Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Perception, Consciousness, and the Value of Seeing Beyond The Self

The thing about perception is that by its very nature, it distills, narrows and squeezes reality down to mentally consumable chunks. Much like the aperture of a sophisticated camera, it functions automatically, without thought, to prevent overexposure of our consciousness. It turns and adjusts to the correct width to cast an image or an impression on the mind. Without perception, our minds would be inundated with information. At best, the image would not be clearly defined. At worst, we would be staring at a thousand-headed beast, speaking a hundred different languages at once, preaching dozens of doctrines, casting both light and darkness from each eye.

Consciousness is then the self recognizing that it is aware of itself and everything else that is not the self. It is the Big, honking "I am here!", the ever-assured "There are things here that are not me!", and the judgment churning machine that evaluates, measures, and inflates or deflates meaning. To be conscious is to admit to yourself that you are actively participating in thought. It is to be aware, or more accurately, to be aware of being aware.

But aware of what?

All too often, because it is easy, we default to being solely aware of our experience. Sadly, this is where we also go astray. Being too bound up in our tiny experience tends to put the blinders on. Our experience engulfs all others. We become unable to see the other and the world for what it is. The results of this narrowed scope can fall anywhere from indifference to full-on destruction.

If one was to attempt to find a commonality in the varied teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the past 2500 years, it would be this- See beyond yourself, to the great _____, and the world will be a better place. For Confucious (Kong Qiu), the _____ would be tradition, family, and leading the ethical life. For the Buddha (Siddhattha Gotama), the _____ would be his Dhamma which is the understanding the shared suffering in the world and its impermanence, learning to let go, thus turning away from the self (non-self) with the goal of reaching the other shore of Nirvanna (Nibanna).  For Jesus, the _____ would be the Kingdom of God, whether in this life or beyond, by breaking bread with others, caring for the sick and standing up to corrupt systems. For Muhammad, the _____ would be recognizing the one true God, submission to God, the observance of ritual and prayer, and acts of kindness.

The common thread that weaves its way through these different patchworks of belief is goodness:

Confucious ~ Humaneness
The Buddha ~ Compassion
Jesus ~ Love
Muhammad ~ Righteousness (Love)

Let us now recognize something else that must have certainly been shared, which is what these teachings hoped to combat. It is the ever-present, default mode. The self with blinders on. The self only concerned with itself. We can't walk in their shoes, but we can certainly assume that something dug at them. They, among countless others, over time and to this day, were sensitive enough to have perceived these ugly truths and found a path out. Perhaps, they were just in the right place at the right time, or they had that rare gift to share their truth with others, or if you are religious, they were the messengers or prophets of those unseen gears behind the curtains.

This post is not about being religious. It is not really even about being good. I only bring up these great teachers to reflect a tradition of thought that has shaped our societies and to show a common thread between them.

What then is this post about? It is about this- I don't care how you do it, but please look beyond yourself. If being religious is that ticket, then punch that card and hop aboard. If building community and helping out your neighbors gives you that wholesome feeling, then drive right in. If expressing yourself through art, music, words or teaching feels like a calling, then shout it out. At the very least, if a highly contagious, variable virus is spreading in your community then put on a mask, keep your distance and spend more time alone.

I don't know when our next spiritual teacher will arrive, but the world is in desperate need. Perhaps, everything that needed to be taught has already been taught and as such, we simply need to point our mind-cameras to the light, adjust the aperture, and sear an image into the consciousness. Maybe, just maybe, this novel coronavirus is the teacher. It locks us in rooms, revealing ugly truths, forcing us to examine how we take care of ourselves and others, generating both bone-chilling fear of death and bright-eyed hope for better days. 


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Freedominance in America

Ask yourself, "What is my privilege?”, or if you really want to crack that egg open, “What are my privileges?” Answer with answers and not questions.


I can walk down the streets in my neighborhood with a literal ‘Mega Millions lottery long shot’ little risk of being shot. I can go about my day without being unduly pulled aside and questioned by authorities. Even on my worst days, when my anger and frustration spill over, those feelings can be expressed without societal retribution. I can tell others how I feel without being negatively labeled. When I get pulled over by a police officer, there is a 50% chance I will be let go with a warning. I can run anywhere in my city for exercise!


Now, reverse it and take a blind-folded attempt at empathy. Ask yourself, “What would be my liability if I was of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion?” This time answer with questions, because, let us be honest, can you really know enough to answer directly?


