Sunday, June 29, 2008

You Do A Little Dance, Then You Drink A Little Water

Sometimes I find more reasons to avoid doing the things I need to be doing than there are stars in the sky. I am a natural procrastinator. But out of practical necessity I have learned to be superhumanly efficient with time when I need to be. Okay, maybe superhuman is an exaggeration but to me it feels superhuman. I can waste time like nobody else. Today almost half the day was gone before I realized what time it was and I had done little more than eat breakfast and spend some time fooling around on the guitar. By fooling around I mean trying to master the guitar solo from Purple Haze. I recently indulged and bought a couple guitar gadgets and have finally been able to nail the tone from this song which, quite honestly, makes me feel like I’m channeling Hendrix right here in our little office/workout/music room.

Not to sound grandiose or anything but HO-LEEE-SHIT does it feel nice to play Hendrix and actually (somewhat) sound like Hendrix. Seven years ago I probably would have sold my soul, had that been an option, to be able to play some of this stuff that I can play now. I guess when you put your mind to it and have a love for something you really can surprise yourself. Who was it now that said you’ve gotta have love?

There are two states of sound that assure me that there is more to this world and our existence than what meets the eye: music, and complete silence. Music can give you a little taste of heaven, and silence, quite possibly, can give you the whole thing. My musical tastes span a pretty wide range but there is something ethereal and divine there that affects me like nothing else can. Nothing but silence that is. It’s been said that it’s the silent spaces between the notes that make music. The same probably goes for everything else.

Playing around with my new toys this morning I was creating sounds that one minute made me think I was about to blast off in a spaceship and the next that I was already zigging and zagging on the outer stretches of Saturn’s rings. I’ve never tried LSD but I’m pretty sure anyone under the influence would’ve thoroughly appreciated my psychedelic, green-tea fueled jam session.
I find time to pretend I’m Jimi but can’t find time to do other things that might actually be of some importance. Life has been a little hectic the last few weeks and I’ve slacked on the meditation. Of all things, this is what I have slacked on. I could just as well be writing an essay on how important it is to be regular with certain things like meditation but instead I’m writing this, talking about how I’ve managed to not find time lately.

Trying to maintain balance and stay centered in a world that is designed to distract and confine you is probably the most important thing any of us can do. There is a lot of confusion right now, a lot of unhappiness and frustration in this place where most of us have more in the way of comfort than any reasonable human being could ask for.

There’s a great quote saying something like “we live in a society that has mistaken comfort for civilization”. We are drowning in our own excess. We are surrounded and invaded by things and noise; the average attention span being reduced to about the same amount of time that it takes for Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua to pass gas. Without constant stimulation of some sort, some of us begin to go a little crazy. Alone with one’s thoughts is an uncomfortable experience that can pretty much be avoided altogether thanks to modern technology. I anticipate coming technology that will surgically implant tiny television screens inside of one’s eyelids so one’s eyes won’t even have to be open to catch the “exclusive” and latest Hollywood gossip on the Insider. Tiny speakers will be inserted directly into the ear drums and by pinching your earlobe in a certain manner you will be able to download streaming video and music, all powered by Apple of course. There may be side effects to some of this but Merck will be right there with a pill to counteract it. AstraZeneca will produce the pill that counteracts the side effects caused by Merck’s pill. Wal-Mart will start offering drive thru Botox and lipo. You’ll hear and see ads for all of this on the tiny devices that have been implanted into your eyes and ears. There will also be iPods for dogs. (I sincerely happen to think there’s a market for this.)

Well, it’s no wonder I have a problem managing my time. I had nothing in mind when I sat down to write this blog entry. I just knew it was time to write something and here I’ve wandered all around and somehow ended up in my own dystopian vision.

Though we have a lot to show in the way of things and comfort and every conceivable manner of indulgence, we have a major deficit when it comes to authentic happiness. This, in my opinion, is the result of our culture of distraction, triviality, and misguided priorities. We need silence in our lives to counteract everything else. If thirty minutes a day is good, an hour a day is better; just to let the water settle.

Today I pretended to be Hendrix. Last weekend I was pretending to be Michael Jordan as we played in Hoop-It-Up and managed to lose 4 straight games, never by a margin higher than two points. These things were distractions for me and, though they were fun, I neglected something that is far more important. I neglected that little space of time reserved each day to feel what it’s like to be truly human and alive and not just another pin-ball in someone else’s machine. And…I paid a price for it. Towards the end of the week it was tangible; something real, pulling me away from sanity, sucking me into a world of chatter, discontent, and irritation.

