Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Coming Soon

I’ve dedicated this blog to discussing general subjects and issues. I’m planning to start a new blog with a more specialized purpose. I’ve been reading about integral philosophy for several years. I’ve done it mostly by reading works by and about Ken Wilber. But I haven’t approached this reading in a systematic and disciplined way. Consequently, my knowledge and understanding of integral philosophy is sketchy at best. I’d like to change that. I think I must change it if I’m to make further progress in my philosophical and personal development and write a meaningful book someday about plausible religion. For I can think of no better guide in these endeavors than the integral framework that sages such as Ken Wilber and those of his Integral Institute are piecing together.

So, I’ve resolved to roll up my sleeves and really begin to dig into the integral literature and discussions available in books and on the Web. My chief sources in the beginning will be the books of and about Ken Wilber and his
Integral Naked website. And I propose to study this material not only in solitary silence but also by publicly questioning and commenting on it in a blog dedicated solely to that purpose. I know that I’m going to have countless questions and observations about what I’m reading, and I want to articulate them as clearly as possible and share them with everyone who’s interested in accompanying me on my journey and in helping me to navigate across the complex terrain. I know that I’m intellectually limited in how deeply I can go with this exploration. But I agree with Joseph Cambpell that I should follow my bliss in this regard as far as it will take me.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Meaning of Love

Yesterday was a dear friend’s birthday. At least she used to be a dear friend. I used to love her with all my heart, and I went through the proverbial tortures of the damned when she didn’t love me back. I would like to think that we’re still friends, some 27 years after we first met. But I don’t love her anymore. Did I ever really? What IS love? At times I wonder. Is it just a feeling that one recognizes when one feels it and that can come and go like the wind? I used to say that I feel what I feel and won’t try to label it, since labels are static, artificial, and simplistic constructs into which we try to shoehorn dynamic and infinitely complex and vast processes that can’t be so contained and for which we suffer when we try to do it anyway. I was very much influenced by sages like Alan Watts when I took this stand.

But when I felt certain things for certain people, I wanted to honor that special feeling by giving it a special name called “love.” I want to honor the feeling I have for my wife now by calling it love. When she asks me if I love her, I don’t want to reply by saying: “Well, my dear, all I can truly say is that I feel what I feel for you, and I won’t presume to give it a label that can’t possibly do justice to the impossibly vast and complex reality of it.” No, I tell her I love her, and I do.

But what is this mysterious thing called love? And if I once felt it so profoundly for my friend for so many years but feel it no longer for her, will I always feel it for my wife no matter how many years pass and how many difficulties may beset us? Yes, I believe that I will, because I believe that the kind of love I’m talking about is not merely a feeling that one falls into and can fall out of but is also a CHOICE of feeling and conduct. I haven’t stopped loving my old friend because I fell out of love with her so much as because I CHOSE not to continue loving her, and I can go on loving my wife because I CHOOSE to do so with my heart and actions. I don’t have to be able to formally define love with words to do this. I can let my life serve as an ostensive definition of not only the kind of love I feel for my wife, but of all the higher forms of love of which I’m capable.

As Mother Teresa said in my favorite of all quotes:
“In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Friday, April 21, 2006

What Would YOU Do?

I was out walking yesterday morning and saw a cat chasing a squirrel that it almost caught until the squirrel scurried to safety up a tree. If the cat had caught the squirrel, what should I have done? What would I have done? I once saved a squirrel that a cat ran down and caught in my yard. But what if it happened in someone else’s yard? Would I have the right to go into that yard to make the cat release the squirrel? Would I have an obligation to do it? Suppose the resident of that yard were present watching his cat catch and maul the squirrel. What should I do? What would I do?

What would YOU do?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Brokeback Blahs

Sometime back, Joe Perez posted an entry in his blog complaining about Crash winning the best picture Oscar over Brokeback Mountain. I commented that I'd seen Crash but not Brokeback, and that Brokeback would have to be awfully good to deserve the Oscar over Crash. I said I looked forward to seeing Brokeback so that I could decide for myself.

Well, I've finally seen it, and I have to confess that I liked Crash far more. I'm not saying that Brokeback was a bad movie by any means. I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I saw it. Furthermore, I think it had important things to say about the impact of forbidden love on those caught in its grip and in its orbit, and about how all the more tragic forbidden love can be when there's no good reason for it to be forbidden, despite what onward Christian soldiers of bible-thumping fudamentalism and Brokeback protestors dressed in devil suits would have us believe.