If I was black, what would my experience be if I walked into a convenience store with a face mask, worn to protect me from a highly contagious virus spreading in the community? What would happen if I was noticed by a police officer while I was driving around with expired tags or bad headlights? What if I reached into my vehicle glove box to get a registration slip? Should I go bird watching in Central Park? Should I jog through a different neighborhood?


If I was a woman, what would my experience be if I spoke up during a company meeting to tell a colleague I disagreed with their comment or approach? How safe am I if I decide to go on a date with someone I just met? What if I expressed myself with the same candor as him?


Instead of continuing with these hypotheticals, allow me to describe my own privilege. Not once, but twice, in the past three years, I was pulled over for driving around at night with my headlights off. The first incident resulted in a ticket and the second a polite warning to be safe. While living in Chicago, I would drunkenly climb street signs, light posts, and billboard poles. I have, to my shame, been too outspoken at work at times. I have made inappropriate jokes that people outside of my immediate sphere could hear. I have spoken with frustrated tones in meetings. I have been promoted half a dozen times, sometimes with minimal effort.

Over time, I have truly lost memory of all those experiences that have opened up, effortlessly, to me. I have felt safe and in control almost, every time. The point is not to brag. The point is to say there are two starkly different Americas. Those with privilege need to recognize the system is not equitable and has never been equitable. One of the saddest things I have come to reflect on is that systemic racism exists not just from a historical context, but from the perpetual need of some to assert a level of dominance over another group of individuals. In other words, in a hypocritical inverse of existence, it is the freedom to take the freedom away from another based on their ancestral origin and the color of their skin. It is unspoken but seen every day across America. It is not Freedom. It is Freedominance and it is disgusting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Understanding the Self, Undoing the Self

A Chinese fan. When folded it represents a single space. When opened it branches aesthetically, symmetrically, in all directions. The pivot, or core of the fan connects the individual branches just as it sits as the foundation of the folded singular stack.

On various metaphysical levels, the fan opens partially, fully, closes and repeats. This is a visual representation of the self. The self is not a singular, objective thing. It is, in fact, the most complex, infinite, relational and ever changing theme of your life. It is the fully flayed fan and it will boggle the mind to comprehend for it is the reflection of the world, the reflection of memory, the reflection of time, the reflection of being and most interestingly, the reflection of itself.

The pivot is the atman or the essential self. It is the very source of all the branches. The essential self is eschewed and unobtainable to us. The branches, with the connected paper fabric, can be taken as a whole to better understand the true self. Let’s move on to gain better understanding.

The Constant Self

This is the self in time. It is the self of memory. It is the current state of self viewing past selves and future selves. This is what most come to believe is their true nature because it is the most personal and easily accessible. We often define ourselves based on where we have come from and how that shaped the current state of self. Using this imprint we can easily make predictions of our future, whether these are remotely accurate or not.

The Relational Self

This can be thought about as the self adapting to other selves. Sure, it can mean the self adapting to itself, but I will get to that later. This is mostly the aspect of yourself and how it shapes others and is shaped by others. Think about the complexity of that. You perceive the form of another person’s self with the innate understanding that their self is just as gunky and multilayered as your own. You form an impression and with that image you bounce this self off of this other perceived self. This process is infinitely relational because the other is doing the exact same thing. The end result of this dance is a form shaped from the ether and agreed upon by both parties. An abstract shared self, for lack of better language.   

The Self Present

This is the self we will always feel most at peace with. It is the self that forgoes reflections of time, as with the Constant Self, as well as the self that forgoes its immediate relationship with others. For whatever reason you are put in a situation free of restraints, expectations and consequences. This situation can be as common as being immersed in a live concert to as unique and intimate as a deep level of meditation. Regardless, it is the self freed of reflections. It is one step closer to the folded fan.  

The Self Watching Self

This is the most confounding aspect. The self viewing itself is not unlike a hall-of-mirrors effect. It reflects upon itself reflecting upon itself and so on. It looks upon itself looking upon itself and this, as a whole, forms the highest degree of the reflective self. There is no cohesion here. It spirals out as infinite as the universe.    

The Undoing of Self

What event or events does it take to completely fold or rip the fan and force it back open with different meanings? This is the true undoing of self. Only an event so tragic, so immeasurable, so destructive can rip the fan apart. The pivot, the core remains, but it is forced to reinvent and reflect new folds. The undoing of self is a metaphysical death that, when experienced on the deepest and most despair-ridden of levels, will only foster a miraculous rebirth and if not, it will confirm its very dissolution.  