Tomorrow starts another day and a recommitment to get back to what I need to be doing, enjoying that beautiful silence where sanity resides and stepping away from the flashing screen, in whatever form it takes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

There's Dog Shit In My Yard. Damn Liberals.

I think this is a safe blog entry to write. That is, I think there is a slim to none chance that the person whom I will be writing about will ever stumble upon this. At least I hope not. It’s not that I’m really going to say anything that I wouldn’t say to his face but the way in which I’d approach it would probably be a little different than what is probably about to follow.

A conversation that I had long avoided - and in some way had hoped would never take place - occurred late this afternoon as the result of provocation which proved to be more than I could resist. It was with a good friend of mine, someone I’ve known about 3 years now. The guy is in his late 40s and is just about your stereotypical Bush-loving conservative “Christian” republican. I say just about because he does happen to be vegetarian and engages in exercise and physical discipline that, in my experience, is hard to find among this particular demographic. Without going on about this, suffice it to say that politically/religiously/socially this individual is practically my polar opposite. Nonetheless he is a friend and I believe he is well-meaning but misguided. It is not my requirement that a person share my exact same views on everything in order to be my friend. In fact, I appreciate the diversity.

Let’s just call him Z. Z enjoys conflict tremendously and has an uncanny ability to create an adversarial relationship with anyone who is unfortunate enough to draw his irritation. And it doesn’t take much. For the entire time I have known Z, he has been involved in some lawsuit or legal proceeding of some kind. If it’s not suing his neighbor over their swimming pool or calling the police on an elderly woman who has wondered onto his property or complaining about some bicycle rider who makes a U-turn in his parking lot….well, if it’s not one thing it’s another. Z causes himself a tremendous amount of stress and seems to obsess over these kinds of things. Z yells and cusses at his wife. I have no doubt that he loves her and maybe some of the criticism is deserved but Z can get pretty verbally abusive with her and his college-aged children. He has a quick temper. Several times he has apologized to me for me “having to see that” and admits he is wrong and shouldn’t do it but…he keeps doing it.

Z confides in me. For whatever reason I think I intrigue Z and even though I’m quite a bit younger he seems to run things by me to get my input or opinion. This is fine with me. I know Z is good at heart and in certain areas he can teach me a thing or two. Z maybe drinks a little too much from time to time because his self created stress becomes too heavy a load and it offers him some release. He exercises heavily – this is our common ground – and it provides some stress relief but not quite enough. Z has some health concerns that most likely stem from his quick fuse and general attitude about life.

Today Z was complaining to me about what a bad week he had last week. He had a blow up episode and some other problems, all of which were really very minor and not worth the energy he exerted in response to them. On Z’s list of laments was “Obama”. I’ve avoided political discussions with Z in the past because he is outspoken and I know where he stands. He and his son had the opportunity to meet Bush in person several months ago and it was “just amazing”. Today he says “Ben, don’t tell me you’re for OBAMA….”. I guess my patience and self-control with this issue had finally run out, or maybe it was just the heat but I had no choice but to answer honestly. “I really like Obama Z. Of course I’m for Obama.”

This led to all kinds of discussion that I knew would have potential to end our friendship just because of our fundamentally different worldview. We talked oil and abortion and the war in Iraq and 9/11. I held back a little but generally let him know where I stood on these issues. Some of things I said clearly stunned him and left him almost speechless. You could see him thinking. The conversation, to my pleasant surprise, remained cordial. He probably did more of the talking and that definitely helped but he seemed open to what I had to say. His complaint with Obama, oddly, was something about a comment he made and him being pro-choice. Somehow in his mind it mostly came back to abortion and the immorality of killing an innocent unborn child. I’m not sure if he just couldn’t think of anything else or in his mind he was really able to compartmentalize politics to such an extreme but this is how it was.

I asked him how he could reconcile the morality of starting a devastating war on false pretense and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and thousands of young American soldiers. There were other questions I posed along these lines and it generally resulted in a subject change of sorts. He made a comment about Obama being the anti-Christ. I think (and hope) he was at least mostly joking but I eventually shot back with my belief that Bush/Cheney were the Terrorists In Chiefs and if there was such a thing as the anti-Christ, they fit the bill nicely, at least on grounds of devastation of life and destruction. Still…the conversation remained cordial but pretty much devolved into a complaint-fest about all the ills that are afflicting him and his business. Somehow it was implied that all of this is the fault of the liberals and democrats…even the old lady at the end of the street who’s dog shits in a remote corner of a very large grass field behind his building.

