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This will be my Spirituality 101 article.  I have several reasons for not calling it “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dealing with Emotions”, but that’s approximately what it is.

Step One: have a warped sense of humor so you can identify the absurdities in life and all commentaries about life, especially this one.

Everything that is alive feels.  I know, it’s kind of annoying sometimes and many people–especially male people–would often like to disregard the entire subject of feelings, but they’re standard equipment for living things. The more highly-developed the organism, the more complex the feelings–because feelings are a direct development of sensory equipment.  If you can sense, you will feel.  That’s just how it goes.  I don’t make the rules; I just know that it doesn’t make much sense to try to break some of the rules, this one in particular.  Feelings are part of senses and senses tell you about your surroundings and good information about your surroundings brings a lot of survival benefits that increase along with your skill-level in using your senses and understanding your feelings.

It is actually so simple that it’s kind of difficult to explain.  Lucky for you, you found a blog about feelings and their connection to spirituality that is being written by a plumber.  Religionists, philosophers and psychiatrists make such a big complicated mess of these relatively simple matters that it’s no wonder people don’t understand the subject very well.

The most complicated part involves a rudimentary understanding of a couple of common physical laws: energy is potential to do work; energy changes forms but isn’t really created or destroyed; and living things are natural batteries, energy-wise.

And I’m saying that this has something to do with spirituality?

Yes.  It has everything to do with spirituality, because the crux of spirituality is in your directorship of your own emotional energy: a natural product of your being a highly-developed living thing.  You may have already read a lot of stuff about spirituality that complicates and mystifies the subject.  It is about time a plumber wrote something about what spirituality is underneath all the various fancy paint-jobs.

It’s actually about how you feel and how you manage your feelings.

At the risk of OVER-simplifying, most feelings come down to liking or not liking, with some middle ground for the things that don’t seem to matter.  There’s what you like, what you don’t like and then there’s stuff that you neither like nor dislike, generally because it at least seems to be stuff that doesn’t affect you.

The basic emotional default position is that we like what enhances our lives, we dislike what seems to endanger or discomfort us and we ignore what doesn’t affect us one way or the other.  Some people reset their own emotional preferences to something other than the default, but I can’t really recommend disliking life-enhancing stuff, liking life-threatening stuff or paying much attention to things that aren’t our own business.  Of course your life is yours and you can do whatever you want.  I’m just making my best recommendations here.

These first few simple points might not seem like things that are worth writing or reading about, but there are many people who seem intelligent enough who overlook the obvious.  Obvious stuff is generally obvious for good reasons.

My good reason for beginning with some basic concepts is that the subject spreads out far and wide from the basic points.  The like/don’t like/don’t care line influences just about everything a human life will ever encounter.  The first really significant thing to know is that the like/don’t like/don’t care line in every life is a very personal line and it is always up to each of us to say what we like or don’t like and to recognize what does and what does not affect us personally.

This is the spot in my article where I had to take a step back and look at what I’m trying to say about spirituality. I managed to write as far as this point without running into any major complications, but only because of being able to treat the subject generically. As long as I’m writing about spirituality in general terms, it seems like there’s a chance to say something productive. But it becomes really difficult to talk about spirituality as a generic thing simply because it is–by its very nature–a highly personal thing. Since it’s personal, it becomes something very specific to each individual person and then it’s hard to even think of it in any general terms.

That’s where religion comes in. On its own, spirituality is not about much more than how we each deal with our own feelings. It’s highly personal. But we live among other people. We interact with others. Sometimes we even care about others. For sometimes-better and sometimes-worse reasons, we try to connect with others–sometimes to share what we know about life, sometimes to seek advice, sometimes to compare our own experiences with someone else’s, sometimes (maybe most of the time) to share some support and affection. If I can be allowed to get mathematically allegorical for a moment: Spirituality plus the social urge–the desire to connect with others–are the two components that combine to create religion. At least that’s how it begins. Religion endures because of tradition; because we want to acknowledge the wisdom of those who lived before us and because we want to have some meaningful social rituals for things like marriages, births and deaths.

Here, I’m starting to be very concerned about getting on the wrong track in my writing. I don’t really like making us/we statements as though I have some right to speak for everyone. Some of us want to acknowledge the wisdom of the elders; some don’t.  Some of us want social rituals; some don’t.  These statements could probably contains as many “some“s as I could put into them. Some of the wisdom of the elders is good wisdom and some is just tradition. Some of the people who respect the lessons of the past do so wisely. Some of the people who reject some of the wisdom of some of the elders do so because they wisely see that holding onto some of the ancient wisdom isn’t always the best thing for us to do in every circumstance. There are hardly any “all“s that fit well in this subject.

And it’s a completely sticky, unworkable mess when we let our urge toward absolutes overtake our good sense. Some of us want to say that all of the ancient wisdom about spirituality is all absolutely true and viable for ever and ever amen. Ans then some of us want to say that all the old books should be heaped up into a big pile, doused with gasoline, lit on fire and be thus completely removed from the world.

Now, these two opposing factions of absolutist thinkers make lots of noise by yelling about how wrong the other side is and the actual issue gets lost in the yelling-match. The world actually hosts the lives of many people who are (hold onto your desk) not fundamentalists.  Most people are not fundamentalist religionists OR fundamentalist atheists. Most people just want to get through their day. If only all the fundies would stop this infernal yelling of “All (this that or the other) blah-blah-blah is always blah-blah-blah and always has been and always will be completely, utterly and entirely blah-blah-blah, so help me ___________ (insert name of something the speaker considers sacred)”.

But spirituality isn’t all about the yelling match nor does it become unuseful despite the abuses of the small-minded ideas of other people.

Here, I’ll put it into I statements: I still need to cope with my own feelings. I still need to live my own life, plan my own days, feel secure in my own beliefs, love what I love and be who I am. I can’t let others take away my right to live my life to the best of my ability, no matter how much they try to confuse me with all the yelling.

And so I choose to look at spirituality from as many sides as I can; finding wisdom where I can see wisdom, rejecting foolishness where I see foolishness (okay: sometimes I’m foolish too, but just for fun) and in short claiming my inherent right to live my life as an aware, self-responsible, free-living person unto myself.

To address both of the opposing fundamentalist concerns: if I am intelligently-designed by God, God made me as an individual with an individual mind and an individual set of experiences and feelings–to live as an individual being that thinks for itself. It’s my sacred right and my holy responsibility.

If, on the other hand, it was random chance or Nature or “that indefinable spark” or whatever, the same is still true. However it is that I came to be a living being living in the here-and-now, having come from the long history of my ancestors, being the current link in the great chain of life that connects all the generations of the past with all the generations that I hope will be the life of the future–HOWEVER it happened, I’m a life and a mind and a “spirit” (I’ll explain that word better a little later in this article) unto myself. No matter how I got here, I’m here now and I have to make my own best choices.

Perhaps (if you are willing–like I am–to claim it for yourself) you are also a person who must live your own life.

This is me reaching out to you through some writing.

Do you know why it’s so hard to tell the real, true story? It’s because the real, true story is the story you write through the living of your own day-to-day life. We can only tell small bits of the real, true story.  I can tell MY real true story.  You tell YOURS.

I am foolish enough to hope that the real, true story never has an ending: as long as there is a life to live it, another chapter can be told.

There’s my version of fundamentalism and absolutism: I am fundamentally and absolutely in favor of living.

Elements of Life

Like many people born and raised in the United States, the philosophical frameworks of Christianity are deeply embedded in my consciousness—in my manners, my ethics, my way of living and even in my efforts to escape from their confines.  I no longer think of myself as a Christian even though many of my deepest personal values are based on Christian values (do unto others as you would have them do unto you; killing and stealing are bad; “God” is love, etc.) and even the foundational underpinnings of my awareness of myself as a living being have analogues in Christian thought.

I have spent much of my adult life interacting with people whose personal philosophies have also been affected by a Christian upbringing and I am amazed at the variety of different thought paths that arise from the same (or at least a similar) source.  I hold Catholic Christianity responsible for the inventions of (among other things) vampire mythology (along with other versions of sexual guilt and repression) pop-voodoo (ties in with the ideas of Catholic mysticism and multiplicity of “saints”), “the light” and the concept of man-becomes-God.

