Monthly Archives: April 2005

So long, Bill….

So sorry, Mr. Gates – my new computer is a Powerbook…

You can be tolerant and support progressive legislation and have my business, or you can pay Ralph Reed and fund the right’s intolerance, and say goodbye to my money. You chose, and so did I, sir, so did I….

Guidance

Worship with your conscience,
Receive grace with humility.
Guide with awareness,
Lead with modesty.

The altar is a tool. If we kneel before it and say we have done wrong, we are really telling that to ourselves. If we give thanks for our good fortune, we are expressing our modest appreciation for good luck. There is no outside force listening to us. There is no divine retribution for our wickedness. The altar is merely symbolic. Those who follow Tao use it to focus their self-awareness.

When we step away from the altar, we should not lose self-awareness. We should not take the fact that worship is symbolic to behave in immoral ways. Instead, we still have to act with a conscience and lead others without manipulating them or taking advantage of them.

It takes maturity to grasp that there are no gods and yet still behave as if there were. It takes insight to know that you must be your own disciplinarian. Only the wisest can lay down their own “divine laws” and find guidance as if they were truly heaven’s word.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

In some primitive cultures, a rite of passage to being an adult was the special performance of the ceremony of the gods, when the adults doing the ceremony took their masks off at the end of the performance and passed them to the adolescents. The next year, those adolescents learned to perform as the gods.

One of the greatest difficulties in our society, and particularly with our religion, is that there are no rites of passage. We have a society of fully-grown adults, still believing that their god is the only way to make people behave themselves, and so they believe they must impose their god on everyone or society will become chaotic.

This is somewhat infuriating to those of us in the society who are actually adults, and know that we are responsible for our own behavior, thank you very much. The religious believe their god should dominate our courts, as if that will somehow improve society. They want their god to dominate our schools and how we teach science.

Well, guess what, people. YOU are the ones who need to grow up and recognize that YOU are responsible for your behavior, not your god. And the rest of us are very tired of you telling us that we are somehow immoral when in fact, our morality is just fine. We KNOW we are responsible for ourselves, and don’t need a god to tell us that. Your god told you to worship in private, and that is something you need to start doing again. Really.

I grew up in the Presbyterian church. As a teenager, we had an excellent Bible study class and learned what was expected of us as adults in the church, and began to take on some of the responsibilities of the church. My parents were both elders in the church at some point. My mother was very involved in Church Women United. I recognized that my parents ran the church, the church didn’t run them. The people of the church chose the ministers, who served at the will of the members. That is how religion works. It doesn’t work when there’s someone spewing crap on national television about how corrupt our society is because all the judges aren’t Christians We Approve Of. It doesn’t work when the religious try to take over the political functions of the country. Gee, shall we take away your tax-exempt status now? It doesn’t work when the religious are telling our major corporations how to act or treat their employees, for the maginificent sum of 20,000 pieces of silver per month. It doesn’t work when the religious demand that that they be allowed into our bedrooms and tell us who we can sleep with, who we can marry, who is allowed to raise children, who is allowed to control our wombs. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY, REALLY!!!!

So. To those religious folks – go back to your room, close your door, and pray in quiet to your god. As Jesus taught you. Because that’s what I learned in church:

Matthew 6

1 Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

That’s what worked for me and guided me growing up. And you know what? I grew up. I became an adult. And I raised my kids without the church, because I knew how to turn them into adults without the mask – just being myself.

Scariest thing I've seen all day…

Market Observations

We’ve often suggested that psychologically and emotionally, residential real estate values are extremely important to households. As you’ll see in the paragraph and graph below, home values appear more important to household net worth than are equities by a factor of nearly two to one. But based on the picture above, just how do you think the banks feel about real estate values? At the moment, their real estate exposure is approaching three times their loan exposure to commercial and industrial loans. The exposure of banks to consumer loans is less than one quarter of their exposure to real estate. In summation, to suggest that the market value of real estate is important to the US economy as a whole is a wild understatement. It’s just a good thing that the new age structured finance markets are leading the charge in terms of helping to inflate real estate values from sea to shining sea. We’re absolutely dead sure that if any mishaps in the structured finance market were to appear, holders of MBS and ABS securities would sit tight as long term investors, right? No jumping off the side of the ship if the opposite side of the leverage sword begins to cut. After all, somebody has to support those real estate values collateralizing the bulk of bank lending and portfolio investment in this country, no?
….

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Tulips, anyone?

Ulp.

Attraction

Peacock iridescence in vertical shadows.
Violet blooms spread to noonday sun.
The world’s beauty in a swirl of color,
But in the flower’s center is bright stillness.

