February 24, 2008

On Smile Lines and loving-kindness

A few mental ramblings that came to me while wandering through the woods today. As is so often the case, it began with a song...

Smile Lines or, High School Never Ends

Met my match today
Felt the blood rushing and mingling
A curious and enigmatic thing
Now spiders in my dreams...
Synchronicity weaves like a web when
You were meant to be a meal!

I want you bad!
I want you bad!
I understand why they say,
"High school never ends"

I'll never act my age
But you can tell by the lines in my smile
That I have been around for awhile
So, insecurities
Are about as useful as trying
To put the pin back in the grenade

I want you bad!
I want you bad!
I understand why they say,
"High school never ends"

This isn't coincidence
There's no such thing
This isn't coincidence, no
This isn't coincidence
It's no such thing.
This isn't, no...

I want you bad!
I want you bad!
I understand why they say,
"High school never ends"

My interpretation of these lyrics is that Brandon's speaking to some woman he's met and to whom he's intensely attracted. And that's fine. As such, it's a perfectly respectable boy-meets-girl type of rock song, with the typical Boyd-esque twist that Incubus fans know and love. But disregard the chorus and there's so much more to it. Looking between the lines of lust to those references to synchronicity and insecurity is a great jumping off point for mental meanderings.

I've discussed synchronicity a bit recently with various friends, and it's something that I wonder about often. But what exactly is it?

Synchronicity, since Jung's introduction of the concept in 1951, has remained among the most original and controversial ideas in analytical psychology and, at times, one of the most difficult to grasp. The title of Jung's work on the subject, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, provides the term's definition: Synchronicity is a principle that links events acausally, that is, in terms of the subjective meaningfulness of the coincidence, rather than by cause and effect. Thus, understanding synchronicity and synchronistic events requires a way of thinking almost entirely foreign to Western culture, a way of thinking that does not separate the physical world from interior psychic events. The phrase that often occurs with regard to Jung's concept of synchronicity is unus mundus, Latin for "one world". Synchronicity requires that one consider the world a unified field in which subject and object are fundamentally one, two different manifestations of the same reality.
(A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Robert H. Hopcke)

So, where do we draw the line between coincidence and synchronicity? How do we know when something's truly synchronous and when it's just chance? Is it ever really just chance? I've come to the conclusion that coincidences are what's left of those "curious and enigmatic" moments that we notice yet do nothing with. If we take something from it, if we use the moment as a springboard of some kind, then it's synchronicity. You just have to be aware enough to realise it.

Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind. -- Louis Pasteur

"I'll never act my age..." Every now and again, I stop to think about the fact that I'm addicted to a band made up of people significantly younger than me, the majority of whose fanbase is even younger than them, and I wonder whether I should feel weird about that. There are times when it does feel curious to be so inspired by the wisdom of someone younger. Aren't I supposed to be the wiser? And I often feel a definite generation gap when reading posts at the Incubus forum. I frequently sense that many of the people who post there are going through that "I'm cooler than thou (and I'm working so hard to maintain that cool!)" phase that I know I went through in my 20's. At this point, I just don't worry anymore about being cool or accepted. "Insecurities are about as useful as trying / to put the pin back in the grenade" If I post something there that brands me as a dork, if I'm too eager in expressing my appreciation for the band, so what? "You can tell by the lines in my smile / that I have been around for a while" and I've earned the right to be a doofus when I wanna be. I'd like to think that I'm too busy watching out for synchronous events to bother with trying to be cool.

While sitting in the woods scribbling my thoughts on the song above, I found some notes for another blog I'd planned to post a while back that never came to fruition. But now's as good a time as any. On another rambling day, I did post that I'd begun reading Brad Warner's book Sit Down and Shut Up and that I couldn't wait to find out his take on the Buddhist concept of metta, or loving-kindness. Most of the descriptions of metta that I've read have given me serious pause. This one particular concept has been the hardest thing for me to grasp about Buddhism. The traditional Western translation, "loving-kindness" is the stumbling block. It reminds me of that bumper sticker that reads "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." I think of folks with that bumper sticker as 'random senseless' people, and I don't really wanna be one of them. I want to be able to maintain my off-beat, sometimes cynical, sense of humor and my curmudgeonliness. I also, though, want to be able to treat other people with respect, occasionally even graciousness. So, when I got to the chapter in SD/SU in which Brad addresses metta, he blew me away.