I am not quite THAT stuck on Christianity.

But let’s face it: religions derive much of their tenacity from usefulness.  If people didn’t find some utility in their religions, religions wouldn’t survive merely on mythology and tradition.

I am finished with my apology for the seemingly “Christian” nature of the idea I am about to put into words.  My thought is a persistent and useful thought with or without a parallel in Christianity or any other religion.

A human life is a complex system of many parts.  The most primary goal of self development is to have all the many parts of the system work together.  Our best efforts and best results always involve our best commitments to the things we do and a full commitment requires the focused participation of every part of us.

I notice in my own life that it can happen that I can have a thought to do something (I can vaguely wish or desire to do something) but some part of myself doesn’t agree.  Perhaps my body seems to crave foods that my mind thinks are not good for me.  Maybe I have a thought to do a thing that my body can’t really accomplish like jump 20 feet into the air under my own power.  Maybe I have sexual feelings for a person I really don’t want to have sex with.  Some of these inner conflicts can be things that are difficult to talk about.   That’s when things can become difficult, frustrating and mysterious, sometimes leaving me with a sense of “stuckness” and no way to resolve it.

I believe that these are exactly the sorts of circumstances that have led to the great variety of systems of personal growth and development that we see in our world.  I believe that—in the best case—religions are (can be? are intended to be?) systems for facilitating personal growth.  Here I can make a somewhat dangerous blanket statement and have some hope that it can be properly understood: if a religion does not offer a means for the development of healthier, “whole-er”, more actualized people, that religion is an unhealthy waste of energy, time, commitment, etc.  We have as a species shown ourselves time and time again that we are quite capable of making up all sorts of crazy stuff that we can label as “truth” and “the divine” and we are quite capable of wasting our lives by focusing our energy on fictional “God”s.  If there is any reality to God at all—if the idea is to be any sort of a good idea whatsoever—then God has to be good for us as people.

The subject of how we think of God and what our thoughts about God say about us as people is a different subject and not part of the current writing, but I will say this much here: loving people believe in a loving God, while people whose God is a destructive, hateful being are themselves destructive hateful people.  The things that we are willing to believe about God are merely reflections of how we think of the highest and most powerful aspects of ourselves.

We can—if we so choose—easily remain fragmented, scattered beings, never living up to our potential.  It’s easy to choose that.  All you have to do is be willing to give up on yourself.  We can go through our entire lives always experiencing our bodies pulling us in one direction while our minds try to pull in another direction and our emotions vacillate between agreements and disagreements with one or the other.  In short, we can easily choose to be miserable.  We make that choice when we fail to see ourselves as the complex beings we are.

We are our feelings and we are our thoughts and we are our bodies.  I chose the order of that statement at random.  We are bodies, emotions and minds; physical creatures who think and feel; beings of will packaged in physical form and operating through the use of a complex input , calculation, storage and output device: a mind.  We are all three of those, but I am really only categorizing it as three things for the sake of simplicity.  One needs a bit of simplicity when the basic subject is already complex enough.

Body, mind and soul.  Writing it that way feels like the same thing as writing Father Son and Holy Ghost.

Allow me one Christian idea; it’s just a thought framework.  It’s a good workable framework, not exclusive to Christianity.  There are parallel concepts in many philosophies.  For the bets and clearest explanation of what it means, I have decided to use the analogy of a computer system.  I think it’s a good analogy, not because I think that “people are just like computers” or any such silliness.  It’s a good framework because humans created computers to be “thinking machines” and many of the earliest ideas that led to the development of thinking machines had to do with building a machine that would perform complex calculations the way a human mind was understood to perform complex calculations.  We tried our best to make machines that “think” the way we think.  We have not quite accomplished that goal.  The human mind is a dynamic self-developing system in a way that a machine probably cannot be, but still—what we create and how we create it shows a lot about what we are made of.

We started with an idea, but—like any idea—until there was a physical way to actually build something, it was just a thought.  Even though the development of the thinking machine began with an idea, it didn’t really begin until someone built something that would do what the idea wanted done.  It starts with a physical structure—just as we begin our own lives as a physical structure: a body.

A body with an idea behind it.

The body could also be thought of as a collection of smaller parts but for the present purpose—and with holistic health in mind—“body” is a suitable name for its subdivision, but the concept of an idea could be properly broken down into its components: an idea is a collection of thoughts fuelled by the will or desire to create.

I am thinking of the components of a computer system as sharing these categories with a life: computer hardware is to physical body as software or programming is to the mind as…well, the third category gets a bit expansive.  A machine needs power to run it just as a life needs some type of usable energy to support it.

That’s what I get for thinking and writing at the same time: if I had thought before I wrote all that Trinitarian stuff, I’d have realized that it isn’t just a three-part system—it’s at least four.

You see, once a computer has hardware and software, it still needs an operator and work to do.  I wanted to draw an analogy between those things and the “spirit” or “soul” of a living being.  The hardware and software are the physical structure and the “tools” just like a body and a mind are a physical structure and a toolkit and in both cases, a directorship and a purpose are needed before anything happens.

But even before that, you have to power the machine.

Living things get energy from food.  Everything that is food for every living thing on this planet—probably on other planets too, but since I’ve never visited, I can’t speculate—ultimately derives its energy from the light energy that radiates from our nearby star—the sun.

No mystery there.  A planet without a sun is a planet that can’t support life.  We cultivate crops or we gather edible plants or we hunt edible animals for our food.  We don’t use sunlight directly.  Most of the time, we don’t really have to think about the ultimate source of energy.   In any case, we have no control over what the sun does; the sun is beyond our sphere of management (not to insult the wonderful people who work with solar energy– which is quite a beautiful thing in its own right– but isn’t the subject of this article.)

So, we’re back to the three things that ARE within our personal sphere of directorship—in first person to show responsibility—My body+ My mind+ My spirit= My life.

If I am to be the best sort of life I can be—if I am to truly be supportive of myself as a living being—I will not declare any of my parts to be my enemy.  I will not think of my body as my enemy as some repressive religions do; will not imagine that the desires of my body are evil in and of themselves.  I will not accept any “wisdom” that makes the claim that my sexual feelings are wrong or dirty.  My body will feel the things that it naturally feels and I will not try to tell my body that it is wrong for having feelings.  If I try to make my feelings “wrong”, I risk losing my connections to my own senses and I risk losing touch with both the world outside and my own internal world.   What I WILL do is to manage my body and satisfy its requests in the ways that seem proper to me and to my life.

Nor will I claim that my mind is my enemy.  I will allow my mind to think.  That’s its job; that’s what it does.  My job is to manage my mind—to make it think the thoughts I want it to think, to learn the things I want it to learn, to solve the problems I want it to solve.  To manage these things in this way is to make my mind truly my own; I manage my preferences in my programs.

Of course, spirituality is the actual subject here.  The “me” that manages and directs, the “my” in my body and my mind, the “I” that says what I will do is all of me, but it is my spirit in particular.

In keeping with my precedent of not speculating about things I’ve never seen with my own senses, I cannot make any claims about where my spirit has come from nor about whether or not it might outlive my body and mind.  I can only say that my own experience of my spirit is that it is an interdependent component of the system of my life as a whole.  I am not aware of my spirit existing without the rest of my system.  To calculate that equation through my analogy, even if the hardware and software of a computer  completely ceases to be—“dies”—the operator and the work-to-do might still survive, but they will have lost the ability to do any computing.  As far as I know, without my body to support it and my mind to be the operating system, there is no “me”.

The same archaic paradigm that claimed to know that a spirit is immortal also claimed that the only animal that has a spirit is the human being; that “lower” animals have no thoughts, no feelings, none of the qualities that one could reasonably attribute to a living soul.

If that were true, why would dogs dream?

There is scant evidence that ANY creature has a mind at all.  I know I have one because I can hear it thinking, but I can’t hear anyone else’s mind thinking unless they communicate with me.   And that is THE ONLY CREDIBLE EVIDENCE that anything outside of myself has a mind.   In the olden times, before we knew better, people could say that no animal had a mind—because there’s no evidence either for or against the idea; if animals don’t communicate with us, we have no proof that they have any mental capacity.

