To the Super Bowl

So, this evening (Monday, Feb. 3rd) the REAL Super Bowl begins. Now that all of the Impeachment drama is coming to a close and the football drama is over for a year and we’ve watched the most expensive commercials ever made, perhaps we can get down to business of moving forward.

For the year’s total anticlimax there’s the State of The Union embarrassment taking place tomorrow, in which the Donald will…who knows what the Donald will do or say? The best approach in dealing with our Asshole in Chief is to ignore him as much as possible and go forward with our lives, using our thoughts and imaginations to conjure more palatable futures.

Rush Limbaugh is dying of lung cancer. That’ll take some of the wind out of the sails blowing toward oblivion. While Senators bloviated, the biggest news this week is that the Thwaite Glacier is getting ready to drop and could quickly raise the ocean levels by up to 3 feet. The impending drop of what scientists have dubbed the ‘Doomsday Glacier’ will only be the first of many. There goes one civilization, to be replaced by necessity with another.

I’ve spent the past three years stewing in the juices of my own anger and it has gotten me nowhere. The daily disaster has driven me to forget that the best way to observe the ongoing bombardment and spectacle of news and information is to step as far back from the sheer noise and confusion as possible. The news of the ‘moment’ is mostly made to sell personality and product rather than offering much in the way of useful information. What happens in the moment isn’t as important as our collective mediated response to it. The Reality we perceive in this digital world is of necessity always second hand.

We are each in the business of assembling a world that corresponds to our own predilections. For myself I’ve chosen to accept information primarily through online digital conversations, rather than merely accepting what is ‘broadcast.’ Avoiding antiquated mediums like television and radio or newspaper, I seriously engage with information only after it’s been processed through trusted networks of intelligence and discrimination, carefully evaluating the materials with which to assemble my own picture of the world. I’m a subscriber to reality, mostly through print and podcasts, and an occasional glance at headlines from selected inputs on Apple News or Flipboard or the front pages of newspapers.

When I encounter, as in the laundromat, televised news formats in real time I’m conscious that what I’m receiving is an agenda that has more to do with commerce than truth. This stuff, including all forms of mass public broadcast, from out and out propaganda to public radio, is safe to consume only to the degree that one is aware that every broadcaster has their own agenda. Whatever presents itself as absolute truth is only ideology.

Everyone I know who merely consumes ‘The News’ on television or radio appears to be driven crazy by it.

As a consuming culture many Americans are being consumed by cynicism, doubt and despair. The world we’ve constructed in our minds is one in continual emergency, to which we must react without being given a trusted set of tools to react with. Too many of us are swimming and drowning in a pool of helplessness where new alarms are shouting every day, “Danger! Danger!” After years of daily bombardment we are shell shocked and numb, unable to pierce the fog that obscures the future. Christians and New Agers await the Apocalypse, white supremacists look forward to their ‘boogaloo,’ conspiracy fetishists obsess over every revelation while screwing themselves into increasingly paranoid fantasies, and the rest of us deal with a growing sense of apprehension and dread.

Meanwhile, the world trundles on within webs of mind boggling complexity and we are swept along in rushing rivers of karma and consequence. So easy to imagine that we are either victims, or else we are fighting a constant war for particular outcomes. So easy for me to spew words into the void like weapons, effecting only to increase the chaos instead of offering clarity or hope.

Well, it’s a new year and I’ve been mostly silent lately, after what has felt to me like constant struggle against overwhelming odds. It’s true that there is struggle. The need for change is obvious. The change that’s needed however, can only come about through a change of channels. I’ve been paying too much attention to the idiots waving the flags, and too little time spent in a world where human beings are meant to live, one that’s woven through our minds and our imaginations, where we tell each other stories and look at dire situations as problems to be solved. This is the only kind of world where we have a chance to live beyond our fears. It’s the only world where we can construct the necessary bonds that will hold this ship together.

Let’s try something different for a change.

The Lost Art of Ecstasy

I was recently sent a link to an article in the New Yorker reporting on the most recent results of research into the use of psychedelics for treating the anxiety of cancer patients. This led me to a longer and much more in depth article written last year by one of my favorite writers on food, in this case food for spiritual nourishment. As in all of Pollan’s work, his investigation goes to great depths and approaches the subject from many angles, alternating history with personal anecdotes to deliver an encompassing view of the possibilities.
For those of us who grew up in the sixties, and embarked on many of these same explorations on our own, without supervision or scientific rigor, these efforts to understand may appear absurdly restrictive. At the same time, they are very familiar. Although the Michael Pollan article is pretty long it’s worth a read, particularly for those facing problems of addiction or depression, the loss of loved ones or the prospect of impending sickness or death, or anyone interested in possibilities at the frontiers of therapy and science.
Finally I include a link to a video that offers a look into the face of a person encountering the ecstasy of release and freedom. There was a time when this look was not so uncommon in the people we found around us.
May we all be happy. May we all be well. May we all find freedom.
The Short Version:
The Long Version:
The Ecstatic Version:

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
“If you want to find pure gold, you must see it through fire.” – Mumonkan

“You’re part of my crew. Why are we still talking about this?”  – M.R.

