Thursday, October 31, 2013

Getting Number One All Wrong

So I found out why the lights occasionally blink at Dragon Mountain. I am expanding so walls are going up and walls are coming down. In taking off the socket covers on a wall to go, I got a hell of a shock because the socket is live wired. Makes for a very slooooooow demolition job. 
I can't turn off the power to the room because I don't know which fuses apply. I can't just "test" to find out because both neighbors have their servers involved with major projects and one doesn't have the backups system fully connected (if the power goes out naturally I am golden, but he is screwed). All of this has turned my 24 hour remodeling spree into a prolonged meditation in recycling and the noise levels of power tools. I am actually glad for the delay because it has let me see how to use pieces of the old wall better in the new space.
In 1996, there was a rally for the Klu Klux Klan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a nation, we were listening to Oasis, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Marilyn Manson. 30 black churches were burned in the South and the Summer Olympics were in Atlanta. Depending on your age you probably mark the year with memories of Elmo, the first release of Java or the divorce of Charles and Princess Di.
In 1996, the KKK followed the law and got a permit for assembly. No one was happy about it, but free speech rules. A group of protesters showed as well, outnumbering the KKK and their supporters by a vast margin. The police were there and all eyes were trained on the bad guys.
Suddenly, one of the anti-KKK protesters noticed the enemy in their midst. A lone middle aged white man with a sloppy belly, a T-shirt with the confederate flag emblazoned on it and SS tattoos. Seeing he had been noticed and attention was focusing toward him, the man started quickly walking away from the crowd. The walk turned into an awkward run as the mob turned on him and with cries of "get him!" began to chase. He tripped and fell to the ground. The mob began to punch, kick and hit him with their protest signs. The placards promoting tolerance and peace becoming crumpled and unreadable as their wood poles became batons.
Keisha Thomas, a 19 year old black woman there to protest the KKK, jumped from the mob and threw herself over the man's body to shield him from the blows.
photo by Mark William Brunner
Would you?
Keisha doesn't think much about that day. As she puts it, she is more concerned with things that have to be done. She does remember that a few weeks later, a white man in his 20s stepped in front of her and bluntly said, "Thank you." When she asked for what, he replied, "That was my father."
Of late, Keisha's story has been featured on news outlets across the world. Why? It isn't the anniversary of the event. No new story has come about to bring it to mind. Just suddenly, everyone but Keisha is thinking about it.
One of the things that we are discovering that we have gotten very wrong is the concept of "looking out for number one." Oddly enough, although the wording is modern the idea has been with us since civilizations began. Only during the course of the past 200 years or so has the understanding of who is number one become so wrong.
It isn't you.
And it isn't me.
It is we.
Taking care of number one means to take care of your fellow man and community. Why? Because it benefits us all. Every major religion teaches this and they teach that the individual is to be overcome because no one person can survive or contribute to life on their own. No man is an island, to borrow a certain phrase.
Especially over the course of the past 80 years there has been a steady transition to thinking the individual has more value than the community. They don't. It is the community that shapes life. By placing an emphasis on the individual subjective and temporary experience as being more important than the nurturance of community, we create only things that fail, hurt and destroy.
We have even managed to take love and strangle it on the altar of the individual, rather than allow it to be a companion to a much larger influence. 
Recently, they have concluded from a vast cross sectional study of artifacts that warfare and hostile aggression is not natural to human communities. To act defensively yes, but to act to gain - no. That is something that only came about as the person, and not the role, of leadership became more valued.
Keisha protected the essence of what hated her and sought her harm in this life because she was horrified at the thought of the community it put her in membership of to watch a mob kick and beat a person for a difference of opinion.
As I have said before, your opinion doesn't matter to anyone but you and isn't real. What you do reveals who you are and what you value. Like Gloria Steinem said, if you want to know what you really believe in, look in your checkbook register. if you want to know who you are, look at how you act in thought, word and deed.
We can't predict or promise how we will engage in emergencies, but we can live so no other choice would be available to us then the morals and ethics we profess to believe.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Understanding Comfort (or, How to Panic in Slow Motion)

I am aghast. The pigeons are cheating on me. I was zooming (buzzing) down the road the other day and saw a flock of pigeons playing in the sky. They landed on the roof of the hospital, all nicely lined up on the edge and there they were - Ralph and Edie in the middle, the two white doves. All of them were staring at me. 

