Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Journey Begins Anew

It’s supposed to be close to 90 today. But this morning, it’s pleasantly cool. I’ve opened the doors and windows to let the coolness in and the stale air and stale spirit out.

I meditated this morning for the first time in too long. I don’t know if I did it right. I did it the
way Easwaran recommends, but I don’t know if his way is a good way. He says it is. But can I believe him? How do I know that it worked for him? How do I know that even if it did work for him and others, it will work for me? There’s only one way I know to even begin to know. And today was the first step in the proverbial journey of umpteen miles. At least I hope it was the first step in an ongoing journey. A journey to what? I don’t presume to know.

We took my sister-in-law to the airport last night for her return trip to Thailand. It was over two hundred miles to SFO and back. I worked at SFO less than two years ago and have been there several times since, but I got lost driving around there last night. It was almost as though I’d never been there before. This is one of my learning disabilities. I could surrender to despair. But I’m trying to cultivate acceptance of what cannot be changed while, at the same time, working to change the things I can and learning how to tell the difference.

I don’t know who’s going to miss my sister-in-law more. My wife or me? She kept my wife company in a way that I can’t. She graced our home with her sweet presence. She’s one of the sweetest, most gentle, and most wonderful human beings I’ve ever known. Maybe too sweet, too gentle, and too wonderful for this world. I cringe at the thought of the world stealing her beauty over the years with its trials, coarsening her heart and soul with its demands and its ugliness.

I hope she returns some day to live with us again even though I doubt that she will. She came here to study English. I think she left feeling frustrated with her progress. She’s very intelligent and worked very hard, but English is a very difficult language for many people to learn well. I’m glad I don’t have to learn it.

But there is so much that I need to learn. I know so much less than my peers about so many practical things that are vitally important for me to know, and if I don’t learn them, I don’t know what kind of life my wife and I can hope to have. Life has been easy for me in some respects, but I think it’s about to get hard in many respects. The better prepared I am for the difficulty, the better my wife and I can get through it. Or so I hope.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Noisy Gong?

Today someone posted some comments at One Cosmos that I thought were very perceptive and wise. Here is a condensed version of them:

So it is in reflecting on some of your brilliance that I find it
troubling to read some of your political commentary...You and I can
agree - the radical left in this country has some serious flaws in
their thinking and philosophy. Excessive relativism (i.e. there is no
higher Truth) and materialism blocks vertical growth. But why do you
prop up or implicitly support the equally unhealthy far right wing
philosophy? Is it the enemy of my enemy is my friend?...You talk about
the importance of the language and tie it back to the Word and Christ.
Yet, your tone is divisive, if not hateful...if Wilber and the spiral
dynamic model of vertical growth is correct, then the leftism you hate
is still a dangerous pothole on the vertical road towards growth and
second tier for a large number of people, but your rhetoric makes it
sound like the entire pluralistic\relativistic\green road is not a
road with some potholes, but one complete pothole. How does that help
vertical growth and transcendence and integration that you say you
cherish?...Its not accurate to paint 50% of the left\liberal
population in America with the words and extremism of the most
dysfunctional 10%. No more than its accurate to say that all right
wingers are Christian fundamentalist who hate homosexuals and are
repressive towards woman. So why paint the picture?...I'm not going to
prop up the likes of say George Bush or Rush Limbaugh or Fox News that
has very little interest in transcendence and whose idea of religion
is generally legalistic and translative, not mystical or
transformative...all the major religious traditions, especially the
most noble and contemplative and mystical parts of those religion
emphasize the importance of Love and Compassion...Are you a man with a
great "gift" of "knowledge" and "faith" but ultimately just a "noisy
gong"? Your political writing seems to be a path of intellectual
violence instead of a constructive and encouraging criticism. And, to
borrow the words of the Buddha, seem to ultimately promote "ignorance"
and "delusion" and "hatred". In order to transcend the world and the
bounds of sin and ego, one must clear themselves from these
fetters...In the language of the psychologist, maybe the hatred that
one has for a certain political group is simply a projection of hatred
to a part of themselves that they need to make peace with and
integrate?...It could be major stumbling block for your growth and
those here who read you who seem to mirror your same hostile tone and
pat you on the back non stop. Are they really helping you in your
growth or just reinforcing your ego?"

Here is a condensed version of Bob Godwin’s response:

If you do not see that typical new-age spiritual nonsense isn't loaded down with a leftist political message, then you are terribly naive. I am simply a corrective to that systematic error…You also made so many willfully boneheaded statements in your comment that I don't have time to deconstruct them all…Seriously, you are a nut. Perhaps no one has taken the trouble to tell you that because they do not have the compassion I possess. Accurate diagnosis must precede effective treatment. You are a champion of what Buddhists call "idiot compassion," not to be confused with the real thing.

Is it “idiot compassion” to treat with kindness and respect those with whom we disagree? Can’t we disagree without being disagreeable? Is it not true that when someone habitually responds to another’s arguments with personal insults rather than substantive rebuttals of the arguments, it’s because he’s incapable of substantive rebuttals? Does Mr. Godwin truly believe that his insulting remarks about leftist thought and thinkers is a “corrective” to anything? If so, whom or what does he presume to correct? The choir to whom he’s preaching already sings his tune. The “leftists” he rails against will undoubtedly ignore him. And aren’t people in the middle likely to be put off by his insulting approach?

Bob Godwin says that his spirituality goes hand in hand with his politics. But it seems to me that his politics is terribly one-sided, and his spirituality is little more than a “noisy gong.” However, I commend him for at least not deleting the critical comments I quoted from. At least he hasn’t yet.