Up until reading SD/SU, I had apparently only been exposed to a small part of the Metta Suttra. There are entire meditation practices devoted to this particular suttra, and the recommended mantra goes along these lines:

"May all beings be happy,
may all beings be secure,
may all beings be happy minded and
may their hearts be wholesome."

But Warner took it one step further. Reading his chapter on metta was the first time I'd ever seen the entire suttra:

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
who seeks the good and has obtained peace:

Let one be strenuous, upright and sincere, without pride,
easily contented and joyous;
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world;
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches;
Let one's senses be controlled;
Let one be wise but not puffed up;
Let one not desire great posessions even for one's family;
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, near or far, born or to be born, may all beings be happy.
Let no one deceive another, nor despise any being in any state; let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire world, above, below and all around without limit; so let one cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all one's waking hours let one cherish the thought that this way of living is best in the world.
Abandoning vain discussion, having a clear vision, freed from sense appetites, one who is made perfect will never again know rebirth in the cycle of creation of suffering for ourselves or for others.

Ok, so I can kind of understand why most books and magazine articles don't usually print the entire thing. It's freaking long. But focusing only on the brief wish that "may all beings be happy, etc" leaves out all that great stuff about how you get to the point of being able to wish such a thing for all those beings who, basically, act like assholes much of the time. And Warner uses a different translation for metta:

The word metta is hard to translate and is usually given as "loving-kindness". "Benevolence" may be a better translation, since it's a little less drippy sounding.

Thank you, Brad, oh so much. And, since the book is basically an explanation of the Zen Buddhism taught by the 13th century monk Dogen, he goes on to mention that, in all of Dogen's writing, the Metta Suttra is never mentioned. Apparently, Dogen preferred to teach compassion instead of love, and boiled that practice down to four basic elements: free giving, kind speech, helpful conduct, and cooperation. The trick to following these prescriptions is, of course, to remember that we're all here trying to accomplish the same thing-- a happy life. In that sense, we're all one, as in Jung's unus mundus. Like synchronicity, metta "requires that one consider the world a unified field in which subject and object are fundamentally one, two different manifestations of the same reality".

There's a lot to strive for in living according to the Metta Sutra, but goodwill and benevolence are way easier for me to reach towards than "loving-kindness". So, to anyone who's bothered to read this far: May you be happy, secure, and wholesome (even if you are one of those 'random senseless' goofballs).

February 22, 2008

I really need to begin reading my spam e-mail more often

Received this today at work:


Primacy is accorded to synchronic linguistics, and diachronic linguistics is defined as the study of successive synchronic stages. Saussure's clear demarcation, however, is now seen to be idealised. In practice, a purely synchronic linguistics is not possible for any period before the invention of the gramophone.

$1000 in Gambling Chips
The findings of historical linguistics are often used as a basis for hypotheses about the groupings and movements of peoples, particularly in the prehistoric period. In practice, however, it is often unclear how to integrate the linguistic evidence with the archaeological or genetic evidence. For example, there are a large number of theories concerning the homeland and early movements of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, each with their own interpretation of the archaeological record.

Get it Here: http://www.magiefeu.info

The sociolinguist William Labov famously recorded the change in pronunciation in a relatively short period in the American resort of Martha’s Vineyard and showed how this was the result of social tensions and processes.[1] Even in the relatively short time that broadcast media have been available, we can observe the difference between the ‘marked’ pronunciation of the newsreaders of the 1940s and the 1950s and the more neutral, ‘unmarked’ pronunciation of today. The greater acceptance and fashionability of regional accents in the media may also reflect a more democratic, less formal society.


Fascinating stuff, huh?

February 19, 2008

Entering the Nebula

Over the weekend, I began reading The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (Julia Cameron). My friend Leo has been telling me about this program for a few months and I couldn't make up my mind whether I was willing to check it out or not. I tend to shy away from anything that could be classified as "New Age" or "self-help". I'm just too much of a cynical pragmatist for most of that stuff. But various things that Leo told me about this really struck a chord. So when I happened to see a copy one day when we were in a nifty used bookstore in Baltimore, the moment spurred and I added the book to my purchase.