This world is movement. Its nature is constant change, infinite variation. Without infinite variation, there would be stasis, for we would reach limits. But all limits are actually arbitrary. Life is one endless equation of darkness, brilliance, color, sound, fragrance, and sensation.

The peacock attracts his mate through his plumage; the flower attracts the bee with its color and fragrance. Beauty is moved to madness, is urged toward more beauty, is lost in the dance of seduction. We hover around the petals of the flower, drunk in the thrill of color. Enthralled with the fragrance of some haunting perfume, we are moved to act, to touch, to fill our shallow vessels with the fullness of promised joy.

Yet in the center of the flower, all is stillness. When the dance of beauty is finished, culmination is at hand. In life, attractions are endless. We should do no more than we need to satisfy ourselves. To plunge further is foolhardy. We must remember to withdraw and look within. Lingering on the outside of our souls, there is shimmering beauty and fantastic movement. It is only when we go to the center of our souls that we are in the eye of the storm, the still-point of existence. Then all is brightness, energy condensed, unbearably strong and powerful, yet absorbed in supreme quietude.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I’m attracted to things and people that are very natural, that aren’t overly extravagant. Most of the flowers I love are quite simple, and those that have been played with to make them have more petals or whatever usually don’t attract me at all. The roses I love most are those that are flatter with fewer petals, the old roses. I adore my California poppies with their four-petaled simplicity.

I’ve become less extravagant as well. I rarely wear makeup these days. I dress pretty simply, love my t-shirts and jeans most of all, and a good pair of tennis shoes or sandals. Always flats, I can’t wear heels at all. The men I’ve always found most striking were those that let their beards and hair grow, but kept it neatly trimmed. Perhaps it’s all just part of being a 70’s kid, but we were a pretty free-flowing bunch back then. I see signs now that many of us are returning to those roots, with the voluntary simplicity movement and the trends towards wabi-sabi and simplicity in decorating, the wonderful, wonderful abundance of organic foods making their way into our supermarkets even.

But I suppose that is just us California nature lovers. Perhaps its a trend that will spread, though, as many things California tend to do. I hope so, anyway. In nature, the beautiful plumage and the bright flowers are really nature’s way of showing health. In our culture, it becomes a way to hide the reality of who we are and what we really look like. Have a face lift or tummy tuck to change your appearance, but it doesn’t hide what is really inside. If the bee doesn’t find pollen, she doesn’t care how damn pretty the flowers are or how good they smell, she moves on. The peahen might enjoy the show, but if it were just a show, she wouldn’t be impressed. The reality has to be there as well. As much as we might like our Oreos, they aren’t that nutritious or good for us, really. Time to get back to what we really need, in our food, our lives, and ourselves.

Holdin' Hands….

“President Bush was following an Arab custom that denotes close friendship when he walked hand in hand with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah after they exchanged greetings in Crawford, Tex., yesterday,” the Washington Post reports.

Said a Saudi spokesman: “It’s a sign of respect and affection — nothing
sexual whatsoever.”

“Today, we renewed our personal friendship” Bush said. “In our meeting, we agreed that tremendous changes in the world call on us to strengthen our partnership,” the statement said.

“I hope that these relations will get stronger,” the crown prince said after the meeting.

The Anticonsumers

SSPP: The new politics of consumption: promoting sustainability in the American marketplace
Anti-Consumerism

Among some youthful and vocal adherents, the disparagement of mass consumerism as a set of social practices, as well as attacks against some of its most emblematic symbols, has become a visible form of protest politics in the United States during the past decade. Activists have yet to construct many of the institutional features of a social movement, and instead rely on boisterous pranks designed to malign dominant expressions of contemporary consumer culture. Proponents are often disillusioned not only with material icons, but also evince a more general disenchantment with contemporary society (Zavestoski, 2002). While this disaffection derives from numerous sources, for analytic purposes it is instructive to group them into three broad categories—social, economic, and environmental.

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I call my kids the anti-consumers. There’s nothing they want, except perhaps more video games and faster graphics cards. Oh, and cool knives for the older one. Clothes, toiletries, the usual teen fetishes? Feh. They couldn’t care less. it helps that they are boys, but still. These kids are so turned off by advertising, they adore the Tivo. And all they watch on the TV is anime, Family Guy, Futurama, The Daily Show and That 70s show (my fave).

I guess I’ve turned into something of an anticonsumer as well. I’m back to my 70s T-shirts and jeans, although lately I’ll buy pretty much anything organic.

