Soul Doesn’t Have Fear of Dying

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

As friend Tom Crane said in an e-mail, the carnival ride here continues with Gabe’s glove and Kate’s crash. Geez. I’ve never been a fan of karma as anything more than a metaphor, but I’m beginning to wonder…

Read an excellent interview with Ram Dass in the NYT. Ram Dass Is Ready to Die. “Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts: Those are the daily attention-grabbers that make it so that you can’t come from your mind to your heart to your soul… Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying.”

Hadn’t considered it that way before, but it seems right. The carnival ride is just that, a contraption meant to cause fear and anxiety. If you can step aside, witness it: Oh, that guy from Denmark ran into Kate. and Oh, that Gabe. Swallowing a rubber glove; you can stay engaged, but not captured.

Yamantaka and my soul

My time with Yamantaka contemplating my own death must have helped me with step aside, be a witness. Not perfect at it, of course. Anxiety and fear about certain things still creep into my life, into our life here on Shadow Mountain. During the most intense days of the last year I really wanted respect for the work I was doing with Kate, with our life. When I felt I wasn’t getting it, I got mad. Demanded it.

In retrospect I can see the flaw in my response. The need for recognition took me away from my love for Kate, the why of my care. It negated the very stimulus that made me stay in the heat, rather than pull away. So, far from perfect.

If I look back over my life, using, as Kate calls it, the retrospectoscope, I can see that need for recognition as a stumbling block. Often. When Dad wanted me to cut my hair or leave, I chose to leave. Why? Because he wasn’t respecting my choices about the war in Vietnam. Big loss for both of us and, from this perspective, unnecessary.

I’ve been stubborn in wanting to live my life my way. Not wanting to be shaped, molded by convention or usual modes of thought. Question everything could be the Latin inscribed on my personal crest. As long as that leads me to step aside from the received way of doing things and question them, decide on my own response, it’s beneficial. When it makes me dig in my heels, be reluctant to change, it’s not. Ram Dass might say when it concentrates on my ego.

Come from your mind to your heart to your soul, Ram Dass says. This, too, feels right though that last move, from heart to soul, is hard to grasp. At least for me. Soul. A big, big idea in my current inner work.

Mind. Sure. My mind has written most of this. It’s active and a source of pleasure for me. Moving to the heart response, compassion for Gabe and his glove, Kate and her crash, Tom and his colonoscopy today (with you in my heart, guy!), I get that, do that. Perhaps not as effortless as thinking, writing, but getting to the heart is a natural move.

On the other hand the move from heart to soul, from engaged actor to witness, to the deeper, the eternal? Harder. Hard because I jettisoned the idea of a soul for so many years. Existentialist, all there is, is right here, right now. Mind and heart, yes. But nothing escapes death. Nothing remains except memories in the hearts and minds of others still living. Over the last year or so I’ve been questioning this nihilist conclusion and that questioning focuses on the soul.

Not saying I’m back to believing in an afterlife, neither heaven nor hell, reincarnation resonate for me. Not at all. But the sense that their is a core part of me, a grain of sand around which the pearl of heart and ego grow, yes, I can see that now.

Why? Namaste. The god in me bows to the god in you. Yes. There is, in you, a god, and I can sense it. Namaste’s reciprocal claim, the god in me, has lead me to nod.

Love your neighbor as you love your Self. (my capitalization) Yes. Love you, because you are in the image of the divine, as I love my own divine image. Yes.

Maybe all the grains of sand, from trees and sharks and eagles and even Donald Trump, roll down the great river of death into the Gulf of Silence, creating there a sandbar, a shifting stretch of land in the water of eternity. Is there a simulacrum of life there? No idea. But I can imagine us all together, equal to each other, all who’ve lived. In some strange way substantial. So, who knows?

Lives of Quiet Desperation

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Caveat: Got carried away here. Stuff that’s important to me, but long.

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper

Alienation is killing Americans and Japanese. The age of American despair. American life expectancy has dropped again. This is what life without retirement savings looks like.