Bowling Mindfully

I bowled poorly last night, and I’m not talking only about my lousy scores. If I were talking only about my scores, I wouldn’t feel as unhappy as I do, because I have an excuse for bowling low scores. My right lower leg hurt. It’s been hurting since I strained or pulled my calf muscle shooting baskets several weeks ago. The pain has more or less left my calf and traveled down the back of my lower leg and ankle. It hurts when I walk. I aggravated the injury and the pain last Tuesday when I went bowling with my wife and sister-in-law. I could barely walk for several hours after that. Even though I felt better yesterday, I wouldn’t have bowled last night if it weren’t for the fact that my wife and I are in a league and have to pay every week whether we bowl or not. I figured I might as well get as much of my money’s worth as I could and keep my wife company while she bowled. But not only did I bowl bad scores because my sore leg made me alter my game to avoid stressing my leg and causing it further injury and more pain, I also didn’t concentrate on executing the best I could. I didn’t consistently try to generate as effective a release as possible with consistent ball speed, to play a clearly defined line, to hit my mark, or to just plain bowl mindfully. The poor scores were excusable. The poor effort was not. Well, maybe it was a little. It’s hard to concentrate on your game when your mind is distracted by physical pain and discomfort. But it wasn’t so distracted by these things that it couldn’t have concentrated far better on executing well than it did.

Next time I bowl, I want to concentrate on executing as well as I can with every shot. Then, I’m likely to be happier, no matter how I score. I’m also likely to score better than I did last night.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Psychology vs Free Will

On May 23, Bob posted "Freedom, Truth, and Objectivity." In it he says, "This imaginary "Creator" supposedly endowed us with "liberty,"which is to say free will. But every leftist knows that we don't really have free will. Rather, we are victims of our environment and our genes. For example, poverty causes crime. Unless you happen to be rich. Then greed causes crime. Unless you haven't committed any crime. Then it's just a crime to be rich. But don't be confused--there's no objective right or wrong anyway."

Bob apparently believes in free will. But Bob is also a clinical psychologist. Isn't psychology supposed to be the scientific study of human mental processes and behavior? And isn't science supposed to be the systematic study of cause-and-effect relationships between phenomena? And doesn't this imply that psychologists, in principle, believe that human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are phenomena that cause and are caused by other phenomena? And doesn't this mean that psychology, in principle, assumes that every thought, emotion, and act is caused by other phenomena, which, in turn, are caused by other phenomena stretching back indefinitely? And doesn't this mean that psychology, in principle, assumes that everything we think, feel, and do is determined by a constellation of interacting causal conditions that makes it anything but free to be other than what it is? And doesn't this mean that, in principle, a psychologist who believes in free will is oxymoronic?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Reply to Bob's Post

Bob Godwin recently posted an entry on his blog making reference to me. He cited comments I made in response to his brief comments on my blog as “sinister piffle” indicative of leftist “ideas that are patently absurd and/or dangerous.” This was what he said as a set up for his “straw man” critique of my perspective:

This came up in our recent drama involving a reader who writes that, “I assumed that because you and the rest of the One Cosmos community were obviously so intelligent and articulate, there would be an openness to discussion to political and religious perspectives differing from your own.” He claims that his perspective “is not readily subject to definitive labels but is fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum,” and that “whatever one's religion or spiritual path might be, compassion, kindness, and what one famous psychotherapist called ‘unconditional positive regard’ should ideally inform one's every interaction with others, even when we don't like what they believe or have to say.”

This is most of what he proceeded to say in response to the above:

This is a fine example of how the Left is always able to play the “compassion card” in order to promulgate ideas that are patently absurd and/or dangerous. For I do not say that I possess objective truth. Rather, I say that objective truth exists, and that I attempt to align myself with it. Now, to even suggest that objective truth exists places you in diametrical opposition to the entire project of the intellectual Left, which is to say that truth is relative, that no culture is better than any other, that “truth” is simply a function of power, that "perception is reality," etc.

I think I can speak for all One Cosmos readers--at least those readers who understand my message--that it is a gross distortion to suggest that we are not open to “a discussion of political and religious perspectives differing from our own.” My book alone disproves such nonsense, as it draws upon virtually every discipline and religion known to man. By comparison, leftist thought is ridiculously hidebound and parochial. What we are absolutely closed to is any discussion that suggests that truth is relative and that all points of view are of equal value… My philosophy is precisely the opposite of this reader, who says that his “is not readily subject to definitive labels but is fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum.” In other words, his philosophy is not grounded in anything permanent or transcendent, but simply in whatever various people happen to believe at the moment, no matter where they are in the political spectrum: presumably left, right, Marxist, socialist, radical environmentalist, feminist, homosexual activist, whatever.

Our reader is certainly free to believe any and all fashionable political ideas he wishes to believe, but he cannot do so and call himself American (and please, I do not mean this primarily in a patriotic, but a philosophical sense). For our founders most definitely believed in permanent and transcendent values that it was the purpose of government to protect and conserve. In other words, they did not cobble together an ad hoc philosophy based upon whatever ideas were floating around at the time. Rather, they deeply meditated on our human nature and our divine blueprint, and tried to design a political system that accounted for the former but facilitated the latter. They would have been appalled by any philosophy that denied antecedent truth or elevated the relative to the absolute.

