Meditation on “Imagine” pt. 2

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

This part screams to me. “Imagine there’s no countries / It is isn’t hard to do…” To which my first response is “Duh! How can anyone believe countries exist?” I’ve posted on the subject a couple of times before here and here; not only do I find it “not hard” to “imagine there’s no countries,” but it seems a simple, obvious fact that there are none.

However, looking back, it wasn’t always obvious to me… it was a revelation that came to me over a period of reflection. I think I was in high school, and I was thinking about phrases I would hear in the news… “Russia said,” “China announced,” “Washington replied,” “Israel demanded,” etc.

I realized that statements like these were simply shorthand for quickly describing something far more complex: “Russia” hadn’t said anything… A statement was issued with the authority of the Soviet government declaring something. And that statement probably had probably gone through some quick drafts and discussion among General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and his advisors, clarifying shades and nuances of what precisely was meant, what should be said, and why. In short, a small group of people, strongly influenced by a single individual, in essence different from no other persons on the globe, had made a statement.

Now this statement had some weight in the world, because the individuals who issued it were presumed to have “power” over a “country.” I realized that “power” itself was another slippery fiction. Again, it was a shorthand for the notion that a person had the means to effect what he or she desired to do, in spite of opposition. In the Soviet Union, the “power” of the individuals making a statement, was considered close to total… that if anyone resisted their effort, say they tried to turn off the microphone or take the statement out of the speaker’s hand, they would be immediately arrested and certainly face dire consequences.

Yet the only way they could be arrested was for other individuals chose to act in accord with his orders, thus granting him “power.” If no one—no soldiers, no police, no judges, no comrades—would cooperate, he would have no “power.”

Ditto, then, for all the supposed countries making statements. All that was really happening was persons at the head of organizations with usually-respected chains of command were making statements… Countries were not talking. The country was something with no existence other than the fact that a large group of persons agreed to pretend it existed and respect the established chains of command.

Could a mass of people destroy a country by simply no longer agreeing to pretend it existed? That was a question on many minds in 1991. For over a year, persons in Vilnius, Lithuania had declared that “the Soviet Union” did not exist in the area called Lithuania, that Lithuania was “independent.” Yet most people inside and outside the Soviet Union kept agreeing to pretend that it did.

Their willingness to do so collapsed following the kidnapping of President Gorbachev in August that year. Suddenly “the Soviet Union” seemed a flimsy and undesirable fiction to hold on to. Others were proposed and found more appealing: Russian Federation, Ukraine, Commonwealth of Independent States, etc. On Christmas Day, 1991, the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered from the Kremlin forever, no longer a symbol of “rule” but a piece of cloth evoking the past. Influential persons living in the landmass that had been called the Soviet Union had agreed to stop pretending it existed, and it was gone.

That is the extent of reality a country has. That is why you were taught to believe your country (no matter what it is), is real, and that your country (no matter what it is), is “good.”

At this time, Southwest Asia, from Afghanistan in the East, to Iraq in the center, and Lebanon and Israel in the West, is engaged in varying levels of warfare, with Syria and Iran participating behind-the-scenes.

But imagine there’s no countries… only people. No past to avenge. No future to fight for. No cause to enlist into a militia or terrorist group for. Nothing to kill or die for. Only men and women, boys and girls, all alike in having the same human needs, fears, aspirations.

That’s the way I see it now. What will it take for others there to imagine it too?

Posts in this series: pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, interlude, conclusion.

Tagged! 5 Weird Things/Habits

OK, I’ve been tagged by friend and fellow blogger Darrell in a cybergame that goes like this:

The first player of this game starts with “5 weird things/habits about yourself.” In the end you need to choose 5 people to be tagged and list their names. The people who get tagged need to write a blog about their 5 weird things/habits, as well as state this rule clearly, then tag 5 more victims. Don’t forget to leave your victim a comment that says “you’re tagged!” in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

Hard to limit myself to just five, but here they are:

1. I burst into song at the drop of a hat. Any hat. Perhaps I was raised on too many musicals as a youngster. I thought it would be cool if people spontaneously burst into singing to express themselves in real life; I started doing it, and haven’t stopped.