We know more now than we used to know.  Dreaming is an indication not only of thought, but of the existence of a subconscious mind.  Animals have conscious thoughts that tell them when to eat or when to mate or when to move from one place to another and many animals have the type of storage-capable brains that allow them to learn and remember.  A brain that can contain memories is a brain that has a sub-conscious part.

We are not different IN KIND from other animals; we are different in DEGREE.  We can think to a much higher degree.  We can experience our own feelings in a more manageable way.  We can do physical manipulations and see details to a higher degree than other animals can.  We are animals.  We’re just a little more refined than they are.

IF

If we make use of what we have.

Otherwise, we aren’t really any better than animals at all.

Probably WORSE than some.

As I anticipated, I did get sidetracked in the writing of this article.  I went into a digression about religion, lost the thread of what I meant to say and left the writing project unfinished and un-worked-on for several months.  What I meant to say about religion is that for some people it can provide a good framework for spiritual growth and for others it seems to be an obstacle to spiritual growth.  The main factor that determines whether or not ANY path will be an asset to personal development is in whether or not you do the work yourself.  Your spirit is yours; the care and maintenance and growth of it are a matter of personal responsibility.  Teachers–by whatever name–can provide advice and guidance, but the actual work has to be done by the person who has/is the spirit to be worked upon.

Getting back to the basics…

Logical, linear thought–the kind of thought that can be easily put into words–can get us through a lot of the situations of life, but sometimes–perhaps often–logical thought alone is not enough.  It is at this point when the true value of feeling comes into play.  We sometimes refer to this kind of feeling as intuition.  If the system of the human mind is analogous to a computer system, intuition is an instant search function with or without a specific path name.  Well-developed intuition (which might be better called “feeling your way through something”) can allow us to make important in-the-moment decisions where logic alone would be too slow and cumbersome.

I’ll leave off here for now with intuition as my place-marker, confident that when I come back to write more, I’ll have a productive starting point…some 4300 words into the piece.

But at no point should my article be left without this thought:

When life is lived to its best and fullest, body, mind and spirit all operate as parts of a whole self.  Be a spirit by feeling, be a mind by thinking, be a body by doing.  When feeling, thinking and doing are all in full agreement, life is magic.



Near a magnificent church building on Chicago’s west side, in a neighborhood once the best of the best (in the 1910′s through the 1920′s) and the worst of the worst (1950′s to early 2000′s) is a three-flat apartment building.  The basement flooded during the heavy rains in July and the tenant in the garden apartment lost a lot of stuff.


I went there with Curtis.  We used an electronic device to locate the sewer line, selected an area, jackhammered a 5-foot hole in the floor, then dug down about 3 feet to expose the 6″ terra cotta (“clay tile”, the same material used on the roof of the church) sewer pipe.

I cut out a section of the pipe and installed three 6″ fittings: a wye to spill into an ejector basin, a check valve and a cleanout tee.  In this photo, you’ll see those three fittings on the right and the ejector pump basin on the left.

If you have really incredible abilities with seeing what’s in a photo, you’ll notice a snaky line going through the middle–that’s a  live lead water service pipe that we had to be careful not to break.  If you’re double extra preternaturally amazing with seeing things in pictures, you might notice a small box at about the 11:30 position in the round frame–that’s an electrical box we placed there to power the pump.

Here’s how the system works:  If the city sewer line backs up, the check valve closes.  Drainage water that is coming from the building will then spill out through the wye and fall into the ejector basin where a heavy-duty pump will pump it to the other (street) side of the closed check valve.  The cleanout tee is there in case the sewer line needs to be rodded, since the check valve (which is a hinged thingy that will let water flow in one direction but not the other) makes it difficult to do drain service from anywhere else.

This system prevents sewer water from a backed up city sewer from coming into this building.

The big storms were a once-in-25-years occurrence.

The system is finished now (I was too busy to take a complete set of pictures). I installed the pump and a discharge line for it, completed the system-basin with more concrete blocks, a precast concrete ring and metal cover, we backfilled and poured concrete to make it back into a floor again.

With a bit of luck, it will never need to do what it was designed to do, kind of like insurance.

“Actions”, the saying goes,  “speak louder than words.” A related set of slangier, more idiomatic sayings includes  “You talk the talk, now walk the walk”; “Just do it” and “Less talk, more rock”.  The trouble with all of those sayings–even though they could be completely correct–is that sayings are formed with words and words about the impotence of words are, um, rather ironic.

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” was written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. It’s probably a rephrasing of  “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr”–Mohammad, some time between 610-632 C.E. or “…the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword…” Apostle Paul ( Saul O’Tarsus? I can’t be sure. He was a Jewish Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin, was born in a town that is now part of Turkey, which was then part of the Roman Empire.  His proper name could have been Hebrew, Turkish, Latin or Aramaic) circa 35-60 C.E.  Paul was executed in Rome, maybe by decapitation with a sword.  His Christian writing often re-worked ideas from the Torah he had studied as a Pharisee.  I could possibly cite an Old Testament phrasing of “words sharper than swords”, but since I can only place the publication date of the Torah at somewhere between the beginning of time and about 600 B.C. and the authorship to “The Eternal Wisdom of the Universe/ Moses/ et al”, it isn’t the specificity level I wanted for this article.

The earliest known and datable example comes from the Greek playwright Euripides, who died circa 406 BC. He is supposed to have written: “The tongue is mightier than the blade.”

It is unclear whether Edward Bulwer-Lytton ever had any actual experience with any literal swords–not to be confused with his obvious work with literary (s)words.  After years of suffering with a disease of the ear, he underwent an operation to cure deafness. The operation caused an abscess to form in his ear which subsequently burst. After a week of horrible pain and probable madness since the infection had affected his brain, he died at 2am on 18 January 1873 just short of his 70th birthday. He lived through his writing and died through his unhearing ears.  He is survived by a phrase.  Death is always the ultimate inescapable irony of life

George Carlin said, “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth. “

I’ve used this lengthy digression regarding words about words as my intro to give some balanced weight to both opinions. I hope I haven’t made either opinion seem more important than the other, since all I really wanted was for you–whoever you are and whatever brought you here to read today–to consider the value you place on words.  I am not in the business of telling anyone what to think.  I simply offer some advice about approaches to thinking.  What you think is, always has been and always will be a matter of your own choice.

I’ll try to make this next riff as concise as I can, but hey, I’m just a drumming plumber, so…

Words are actually only symbols that encode the ideas they represent.  They are very literally containers that are smaller than the meanings they carry.  That’s an idea that really appeals to human beings.  We like to put lots of stuff in a little space.  That’s why we invented language, money, art and all of the other things that are developments of language (stored information of all types) money (stored symbolic energy of all types that are used in trade) art (transmissible emotional energy in too many media and styles to list here) and batteries. I like MY batteries rechargeable.

At any rate, words do not actually contain the ideas they represent.  The actual ideas only exist in the other realms of reality. Some words represent physical objects or actions; some represent mental objects or actions and some represent emotional objects or actions.  Speaking analogously, words are the money where physical, mental and emotional objects and actions are the products and services.  That’s the best I can do in short terms to use words to explain what words are.

Some words (remember: containers) have burst open and spilled their contents (meanings) and are no longer good carriers of meaning.  A few of these words are:

Free: This has become a word that is utterly devoid of any meaning whatsoever, making it a good place to begin my list.  The emptying of the contents of this word is largely due to its misuse in the World Wide Wubs, purveyor of more bullshit than all of the combined pastoral gruntings of all the bovines in the history of the genus Bos primigenius.  Although it is intended to convey “get something for no money” and used as a lure, any click on any web page link that uses the term “free” will direct your browser immediately to a page where you will be asked for money.  As to “freedoms” offered in constitutions, I’ll keep it simple and merely quote a favorite line from Joe Strummer of The Clash: “You have the right to free speech…as long as!…you’re not dumb enough to actually try it!!”
Freedom of the press is shaped by marketing forces and subject to government regulation.  Out of one side of our collective mouths we say we want access to the truth, then from the other side we say “that looks inappropriate.”  Did I say “we”?  I meant “I”.  It’s ME doing that.