But our reader is not in accord with our Founding Fathers. Rather, he holds the deviant postmodern view that “whatever one's religion or spiritual path might be, compassion, kindness, and what one famous psychotherapist called ‘unconditional positive regard’ should ideally inform one's every interaction with others, even when we don't like what they believe or have to say.”

This is leftist thought par excellence. While it sounds generous and compassionate, nothing could be more tyrannical and totalitarian, for this type of pseudo-thinking begins in amorality but inevitably ends in immorality. How can it not? To give “unconditional positive regard” to everyone? Who is worthy of such an attitude except for an infant? Furthermore, to value everything without condition is logically to value nothing, for it obliterates the very hierarchy that informs you of what is worthy of value.

This type of sinister piffle goes directly against the idea of the transcendent unity of mankind. In other words, I believe that because Truth is one, so too is mankind. Take away the notion of transcendent truth, and we are left with a bunch of warring tribes, all with their relative nonsense--as Kimball says, “African knowledge,” “female language,” “Eurocentric science,” or “the idea that history is a ‘myth,’ that the truths of science are merely ‘fictions’ dressed up in forbidding clothes, that reason and language are powerless to discover the truth--more, that truth itself is a deceitful ideological construct: these and other absurdities are now part of the standard intellectual diet of Western intellectuals.” “Whether working in the academy or other cultural institutions, they bring us the same news: there is ‘no such thing’ as intrinsic merit; ‘quality’ is only an ideological construction; aesthetic value is a distillation of social power; etc., etc.”

"Unconditional positive regard" is the Ultimate Value for a person who has none. Does it include respecting “those religious codes which demand that the barren woman be cast out and the adulteress be punished with death? What about those cultures in which the testimony of one man counts for that of two women? In which female circumcision is practiced? In which slavery flourishes? In which mixed marriages are forbidden and polygamy encouraged? Multiculturalism... requires that we respect such practices. To criticize them is to be dismissed as ‘racist’ and ‘ethnocentric.’”

Leftist thought is actually profoundly anti-Enlightenment, for it fosters a spurious freedom: “Enlightenment looks to culture as a repository of values that transcend the self, postmodernism looks to the fleeting desires of the isolated self as the only legitimate source of value. Questions of ‘lifestyle’... come to occupy the place once inhabited by moral convictions and intellectual principles. For the postmodernist, then, ‘culture is no longer seen as a means of emancipation, but as one of the √©litist obstacles to this’.... In order to realize the freedom that postmodernism promises--freedom understood as the emancipation from values that transcend the self--culture must be transformed into a field of arbitrary ‘options.’”

So are One Cosmos readers intolerant? You bet--if they agree with me, they are. Intolerant of the totolerantarianism that masquerades as “unconditional positive regard,” the horizontal license that mocks vertical liberty, and the tyrannical absolutism that passes itself off as moral and cultural relativism. The unity of mankind cannot be found in its superficial diversity, only in that unchanging end toward which its diversity is converging. Mankind is one because the transcendent Truth to which human beings have unique access is One. Leftism in any form whatsoever proceeds in the opposite, descending direction: E Unum Pluribus, out of One, many. Gravity takes care of the rest.

I apologize for quoting all of this material instead of condensing it into a summary. However, in this case, I thought it best to let Bob speak for himself before I addressed what he said. This way, no one can accuse me of misrepresenting him. I’ve allowed him to represent himself with his customarily sparkling and learned prose.

It’s reassuring that Bob says he doesn’t claim to “possess objective truth,” because one reading his blog could readily come to just the opposite conclusion—that he and those who are an accepted part of the OC community are absolutely convinced not only that there are absolute truths but also that they know precisely what they are about politics, spirituality, economics, and everything else worth discussing and are rightfully and scornfully “intolerant” of anyone or anything that contradicts them. And, of course, two of the absolute truths that they possess are that I’m a tyrannical and totalitarian,” “pseudo-thinking,” amoral and immoral leftist, and that leftism is one of the great scourges of the Earth. It’s refreshing to hear Bob imply that he’s not absolutely certain that this is true. He IS implying this, is he not? If not, then doesn’t his disclaimer ring hollow?

For the record, I share Bob’s belief in the existence of objective truth and his desire to be aligned with it. Nowhere have I suggested otherwise. He might realize this if he responded to what I’ve actually posted here and on his blog instead of critiquing his simplistic idea of me as a stereotypical leftist and distorting everything I say through that warped interpretation. What I HAVE suggested is that truth is not to be found solely at one pole of the political spectrum but at all across the spectrum—left, right, and center. All bands of the spectrum have true and important things to tell us about ourselves and our society and culture, and we would be remiss or worse if we didn’t take them all into account and weave them all together into the best approximation of absolute truth of which we’re humanly capable.

For instance, socialists are correct in arguing that unadulterated capitalism engenders exploitation and obscenely unjust distributions of wealth and power that create widespread and egregious poverty and suffering. Capitalists are correct in arguing that unadulterated socialism has traditionally resulted in totalitarian states that suppress our spiritual need for transcendence, our psychological need for development and expression of our uniquely individual qualities and capacities, and the economic need for efficient rendering of reliable services and the efficient production of quality goods at affordable prices. The ideological center is correct that we need to somehow optimally meld capitalism with socialism in a manner that provides all of us with the best opportunity to avoid needless suffering and to pursue true happiness.