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“Write the things you have seen and what is and what will be.”

Mike Doughty is a wizard of words who fronted the group ‘Soul Coughing’, one of my favorite performance entities of the late nineties. This past year he had a vision of the “Book of Revelations”, surely one of the most influential and hallucinatory word epics of all time, as a rock opera.

The performance was sponsored by one of my favorite spoken word podcasts, Kurt Anderson’s Studio 360.

Although I don’t identify primarily as a practicing Christian, this piece reveals to me the power of language in a whole new way.

Here it is, in full.


To Soften The Heart

To soften the heart.

To be at peace.

To cease one’s war with everything.

To accept surprise.

To approach with wonder.

To find patience.

To honor what is.

To allow for love.

To relinquish control.

To become oneself.

To blossom into joy.

To give without demanding.

To be true.

To surrender.

To live.

To soften the heart.

The Teacher

Dear Charlette,
So, this morning as I came before my teacher for our weekly meeting (dokusan) the first thing he says to me is “How was your week? Were you finished beating up on yourself?”
My thoughts were: “Shheeeyt, is this so obvious to everyone around me? Three people that I treasure have pointed out this quality in just the past couple of weeks. Is it my most prominent feature, like a huge mole on the end of my nose? Oh well, I had to tell the teacher that I still indulged in quite a bit of it (see my last email to you). He told me a story about how we first erect imaginary obstacles and then have to summon up the courage to ‘overcome’ them. They are, after all, imaginary
Let this be my Zen journal, as it feels like one hell of an adventure upon which I’ve embarked and I’d like to tell it to somebody that can either sympathize with or at least comprehend the ramifications. 
Speaking of hell, you could call this a “journal from hell” I suppose. Hell defined as the “six realms of samsara” that the Buddha perceived as the source of human suffering. They are as follows:
Hell is the realm where we make each other suffer. Or when we subject ourselves to the frustrations of some inner struggle that we can’t let go of. 
Hungry ghosts are beings that exist in a world of unending and unsatisfied craving. Consumerist society thrives in the world of hungry ghosts. Our economy would collapse if too many of us diverced ourselves from this delusion. 
Animals are those who are content to eat and sleep and work and have no other aspirations in their lives. They are those who have surrendered their volition to others.
Asuras are those who define themselves in opposition to those perceived as enemies. It’s this one that I’d like to illuminate. (see below)
Human Beings are those who project their success or failure endlessly into the future. They are never satisfied with the present. 
Heavenly Beings are those who have achieved everything that our society defines as the necessary ingredients of success. Their primary motivation is to protect what they have gained and they are governed by the fear of losing. 
Usually in the time of presidential politics I’m ‘out there’ o the firing line launching scathing critiques and obsessive analysis regarding the tide of battle, the enormity of hypocrisy, the evil of Republicans, etc. This is what I’ve done in the past, but haven’t really wanted to get into in the present. It doesn’t really nourish me or anyone else. If negativity is the only voice I can summon I’d just as soon sit this one out. 
I’ve tried to take the angry reactivity that so much of the political dialogue sparks and turn it into statements that project something positive and optimistic into the future. I’ve even seen this as a ‘spiritual’ practice…and so it is. The problem is that the political discourse has become so much more poisoned and polarized than ever before (in my lifetime) that even to get near it is to risk the danger of being overcome by the fumes. So, I’m not writing much of anything these days, laying low until something new and authentic and not merely reactive arises from within me. 
Shohaku Okumura in his book Living By Vow describes the realm of hell that’s most relevant to the tendencies with which I’ve most strongly identified in the past.
Asuras are fighting spirits. Asura was a mythical Indian god of justice. When we believe we are right, we criticise others based on our own concept of justice. If necessary we fight with others until we win. Exterminating people who oppose us becomes the purpose of our lives. Such people cannot be satisfied without enemies. They can’t live without something against which they can struggle. We all have this sort of attitude sometimes. When we have someone to criticize, we feel safe, righteous and good.”
That sure sizes up the spirit I’ve identified with for most of my life. I probably will never quite get beyond this identification, as I’ve spent so much time living it, but perhaps I can step back from it and not let it possess me so completely. 
I’ve long thought that it’s almost impossible for people to fundamentally change their habit patterns. I still tend to believe that only in the most extreme circumstances do human’s really change. However, I now see that it’s possible, by seeing clearly these habits for what they are, a person can allow them to show themselves but choose not to hitch a ride. 
I may try my hand at another essay this week. No promises. I’m trying to write something everyday. It’s kind of a vow I’ve made to myself. The biggest challenge is not letting exhaustion overtake me. Of course, the nature of a vow is that it may be unattainable but at least it’s a target to aim for. 
With Love,