Justice is supposed to work something like “what you do will come back to you”, Karma, the law of retribution, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around, etc.  To update another credo, if you live by the sword, you die by the sword you never saw coming.  “Justice” is a term that is completely dependent on terms contained under the heading of “Law” and is always dispensed according to the formula “might makes right” AKA “Money talks. Bullshit walks.”  You can get as much justice as you can afford to pay for; not a bit more, but sometimes a lot less.

Truth may never have been a worthy container for any meanings at all, but has been in recent years completely replaced by the containers “belief”, “opinion” and “according to reports”.

Love: Saying “I love you” is not the words I want to hear from you.  More than words is all you have to do to make it real.  Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me, ‘cuz I’d already know.  And according to the strict dualistic philosophies of still-way-too-many people, loving one thing means hating another thing.  Me no likey dislikey.  Me only love-love.  No bite-scratch-hiss da ‘nother kitehs.  Nice-nice love-love only. The word “love” has lost some of its meaning by beings used as a substitute for “fuck” in pop music and by mingling singles, and also due to being applied equally to foods, items of clothing, paint colors and the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.  It’s nice to love your whole world, but your significant other wants to be loved more than you love your shoes.

Peace: A “peace-keeping force”…do I really need to say any more?  Yes, unfortunately, I DO.  Seeking peace within is a wise first step, but sitting forever with closed eyes is death above ground.  Seek peace within, make picture in mind, then open eyes and make world like picture.

Cure: As attractive as this idea might seem, the truth (see above) is that there is no cure for anything except life.  There are treatments for almost any ill and many treatments are free (see above).  The trouble is that treatments are an active and self-responsible approach and usually must be performed on a daily basis.  Any illusion of any “cure” must be considered to be much like “justice” (see above).

God: Here’s a term that is inherently under-understood; it is intended to be a place-marker for the great, unsolvable mystery of existence, the unknowable origins of the spark of life, the enigma of constantly unfolding fate, the concepts of perfection and infinity that may not exist in the material world at all yet exist in our minds; the way that finite organic beings continue to generate new generations of similar organic beings with life continually renewing and regenerating itself through us no matter how smart or stupid we are and that the whole process is supported by our nurture and care, i.e. our LOVE (see above) The name or word “God” is meant to imply all of those things, plus hope, justice, faith, commitment, a sense of what is right and a spiritual energy that surrounds us with protection and support.  The word “God” is as of this writing a nearly empty container of meaning, partly because so many of the meanings it is intended to contain are themselves nearly empty.  The other part of what is currently killing the God-concept is the rampant growth of the hubris that makes us say that we know more about God than we can possibly know.  It’s MEANT to be the unanswered question.  Answering the unanswerable question merely fills the empty mental spot where wonder is supposed to reside.  Nietzsche was wrong:  God can’t die.  Only Bob and Nietzsche can die and words can–at the very worst–lose meaning.  “God” has not lost all its meaning, but it’s on the endangered list.  Here’s a tip: if you stop making God into something that is hateful, cruel and non-living (having been frozen into a book of words that is now many centuries old) atheists might be able to hear what you have to say about it. However, when it is hateful, incapable of growth and locked into the box of a religion that refuses to allow it to grow, God ain’t no God at all.

I’ve attempted to convey the concept that words are merely the containers of their meanings and I hope that is a useful thought tool.  Words are used not only to send an idea from one person to another; many of us also use words in our own minds to organize our own thoughts.  Linguistic mental programming likely begins some time after we learn language (so it is a product of our social environment) but that doesn’t mean that A) it isn’t a natural way to think or B) that our mental programming comes entirely from other people.  We can program our own minds and we can choose the format of language to do so. However, thinking in terms of images, spatial relations and feelings–among other thought-modes–are also very viable and useful ways to use a mind.  In my opinion, a balanced approach to thought includes all of these and other thought-modes that I can’t put in words at all.  A human interested in the development of his or her mind will try to use as many thought modes as she or he is capable of using.  The above list (which is not at all comprehensive; it’s a mere beginning) refers to words as containers of meaning in interpersonal usages.  The worst thing that can happen to a word-as-interpersonal-carrier-of-meaning is that it loses its meaning. That would be like mailing an empty box.  In the figurative sense, a word without meaning is like a sword without a sharp edge: it might still make an impressive decoration, but it isn’t actually a usable tool any more.

On a more hopeful note, the word “choice“–despite years of abuse, neglect, overuse and misunderstanding–is still one of the most powerful ideas known, both as a word and as an idea.  The only word that surpasses “choice” in power and importance is “life”.

So LIVE.

And CHOOSE.

If you choose to use words to organize your own mind, consider how specifically or non-specifically you are choosing to order your thoughts.  If you use words to communicate, choose abstract, meaningless words when it doesn’t matter what idea you want to convey and specific, meaningful words when your communication needs to carry a specific meaning.

Inside your own head, all your words have the meanings you place in them.  All of your internal words have their best and strongest meanings.  All of the words on the list above are still good internal words.  But you may want to say them to yourself very softly and gently, treating your own concepts as delicate, skittish imaginary-but-loved friends of your soul.  Love can be a wonderful friend to keep inside yourself.  When you let your thought-friends out to play in the world outside your head, let them play as actions.  They carry all their meanings that way.

If I keep those things in the forefront of my forebrain, I have an easier time making sense of the rest.

If you know any other words that are especially meaningful or meaningless, please expound in comments.

In a fight, I am the good guy and you are the bad guy. I will do anything to win,
because I am right.

In a negotiation, we are both people and each of us makes an effort to understand why
we need to disagree. In a negotiation, we both win or we both lose. The prize that we
either win or lose is our ability to relate to one another, to share a world, to
recognize and respect the values of another, maybe to love one another.

Negotiation is quite unlike fighting.

A national economy is partly about how I’m going to pay my bills, but it’s me paying my
bills multiplied by about 300,000,000. It’s all of us paying our bills. Or–as is
often the case on both the personal and on the national scale–NOT paying our bills.

When we don’t pay our bills at the personal level, we get collection agencies, bad
credit reports, law suits, nasty letters and phone calls, wage garnishments and other
stuff that makes us feel like our lives are falling apart.

At the national level, it’s all of those things times three-hundred-million, except
that on the national level, we call it a budget deficit.

I suppose we don’t tend to think of it that way. I suppose we all assume that if the
government–um, which in the U.S. is actually US–runs out of money, they can just call
the treasury and have more money printed. The important thing to realize about money
is that–in and of itself–paper is not worth much. Our pieces of paper acquire value
by the significance of what is written on them. In the case of money, the pieces of
paper are literally “symbolic energy”. The value of money is directly linked to its
purchasing power, which decreases when you use more pieces of paper to represent the
same amount of stored energy. I know this might be a tricky concept, but understanding
tricky concepts is the actual key to understanding the things you don’t understand.

The Democratic party is about social programs that help us live. That’s a very important thing for a government to do.

In between the Democrats and the Republicans is the simple fact that stuff costs money and money doesn’t come from nowhere. In the U.S.the money that our government uses for social programs comes from US.

The Republican party is about keeping the cost of government to a minimum.

Each side has its positive and its negative aspects.

Fighting is fighting. In a fight, there will be winners and there will be losers.
That’s just the nature of fighting.

Negotiations aim for resolution in a way that fighting can’t.

I won’t tell you what should or shouldn’t be important to you.

I WILL ask you to think about how you resolve conflicts and I WILL hope that you choose to resolve conflicts in ways that allow us to recognize the realities of living together as people, families, groups, communities, nations, a world.

All I’ve ever asked of you is that you think.

Yesterday brought me one minor victory; actually it was more of a non-defeat. The rest of the day was less than stellar, so I’ll share the one good thing after I record a brief summary of the stuff that didn’t go so well.

