Olderhood…. it’s a word

27 04 2010

I have, some of you may know, several white hairs in my otherwise red-brown beard.  I like them very much—I have a gathering of them on my lower left chin, and a less substantial group directly opposite them.  Symmetry is key, I think, in having a smooth transition from color to grey in hair.  I hope you’ll forgive me for my quiet desire to have style in aging thrust upon me.  I may get over it in time, anyway.

Today I found a bona fide grey hair in my actual coiffure, which was a bit of a surprise.  A person claimed to have seen one once, but couldn’t produce it for verification a second time, so I count this as my first real grey hair.  I was surprised because it was sitting up in the very middle of the part of my hair, and it wasn’t like the rest of the hairs.  Obviously it wasn’t the same color, but I mean to say that its character was quite different.  I’d combed my hair straight, and it was wiry, defiant, twisting this way and that, gnarled and stark out of the grain of the conformers.  It is nothing like the rest of them.  I wonder if that’s what I have to look forward to—thousands of rogue never-be-tamed misfits sprouting from my head and doing as they damn well please.  Time will tell.

I stared at it in the mirror as I brushed my teeth this evening, realizing at some point that I wasn’t paying attention to my teeth at all, and then realizing that I was annoyed at myself for it.  I suddenly remembered a time, not so long ago, when I detested brushing my teeth.  I hated to do anything that I considered “maintenance work,” particularly when the maintenance was solely to fulfill a societal norm, like, oh, I don’t know, having my hair cut.  I always thought of these duties as stealing my time away, leaving me less opportunity to complete all of the things that I wanted to do.  A couple of hours of maintenance work every week, I reasoned, robbed me of a huge amount of time for learning and improving.

Sometime between then and now, however, I learned to find real value in many of these tasks.  I particularly enjoy brushing my teeth.  It’s time I get to spend paying attention to myself, being sure that every tooth is properly cared for, that they feel clean and strong.  I don’t know how it started to matter to me so much, but I think that investing that energy in myself is beneficial in more ways than a clean dental record.  I may not have the words to describe the positivity of the act or the affirmation contained therein, but I’ve found something nice in the deliberate, thoughtful attention one can give to one’s maintenance.  Of course, I’m still not very big on grooming in general, but I’m finding my way to appreciation.

For those of you unconvinced that finding a grey hair and realizing that attentive teethbrushing can be therapeutic makes for a very interesting blog post, I’m with you.  I’m not sure I’m going to convince you, but I do have one further observation to make.  This has been a nice coincidental evening for me because it’s reminded me that we’re all still capable of change; that our minds aren’t as locked up as we can convince ourselves they are.  Sometime between my youthful head of vibrantly colored poo-brown hair and the nascent moments of olderhood, a firmly held belief of mine changed.  Every thought you think has the power to send you down a new road, even if you don’t realize you’re on the way until much later.  Every shift in habit is its own nudge toward your growing into a different person, so it makes sense that if you make the right nudges now (and avoid the wrong ones), all you can do is get better every day.  I used to scoff at my own halfhearted attempts at approaching vegetarianism, but the more I learn about the meat industry, the less I want to let myself support it, and what started as my trying to have one meatless day per week has sprouted a little to the point that I have many fewer meat-meals, and could very likely continue to improve my record in time.

I’ll keep you posted on whether I’m a fastidiously groomed, prim, and proper salad eater by the time I’m losing my last brown hair.



17 04 2009

i am a better person than i was ten years ago.  by far, speaking relativistically.  by relativistically, i mean to say that if you looked at a pair of dung beetles and knew that one was by far a superior dung beetle to the next, would it seem like such a big deal to you?  that’s how the universe looks at people, i’m sure.  still, if i look at myself ten years ago, and then consider myself now, i like me better.  i would hope that’s how everyone feels each time they offer themselves a moment to look over their shoulder.

i rooted through old photographs last night, and in doing so, i came to a realization.  i didn’t dislike the young gentleman in the photos at all; he was a good kid.  a few minor character flaws and confused ideas were his primary problems.  he’s gained a little hard-earned wisdom and learned to handle certain situations a little better, and that’s good news.  still, what’s also obvious are the ways in which we are still similar but which i probably consider to be less gratifying.

