Wednesday, November 20, 2013


How many hours per day do you spend looking at a screen? 2? 4? 8? 10? 12? More? Before you answer, think about all the screens within our unrestricted reach these days: smartphones, computers, tablets and televisions. My guess is that if each of us took the time to really reflect on this question, then the accurate answer would be alarming. Of course, it is alarming only from a certain perspective, the one that sees human behavior beyond the technological revolution, before the time in which so much information, entertainment, news, self promotion and digital voyeurism was so cleanly packaged and laid at our feet.  

Now before I come across as a technophobe, know that I am not. I am also not arrogant or pompous. I don't pretend to be above a certain kind of dependence on technology. If answered honestly, I would estimate I spend anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day locked on a screen. I wake up early and, from home, log into WebEx calls with team members from the US and India. Afterwards, I clean myself up, dress appropriately for the time of year (Here in Chicago, the time of year REALLY dictates how one should dress), and then hop on my bike or a city bus or train. If I opt for the bike, I have roughly 30 minutes before I am back in front of a screen. If I opt for public transit, then I most likely have my phone out, checking news articles or catching up with Facebook updates while on the commute. Once in the office, I set up my laptop. There I sit for roughly 8 hours, behind a screen, only leaving my cube for coffee/tea, bathroom breaks, lunch, occasional walks and chats with co-workers. I return home in the early evening, again checking my phone during the commute if not on my bike. An hour of decompression time kicks in, usually not behind screen. I may have a beer or a chat with my wife. Rest assured, I will be fixated on a screen again at some point in the early evening, usually to catch up on TV shows or to watch sports games. This is a routine workday. Yes, I do have a life inside and outside of this. I have flesh-and-bone friends. I bike, play pool, fish, camp and so on, but the overwhelming amount of my time is spent behind a screen.    

So here, you get the point I am driving at. We are spending far too much of our fleeting time behind screens.

Begin the list of questions...

Why are we so easily fixated on a screen?

For starters, we are curious beings. We love to learn, laugh, share and be intrigued. We even like to be repulsed by something, as it reaffirms our tastes. Screens fulfill these positive needs much more efficiently than anything else in our history. Whether it is watching some well scripted and finely acted television drama (See Breaking Bad. No seriously, see it if you haven't) or it is scouring the internet for status updates, news, pictures, reviews, humor and the like, we are pulled in and held there.

Don't forget, screens also answer our negative need. No, I'm not talking about porn. I am talking about 'distraction'. It is remarkably easy to allow the nit and grit of life to rest to the side, while we sit in our tight, pristine bubbles of screen glaze. It is far to easy to ignore a troubled relationship, personal short comings, that next big thing, and most intensely, our own disjointed moods, when our eyes glow the same warm glow as the screen.

Why are there so many screens available?

Welcome to life in the developed world. Do you think people in Papua New Guinea are facing these existential questions? The whole of our strength is our economy. The whole of our economy is selling that 'next big thing'. Combine the streamlined capitalist model with geek power and you have a device that can make calls anywhere in the world, show you the picture of someone's baby (that someone being someone you haven't seen in a decade), display your exact geographic location on a map and the closest place to purchase great tacos, no less at a restaurant, which complete and utter strangers have rated at 4 stars or greater.

What is this behavior doing to us?

Well, that is an uncomfortable question. It forces a great deal of introspection and heightened perception. I can't claim to have the correct answer, because it asks "What is happening?" and "Where is it leading us?". It is always a tricky thing to answer the present and paint the future. At best, let's say it is not the best or worst thing to happen to us as human beings. We are becoming more informed, educated, and united through the magic of screens. On the flip side, we are becoming less engaged with each other and even ourselves. When you stare at a screen, you don't stare in to the eyes of another. When you stare at a screen, you don't stare in to yourself.

Where is the future of screens going?

This is not exactly science fiction anymore. Google introduced "Google Glasses" last year amid mixed reviews and horrified skeptics. Don't worry, this is just the infancy and these types of technology will begin to take hold as we dive headlong and headfirst into the future. For now, let's call it 'augmented reality'. Eventually, we won't be able to separate the real world and the internet world. One will lay on top of the other, and vice versa. A screen on top of a screen on top of a screen.

Are all screens physical, or do screens exist metaphysically?

Ha! That is the fun part of making my own questions. I can ask myself and my readers a deeper question. I will argue for the existence of a metaphysical screen. We inherently see the world through a perceptive screen. It colors the way we see the world and our place in it. It skews how we see others and even how we see ourselves. This is both the massive flaw and beautiful form of consciousness. We see things how we want to see them. The world is much more beautiful this way. When the picture fails to align we feel discomfort, distress and even despair. Perhaps, that is why we love artificial screens so much. The screens projected by gadgets allow us to see the world the way we would like to see it; The way we like to see each other; The way we like to see ourselves.

As with all things, the solution is not an all-or-nothing approach. No throwing out the baby with the bathwater here, even if that baby is a sexy iPhone 8 or Galaxy S(infinity symbol). The happiness is in the balance. The ultimate answer may be that we should engage ourselves and each other as much, if not more, than we engage the screens.

Monday, September 23, 2013

We are Not Autonomous

While the idea of Individualism is not unique to Western culture, the degree to which it is embraced is culturally unique. The roots are embedded in Greek aesthetics and philosophy. This tree sprouted from the fertile seed of "Humanism". An idea that ((wo)man) is the apex of value and that great things could be accomplished on earth without the help of the gods. This idea contrasted sharply with the previous notions of muses and meddling gods who, in some myths, would literally manifest themselves upon earth to influence human beings. As centuries passed and Christianity spread across the continent, the human side of Jesus was emphasized. Even though Christian belief considered him divine, he was never called God. He was considered the son of God, the divine embodied in flesh. His life was worshiped. The human side of him shone through. Then the renaissance brought humanism back in full swing. Greek classics were studied. The age of reason helped bring about exploration, scientific achievement, democracy, industry and capitalism.

What we have now is world blanketed by a multifarious network of beliefs. This western idea of individuality has melded with eastern ideas of spirituality, aboriginal beliefs of nature worship and so on. This sometimes leads to beautiful new ideas or ways of thinking, just as much as it results in existential vacillation or clashes of culture. Moreover, a new world appears to be emerging from the old. While I have theories, I cannot say what this new world will ultimately be. No one can.

Returning to this emphasis on individualism, one of the things that makes America and similar societies great, is the concept that a person can rise up from humble beginnings and make something out of nothing. This of course is a shinning ideal and not easily realized, but it does happen. Additionally, it is empowering, in the true sense of the word, to take command of one’s own life. "Trust in your capabilities, there by manifesting your own future." What a beautiful thought! The grittier side of a life lived with too much focus on individualism is a certain brand of despair. I'll call it "despair-isolation", or the despair of isolation. This thought that there is nothing of value beyond ourselves plagues people at all ages, but becomes most apparent at the end of a life, even a powerful life as in the case of Howard Hughes. This brings me to my ultimate point, the difference between individualism and autonomy.