Nope, not me. Headlines from articles I noticed over the last couple of weeks. Part of the story is told in the three factors most related to American decline in life expectancy: obesity, suicide, and drug overdoses. Summed up: living lives of quiet desperation.

In Japan the kids have disappeared and left the country to the old folks. People die alone. Unnoticed. Unseen. Unknown.

Ross Douthat, NYT conservative columnist and a voice I listen to, has this paragraph in his article, The Age of American Despair:

…the simultaneity of the different self-destroying trends is a brute fact of American life. And that simultaneity does not feel like just a coincidence, just correlation without entanglement — especially when you include other indicators, collapsing birthrates and declining marriage rates and decaying social trust, that all suggest a society suffering a meaning deficit, a loss of purpose and optimism and direction, a gently dehumanizing drift.” Douthat, NYT, Sept. 7, 2019

Douthat also says, and I agree with him, that: “Despair as a sociological phenomenon is rarely permanent: Some force, or forces, will supply new forms of meaning eventually.” op cit

He’s a Roman Catholic and a conservative so his hope will be that religion and traditional institutions like the family can reassert their culture shaping roles, provide forms of meaning relevant to this crisis.

Another conservative writer, David Byler, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that conservatives have already won the culture war. His argument rests on the positive opinion Americans have of the police, the military, and the continued strength of marriage, the family, and religion. These core institutions, beloved of conservatives, are ok, he says, and prove that conservatives have “the winning hand” in the next election.

Can this despair can be handled by leaning into the familiar, the tried, the true? Seems unlikely to me since marriage and the family, religious institutions exist now, are readily available, and yet the despair rises. And, neither the military nor the police can answer because their roles are defensive, reactive to social forces. They’re not shapers or builders. They’re enforcers after the fact.

I see this despair as a disturbing inflection point created by a world in dramatic transformation. Interlocked global economies. Populations shifting locations, putting immigrant pressure on receiving societies and draining resources from the sending ones. A planet shifting from one climate regime to a less forgiving one for humans. Nativist and xenophobic politics which express the despair through anger, rage at the other upsetting democratic institutions worldwide.

I appreciated Douthat’s reminder that despair is rarely permanent. New forms of meaning will arise, as he projects. But from where? Not sure I know.

Scott Nearing, economist and author of a favorite book of mine, Living the Good Life, proposes a mixed economy. The issue is not one, Nearing argues, of a single economic model to rule them all. Rather, we should be making decisions about what aspects of culture belong to which economic model. Roads and infrastructure, schooling, law enforcement, the military, the legal system operate within a socialist model where we all chip in to assure ourselves of educated children, decent roads and bridges, protection against criminals and foreign enemies. Selling cars, fast food, jewelry, books, bicycles and the like operate within a capitalist model. But what about affordable housing and medical care? What about support for the unemployed or the victims of Schumpeter’s creative destruction?

As in Nearing’s approach to economics, I believe the answer to the despair engendered by a transforming global culture lies in a mixed political response. That is, we need to support some institutions conservatives love: marriage, the family, law enforcement, and the military because they are core to a sense of social security, a feeling of safety. Let’s set aside religion for now. We don’t have to support those institutions in the same way conservatives would. That is, we can favor marriage between persons who love each other while recognizing the non-binary nature of human sexuality. Similar thoughts can apply to the other three.

But, these institutions exist in political and economic contexts that have profound effects on their well-being. Is housing affordable? Is there work for you that pays a living wage? Can you get the medical care you need when you need it? What it will be like for you when you retire? Can you retool yourself for a new career? Are your children receiving the sort of education they need to thrive?

Let’s return now to religion. And, the arts. Bread and roses. “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” Rose Schneiderman, an organizer for the Women’s Trade Union of New York. Bread and Roses wiki

Positive changes to the economic and social conditions of oppression are, said another way, critical and necessary; but, they are not sufficient. The spirit must be fed, too. Everyone has a right to realize and live out their ikigai.