That is not a projection. Pigeons are very smart, loyal and can recognize people. They usually can recognize the scooter and me from 4 blocks away and gather on the street. They seem shocked to see me down by the hospital too. Little stinkers. Serves them right I forgot to get rice and they kibitzed and complained their way through the pumpkin seeds and crushed soy nuts of this morning. Of course this didn't stop me from running in to get fresh rice as soon as I saw them back on the mill chimneys. They play me like a fiddle.
Someone commented recently that the most amazing thing to see is a) how happy I get talking about the pigeons and b) how up I am on their drama. What can I say? Life without TV and a YouTube habit begins to make the antics of living things interesting.
I had a moment, earlier in the week, in which everything went awry. A part of what I do is freelance writing and I am on a long term contract right now that is dependent on my meeting a daily 8am deadline. If you don't meet the deadline, you are off the contract no matter how long you have been doing the job. It is the nature of the work. 
7:07 and the Virgin Mobile Tower decides to get shy and hide from my phone. I access the Internet via a June Fabrics connection (if you don't know what that is, look it up, it will make your budget happy). 7:12 and there is no sign of the Tower coming back, I have no Internet connection and am watching my potential stable income fall away.
I am crushed, thinking that the soonest I am scheduled to be out in a place with Wi-Fi will be 10am and excuses just won't fly with this job. It's the first cold morning and it is just not a good thing. Then it occurs to me that I have the eZip. There is a momentary struggle inside as I wrap my brain around the 30 degree chill and I realize that I am clinging to the idea of only being able to reach Wi-Fi by ten because of my comfort. But what is more comfortable? To be able to meet responsibilities and support yourself? Or to be warm on a cold morning and lose it all?
I decide to rush off to the nearest Wi-Fi spot, have a donut and make the upload deadline. So off I go fueled by that underlying panic and dread of missing something you promised to do.
It wasn't until I was on the road, leaning forward with the throttle slammed down that I realized that panic, rushing and stress just don't go with the eZip. I came across more like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West on a kick-n-go chasing a Dorothy who was walking than someone speedily resolving a technological problem. By the time I crossed the pedestrian bridge at a masterful 8 mph against the biting wind, I was singing to myself and relaxed. I knew I would make the deadline, but the need to rush and panic was gone. If I missed it, I would still come close enough to know that I tried and whatever happened would happen.
I live a very small life with a lot of limitations that originate from a lack of income. Once upon a time, I had a very different kind of life with tons of disposable income. As I came to know what I believed in, having a life that matched it with integrity became more important than holding onto the comforts that money can buy. But it isn't just the material comforts I have given up, time and time again I have to face choices between sacrificing or loosening up just a bit of what I know is integrity in order to make something easier. I don't always make the right choice immediately. Most often I will adopt a passive "let me think" attitude which is little more than an attempt to see if somehow the world will turn and I will be able to have some of both worlds. Life isn't like that. 
If you dare to believe in something, it is only worth the integrity of the life you live that reflects it. I am thinking of the Bishop of Bling, Deepak Chopra, Cheng Yen and Mother Theresa. The latter two live(d) as best they could with integrity; the former spend an awful lot of time telling us why people would expect proponents of anti-materialism to have multi-million dollar mansions and nice cars. Here is a truism in life - unless you live what you believe then you don't really believe in it.
It isn't that you cannot make a good living doing good things and helping people, it's that if you choose the wrong form of payment you will pay with your soul. Money is fairly useless to someone with goals of compassion, care and community. It has its use, but it is a very limited tool and its value is not that high. Time, commitment, service, dignity and integrity - these are the commodities of the compassion trade. Money is nice and has its use, but if you are bringing in too much money in a compassionate endeavor and not more service and time from people, then something has gone very wrong.
Money is a tool that has outgrown its value representation in more ways than just not having gold to back it up. Yet it isn't just money and items that represents materialism. One need only look to the Prosperity Theology that defines American Christianity and the New Age Movement to see that. 
The monetization of spiritual pursuit, not in the sense of cost but in the rise of the spiritual experience and practice as a form of social capital has been swift over the past three decades. The more you can lay claim to a direct experience, the more worthy you are perceived and the more artificially inflated your sense of self-worth. 
I am a huge fan of Meetup and have noted of late the growing numbers of spiritual groups featuring meetups that promise a spiritual or mystical experience on demand. This type of "peak experience" demand can't do anything but create an eventual implosion. Like the revival tents and faith healers of the depression era and the mediums of the late 1880s, every time we react to periods of demonstrated lack of control over our circumstances we seek a miracle bias that shows how we can make God itself show up on demand. In fact, just the other day a new group posted that is featuring table tapping. The result of this reaction is a form of communal narcissistic angst that then eats away at our individual ability to act with compassion, consideration and care - for ourselves and others. This narcissistic angst also generates an inability to withstand dis-stress and an immediate demand for relief from all pain - emotional, physical or mental. 
People begin to jump from faith to faith, belief to belief, when they "stop working;" or worse, become strident true believers who don't even engage with what they believe anymore unless they can be seen. All of this creates a person and society that is lacking in the values of patience, modesty and humility. These "three jewels" are essential to the spirit of life because they acknowledge the individual lack of control and efficacy, while emphasizing the balance of individual necessity to the whole. It is keeping this balance of "us and them" in delicate movement that provides for spiritual fullness as well as individual and communal health. The currency exchanged is consideration which requires an outward turn to the interior life and weighs responsibility to effects that will not be felt by the individual. We don't hear much about developing a sense of accountability and responsibility towards others in our Westernized religions, but that is what is at the core of all the different Eastern and Middle Eastern ones we have adopted. To take it one step further, it is even at the core of the indigenous beliefs localized on this continent. Yet we have lost that in the West and now are pushing our western individuation to the East, despite the evidence we now have of how destructive and ill it can make society.
The answer doesn't lie in turning inward, but outward. To still your mind and emotions and realize that however you define the world is not as important as how your definition works with another's. This is why they say that you cannot come to love yourself until you love another because without an external reflection from an autonomous life that we feel responsible for - we are nothing but children wanting fairytales and surety in a world where the only sure thing that exists is that we all are dependent and responsible for each other.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ada Lovelace, we need you.