Autonomy, in the most basic sense, simply means "self rule". It is an idea that is relatively easy to understand when applying it to concepts of government. As Americans, we embrace this concept going back to the founding of our government, during which time people did just that, basically saying, "You will no longer rule us! We will rule ourselves!"

The concept of autonomy gets decidedly trickier when you apply to the individual. It is delusional to say that individuals are autonomous, or capable of autonomy, although certain thinkers have done so, Ayn Rand being one of the more outspoken in recent history. It is delusional simply because it takes individualism to the absolute degree. It disregards everything else that makes up a person, everything except the person itself. It disregards the others who have come before you and influenced you- your parents, your friends, your teachers, your favorite authors or philosophers and even your very culture. It tosses out the slightest consideration for those who may have helped you get an edge up or a start. Interestingly, it also ignores many internal aspects of the person, by emphasizing that rational, decisive side and ignoring the influential aspect of our moods and emotions, which by their very nature, we have little to no control over.

Individualism is fine. I'm all for the empowerment of the person, or the strengthening of person-hood. However, the world and the person both suffer when this idea is perverted to the extent of autonomy. We should be just as responsible for others as we are for ourselves. We should feel comfortable making our own decisions, but only after recognizing that any decision is the product of so much more than ourselves. To believe that you rule yourself in complete entirety is to start on that long, lonely road, which ends in the desolate lands of despair and isolation.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Passing

I fell passionately into writing my blog at the beginning of the year. Thoughts and images would suddenly light up my mind and to keep the fire burning I bled the words out onto the web. This would be for my own benefit and, as I came to feel, the benefit of others. No pride... OK, that is a lie. I felt swells of gratification knowing others enjoyed my posts. Why else would I write something for others to read? We all seem to be doing that these days with social media and digital-inter-connected-ness. Then, something happened. I stopped writing. I didn't become lazy or apathetic. I didn't move onto other passions, neglecting my desire to share my thoughts with others in the process. I know what happened. This post is about that. This post is about its passing.

Try to describe the severity of a true depression. Only those who have been crushed under its weight, or emptied out by its alien darkness can identify with it. Even then, everyone's experience is different and if one could relate it would be difficult. For you see, inside a depression, you don't feel like yourself. You don't even feel like someone else. You feel like nothing. In this sense, the word depression doesn't depict it properly. That implies that you have been 'pressed down' by something. In truth, it becomes almost impossible to engage in beneficial activities (both external and internal), and while 'pressed down' describes that, it doesn't even scratch the surface of the vacuuming effect, the flatness or the numbness.

Which emotion is the darkest it gets? Grief? Despair? Anger? As bad as those feelings are, you can still remain intact while writhing through their unsettling grips. Often, you can come out stronger if they can be reconciled. The darkest it gets is when you don't feel anything anymore. 

The two most alarming experiences I had during the height of my depression were these.

4 a.m. I wake up suddenly. I don't recall a dream. I am scared without feeling scared. I feel like a shell. I feel absolutely nothing and it came out of nowhere. In fact, just 6 hours before I was meeting with ex coworkers, having drinks and lively conversations. I fell asleep as one person and woke up as a non-person. That is the only way to say it. The emptiness was the only thing I could feel. It is weird to say and ever weirder to recollect. The only thing I felt was no feeling.

Mid-afternoon, several months later. It's spring. Having drinks with family and friends, I am trying my best to ignore the specter of depression. I joke. I laugh (but I don't quite feel it). Things seem to be going well. No trigger. No reason. Suddenly, what little feeling I was building up on the inside is suddenly ripped out. I called it a 'vacuuming effect'. I stand there emptied out. Again, I am a non-person and it is the most unsettling thing I have experienced. I felt so disconnected I thought I may suddenly emerge in a alternative world. This, I've come to learn is disassociation.

I won't dive into suicidal ideation. Not here. Now now. The only thing I will say is that in other circumstances, suicidal thoughts might seem like morbid fantasies inspired by selfish motives. The way a teenager might think, "I wonder just how sad people would be if I wasn't around". However, suicidal thoughts, framed inside a severe depression, take on a perverse brand of pragmatism. Simply, make the outer become like the inner. Make the flesh die just as the inside has died.

Redemption comes from love. This is true and will always be true. I don't mean to say this as some silly fortune cookie would read. Rather, I mean to say, I only sought help after being convinced by those who love me that what I was going through was as dark as it gets and that I needed to seek professional help. Pride aside, I went. I learned and I began to heal. I am not touting the benefits of therapy. It is simply a tool that worked for me this time. Long ago I healed myself from a severe depression in my youth, not with therapy, but rather by breaking through to inner realms, uncharted territory. It can be done both ways or maybe even one hundred different ways.

When I say "It is passing", I mean exactly that. I didn't expect to wake up one day cured. The thing is a process and it takes time to move on. I learned tools along way. Gradually, I learned to feel again. My God! How good the first real emotion feels after not feeling for so long, even if that emotion is sadness. I never would have imagined how good sadness could feel. The biggest lesson I came to learn is that our minds can take us to so many different planes of existence. There is no teeth, no hair, no flesh to any given thought that enters our heads. It is just that, a thought. Our minds don't define us and we should be very careful about putting too much stock in them. There is so much more to us than our thoughts.                 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Poisoned Mind

Perhaps it starts with the absence of love, a landscape so barren that the tree of life fails to take root. Tender leaves wither and crack with color fading to dull grays and browns. As rot and decay work their way throughout the interior the structure falters, falling violently to the ground. Prostrate and dead, this once living thing becomes its own host to perverse life with the feast of fungus and pests. Brilliant radiance no longer grows. Seeds that perpetuate new life no longer fall to the ground.

Then again, it may start with a love turned perverse. An overwhelming love that shines so brightly it blinds the eyes to the world around them. The individual and the love merge in a coupling so powerful that an entirely different form of isolation is manifested. With connections to others severed, a violent possessiveness consumes the relationship and any slight against the love is an act of war. This love is not a person, it is an idea.

This is the poisoned mind. Regardless of how it got there, we see the results in evil and depraved acts. It is virtually impossible to make sense of these events. We don’t live inside that decayed landscape. The isolation, rage, torment and twisted fantasies are singular to that infected realm. The act belongs to that twisted mind, but the results belong to all of us.

At best, we can only label it “evil”. The only form of effective combat is to allow our better natures to shine forward. Fight darkness with light ~ Life over death ~ Love above all else.

I can only end this with a question. Does the world poison our minds or do our minds poison the world? I suppose both are true to equal degrees.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Using Your Morality Ethically

The distinction between ethics and morality is not always clear. It can be easy to fall into the trap of using these two terms interchangeably. Both concepts carry the flag of 'Good', or what we perceive as those actions which are considered "right". While similar, they are not identical. The distinction can be recognized when you link these concepts to other ideas, two other words which take on a more defined shape in our minds: Beliefs and Principles.

Morality can be thought about as a system of beliefs regarding how one should conduct oneself in personal relationships and in society. These beliefs are often influenced by religious teachings, schools of thought and personal values. Ethics, on the other hand, refer to set or system of principles, or a philosophy or theory behind them. In its simplest form, ethics can be thought about as a 'code of conduct'. More deeply, it is considered a philosophical analysis of a moral system.