What religion does, at its best, is help folks develop a coherent view of life’s meaning and create a support system to help them realize it. At its worst religion pretends to have found the only meaning and creates a phalanx of enforcers for that view.

The arts also feed the soul. But they are often kept behind an elite curtain wall of high ticket prices, imposing museum corridors, and a presumed sine qua non of education to appreciate.

If we’re looking for areas outside the rough and tumble of politics for dealing with despair, both religion and the arts can play significant roles. It is here, I believe, that new meaning will arise, will begin to integrate world economies, help us adapt to climate change even as we fight its worsening, enable us to see the other not as a threat, but as a potential new friend, fellow worker, marriage partner.

See

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Fox Moon

At 5:20 am this morning the full moon of the First Harvest illuminated Black Mountain from just above its peak. (I was a bit premature on Tuesday, only 92% full.) A few faint stars were visible, but its soft brilliance dominated the bluing sky. The moon and its constancy phasing wax and then wane full in the middle buttresses our lives like the earth on which we stand and its orbit around Sol, our true god.

Do we consider these phenomenal presences in our lives, pay true attention to them? Usually not. They’re too common, too literally mundane. They are like the flaws in our homes, the ones we’ve seen so long that they no longer register. That slight crack in the ceiling. The water dripping slowly in the sink. That step with a slight cant. Or our bodies. How well do you know the back of your hand? Really?

Yes, we see them. Here comes the sun. The moon is up. Mother earth. But do we see them as we want to be seen? In full. With love. With forgiveness. With hope. With careful observation. Often not.

Ptolemy’s Solar System

Anthropocentrism. Not difficult to understand. A specialized form of speciesism. We’ve learned as millennia have passed that our original assumptions were not true. Earth is neither the center of the universe nor even the center of the solar system. Third rock from the sun. We’re not the only intelligent species: dolphins, elephants, whales, corvids, the primates, for example. Some of whom may be more intelligent than we are.

We have confused our rise to apex predator as equivalent to being an apex species. No. There is no apex species. It’s not possible to have one in our interdependent world. We need predators, but we also need one-celled organisms. We need plants. We need insects and lichen and ferrets and bats. We need the whole blooming buzzing confusion (apologies to William James) that is our world.

Think of it. Strip the earth bare save for humanity. Like say a nuclear winter might or a great volcanic eruption like Krakatoa. How long could we last? Weeks. Months. If we resort to cannibalism.

Humans live embedded in a world made no less for them than for the mosquito or the meadowlark. We need a place on which to stand. A source of food. Energy. We need mystery in our lives, but we don’t have to invent it. The moon rises like an occult lantern shuttered, then unveiled by an unseen hand, only to be rehidden at the end of each lunar month.

The moon of the first harvest. Full now, lighting the night for those who want to work the fields a bit longer. This one this moon this full moon, the same as last month’s full moon save only for its position in our mutual orbit around Sol, punctuates our need for her. Sol has shared the energy created in the nuclear fusion reactor of her heart the whole growing season, especially since Beltane.

Earth, Joachim Beuckelaer

The plants have gathered it in, taken the nutrients from the top six inches of the soil, and in perpetuating their own species, provided food for ours. In the same way fish eat algae, or eat other fish who eat algae. Cows eat grass. We eat the fish and the cow. The chicken eats plants, but also insects, worms. We eat the chicken.

Water, Joachim Beuckelaer

All of them need the water that cycles through soil, through the lakes and streams and rivers, through the oceans. That cycles up into the clouds and returns fresh and potable to the earth. But consider this. The earth makes no water. Our water either came from the original formation of the solar system or from asteroids crashing into our planet later, perhaps some of both. In either case the water we take so much for granted is ancient, beyond ancient, primal. All of it. It goes up and comes down. It flows. It rests for a while in lakes and ponds and in our bodies.

Earth. Water. Fire. Air. The middle ages did not err in seeing these four as constitutive elements of our world. And by our I mean those of us who live, who move, who grow, who die.

