pursuing profits, merchant marines have abandoned their itineraries, and battleships have changed their mission when they've come across someone, anyone, in need of rescue. 

Here on land, we're not so friendly.  We're not any safer - as Bukowski points out, we're all going to die, every last one of us - yet so few of us feel a duty, much less a compulsion, to help rescue those around us.

I know it's naive to contemplate, but wouldn't it be great if we all adopted a land-born equivalent of the maritime pledge and agreed to all help out each other to the best of out abilities as we navigate this treacherous sea of existence and the human condition?  If we each just pretended that we were all individual ships at sea?  

Maybe we should all buy captain's hats.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Global Warning

It's only May 11, and  the Atlanta temperatures are already reaching 100 degrees.  Normally, we don't see these temperatures until July. Meanwhile, 2014 was officially the hottest year on record since 1891.

I suspected last weekend was hot, but this Monday afternoon reading confirms it.  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Looks like the Jade Helm 15 troops aren't too busy to take some time out to wish Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers of the world!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

With Apologies, I Discuss Yet Another Plane Crash

What do you do when you suddenly realize that death is unavoidable, and how does that moment differ from your life right now?

I received an interesting insight into that question today, when I was told about a 1987 incident in California.  Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 was taken over by a gunman, a disgruntled ex-employee who managed to get around the slack security system for airline workers at that time, overtook the cockpit, and shot and killed the pilots.  

With the pilots dead and slumped over the controls, the plane began its descent, which accelerated with time, before crashing and killing everyone on board.   It's horrifying to consider, but the passengers, who could clearly hear and see the gunfire, must have been aware of the situation, and the plane then took some six minutes to crash.

Investigators, I'm told, sifting through the wreckage found notes written by many of the passengers on the back of magazines, air sickness bags, and scrap paper in their final six minutes, saying their last goodbyes and expressing their love to those back home.  It's heartbreaking, but it's also a little encouraging about the human spirit to see that those facing their imminent demise contemplated love, not hatred and rage.  

Charles Bukowski once said “We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”  The victims of PSA 1771 teach us that the terror and the flattening and the devouring are due to our denial of the fact that we're all going to die, every last one of us, but that realization of our own mortality can and has brought out our love for each other.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Plane Crash In The Alps

From earthquakes in Nepal to gunfire in Texas, there's been no shortage of tragic news lately (there rarely is).  Since it's all discussed at such great lengths elsewhere, I don't talk much about those events here, but I do want to consider for a minute last March's plane crash in the Alps.

I don't mean to be unpleasant, I don't want to sound morbid, and I most certainly don't intend to be disrespectful to the victims of that tragedy, but what would it have been like to have been on that plane?  Imagine you're a passenger on that flight, and having boarded in Barcelona, you fall asleep, thinking that you'll awaken in Düsseldorf.  But you awaken due to some commotion, look out the window, and realize that you're about to crash into a mountain.

What goes through your head at that moment, knowing you have only seconds left to live?  Do you wish that you had made more money, or had a bigger house, or had spent more time at work?  Or do you regret not having hugged your child before you left for your flight or for failing to have expressed your love to your partner?  Do you experience anger at the pilot, the plane, or the airline, or does the anticipation of the imminent discovery of what happens after life is over fill you with awe?  Does sheer terror drive every coherent thought from your head, or does acceptance allow you to experience a poignant, peaceful end? 

The questions really come down to what do you do when you suddenly realize that death is unavoidable, and how does that moment differ from your life right now?

Monday, May 04, 2015

El Dedo De Dios

El Dedo de Dios, The Finger of God, was a rock spire in Puerto de las Nieves, near Agaete on Grand Canary island, off the northwest coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.  I visited the island sometime around 1990 or 1991, and searched for the formation by asking people "Donde esta el dedo de dios?" ("Where is the finger of god?") in the best pidgen Spanish I could muster.  I doubt I'll ever get to use that phrase again.  I finally got a bunch of fisherman to stop pulling their boat onto the beach long enough to reply to my question by pointing it out for me, just a hundred or so feet away. The setting sun was lighting the rock from just the right angle for my photograph, which I quickly took before returning to my car and the drive back to my hotel.