If morality is more closely linked to 'Beliefs', then it takes on the essence of feeling. If ethics are tied to principles or codes of conduct, then it huddles more closely with reason.

Morals-Belief-Feeling ~~~~ Ethics-Principles-Reason

The distinction I just outlined was meant to draw these concepts apart. Let's put them back together. As stated early, ethics can also be the philosophy of morals. You can analyze a moral system, pulling it apart piece by piece and then reassembling it to see a larger picture. A moral belief might be to never kill another human being. An ethical analysis of this might reveal it is immoral not to kill in unique circumstances, such as stopping a shooter who is indiscriminately picking off innocent victims at a shopping mall. In this scenario, what is considered immoral in different light, such as killing another for selfish motives, can now be seen as moral. Here, motive shifts the morality. Inaction becomes immoral. The act of killing a shooter results in saving the lives of others, which is arguably a selfless act and deemed moral.

Now to arrive at what got me thinking about these things. This week the Supreme Court of the United States is considering the constitutionality of gay marriage cases (Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act). At their core, both cases are visibly divisive. The values of two divergent moral systems are colliding inside, and outside, the highest court in the land.

Here you see a picture of demonstrators arguing opposing views: 

Religious and traditional groups see gay marriage as an assault on their moral codes. Their beliefs are being challenged. If one believes God designates homosexuality as a sin, then of course it falls in line that condoning gay marriage is an immoral act. The opposing argument takes this religious or traditional notion out of the picture and simply asks, "If two people love each other, should they not be granted the same rights as everyone else?"

I will not dissect the morals of both arguments, for that is an endless loop fed by the inflexible natures of two diametrically opposed beliefs. I would much rather apply ethical reasoning to these moral arguments. More specifically, I would like to apply ethical reasoning to the argument I stand strongly for.

The only ethical argument (and it is not very ethical) against gay marriage is that love between a man and a woman is the only 'good' love and all other forms of love are evil or sinful. Since some consider homosexual love to be evil, then it is their ethics to deny those individuals the right to marry. The false ethic here is the freedom to deny others freedom based on a personal religious sentiment.

The ethical arguments for gay marriage are plentiful. To grant gay marriage is to grant the ability for two loving people to hold each others hands, walk down the aisle and unite before loving friends and family. It is to grant the shared benefits that married couples currently enjoy: tax, insurance and medical benefits. Quite simply, it is to grant the right for two people to take a loving, committed relationship to the next level, to seal it with a symbolic bond.    

My moral code spins around a core belief, or truth. Known as the Golden Rule, or Ethic of Reciprocity, it simply states to treat others as you would like to be treated and to not treat others as you would not like to be treated. Moreover, it is ethical to act against those whose moral codes lack this core truth. When one imposes their morality in a willful or bigoted manner over another, causing harm to that other, for the purpose of reaffirming a moral code, then that morality is most definitively immoral and by all rights unethical. It is perfectly fine to have your own moral system, but you should always consider the ethics of applying it to others.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Human Voice

A cell phone sitting idly on the coffee table begins to vibrate and project out some obnoxious digital melody. The device is picked up and the phone icon is tapped with a casual, almost autonomic, motion of the primary index finger. With the phone brought next to the face, the word "Hello" is spoken in a soft, friendly manner. A familiar sound is then returned from the digital speaker. It is the voice of a loved one. The sound,  funneled through the outer ear canal, gently vibrates the ear drum, sending frequencies through the canals and spirals of the inner ear. In an virtual analog-to-digital shift, these signals are translated to nerve impulses by the auditory nerve and passed to the brain stem, ultimately processed in the auditory cortex of the brain. Feedback loops work throughout this rapid transaction, allowing a definitive sound to be recognized. Without knowing the physical and biological mechanisms at play, a smile it brought to the face and you think, Dad.

Sounds affect us in so many ways. Some are abrasive and assaulting, such as the sirens of emergency vehicles or the racket of a busy construction site. Some are exhilarating like the music heard at a local bar or concert venue. Others can be simply mundane: wind, fans, hums, background chatter, trucks and the like. Few, however, are as intimate as the human voice.

The human voice has such a signature quality to it. Sure, some voices can sound similar, naturally or mimicked, but no two human voices are identical. Each person's voice is as unique as their other features: face, body type, gait, smell, personality and so on. However, those other qualities may never touch us in the same intimate way as the voice.

A voice is so remarkably personal. It clicks into our mind from the start and before we realize it we are making judgments. The loudness of a voice generally relates to perceived confidence- a soft, meek sound being associated to a lack of such, or a boisterous sound being a sign of supreme confidence, to the point of possible arrogance. The pitch, or frequency, of a person's voice can affect us is many different ways. Perhaps the easiest example to relate pitch to is the reaction of arousal. A deep, bass-heavy voice exudes strong masculine energy, while a softer, gentler tone can cry out sensual or nurturing femininity. The clarity, or crispness of the sound might influence how intelligent we believe the person to be. Emotion can of course be detected very quickly through the rate or flow of spoken words: Shakiness betrays nervousness or fear; Strong, powerful and quick words throw up the signs of passion or rage; Gentle whispers are the ambassadors love and affection.

Accents play their own role. They effect the 'music' of someone's voice. Words or parts of words, such as vowels, can be sped up or drawn out (especially if you are Southern). Foreign accents can bestow comfort, intrigue, confusion or arousal simply because they sing a foreign or exotic melody in our minds. Accents are also adaptable. I find myself slipping into more of a Southern way of speaking when I'm around old friends in North Carolina. My accent accelerates around my new friends in the Midwest. Most of the time this is unconsciously controlled.

In terms of the power of  the voice (and by this I mean the staying power or affect in your mind), no voice will surpass that of a parent. You heard the voice of the mother and possibly even the father, resonating in muffled tones through the womb before the light of the world shone upon your small and fragile body. As you aged, your parents' voices were directing and guiding you. Additionally, these guardian sounds shaped the own way you speak and how you speak.

It is for the reason above that I feel so very sad and heartbroken to hear my fathers voice slowly morphing and disappearing as Bulbar Onset ALS takes his strength away. He conquers this hindrance with slow, thoughtful and forced words or with the aid of technology in the form of text-to-speech applications on his smartphone and iPad.

While technology assists those who otherwise cannot communicate, as with the example of my father, it also inhibits human interaction because it is taking away the sound of the voice. Emails, IMs, text messages and social media expand the reach and ease of our messages but remove some of the intimacy. When we don't hear each other's voices, we don't hear the strength, tones, accents, sexuality or emotion coming through in one beautiful, unique sound that is the human voice.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


“Toska - noun /ˈtō-skə/ - Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.

"No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

― Vladimir Nabokov

I love discovering a new word. Especially when that word puts a face on, or at least helps outline the form of a deeply complex thought/emotion/concept. Words are the very things that allow us to crystallize the abstract world at our feet. It is even more intriguing when this word is foreign to our own vernaculars. We see more clearly that no one language can possibly encompass all the shades and hues of human experience. I imagine this can be a nightmare for translators, yet it is also the reason I envy multilingual individuals.