Another example of truth coming from all bands of the ideological spectrum concerns the understanding of the causes of social problems and their solutions. People on the left tend to blame poverty, crime, and other social problems on “the system” and strive to solve these problems by throwing more tax money at the system. People on the right tend to blame these social problems on individuals and focus on severely punishing crime and removing what they perceive as the “big government” economic and social disincentives to developing personal responsibility and initiative. People in the center intuitively understand that these problems result from interacting systemic AND individual factors and that we need to find ways to foster individual responsibility and initiative AND have a social system in place, supported by federal, state, and local tax dollars as well as by private charities, that encourages and empowers people to grow in this regard.

Thus, when I wrote that my perspective is “fluidly transforming into something that increasingly draws from all aspects of the political spectrum,” I was NOT saying that I don’t believe in objective or transcendent truths. I was saying that I’m more willing to look all over for them and more able to find elements of them everywhere I look, including the political right. As Ken Wilber says, no one is smart enough to be completely right or wrong. Everyone has a piece of the truth, and our task as human beings seeking truth is to open our minds and hearts to finding it everywhere it exists. Contrary to what Bob says, this doesn’t mean that I’m simply latching on to whatever people happen to fashionably believe at the moment, and that as fashion changes, so will my beliefs because they have no grounding in “anything permanent or transcendent.”

These are some of the “transcendent” truths I hold as self-evident:

(1) We are all instantiations or manifestations of a divine Ultimate Reality called different things by different people and different religions.

(2) Our foremost purpose is to be happy in the Aristotelian sense of fulfilling our highest human and personal potential.

(3) Our highest moral potential is to love, honor, and respect everyone as instantiations or manifestations of the divine, and to do our reasonable best to foster their “pursuit of happiness.” We may disagree on the particulars of our “reasonable best,” but we are not fulfilling our moral potential when we mock, ridicule, demean, and devalue, much less hate, those who disagree with us or even do harm to us. As the Bible says, we may hate the sin, but we should endeavor to love and go on loving the sinner. This, aside from what Carl Rogers may have meant, is what I mean by according every human being “unconditional positive regard.”

Frankly I was rather surprised that
Bob--a clinical psychologist who says he believes in absolute, objective truths such as the “transcendent unity of mankind,” specializes in “the treatment of psychological barriers to spiritual growth,” and sub-specializes in transpersonal psychology—would condemn my embrace of “unconditional positive regard—with such sneering vehemence, calling it “sinister,” “totalitarian,” and “tyrannical.” But what was really shocking was his insistence that it is perhaps only an infant who is worthy of such regard and that people intrinsically have no value but must earn it, presumably by believing and acting the way Bob thinks they should believe and act and by not, under any circumstances, judging by the obvious contempt for Islam and leftism that pervades his blog, being Muslim or leftist. It’s ironic that Bob, who repeatedly stresses in his blog the importance of sound intellectual discernment and distinctions seems unable to distinguish between human beings, who are intrinsically worthy of our unconditional love and respect, and the things they believe and do, which are not. I agree with Bob that we should emphatically NOT positively regard such actions as casting out “barren” women, executing women for adultery, making the legal testimony of one man equal to that of two women, forcing little girls to undergo ritual circumcision, perpetrating slavery, and suicide bombing, but I disagree with his apparent conviction that should hate the “sinner” along with the “sin.” I’m very surprised that Bob, who appears to be Christian, would disagree.

Yet, at this point, I guess I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at anything Bob says and does, unless he were to suddenly admit that he was wrong about something or that there is actually merit in anything I’ve said. I won’t hold my breath waiting for such a surprise.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Reply to June

June posted a comment last night about the Bob’s blog controversy. Here’s an excerpt from what she wrote:

Bob never aimed the word "banned" at me, he did delete my posts and tell me that I didn't belong there. He did this essentially because I questioned the way that he talked about Islam, saying that my Muslim friends would find it offensive. He had claimed that he was specifically referring to "Islamists"--radical extremists such as those who have beheaded Westerners on video tape, but when I pointed out examples of his condemnation of the entire religion, he decided it was time to delete me.

This is my reply:

June, it seems to me that you’re right that many people hatefully condemn ALL of Islam and not just Islamist terrorism as barbaric and evil. And I’m not surprised that you were able to document this somewhere and were subsequently met with a less than favorable response by the “thought police” of that community.

I confess that I too harbor profound misgivings about Islam. While I acknowledge that only a tiny minority of the world’s Muslim population are engaged in the bloody acts of terroristic violence we roundly and justifiably condemn, I suspect that a far larger percentage condone or even practice the oppression, if not worse, of females, the enforcement of barbaric laws, and other exceedingly dubious things as consistent with their faith, and, sadly, these actions may very well be consistent with a faith rooted in an allegedly word perfect dictation by Allah through Gabriel to the final and greatest prophet Muhammed during an era rife with tribal warfare, and rigidified by built-in resistance to the kinds of self-examination and openness that have enabled other wisdom traditions to evolve in keeping with an ever-evolving world.

But what is the most wholesome and wisest attitude to take and express toward Islam and its people? Surely it isn’t the mocking derision and enmity we see on a certain blog and elsewhere. For surely this won’t help to foster the social and economic conditions that would no doubt progressively decrease the hate-fueled violence of Islamic extremism, nor is it consistent with any religion or spiritual practice that most of us would consider worthy of embrace.

This is not radical leftist “political correctness.” This is just plain human decency and perspicacity.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Go Figure

When Bob asked me to stop posting on his blog the other day, I didn’t stop. I stubbornly continued to post and even went so far as to repost messages that he deleted. It was my childish way of saying, “You have treated me like shit, and I’m going to make you pay for it. I don’t give a damn what you think of me for doing it. My voice will be heard until I decide to leave.”