I went out to do some focused job hunting using my special top secret guerrilla tactic: a folder-full of two different versions of my resume–one shows my union affiliation and the other omits it–and a list of prospects. The tactic is no phone call, no lame web-applying that gets NO RESULTS: I just show up at the place of business wearing a resume, a smile and willingness to start right away. Oh, and some decent pants. I’ve heard that most of the employers I want to work for will respect a man with pants on. The trouble was that I went out too late in the day and no one was in any of the offices I visited. Meeting them in person is an essential element of the tactic.

I got out of the house kind of late because I was…okay, it’s too late for me to start being dishonest now. It’s because I was screwing around with other stuff. I was looking through a web site that my President put up about how I could save money on my taxes (none of his tips worked for me) and the same with an H&R Block site that looked way too much like a quiz-app from Facebook. Neither one of those things did anything for me. Then I was screwing around with trying to look at a bunch of emails from the band. I haven’t been making gigs or practices in the past couple of months because I’m parking cars on Friday and Saturday nights which is when most band stuff happens. There are two upcoming gigs on Wednesdays, so I’m thinking I can redeem myself. But one of the Wednesday gigs is an audition that I would rather we didn’t do. It’s for some teevee show called America’s Got Talent. Don’t get me started. This kind of stuff is fluff entertainment the premise of which I can’t even think about without beginning to fume. They look for “raw” talent, select only the finest, then they flash-freeze it so it’s ready to pop into the microwave so that Americans can enjoy a healthy entertainment snack whenever and wherever. Processed and pasteurized!

The band I’m in is excited to be noticed by NBC and I can’t blame them, but this kind of “exposure” won’t really do anything for us. I wish I could tell them all how little it means, not to take it too seriously, not to let a freaking reality show steal part of their souls. But instead, I got caught up in discussing the set list. There will only be 90 seconds to audition. There will be no set list. Oh well…I think I at least helped provoke some of the crew to share their feelings about the whole mess, even if I didn’t personally come out rose-scented.

And my checking account has less money in it than I thought…

There was one minor victory yesterday that was actually more of a non-defeat: I got a notice that said that I wouldn’t have to pay a parking ticket I got this past December. I remember the night and the circumstances. Becky was decorating the Christmas tree and I forgot fora little while that my car was pulled up in the alley near the garage instead of being properly parked. I was momentarily riled when I saw the orange ticket on my car, but I quickly decided not to let it spoil my night. Instead, I looked at the ticket to see what they would consider proper grounds for contesting it. The violation was “parking in an alley”. I knew that I wasn’t really parked, so I wrote a note (it was actually a very short note. Can you believe it?) that stated that I wasn’t parked and that the violation never occurred. “Violation did not occur” was a bit of language I sampled from their “Grounds for contesting”. The notice I received yesterday said that an official review of my case had determined that the violation never occurred.

I felt as though I had spoken their language and ordered from their menu, so I got what I wanted. That was what I wanted to pass along to my friends today: you can’t always beat the system with original thought because they might not be equipped to understand what you’re saying, but if you can speak their language and ask for something they’ve offered–a constitutional right for example–they might just come through for you.

Or at least not fight you so hard.

I’m done writing. It’s 8 o’clock, time to rock.

I wasted about $20 worth of gas and about 4 hours of my time this morning. Neither of those can ever really be replaced. I spent about 3 of my precious hours driving and with nothing else to occupy my mind, I allowed it to do the most dangerous and subversive of all possible activities: I allowed my mind to have any thoughts it wanted to have.

That’s dangerous and subversive because if I let it, my brain will come up with thoughts that the people in charge of our world–the ones with all the money–don’t want me to have. If they want to keep me from thinking too much, they’ll move the features of my world closer together so it doesn’t take so long to get from place to place. That, or they’ll clean up their act so I at least don’t see all the disgusting things they try to sell me.

This morning I used up a chunk of my time without producing the money I set out to produce, but I produced a string of disturbing thoughts that I will try to share with you in this note. If disturbing thoughts disturb you, turn back now. It’s only right to mention that–while I intend to be bluntly honest here and even though it was an unproductive morning–I see my process of writing as something that helps keep me from holding onto the spiritual garbage I take in. Me likey lolz. Me still pwn da lolz.

Some of the ridiculosity of it all would go cystic on me if I didn’t write it out.

Writing keeps me healthy and lol-ing.

I played a show with the band last night. I had to leave right after the show was over because I knew I had to get up early today to drive an hour away from home to interview with a company that was offering me a position as a plumber. I want to work as a plumber. That’s my trade. Modern plumbing is making a good effort to be more environmentally-friendly, but remains the biggest waster of fresh water in the world. But plumbing isn’t going away any time soon. Bears poop in the woods, but humans don’t want to squat in the company of bears. We love our clean running water. Someone like me NEEDS to be in the plumbing industry. It’s my trade and I’ll do all I can to make it better.

At that thought, I realized that it was time to take a break from note-writing and go out to mow the back yard. Nelly, our next door neighbor, just happened to be doing the same, sort of. As I was getting the push-mower out of the garage, I heard Nelly starting her power-mower. I didn’t go out there to mow just because my neighbor was mowing; I’ve never been one for keeping up with the Garcias.

Nelly’s Mexican and about ten years older than I am. I know she works hard on her lawn and takes pride in how good it looks. I guess I assume that a nice power-mowed lawn might have been a luxury she wouldn’t have had in her old country, but I have no way of being sure about that. She’s told me that she’s been in Chicago for at least thirty years, so she’s 10 years more Chicagoan than I am. I’d like to say that I got my mowing done by hand quicker than Nelly did by gas power, but I didn’t. Even though she stopped to re-fuel, she finished before I did. But I enjoy doing my yard work, so I don’t feel like any of my time was wasted there.

Not so for the trip I made earlier today. That DID make me feel like I had wasted my time. And that’s not how I want job hunting to make me feel. Even if I go for an interview and don’t get the job, I want to feel like I’ve gotten a step closer to some profitable employment. In that respect, today was a good use of time. I learned not to try to go to work for the company I interviewed with today.

It was a drain service outfit that I was employed with before–about 13 years ago. Today, I wanted to find out if anything about working for that company had changed while I was away. Things have not changed. The service techs still work on a commission-only basis–no hourly pay. And…

It came down to my answering “no” to an important question the interviewer asked: “Do you have a late-model 3/4-ton work van, or can you get one?”

I knew that this question also included these un-stated clauses:
“You’ll put a bunch of big decals of the company name and logo all over the exterior of the van.”
“You’ll make the back of the van into a secured cargo hold that you won’t be able to use for any non-company purpose.”
“You’ll fill the back of the van with company equipment and you’ll purchase extra auto insurance to cover loss or damage of that equipment.”
“You’ll routinely douse that equipment in sewer juice until the van reeks of sewer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Still, I would have been prepared to take the job. But I can’t buy a van right now. I’ve been out of work too long.

On the way to the interview, I was doing my best to stay positive about it; holding back some of the thoughts that wanted to pop into my head. I got to an area near the office with time to spare, but neither my Google driving directions nor my map book was of any help in showing me exactly where the office was. Google was having me turn on a street that wasn’t where it should have been; my map book didn’t list the street name at all in the town I had been told the office was in. A closer check of the map book (after I was already late for my appointment, but more about that later…) listed the street in the next town over.

Here, a satellite view of the town will explain it better (right click the link and open it in a new tab so you can toggle back to me). http://maps.google.com/maps?client=firefox-a&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=41.56809,-87.6081&spn=0.045914,0.077162&t=h&z=14

The big grayish place near the middle of the map is the biggest limestone quarry in the world. Most of the town of Thornton, Illinois is to the east of the quarry. There are two roads that cross the quarry: Interstate 294 and the too-femininely misnomered Margaret Street. 294 is a limited-access toll road and Margaret Street runs a couple of miles without any possibility of turning in any direction. The office I was looking for had an address that indicated that it was between 171st and 172nd Streets. I drove around and around the big hole in the ground looking for vestiges of 171st and 172nd, often having to turn around and go back when streets dead-ended at 294.