Ada Lovelace, we need you.

I am not going to go into a prolonged explanation of who Ada Lovelace was, except to say that we need her now. It’s funny how things tend to go in disconnected but coincidental trends – poor Ada has been paraded around much this past week without many people realizing why her example resonates so much. Her life gets hijacked through a mis-assignment of importance. She wrote the very first computer program for Babbage’s Analytical Engine and is considered the first computer programmer. Because she was a woman, what she did get lost in her gender – even today. The celebration of Ada is less about the science and more about the gender. Yes, women and their accomplishments have long been swept out of history. Yes, women and girls today need examples of women in history who have been inventors, creators, scientists, artist etc. and so forth – but what is more important about Ada is that she did something.

That is kind of a genderless thing.

We don’t have a lot of people who do anything these days. We have tons of people who talk about things, but when it is time for action they follow what is already in place. The prime example, of course, is the Affordable Care Act – whether or not you support it isn’t really important, you don’t have any say in creating it, changing it or abiding by it so your thoughts and opinions on its efficacy are wasted effort. Where your energy would be better spent is in creating the alternative engine and the process that would allow it to be effective. That is what Babbage and Lovelace did, that is why she is important. She made the process that let the engine do something outside of just function in an isolated and self-congratulatory way.

In other words, her invention was to create a system that guides the power.

Power is inherently stupid. By that I mean “without purpose and reason”. You have to have purpose and reason to guide the power in order for it to be effective or it just randomly washes around like flood waters, indiscriminately helping and destroying. Not all brands of purpose and reason are good. There are some that can be destructive, and most commonly, there are many things that masquerade as purpose and reason that are really just power and energy randomly milling about in nice clothes.

In meditation and understanding how the body relates to what is around it, we often use the term “chi” (qi) or energy. Energy is a kind of power. Energy is stupid. It needs the guidance of purpose and reason in order to be effective. This is why people train in meditation, to learn awareness and breathing in order to be able to direct their intention (purpose and reason) to provide a controlled channel through which their energy is directed.

Now, here is the problem with both worlds – how do you recognize when intention is based in a delusion? Delusion is a strong word. What I mean by it here is “that which is without a life-promoting ability for things that effect and can be noticed by others.”

That is the first clue –
  • If you are the only one determining the effect of your intention and efforts – it is a delusion.

Second clue
  • If your “evidence” of effect is open to interpretation and can go either way as proof – then it is a delusion.

Here is a for instance:

In the golden era of the computer, when Babbage and others were developing what would become the computer systems we know today – there were many brilliant minds working on theories for how to implement the machines and their capabilities. Most of those theories were delusions, and remain so, because they never came to a life that stood outside of their creator’s desire. Just because you want to believe that something is, doesn’t make it so. Ada’s delusion crossed a line into reality wherein it left her control and interpretation and by golly, did the same thing for other people that she imagined it was doing all by herself.
So…of course…where does this leave faith?

Can faith ever be more than a delusion?

Yes and no. In that combined answer is the reason why the delusions of physicists and the religious are a necessity to the future of humanity, along with one very big caution.

All faith is a delusion. It has to be because the moment you prove faith it stops being faith and becomes fact. You can’t believe in a fact, a fact is and doesn’t need your help to believe it exists thankyouverymuch. Other people notice facts and the facts affect them. People may not notice faith and it is a crapshoot if what you have faith in will have an effect on them.

But the delusion of faith is what brings us to facts. It is also what keeps us living and curious about the entire existence of life. Without that curiosity, we don’t stand the slightest chance of making even the smallest of discoveries. We cannot explain the Universe or even the human mind – we have minute discoveries about them that have proved to be true. As time goes on, we sometimes see that our proof was a delusion itself. That is the nature of investigative science. Faith is required or you think everything is known. If everything is known, what is there to be curious about? If there is nothing to be curious about, then what are you doing living except passing time until death?

  • Curiosity creates purpose, meaning and intention.
  • Curiosity is what can guide power and energy.
  • Curiosity leaves room for you to discover what is true, and to accept when you find out what you thought was true was wrong
  • Curiosity allows other for people and ideas to exist and enable you to treat them with consideration and respect.