I blew the picture up and have had it hanging on some wall or another for the past 20 years now.  The other day, I learned that El Dedo de Dios was destroyed in November 2005 by Tropical Storm Delta. It's been gone for a decade without me knowing it.

I wasn't planning on going back, but I now feel a sort of poignancy knowing that I'll never get to see it again, even if I wanted to.  Impermanence - what was here yesterday is gone tomorrow.  It's a sad feeling, but it also makes me appreciate having seen it all the more, and has me wishing that I had savored the experience more when I did.  I should have sat on the beach and spent some time with it, instead of just blithely snapping off a picture and moving on to the next tourist attraction.

I never got a chance to share my azaleas with the world this year.  Long-time readers may know that I have exceptionally short-blooming azalea bushes in my back yard, and part of my fondness for them is that their pink and while flowers only last a week or two before falling, and this year, a storm knocked all the flowers off of the bushes before I even had a chance to enjoy their short lives.  But it's the ephemeral nature of the blossoms that makes me appreciate them when they are out. If they lasted all summer like my neighbors' bushes, they wouldn't seem as precious or as special.

Impermanence is swift; life and death is the great matter.  Nothing lasts forever, but instead of being sad about that, we should enjoy what we have when we have it all the more.  Sad songs make me feel sad but also allow me to appreciate the good times, hard times teach me to enjoy that which I have now, and reconciling myself with the inevitability of my own death makes me glad that I had such a good, long run at this mortal life. Recognizing our impermanence and more broadly acknowledging the suffering inherent to the human condition deepens and enriches our experience.    

All of this all may sound cliched and obvious, but we've heard it and thought it so many times before that perhaps we've forgotten it.   Maybe the finger of god has to fall over before we remember that we're not here forever, either.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

 . . . And in an instant, the far mountain disappeared from view.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Ta Ch'u

I did not throw the I Ching this time, but looking through these pictures of Mount Tiede taken from Pico de Las Nieves in the early 90s, I immediately thought, "mountain above, heaven below," and felt compelled to consult the I Ching for the reference.  Looking up the upper trigram for "mountain" and the lower trigram for "heaven," I found Ta Ch'u, the 26th Hexagram.  Pulling the old photographs out of the album was like choosing a tarot or an Oblique Strategy card - random but nonetheless instructive. We don't always need coins or sticks to consult the I Ching.

Ta Ch'u is Great Restraint, and great restraint creates great power. The text tells is that just as the power of water is harnessed by a dam and a horse's strength is harnessed by a bridle, a person's virtue is stronger after it has become concentrated by discipline.

Energy is harnessed by patterns.  Atoms conserve their energy by their pattern of orbiting electrons around closely-packed nuclei, and when we break those patterns of an atom, we release great block-bursting amounts of energy. In our daily lives, we conserve energy in our pattern of routines, habits, and schedules.  We're restrained by those routines, habits, and schedules, but when they are disrupted, either by our own choice during travel and adventure or by accident during those traumatic life-changing events that occur from time to time, great amounts of energy are released.  Sometimes, we feel that we really only become truly alive when our routines and schedules are tossed aside, that we'd been sleep-walking through our life while our routines were in place.  

Ta Ch'u recognizes the great power amassed by our discipline, our control, and our character, and encourages us not to keep this strength to ourselves, at home with our families, but to venture forth, remove all doubts, and cross the great river.  "Crossing the great river" means to surpass the limits, to go beyond the boundaries. Breaking the great restraint of a border is only possible with focused discipline.

We can also cross that great river of ancient dogma, as well as the great restraints of our own preconceived ideas and opinions.  Ta Ch'u encourages us to return to the ancient sources of our spiritual paths, and holds that despite all the vague words and outdated concepts of the past, despite our own doubts and convictions, revelations may present themselves to us that will open our minds and liberate our thoughts.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Falling Tulips

There's always something falling from the trees around here.  If it's not leaves in the autumn or big branches during summer thunderstorms, it's entire trees coming down and demolishing houses and knocking out electricity for hours or even days on end.  But right now, the tulip poplars are dropping these lovely and fragrant blossoms of the yard, and it's a delight. 

Meanwhile it's been a bad year for my azaleas, which haven't had a good year in a decade.  Just as they were starting to bloom, a big downpour came along and knocked the blossoms off the bushes, virtually washing the bushes clean of any flowers.  Maybe next year. . .