As it turns out, the big hole is in the middle of Thornton, not along one side as it appeared to be on my map. Thornton Illinois is half big-hole-in-the-ground. Half of the other half of Thornton is rural residential and the remaining 1/4 is two industrial “parks” Hoo-wee, them industral folks don’t know what a park is a-tall. The street I was looking for was to the westof the big hole, in an area my map calls either East Hazel Crest or South Holland. The office had a spectacular view of both the interstate AND the big hole, situated–as it is–right on the edges of both.

Now, even though you might think Thornton has used all its space–what, with a huge hole, lots of industrial park and a few stucco houses–the town planners still managed to include not one, not two, but THREE “gentlemen’s clubs”.

Along with “park”, my definition of the word “gentleman” also seems somewhat to differ from the definitions used by others.

There were quite a few large billboards along the highways surrounding Thornton to direct “gentlemen’s” attention to those resorts. These billboards all featured photographs of what appeared to be women with so much makeup on their faces that I couldn’t actually spot the human being behind the painted mask. I suppose somewhere along the way, someone told someone that this kind of face paint was the way for a woman to appear attractive and desirable. Doesn’t really work for me…but suddenly, I became able to understand Viagra. The chemicals used in the marketing of the “sexy girl” image require a counter-chemical offset on the part of the “appreciative guy” image. It takes Viagra to get past the makeup and still “feel attracted”.

I never quite understood that before, so I’m grateful to have figured something out.

BTW, many of the chemicals mentioned in this note–including the gasoline, the billboard paint, the makeup and the pharmaceuticals– are derived from petroleum; a million-year-old organic, black, gooey substance.

Very much like sewer sludge, only older and harder to replace once it’s gone.

My push mower runs on rice and corn.

I’m moving on to the better part of my Earth Day.

I hope you’ll spend yours attending to and being conscious of what you value about your world.

This documents is composted using smell check to make shore all the words is smelled write.

Science dudes are always trying to explain stuff, but their explanations are so complicated that most of us don’t really know what they are talking about.  We try to take science into our lives, to embrace its concepts, to welcome it into our lives, to work with its ideas and adopt its ways of looking at the world.  Our efforts to do this often resemble a dog attempting to ride a motorcycle backwards underwater.

We shall therefore begin our exploration of physics with the Hisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  Most of us reduce this principle to “you can never really be sure about anything”, but it’s actually more like “you can know something about something, but you can’t really know everything about anything.”

What the Uncertainty Principle (I’ll start calling it the U.P. for short) really refers to applies mainly to matter in motion.  When stuff is sitting still, you can get a pretty good look at it.  Moving stuff is harder to study unless you happen to be moving right along with it.  If you are trying to study a Toyota Prius as it’s driving past you, you can calculate its speed by using a radar gun or you can take a photo of its exact location in one moment of time by using a camera, but you can’t know its exact speed and its exact location at exactly the same time unless you are the person driving the Prius.  But in that case, you would want to keep your focus on the exact location of the emergency brake.

Now that you are more certain about uncertainty, we can move on to dimensionality.

Scence fiction has caused a lot of misunderstanding about what dimensionality is.  Actual physics hasn’t helped much either. Science fiction has led us all to imagine alternate universes and parallel dimensions where stuff exists right next to us that we can’t see because it’s in a different dimension.  Meanwhile, physicists have been trying to find a theory that reconciles General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics.  Each of those theories works very well within their respective domains…

Sorry.  What I meant was that there are two different kinds of math that scientists use to figure stuff out.  One is for bigger stuff that travels fast and the other is for tiny stuff that travels even faster.  The two kinds of math don’t always agree, even though each one works on its own.  So the really most big-headed scientists keep trying to come up with ways to make the two kinds of math work together and all the new kinds of math they come up with require way more dimensions than there actually are in the real world.  Not even the most big-headed scientists really understand that, so it’s not a big surprise that no one else understands it either.

At any rate, one of the leading contenders for this “Grand Unified Theory of Everything” is something called superstrings.  Superstring theory basically says that everything is made of tiny strands of matter that vibrate.  That’s a very easy thing to imagine.  People love superstrings! The unfortunate part is that for superstring math to work, the physics dudes have to use something like 23 dimensions.  So we have a thing that non-physicists are able to take into their minds (everything is vibrating strings; guitarists especially love this idea) and we have to include a bunch of extra dimensions in that idea.  Hey Presto, people decide that there really are a bunch of dimensions around that we don’t see.

Dimesions are ways of measuring.  That is all they are.  In the normal world, the dimensions are length, width, height and time. You have to start from there if you want to understand anything about dimensions.  They are mental constructs we use to describe the world in mathematical terms.  Time is an important dimension because time in ratio to one of the other dimensions–we’ll call those “spatial” dimensions because they’re special–is the way we describe speed or velocity: something travels an amount of distance in an amount of time.  This becomes a very valuable concept for many reasons.  I want to point out that the inclusion of time as a dimension makes infinity possible.  If you start from any point on a round planet and travel in a “straight” line (it can’t really be a straight line if it’s on a curved surface) common sense tells you that you will eventually come all the way around to the place you started from.  Except that the place will have changed while you were traveling and won’t really be the same place at all. Time changes everything, including our understanding of the world around us.

In actual factuals, dimensions are measurements.  We normally think of the physical world in terms of 3 or 4 dimensions because those are the easiest ways of measuring space and time, but any number of unique ways of measuring can be used as dimensions.  If more measurements help us understand more, more dimensions are more gooder.  This is an important concept.  Dimensions are not physical realities; they are mental constructs used for understanding physical reality.

Everyone wants to understand something about the world.  That’s how we figure out how to live the best way we can.  We can’t plan our days without at least a little bit of thinking and a little bit of predicting how we expect things to work.  Everyone is a philosopher, at least regarding one’s own life.  Many of us want to include scientific knowledge in our thought process, so we try to fit physics into our philosophy.  According to my friend Phil, a philanthropic philatalist who frequently photographs the phantom photons that flit across phytoplankton by filtering the frequencies, people might only try to link physics with philosophy because there seems to be a linguistic connection.  He doesn’t really explain what he means by that.

The point is that we all choose our ways of understanding the world we live in.  Part of my own way is to put things into words.  That helps me get a grasp on some of the thoughts that seem too big to be completely contained within the confines of my tiny head.

So now that we’re a little more or less certain about the dimensions of uncertainty, we can move on to matter and energy.

Albert Einstein came up with a theory that made it seem as though matter and energy are the same.  They are not.  Matter can be converted to energy.  If we think of matter and energy as interchangeable, we tend to forget about the all-important conversion of one to the other.  Lest we forget, Einstein’s famous equations and theories were used very sucessfully to convert unstable metallic isotopes into huge explosions. E=mc^2 was used to make atomic bombs.  That is what happens when we neglect to see the importance of matter/energy conversions.

No matter (pun intended, but maybe not acheived) how you like to think of matter becoming energy, try to always include the term “potential”.  That word will serve to remind you to consider the way the conversion is being done.  Ancient rain forest mulch became crude oil that gets refined into petroleum that gets refined into gasoline that gets exploded under controlled conditions in our automobile engines so that we can drive to our events to show our support for our worthy causes.  If matter=energy=matter, there would be no problems other than entropy.  Since the conversions of matter to energy are a factor, we have to consider the waste by-products of our conversions and whether the material resources we use to make energy are renewable.  We can burn million-year-old rain forest mulch, but can we grow new million-year-old rain forests?  We can dine on Chilean sea bass to fuel up for the big dance, but will there continue to be enough new sea basses growing to adulthood to continue feeding us this way?  I sure hope so.  Chilean sea bass is yummy!

Anyway…matter is stuff.  It’s not just ANY stuff;  it’s stuff that matters!  That’s why we call it that.  Anti-matter, on the other hand, is stuff that doesn’t matter.  When a particle of stuff that matters collides with a particle of stuff that doesn’t matter, both particles vanish!  Choose your battles wisely.  Don’t sacrifice stuff that matters for stuff that doesn’t matter.

Dark matter is another thing entirely.  Cosmologists (despite the similarity in the name, they don’t actually do makeup) theorize that the universe contains a whole lot of dark matter…and maybe some dark anti-matter too.  Just like their “light” cousins, the dark versions of matter are either stuff that matters or doesn’t.  The difference is that in the dark, we can’t see why it does or doesn’t matter.