Well, this morning I finally decided that enough was enough. I was not acting with integrity by continuing to post there, and so I left a message there saying:

“I apologize for overstaying my welcome and posting comments after I've been asked not to. Wherever we are on our journey through life and in our quest to understand and cope with existence, may we all find the light of truth, live accordingly, and be happy.”

To give you some idea of the mentality that prevails over there, this is what someone posted afterward:

“When presented with the truth about himself, nagar folded like a house of cards. Instead of being grateful for the best gift of his life thus far, he picks up his marbles and goes home to remain omnipotent king of his small universe..”

The person who said this was on the forefront of those who had denounced my presence there and demanded that I leave. Then, when I decide to leave, he says that I ran away like a coward to my own blog where I could be the controlling king of my “small universe.”

What would he have had me do, I wonder. Keep posting on Bob’s blog after I had been told to stop and had decided to comply? It seems that one can’t win either way with some of these people. I'm damned if I stay, and damned if I leave. Well, “hoarhey,” I may have gone back to my blog, but I have news for you. You and Bob and the rest of the One Cosmos community are welcome to post comments here to your heart’s content, and I won’t act like an imperious monarch the way some people do and delete them because they disagree with me, and I won’t tell you to leave. Bob and the rest of you seem to pass yourselves off as people in tune with “absolute” spiritual truths, so you are surely aware that the “Golden Rule” is central to all the great wisdom traditions. Too bad you don't live up to it on Bob’s blog. On my blog, I WILL.

So, welcome, my friend, to a new kind of kosmos where all are treated as one.

The Wisdom of Mutual Respect

Who is wise? One who learns from all. – The Talmud

In many disagreements – not only in the home but even at the international level – it is really not ideological differences that divide people. It is lack of respect. Most disagreements do not even require dialogue; all that is necessary is a set of flash cards. If Romeo wants to make a point with Juliet, he may have elaborate intellectual arguments for buttressing his case, but while his mouth is talking away, his hand just brings out a big card and shows it to Juliet: “I’m right.” Then Juliet flashes one of hers: “You’re wrong!” You can use the same cards for all occasions, because that is all most quarrels amount to.

What provokes people is not so much facts or opinions, but the arrogance of these flash cards. Kindness here means the generous admission – not only with the tongue but with the heart – that there is something in what you say, just as there is something in what I say. If I can listen to you with respect, it is usually only a short time before you listen with respect to me. Once this attitude is established, most differences can be made up. The problem is no longer insoluble.

--Eknath Easwaran

Three Posts

Bill Harryman has posted three entries recently that I’ve especially enjoyed. First, is a wonderful personal essay describing his spiritual development over the past four years. Do yourself a favor and check out this remarkable and remarkably eloquent story of interior struggle and change. Second, is a link to a poignant video showing a young girl and her mom forgiving the man who fired a shot into the air that ended up paralyzing the girl from the waist down possibly for the rest of her life. Finally, there’s a post and some thought-provoking follow-up discussion about religion scholar Karen Armstrong’s recent appearance on the Charlie Rose show discussing her new book about the Axial Age and commenting that some permutation of the “Golden Rule” seems to be the guiding principle of all the great wisdom traditions.


Friday, May 19, 2006

The Voice

“Not very long ago I'd have relished the opportunity to get into a good knock down drag out battle over politics, religion, or whatever. Now I don't want to bother.I get the Voice. And the Voice tells me that the division has taken place- the aligning of sides is all but complete…I don't want to engage in pointless debate over whether the far right is as bad as... or shouldn't we all sit down and share... can't we come to the conclusion that there is grooviness on both sides...No. We. Can't…There are those who would destroy us, those who see, and those who cannot see. No dithering, no equivocation.”

The comments above seem to reflect the general thinking of the folks over at
One Cosmos. Does anyone find this way of thinking a little disturbing? The Right is right and the Left is either stupid or profoundly psychologically disordered and, in either case, is “out to destroy” goodness, and there is no middle ground. Either you hear “the Voice” and get it and align yourself with truth, justice, and the American way, or you don’t, and if you don’t, you never will, and you will forever be aligned with the forces of darkness that must be condemned and destroyed without dialogue or equivocation.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Banned From Bob's Blog

"Nagarjuna, consider yourself banned. I will delete your posts as soon as I see them. Again, this website is entirely inappropriate for you. I don't know how I can state it any more clearly: YOU DON'T GET IT. I'm usually pretty astute, but I didn't expect you to be as insane as Chomsky."
--Bob Godwin, blogger, author of a book about spirituality, and clinical psychologist

There’s the old expression “Banned in Boston.” I’d like to suggest a new expression: “Banned from Bob’s Blog.” That would be me. As of today, I’ve been told that I will no longer be allowed to post comments there because I’m too “spiritually immature” or just plain stupid to “get” what Bob’s Blog and its politically, psychologically, socially, economically, and spiritually enlightened community of commentators is all about. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe they’re the ones who just don’t “get it.” Or maybe we all don’t “get it” as long as we ignore, reject, and denounce one another as evil or idiotic and avoid opening our minds and hearts to genuine dialogue with one another.

Of course, if
Spiral Dynamics is sound theory, people of profoundly different outlooks on politics and spirituality may be incapable of dialoguing with one another in any productive fashion. They’re simply coming from such disparate value structures that there’s no possibility of meaningful communication. Or is there some way for dialogue to be conducted that would make it possible for motivated people of different value structures to understand and empathize with each other far better than they do now?