Sincerity is bs?

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Thinner crescent this morning. More toward the east. These sickle moons. Beautiful and fleeting. Like life.

Sailor take warning

Because our house faces south, lodgepole pines and Black Mountain block early sunrise and the latter part of the sunset. When I get the paper before I come up to the loft, a red sky is sometimes visible (depends on time of year) at the horizon, peeking through stands of pine. The sun disappears behind Black Mountain like it drops below the curve of the earth on the ocean. No green flash though. At least I haven’t seen it.

Moved to picking up groceries instead of having them delivered. May still use delivery, but having them picked by staff, then loaded into the Rav4 works, too. Saves a lot of time. And, checks impulse buying. Bingo/bingo.

Read the short essay, On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt, philosophy professor emeritus from Princeton. Tom sent it to me. I’ll have to read it again to get clear, but in essence he says bullshit is any attempt to persuade without adherence to the truth, other than a lie. Which, he says, makes bullshit a greater enemy of truth than a lie which at least opposes itself to the truth and in so doing acknowledges that there is a truth.

In this regard he comes to an interesting conclusion. Since, as the Buddhists have said for centuries, the Self changes, mutates, and self-knowledge is therefore evanescent, sincerity is also a form of bullshit. That is, when we attempt to convince others that we are sincere, we do so without knowing our true Self by definition. Chew on that awhile. I’m considering the concept of authenticity in relationship to this.

Two more weeks of radiation. Ten more ten minute photonic zaps. Unless of course. Bedbugs. Looking forward to the end, so stay in bed bedbugs! Don’t come to the office. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Don’t think I mentioned the DEXA scan I got on the 19th of July. Dexa scans measure, among other things, bone density. Searching for osteoporosis. I had it because Lupron tends to, in Sherry’s words, “soften the bones.” Making me more vulnerable to broken bones.

No results from the scan yet, but I did learn one fact that disturbed me. I’m now 5’6″ rather than 5’7″. Kate’s lost 4 inches plus over the last few years. We’re shrinking together. This finding disturbed me mostly because it’s a permanent change of something I had taken as a given since I became an adult.

Onward

Beltane                                                                                 Cancer Moon

20190509_124939Go now, the workshop has ended. Paraphrasing the end of the Catholic mass. Appropriate in this case having just come Mother Cabrini’s shrine. The experience of being at Mother Cabrini was familiar in its physical surroundings. In college I would always retreat to Catholic sanctuaries to be still, to reflect. I always found them/find them, soothing.

I have my Intensive Journal beside me as I write this. I left it at the workshop over the last week. It’s filled with thoughts, meditations, exercises. The tabs in the journal, some of them, have esoteric names like Peaks, Depths, and Explorations or Twilight Imagery. Others more ordinary. Daily Log. Dreams. Meditation. The workshop itself both teaches how to use the journal on an ongoing basis and creates a gestalt of life now, as considered as it can be. This latter, for the other three workshops I attended, has been enough for me. Not this time. Not sure what changed, but I’m feeling a need to keep using the journal outside the workshop.

20190511_082432Here are two examples of next steps that have me excited. The first is to do a dialogue with reading. In the dialogue section of the journal, orange tabs, there is a method for developing one to one conversations with people important to you, living or dead, fictional or actual. That seems to makes sense. But the other four tabs in the orange section: Works, Events, Society, and the Body perhaps not so much. It works though. The journal method posits that a dialogue can be had with work you’re doing. I wrote a dialogue with Superior Wolf and in it realized I needed to pull the novel apart and focus one story only on Lycaon. In the Body section I’m in the midst of a dialogue with cancer.