What then is "Toska"? The English language lacks a word for this complex concept. Vladimir Nabokov is noted as being the one who most eloquently described it in English terms. 

Read the quote above. You can most certainly relate to it on one or many levels. You may have felt Toska at some point and been conscious of it or, you may have also experienced it and not been aware what was winding its way through your spiritual being. You may be feeling it now. "Depressed" does not do it justice- it is too vague. "Existential Crisis" might fit the mold slightly better, but it is underpinned with the might of a philosophical ocean of ideas whose currents pull you away from what the Russians intended.

I think the beauty of this word (of course, understanding that 'beauty' is an odd way to describe such a soul-wrenching thing) is that its vibration is common to us all, regardless of what language or culture we were born into. I see a progression to how Nabokov describes it and will do my best to describe it now.

Think about it as a spiritual or emotional spectrum:

Boredom <---------------Yearning-----------------> Great Spiritual Anguish

Then think about less as a spectrum and more as a circle, which doesn't always flow in the same direction. All meanings can be present. Some may be highlighted at different times based the flux of the mood. Boredom can lead to indescribable yearning. This yearning can gnaw at your spiritual core until it becomes torment. Conversely, the starting point can be spiritual torment or anguish. This can bend to a restlessness to change, yet the yearning is aimless. Spiritual fuel is burnt and the futility of it leads to surrender. Ennui then takes hold.

This is Toska.

The hindrance of language and culture might be at the very core of Toska. The unease sets in when our words falls short. When we want with no object in mind; When we plop our happiness down in another time or place; When we cannot put a face on what is causing that unsettling soulache; That is when Toska rears its ugly head.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Entheogens and Modern Shamanism

A darkness has descended on the village. A child is sick. The cough started during the last moon and now the fire of the sun consumes the body one moment, followed by the chill of the night's air the next. The elements seem to be at war, forces too strong for this fragile body. The mother is in tears, clinging to the child and speaking the same sounds in a hushed, desperate succession. The others gather silently around, feeling the distress, but powerless to help. Out of the dark comes sounds echoing forward- the crumbling of leaves and the shifting of pebbles. A dark figure emerges, clad in furs and painted with tattoos. In a trance-like state, he walks up to the mother and crouches beside her. With one palm placed on her forehead and the other on the child's belly, the healer begins to chant. A small pouch of herbs is then pulled from his waist belt and inserted under the child's tongue. Water is slowly dripped from a flask on the feverish forehead. Slowly, the chills begin to cease. The shaman cups his hand over the child's mouth. Then, standing up, he extends his cupped hands to the heavens and shouts as the fingers are flayed wide and the dark energy is released. With the child and mother in a state of tranquil exhaustion, he turns and walks back into the darkness.

Stories like the one above are common to all of our pasts. That is one of the beautiful things about shamanism- almost every pocket of humanity has at one point had these archaic forms of healers and teachers. To be a shaman meant to teach, heal and help others see into hidden realms. They would prepare young men for manhood. They would use herbs and elements to bind wounds or drive out fevers. They would induce hallucinations in themselves or others with the use of psychoactive plants to solve an array of emotional or spiritual dilemmas.

Is there a place for shamans today? Relatively easy arguments can be made that the utility shamans once provided is now obsolete. Public and private educational systems foster teaching and learning. Institutions aside, individuals can now teach themselves anything with the click of a mouse. Healing, while not perfect, has become remarkably sophisticated with breakthrough drugs and treatments. Emotional and mental disorders, as they are labeled by the psychological community, can be diminished, or only muted, with powerful drugs and intimate therapy sessions.

Did I just forget something? I believe I did. What of solutions for spiritual pathways? What answer does our modern world have for that? I don't mean to belittle religion's effectiveness, but I have found these offerings provide little beyond spiritual 'comfort'. In that, I mean to say, churches provide a level of spiritual order, like a safe neighborhood for the soul where you recognize others in the same community. Here, you can be both freed and limited- free to explore the meanings of the world within these streets, but limited to see anything much outside of the gates. The shaman would be lost here, for he operates on the other side of the gates.

What then do you do if you find yourself in a toska (I will get to this term in my next post), brought about by a spiritual or existential emptiness? There is no shaman now to carry you away from the village, hand you a wad of leaves to chew, close your eyes and ultimately open your mind. There is no shaman, but there are entheogens.

An entheogen is simply a substance, preferably organic, such as a plant or a mushroom, capable of allowing your mind to connect to something else, generally in the spiritual sense. These can be psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, LSD, peyote, marijuana or others. I am aware of the criminality of acquiring or using these substances. I am also aware of the misuse, abuse and dangers involved in their use. When taken with the proper respect, they can open new doors, new pathways to seeing your world more clearly, or at the very least, differently.         

Instead of speaking in vague generalities, as I tend to do on this blog, I will turn this focus inward and become more intimate with myself and anyone still concerned with reading my thoughts. I will speak to my first experience with psilocybin mushrooms.

I first tried these when I was in college, as many people tend to do. Admittedly, I was in a bit of a funk before using them. I was depressed. Being a year from graduating, I saw little meaning or relevance in upcoming adult life. Its vapid emptiness stretched out before me. I saw no spiritual or lasting value in acquiring material wealth, propagating myself or forming a career. Every thought left me more empty and withdrawn. A friend approached me and said, "Let's do these mushrooms together." I was slightly afraid, but something inside me was intrigued. I said yes.

We chose to split a bag- on a piece of  bread with peanut butter to mask the pungent taste. Initially, I felt nothing out of the ordinary. Only ten minutes in, I thought it wise to jump in my car with my friend and take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A mile down the road, I quickly learned this was a poor decision. The lines on the road, reflected by my headlights, began to glow and shimmer. It felt as if I was in a video game. I pulled over and turned to my friend and said, "We should probably turn around." Turn around we did. We got back to the house and walked up to the front porch to light a cigarette. The flame glimmered and burned, deeper than anything I had seen before. Then, out of nowhere, the neighbor came up to us and began telling an obscure joke. I can't remember the punchline, only that it was vaguely ethnic. I think it was a slight against Polish people, whom I had never met or had any reason to generalize. Regardless, we laughed and then suddenly the porch expanded outward and it felt like I was fifty feet away from the uninvited neighbor. I walked around the side of the house and vomited. My friend found me and led me into the basement, where we proceeded to sit on couches and watch the patterns of hanging tapestries dance and vibrate to the music that was playing from a boombox. I came down several hours later sitting in a convertible car, watching the clouds in the midnight sky, accented by a nearly full moon, slowly return to their natural glory.

Now, this was my first experience. Many others have had their own unique, powerful, profound, disturbing and memorizing experiences with entheogens. I don't claim this to be a fail-safe solution to toska, or spiritual emptiness. I will say that my experience pulled me out of a depression. For one night, I saw the world again as a child sees it- glowing, radiant and astonishing. This perspective hung with me afterwards, like a sublime hangover. I'm not the only one. Numerous studies, primarily European, have discerned that these same mushrooms have consistently pulled people out of depressions.