It is faith that places a moral and ethical framework on the curiosity in an attempt to ensure that it follows the path of least harm.

  • You can be irresponsibly curious.
  • It is easy to be stupid.
  • It requires practice to be accountably and responsibly curious.

One of the ways you learn that is by practicing doubt of the very things you have faith in. The doubt challenges the delusion, it isn’t always resolved by proof, but it does serve to put some guidelines in place to control the potential power of faith. Power and faith can be quite the dangerous combination. Faith without practiced doubt can be its own energy and power, and bring with it the destructive stupidity that implies.

Ada Lovelace, we need you.

And those inspired to be like you – to believe, to doubt, to act, to try to seek to make something new work for reasons outside of just proving it can.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Smelling Gasoline - Bias, Delusion, Denial and Alternative Medicine

Americans want choice. Americans are increasingly using alternative aviation. A recent government study suggests that 75% of Americans have attempted some form of alternative flight, which includes everything from ultralights to falling, tripping and use of bungee cords. (Mark Crislip, Alternative Flight)

For the past month or so, I have noticed that I smell gasoline. Giving my massive head bumping of the summer, I have worried that maybe it was a byproduct of that. So I set about to eliminate the possible reasons to try and determine if it was indeed neurological damage. Talking to a doctor got me a big “I dunno, could be, call me if you have a seizure” which did nothing to put me at ease.

The list begins – I am in a mill, does that explain it? No, where I am in the mill no cars come near and there is no odor in the air. It just seems very localized to me.

Can other people smell it? No. Wait, Yes. No wait, no. Depends on how suggestible they are. So much for that way of eliminating sources.

It wasn’t from anything I use. I am involved with all non-fuel products and processes.

So where is it coming from? Oddly, as it got colder, the smell got stronger and more frequent. Then, when it would warm up it went away. Is it really in my head? Some rattled and crossed wire that just means no more flowers it will all be BP from now on?

Turns out, it is me, but not in my head. After a very careful breaking down of everything around me associated with smelling gasoline, I realized that I only smelled it when I put on my new jacket. And then the odor would get stronger when it got colder because I then put on my spiffy new long underwear. You know the kind, the fleece lined kind of faux polypropylene. I haven’t been smelling gasoline; I have smelled the petroleum used to make the new winter clothing I am now wearing.

Mind you, I prefer the all-natural cottons and wools for other reasons besides the fact that I don’t smell like a refinery in them. They are warmer, last longer and tend to actually dry when you sweat in them. But natural things have gotten to be very expensive and hard to find. I do have a feeling that it was the head bumping that has given me a kind of heightened sensitivity to certain odors and lights. I have found my new riding goggles to be so comfortable in day and night lighting that I am going to have a set of glasses made with the same green tint. It is the old machinist tint that has a bizarre protection from UV but also amplifies light and contrast so you can practically see in the dark. Funny how things come together like that.

It is in this balance of the new and the old, a fave of the steampunk genre of which my poor machinist goggles are lumped in, that many people are drawn. Things just haven’t been working out too well with the all new, and the drive to somehow return to the way things were isn’t proving very realistic as well. Part of the adaptability of Buddhism is supposed to be its weaving together of the new and old, but this has largely been thrown out the window by people attempting to enforce practices and rituals from other centuries into modern life and have them be effective as well. As I continue working on the re-imagining of Dragon Mountain, I am seeking more of a balance so what you learn here, leaves here with you and can be used in the rest of life. As they say, anyone can be a Buddha on a cushion in a quiet room – try practicing the bodichitta in a room full of screaming kids and see if you really know how to put into practice what you believe.

It is this whole idea of the middle road that seems to have gained a new prominence in my life, but not the middle road of apathy that is also promoted as a kind of spiritual achievement. It is the middle road of guidance.

A large part of what I am involved with can be lumped under the category of CAM, or Complementary Alternative Medicine. I have had enough experience with it as a practitioner and a patient to know that most of what is out there is sheer nonsense. Part of what I do, when working with communities on developing Wellness programs, is discovering where the middle path is between what is accepted as proven medicine and what is viable alternative treatment that may just be lacking evidentiary proof. There are many positives to the mainstream and alternative therapies, as many benefits as there are significant drawbacks and potential dangers. It is in helping people understand the dangers of CAM that I find myself a reluctant teacher. One just doesn’t like to be always cast in the role of the devil’s advocate.

That is how I found the wonderful article that gave me the lead in quote. If you remember the old satirical essay on letting the Irish eat children as a solution to their problems, you can see the overtones in this man’s essay. I found it while researching which books to read on the latest round of exploration of the efficacy of alternative medicines. I have, as a complimentary practitioner, become very concerned over the sheer amount of spiritual and material greed that is becoming the over-arching theme of the genre. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who I would consider practitioners, I can use every car in the parking lot of a mall on Black Friday to represent the number of people who have gotten into healing for misguided reasons, discovered money and are creating a potential risk for themselves and others.