again, it’s not that i don’t like myself or have timeline-guided expectations of growth and understanding (anymore).  i guess, in the end, the “problem” is that i am a natural observer, thinker, weigher of sides.  i am a libra, if that helps to make any sense of it.  it doesn’t to me.  one of the things that bothered me about the 21-year old kid in the pictures is one of the things which we have in common still today:  i think far more than i act.

even in obvious ACT situations.  my nature prefers that i try to take a detached view, to act as though i’m not even there.  to simply map out the best course of action and… i don’t know… be satisfied at that?

it has its advantages, and i do not regret my nature in the least.  i tend to understand people’s problems well, and am generally well-trusted by others to be thoughtful and non-judgmental when they present me with problems.  i tend to understand both sides of an issue well, and i like to hope that i give good advice, but i have to admit that i can be impatient in doing so.  people aren’t always emotionally prepared to understand a situation in a way beyond their personal understanding of it, and even when i know they can resent a viewpoint not entirely sympathetic to theirs, i tend to give it to them anyway.  whatever, that’s another topic altogether.

so that’s it?  is it my role simply to be 80% observer, 20% other in my life?  it suits me, i know, and it functions for others as well, but i’ll admit that i think sometimes about being more proactive, which sometimes means being less afraid.  that’s a change i can get behind.  to be a little more daring and participatory in making the mix at which i have become so adept at deconstructing during and after the fact.  i have to say, this is a big reason i’m making myself do this solo drive across the country with so many stops along the way.  if i force myself to be the lone actor in my narrative, i shouldn’t get to lounge in the comfort of my observation pants very much.

maybe in ten years, i’ll go through some old, old bloggings and see what a different person i was back then, and be glad to have progressed as i have.

big news

8 04 2009

i have big news for you:  you are hundreds, maybe thousands or millions or billions, of times larger than you were when you awoke this morning.  so is your shower.  so is your kitchen.  and so is every other room in which you’ve been during your life, and every other room in which you’ll be later in your life, none of which has cared in the least whether it was you there, or someone else, or no one else.  but if you’ve ever made marks against a doorframe to chart your growth, or been measured at a doctor’s office, you are immeasurably larger than when those measurements were taken.  also, those measurements are immeasurably larger.

everything is speeding up, and the faster something goes, the more mass it has.  that doesn’t mean that its size is any different, but it does mean that the observer has the opportunity to observe that the size is different.  check yourself now.  and now.  any difference?  the answer is yes, you’ve rolled into another part of space-time, or curved off for one theoretical reason or another, but i can assure you with all the confidence that comes from being and having been for so long that you are growing at an alarming rate, and so is your shower, and your kitchen.  so is this screen.  so are your eyes, and this corrects the unbelievable distance growing between them and this screen.

so much lies, and warbles, and hangs, unseen between your eyes and this screen.

it’s confusing!

3 04 2009

so here we are, in a generally mutually agreed-up reality.  did we get here because reality is just that objective and what we all see is what we all get, or is there something more collusive behind the scenes?  after all, you could barely ask for a more regimented introduction to the world–every culture has thousands of normative childrearing activities, objects, and guidelines.  every culture has a relatively well-defined path to adulthood, as well.  i’m not blaming cultures or civilizations!  this makes sense, coming to generally agreed-upon methods of nurture, growth, and living and abiding by them.

likewise, who could blame the individuals?   when one is born, one knows nothing about the world (probably), and must be shown a way.  but what if the way that one is shown is believed to be the only way?  can’t we all agree at least that there are an infinite number of ways?  many of our cultures don’t generally like to admit it, but i’m prepared to say definitively that it is true.  it’s the source of any dissonance within a culture. every differing opinion is a notch in the “different view of the world” voting box.  if we’re all seeing the “same” things and still don’t agree as to what they are or what they mean, it’s explained as people being different.  but why are they different?  it’s because their reality is different.  if we have so many differing realities within such a highly homogenized set of cultures, why is it so surprising to think that we could all be living in drastically different worlds?