Back to reading. Here’s the method. Each discrete entity under these tabs has a conception, a period of growth, then a waning, perhaps even a death. I’ll write a focusing statement, a short introduction to whatever it is: cancer, my mom, alcoholism, reading. Then, I’ll do steppingstones that move my experience with reading from its conception, through its history in my life, and finally where reading is for me right now. (also in the focusing statement.) When those are done, I re-read them, make a comment about how it felt to write them, anything new that has occurred in the re-reading. At that point I’ll enter a meditative place, a twilight place, that will allow me to engage reading in a dialogue, not from my intellect, but from deeper within what Progoff calls my well. Then I write a conversation, a back and forth between me and reading. I’m eager to see what will come of that. Also, in completing the dialogue with cancer.

My Intensive Journal from 2014

My Intensive Journal from 2014

The second example is another dialogue, a dialogue with ancientrails that will both focus on where I want to go with this fourteen year old project and how it and the intensive journal can work together. Again, I’ll write a focusing statement, write steppingstones, re-read and comment, go into the twilight place, and write a dialogue between me and ancientrails as a work.

This week, the follow on week after the workshop is going to see a cleaning up in the loft, a tidying. After that I’ll develop a routine with the intensive journal and ancientrails, do some of the deep work that I left undone in the workshop like the dialogues with reading and ancientrails, but some more work in the dream log, twilight imagery log and in the section labeled testament. Probably others, too.

Mother Cabrinins confirmation

Mother Cabrini’s confirmation

I’ll need both ancientrails, the intensive journal, and caring bridge to weather the critical medical work that faces both of us next week. Kate’s lung disease. Her four crowns. My axumin scan. My glaucoma check. My visit with the radiation oncologists. This time a week from now we should both have a much clearer understanding of where our respective health challenges will take us.

Down for breakfast, then back up here to get some of that work begun.

In a room off the chapel there were several windows that recounted the life and work of Mother Cabrini. It just occurred to me that those windows are steppingstones in her life. All up there with beautiful stained glass for others to see.

33 foot Jesus

Beltane                                                                            Cancer Moon

progoffMeet up in cyberspace. My old friends Paul, Mark, Tom, and Bill zoomed into the bits and bytes yesterday from the land of first light to my spot among the purple mountain majesties. We spoke of those things that matter now. Mark is done with his second book. Bill’s going to Tanzania next year as his long term project, U-Face Me, takes off. Paul’s about to join the joint replacement club with a new hip. Tom’s adjusting to life as an eminence grisé.

Woke up yesterday realizing I’d not prepared any food for Kate. After breakfast I made her a pound of sloppy joed hamburger and a couple of quarts of vermicelli soup, a favorite of hers from our Monastery Soups cookbook. Got ready to go to Progoff.

At noon I headed down the hill toward Evergreen, hopped on I-70 for a short run to the Genesee Exit. U.S. 40, the old cross country national highway which I-70 more or less parallels has a short run between that exit and Golden. Gonna stop this afternoon at the buffalo overlook, just off that same exit. An article in the Denver Post says there are buffalo calves. Makes sense. It’s spring/summer.

Progoff cabrini

Sacred Heart of Jesus statue at the Shrine

Down old 40 toward Denver you can access Lookout Mountain, Buffalo Bill Cody’s grave, museum plus giftshop, and the world famous, to Catholics, shrine of Mother Cabrini. The most prominent feature at the shrine is a 33 foot high statue of Jesus, set at the shrine’s highest point. When I left last night at 9, Denver’s lights twinkled below me and Cabrini Jesus stood lit up and proud above.

If you’ve ever been on a retreat at a Catholic retreat center, you’ve been to the Cabrini set up. Hallways with one bedroom rooms on either side, large kitchens, kitschy paintings, and furniture bought with comfort not fashion in mind. A chapel. And, since this is the Rocky Mountains, vacationland U.S.A., a big gift shop.

When I arrived yesterday, the large parking lot was about three quarters full and most of the visitors I saw were Latino. The retreat center cum chapel cum giftshop is at the end of a switchback road that climbs several hundred feet up a rounded peak, one of the first of the foothills. It overlooks Golden, then Denver, to the east and the continental divide to the west.

