Sunday, January 31, 2021

A Magical Place Called "Away"

 When we are babies, we can’t really grasp the idea that someone can still exist if we cannot see or hear them. When our mother is gone we feel as if we have been abandoned and we might never see her again. Gradually we are introduced to the idea that just because we close our eyes does not make the outside world cease to be. Our parents cover their eyes and then ask where we are and we giggle at their stupidity, having forgotten we once thought the same way.

 When I was a child there once existed a magical land where we could send everything that was bad in our lives. It was called “away”. If there was something cluttering our house, we could simply send it there. When I useded the toilet, the results of my efforts were similarly sent “away”, never to be seen (or smelled) again. It was magic, but then again, childhood is a magical time.

 Gradually it dawned on me that “away” was not the same thing as “far away”. When I threw my candy bar wrapper out the car window, I thought I was throwing it “away”, but my parents informed me it was not “away” until it was in a trash can. That apparently was where the magic happened, like a woman walking into a magician's cabinet and simply vanishing. And sure enough, I came to realize that when someone threw something out a car window, it just stayed on the ground.

 Still later on in life I discovered that a garbage can was not a magical portal to nowhere. The things we no longer wanted did not cease to exist just because we put them in there. In fact, a rather complicated process was involved. My older brother was taxed with the burden of taking the trash from the house and putting it on the curb, where a large and noisy truck picked it up and delivered it to the void from which nothing is ever again seen or smelled.

 Then I learned about Mount Trashmore. Mount Trashmore was the name given for where all the garbage that was taken by the big noisy trucks went. If you got close enough, you could smell it. There were vents put into it so that the noxious gasses might escape. The gasses were lit on fire so that night and day they burned.

 When people talked about Mount Trashmore, they spoke of it contemptuously. It was a bad thing, a place to be avoided. We viewed it the way we view people we don’t regard very favorably. Just as we blame people who live on the other side of the tracks for being wretched, so to did we blame Mount Trashmore for being the disgusting thing it was. Which is pretty weird when you stop to think of it, blaming a mountain of trash for existing. But we did, and we heaped scorn on it because it was ugly and smelly and it was most likely unhealthy to be around.

 There was something similar a couple of towns over. It was a pond that stunk to high heaven. On a bad day, it would make the whole town smell terrible. I never knew what it was but it was likely farm runoff, or perhaps the unusable leftovers of a slaughterhouse being dumped into a drainage ditch. I hated that town because of the smell. I’m sure a lot of other people felt the same way. I was glad that it was far enough away from my own town. Of the two, Mount Trashmore was way less stinky. Not only that, it was said that it would one day be made into a ski hill. I looked forward to that. I could never imagine wanting to swim in that pond.

 The more I grew and the more I travelled, the more the magic disappeared along with my childhood. I realized a magician couldn’t really make a woman disappear by sticking her in a box and speaking an incantation. I learned, too, that “away” did not exist in any of the places I had ever visited. In fact, at some point in my life, I realized there was no such place as “away” at all.

 And yet “away” is still part of the equation for most of us. I don’t think there’s ever been a time like the present where we throw away as much as we do. In the last couple of decades we have switched from paper bags to plastic bags when we buy our groceries. We buy oranges pre-peeled and put in plastic containers. My God, we even buy water in single-use plastic bottles. And we throw them “away”.

If you work for a corporation, "away" is an even bigger part of the equation. For a corporations, "away" is any place that doesn't cost you money. Very real people live in this land. People who are poisoned and get cancer from the toxic stuff corporations throw "away". Animals live there too, just not as many as there used to be. There's nothing very magical about "away" to those who live there, but it's pretty damn magical to those who profit from believing in it.

 We are mostly a society of children, covering our eyes, believing we’ve sent what is no longer useful “away”. There is no "away". It's time to grow up. Because we are throwing our entire planet "away".

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One Final Visit Into The Past In Search Of Something I Had Forgotten

 I suppose it is not unnatural to revisit a place from your past with a certain expectation of rediscovering something you’ve forgotten. Life is a series of stages in which we are forced to abandon things that were once quite important to us. And being important to us, we are prone to search for them even though we no longer know exactly what it is we search for.