For us, it’s not activism, it’s just that we’re tired of the marketplace. The same old, same old, sell everybody the same crap everywhere is what is really going to kill consumerism. We don’t all want the same thing, really, no matter how much the marketeers tell us we do. And once people finally realize that all that stuff ain’t gonna make ’em happy, they turn off to the noise machine.

Voluntary simplicity is not a lifestyle of deprivation, and this is often a critical point of misinterpretation by individuals who are unfamiliar with its aims. It is about discovering what is sufficient in life—based upon thoughtful analysis of one’s values. Apropos for Elgin is Simone de Beauvoir’s contention, “If all life does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.” If people look to non-material satisfactions, thus simplifying their lives, then they can establish a more meaningful existence and truly experience life. Voluntary simplicity is, then, about forging modest material needs to allow opportunities for people to surpass themselves and to find more satisfying, meaningful existences.

Or, as it was put to me at a critical point in my life when I was debating over staying home with the kids and being broke, “The work will be there again, but childhood won’t”. When are you going to enjoy your life, after all? how much stuff do you really need to be happy? Oh, guess what? That stuff ISN”T GOING TO MAKE YOU HAPPY! REALLY!!!

We also did a lot of putting off and waiting until we could afford better stuff. It was hard to do without all the latest gadgets sometimes, and there were things I really thought I needed. But, you know, taking that time to chop your own veggies instead of having a food processor is really cool. You can really get into it if you try. Even more fun? Growing them – if your dog doesn’t eat all your tomatoes, like mine does.

I just love that the young twenty and thirty somethings are getting into knitting now – some of them even spinning their own yarn. How cool is that?

Despite this groundbreaking legislation, the past thirty years have seen a massive accumulation of consumer debt in the United States. By 1999, per capita consumer debt had exceeded $30,000, nearly fifty percent more than it had been ten years earlier. Overall, American consumers are now in debt to the tune of $2 trillion dollars, with approximately one-third of this amount payable on high-interest credit cards. The typical American household carried forward each month $7,500 in unpaid credit card debt, a two-fold increase in just ten years. Thirteen percent of families in the United States have outstanding balances that exceed 40 percent of their household income, a situation that means 90 percent of each monthly payment is solely dedicated to paying interest. The inevitable outcome of this situation is an ever-mounting number of personal bankruptcies—more than 1.3 million in 1999 alone.

And this is the real death knell of the consumer economy. We are so deeply in debt at a personal, government, and corporate level that it is now unsustainable. The culture of debt is what will ultimately bring us down as a consumer culture

All of this suggests that efforts to reconfigure consumption practices in the affluent countries will proceed along different trajectories, and will be conditioned in specific places by political culture and institutional constraints. It is difficult to imagine an American political administration, regardless of party affiliation, embracing a meaningful program to move the country toward alternative modes of consumption. The economic risks are simply too high and the political payoffs too elusive.

Indeed. Until it all comes crashing down, we will continue in our madness. And when it does, somehow the Republicans will find a way to blame Clinton.

SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Metro — San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy resigns

SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Metro — San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy resigns
San Diego mayor announces departure mere months into second term
By Jeff Dillon
SIGNONSANDIEGO

12:45 p.m. April 25, 2005

SAN DIEGO – First the quarrelsome city attorney demanded that San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy quit. And last week Time magazine named Murphy one of the three worst big-city mayors in the country. Then came rumblings of a recall movement.

Less than five months after starting his second four-year term, Murphy announced this morning he will resign effective July 15.

“I now believe to be effective the city will need a mayor who was elected by a majority of the people and who has a clear mandate to take this city forward,” Murphy said. “A good leader needs to know when it is time to move on and I believe it is time for me to move on and time to bring a fresh start to our city.”

….

One down, so many to go….

Dominance

Sun shines in the center of the sky.
All things turn their faces toward the light.

All things in this life depend on direction. In our world, all is oriented toward the sun : The planets revolve around it, the seasons depend upon it, and our very concept of night and day is tied to the sun’s rising and setting. The sun is the dominant element in our lives.

In all other areas of our actions, we cannot avoid making arrangements that have a center or orientation. Our lives require composition, just as the solar system has a relationship and structure. Yet all structure and orientation is essentially arbitrary. We take the sun as the center of our world because of our vantage point. To someone standing in another galaxy, our sun is nothing more than another point in limitless space. There is no absolute standard by which to truly call something the center. Therefore, all arrangements and all compositions, all determinations of a dominant element are relative, subjective, and provisional.

There is no center except for that in our own consciousness. When we look at the sun and the arrangement of the planets, we must also include ourselves as observers. How else is there the determination of what is being seen? Consciousness is part of the phenomenon. We are the center, and there is no absolute measure.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I wish I could do a bit more sun worship here lately. The May gray seems to have set in early, leaving us with cloudy gray days until almost evening, then glorious late afternoon sun for all of fifteen minutes. My tomato plants are NOT happy.