i’ve become convinced of the highly subjective nature of reality several times in my life, most recently (and possibly profoundly) through my Vipassana meditation.  things i “knew” were torn to ridiculous shreds at my feet, ideas i had were exposed to be the ridiculous patchwork of assimilative “rationality” that they were.  in short, all of the inconsistencies i’d found in my world that had previously angered and upset me became punchlines in the joke that is each human’s belief in a universally known reality.  it was weird.  i learned that it was important to view each and every thing, event, person, and thought with a beginner’s mind; that is, to try to forget anything i’d been taught about anything and to try to see each new experience for whatever it was in the starkest of ways.  even more importantly, i had to learn not to accept even my new concepts when next an opportunity arose.  it became clear that one’s memory, while not the enemy in seeing things as they are, wasn’t exactly there to help.

BUT!  in a way, doing this properly is like cutting yourself out of  your own body.  all of my understanding about the world is predicated upon the same thing that my understanding of this “new way of seeing things” is–and it’s the world!  none of us knows anything (rationally speaking) about anything but what we’ve learned from this world, and that includes any “insights” we’ve had while meditating or thinking or anything else.  so i’ve formed a belief, an idealistic way of living, based on experiences i’ve had while operating in the very framework that i apparently hope to transcend (in a way)??  it’s madness, i say.  and it’s confusing.

physicists are routinely frustrated by their work in particle physics, because they now know that the things that happen that make our world work the way it does are, by their own observations and participations, beyond the scope of understanding of the human brain.  their understanding of space-time denies the possibility of time’s existence in the way that we understand it.  great speed slows time down and increases the mass of the traveling matter.  particles are predicted to exist in far more dimensions than the ones we agree that we can experience—three.  it’s all beyond them, and they admit it.  they continue to work and describe it in terms we can understand because they know they don’t have any other way of doing it.  they’re stuck in this 3-dimensional world, and so they do the best they can, knowing that it’s inadequate (for now) to truly understand what they’re doing.  as Dr. John von Neumann, Hungarian mathematician, explained to molecular physicist Dr. Felix Smith, “Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things, you just get used to them.”

so, are we really trained out of our other birthrights of understanding by a culture so impressed with its knowledge of the world?  is it possible that we are able to access other understandings, but it’s made more difficult by our largely scientific/rational approach to the world as it is?  could the Buddha and Edgar Cayce really see “the world without time” and understand life on a much grander scale because they were able to [insert understanding of “reality” transcendence here]?

does the fact that i am now able to routinely and definitively stop any impending sneeze without so much as an aftertremor of sneeze-feeling mean that i am getting closer to controlling my reality, or does the fact that i can do no such thing with hiccups mean that i am forever prisoner to the agreed-upon dictates of the reality of our world?  umm…  you decide.

Presumption as Quicksand

1 04 2009

When people meet one another, they are really, after all, meeting only snapshots of who they each have been and mere hints as to who they each will be.  What they know of each other is what they know in that moment.  As you get to know the person more and more, you build a mental construct of them that you begin to rely on for “knowing” them at least as much as you rely on the other person–meaning that you’re not re-meeting the person each day and knowing them for who they are. You’re assuming they’re as they were, more and more, and they’re doing the same with you. Your somewhat presumed history becomes your basis for expectation. How much harder is it then to accept change from that person?   How much easier is it to feel personally slighted if they don’t behave according to your expectations?

I think the hardest part of any relationship or friendship is accepting that people are changing both with and without you, and understanding that they’re not doing it to you… just near you. Whether or not two people can accept the changes they each find is a matter for them to understand and decide without anger or presumption.


3 03 2009

I’ve been thinking about freedom recently, possibly because it’s mentioned on half the bumper stickers in my country, and i have begun to be confused as to what the word even means.  I suppose it’s easier for people to get behind a concept that’s as vague as “freedom,” which is why it’s such a political winner, but I also believe that this concept, in as stark a light as one can put it, is central to proper living; to leading a life of wonder, exploration, and expression; to finding one’s direction(s) and following it (them) to conclusion.

