Do we value life too much?

My cat Buddy, always an indoor cat, recently discovered the wonder of his own feline power:  He can break through window screens and escape to enjoy the great outdoors. He did it twice this week. My response (thus far) has been to make sure any window is open just a crack. His response in turn, has been to let me know he regards me as a jailer, or at the very least, as a bad parent, meowing and clawing at the window panes intermittently throughout the day.

Not that I’d ever anthropomorphize, but our conversation the last few days has been something like this:

Buddy: Hey Dad, I want to go out, OK?

Me: No, it’s not okay.  You’re an indoor cat. You’re staying here with me.

Buddy: C’mon, Dad! I’ve already shown you I’m responsible. I don’t go too far away, and I always come back home.

Me: I understand and appreciate that. But it’s because I love you. You’re my little Buddy-cat, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.

Buddy: You should talk! You leave home every day!  Sometimes several times!

Me: That’s different. I’m a human being. I have to go to work to make the money to pay for things like our apartment and your cat food. But you’re a cat. Outdoor cats generally die much younger than indoor cats. And they’re more likely to get hurt in fights with dogs and other cats, and to have problems with fleas, parasites, and illnesses.

Buddy: But I can take care of myself!  Remember when I ate the cockroach? I didn’t get sick at all! And I practice martial arts every day with Talbot.  Sometimes I even beat him and he’s almost twice my size!

Me: Are your claws going to save you from the 18-wheelers on Hampton Blvd.?

Buddy: Do you think I’m stupid? There’s nothing on the other side of Hampton worth checking out anyway.

Me: So you’re not missing much if you stay here with Talbot and me.

Buddy: Yes I am! Freedom! Walking in the grass, on the sidewalk! Chasing birds, and hearing their songs so much clearer! Scratching trees instead of your mattress! Breathing fresh air! Sunbathing on the lawn! It feels so good! And I don’t have to worry about missing the stupid tiny litterbox that you always forget to clean!

Me: No.

Buddy: But the cat next door goes out!

Me: If the cat next door jumped off a cliff, would you?

Buddy: I’m not stupid! Why don’t you trust me?

Me: It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that it’s a mean world out there.

Buddy: Look, I can take care of myself.  I know what streets to cross and how to avoid traffic.  I can win or escape any fight. And that birth-control talk you gave me when you took me to the vet that time…

Me: I remember.

Buddy: Yeah, I remember, too, thanks for nothing!  Let’s just say the effects are still with me, and I won’t be getting any she-cats in trouble.  I’m old enough, I’ve got my shots, and my tags are RIGHT here!  C’mon, let me go out! Please!

Me: Buddy, I love you, but my answer’s still “no.”  C’mon, who wants a belly rub?

Buddy: I want to go out! I hate you!  You never care about what’s important to ME!

Actually that was the translation … we usually talk in Esperanto. But seriously, the reason I’m posting this is I’m beginning to see his POV. I was raised by over-protective parents, and I’m fully aware that over-parenting can be just as destructive as under-parenting. Is it better for a cat to live 15 -18 years pampered, fat and cramped, or maybe a few years less, but fully enjoying everything the world has to offer in the few blocks of his territory?

I wonder how this relates to other aspects of my life, and the world in general… I haven’t been skydiving yet. Maybe it’s time.  And maybe when I’m old and doctors are pressuring me for an iffy operation that might give me a “few more years” of a lesser quality, maybe I should say, “F-k you! I think I’d rather die in my own bed.” Everywhere, understandably humans try to extend life, and increase “security” as much as possible.  But nothing in the world guarantees or can guarantee long life or security. Does our drive for them stem partly, maybe even largely, from our insecurity?

I’m almost at the point of opening the door and telling him the feline Esperanto equivalent of “Okay, son, here are the keys… Don’t stay out too late.” What are your thoughts?

I awoke this morning

I awoke this morning
a poem flowing out of me
taking me from dreamland to morning light

An acknowledgement of all the Shadows
and the rightness of all the things I hide

A poem that wouldn’t end
because everything is part of it
A poem I couldn’t share, wouldn’t dare
for fear no one could understand but me.

A cat nuzzled me awake
Odor of an acrid litterbox
All perfect.