The conversation ended and we remain friends. In fact I think I made at least a small bit of progress with Z. Z thinks I handle life pretty well and it obviously piques his interest. He found a book by Paul Brunton that I had left sitting by the swimming pool (accidentally) and has questioned me several times about things like meditation and spirituality. Z’s sense of self-identity very much hinges on his Christian beliefs and he almost feels a little guilty for being curious about anything different. The same can be said for his politics. But intuitively he recognizes that something about his personal philosophy isn’t quite working for him. He has absolutely zero control over his emotions and his anger. He seems to have no tools to help him with this. His way of relating to the world is moving him closer to a breaking point, psychologically and physically. He recognizes this but has no idea what to do about it. So…as Z’s friend, I do the best I can to help out without thrusting my views onto him.

We wrapped up our conversation and Z agreed to read a book I suggested and also agreed to watch a DVD, “9/11 Mysteries 1: Demolition”. Z is interested in Eastern philosophy and how it can be practically applied to help his health and his life. I gave him a novel which I think serves as a great primer and is also one of my most favorite books of all time, “Island” by Aldous Huxley. I hope he takes it to heart.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Door Is A Jar

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to write here. Really one always has the time it’s just a matter of taking the time to do what’s important to you. But…on the flipside of that, sometimes just surviving the day-to-day can easily devour all of your time. Such has been the case with me lately. May was a busy one; too many things to talk about and none of them really interesting enough to be worth taking up space here. I realize that a lot of people use these things as an ongoing play-by-play of their personal life and circumstances and there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s just not me. If you’re that interested in putting yourself to sleep I’d suggest Benadryl or Tylenol PM and save me the typing.

Have I ever mentioned that there’s really no such thing as time? Probably not. Even so that doesn’t change the fact there are things that need to get done between when the sun comes up and when it goes down. It’s possible to experience the unreality of time but it’s not possible to escape the obligations of day-to-day living.

Sometimes events and changing circumstances come at you with such speed that it’s difficult to assimilate them as they occur and it can be a bit overwhelming. When this happens – as it has with me over the past few weeks – it’s important to take extra precautions to keep yourself centered and sane. It’s in these times that it’s easy to find yourself staggering through life on auto-pilot/survival mode and getting caught in the downstream current. It’s easy to stay on course (assuming you have a course) when there is not much else vying for your attention and time.

I have practiced a lot of meditation over the years (and still do) and there is something that gradually happens as a result where you start to become very conscious of the background awareness that is silently observing every experience in your life, including internal experiences like thought and emotion. It’s neither thought nor emotion and it’s not the running dialogue in your head but it’s something behind all of that. It’s a neutral, unaffected observing presence.

When life becomes more hectic than usual I do everything I can to stay more in tune with that background awareness. There is possible change on the horizon for me career wise and though I don’t really consider myself very ambitious career-wise, there is an exciting opportunity that has arrived neatly wrapped and hand delivered to my doorstep. A job is just a job but it is also what puts food on the table and keeps the lights on and practically speaking, it is a huge facet of anyone’s life. Any change in this area is not to be taken lightly, even if it’s what looks like a good change.

So I’ve been pondering these things and trying to be vigilant about distinguishing logic from intuition and fear from common sense. I’ve been waking up a little bit earlier, being more conscious of every sensation and action that I experience throughout the course of each day, paying more attention to what I eat and how it affects my mind/body, devoting time each day to think about all that is going on, and devoting more time each day to cast thought out of my mind altogether.

On other fronts, I’m very happy to see Obama finally get the nomination. I’m not happy to see that he is already pandering to Israel and I honestly just don’t get this whole thing, which is one of the reasons I don’t talk about these kinds of issues on my blog. I have no idea why it’s just accepted that our country basically plays the role of “beer bitch” for Israel. Maybe hit man is a better analogy than beer bitch. But… I stay away (obviously) from the political blogging so I won’t expound on this digression.

It’s likely that I will need to continue being very attentive and vigilant over the next few weeks. I’m just short of making any big decision but it definitely feels like change is on the horizon and I’m soon to be practicing the Yoga Of Changing Jobs. We’ll see…