I’d like to think that there could be some kind of gap-bridging communication between people online in places like message boards and blog sites. I certainly think that when I hang out online with people who see the world of politics and religion differently than I do, I’m enriched by the experience and respect them and their views more even if I continue to disagree with or question them. But I guess that people who think they’re superior and that they already have the answers aren’t too interested in hanging out with or understanding those they label and mock as infantile, insane, or stupid to believe what they do.

So, I’m banned indefinitely from posting comments on Bob’s Blog. But I’ll continue to read it. Why would I bother under the circumstances? Because I think I have a lot to learn from that blog. It may not be all of the things Bob and his friends are trying to teach. Or should I say “preach” about the evil stupidity of “leftism.” It may be some things they’d rather people not know about the flawed motivations and psychological shortcomings they’re too busy projecting onto and attacking in others to acknowledge in themselves. But I’ll no doubt learn something worthwhile, and I may even be posting entries here on some of what I learn.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Bill Harryman has had a difficult life. His father died when he was thirteen, and he had to take care of his mentally handicapped mom and himself. He was a gifted child whose mother was incapable of encouraging that giftedness or enjoying its fruits. Bill grew up frustrated, resentful, and angry and acted out these emotions with alcohol, drugs, and petty crime. He was headed down a dark path until he hit bottom and began changing his life. But his mom, whose intellect was stunted by severe childhood malnutrition during the Depression, never stopped loving her son unconditionally and doing her best for him. When other mothers might have thrown up their hands in despair and walked away, she remained there for him as fully as she could be until she died last summer of uterine cancer. Today, Bill has written a moving tribute to his mom and to the capacity of the human spirit to transcend adversity.

My situation was different but not very happy as I was growing up. My mother was fifteen when I was born, my father twenty-one. They got married but separated shortly thereafter. Mom and I lived with my grandparents until she remarried when I was seven. My grandparents mostly raised me while Mom worked and went to school. She dropped out of high school as a freshman but did so well on a community college entrance exam a few years later that she was allowed to attend there and excelled. However, she couldn’t continue her education at the time because she had to work full time to support herself and me. When she married a man thirteen years her senior, she felt locked into the life she had forged for herself.

Her marriage left a lot to be desired. The man she married was insecure and jealous whenever she talked to other men. They drank and argued a lot and he even physically abused her at times. I could never see him as a father or get close to him, and I often feared him. He was good at technical things and at working with his hands, I was mentally handicapped and psychologically averse to both, so we had almost nothing in common to share. I spent most of my extracurricular time hiding in my room when he was home, or I was outside on the basketball court or in the bowling alley. I spent as much time with Mom as I could when my stepdad wasn’t home, but I never felt as close to her as I would have liked. I was much closer to my grandparents. I never really saw Mom as my mom. I think I saw her more as a big sister. My grandmother was my mom. But she and my grandfather had lived hard lives with scarcely any formal education, and I often felt frustrated that I couldn’t share my intellectual and academic interests with them during all the time I spent with them the way I would have liked.

As I grew older and more and more down on myself over what I perceived as my intellectual and social inadequacies, I grew more and more unhappy. I left home to live with my grandparents the day after I graduated from high school. Mom separated from my stepdad shortly after that, but we had little contact with each other until recently.

Only after I got married almost three years ago and my second stepdad died of cancer shortly afterward did Mom and I begin seeing and talking with each other more. In fact, I’ve probably seen her and talked with her more during that short time than I did for the whole thirty years or so preceding it. I decided to move to Sacramento partly because I wanted to live close enough to her to see more of her. Yet, even now, I find it difficult to call her because I don’t know what to say to her. We both want to be closer to each other, but we’re not sure how to make it happen. Our politics and views of the world are so different. She is so much smarter than me that she can’t understand my shortcomings. There is just not the warmth and rapport between us that I wish we could have, and I’m sure she wishes it too.

But I love her and will try harder to be a good son to her. I’ll call her in a few minutes and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and spend time with her as soon after that as I can. And even though I’ve often thought otherwise, I’m grateful that she gave birth to me and then sacrificed so much to support and raise me as best she could. There must have been times when she resented me for taking away from her the kind of life she would no doubt have liked to live. I could see her continuing on in school and becoming a very successful lawyer, businessperson, or academic if I hadn't come along when I did. But she never let on, never complained that I had dashed her hopes and dreams. She just worked hard and did the best she could. And I AM grateful.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

What's The Point?

I love guitar, but I don’t try to learn to play it because I could never come close to playing the kind of guitar music I love. It demands too much technical skill and musical knowledge. I love to write, and I do it because I feel skilled enough at it and blessed with enough to write about that I consider it worth my while.

Or so I did until I discovered a
blog today that seems so clever, profound, erudite, and well written that I wonder why I should even bother to keep writing this blog or anything else except personal correspondence that doesn’t try to say anything insightful or deep. I will keep on keeping on with this blog and soon, I hope, with a new one devoted to examining Integral philosophy from the ground up. But it will be a little harder now that I’ve found Robert Godwin’s blog and am painfully and irrepressibly aware that my words sound crude and my thoughts ignorant and stupid compared to other people out there. I may not like or agree with everything these gifted writers say. For instance, Godwin seems to find political liberalism totally lacking in psychological and moral maturity as well as intellectual merit. But he and they can explain and defend their views far more capably than I could ever hope to explain and defend mine. Part of me says, “Why bother?” But then another part of me says, “Because writing is what you do best, and if you’re not good enough to do even that, what’s the point in doing anything at all?”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Death Through Inattention

So whenever you feel driven by a compulsive, destructive urge, don’t analyze it; don’t talk about it; don’t dwell on it. Turn your attention away from it by throwing yourself into work for others. It can starve the desire away.
--Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran
says that just as houseplants need water, fertile soil, and careful tending to thrive, so many of our psychological problems and cravings require our attention to live. If we turn our attention to serving others, our problems and cravings and the suffering they produce will often wither and die.