Unfortunately, it then sat on my desk for weeks while I went through my recent brain-dead "my job sucks and kittehs turned my brain to mush" period. As much as the idea of it appealed to me, it sounded like work and that made me apprehensive because I am, after all, a natural-born sloth. Over this past weekend, though, I finally dragged the book out to Shaharazade's with me and began reading through it.

Within the first two pages of the introduction, Cameron snagged me. She begins by discussing how The Artist's Way is a spiritual path to unblocking our natural creativity and this, of course, requires references to that word I have such issue with: "God". She immediately acknowledges, though, that many people might have these issues and encourages an open mind:

Remind yourself that to succeed in this course, no god concept is necessary. In fact, many of our commonly held god concepts get in the way. Do not allow semantics to become one more block for you. (Right there, she spoke directly to me)

When the word God is used in these pages, you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is a creative engergy. God is useful shorthand for many of us, but so is Goddess, Mind, Universe, Source, and Higher Power... The point is not what you name it. The point is that you try using it. For many of us, thinking of it as a form of spiritual electricity has been a very useful jumping-off place.

Aaahh, I can handle that. Bless her for getting that out of my way right off the bat. From that point on, I had my highlighter out and was dog-earing pages left and right. From there, she moves into describing the tools of the program, the first of which is referred to as morning pages. The idea is to sit down first thing every morning and write three pages of stream-of-consciousness for the purpose of clearing out the mental cobwebs. This writing becomes both a meditation and an opportunity for the right brain (the artistic side) to get a little exercise. The morning pages are a place to confront our internal Censor (our left brain) and come to terms with it, to let the Censor know that, as much as we appreciate it's efforts to protect us from shame and ridicule, we're ready to chance those things for the sake of allowing our artistic side a creative release.

I, of course, have yet to actually do any morning pages, but I'm working up to it. Really, I am.

Also, of course, reading this stuff immediately triggered the Incubus connection. That band has come to represent to me the epitomy of creativity. The five of them seem to continuously be creating some form of art, from Mike Einzinger's orchestral work-in-progress, to Ben Kenney's solo albums and recent tour with bandmate Chris Kilmore, to Jose Pasillas' painting... to Brandon Boyd. What does Brandon not do, artistically? The man sings, obviously, and writes the wonderful poetry that is Incubus' song lyrics. But the guy also plays a mean djembe, as well as a bit of guitar (admittedly badly); paints and draws; snaps great photos; and writes. In addition to creating albums and touring with Incubus, he's participated in at least one art show and has produced two books of artwork and journalistic scribblings. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see him turn next to acting or even something as far-fetched as interpretive dance. I imagine Brandon as a living, breathing conduit just crackling with that creative spiritual electricity that Julia Cameron says courses through all of us. As such (and I've said this before), he's a tremendous inspiration. He embodies for me the full potential of the artistic right brain, and will likely serve as my muse as I progress through the nebula that is The Artist's Way.


Do you enjoy your sight inside?

Disconnect and let me drift
Until my upside down is right side in
Society must let the artist go
To wander off into the nebula

Wander off into your nebula, see your nectarine of
Multiplicity cum like orgasmatron on overdrive
Wander off into your nebula, your tangerine of
Electricity is ripe and on the vine, so pick your prize

In little black book do I confide...

Upon return, I conjure what was seen
I let it pulse and boil within my limbs
I lay my pencil to the porous page
And let my lunatic indulge itself

Wander off into your nebula, see your nectarine of
Multiplicity cum like orgasmatron on overdrive
Wander off into your nebula, your tangerine of
Electricity is ripe and on a vine, so pick your prize!

February 10, 2008

Going nowhere fast

First off, I have to offer sincere apologies to any friends I've been ignoring lately. There are conversations I've let lag, congratulations I should have extended, sympathy and a "virtual shoulder" I haven't offered. But I'm experiencing a terrible sense of deja vu lately that's caused me to backslide and get a little too caught up again in my own narrow little world.