Joann Hackett, the workshop leader, flew in Saturday from Hawai’i. Quite a shift from humid, warm Hawai’i to the dry, 60 degrees Rocky Mountain foothills. She was the workshop leader in Tucson, my last Progoff workshop. She began this work when she went to a Journal workshop lead by Ira Progoff. She got to know him very well, found his intensive journal idea compelling.

progoff2There are seven of us, a small group by workshop standards. Two folks from Denver, one from Berthoud, another from Boulder, one from Ft. Collins, and one man from Santa Fe. One other commuter. This first segment, all the segments are two days in length, begins with identifying the current period of your life. Mine had an obvious starting point, the move to Colorado. You spend time fleshing out what makes this the current period of your life, then move on to an exercise called steppingstones. Steppingstones, in the Progoff work you get 12, are key moments in your life that led you to this period of your life.

As I wrote them this time, mine were roughly, polio, mom’s death, participating in the 60’s, adopting Joseph, marrying Kate and leaving the ministry to write, becoming a docent at the MIA, working on the Great Work, the move to Colorado, cancer, Jon’s divorce and Kate’s illnesses, cancer’s reemergence. The steppingstones, I’ve discovered, change according to the perspective you bring to the exercise, a perspective shaped by what you’ve defined as the current period. Over the course of the workshop you expand on each of these, writing about them, following the memories and the feelings they evoke.

Gotta get ready for today’s session. Talk to you later.

 

 

 

No Cheffing Required

Spring                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

Two favorite tools

Two favorite tools

Kate and I discussed ways to relieve my stress. One source of stress for me was the evening meal. Part of me, a very strong part, wants to be a chef every night. Something new, something remarkable. Understand the ingredients, bring out their best, try new techniques. Problem. That requires a lot of forethought. Buy the right ingredients. Have them to hand. Try to replicate things I barely understand. And, it results in duds. Failures. Sometimes. Unnecessary stress.

Kate’s solution? She’ll make a menu plan for a week and I’ll cook it. Oh. I can do that. That relieves me of the need to create and in this instance I’m happy to let it go. Last night I followed her suggestion: spaghetti and sauce, spinach. Straightforward. Tasty. And, no cheffing required. Doesn’t seem like it would be much, but I felt so much better when I saw that menu plan.

No word yet on the Progoff workshop. When I registered, there were only 4 of us and they require 7. Hope it happens. I need the clarity about this time that these workshops always give me. The Colorado years have been wonderful, filled with family as we wanted, saturated with mountains and wild life and blue sky, anchored by new friends and community at CBE. The Colorado years have been awful. Cancer. Sjogren’s. Knee and shoulder replacements. (which have helped us both) Kate’s bleed and the sequelae. Interstitial lung disease. Trips to the E.R. Hospital stays. Vega’s death.

alvarez-adventure-caving-spelunking-1So much here. The grit of my life over the past three and a half years. How has all this changed me? What direction does it suggest? How might I live into it with greater joy, greater passion, greater serenity? I also need a break from the every day. Not just because it’s been stressful as I said below, but because it’s been a long time between breaks. Tom and Mark’s visit was a nice respite, but too short.

The Progoff workshop is five days, morning and afternoon in a retreat center. I’ll be a commuter because of the dogs and Kate’s tpn, plus it’s cheaper. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll have to figure out some other way to get perspective and get a break.

The Death of Opportunity

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

Hendrick Andriessen (1607–1655)

Hendrick Andriessen (1607–1655)

So here’s my summary of the last 17 days. I got ill. My doc thought it was influenza A. That lasted 10 days, then I got really sick. The pneumonia is clearing. I have more energy each day, though I’m still weak. Eating and sleeping. Still the main activities.

All these mortality signals keep whizzing by. The third phase is an existentialist phase no matter your theological orientation. Somewhere in the no longer so distant future is a personal and permanent extinction event. Made me read the news of Opportunity with a pang I might not have otherwise felt.