I believe there is some ancient wisdom to these substances and I wish people to see them for their effectiveness. These aren't "Get Fucked Up" or "Party" drugs. These can reignite spiritual pathways which have been rapidly patched over by the allure of the modern world. We can build ever greater technological advances, but where does that leave us when we continue to feel vapid, isolated and spiritually vacant. Let us find those shamans, wherever they have taken refuge. They still hold a key that is too easy for us to ignore.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Why talk about something that makes us so uneasy, so off center and so panicked? What can I tell others about something they, no doubt, are feeling, have felt or fear feeling on such deep emotional levels? Well, for one, it is shared, and something shared by all of us deserves to be shared through words.

Stress exists for a reason. Biologists, psychologists and probably some other *ists I am forgetting can all agree that stress is a natural reaction to external stimuli or environments. It is most likely the reason we are sitting here today, typing away on our computers, building ever greater tools and technologies, populating the planet to such an extent that if the Earth could feel stress it most certainly would. If early humans never felt that spike of fear when they walked across the plain and caught a glimpse of a predator's ears perked motionless just above the tall grass, would that human live long enough to plop out another replica?

In the early days stress helped us adapt; It helped us survive. As things got complex, as they always seem to do, stress helped us not just avoid the lion, it also helped us adapt to a whole new array of dangers and pitfalls. However, what helps us can also hurt us. Even though stress can give you the kick in the ass you need to find a solution to a complex problem, like say finishing school over the dread of a stagnant or unfulfilled vocational life, it can also disarm and hinder you.

Stress can occur from and for a variety of reasons. I am choosing to examine three causes- two external and one internal.

Sudden Impact. This form of stress is relatively easy to describe because it hits us like a gunshot (perhaps sometimes it is a gunshot). You move along in your day with the same small worries and pleasures when suddenly you get broadsided by some terrible event- a car accident, a termination or a call from a close relative with cancer or some other terrible disease. In these circumstances the stress is sudden and overwhelming. You are forced to comprehend and adjust, even though it can be nearly impossible. While the emotional burden can be heavier than a glacier, you can at least link the stress you are feeling with a 'thing'. This can help with rationalizing or compartmentalizing your feelings, but not always.

Snowball. Here, we have a variety of stress that builds over time, whether we are cognizant of it or not. There are common idioms for this- taking too much on your plate, juggling too many balls or holding up too much weight. Responsibilities are tacked on, bit by bit, and the stress is there in a more muted tone allowing us to adapt and thrive, until it becomes a blaring siren and even simple tasks become tribulations. It can be difficult to identify the trigger, but, most certainly, we know when our every nerve is on edge. Once escalated, this kind of stress is dangerous because one can feel like there is no turning back. This weight can provoke a deeper level of existential nightmares in the dark shapes of distress, panic and despair.
The Internal Shift. Sometimes it is not our environments that change, sometimes it is us. Life can continue as it has for a long time. You may have started on this road with purpose, direction or passion. These positive highlights begin to bend to complacency or comfort. Before long you are drifting, no longer tethered to your core. You begin to fantasize about new realities, but something in you feels too embedded to uproot. Stress then whips around like a typhoon. Change feels impossible and the road before you begins to represent a direct path to a senseless void.

Regardless of the stress pressing down, a person will consciously or unconsciously engage in moments of escape. Some methods can be positive, such as exercise, hobbies or nurturing behaviors. More often than not these escapes can take a turn to faster acting remedies with negative associations- alcohol, drugs, abuse or worse. Either escape does not solve the source of the stress, because it is just that- an escape.

Time to close this thread down the way I prefer- positively abstracted and shining.

Going back to the original reason we feel stressed in the first place, it is makes us adapters and survivors. If you can take this stress, with all its sleepless nights and dark spirals, and see it as a warning flag, then you can begin to understand that something is out of balance in your life. It may be a struggle to restore order, but it helps to understand that Life-out-of-Balance is a common thing, for we often live in a World-out-of-Balance. I have for some time believed that the core to happiness is not an overflowing of the things we seek with our greedy little egos, but rather a tempered and stabilized balance of the things that make us content and the things that shed unease. Be careful however, for our rapidly industrialized world can make us loose this focus, tipping that scale ever farther in the wrong direction.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Time to talk about time.

"Light from the stellar explosion that created Cassiopeia A is thought to have reached Earth about 300 years ago, after traveling 11,000 years to get here. While the star is long dead, its remains are still bursting with action. The outer blue ring is where the shock wave from the supernova blast is slamming into surrounding material, whipping particles up to within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light. NuSTAR observations should help solve the riddle of how these particles are accelerated to such high energies." 

I poached the picture and description above from NASA's website. If you ever get a chance, visit their Image of the Day website @

Is there anything as consistent as the progression of time? One second passes, followed by 59 more. There, we have a minute. Another 59 of those pass and we have an hour. 23 hours later and you have a day. 365 days and you have a year... Wait, is it a leap year? It is? OK then. Give that short, gimpy month of February an extra day. Oops, I forgot about Daylight savings. Go back and take an hour from March and hand it over to November so that, uh, I forget why. Anyway, make sure they don't bicker. Hmm, maybe time isn't as consistent as I thought.

Time. So many ways it can be measured and thought about. Before our sophisticated tools and technologies, earlier humans (subtle time reference there) would use what they witnessed in the world and sky around them to track time: the lengthening or shortening of days, the position of the sun in the sky or the movement of stars and planets. With time (ha, another one) we came to develop greater means for measuring and tracking time. It can be tracked down to milliseconds and beyond. This, of course, has its benefits. Imagine the pointlessness of modern sports without time. I suppose a point based system could still be used, but that is so absolute. The exhilaration lies within that final 30 seconds of a college basketball game, when any team could win, simply by playing the clock the right way or making the right shot. I’ll get into this later.

Immanuel Kant believed that time was a built-in intuitive or cognitive mechanism to the human mind. In such, it is much more relational that absolute. Certainly, you can agree that there is a relational aspect to how we experience time. Sure I can say I was born in 1980. That is a number that I can subtract from the current year of 2013 and arrive at an approximation of how many years I've been alive on this planet. However, my perception of the expanse of time and how quickly it passes has shifted as I have aged. When I was a child, an uncle of mine explained it to me with a clean example that has always stuck with me. This is it:

When you are five years old and another year passes, that represents only a fifth of everything you have known. When you are twenty, a year represents a twentieth. When you are ninety, a year only stands for a fraction of your life. In this way, time slips away from us, or at least in our perception.

The example I just issued should be easy to grasp. Instead of examining our relation to time over the broad swath of a life, let us look at it from the momentary instant. 

“Time stood still.” You have heard this before. It typically occurs when something remarkably mesmerizing, profound or traumatic is taking place- Your eyes fall upon the most beautiful woman you have ever seen and suddenly the only thing you experience is her and your heartbeat; You witness a horrific car accident as it occurs, sparks flying and metal crushing as two-ton objects become airborne when they should rightfully stay on the ground; You realize a new truth and your world shifts, never to be looked at the same way again. In these examples, our minds are being inundated with some new experience that caught us off guard. Perhaps the perception of time stopping is a defense mechanism to the influx of dopamine, adrenaline or something else that our brain is experiencing.