There is a very clear line between things that we have no explanation for and things that make no sense. 

Working with hospice, you wind up less with questions about belief and explanations then a kind of surety that there is much more in existence and at play in the Universe than we even have a vocabulary to begin asking about. You also begin to see the desperation with which people want to control their outcomes. Things we have no explanation for are just that. You know something has happened that most likely cannot be explained or duplicated but was true. Things that make no sense are things that fly in the face of any rationality, can’t be duplicated and yet there is an insistence in their reality. The former is a breathtaking experience that can shake you to your very foundations and make you feel honored to be alive and learning. The latter is what we feed the confused to create true believers that grow up to be the fundamentalists of every belief system and bring them all down.

We had a sort of “come to Jesus” meeting with someone who was seeking to become one of the CAM practitioners with the hospice over the fact they were causing extreme physical distress to the patients with their techniques. That happens. Even in what I do, I have learned that some things that are so very comforting to many can be like wood under fingernails to others because the body becomes very different when you are ill and dying. The key to being a good practitioner of anything is to understand that what you do doesn’t work for everyone and to doubt what you do. By doubting I mean to keep an open mind that you may not have the answer and it may not be the right choice.

Whether or not you think that many of the alternative modalities are effective as a placebo only, or that they actually can effect healing isn’t important – the important thing is to never assume that there is a one size fits all approach to the treatment of anything. Medical Doctors make that mistake, Acupuncturists make that mistakes, Energy Healers make it – even priest do. It part of something called a confirmation bias that when coupled with delusion and denial can cause serious harm to all involved.

I was talking with a young man about Pema Chodron and he was very pleased with himself in his studying of the Lojong slogans, which is a form of mind training by using phrases and sayings. He said that he could recognize where he needed to do work because he rejected or was confused by slogans, but the ones he immediately took to and resonated with him was where he was working right now to reinforce his understanding and discipline. He didn’t like that I said it was the ones that he immediately resonated with were the ones he didn’t understand at all and that what he was doing was practicing confirmation bias.
In other words, the ones he couldn't get and rejected were thrown out of his world view because they challenge its very core. The ones that he resonated deeply with also challenged his world view, but he was quickly able to twist and adapt their meaning to something that was already acceptable to him. Confirmation bias is about only paying attention to the evidence that supports what you already believe. Denial is when you push away anything that would challenge your belief. Delusion is when you come to believe that what was denied never existed at all. This is why you should always work with a meditation teacher and not teach and practice it by yourself, it is too easy to wander down a path of denial and bias.

In my practice, much emphasis is placed on doubt. If one loses the capacity to doubt what one believes in, you become a true believer but that makes you the absolute devil in your own universe and not in a way that helps to bring about enlightenment. The moment you think you know what the answer in, you have stopped being a part of the life-giving forces of the Universe which are always in a state of adapting and evolving to accommodate change. The moment you think you always know where to turn to find answers is the moment you have crossed over into preferring confirmation bias to actual investigation. The moment you try to force your true believer belief on someone or something is when harm begins.

Like with the woman who couldn’t get that the aromatherapy oils can burn skin, that when you begin the dying process your skin begins to deteriorate and you can’t fix it with a lotion nor should you try no matter how helpful you believe it is or has benn to other people.

Like the healer who believes they are curing disease when their patients are still dying and never once adjust their patter that they can treat and cure cancer, HIV or other ailments.

Like the doctor who can’t stop trying to stop the spread of a small area of cancer when the rest of the cancer has metastasized in the body and is shutting it down.

Like anyone who promises you can learn any technique of healing from a book or workshop and understand what it means to know how to treat someone responsibly.

Like anyone with an advanced degree of medical study who thinks that makes them specially qualified to know the only options to healing someone.

All of these instances and people, who often mean so well, aren’t a source of harm because what they do doesn’t work but because they are so narrow minded they forget to see the reality of the person involved. Confirmation bias shuts out the world. It is the root and sustainer of fantasy and anything involving healthcare and wellness isn’t going to be found in a fantasy; it is going to be right here with us. With the same chances of being effective as everything else when it is placed in with a combination of ever changing influence.

BTW the two books I can’t recommend enough for people to read, as skeptics and believers are:
Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rose Shapiro (it is a hoot and a great read with a lot of solid information)

And the more staid

If you are interested in finding out more about how CAM does work, take a browse through many of the research studies available on MEDLINE (from the US National Library of Medicine). Read these two books first so you have a better ability to understand which are believable studies and which are so deeply flawed in their methodology as to be discounted.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Losing at the game of Go

If you want a good investment tip, you should buy into whoever makes the plastic zippy ties. I seem to be favoring them as the perfect solution for every modification problem on the eZip and am about to singlehandedly support an entire factory the way I am going. I fixed the problem with the stability of the foot pegs by zippy tying two butter knives (that were zippy tied together) to the underneath and the frame. I fixed the battery attachment issue by zippy tying the whole darn thing together and I would have zippy tied the whole new electrical harness modification except all the splices had to be soldered.