Yet, Brokeback left me strangely unmoved. I enjoyed the skillful acting, the majestic scenery, the glimpse of Western Americana, and the novel treatment of an important theme, but for some reason I can't quite nail down, I never felt emotionally involved with the characters or the story. While my wife and sister-in-law sat sniffling and wiping away tears through several scenes, I felt amused and touched that they were touched by the story, but I felt little or nothing directly toward the story. And it's not that I'm incapable of feeling moved by a film. When the racist cop in Crash rescued from a fiery death the black woman he'd harrassed earlier, I felt tremendously moved, and tears welled in my eyes that I tried my best to conceal from my wife. But when I saw Ennis smell Jack's clothes and clutch them to his breast, I admired Keith Ledger's acting but felt nothing more.

If this had been a similarly crafted film about forbidden love between women or between a heterosexual couple, would I have felt more? I was certainly moved as a teenager by Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. But that was an eternity ago, and I have changed profoundly since then, and not necessarily for the better in all ways.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More On Illegal Immigration

The federal government proposes to crack down on illegal immigration. As I’ve written previously, I agree with the end but not with the proposed means. I don’t believe that we should turn undocumented immigrants into felons or erect huge barriers along the borders. Instead, I believe that we should issue foolproof national ID cards to all citizens and legal residents of this country, require everyone holding or applying for a job to have a card, and severely penalize those who employ workers without cards. If undocumented aliens can’t work here, it seems to me that they won’t stay or come here. Then I believe that we should make all jobs pay well enough in wages and benefits that American citizens and other legal residents will have better reason to take them. If we still have a shortage of workers, then we can establish quotas allowing enough workers to come here from other countries to fill those jobs. As for the undocumented people here already, some means should be provided to allow those among them who are worthy to become documented within a reasonable period of time. This process should include significant but reasonable penalties for their having come here illegally in the first place. And the Constitution should be revised so that only children who are born here to American citizens automatically become American citizens. Furthermore, I believe that this country, private organizations inside and outside this country, and capable individuals should, as a moral imperative, work to try to raise the standard of living in Mexico and Latin America by fostering better education for their citizens and more and better economic opportunities there. That way, not only won’t Hispanic people be unable to work and live here illegally, but they also won’t feel any need to.

Do I believe that these measures are practicable? Of course not. I can’t imagine that enough politicians would ever have the courage to stand up to business lobbies and other pockets of opposition to implement my suggestions or alternative measures powerful enough to actually stop illegal immigration. Thus, I believe that we will continue to have a flood of illegal immigration, a growing underclass of exploited undocumented workers, and enduring disrespect for our immigration laws until this country becomes increasingly overpopulated and economically depressed.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Farewell Dearest Friend

There are times when words can’t begin to describe the magnitude of one’s emotions, and this is a time when nothing I could possibly write could even begin to convey the depth of my grief over the news I’ve just received. My dearest friend has died. Her name was Nancy, and she was the kindest person I’ve ever known. We met online on a religious bulletin board approximately thirteen years ago. I was, as usual, arguing against Christian teachings, and she, a Catholic, wasn’t about to let me go unchallenged. She came after me verbal guns blazing, and if someone had told me then that we would go on to become the very best of friends, I would have thought that that was just about the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard.

Nancy lived in Florida and I in California, but we began e-mailing and then calling each other on the telephone and even managed to meet a couple of times and spend time together when she came to the Bay Area. We became very close emotionally. We could talk to each other about anything and everything going on in our lives, good or bad, joyful or painful, and that made our friendship grow even deeper and stronger. When my grandfather died, when my girlfriend broke off with me and I was almost suicidally depressed, when another girlfriend left and I was my senile grandmother’s sole, around-the clock caregiver, when my aunt Kathy died, when my grandmother died, when my girlfriend came back and then left again and I was alone, when my stepfather died, when I needed advice about my new job or anything at all or just someone to listen, Nancy was always there for me. She was there for me and got me through some of the most difficult times in my life. And she also shared in my best and brightest moments.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard Nancy’s husband Bill’s voicemail message this morning informing me that she had “passed on,” but it still shocked me to the core of my being, and my heart filled with indescribable grief. I want to call Bill and offer him words of consolation, but I’m waiting until I can compose myself enough not to break down on the phone with him. What can I say to him that can possibly have any point, any meaning, and do any good at a time like this? And how can I say it without either letting my grief overwhelm me or holding it so strongly in check that I sound cold and indifferent to his terrible loss?