What is freedom, after all, when from the moment you are conceived, you are bound to a book of restrictions that you had no part in making?  Without the proper conditions, you will not come to term, will not be born, will not be nourished through infancy.  If you take an inadvisable step as a toddler, you can easily maim your vessel long before you develop your true will in the world, forever altering your ability to do so.  You are bound to a body that has demanding maintenance needs, and even with the most attentive care, it is only available to you for a prescribed amount of time, and much of that time, it will not be serviceable for your desired uses.  Even at your mental and physical peak, you will be greatly limited by a huge number of factors.

If you believe you have a soul, and that your soul has taken this vessel for the glory of a creator or to learn what it needs during its time here, then you can hardly refute the idea that our planet is our prison and our bodies are our cells.  We are born into our corporeal forms, which feel all manner of worldly pain, and we are not allowed out until a lifetime later, when our cells have at long last worn down and finally, grudgingly release us.  We can choose to leave our prison by our own hands at any time, of course, but have no idea what really waits beyond the walls.

At least we are free to act as we like while we’re here, I suppose.  Except, of course, that we’re really not.  If you can forget all of your physical rules, which are oppressive and time-consuming enough, in my opinion, then you are free to begin to worry about all of the man-made rules.  Those doing time here before you had initiative to set up the joint for their greatest benefit, and you have all of the benefit of arriving on the ground floor.  You have papers.  You have licenses and documents to earn and to sign, certificates to display in proof of your proficience at some man-imagined skill or another.  You have interviews, during which you can convince other inmates that you are worthy of their confidence in handling some aspect or another of their operation.  And then you get to perform in that task–this is the part where you’re being productive, viable, and useful to the world around you.  But again, this is almost always, in the cages man has set up, only to serve men higher up in the cage than you.  You’re seldom helping the world around you.  In fact, you’re usually doing quite the opposite.  You’re injuring the real LAW–the natural world, the only link besides ourselves that we may have to the force that keeps us here–in order to serve man’s law–the only force that is nakedly invented to service only itself.  And all the attention we all give to this unnatural structure serves only to strengthen it and keep our focus off of the real quandary of our existences.

There is still so much freedom that we have in the natural world, though, I think.  People love love, I belive, and we love to find another person who makes us feel funny and wonderful and happy and as with whom we should perform sexy acts.  It’s funny, we never have these ideas on our own, really, we just realize at some point that we’re driven to make this thing happen, and suddenly it’s a very important thing to us, and some of us spend inordinate amounts of time pursuing it.  Much of this time also happens to be our “prime time” physically and mentally, when we’re about as sharp as we’re ever going to be.

Even if I forget about all the lack of freedom I perceive in being a part of the world, I can’t help but find emotional traps waiting for us every step of the way.  Any former lover, friend, pet, vacation, coincidence, or embarrassment is a weight tied to our beings by the strings of our memories.  Learning is nothing more than strapping on another bag and keeping it near to help you make any new decisions that might be related.  Even something as vaunted as our precious brains and their wondrous capacities for remembering and thinking critically serve to close up our worlds, little by little, until our legs are obliged no further steps.

Perhaps that is the trick to our journeys, then—or at least our passages.  We are set “free” in a world, counted upon to self-educate, to build a homeostasis, to exist as best we can, and we have indulged ourselves foolishly to our souls’ capacities, until finally our once-buoyant selves can no longer carry on after years of weighting and hardening.  And death may be the greatest gift we’ll know—when we are liberated at last from our world of entanglements, confusions, and delusions because we were, in the end, unable to liberate ourselves.