2. It’s virtually gone now, but milk used to taste colors to me. Yes, you read that right. Especially during my undergrad years, I tasted milk on a spectrum of yellow-to-blue. Fresh milk was yellow (meaning delicious!) and less fresh milk moved into the blue zone. Stale was dark blue, and sour, black. Also, skim milk tended to taste just a tad bluer, or less yellow, than whole milk, no matter how fresh it was.

I learned that this cross-sensory perception is called synesthesia. Apparently many composers have it. Olivier Messiaen wrote about composing “stain-glass window chords,” Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov heard specific musical keys as colors. Music-color synesthesia might have helped during those years, as I was a composition major. But noooooo, I got milk-color!

3. I used to save my pennies, then Scotch-tape together in short stacks of five or ten. Then I’d carry them in my pocket to spend them as ordinary change. When a cashier was suprised to be handed one of those mini-rolls, I explained “it’s a fat nickle (or dime),” as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Most of them didn’t like this.)
4. Anagrams. I love them, but there are no anagrams for Jon Zuck. However, “Jon Meyer Zuck” converts to:

MERE COZY JUNK and
ZEN MUCKER JOY.

5. I love alternate writing systems. I developed the first computer font for an alternative English alphabet known variously as the Second Shaw alphabet, or Quickscript, or the Read Alphabet. Here’s a copy of the Lord’s Prayer in that font:

Lord's Prayer in Read Alphabet

I also developed my own personal shorthand. It’s a mixture of Gregg, Quickscript, and my own stuff.

Be it known to all, that on this 30th day of July, in this the year of our Lord 2006, I do hereby tag:
Ryan, Zach, Julie, Bob, and Meredith

Meditation on “Imagine” pt. 1

Something i’ve wanted to do for a long time is post on John Lennon’s song, Imagine. What kept me from it was not wanting to make a really, really, long post. You’ve might have noticed I do like to keep things short! The solution — take it in parts.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

I used to have a love/hate relationship with this song. On one hand, I lauded Lennon’s idealism and desire for peace, but on the other, his antipathy to religion was quite off-putting to me until fairly recently.

Some years ago, I did come to imagine “no hell below us,” though. And that willingness to *imagine* and consider, eventually became a willingness to “re-examine the hell idea” in depth. I’m happy to report it didn’t survive the scrutiny!

Reexamining “good” and “evil” seems to be going around in my local blogosphere, particularly in Trev’s and Julie’s blogs.

A large number of people, however, are not yet able to earnestly question what they’ve been taught about “good” and “evil.” That in itself isn’t a problem. But those unquestioned presuppositions can become the source of great suffering. Large parts of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish world are engaged in open warfare at the time of this post. It’s fair to say that every entity involved in the fighting views itself as “good,” and their enemy as “evil.”

Lennon urges us to look at ordinary life, rather than philosophy or religion, for the direction on how to live. Ironically, this echoes the idea present throughout all the mystics that ethics is as simple as the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. Love your neighbor.

Is this raw atheism? Is there really “only sky” above us? Does “living for today” mean there is no afterlife? Not at all. I believe (yeah, I do have beliefs!) that there is far more to This than what is the visible world. (Really it’s far less, but I won’t get into that here!) But the thing is that we are only responsible for our interactions in this tangible world with each other, under the sky.

“Only sky” means that there is no heaven except at this moment, and no hell except at this moment, no life at all except the single moment we have to live now. The past and the future exist only in the mind. The only experience is the experience of the present moment.

And at every moment, we are constantly involved in creating heavens and hells for ourselves and each other. The eyes of the Father are not looking down upon us, so much as looking out through us… every one of us.

Posts in this series: pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, interlude, conclusion.