I said I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s gone, because she
suffered from more medical problems than any ten people should have to endure between them. And she had been hospitalized recently for pneumonia and blood clots in her lungs. But when we last spoke almost two weeks ago, she seemed to be recovering and was going to be sent to a rehabilitation center to regain her strength before she went back home. But what would she have gone home to? More hardship and suffering as her lupus worsened, her bones became more brittle from prednisone and forced inactivity, her eyes weakened to the point where she couldn’t read at all or watch any television, and she became unable to care for herself in any way without help?

She is surely better off now. So, why do I feel the way I do? Because I have lost my dearest friend. Because I feel a hole in my heart and in my life that can probably never be filled.

Farewell, Nancy, my dearest of friends. You were a special, wonderful lady. I loved you. I always will. You will never die in my heart.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Constant Surveillance

In yesterday’s Century City, a teenage girl sought to legally force her parents to stop their constant surveillance of her. They had installed a camera in her bedroom and required her to wear a biochip that allowed her position to be tracked at all times and directed surveillance cameras wherever she was to zero in on her every move. Her parents believed that they needed to do this to keep her safe from the big, bad world and from herself. They had obtained psychiatrist’s records indicating that she had talked in therapy about contemplating suicide on occasion. Her attorneys pointed out that there was a significantly higher suicide rate among young people watched in this way than among those who weren’t and argued that this was because these kids were overwhelmed with depression over having no privacy. In other words, the measures designed to keep them safe (and earn security companies a lot of money) were actually placing them in danger.

I continue to be impressed if not dazzled by Century City’s brilliantly creative and perceptive treatment of legal, social, philosophical, and ethical issues that will surely face us in the near future when they don’t already today. Surveillance cameras already seem to be everywhere. Tracking devices can now be installed on vehicles to monitor their speed and location, and companies and parents are doing this in increasing numbers to keep tabs on their employees and children. We can even be
tracked by the chips in our cell phones that send out location signals to towers or satellites. How long will it be until the very scenario portrayed in yesterday’s program of fiction becomes tomorrow’s reality? And will we be safer and better off when it does, or will we be miserable, like the girl in the episode, over having our privacy stolen from us?

In a recent
post, I expressed approval of the prospect of having omnipresent traffic cameras monitoring our driving and nailing us for infractions such as running red lights and speeding. I said if this is what it takes to keep us safe from ourselves and each other on the nation’s highways and byways, so be it. But it would be awfully easy to extend this line of thinking and acting into an Orwellian society completely devoid of privacy. Is this what we want? Some say that it shouldn’t matter if our every move is being tracked and watched if we’re not doing anything wrong. But are they right? And if they’re not, what should we do here and now to place reasonable limits on these kinds of technologies? Or should we wait and see what develops and then try to close Pandora’s box after we know precisely what it’s let out and how badly it's harming us?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Reconcilable Contradiction?

“He who would be what he ought to be must stop being what he is.”
--Meister Eckhart

Bill Harryman’s gracious Happy Birthday comment over a week ago said that a very wise person once told him that we are exactly who the universe wants us to be. I replied that the universe may want me to be who I am, but I don’t want to be who I am even if I am, ultimately, the universe. I went on to say that if I can ever clearly reconcile this seeming contradiction, I’ll be well on my way to being who I want to be.

I may have been more or less joking when I wrote that, but I think there could still be a lot of truth to it. On the one hand, I do believe that I AM, ultimately, the unified totality of existence, and, therefore, I am what the universe is (“wants”?) to be. On the other hand, I, as the universe, want to be other than what I am. I want to be wiser, healthier, happier, richer, more mindful, more loving, more disciplined, and a better husband, son, friend, person, and so on ad infinitum.

Upon further thought, maybe what this boils down to is that I, as the universe, am what I am but NOT what I WANT to be. In other words, the universe is the way it is, but it “wants” to be something else, and this “wanting,” from wherever within the universe itself it comes, spurs the universe to change, to grow, to evolve. I hope to grow to a better understanding of this over time and to be able to articulate it much more intelligibly here and elsewhere. If and when I can, I think I’ll be closer to who I really want to be, and I’d like to think that this will be a good thing.