Before my feet touched the floor,
I realized
I am the poem I dreamed,
My life is the poem
written not for forty-seven years
But written from the first breath
I breathed,
the first body I owned.

Now there are billions
as much me as I am
living life in different circumstances
As I live life in mine.

All rage is mine, all love is mine,
all indifference and confusion mine.

I somersault naked off of water buffaloes behind the Taj Mahal,
And in Norfolk share the laughter.

I’m not alive
I’m life.

I’m awake.

You think that…

I recently saw a video of Eckhart Tolle teaching at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. One of the stories he shared was of another teacher, Byron Katie, who was visiting some patients in a cancer ward. She stopped in a chatted with a very depressed woman who had a massive tumor on one of her legs.  The prognosis wasn’t good; she was probably going to die.

Byron Katie asked her why she was so depressed and said, "I don’t see what the problem is."

Needless to say, that angered and depressed the patient even more.  "Here," she said, throwing off the sheet, "Look! My right thigh is twice the size of my left!"

"Oh, " Byron Katie said, "Now I understand. The problem is that you think that your right thigh should be the same size as your left!"

And for the first time in months, the woman with the cancer laughed.

Isn’t it interesting how insignificant most problems shrink when viewed in just the light of the present moment without  that odd imaging we call the  "future?"

No-Mind and Love

I’m going through a book this year which I bought long ago and never read: The Old Hermit’s Almanac by Fr. Edward Hays. It’s an unconventional book of days, full of delightful fun and deep wisdom. Here’s part of today’s entry for January 15, Non-Spectator Day:

As the Zen masters say, "When you eat, eat; when you walk, walk." Living in the present moment as fully as possible helps satisfy the itch to monitor yourself and still be yourself. As in theater, so in life — the true artists are those who are so fully possessed by what they are doing that they have no time to watch themselves.  When they forget to be possessed in this way and give into the temptation to observe their wonderful performance, then they usually stumble.

Practice today the virtue of self-forgetfulness, which is at the heart of making love — being totally engaged in what you are doing or in another person.  Those who make love daily by self-forgetfulness find ectasy in celebrating the love they have been making day by day.

 

Demiurge

Sometimes I think I really must be mad for keeping this blog. Not just because I’m trying to write about what can’t be written, but to do it publicly! Yet, when I feel that no one can possibly understand what I’m saying, seems to be when people understand me best. It’s strange, but freeing. So here’s a teensy story about something I did recently and what I learned from it.

On New Year’s Eve, I happily cursed "God." (And happily told him I loved him too, but that’s another story.) What was interesting was the rightness I immediately felt about it. For I while, I considered this the union of opposites, yin and yang, action and rest, blessing and blasphemy. God encompasses all, nicht wahr? But the word Demiurge came to mind soon after.

What was the "God" I lost when I had the "empty holodeck" experience?

What was the "God" I wanted to be free of?

What was the "God" Meister Eckhart prayed God to destroy?

If there’s one useful concept from Gnosticism that applies to those on the path today, it might be the Demiurge, though not in a literalistic way as many of the Gnostics apparently did. Gnostics believed there was a false God, the Demiurge, who erroneously thought himself the Source of all, and who demanded worship and sacrifice. Christ came to show us the way to the Father and escape the Demiurge. There’s something to that… False gods are the greatest bane to humanity. All concepts of God tend to be Demiurge.

Cast off concepts of God, and what is left? Nothing that can be imagined, nothing that can be named, but only what is always there, all the time.

It’s easy to show that atheists and monotheists and Zennists believe in exactly same true Creator.

Atheist: God doesn’t exist. (Nothing created the Universe)
Theist: What came before God? Nothing. (Nothing is the ultimate Source).
Zennist: Emptiness is the true nature of everything. (Nothing is ultimate reality.)

There something about that Nothing. Even atheists, monotheists, and Zen practitioners can see that Nothing or No-thing is the real Power, the real One, ever-present, and with all the power to make Everything appear. Images and forms, mental or physical, are not that.

The God who can be cursed
Is not the eternal God
(with apologies to Lao Tzu)

Time for a change!

I fit the stereotype of the computer geek who lives mostly in front of a screen, at work because it’s my job, and at home because it’s fun. However, this lifestyle has its price… I’m fat, or as the Department of Health would put it, clinically obese.