The struggle we have over these deep questions in our own day to day has gotten interlaced with our creations. It seems like taffy or a Chinese finger puzzle. The more we try to answer them the tighter the puzzle grips our finger. And when a plucky, brave, dogged machine just keeps on ticking, year after year, moving and sensing and communicating, all on a planet not our own, we see its slow, but confident progress, its unwillingness to stop until the last trickle of current ran from its batteries, as life itself. Until we say it out loud. Do we put quotations marks around death? What do we do with the emotions we feel for something made of silicon and metal?

death and friend“Our beloved Opportunity remained silent,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said Wednesday… Her power dropped to a trickle, and she was last heard from on June 10…Keri Bean was among those who helped send that last radio signal. Losing Opportunity, she says, is like a death in the family…But at least it was Mars that killed her — it wasn’t the rover failing or something else. It was Mars. And I feel like that’s really the only appropriate death for her at this point.” NPR

It’s possible that we’ve been making a category mistake all along about death. We assume that we are individuals, clothed in an impenetrable skin with a mind mysterious and often hidden even from its self. What if that is too narrow? Way too narrow. What if we are also those things in which we invest our life? That is, I am not only the meat sack that turned 72 yesterday, but I am also Kate, our house, the dogs, even our Rav4. I’m not making a weird boundary issues statement here. I’m trying to point to what Buber calls the I-thou*. Buber saw the I-thou as a relationship with another that is permeable. I love this idea, but want to say that we can extend it, in some instances, even into the realm of what Buber calls I-it relationships.

IMAG0649

Andover

Those instances are not as few as we might think. Yes, family. Yes, friends. Yes, members of a community important to us. Yes. But also the dog who sleeps in your bed. The tree you care for each spring and fall. The flowers that you plant. And, yes, the machines that extend your self into the wider world. These machines, like Opportunity, do function independently from us, are definitely an it in the usual understanding of the term, but perhaps we misunderstand the distance, the separateness. “Our beloved Opportunity remained silent.” “Like a death in the family.”

Opportunity was not only the physical entity on Mars. It was also a literal physical extension of those who made it, those who guided it, interacted with it, and gathered its data. It was like a hand or an eye, an arm or a leg, not separate, though able to operate independently. As such Opportunity’s death was just that, a death, the loss of an I-thou relationship.

How do these relationships happen? I believe this quote says it very well:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”    chewy.com

 

 

*Buber’s main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:

  1. The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.
  2. The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. In Buber’s view, all of our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.  wiki

 

 

Ensouled or Disenchanted or…?

Samain                                                                           Stent Moon

astrology3Astrology is a thicket of wild claims, unjustified certainty, and intriguing utility. Sorta like religion. In my reading so far I’ve found sensible, modest intellectuals who lean on the utility, using this ancient discipline (Mesopotamian in origin.) to promote self-knowledge. I’ve also found, as you might expect, a number of at least charlatanesque figures who are only one step away from the traveling potion wagons of the early frontier. OK, maybe not one step away.

Learning how to read a natal chart is the base line of astrology and I’m working on how to do it for myself. It’s not easy. Many symbols to learn, planets, houses, signs, aspects. Also, for understanding it in a way that makes sense to me, I’m still pursuing the nature of archetypes. That requires a lot of refreshing from my Jungian salad days. Still not sure it will be worth it in the end, but I’m committed to giving it a fair look. I had a similar fascination for a time with psychometrics like the MMPI, the Big Five, Meyers-Briggs, Eneagram, and career choosing tests. Fiddling with the dials of the self, trying to tune in, see inside. All part of the journey of self-discovery. I’ve learned something from each of them, but I found the psychometric approach judgemental in its attempt to sort the normal from the abnormal.