I don’t know if this is true. It sounds too simple to be true in this age of sophisticated psychological understanding of the human mind and condition. Many would say that trying not to think of something unpleasant or harmful merely suppresses it in a way that makes it stronger and more problematic. But I can see how contemplating and analyzing it could also strengthen it by nourishing it with one’s prolonged attention when that attention could be directed to other, more productive matters.

Perhaps it depends on how we stop thinking about it. If we do it in a fearful, angry, or rigid way, we may make matters worse. If we do it with a kind of gentle firmness supported by a consistent spiritual or integral practice, it might do more good than harm.

Perhaps this is a matter for psychological study. Perhaps psychological studies have been done that show which approach is best for dealing with unwanted thoughts, emotions, and cravings. I’m sure such studies have been done, although I doubt that their results are definitive and universally applicable. I would like to do an informal study of my own by trying what Easwaran proposes and seeing what happens.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bowling Frustration

I went bowling with my wife this morning. We both struggled with our games. But I think she struggled more than I did. She recently converted from a 12-pound conventional grip, beginner’s ball to a 14-pound fingertip grip, reactive resin ball, and she had been throwing the new ball surprisingly well. But today she was throwing the ball all over the lane and not rolling it the way she had been. I could see that something was wrong in her backswing and release, but I couldn’t explain to her what it was, because the same learning disability that makes me so inept at so many things makes me utterly inept as a bowling coach. I’ve been bowling and watching professional bowling with almost religious fervor for over forty years. But I can’t analyze someone’s game on even the simplest level and tell her what she’s doing wrong, much less why she’s doing it wrong. Nor can I analyze my own mistakes and correct them or understand others when they tell me what I’m doing wrong. I just can’t conceptualize the mechanics of it in my mind. I depend solely on “feel” in my own game and am useless for advising anyone else.

I find this so frustrating at times, because not only can I not help anyone else to improve, but I’m also incapable of improving my own game beyond a modest level of proficiency. Oh, I can average over 200 on typical “house” conditions, and I’m averaging 220 in the league my wife and I bowl in now, but put me on the kind of lane conditions the pros bowl on in tournaments or put me up against professional or really good amateur bowers, and I’m hopelessly overmatched. People tell me I have the physical talent to be much better than I am. But I know that I’m not smart enough in the ways I need to be to get significantly better. At times, I just want to quit. I don’t want to go on stagnating with no hope of rising to a higher level. But I love the game too much to quit. And so I keep on keeping on, but never feeling close to satisfied with the results.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Unan1mous Ugliness

I’m not a fan of TV whose idea of “reality” programming is to throw people onto a deserted island or into a confined space and use the most diabolical tricks to poke and prod them into acting shockingly nasty to each other in order to win the big bucks. In fact, I find such programs appalling and the American public’s fascination with them disconcerting. And there’s no denying the American public’s fascination with them, given their consistently high showings in the Nielsen Ratings. What is it about human nature that takes such pleasure in watching people deceive, demean, manipulate, betray, and otherwise hurt one another for the winner-take-all pot at the end of the ordeal? I don’t understand, and I’m not sure I even want to.

But after watching snippets of Fox’s
Unan1mous, I know what I would like to see on these shows instead of what I do see. Unan1mous features a mixed-bag group of men and women confined in an underground fishbowl and instructed to vote for one person among them to win the $1,500,000 jackpot. Of course, they don’t unanimously vote for the same person the first time around, since they all want to win the money, and, of course, the jackpot total diminishes with each round of voting and with each passing second between votes. Everybody ends up trying to manipulate everyone else into either voting for them or voting against someone they despise. People end up lying and crying to each other, shouting insults at each other, and being reduced to the worst of their natures. It’s thoroughly ugly for them and for us.

What I would like to see on this show and those if its ilk is at least one person who exhibits outstanding character and decency to everyone and ends up winning the grand prize. I don’t want to see anyone rewarded for acting like a Machiavellian jerk. My ideal may not be the way of the world or the way of shows like Unan1mous, but I’m determined to do my best to act the way I’d like to see people act in my ideal world and to see if maybe, just maybe I can inspire others to do the same.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Happy Birthday, Bill

So today I begin my fortieth year. For the first time in my life, I am happy with who I am. I am still committed to being a better partner, a better trainer, a better Buddhist, a better friend, and a better human being, but I am grateful for my life as it is right now.
--William Harryman

Bill Harryman's
Integral Options Cafe is my favorite blog, the kind of blog I wish I could write but could never hope to. It's a wonderfully unique combination of Buddhism, integral spirituality and philosophy, spiral dynamics, depth psychology, poetry, photography, internet news, social and cultural commentary, and gratitude presented with sparkling clarity and an eye-pleasing layout from the warmly personal perspective of someone who gives every appearance of being an exceptional human being, although I’m sure that he would fall over himself to dismiss such a claim with the sincerest of modesty.