Ah well, I’m sure come late July and August I’ll be missing these days. But it makes it hard for me to get going in my day. I find I don’t have a lot of energy until midday or so when the sun is not bright in the morning.

It’s funny how many people seem to call you selfish for recognizing that your own conciousness IS the center of your personal universe. But how could it be otherwise. It doesn’t mean you aren’t aware of other people and the fact that their conciousness is the center of their personal universe, though. It means you understand that how you think about things is important. Some people want thier god to be the center of everything, and are quite convinced this is the case. Some people don’t want to recognize that our little planet is at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, and our little sun is but one of billions of stars in that galaxy, and that galaxy is but one of billions of others itself.

Well, we are all a bit trapped by being in our own little heads, unfortunately. Recognizing that isn’t selfish. Believing your view of things is better than anyone else’s view is, though. Been there, done that, gave it up. So now I am truly selfish, and let everyone have their own opinions and screw up there own lives. So there. ;^)

Nonanticipation

Put forth your effort
With no thought of gain.

One should not pray or meditate with any thought of gain. Hold no expectations. Then the rewards will come. If one strives for power and gifts, no true results will come, and one will become lost in lust. Praying for results brings no results — the true spirit appears only when there are no expectations to hamper it.

Books and teachings talk of the results of meditation because they prepare the aspirant for the experiences that will occur. It is important not to look on these writings as advertisements. They are merely descriptions of what you will encounter.

Sit down with no thought of results and you will go naturally and spontaneously with Tao. It is admittedly a paradox. We are to know what to expect, and yet we should allow them to appear as they will. It seems irrational and inefficient. Yet if you would know Tao, there is no faster way to enter the midstream.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

“The things you see by the flares of sudden fame are shattering and terrifying: the glittering eye of Greed, the distorted faces of her sisters Envy and Malice. These witches always come to the feast. They chill your heart and leave you alone in the world. But you can’t sit and stare at them always. And you can’t go around forever mumbling, ‘Forgive me, forgive me.’ So you begin the gradual process of unraveling it.” — Mary Coyle Chase

“My mother used to say to me ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.’ For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant” — Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey

We all look forward to events in our lives with a sense of anticipation. How many times do you look forward without anticipating anything? It seems like a strange thing to do. In our religious training, we are taught to pray to our god and wonder when god doesn’t answer our prayers. Are we doing something wrong?

I don’t really expect much when I meditate. Mostly it’s a way to calm down, to reconnect. People sometimes comment on how calm I am, but I think it is because I don’t run around expecting something of everyone I meet and to get something out of everything I do.
I don’t expect things out of others, so whatever they give me is a gift and a joy. And I smile and am pleasant with other people, which is often the greatest gift you can give to someone else. They see so many unpleasant people all day that a pleasant person is a joy in itself.Think of the old Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey”. It wasn’t important whether or not Harvey existed, it was the attitude that came with believing in him that was important. That is how religion is supposed to be – the point is to connect you to the place in yourself where you can be respectful and pleasant to others, not because you recognize that they are like you, but because you know that they are you — whether you like them or not. If you had been raised in their circumstances and with their beliefs and thoughts, you would be them. And you don’t know what those circumstances were, so judging others is foolish. Better to respect them and treat them well and not expect much in return for your kindness. If they are kind back, so much the better. If not, what have you really lost?

Of course, we can’t always remember that. So, we come back and center ourselves again. We meditate to bring ourselves back to that calm place when life inevitably gets to us and people annoy us again.

If you aren’t constantly struggling in life for some future reward, you can learn to enjoy where you are right now in life and what you have right now. And if you can get there, everything becomes easy. You don’t fight with life anymore — you can just enjoy where you are, who you are, right now.

Ah. Isn’t that better?

Tradition


Zhang Hongtu
Shi Tao – Van Gogh, 1998
Oil on canvas

Tradition was once function.
But today there is no tradition.
Where is there a true path?

In the past, people didn’t question the teachings of Tao. There was a living tradition, and if one followed it, one could reasonably expect to walk a good path. But today the traditional teachings of Tao have been dimmed by civil wars, political persecution, and the death of masters. Wealth and technology hold the attention of most people, and few have time for Tao. Adopting arcane methods will not lead to success.

We must discover Tao for ourselves. Seeking it in the here and now means fulfilling the spirit of tradition instead of merely copying it. How can we ape the past? The old ways are gone.