 I entered my alma mater last weekend with such an expectation, for the final time. The small Catholic liberal arts college I once attended has closed its doors and is in the process of selling off its assets. It’s sad to see such an institution go under, symbolizing as it does so many cultural values that no longer fit the times. It was understandable that such a place could no longer make it in such an age in which we now live. I had seen glimpses of its demise in its advertisements the last few years: it was attempting to adapt itself to a society that no longer prioritized a liberal education but instead demanded training for well-paying jobs. In fact, I have the suspicion that in the end it abandoned its soul in attempting to survive in a world that no longer has interest in liberal education, the arts, or anything deeply rooted in culture and Christianity. I have heard whispers that in its last years it failed quite spectacularly at sustaining both its moral and physical being.

 I chanced upon someone on Facebook showing sculptures they had bought at the liquidation sale and realized I had only a few hours left to return one final time to the place where I received my education. I hoped to find something there, some relic of my past, some souvenir I could possess of a place I would never again be able to visit. Some wreckage I might reclaim from the shipwreck.

 Updates had been done to the building in the 20-plus years since I’d been there, but it still bore the impress of its origins. Not the kind of antiquity that is timeless, but a building built in 1960 that sought to be modern but instantly became dated. Nevertheless, it was able to impart to me the true meaning of conservatism, the idea that knowledge of the past and ways of doing things should be maintained, that progress was not simply the paving over of what had come before.

 My first stop was to the library, where I was reminded of the true meaning of liberalism: the belief that all cultures were worthy of study and all opinions be greeted with an open mind if one hoped to grow as a person. I cannot help but think the word liberal has come to mean its very opposite these days, that open and vigorous debate was not as important as having the proper opinion.

 There are two great tragedies in life: a vast collection being sold off and a library being abandoned. But I was here to salvage what I could of the wreckage, to take into my care some refugees no longer welcome in their own home. I would take whatever books I had room for, whichever ones called to me and which I could best care for.

 It was the library of a Catholic liberal arts school. The books were mostly old, but they provided a breadth of learning that seems lacking today. Yes, there were many books dealing with Western civilization and Catholic teaching, like Kenneth Clark’s Civilization and a book by Thomas Merton. Treasures in their own right and the first to be added to my pile. But I also picked up a copy of the Upanishads, a book on Gandhi, and even a biography of the theosophist Madame Blavatsky. Whatever the beliefs of this Catholic institution run by Franciscan Sisters, they were unafraid of having their beliefs tested. Indeed, they seemed to think their beliefs nothing more than that if they were not.

 I left the library with as many books as I could cradle. I’m really in no position to be bringing any more books into my house, but some you just can’t refuse. After paying for them and dropping them off in my car, I returned to make a final sweep of the school, ostensibly to find a piece of furniture for an area of the house my wife is converting, though in truth it was to find that something I had left behind in my past. That something that had been missing, some proof that the past never dies, that what is important endures.

 I was like that on the day we sold our parent’s house. In a rush we had cleared out all their belongings so that now the house stood empty. And yet I needed to make a final, thorough inspection of the house. Because I needed to find that special something that would enlighten me, that magical talisman that would provide meaning to my lived experience. I never found it.

 So it was with some vague expectation that I walked from room to room. I scanned every table and shelf, expecting some item to call to me, expecting some almost supernatural connection to be made. But in room after room I only came across ordinary items. And just as I had done at my parents’ home, the further I went the more insistent I was to probe every nook and cranny in search of the missing piece.

 I never found it.

 And it was with the same sense of disappointment and loss and even disillusionment I had felt when leaving my parents’ home that I left Silver Lake College one final time. I left with a handful of books and a couple of other items. Common items, not magical talismans.

 How was it possible I could not reconnect with my past, with my former self? On a very deep level I felt it was not only possible but necessary that I do so.

 But the answers find us eventually, though not always when we demand them. My trip to Silver Lake college, like my final visit to my parents’ house, was not the time for reconnecting with the past but a time for saying goodbye. And that important something I had left in my past? Turns out I never left it at all. My time at Silver Lake College has had an important part in shaping who I am. The instruction I received and the work I undertook has been with me ever since the time I received my diploma. I would never have been so foolish to have left it behind.