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Power of Choice, the Patchwork of Time

It is false to see time as a straight and confined delineation of events through which you pass at varying velocities during your consciousness. The thread of time in which you inhabit is of your making, but not without the influence of others and the world in which you inhabit.    

See yourself at this very instant of time- The way you appear to yourself and others, the status you embody in society, the experiences that have shaped you, both of despair and exaltation, and ultimately, the path you navigate. 

To minimize your part in these events is a misstep. Sure, many things have been out of your control. You can influence how people see you and even their selves, but you will never change the core of that individual. You will inevitably merge, twist, ignite and empower just as you will negate, diminish and misdirect others. Things lay within your control, but largely out of your control. My point is this- a single chance taken in life can have profound outcomes not just for you, but also the people you connect with and the people they connect with and so on and so forth.

Think about an absolute, concrete decision that you have made which has completely altered and directed your life. This decision can be as traditional as, “I choose this college over this one”, to as personal as, “I choose this person”.

Meaning is fleeting in this world. It sits in front of you one moment, glowing and vibrating with the very fabric of the universe only to evaporate in the cruelest fashion leaving an emptied plane yearning once again for radiant meaning.  This bizarre, but unique process of human experience effaces itself to the consciousness. The fabric of time continues to undulate as your mark barely registers with the entirety of the patchwork, yet those closest to you and yourself are forever changed. In this way, it is a paradox. Your personal experience is both profound and meaningless.

Crystallize this concept and see this- Most of the decisions that you make will have little or no ripple on time. There are, however, key choices which place you on a path and define your stamp on time. A single decision can forever shape yourself and the world. Choice then takes on the weightiest theme in our lives.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Butting up against two of the heaviest, darkest and most melancholic experiences of my life has left me with a sobering realization. It is difficult to describe this thought in a single sentence of the English language, so instead I choose to expand on what all this means to me through this post. Hopefully some meaning or greater understanding can be gleamed from all the chaos that swirls around not just me, but also you. After all, that is the very focus of what I try to accomplish with these sporadic ramblings.

No dancing around it... I am losing the love of my life, or at the very least, the love of my young adult life. Being neither religious nor traditional, it is still a wonder why I married so young (young by our modern standards).  Oh yeah! I remember now. Here it goes…

Seven years ago I was suddenly whipped into a certain kind of frenzy. I remember when it all started. I was on one of my first backpacking trips with my best friend. We were in the Great Smoky Mountains, camped beside a river. A fire was eating away at some sad logs we managed to wrangle up out of the brush. I looked long and hard at the blaze when something suddenly sparked inside me. I saw the continuation of a love, the next step, the woman I wanted to turn into a wife, even if she wasn't there beside me looking at the same fire. I remember thinking how odd that it should come on like this. Regardless, I awoke the next morning and we cooked a quick breakfast, broke camp and hiked up a grueling ridge line. The physical excursion was nothing, because a new strength was building inside of me- the strength to love to the fullest extent.

Strength then gets tested and redefined some years later when the bond begins to sever. Communication breaks down as affection all but disappears. Something is off, broken, but we refuse to acknowledge it. This refusal to acknowledge turns into a refusal to fix and finally, a refusal to continue. It is truly the most bazaar confluence of emotions I have ever experienced. To love someone so deeply but to also know that it is gone, and that it left some time ago, will fill you with every emotion from A to Z, especially when the other one feels the exact same way.

Now on to this... I can’t even begin to fathom what the loss of my father will mean. All I know is that the moment seems to be approaching rapidly with every passing day. I was back in North Carolina for an entire month and watched his sharp decline. I felt as low as I possibly could, but held out hope that he would level out some. I hopped in the car and drove back to Chicago only to learn a week later that things are truly not as bright as I deluded myself into thinking. Needless to say, I am jumping on a flight in the coming days to return to my true home and the house I grew up in, but mostly to be with my dad.

So onto “strength”…  I believe it speaks highly of us as sentient beings. We have the strength to endure unimaginable hardships and somehow come out alive, albeit in a broken state. What I am experiencing is the worst combination of events, but what I also realize now is this- The lowest low I can experience from loss in no way compares to the lowest low you have faced or will face in the future. We are each left with our own trials, tribulations and unfathomable losses. What rips us apart can also make us stronger and in the process we inadvertently strengthen each other.