You see, I do have restraint.

Or, I should say, I have developed restraint. Except I am not sure if that is the right term for what has been happening. Yes, I have learned the value of reading manuals before I try to put something together. Yes, I have learned that waiting before jumping on the latest idea tends to weed out the flash in the pan distractions better. And, yes, I have learned the value of the 5 year plan but I am not sure if that is restraint and discipline so much as it is that I have finally discovered what curiosity is.

I had always thought that curiosity was something that came naturally to children and then was one of those things that you struggle to regain in your adult life. Now, I am beginning to understand that what children have is definitely curiosity with a small ‘c.’ There is some thing else more complex which can best be described as curiosity with a capital “C.”

The difference boils down to how the question is phrased, or more than one gains another question. The original question of curiosity is “What does this do? What is this?” transforms into “What does this do and if certain things change, does it do the same and how then does the world react to it?” It is a matter of accountability, of recognition that cause and effect is not limited to our sphere of influence and acknowledgement but can be far broader reaching. That is something that a child does not have, a contextual grasp that they are not the center of the universe.

I think a part of the reason I have begun to develop this has been by growing involvement with the game GO (iGO, Wei Qi, Baduk). It started out innocently enough. My parents gave us a game when I was about 6. More accurately, they gave my eldest brother the game and none of us could figure it out. It was the Milton Bradley classic games version with the unbelievably obtuse directions. We never played it. I think I remember my brother playing it once and then never saw it again.

The game has followed me through my life, popping up in odd places. I missed an opportunity to connect to it when I lived in Korea, but there were plenty of reasons for that.

Then, later in life, it landed square in my lap. Very deliberately. I walked in a Korean market, saw a set and it bit me like a bug. Since then I have been learning and playing and teaching the game to anyone who pauses. I use it in the Responsive Wellness Program at MHCA/OASIS and have written about the clinical studies of its effectiveness in stopping, reversingand preventing dementia as well as combating depression, anxiety and a host of cognitive disorders.

Underneath all of that, is the peculiar hold the game can take on you. People who I teach (and sometimes force to play the game as part of their classes) hate it, then after not playing it for a while, when they see someone playing – they realize they miss it. It provides a strange level or wordless communication between you and another, and between you and your soul.
Game play truly does reveal the nature of your soul and as the Buddhist’s say, it is the only chance you have to pierce the veils of ignorance.

I love those sayings about the game, but it is only recently that I have begun to understand and experience what they mean.

In taking an intensive workshop with Guo Juan through her InternetGO School, I am experiencing the phenomenon of losing constantly, badly, disastrously and embarrassingly while simultaneously am congratulated by the highly skilled and professional players I know at this breakthrough. You see, in GO, a good beginner plays to lose because you cannot fool yourself into thinking you are skilled enough to win. If you do, and you lose, you will build resentment and reject the game. If you know that chances of you winning that game against a highly skilled player are slim, you are free to be present and learn from the game.
They say when you are learning the most you win the least because you begin to recognize the hidden patterns of weakness and self defeat that color your play. That is the stage I am in and it has its equivalent metaphor in life as well. I am frustrated at times by what I see happening on the board and recognizing its connections to patterns in the rest of my life, but through board play, I am beginning to untangle the wrong views that lead to disaster in both.

I have begun to study the art of curiosity in earnest. One of the things I have begun to get curious about is my own internal reactions and my external role in the world. The difference is, I do not immediately run from those questions into answers (that you know aren’t right) to evade the pain and suffering of not knowing. One of the people who sees me for sutra study brought up a recent bout of insomnia. For once, they decided rather than try to fix it, they would be curious about why – at the age of 78, they would suddenly have days of sleeplessness, and they realized it was because of anxiety and fear of death. Not of death, but of the thought of their death.

So they sat with it. Contemplated it. Brought it to me and we played a game in which one side was death and the other life in highly personal terms. Through that play they discovered it wasn’t their death that they feared, but the initial thought. When they got past that first rejected thought, something amazing happened. Suddenly, they felt renewed joy and a drive to be creative in life as it was left to them. Not to create something to outlast them, but from a sheer sense of curiosity about all the things in the world they didn’t know and somehow, forgot to be interest in as an adult.

As they put it,
“I saw an ad that featured a 20 something year old with dangling earrings, streaks of color in her hair and jewels glued to her cheek. I but out the picture, framed it and carefully pasted my face over hers. I would wear jewels on my skin now again, because I know there are endless possibilities in life, even though mine will be short lived and are limited.”

The Buddha said it is only through mindfulness of the body that we shall discover what it means to love.

To play GO with the rules of life, one will always both lose and win in the end. This is why it can be so addictive for so many. It provides a sense of reality in a life that has become defined by anything but the real.

If you ever want to play, find me on Nova, DragonGO, KGS or IGS as some variation of ctribe.