 We are often forced to leave much of what we once were behind. Sometimes we would rather not but we have no choice. But no matter how far forward we travel and how great a distance we put behind ourselves and the people and places we once knew, we have to trust that we are carrying along the best of what we were able to take with us.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Who Gave Corporations Control?

  Why should we recognize the rights of corporations? From whence comes their authority? Who bequeathed them their rights? The U.S. Constitution? There is no mention of corporations in that document.

Why should corporations own houses that go empty while people sleep under bridges? Why do they have access to our politicians when the pleas of their constituents fall on deaf ears? Why do we permit them to write our laws? Why do we fight their wars?
And who was it that decided corporations should be in charge of our water? I thought it would be obvious once they decided the best means of delivering water would be through single use plastic containers trucked in from hundreds of miles away that people would realize how stupid and evil this was, but we all just went along with it. Who told us that was a good idea?
I suppose it was the media, almost all of which is owned by corporations, 90% of which is owned by just 6 gigantic corporations. But who allowed that to happen?
It was our crooked politicians, all of whom rely on corporate funding to win elections. Democrats and Republicans alike are working for the same corporate interests. Where is the politician who will take the side of people over corporations? The system the corporations fund will never permit them to be elected.
Who gave corporations the power to control not only our means of production but our environment, our media, and our government? We the people didn’t give it to them. They never asked permission. They just took it.
But who’s allowing them continued ownership of nature, government, the machinery of production, and the influencing of our minds?
Who gave them our forests and gave them tax breaks on the purchase of chainsaws?
Who gave them our rivers and lakes to use as receptacles for their poisonous waste?
Who gave them our oceans to exploit and abuse every creature that lives within them?
Who gave them our genes to play with and the genes of our plants to patent?
You did.
You did, every time you willingly bought what they were selling you.
You did, when you voted for THEIR candidates.
You did, every time you turned on THEIR media and allowed them to dump THEIR lies into YOUR mind.
You did, every time you said “It’s just more convenient.”
You did, every time you refused to speak up or fight back.
You did, every time you bought your Made In China flag to show your Made In Madison Ave. patriotism.
And who is EVER going to make this right?
You will.
Not the politicians who owe their positions to corporate backing.
Not benevolent CEO’s or visionary billionaires.
Bill Gates won’t do it. He’ll just spray the sky to darken the sun.
Elon Musk won’t do it. He’ll just blast a car into outer space.
Technology won’t make this right.
Incremental progress won’t get us there.
The invisible hand of the market won’t be our savior.
Who then will make things right?
You will.
You can.
You must.
We will.
We must.
We shall.
P.S. F*ck Jeff Bezos.

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

How Do You See This Apple?


Here is an apple. Nothing much to argue about in that statement, but I’m willing to bet people will be able to disagree on anything. Some may see it as the downfall of Adam and Eve and call me the devil for posting a picture of it. Others will name what variety of apple it is (it’s a Snow Sweet) and what recipes it would best be used in (I used it in an apple cobbler).

 Even with something as simple as an apple, no two people see it exactly the same. But let me point out one striking difference in the way we can view it—or view anything, really: we can either view it through a materialist or spiritual lens.

 If we choose to see this modest little apple through a spiritual lens, what we see is a gift from either our earth mother or sky father. Perhaps we can even see it as the miraculous result of the two intermingling. From a spiritual perspective, it is a blessing bestowed upon us with love. And we can show gratitude by accepting it joyfully and by living in accordance with the laws he or she or both have set for us. We are called upon to live a sacred life, one full of miracles that we are able to observe even in such simple and abundant a thing as an apple.

 The alternative is to view it through a materialist lens. No miracles exist here, no sacred connection. There’s something to be said from viewing from this perspective. Freed from notions of deeming this little guy a miracle, we are free to improve upon it. We can make them easier to grow, maximize yield, fight any disease or infestation that might plague them. Potentially, we can employ a materialist approach to provide food for everyone and minimize the risks of famine. But in order to do that, we must drop the idea of sacredness, which limits both the upside and the downside of a materialist world-view.