The biggest thing going on is the kittens. On Friday a week ago, I brought home the second of them, Olive (who was really the first, but the timing of all of this has been a bit skewed). Aside from an hour or so that I let her loose so they could check each other out, she had to be confined in the bedroom, as she'd just been spayed and couldn't be running or jumping around until she'd healed, much less tussling with a fellow kitten. So, for the most part, the two of them spent that couple of days poking their paws at each other through the gap under the bedroom door. By Monday, though, little Alec was lethargic and not eating or drinking. He wanted nothing but to remain curled up asleep in his cat bed, and was like a limp dishrag when I picked him up. It was just a little too similar to the goombah's condition when he got ill last fall, so I packed Alec off to the vet that day. That afternoon, the diagnosis was that he had both sinus and urinary tract infections accompanied by a high fever, and they wanted to keep him overnight on fluids and antibiotics. On Tuesday, I was told that he was eating and his fever had reduced enough for him to come home. But he wasn't better. He ate and drank a few times, and in between I used the syringe from his antibiotics to get more water down his throat so he wouldn't become dehyrdrated.

By Friday morning, he was lethargic again. Back to the vet. The news later that day was that the vet had no clue what was causing the fever and that they couldn't control it. They had given ice water enemas to my poor little, 5 month old, 4 lb kitten throughout the day, but nothing would bring down his temperature. As of yesterday, though, the fever seemed to have broken and he was eating again. The vet wanted to keep him over this weekend, though, for observation and intensive antibiotic treatments. As for the other one, now that her spay stitches are out and she's free from confinement, Olive has had me all to herself. She's been alternately spoiled rotten and cried over a little bit whenever I've thought about how she was supposed to be getting to know her buddy Alec during these past two days. I've become amazingly attached to these two little kittens over the last two weeks, and I think that Alec's going to hold a special place in my heart if he survives this (it gives me a fucking pang to use that 'if').

On top of all this feline drama, work is sucking big time again. Or perhaps I'm just not dealing well with the usual suckage because I'm stressed over the kittens. I don't know. What I do know is that I go into work feeling totally un-focused, un-directed and, increasingly, incompetent. The administrative division of the store is currently understaffed and we had a rough holiday season, so there are no plans to add anyone and re-balance the workload. We're also not buying much in the way of merchandise, which makes a portion of my job as inventory manager/assistant buyer a tad obsolete. On top of that, my supervisor is going through a crisis of her own, trying to set up new profit & loss reports while dealing with the responsibilities left open by our staffing situation. The result is that she's both losing touch and micro-managing at the same time. She delegates things to me periodically, but then takes them back. Or, she'll make me responsible for something that I really don't want to be involved in, and then take over a project that's specifically within the scope of my position. What makes it all really unbearable is finding out that the owners of the store don't seem to care. They're focused on the sales and merchant side of the business, and have pretty much washed their hands of our little administrative world. It's confusing, frustrating and demoralizing. Writing my self-review this week is gonna be tons of fun.

So, needless to say, I've gotten stuck back in that "sleeping limb" state I described a few weeks ago. Despite the new friendships I've formed and the great experiences I've had in recent months, I've let myself descend into a rut of physical slothdom, avoiding my usual outdoors pursuits and doing absolutely nothing productive to improve my home, my work situation, or my life in general. I've lost the energy for it. Instead, I've been narcotizing myself by spending my days off cruising my beloved back-country roads and hanging out in my favorite coffee/tea shops. Feels good, but gets me nowhere. I know from experience that all of this is temporary, but for as long as it lasts it'll be a struggle to avoid becoming as self-absorbed and self-pitying as I was this time last year. I probably could (should?) reach out to all those new friends of mine for whatever help they might be inclined to offer, but I'm just not used to doing that. Instead, habit makes me retreat back into seclusion to try and figure it out on my own. At least there's always music to suit the mood...

Nowhere Fast

Will I ever get to where I'm going?
Will I ever follow through with what I had planned?
I guess it's possible that I have been a bit distracted
and the directions for me are a lot less in demand.

Will I ever get to where I'm going?
If I do, will I know when I am there?
If the wind blew me in the right direction
would I even care?
I would.

I take a look around; it's evident the scene has changed.
And there are times when I feel improved upon the past.
Then there are times when I can't seem to understand at all
and yes it seems as though I'm going nowhere...
really fucking fast.

Not Brandon's best bit of poetry, but the passion in his vocals makes the words intensely meaningful.