not feeling yourself disintegrate

12 01 2009

what is wisdom?  is it simply knowledge handed down from those who came before?  can we live our lives according to the principles of those who have already lived and learned, and told the tale so that others could benefit from their folly?  we could, i’m sure, though i’ve noticed in my years here is that people love to make their own mistakes, that no amount of telling someone that they’re on the wrong track will engender change until that person comes to the end of that road or somehow is able to detect the wrongness of their action from within.  think about that.  you’ve done all kinds of dumb things that you probably knew were dumb; that others explained to you was dumb; but that you had to experience before it became part of your operating knowledge.  so really, is conventional wisdom all that it’s cracked up to be?  can we actually expect to be better off than our ancestors simply because we came along chronologically after them?

i’m afraid that we’re all doomed to make most of the mistakes we may have made if we were the first people even though we’re so far from it.  every person seems to need to experience a mistake or, perhaps better, the intuitive understanding that it is a mistake, in order to progress personally beyond that folly.  the intuitive understanding is tricky, though.  if we’re born with such an ability, it seems to be trained right out of us as we march a trail of explicit-logic-is-Truth toward adulthood, and if we find ways to reconnect with this skill, it’s difficult to be able to trust it, even after we convince ourselves that it’s real.  so, most of us continue to learn from mistakes–which is quite effective any way.

i remember once i was sitting at a table with six friends and one unknown (to me) girl, and though i knew from intuition AND from conventional wisdom not to speak ill of people (golden rule, anyone?), i said approximately the rudest thing i could about someone who wasn’t there, whom i thought nobody but a couple of us knew, and whom nobody had seen around for at least a year.  the silence and averted eyes at the table were bad.  but it was better than learning that the unknown girl happened to be the offended party’s best friend.  it was kind of incredibly awkward.  i knew i shouldn’t have been rude.  i was.  and then i learned by example the pain that such an indescretion could bring.  truly, there couldn’t be a more elementary and obvious piece of handed-down wisdom–yet it wasn’t enough to save me from my own sense of imperviousness.

so i was thinking about tv.  i was thinking about the ramifications of an unprecendentedly huge world population taking most of their information from a very small number of information outlets that happen to strive to be, more or less, aligned with one another anyway, and of course, it’s a little worrisome.  compared to the “old” model of smaller communities and more localized information, the implications get the illumination they deserve.  hopefully lessons from thought like this can be the teacher, rather than the impact from continued thoughtlessness.

i don’t think you’re stupid.  i just wanted to state it:  one thousand people in ten villages (one hundred per) are taught in each village how not to accidentally poison their drinking water.  one of the ten teachers has it wrong.  oops.  mistakes happen.  the next year, there are 900 people alive and armed with good knowledge on maintaining potable water.  but if those thousand people watch 2 television stations teaching them the same thing and one of the teachers is wrong, that’s 500 dead.  that’s all i’m saying.  not everything’s life or death, though.  a lot of the fallout can simply be people being wrong about dumb stuff.  but that can get to as divisive and polarizing as anything.  and when you’re living in a world where the decisions of the population have enormous impacts on the environments and other people around them…  well, it can be not so good, i think.

americans in particular are so proud of their immensely varied backgrounds–this “melting pot” provided us with many points of view and historical wisdoms that enabled this country to be as great as it is today (jingoistic words, not mine).  but what do we have today?  we have a huge wall of homogenized culture that is continuously stared at and compulsively agreed with by our populace, which is becoming incredibly homogenized as a result.  nearly every piece of corporate culture shakes hands with the next, from news broadcasts to car design to reality television shows.  all the news places import upon the same basic “issues,” and if i’ve learned anything in my time, it’s that there are literally boundless interesting, amazing, and important things to look into in our world.  but we don’t see most of them.  we see just a little.  usually what someone trying to sell something wants us to see.

i see this wall of fake culture as preventing millions of people from really being alive in their lives.  who disagrees that death is part of life?  you’ll never avoid it.  it’s pretty much the only thing that’s impossible.  then why all the “stay young” products for purchase?  why the craze?  what’s wrong with getting older?  with feeling less strong and not getting upset about it?  it’s part of life, to disintegrate, little by little, until the body is ready to rest.  stop telling me that it’s not, or that it’s avoidable, stupid wall of fake culture that tries to sell me things!

i mean, that’s all i’m saying.