 Through the market view of the world—ostensibly a materialist view but in fact a bit of a belief system in its own right--we view an apple as a commodity. It no longer has any sense of the sacred (nothing does in a free market),it is merely something to be bought or sold. It has no value beyond what it has in the market, no purpose other than to be consumed or transformed into wealth. Should it end up feeding some wild animal in nature, it will be deemed a loss and action will be taken to eliminate such loss in the future.

 While the producer of the apple has some connection with the miracle of its creation, it is not a reverent one. His goal is to maximize productionm heedless of the sacred source from which it springs. The ultimate cost to earth mother is not factored into his equation. And most of those who profit from the sale of this apple never see the apple nor the farm upon which it was grown.

 In order for the seller of the apple to maximize product, the apple is given added adjectives. It is no longer merely an apple but a “sweet”, “crisp”, apple, full of “nature’s finest”. Like a prostitute sold by her pimp, the apple is tarted up and given a sexy name. It is made to look more appealing, more perfect, more desirable through artificial means. It is waxed and sprayed and displayed to appeal to your eye.

 The apple you see in this picture is not that sort of apple. It is less than perfect. It has a slight blemish near the top that might make it unsuitable in a market. In a market environment sitting next to one of those tarted-up apples, you would be unlikely to choose it. Its inherent worth and healthiness requires more than a superficial glance.

 I bought this apple from someone who grows and picks apples. Though a financial transaction took place, there was a degree of the spiritual aspect maintained. When I consume this apple, I am aware of where it came from. I assure you I will eat it with a sense of the sacred, feel deeply that it is a gift from the earth mother and sky father. I eat it with an awareness that I quite simply cannot permit myself when I am eating an apple that has been sprayed and treated. It is much more than merely a product consumed in order to enhance my ability to work and succeed in the market place. It is more. I am more.

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Where Do You Fit In?


I think the biggest decision we all have to make in life, or end up making whether we realize it or not, is whether to become part of the machine or to become an individual. To become part of the machine means to allow the world to shape you to what it wants you to be, to be whatever cog it needs. In return, of course, the machine will take care of you because you are useful to it, and if you manage to become one of the bigger cogs in the machine, it will give you preferential treatment. But ultimately, even the biggest of cogs are using their energies not for their own purpose but for the purpose of the machine. The only reward is to the ego and a false sense of safety and belonging.

 The alternative is to shape yourself according to what you internally feel you are meant to be.

 It's never so simple as choosing one or the other. As much as we may strive to be individuals, sometimes the screeching of the machinery when we are not fitting in makes it almost impossible to hear one’s internal voice. We all begin life as young spirits dumped into an existing machine that automatically tries to assimilate us. It takes a lot of life experience before we realize what we’re dealing with. Some seem to be born independent and confident in the message their internal voice is telling them, but for most of us it’s a process.

 If I may use an imperfect metaphor, it’s like being a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and trying to figure out where you belong. If we try to fit in, we allow a childish hand to force us where we are not meant to be. We allow the concave and the convex and the sharp-edged parts of us to get distorted and smashed. When you choose to be a part of the machine, you do not find where you truly belong but end up where you think you should be, where someone tries to shove you. And we do this with the best intentions, believing that we are being helpful by being compliant. But ultimately, by doing so, we end up damaging the whole. Imagine looking at a puzzle where some pieces are wedged in where they don’t belong. Not only do the pieces not fit well, the entire image is off.

 The good news is those parts of us we have cut off or damaged are inclined to resuming their original shapes. Because this is an imperfect metaphor I am using and we are not just pieces of a puzzle. And that empty spot that we were meant to fill is always going to be there, waiting for us.

 When you are trying to be what others are telling you you should be, you lose the place you were meant to be. It’s tempting, often overpowering, and you will certainly find yourself in the wrong place from time to time. The important thing to remember is that when you’re in the right place, you won’t have to force it. The pieces next to you will be receptive and not demand that you change in order to accommodate their needs.

 Don’t be afraid to try yourself out wherever you feel you might belong. If you are listening to the voice inside, you will know what feels right. And you will learn to tell the difference between those who want you to be who you are and those who want you to be what they want. And when in doubt, take a step back and consider the overall picture. It should be beautiful.

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