 I would love to lose to you J

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Alas! Poor Alphonse, I knew him well

Ahhhhhh...the morning bought a very quiet, dead and floating Alphonse who then received a slightly improper burial in the Ocean T'let. Marie was bereft for about 5 minutes, or until I fed her and she is bouncing around doing her thing. I will stop and get her a new friend today, mostly out of guilt. You see, I am directly responsible for Alphonses's demise.

In my rush last night to get things put together for a class, I just couldn't stand how massively stinky the tank was and did a speed full change. I did not wait for the water in the backup tank to warm to room temperature. As soon as Alphonse hit the backup tank, he went into shock. Struggled valiantly, and then became constipated and started floating upside down. My poor, previously chipper and stinky pooptastic fish died constipated and in a state of shock. All because I was rushing.

So Marie gets a new friend that she may or may not want.

Outside, Milarepa (aka Ralph, the white dove), showed up last night filthy and with a bloody head. I was all concerned about him until this beautiful, svelte and pristine female white dove landed near him. I highly suspect he returned to his former home and broke her out.

It is amazing what we will do when we are rushing to avoid things, or to avoid feeling things. I have been struck lately about how it is consider "ill" to have any kind of distress tolerance level - in other words, to retian the capacity to sit within distress. There is an immeditae rush to medicate and eradicate. It is interesting to me that the people who come to learn the techniques of sitting in distress, have an underlying expectation that it will get rid of it in the end. But that is not how life works.

Distress is, and it remains. Until we are sufficiently distracted by something else. The Brave New World drive to remove all ill feelings and suffering through medication or the adoption of fantastical beliefs is saddening. It is saddening, but it also asks the question of what is the purpose of distress?

which is better, to live a lie that at least makes you feel better on the surface?
or to live a truth that may make every moment unbearable?

is there a middle ground?

Very much so. It lies in an area called awareness that is a skill that has to be very carefully cultivated to make it something you can retain. Awareness is what allows us to not buy into illusion and fantasy, and yet not succumb to suffering. It is what denies hope and acknowledges purpose. It accepts the existence of the fact that there is no meaning to life, and the meaning that life has. It is the essence of balance.

Balance means one is always in motion, falling, spinning, almost righting oneself before the motion begins again. There is nothing still about being in balance. Nothing quiet. Nothing still.

Today, I will research the fish before I pick it out and try to at least get Marie a guilt gift that doesn't come with bowel issues.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Electric Metaphor

This summer I got hit by a car. It was a hit and run while I was on my bicycle. One of the things that was a bit unusual about it is unlike the majority of accidents involving cars and people on bicycles - the car did not strike the bicycle, it hit me full force on the hip. The rest of the damage to my right side came when I crashed down off the hood to the pavement; that took out my right shoulder, elbow, wrist, and knee; hip (again), ankle and I bounced my head three times so hard it punched a hole in the shell of the helmet. Oh yes, that is when the bike got damaged too.

To say it was a life changing event is a bit of a mild understatement. As the months go by, things heal and things reveal themselves to be damaged beyond repair. I can no longer bike, run or swim. I also cannot walk further than a ¼ mile. To go further, I need a cane, a lot of distance from people as I slowly dissolve into a cloud of pain and exhaustion and about three days to recover. I also cannot jump and kick in the myriad of ways I was in Kung Fu. Oddly enough, it is the Kung Fu that has saved the majority of my mobility.

I have developed a rare type of bursitis in all the joints on the right side of my body that is most associated with NFL players suffering repeated high impact injuries over their careers. It also makes sleeping, sitting and standing a painful affair. The constant level of pain is daunting, but it can reach heights that take my breath away. I am most fortunate I am so trained in meditation and breathing techniques because it allows me to manage the pain. The side effects of the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs are so devastating I do not use them. Plus, I have found they don’t work. They just make me not care my body is on fire.

It turns out that it is pressure and repetitive impact movements that cause the most pain – i.e. walking, running, sleeping etc. Kung Fu, with its constant motion means that my body is always shifting and changing. I can work a full range of motion for two hours with less pain than walking up to the corner store in five minutes. I have taken to certain forms in Kung Fu and the jian shu that let me best compensate with muscle development to take pressure off my hip. It also preserves a flexibility and range of motion that is preventing a further loss of mobility. After the accident, my right leg was three quarters of an inch shorter than the left because of the muscles, tendons and ligaments tightening – now they are back to normal because of the Kung Fu and Qi Gong.

Since, if you know me from the love and words blog (and I will open that site again shortly) I gave up my car years ago and switched to commuting on a bicycle, I suddenly am physically incapable of that or walking (my beloved long walks that gave me poetry and music); I was left with the bus to get around. The world got much smaller. Not to mention the bus requires a lot of walking from the stops to where you are going so it was not working out well for me.