Tao means different things to different people in different times. Indeed, we might say that the Tao of today leads in unprecedented directions. We have to adapt, but being contemporary should not be an excuse for adulteration and shortcuts. Once we find the true path of today, we must walk it with the same determination of the ancients.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

All religion, as theologians – and their opponents – understand the word, is something other than what it is assumed to be. Religion is a vehicle. Its expressions, rituals, moral and other teachings are designed to cause certain elevating effects, at a certain time, upon certain communities. Because of the difficulty of maintaining the science of man, religion was instituted as a means of approaching truth. The means always became, for the shallow, the end, and the vehicle became the idol. Only the man of wisdom, not the man of faith or intellect, can cause the vehicle to move again. — Alauddin Attar (Shah 261)

Mankind passes through three stages.
First he worships anything: man, woman, money, children, earth and stones.
Then, when he has progressed a little further, he worships God.
Finally he does not say: ‘I worship God’; nor: ‘I do not worship God.’
He has passed from the first two stages into the last– Rumi

What I have learned as a Sufi is something that man cannot credit because of what he has already been taught. The easiest thing to grasp in Sufism is one of the most difficult for the ordinary thinker. It is this: All religious presentations are varieties of one truth, more or less distorted. This truth manifests itself in various peoples, who become jealous of it, not realizing that its manifestation accords with their needs. It cannot be passed on in the form because of the difference in the minds of different communities. It cannot be reinterpreted, because it must grow afresh. It is presented afresh only by those who can actually experience it in every form, religious and otherwise, of man. This experience is quite different from what people take it to be. The person who simply thinks that this must be true as a matter of logic is not the same as the person who experiences that it is true. – Khwaja Salahudin of Bokhara (Shah 287)

My religious traditions growing up were in the Presbyterian church in Arizona. I got married in the church of my childhood, planning a wedding long distance from San Diego. My parents’ funerals were there. As a kid, I didn’t really appreciate much of the church services, they seemed pretty boring. As a teenager, I loved the music and was in the choir. I loved to sing, and still do, even though I don’t do it often these days. The beauty of choral music amazes me. I’ve even sung at a full Latin Catholic mass, which was amazing. I certainly appreciate the traditions of religions, and understand why they exist and the effects they can have on people at their best.

But I think many people lose sight of what those effects are intended to do. They create a oneness, a feeling of completeness with the spiritual. You feel a part of the community around you, a part of everything. And you are supposed to take that feeling outside the church and share it with everyone else you meet. At the beginning of the next week, you do it again, to renew the connection. You don’t go twice a year to church and pretend you are Christian. You don’t go and spout hateful things at other people in the meantime between services. You don’t go and chastise other people for not believing what you do, for not thinking exactly the same way about religion as you do. You don’t go into the public forum and demand that all the country’s judges have to believe what you believe, or they must be against your religion. You go out and you help people, and make their lives better, and share God’s love with the people you meet who need help, not just the ones you happen to like.

Have the religious lost sight of the very reason their faith exists? Then no wonder that so many have lost their faith in the religion.

My mother’s church community said ther goodbyes to her and forgot their responsibilities. Other than a few very good people, no one came to help us clear out my mother’s home. No one helped my nephew to readjust to life without her. Other than one person, no one helped my sister out in her readjustment. My mother helped so many people in her life, did so much for others, and in the end they all said, “Oh, we didn’t know she was so sick. We didn’t know her house needed cleaning. We didn’t know…” How could they not know? I was angry with my mom for not asking for more help, angry with myself for not being able to be there for her, but also angry with the church for not knowing what she needed. It was, “oh , our membership is all so old…” Well, why hadn’t they reached out to the younger community, found out their needs, helped them out? If they had, the young would have stayed involved. That is what the evangelical churches have done. It wasn’t at all the church I remembered from my youth, that had been so involved in every part of our lives. It was just a place that had services once a week and funerals now and then. It was a dying church, not a living one.

Religion can’t just focus on tradition and not change. It can’t alienate itself from the real world – it must change with the world. Tao means change – Tao is change. That’s the whole point. Certainly there are traditions of Tao, of all religions – but to focus on tradition in any area of life, without considering change, is a fool’s focus.

So, now I look at change itself – in my work, in my own life, and to study it in the world around me. I’ve never feared change, like a lot of people do, but I don’t go chasing after it just to make changes happen either. I let things change as they need to, naturally. I try to teach other people to allow change into their lives, not to be afraid of it, but also not to force change just for the sake of change. I guess I”m not too worried about whether or not I’m on a true path – I do what needs to be done, and let the rest take care of itself. That’s as true a path as anything else I’ve found, anyway.