Our perception of time can also be altered, not just by moments, but by external substances. Alcohol, marijuana and entheogens all have this ability to make time speed up, slow down or disappear all together. I would love to dive into these examples right now, but I will leave them for another post.

Allow me to return to the image that got me started on this thread: the one of the stellar explosion. As a young adult, I learned that objects visible in our night’s sky do not represent an accurate view of everything out there at this moment in time. Instead, rather interestingly, the lights we see in the night sky represent points of time. These stars and galaxies exist thousands or millions, if not billions of light years away. Meaning, it takes their distance in time for their light to reach us. Think about that- (their distance from us)(in time). It was both sad and profound to learn that you could be viewing light from a massive object that died off half a billion years ago.

Time then takes on another meaning. We can be experiencing things as if they are real and sitting right next to us in the flesh, even though their time has long since faded. Take that thought and apply it to some aspects of religion, politics, values or whatever you choose. You will begin to see the point I’m making.                               

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You are your Filter

You look in the mirror, adjusting a few loose strands of hair. Glancing at your phone, you check the temperature outside. Donning a coat, you grab your keys and open the door; this, all while running through a mental list of priorities. Once outside, you immediately turn to the left and begin a moderately brisk walk. Occasionally leaking into your perception- the smell of exhaust and the sound of engines, humming at different frequencies, as cars pass you on the right. You feel the crisp air bite at your exposed flesh- chilling, dry but clean. Your thoughts transition to wondering about whether you should grab a bagel or simply proceed unimpeded to your destination. A middle-aged man is walking a dog across the street and you begin to ponder the breed of the animal. The sun breaks away from a cloud- it's energetic brilliance suddenly felt in a blinding and uncomfortable way. You squint and turn your face slightly to the side.

Perception. This idea can represent multiple things. In the objective realm it can simply mean your awareness of the elements through physical sensation. This is simple enough for us to understand. However, it can also stand for abstract concepts: intuitive cognition, capacity for comprehension or, what I would like to expand on: Your Filter.

No matter how intelligent or observant you believe yourself to be, you cannot comprehend all things at once. Most will agree on this and call it 'omniscience', designating it only to God or gods.

There is a manifold of things, both physical and abstract, which can be perceived. In turn, the perception can be experienced in an infinite number of ways; and most interestingly, the perception itself can be perceived.

Now, I realize I just threw a lot out there. Allow me to crystallize as best I can.

We inherently apply perceptive filters to the world of things and ideas spiraling around us. Like the aperture of a camera, it can only open so wide and remain open for so long before an abundance of light saturates the film, leaving it overexposed. Perhaps that example wasn't the best. The idea I am going for is this- our perceptive filter allows us to focus and function a midst so much information.

Stand in a packed music venue. Sound blaring, lights flashing, the smells of sweat, spilled drinks, cigarettes and marijuana, all combining to create a new cocktail of aromas and stimuli. This can be exciting, the abundance of sensations drowning out useless thoughts. Just the same, it can also be uncomfortable, requiring you to step outside or retreat to the bar.

Now sit in a quiet room, perhaps a basement, by yourself. Cut the lights. Introduce a new stimuli. Light a candle and watch the flame flicker, the way it casts a gentle hue across objects, splaying dancing shadows, which create new shapes. Put it out. Play some music. Something that moves you. Listen to a couple tracks; or better yet, the whole album. You probably will hear things you never had before. The point here being to restrict that aperture and sense a particular thing in greater detail.

Our minds can work a lot like those examples above. We are highly perceptive and can process more things than we realize at any given moment. What we may not realize is that we are processing things on multiple levels. You may only be cognizant of one or two particular levels at a time. Like I mentioned earlier, you can not take in everything all at once. You would become overexposed.

I'm not sure if I just narrowed down my thoughts to a particular point, or just threw out a lot of ideas. This is a difficult thread to translate. I was going to try to dive into the thought of "thoughts" themselves and how they bend into one another, generally as a result of whatever filter we are applying. That is a little too much right now, and I may just keep talking in circles.

Finally, to the title of this post: You are your Filter. I'm not claiming to have wrapped up the concept of identity into a neat little package by talking about our filters. However, I will attempt to tie the two together. I believe we can be defined by the filter we apply to the world. This encompasses the little, and even complex, things we choose to focus on. Whatever bias it brings and however it was formed, this is simply our awareness and it makes us us.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Taking a Stroll

My last blog entry got me thinking on deeper levels about the ways we get around. Each example I chose involved an external mechanism or technology to assist in the locomotion, either actual or virtual. Unfortunately I left out the most basic, inherent form of travel. Something we have done long before cities were risen and civilizations took form. Something that excited our parents when we were toddlers, leaving some frantic to capture the first moment on picture or film. Something we typically do with purpose, but occasionally do for pleasure: walking, or taking a stroll.

I'm choosing not to focus on the purpose-driven form, which for this exercise I will call "walking". Instead, I wish to speak on the pleasure-driven form: "taking a stroll". The difference between the two being what mindset initiates the activity. Walking encompasses such things as: _to the car, _to the pharmacy, _to the office from the car, _to the (pick any consumer retail outlet). During these moments we simply move to a new location using some of our most basic musculoskeletal abilities, with a set destination and purpose in mind.

What does it mean to take a stroll? To the subject it can mean any number of non-mutually exclusive things: enjoy the pleasant summer evening, explore new streets and neighborhoods, clear the mind or churn mind-stuff around in the mind. There is still a purpose here, but unlike "walking", the activity becomes the destination and not just the means to the destination.

What is so pleasurable about walking for pleasure? Perhaps, it is that we are taking an action, unceremoniously performed a countless number of times every day for the basic needs of function and survival, and using it to escape, or simply unwind. In this way it becomes a microcosm for stepping out of the routine and freeing ourselves with simple pleasures.

Let's hit it from a different angle. It feels joyous to simply announce to yourself, or others, that you are about to embark on an activity for the pleasure of that activity. This certainly is not exclusive to taking a stroll. "Let's get coffee.", "Let's pick up a 12-pack and some hot-dogs and hit the park.", "Let's ....", ah well, you get the point.

I touched on some broad reaching and easy-to-relate-to examples, but here is what I feel has the most relevance and value to taking a stroll: the meditative side of it. One foot shifts past the other and arms swing peacefully at the side. The spine is erect and the body relaxed. We breathe, inhaling fresh air into our lungs. A light breeze brushes the cheek. We glance around at nearby objects or fixate on those in the distance. The horizon becomes a vector that we understand is unreachable, but is always drawing us toward it. We are going somewhere without specific purpose and realize that there can be beauty in this way of approaching the world.