Astrophysicists want dark matter to exist because it would explain their caculations better.  Dark matter would add enough mass to the universe to keep it in a pattern of decelerating expansion virtually forever.  Without dark matter, a universe that started with a Big Bang would eventually reach the limits of its expasion and then begin to contract.  They aren’t sure what that would do to the laws of physics that we know in an expanding universe, so they are hoping that the contraction doesn’t happen.  Well, AND it would end in a Big Splat…in billions of years.

Physics is actually all about predicting the movements of things by using numbers. The main competetion for the confidence of the public-at-large comes from numerology.  We can use numbers to understand the world.  That much is agreed upon.  We can use numbers for careful measurements and complex calculations or we could just pick out numbers that we like because of their resonance.

Some people like to say that “all is one”.  I think this kind of insults numbers in general.  It’s like saying that we don’t need any other numbers; just ONE.  I think maybe the all-is-one people are perhaps a bit self-centered: I is me and me is all that is and everything that appears to be non-me is an illusion, for all is me.  Three Dog Night was right. One IS the loneliest number.

And two is only 100% better.  Two-ism does lead to pair-bonding–since 2 means that now it isn’t just me but me AND you– but it also brings in the idea of opposites, which is the most rudimentary way of understanding the world. Two-ism (okay “duality”. We can handle the word “duality”, right?) leads to the idea that everything is either this or that, which sometimes leads to ideas of good or evil and all the nasty connotations that go along with that sort of thinking. It’s an easy philosophical trap to fall into. As a culture, we do LOTS of communication in dualities and in two dimensions. Pieces of paper are often considered highly valuable in our society and everything on pieces of paper is necessarily two dimensional. But imagine having to live your entire life in only two dimensions.  That would suck.

Thank goodness for 3. With 3 there is you, me AND something else. Food perhaps…Threeness makes depth possible, in addition to length and width. And 3 implies that other numbers are possible. Once you have 3, you can open the door to 4. 5 can come alive. As long as there’s a 3, you can’t tell 6 to hit the bricks or send 7 up to heaven. 8 and 9 can be great and fine. Get to 10 and you can start again!

Numbers can be your friends if you treat them as such. They don’t want your awe. They just want to be worked with. That’s what physics is about: a real use for numbers that helps us understand the world we live in.

Unlike some fake uses of numbers, such as 2012. Let’s face it: the world ended for the Mayans over a thousand years ago. And NO ONE can predict any future event with any certainty anyway. We can only predict in terms of probabilities and even then, only when we have some significant experience with the sort of event we are trying to predict. The end of the world could only be accurately predicted by a team of persons who had already experienced an end of the world.

Um.

Should have quit while I was ahead…

Have a glorious day!

Here’s a video about the Honk Festival (Boston) produced by Tufts Film Works.  EE Magic Circus Band is featured! But…enough words! Watch, listen and groove!

Louder Than Words from Tufts Film Works on Vimeo.

On Intuition

As I see it (which could be wrong, but since it’s my best guess, I’m running with it) the main goal of spirituality is to develop a personal continuum of having the best thoughts to lead us to the best actions and give us the best feelings; a self-supporting system that will lead us through our lives in the best possible ways.  I am going to refer to this sense of internal and external lack of self-doubt as “intuition”.

This is a very difficult thing to write about, which is probably why I have chosen to undertake the project I’m working on now.  I’m not fully satisfied with anything I’ve read about it so far—and I’ve read a lot of stuff!—so I’m writing my own as best I can.

Intuition may not be the best word to use to describe the thing I’m trying to talk about, since what I really mean is something more like the flow-state that comes from doing what I love to do and being so fully sure and fully engaged that I can simply do/think/feel in a way that seems natural and effortless because I am doing/thinking/feeling with full commitment and certainty that what I am doing/thinking/feeling is right for me.

In nuts-and-bolts mechanical terms it is a deep sense of “all systems are online and at full power.”

The two basic challenges to writing anything meaningful about intuition are inherently formidable things to overcome because intuition—by the most accepted definition—is generally described as being beyond the realm of words and because most people who are familiar with intuition are fairly well-set in their ideas about it even though those ideas are difficult if not impossible to describe with words.

So what’s to be done if I should—perhaps ill-advisedly—want to say something about intuition?  What if I feel that it is very important to say something about intuition, not just as a way to communicate my thoughts, but also to use the process of writing to clarify my ideas for myself?

I know that I can’t really explain it logically, but maybe with some well-worked metaphor, I can at least give a feeling of what I mean to say.  Feelings are the real topic here after all.

“Always trust your first impressions” some people say.

“Always question your initial reactions” say others.

The fact is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to life.  We do our best to learn from experience, meaning that we save the memory of what was once a present moment experience in the hope that knowledge derived from that past experience will benefit us in the future.  We do the best we can to compare current experiences with similar situations from the past.  We do the best we can at making our plans for the future reflect what we have learned from the past.  The one thing we can never really do is be 100 percent certain that the events of the future will be consistent with what we have learned from the past.

Somewhere in here (I’ve chosen this spot somewhat randomly) there needs to be a very important word of caution.  The one thing that destroys proper intuition is the kind of internal certainty that makes us forget to pay attention to what is actually happening outside of ourselves coupled with the ego-itis (swelling of the sense of infallibility) that makes us think that we can know more than we actually are able to know.  We do the best we can and the rest is up to God/Nature/Fate/Random Chance/the omnipresent probability that everything will change in the very next moment.

Will there be a day tomorrow?  We can’t really know.  We can know that there is a day today and that yesterday was a day and that all the days before that were days.  But tomorrow could be different and each of us finds our own way of coping with the uncertainty of the future.

Now, what did that last paragraph have to do with spirituality?  I’m not sure.  I just feel that it does.

To put it another way: as you read these lines, only the word currently in front of your eyes is a part of your present moment.  The parts you haven’t read yet are in your future (that is IF you stay interested long enough to keep reading) while the parts you’ve already read are in your past.  By the time you reach the end of this sentence the first words in it have become memories.  If we—we humans, that is—didn’t have the kinds of brains that are good at storing information, we wouldn’t be capable of making any sustained effort at anything.

Now suppose—by way of example—that I was the sort of writer who wrote incredibly long sentences wherein the first few phrases could be completely altered in meaning by the phrases at the far end of the sentence.  To make any sense of it, the initial phrases would have to be stored in your short-term memory without your having assigned any specific meanings to those phrases, since the full meaning of the sentence is not apparent until you reach the end.  Those initial phrases would have to temporarily be stored within your mind as something not within your immediate awareness.  By “immediate awareness” or “conscious thought”, I am referring to the just-barely-provable idea that the number of separate thoughts—mental objects—that can be actively within a person’s awareness is a very small number—perhaps only one—and that the mysterious-sounding realm of the subconscious mind is made up simply of all the thoughts, memories and bits of data that are not in your current active awareness, in other words MOST of the information in a human mind spends MOST of its time in the subconscious part of the mind.

Or maybe the classic “film-strip analogy” will be useful here: the conscious mind is like the screen of an old fashioned projector-type motion picture system.  At any given moment only one small bit of still-frame film is being projected onto the screen and the illusion of movement is created by the rapid succession from one frame to the next.  All of the film other than the image currently on the screen is sub (below the level of-) conscious awareness.  It is only after you’ve viewed the entire film that you are able to be aware of the movie as a whole thing—only because the content of the movie has become stored in the most remarkably effective, infinitely-adaptable information system ever: a human mind.

With that, perhaps you can get some sense of what I mean if I try to define intuition as a non-linear type of thought that is capable of drawing on all of the senses and all of the information in the mind with or without a strictly explainable pattern of logic.  Where some thoughts are more strictly based in a logical, linguistically-linked, left-brain type of thinking, intuitive “thought” (which is often experienced more as a feeling than a thought) is closer to a “whole mind” type of thinking.

When a person uses intuition—when a person uses a whole-mind way of “thinking”—literally everything within that person’s conscious AND sub-conscious awareness becomes part of the intuitive process.

I sometimes call it the “stockpot.”

Here’s a question to simmer: what’s in YOUR stockpot?