The solution – I bought an electric scooter. No, not a mobility scooter, but it obviously came from the same species. This is an eZip 750 watt alternative vehicle. It is changing my life again. It has relieved a lot of daily excess pain and given me back independence, it has made it OK for me to use the cane when I have to and it is also proving to be one of the most powerful metaphors for healing and awareness I have ever encountered.

You see, the eZip 750 is a full alternative vehicle that is road legal and protected by the Federal government from state regulation. It also has the torque of a Dixie cup rolling up hill in a wind and can drop from its masterful 15mph to 3 on a hill. It comes with a stated range of 12 miles on one charge, which in Providence means a hill and a turn and you are pushing it.

So how do you modify it to make it viable as an alternative vehicle in this city? Everyone jumped to suggesting I get the eZip 1000. That’s a 1000watt engine. It’s can go faster, but not further. It has more torque but the torque on a hill drains the engine just as quickly as the little 750.

The problem wasn’t speed. The problem couldn’t be solved by buying something that went faster on the flats so you wouldn’t (hopefully) notice that the hills were just as hard. The problem boiled down to neither scooter can maintain speed and range. Without range, I can’t do what I used to do and go where I need to be. Without maintaining speed, I am at risk in traffic not because I can’t keep up, but because people will lose patience with me and become reactive.

The solution was to not to go for a larger watt engine, but to make a small change to the controller board to reduce the resistance. More torque. Add two batteries, more range.

The next problem was the seat. It was hideously uncomfortable after ten minutes. Again, everyone began suggesting huge comfort seats, but those comfort seats are very uncomfortable after a while because they don’t allow your body to naturally support itself. The problem turned out not to be the seat, but where I put my feet on the scooter. I welded on two foot pegs to change their location and suddenly, my back and hip are fine on long drives and the seat is no longer an issue.

We have a tendency to look only at the symptoms and try to get relief from the symptom and not what it would take to address the whole problem. Like with my own healing from the accident, I find myself having to explain to people that even with a hip replacement, I won’t go back to having the same body I had seconds before I got hit. That is gone. This is now. The goal is not to get rid of the pain, but to change the life so that any pain doesn’t interfere. A hip replacement would take care of the hip problem, but introduce a new one and do nothing about the rest of the issues.

When you try to erase what happened, to turn back time to where it was before, you will always lose more than you will gain. Life is about change and inevitably moves forward. When you cling to what has been, there is only sadness and anger. Who wants to live like that?

One of the problems that I have seen so clearly with the modifications I have had to make on the scooter is somehow we have lost our recognition that all change takes patience and time. We are trained to think that one pill, one engine, one purchase, one moment will transform our lives when even in the case of the one moment of getting hit by a car – the accident impact is still going on in my life. To think that it all happened in a few seconds and was over is to fail to see the reality of such an event. The same is true about changing a life; we expect sudden miracles and what we actually get are seeds.

Seeds to be planted that may or may not take. If we are smart, and have never planted that kind of seed before, we hold some back to see if what we think will work will come to fruition. If it doesn’t, try something else. But slow steps, sure steps, steady steps – steps you learn from.

There is nothing that can ever stay the same. In that, lies the secret of life. If we hold ourselves to the past, then we cannot remember who we are in the same way that we can never really remember how things were. Our memories our very subjective things, we fill in gaps and rewrite history to reward or punish us as fits with the current stories we have decided to live.

And that is the other key to change. We are all living stories that are not real. All it takes to change the story you are living, is to decide to live another one. It is not an overnight transformation, but slowly and surely the new story will grow. It is like the people who ask me how fast the scooter can go, and then dismiss it as an option for them because it is not fast enough. The truth is that in a city, with all its stop lights, I get to the same places within 5 minutes of someone in the car – how does this happen? While they can get up to 35 or 40, they then have to stop and wait at a light. With my consistent, slower speed I almost always hit green lights and never come to a rest. It is not how fast you go, but the steadiness of your journey that gets you there. But we think speed equals efficiency.

No story is real, but no life can be without a story for what life really is would be our undoing. We must always have our buffer, our context, our magic and hope to place what happens to us within a survivable framework. It is in choosing the buffer that allows for growth and change that we become healthy.

I don’t have a name for the scooter yet. But I do have grand plans for it. I forgot how much I enjoy having a tinker toy around. I try not to look at the bike in the corner; it is not the right selling season to be able to get rid of it. I have a cane that I have learned to use in the Bodhidarma Cane Kung Fu form and I see it as a tool now, not an object of weight and can use it during the day without anger and resentment.

But most of all, I have a sense that with patience, newness appears. It doesn’t matter if it lasts or does not last, that is unimportant. I have come to value economy and efficiency, doing what is needed in the moment.

All that really matters is doing what is needed in the moment. 

Be guided by your story, but don’t cling to it. It isn’t real anyway and should be the one thing you can let go of without undue pain in order to be present for the next one to grow. Just one thing to remember, you are the only one who can pick the story you live, you can take one that’s offered, but it’s still your choice. Choose wisely, and if it doesn’t bloom, plant the seeds again.