The current state of existence in which most of us live is inundated with the flash and glimmer of distractions. It is remarkably easy to be pulled around in all directions. The stimuli offered to us by the technological megabeast of digital interconnectivity is always there and calling out to us. Meditative ways of living are becoming scarce. The stroll may be one of the last options we have for entering this more peaceful way of thinking. Just be sure to leave your smartphone at the house.          


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Choosing your way to work.

A little over three years ago my wife and I made the decision to pack the belongings that we valued, sell the ones we didn't and depart halfway across the country to Chicago. This was not an easy decision. We would be leaving behind the comfort of home, the close proximity to our loved ones. Among the deeper desires for change, exploration and reinvention, we had simpler intentions. One of these was the ease and convenience of public transportation.

I'm not about to tout the virtues of public transportation. Anyone who has lived in or visited a large city probably knows that taking trains and buses to get around has its disadvantages. Standing in a train car, packed shoulder to shoulder with people you have never met or have any intention of knowing, even some with sub-par hygiene, isn't exactly a joyride. This post isn't about that. It is about the ways we choose to arrive at a destination.

For this example I will use work. Simple enough, right? Something most of us can, or at some point relate to. Regardless of what work represents to us, it is something we feel compelled to arrive at. We may feel reluctant, but regardless we wake up, shave or put on makeup and march out the door. Once outside we are presented with a time-space barrier to conquer- the best way to get there and to do it in a desired amount of time. For most of us, at this point, there may not be much of a choice. Every day you may take the same route in the same car, deviating only during traffic backups or errands. For those with more options you can walk, bike, take a train/bus, or cross the time-space divide virtually by working remotely via technology (not leaving physically at all).

I am choosing four examples here: taking a train, driving, biking and working virtually. You will soon see this is not a post about how we physically transport ourselves. Turned on its side and thought about more deeply, this is about how we choose to arrive places existentially.

The Train

The Train: This mode of transportation is the most passive. Once aboard, you no longer have to think much about your physical transportation. You can sleep, zone out, become lost in your thoughts, read a paper or scroll through your smart phone. An array of distractions are at your disposal. The only external signal you need to heed is the operators voice telling you your stop is coming up. The doors open and you move yourself off the train to your final destination.

The Existential Train: This is often the most common way we move through life. It is easy to coast or drift, letting external forces push or pull us along. We have destinations in mind, but we rely heavily on circumstance or fate to get us there, often it does not. In this state it is too easy to get distracted. You are scrolling through your phone, listening to music when the conductor calls out your stop. You do not hear this. You keep traveling and before you realize it you are way off course in a place you don't recognize.

The Car

The Car: Most are familiar with this means of transportation. It can be empowering to jump in behind the steering wheel, turn the key and punch the gas. In this mode we are deciding where we are going- which route to take. This complex machine pulls us along and we rarely think of all the mechanisms at play. We trust in the box of metal, plastic and fluids surrounding us, knowing it will get us there. Backups, accidents and mechanical failures happen and we know this, no matter how frustrated it makes us.

The Existential Car: This mode of diving into the world is slightly more focused than the train. We feel that we control the means pushing ourselves to new places. We can steer within the limits of the road, speed up or slow down. However, some of these feelings of control are illusions. The car can be a good upbringing, a financially sound family or the network of friends in the right places. Even though we feel we are doing it on our own, there is a box around us, protecting and propelling us forward. Something happens. Traffic stops and we are suddenly at a stand-still. An engine rod is thrown and our box falls apart. Some vehicle blindsides us at an intersection and the unthinkable happens.

The Bike

The Bike: What a splendid idea! We used to ride these simple pieces of machinery for recreation as children. As adults, if it is reasonable, we can choose to gear up and hop on, pedaling our way to work. Like the car we can choose the route. Unlike the car we are the engines of our locomotion. We pedal, breathe, brake and pedal some more, passing the cars stuck at stop lights. In a congested city, this can cut our commute time in half. The cost/time savings and health benefits make this mode seem ideal, but there is a greater level of harshness to biking. Rain, ice and wind can hinder and make things downright nasty. And the part we don't like to consider: Get hit by a car in a car- you are bruised. Get hit by a car on a bike- you are mangled or dead.

The Existential Bike: We pedal ourselves forward in life. Muscles aching and sweat on our brow, we become the engines of our progression. Obstructions are averted, hills are climbed and destinations reached while others are stuck in traffic or lost on a train. This mode of living takes boldness. You understand the discomfort and dangers. You know some days rain will soak you to the core. You push on, propelling yourself to better places. You arrive with heart beating, lungs cleared and muscles awake.

The Virtual Commute

The Virtual Commute: In the age of technology in which we live, some have the option to stay home and connect remotely. Hair disheveled, pajamas donned and body unwashed, you nestle yourself into your favorite chair or couch and log in. The virtues of this being the saving of time and energy- no two hour commute, no carbon based fuels burnt today. The downside being that you are physically disconnected from others, only experiencing things through a technological filter.

The Existential Virtual Commute: How abstract is this? Damn, I love this thought! My mind is bending, turning, trying to wrap itself around what this can mean. The first three examples were relatively simple to translate to existential means of living. This one is significantly more tricky. I suppose the best way to lay it out is in terms of Thinking. Sometimes there are destinations that can only be reached in our minds. Let's face it- a short, scrawny suburban boy has little hope of becoming the next NBA star. With a vivid imagination, he can see himself soaring above a hoop with the flicker and flash of cameras abounding from the sidelines. Our minds can become that virtual means of commuting to other realms. This might explain the appeal of science-fiction, all forms of media and even philosophy.

Each of these modes of approaching the world have their respective benefits and traps. However tricky, the final point I'd like to make is this- Knowing when to jump from one mode to the next and having the ability to do so is never easy, but it should be considered when we are drifting aimlessly along in uncomfortable states.

When the train is delayed, hop in the car. When the car dies, brush the dust off your bike and go for spin. To get from one means to the other, travel to those realms in your mind which help you crystallize new realities                         

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Cardinal. The Fixed. The Mutable.

Sagittarius: This week you will meet a new person who ignites a part of you which has been neglected for some time. Cancer: You feel bogged down by the energies of others. Best to stay inside this week and rebuild your energy. Leo: Be careful of who you outshine. Tensions may arise and uncomfortable moments may present themselves.

Now, I should admit that when I was younger I fell on the study of astrology with downright commitment and dedication. It made the world and the universe glimmer with the thought of cosmic order. I loved the thought of metaphysical energy vibrations coming around in circles and cycles with influence over our natures. More importantly, it presented an answer that helped make sense of the seeming randomness that existed around me. This helped greatly when religion was loosing it's grip on my spiritual center.

Of course, with age I understood that the complexity of human beings cannot be bucketed into such tight, specific, preordained spheres. I certainly felt that these vague forecasts could not possibly apply accurately to the broad group of people born  in the same span of thirty some odd days. The simplicity of it seemed silly, however the more complex notions carried forward with me. Allow me to explain.

The notions of the modes of being began to crystallize as I studied astrology in deeper detail. I'm not speaking of more obvious examples of being more or less passionate, practical, logical or emotional. I'm also not talking about the general way we interface with the world, as in extroverted versus introverted. I think we are all these things at varying degrees during our lives. I'm speaking of the modes each sign can belong to within a given season- cardinal, fixed and mutable.