In many—and I’m tempted to say in ANY useful—system of spiritual growth, meditation is an important practice.  In the type of meditation I personally practice—there are many different types—I sit calmly, taking full, relaxed breaths and I allow any thought that I might have to come into my mind and then flow into any other thought without attaching any particular significance to any of my thoughts.  It is the process of learning not to be so overcome by the feelings that can become attached to thoughts that I feel the need to suppress or censor my mind.  Anyone who has practiced this type of meditation can tell you that uncomfortable thoughts will arise.  The meditator lets the thoughts come, looks at them passively, does not allow those thoughts to take control of his or her feelings or to interfere with the sense of peace and allowing that he or she is practicing.  The ongoing practice of this kind of meditation has the effect of cleansing the spirit and allowing the practitioner access to his or her whole-mind intuitive abilities; it teaches me to “trust” my ability to be a whole-mind thinker without fear of my own feelings.

That’s a nice thing.

In Christianity, one of the main principles is that of forgiveness and that is a very spiritually-beneficial thing.  Feelings of guilt can be very persistent and very destructive to a person’s overall view of the self and the world and can therefore suppress and lock up a lot of otherwise useful gray matter.

In simple terms, feeling bad about something can keep me from having any productive thoughts that are even remotely connected to the idea in question.  Suppose I have some uncomfortable feelings attached to my ideas about love or family or responsibility.  Will I be able to—with those feelings clouding my awareness—act in the best ways with regard to love, family and responsibility?

Any best result comes from a best effort and any best effort comes from full commitment.  Self doubt doesn’t bring a best effort.

It is easy to get sidetracked in writing about this stuff simply because it’s so wide-ranging and so central to so many convergent areas of study, but my purpose is to simplify, de-mystify and to assert that spiritual development is good for everyone regardless of belief-system or lack thereof.

Some people are capable of having a strong belief in a higher power that is able to purify the spirit to its core, while some are not able to fully believe that.  Spiritual development is available to both and for both—although the methods differ—it is a matter of regular practice.  Just to make sure all the bases are covered, I’d like to say that for people whose religious belief is strong and deep, the practice of religion is an effective path to spiritual growth and for people who have doubts about the truth of the religious path, non-religious methods applied with persistence and understanding are also an effective way to purify the spirit.

Returning to basics once again—because the last idea that I write here will be the one best remembered—we humans are beings who are constructed the way all beings of our type are: we have an inside and an outside and we have the ability to control—to some extent at least—what crosses the membrane that separates our inside from our outside.  Like a hologram or a fractal, I theorize that we as humans share an essential characteristic with our physical composition at a smaller level; that much of what is true of our cells is true of us as larger amalgamations of cells: that we seek to connect into a larger meta-organism that we call community, society or civilization and we make these connections to others at the points on our outer surfaces where it is possible for us to connect.  Thus it is quite literally true—as the song says—that:

We are many, but we are one…

But this is not a given.  We connect as whole beings into a greater whole only by our whole-self choice to connect.  We can choose to try—against what seems to be a law of Nature—to remain separate.

Our outer surfaces are literally covered with connection points; we present a surface of skin that feels, we have eyes to see, ears for hearing, noses and mouths to smell and taste, hands for reaching out and hearts/spirits to connect us through shared feelings.

When I am in the presence of another living being, I am separate, but separate with the hard-wired desire to somehow connect.  This is why I write: because of my physical/mental/spiritual instinct to connect through the sharing of my thoughts, feelings and experiences.

But writing is static.  Once written, it stays the same.  The living of a life, on the other hand, is a dynamic process that can make significant changes in any instant.

As it should.

And so—without an actual way of saying exactly what the logical, linear connections are—cells bind to other cells to form a stronger organism…bits of matter are drawn by the gravity of bigger clumps of matter, forming stars, planets, systems of spinning stars and planets…evolved creatures capable of thought are drawn to like-minded others of the same sort…electro-chemical  impulses travel through the brain, potentially capable of connecting any thought or feeling to any other, bringing the possibility of kind of entirely new ideas that we call “creative thought”…sub-atomic particles in quantum physics are uncertain and potentially “anywhere” and the uncertainty increases the potentiality in much the same way that not being too quick to jump to a conclusion can lead me to a greater understanding of what is actually in front of me at the moment.

Here.  Try this physical communication aid with me:  hold your arms out in front of yourself to form a circle, letting the tips of the fingers of one hand touch the fingertips of the other hand.  Notice that you can close this circle or leave it open.  Notice that these are arms that can enclose in an embrace and they can let go.  Notice that—to love another person—you will sometimes need to hold that person and sometimes you’ll need to let go.  Life is not static.  Every moment has choices.  The best choice in one moment may be different from the best choice in the next moment and may be different from the best choice in the moment just past.  Continual learning, continual growth and being continually aware are the basic elements of spirituality.

This article is not finished.  It will never be finished.  All that will ever happen is that I will decide for now that I have written enough for now; that it’s enough for some preliminary understanding.

Parting words for now: learn what you can, experience your experiences as fully as you are able, have a plan for where your steps will take you, then accept the place your feet land with each step.  Life will bring great joy and deep grief and everything in between.

Live it moment by moment as a carrier of love.

This is the gutter on the back of the house before I cleaned the maple seeds out.

gutter dove 001
Here’s a dove that was acting nervous while I was up there scooping stuff out of the gutter.
gutter dove 3

Here’s a shot of a small section of the gutter after cleaning…
gutter dove 002
Leaning on the ladder with the camera for a closer shot…
gutter dove 005
…and then a few minutes later…
gutter dove 4
This was part of yesterday’s “a day in the life”. Today I saw the mother gutter dove sitting on her nest, so everything is cool. The dove is an international symbol of peace and while I recognize the substantial difference between symbolic and actual peace, I still don’t want to hurt a widdle baby doveling.
And having recorded it for posterity, I can now get my mind out of the gutter.
Have a pheasant day.
I mean pleasant.Oy, birds on the brain…

…a week or so later: how quickly they grow up and leave the nest! Now he (? I really can’t tell a male dove from a female dove while they’re this young) hangs around the back porch and–discounting the ordinary and appropriate shyness of doves, especially baby ones–lets me take his picture.
gutter dove 008
gutter dove 009
This may be the happy ending of my dove/love story, but it’s a happy beginning for this little feather-ball.
As The Prophet might have said:
All we are saying,
Is give a species a chance

In the springtime a middle-aged man’s thoughts often revolve around getting some yard work done.  When the man has a brain as strange as mine, even around-the-house chores can take on more meaning than is really conducive to getting any work done.

For example, every May the yard around my house is strewn with seeds from the five tall maple trees that surround the lot.  If I don’t pick them up while they’re seeds, they sink into the ground and soon become little maple trees.  Lots and lots of little maple trees.  It’s as though a corner lot in Chicago is trying to become a primeval maple forest.

While I’m picking up the seeds (they’re those helicopter-y things that drift kind of gently from the high tree-tops to deposit themselves on the soil without breaking apart. Quite an amazing natural adaptation) I can’t help but notice how much they resemble sperm cells, in form and in function; each is a packet of DNA with a tail to provide mobility.  One thing is looking for a place to grow into a maple tree and the other is looking for a place where it can grow into a mammal.  The sperm swims to an egg.  The seed floats to the soil: its version of a growth-habitat. 

But this is just my mind wandering while I’m doing yard work.  No biologists draw any connection between seeds and semen.  Life is diverse.  Plants and people actually have very little in common other than being living things, beginning as small bits of genetic material that need a place to grow, growing to be a renewed version of their parents, going on to reproduce in kind once they’ve reached maturity.  Um, That’s about it.  Oh, and plants and animals are each made up of cells.  But they’re different kinds of cells.

Other than that, humans have nothing whatsoever in common with the rest of life on earth.  We just happen to be living beings.

Right?

There’s a small photo story about a small adventure I had yesterday while I was picking up maple semen.

I mean SEEDS.

Trouble is, at this time I don’t know how to get photos to show full-size on this page and I’ll have to figure that out before the photo story can be posted here the way I want it to post. Maybe tomorrow…

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