Hiding from God

I’ve occasionally mentioned that I’m not very consistent spiritually, as in my I’m not Johnny Contemplative post. But that’s an understatement. If any of you think that I bound out of bed, greeting This with my whole being, ready to sit a few minutes in sublime meditation before eating a healthy breakfast, nothing could really be further from the truth. My usual morning starts with:

1. Throwing pillows at Talbot when he starts pestering me to feed him (Usually about a hour before I intend to get up). His tricks are anything from opening my CD player and knocking the disc out of it, to chewing on my piles of unsorted, undealt-with junk mail, or lately, gnawing on books. This week, he got into Sudoku and The Upanishads. Smart cat. Unfortunately, he’s also smart enough to know pillows don’t hurt.

2. After second or third pillow throw, get up (cursing), feed cat, try not to trip on mail.

3. Go back to bed, making sure alarm is set.

4. Turn alarm off (Zen alarm clock—yeah that part of my life really is Zen—whoo-hoo!), reset it and go back to bed.

5. Turn alarm off again, reset it, and go back to bed.

6. Hit snooze button, and go back to bed.

7. Hit snooze button, and go back to bed.

8. Realize it’s now a half-hour after I intended to wake up, say, “oh shit!” turn off Zen alarm, turn on NPR, and decide if I have time enough to shower and shave before I have to leave. Do so if I do. Brush teeth.

9. Make a note that I really need to empty Talbot’s littlerbox soon. Hurriedly get dressed.

10. Drive (or carpool) to work, with a quick stop to 7-11 to buy a triple-cholesterol puckwich and the first of what will be two or three Big Gulps or equivalent non-coffeenated Diet Pepsified caffeine hits.

11. Arrive at work, simultaneously tired and hyper.

(Three hours later… actually begin to wake up.)

My evenings have usually been better… I blog, read blogs, surf all manner of junk on the Net, solve some sudoku, watch a little TV or a video, sometimes get together with a friend. Rarer is actually getting around to some spiritual practice.

Lately though, as some of you may have gathered from the tremendous surge of sharing on my blog, my evenings have been crappy too. I’ve lost myself in the ultimate intellectual puzzle, harness race handicapping, and I’ve done it before. I’m not a problem gambler, but I am a problem handicapper… it’s as though when my mind becomes totally absorbed by something that is endlessly challenging, the rest of the world and its challenges hardly exist.

In Fundamentalist language, the devil “gained a foothold” on a weakness of mine, and I’ve been hiding from God. In more objective language, my ego found a way to strengthen itself, causing me to avoid my true self. Different ways of describing the same situation.

For me, a big part of “Jedi life in the real world” is realizing when I’m not living Jedi life in the real world. There’s nothing more spiritual about thinking great thoughts than there is in emptying a litterbox or nourishing your body well in the morning. (For that matter, there’s nothing more spiritual about reading the Upanishads than the Meadowland’s past performances… if you can do it as a Christ, ready to respond to anyone and anything with selfless love.)

The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

But some “fingers” at least do point to the moon, while others point to the mazes of habit and distraction. Some fingers are just The Finger! I’ve been drowning. I’m coming up for air. That’s Jedi life in the real world, for me here, at least.

Two Kinds of Passers-by

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, “Be passers-by.” I take this as meaning that we are to realize that fundamentally, the world is not our true home, that we come from beyond, and will return from whence we came. Being a passer-by means that I may be enjoying my experiences and surroundings, but that I know that it’s just a show—there’s something more substantial to my nature. What I pick up here—riches (yeah, right!), experiences, eventually my body, and even memories—will eventually be discarded. We are passers-by.
My friend, Fr. Bob Griffith, has an excellent post on his blog about two different kinds of bypassers—pilgrims and tourists. Read this quote by Andrew Schelling he shared with us:

Only the walker who sets out toward ultimate things is a pilgrim. In this lies the terrible difference between tourist and pilgrim. The tourist travels just as far, sometimes with great zeal and courage, gathering up acquisitions (a string of adventures, a wondrous tale or two) and returns the same person as the one who departed. There is something inexpressibly sad in the clutter of belongings the tourist unpacks back at home. The pilgrim is different. The pilgrim resolves that the one who returns will not be the same person as the one who set out.

The only thing we can really take with us is the changes in our own being.