For those unfamiliar with this these modes, allow me to elaborate.

The first sign of each season is designated as Cardinal. This means that enthusiasm is key. Enthusiasm that makes one spring onto new hobbies, passions, thoughts and emotions just as the beginning of a season displays a drastic turning point in the natural world. This is said to make people of these signs initiators and leaders. The downside is that one may not follow through with these new consuming passions, quickly jumping to another one when it is embraced.

The second signs represent a quality of Fixed, meaning to endure. This trait shows itself in behaviors that are loyal, steadfast and determined. The middle of a season carries the attributes of the weather forward, mostly  unchanging. For instance, the dead of winter is can be brutally cold, especially if you live where I do. The negative association is attributed to an inflexible nature, stubborn to change.

The final signs represent a quality which is Mutable. In a drastic shift from the mode mentioned above, a flexible, adaptable nature is highlighted. I guess the thought is that the end of each season loosens up and gives way to the next. A positive attribute being that people can yield to others, which opens new doors and makes one positioned for new experiences. The annoying part being that too much of this can make one seem flaky or uncommitted.

Allow me to arrive at my point. This isn't a post reaffirming the concept that we are defaulted into some defining characteristic based on our birth. You can believe in astrology to whatever degree you choose, from utter bullshit to ultimate truth. What I'd like to highlight is this- these modes represent ebbs and flows to our changing natures. We are of this world and is feels holistic to say we should be like the seasons. Perhaps being a better person is simply a proper synthesis of these modes during various moments.

Shift, change, embrace, hold tight, let go, change, start new. The quicker we can do this, the richer our lives can be. 

Friday, January 4, 2013


As children we generally see the world with trusting and innocent eyes. Our parents represent love and protection. Others are viewed as good for the most part and those harmful or evil characters become abstracted in our minds as monsters, boogie men or villains. When told not to talk to strangers or enter unknown vehicles, we question it and do not grasp the true horrors that can occur because we are still innocent. Ultimately, we listen to our guardians and grow cautious of the world around us, understanding the dangers on deeper levels as we age when we learn of actual tragedies. Innocence fades and stark realities face us as young adults. The world begins to exist less as a fairy tale and more as a harsh, senseless place.

The progression I just described holds true for most of us who grew up in the safe parts of well-developed countries inside the comfort of relatively loving homes. I will not deny that this process is sped up for children who live through war torn villages, crime ridden streets and oppressive societies. The point is that the world is a vicious place and it is only a matter of time before we see it as such.

I'm choosing this weighty, somber topic for fairly obvious reasons. It seems this past year has been riddled with stories of atrocious and vile acts- the chewing of a homeless man's face in Miami, the mass shootings of innocent victims in malls, theaters and schools or the violently brutal gang rape of a young woman in India. Each time one of these stories hit my news feed I would be initially stunned. The subsequent day or days would find me slightly more depressed and my heart would feel weightier in my chest, that innocent part of me thinning out ever so slightly.

I am not writing on this topic to be overly morbid or to invoke melancholy. Instead, I'd like to turn this thinking in a different direction, hopefully with a positive note underpinning it.

Understanding. I honestly believe this to be the opposing force to human viciousness. Kindness might seem the correct assumption, but before you can be kind you must understand. You must understand something in yourself, your world, your fellow human. Our cultures, societies and technology afford us this privilege and the optimist in me feels the world is nudging in this direction.

First, let us understand viciousness as best we can. The examples from this past year do not highlight a previously unknown change in human beings. Part of us has always been vicious. It is built into out natures and the world and even the universe around us. Survival has an unfortunately nasty side that requires some violence and even dominance. Survival aside, evil actions are afforded by the ability see another human being as an object or non-person which gives us the capacity to mistreat, torture or kill.

The characters in Cormac McCarthy's novels tend to be operating outside of societal structures and as such, are capable of depraved and selfish acts. The level to which we have to be violent or vicious is rapidly decreased by the strength of the structures around us. By this I mean to imply the cultures, technologies and infrastructures we live through. I'm not implying an eventual Utopian society or world. Inequities will always exist and fringe people capable of unthinkably evil acts will continue to operate.

The point I'm driving at is that we should take each one of these vicious acts and see them as what they are, a reflection of the us and the world we live in. In a lot of ways there is no avoiding this process. Even the basest and most evil events can make us understand things better. This understanding can lead to new expressions through thought, dialogue, policy, education and art which pushes the viciousness farther down in our cores. I believe our higher natures can prevail.           


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The New

The New. How better to start my very first blog post, and at the start of a new year. I have been considering  channeling my thoughts through a personal blog for some time. This past year, whenever a complex emotion or thought (or a mucky mixture of the two) took a hold of me, which was seemingly profound or deemed beneficial for sharing with others, I would turn to the all-powerful Facebook as the technical vehicle for tossing these threads to others. I came to understand that this isn't always the best means to attempt to translate these thoughts. Multiple likes or several brief comments wasn't really what I was going for. Additionally, I felt I may be burdening people who turn to social media for more lighthearted fair. Ultimately, I want a more intricate/intimate dialogue and I hope this blog can serve that purpose.

Enough rambling foreplay. I'll dive into the subject of the of this first post, The New.

Cynically: It may be easier to feel the jittery sensations of new experiences or perspectives during the obligatory shifting of a calendar. Those feelings tend to be fleeting and quickly disregarded. Many resolutions become abandoned. The 'new person smell' turns retrograde to old habits and the 'same' is embraced.   

Not-so-cynically: A shared event, such as the new year can open new doors. New ways of seeing ourselves can arise. Retrospection consumes and makes us wiser. Concrete goals can be solidified and dreams realized. Progression takes a step forward (even if only a tiptoe) towards more tolerant, fair and evolved societies.

Let's step away from the new year and these vague examples above. What is more beautiful than discovering something anew by some random, coincidental moment? Walking through the humdrum, trance-like routine we see an old building for the first time. A building we have walked by countless times on the way to work. It's intricate design and artistic masonry of a bygone era wash over us. We see beauty where we previously saw an obstruction.

Take that example and apply it to relationships. Someone we have interacted with for weeks or even years suddenly shines differently to us. Humor may close that great, vacant expanse and bring you closer. A previously unknown hobby or passion becomes shared, benefiting both people. Physical beauty is uncovered where an unassuming body once stood.

Of course, I only just highlighted things turning anew in positive, shinning ways. As humans, things can equally become mundane. New can signify a sudden loss of meaning or attachment. A great friend or lover becomes a stranger. A pet becomes neglected. A toy becomes dust ridden and discarded. This thought is for another post, but not now.

Finally, what does a new sensation do to us? It changes us. We see our world differently and hopefully ourselves. We are constantly changing and to deny that is to become stagnant. Not to say we can't take our loves, passions and aesthetics with us as we age. I think the trick might be to adapt those things which make us 'us' and channel them to new outlets. Sometimes it is necessary to toss away these things to make room for the New. We only have so much room in our tight personal centers after all.