I’ve lost the weight twice before… in 1989, I began exercising (and stayed with it till it started becoming enjoyable) and cut most of the junk I previously called "food" out of my diet. I began to feel better than I ever felt in my life, than I ever knew it was possible to feel. In Ohio, I found intense exercise difficult to keep up during the long winter , so over the years some of the weight came back, but it wasn’t too bad.

However, when I discovered the Web in 1995, my physical activity level plummeted. Pounds began piling on quickly. I was able to take them off once again in 1999-2000 when I did the wretched Atkins’ diet, with the predictable result afterwards. Since then, my inactivity and eating habits have mostly gotten worse. I need a lifestyle change.

Of course, I’ve known that for years, and not yet been motivated enough to DO it.  But something interesting is going to happen: at work, some of us have agreed to play "The Biggest Loser" amongst ourselves… and a few side bets on it kind of sweetens the pot, in a non-caloric way!

An American with bad eating habits is up against some formidable obstacles–there is more at work that simply weakness vs. willpower. Some of these obstacles might better be called dark forces… There are the demons of self-doubt, etc. (although I’ve kicked that one’s ass back to hell!)  Then there are demons that twist minds in corporate boardrooms away from quality and towards hooking people into greater and deeper addiction to worse and worse food. I watched Spurlock’s movie, Super-Size Me again tonight for added motivation and inspiration.  Yes, it gave me that, but it also made me cry.

They are not only wrecking our own health on a nation-wide scale, but exporting insanity and obesity to the rest of the world. When there’s a MacDonald’s in every Baghdad neighborhood, then we can rest assured that Iraq has been defeated as soundly as we have.

So the challenge I face isn’t merely of calories and motion, but also of faith and spiritual warfare, that thing that spiritual warriors train for. It’s about overhauling myself. I’m remembering that St. Paul said "Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold," and I want to take that to heart… I’m going to practice meditation again regularly, which I haven’t done for a long time. There are habits I must break, and others I must form. It’s time for  a change.

 

Snapping out of it

I’m a pretty happy guy, but around the middle of the week I got hit by a several days of sadness that seemed to be triggered by nothing in particular, and about nothing in particular. But it was strong and very sad. Usually I’m able to quickly nip in the bud things that pull me down… I make my co-workers (and myself) laugh by cursing my computer as a "stupid piece of electronic excrement" when something doesn’t go as expected.

But this was kind of like the dementors of Harry Potter (though thankfully, on a much less intense scale)… joy just seemed to be taken away, and replaced with nothing at all. Now, it’s back, and I’m very glad. Funny how you don’t really appreciate what you have till you don’t.

At any time…

 

Wrathful

 
 

A Zen master (I don’t remember who) once said, "at any time, it is possible for anyone to exchange the radiant mind of the Buddha, for that of a demon." This is true. Sometimes it’s a trigger: one word, one action, can "set us off." Other times it’s subtle and difficult to know just what provokes the reaction, (although personally, I like Eckhart Tolle’s explanation of "the pain-body.") It happened to me last week, by all accounts, a pretty darn good week for me. Yet by the weekend I was feeling a vast amount of anger to someone who had not wronged me in any way at all.

Anger! Eventually I asked my teacher for advice, and he had me meet him at MacArthur Mall. If any of you have seen Peaceful Warrior, what happened next had a few similarites to the scene where Socrates asks Dan to meet him on the bridge. (Yes, I did meet him on a bridge on the mall’s highest level, and no, he didn’t throw me off). What he did do, was make me look at the people. Even though I was so angry, I didn’t want to see, I saw what I described yesterday as the windsocks revealing the wind. There was just Spirit—flowing everywhere, manifest by the forms It was animating. Spirit was flowing all around me. The proof was people were walking past. Kids were laughing. Tots were thrilling with delight in attaining the status of being bipeds. Adults walked, talked, shopped, complained, smiled, frowned.

For too long I had troubled myself by the emptiness of the holodeck, in my glimpses of looking past the program. But the fact is that I’m here, and there is nothing for me to do in this except interact with the program. It’s running for me. And it’s running for you, and for everyone else. But it’s only this character that I have any control over. And with through him, I interact with the whole; a universe appearing, full of beings made of the same stuff I am, feeling the same things I feel or have felt… Myticism is a heck of lot less "mystical" than I thought.