Today is Bill’s 39th birthday, and I want to wish him the happiest birthday in the world and to enthusiastically urge everyone who hasn’t already to check out his blog and enjoy a genuine Internet treasure for as long as it graces us with its luminous presence. I hope that he and it will continue to do so for a long, long time.

Better Cars, Not Better Advertising

Ford Motor Company is rolling out a desperate “do or die” advertising campaign. It’s been steadily losing national market share over the past decade or more, and now it’s going to target “values, attitude, and emotion” more than it does specific demographic groups to try to appeal to a broader range and to larger numbers of the American public fed up with inferior domestic vehicles. Its “Bold Moves” campaign features American Idol and Grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson singing her new song “Go.”

I have a different suggestion. Why not make better vehicles? Instead of making unreliable, cheap looking, fuel-guzzling crap-on-wheels, why not design and sell vehicles in all the major categories that at least equal the best of the Japanese manufacturers in reliability, durability, safety, performance, fuel-economy, aesthetics, and quality of materials and construction, and then back them with the best warranties and customer service in the business? Even if Ford has to charge more than its overseas competitors to succeed, I’d pay more, significantly more to buy a DOMESTIC vehicle where QUALITY of product and service is the overriding priority, and I strongly suspect that a great many other people would too. What I WON’T do is be suckered by advertising lies such as “Quality is Job 1” or empty gimmicks such as pop-singing American idols into buying another inferior Ford, and I hope the American public won’t be either.

My wife and I may be in the market for a minivan in a few years. So, why doesn’t Ford make one at least as good as the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna and more fuel-efficient than either, and back it with a warranty far better than either? If Ford does that, we’ll buy one. If it doesn’t, forget it. The lousy Freestar is not an option. And if gas prices go so high that a minivan is out of the question, let Ford come out with something at least as good in every important respect as the Honda Civic or Accord or Toyota Prius and give it a better warranty, and we’ll buy it. Hell, I might buy a Focus Wagon now if, in addition to its superior driving dynamics and practicality, it were as reliable and durable as a Civic instead of the cheap-looking piece of rolling recalls and premature obsolescence that it is.

Come on, Ford. Give the American public and the world superior quality, warranties, and service, and you won’t need Kelly Clarkson to sell your vehicles. They’ll sell themselves, and you will thrive instead of reeling on the brink of collapse.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Final Thoughts on Illegal Immigration

I recently wrote here and elsewhere about illegal immigration. When I look now at what I wrote then, I regret that I allowed frustration and anger to shape so much of the content and spirit of my words. I haven’t joined one of the many groups opposing illegal immigration precisely because I don’t share the reactionary political, social, and religious views and agendas they espouse. Yet, my previous words on the issue of illegal immigration sounded pretty reactionary in their own right, and they were. They were reactionary in the literal sense of reacting with frustration and anger to the demonstrations and their aftermath that occurred last month.

I believed then just as I believe now that illegal immigration is wrong and that we should stop it. For, contrary to what demonstrators last month and yesterday seem to be saying, I don’t believe that “borders are fallacies” and that nations don’t have the right to regulate who crosses their borders to visit, work, and live in them. I acknowledge that people in Mexico and other countries live desperate lives of crushing poverty from which they have every reason to want and try to escape, but I still don’t believe that this gives them the “right” they insist that they have to defy our laws in coming here to work and live or to stay here if they came illegally just because they have worked and lived here a long time and put down roots. If our country wants to let some of them stay and others come here, this should be seen as the gracious extending of a PRIVILEGE and not as acquiescence to a “right” to which they are automatically entitled. I think what bothers me most about the demonstrations last month and yesterday is that those participating in them seem to believe that it is their RIGHT to disrespect and defy our laws, and to leave their jobs and their schools to support this so-called right and to encourage others to exploit it

I’m sorry if this makes me come off as sounding like some kind of
blue-memed simpleton who says “the law’s the law and we should obey it just because it is the law” but I don’t say we should enforce immigration laws just because they exist. I say we should enforce them because we can’t afford to let everyone live and work here who wants to and let them receive financial and medical assistance when we can’t even provide enough financial and medical assistance to American citizens and legal residents as it is. Our first responsibility as a nation is to American citizens and legal residents, not to the world-at large, just as every nation’s primary responsibility is to its own citizens and to others who legally reside within it.

Of course, I realize that no country exists in a vacuum, and certainly this one doesn’t. We interact with countless nations and impact and are impacted by them. And we share a porous border with a country with notoriously corrupt government, squandered resources, and impoverished people. We as a nation should be doing more to encourage Mexico to clean up its act so that its people can build good lives for themselves there instead of needing to come here to survive and prosper. But our greatest responsibility as a nation is still to provide for its own, and it should do this before trying to provide for everyone else. And I would add that the greatest responsibility of illegal immigrants here is to work together to improve conditions in their own countries instead of coming here and trying to bring all of their relatives here and insisting that they have this “right” while they wave the Mexican flag and thumb their noses at our laws and people.

If I sound like I’m getting angry again, I guess maybe I am a little as I recall the scenes from yesterday’s demonstrations and the strident words of spokespeople for the demonstrators insisting on their “rights.” But I’m going to take some deep breaths, relax, and try to open my mind to the full complexity of the situation, and open my heart to the desire that we all have as human beings to provide healthy, happy lives for ourselves and our families.

There is no perfect solution to this problem. But I hope that we can mindfully work together to forge the best solution possible. And that’s enough of my rambling on the issue of illegal immigration for the time being.