The evolutionary and psychological astrologists have the most potential for utility and explicitly eschew judgement. In the older, predictive style of astrology, still common, there are, for example, malefic and benefic planets, aspects, even charts. Malefic = bad and benefic = good. Mars and Saturn, malefic. Jupiter and Venus, benefic, for example. These two schools see instead psychic forces, archetypal influences that can create, say, energy for transformation in the case of Mars and Saturn. Or, misapplied, the beneficial aspects Jupiter and Venus can impede personal growth.

mmpiIn the later days of my interest in psychometrics there was a similar change from seeing certain personality characteristics as bad or good, especially those characterized as abnormal. Two instances from my own testing. I spiked both the 4 and 5 scales* of the MMPI when tested in the mid-1970’s in seminary. In the original uses of the MMPI these two scales supposedly determined whether you were a psychopath, 4, or a homosexual, 5. The new (then) understanding became: 4 spike = non-conforming, rebellious, angry, creative, family problems, impulsive and 5 spike =  lacks traditional masculine interests. This testing was also done while I was still drinking and some of those 4 scale attributes reinforced my addiction. Though I may have lacked masculine interests (not quite sure what that means), I did have one clear masculine interest. Women.

I suppose you could frame this like Tarnas frames the major problem of our time: an ensouled primal universe and a disenchanted enlightenment universe in conflict, needing, very much needing a synthesis. On my mind all the time these days. Imagining ways through this conflict, ways to reconcile, to use the tension as a creative force for a new metaphysics. Reimagining. Reconstructing. Reenchanting.

 

*Scale 4 (AKA the Psychopathic Deviate Scale) Measures a person’s need for control or their rebellion against control.    Scale 5 (AKA the Femininity/Masculinity Scale) Measures a stereotype of a person and how they compare. For men it would be the Marlboro man, for women it would be June Cleaver or Donna Reed.

 

 

The Duke

Samain                                                                          Stent Moon

Marijuana prerolledJon, Ruth, and Gabe came up Saturday evening. The Instapot proved capable of turning a rump roast into a more tender cut of meat. Using a pressure cooker at elevation makes a lot of sense. Almost of all the roast plus potatoes, carrots and parsnip disappeared down mostly functional gastro-intestinal tracts. The gi tract with difficulty got help from Maryjane. (Grandma took 3 hits on a prerolled joint.) That went well.

We passed out Hanukkah gifts, lit the candles, said the prayers, then Ruth, Kate, and I sat around the table and talked while the candles burned down. Ruth has a piercing plan. When she’s 13, she’s adding a third stud to both ears, then, when she’s 14, a nose stud. After that? Lots of body parts available. Why? I don’t really know. I’m going to ask her next time she’s up.

Jon and Ruth took off early Sunday morning for A-basin. Good powder there. Snow in the mountains has been good, but across the divide to the east, where we are, much less so. So much less so that Denver is about to have its 12th year of under 30 inches. 2 of those 12 will be last year and this one unless a big storm arrives before Jan. 1. Not in the forecasts right now. 1/6 of the driest snow years in all weather records for Denver in the last two years!

Gabe made pinch hitter pizzas for lunch. This from a recipe in a Hanukkah gift, Boys Can Cook! The pizzas were on English muffin slices with red sauce, soppressata slices, and cheese. Not bad.

Alan, third from the right

Alan, third from the right

After a nap we drove over to Evergreen High School for a Jazzy Yule holiday concert by the Evergreen Chorale. My friend Alan Rubin sings in the chorale and is on the board of Ovation West, the company that includes the Evergreen Chorale and Ovation West Musical Theater. The quality of both the chorale and the theater are good, high for amateur performing arts with skilled musicians and talented actors.

The first half of the concert took me by surprise. Alan had told me that the first half was music from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts songbook, but I had expected something more beboppy, more holiday jingly. Uh-huh. This was serious music, jazzy with a little bebop in there, but music with an edge, especially the last piece, “Freedom.” I’ve included a full you-tube video of a performance of it below. If you have time, and like complex choral pieces, you may find it interesting. I found it compelling, a work of art that challenges what that word means in the American context, today in particular.

In Kate news we’re going to press for a date for Kate’s procedure. Wanting to get on with it for obvious reasons.