My final point… Strength can be defined in so many different ways and I have chosen to define it from the subject’s perspective. Flip it and look at it from the object’s perspective and you find true strength. To fight against a terrible disease every step of the way, up until the final breath, is truly the fullest measure of strength. My dad is the strongest person I know and this post is really about him. 

Monday, April 7, 2014


Picture this- I am sitting on a ridiculously comfortable chair, placed just to the side of the screened-in back patio porch of my parent’s house. I think, “Damn, I am lucky bastard.” as the afternoon sun takes on this beautiful golden-orange hue and rays of light, filtered through pine needles, splay across the yard and illuminate the walls of my peaceful enclosure. Warm, gentle breezes carry the sweet songs of birds, but also the foreboding scent of pollen, instilling in me the premonitions of an early spring battle where allergy warfare keeps me dug in the trenches of red eyes and throat scratch. Any silly fears of allergies (or, really, any other silly fears at that matter) would not have gained any traction here; there is simply too much beauty that surrounds me, mesmerizing each of my senses on the most tranquil of levels. I sip a cold beer and for some bazaar reason I suddenly become inspired to write...

A wise man would have simply sat there and soaked in all the beauty that nature could hurl at him; but, what do I do? I pick up my laptop and begin typing away. You would think this is what I wrote, but I assure you it was not. I began with some absurdly heady philosophical blog post about meaning, how we derive it and what happens when it disappears. I get a third of the way through and the fire goes out. I sit there for some time waiting for my mind to fire back up, but it never does. Really, this isn’t the worst place to have a mental block, far from it in fact...

Just a week ago, I was back in Chicago having somehow survived the worse winter I ever hope to endure. Sure, mixing meds and alcohol for inspiration, while I frantically type on my overheated, wary laptop makes sense when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, windy and every living and non-living thing alike are caked in frozen precipitation. But, why in the hell am I doing in it now when I should be telling my mind to take a hike so that the rest of my senses and spirit can take some reprieve? Good question. Too bad I didn’t think of it until just now- three days later when it is dark, cooler and damp outside…

So then, let me be slightly pissed at myself for not appreciating what was sitting right there in front of me at the time. Sure, it was appreciated briefly, but not before that overbearing mind took hold and pulled me away to that abstracted, unnatural realm, where I spend far too much time. Simply put, serenity was there, but I would not have it…

Herein lays the defect of human nature I believe we all carry. Serenity is always present, but it often remains eschewed by our troubled minds, frantic emotions and misplaced direction. Take any healthy practice you enjoy- physical exercise, sports, yoga, meditation, prayer, reading, music, art or just simply, relaxation. What do all these activities have in common? They turn our minds off. Not the entire mind, or the lights would go out. These necessary moments of distraction turn off the silly, frantic, rambling, encumbering parts that keep us from being ourselves and enjoying all the life that surrounds us in the realm of serenity…             

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mind Firing on All Cylinders

Mind firing on all cylinders. If this is mania I welcome it. The mind alit, on fire. Thoughts, emotions and images swirl into a passionate blaze. Once it was nothing more than a dull, barren wasteland of unforgiving coldness where no seed would find purchase. Then suddenly the flames of a new life emerge from the darkness. The tough husk of the seeds becomes toasted and serotinous pryriscence takes hold. Seeds sprout, take root and reach for the heavens.  Now a glorious forest rises from the soil. The sun arches across the expanse of the sky, as flocks of tropical, iridescently colorful birds fly to unknown, but mystical destinations. Here you find life. You find the glory and beauty of all that exists. You become a part of it. You merge. You coalesce with all that has been, all that is now and all that will ever be. You become the thread of time, the expanse of the universe, the very spark that created everything. This is not inflated. You are not God, not by any means. You are still a sack of flesh, bones and fluids. However, something inside you is connected, locked-in to an ever present meaning and truth that runs behinds us, over us and through us. This is recognition. This is deliverance. This is everything you have ever wanted to be, but were too terrified to release. You are what you are as we are what we all are- nothing and everything all at the same time. Every fear, every insecurity, every selfish motive is only a manifestation of disconnection. Once all life is connected on the physical, metaphysical and transcendent planes, then and only then will heaven be realized. This is a real thing. Do not negate it. Do not dismiss it. Do not bastardize it. Take it down to its purest form. This is connection; this is life; this is love. It flows through us and we are the engines, burning the customary fuel of our existence, creating new meaning, new life and the one thing that is unique to us as sentient beings- Love.