Thursday, December 27, 2007

Who ya' gonna blame?

It's been far too long since I've blogged, but the events of the recent past compel me to do so now, if only to knock the cobwebs off the page. I have plenty of excuses for not visiting this space more frequently: elderly parent (and surrogate parent) health issues, pressing deadlines, and the usual suspects of scrambling to keep the fiscal wolf from the door. But let's put those excuses aside for a bit, and allow me - if you will - a few moments of rambling.

I have participated in a few other blogs in the last few months, and to my credit, have made myself an enemy. A particularly sad individual, who wails at the inherent evil of anyone who might remind him of the woman who "done him wrong." Hating liberals, lefties, Democrats, New age believers, Buddhists, women, and pretty much anyone else who doesn't share his rage. It's their fault that his wife left him; all would have been wonderful, had those horrible instigators not encroached upon the idyllic life that he and his woman shared. They just filled her head with all kinds of occult nonsense, and transformed a wonderful woman into a man-killing machine.

I'd like to say that I've never cast blame on anyone and everyone for my own misfortunes; there have been a couple of times in my life when I raged against any and all who wouldn't offer me the succor I demanded. After a bit of time had allowed me to cool off, however, I realized that the single common factor in every one of my failures was myself. It took no small degree of effort, but I eventually realized that blaming everything but myself not only failed to resolve the situation, it made me look like a whining little boy. Of course, at that point, a whining little boy was exactly what I was. I was hurting because I hadn’t gotten what I needed / wanted, and the best way to hide from the hurt was to slather it with a thick coat of anger. Even considering the possibility that I was acting out of my own pain – and the fear of suffering even more pain – was intolerable to me. So the wall stayed up until I grew strong enough to tear it down.

I won’t try to tell you that once the wall was torn down, it stayed down. Heck no… fear has the insidious ability to sneak up on us, and we have the tendency to synaptic response when we are confronted with it. Each new situation carries with it new challenges, and new temptations to revert to that state of whining adolescence. Our job as adults is to try and recognize that whining kid before he starts shooting his mouth off and defining us as whiners. When I see my new “friend” demanding his rage, his pound of flesh, and the agreement of all who will listen, my initial response is to pat him on the head and tell him to grow up a bit. When he gets really obnoxious, raging ever more loudly at anything resembling reason, I eventually disengage from the discussion.

You see, I really liked getting into bar fights once upon a time, but that time passed many years ago, when it occurred to me that wading into an unnecessary fight didn’t make me look stronger; it made me look like an insecure asshole. Even though I emerged from the majority of those confrontations less bloodied than my opponents, I found that even when I “won,” I felt diminished. And when my enemy du jour fell short of being an even match for me, I ended up feeling pretty dirty. It actually felt better to be bloodied than to know that I had taken advantage of another’s weakness. And that’s how I started feeling with my new opponent. I received private messages from other participants, congratulating me on having shown him for what he really was, yet such accolades felt empty. I had added to the hurt of someone who was obviously overwhelmed already; hardly something to be proud of.

In the final analysis, I can’t blame anyone else when I fail to live up to my own beliefs, any more than the other guy can realistically blame anyone else for his own failures. Will I be nicer to the guy? Probably… by working really hard to avoid getting sucked into his game of fear/hurt/rage. Will I continue to respond to his more ludicrous judgments, directed at anyone not within his little circle of acceptability (like the “circle of trust” in Meet The Fokkers)? Probably. Hopefully, I’ll remember to avoid the pissing contest aspect of it, however. If I need that, there’s a biker bar not too far from here…

Oh, and by the way... My ex-wife left me because I wasn't a very good husband. What she did to accomplish leaving was simply the best way she could manage to get it done. Wasn't the best way, perhaps, but it worked. I was angry for awhile, but nowadays, I can look her in the eye and honestly tell her I love her, and she can do the same with me. Perhaps the fact that we live 4,000 miles from each other helps, but I like to think there's some maturity in the mix, too. On both our parts.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tearful Salvation

Seems like I remember a less-enlightened time, during which the boys and men of my generation had it drummed into our heads that guys don't cry, and that doing so was a sign of weakness. Then came the "enlightened" days, when we marched, Alan Alda-like, into the heretofore uncharted realm of our own sensitivity.

Unfortunately, we got carried away with the concept, giving rise to a modern-day class of castrati known as metrosexuals. Guys (well, some) primped and preened, and cried at all the right places while watching chick-flicks and Hallmark commercials. Some even went so far as to wear makeup and get pedicures. Too much bother, in my book, but some folks went in for it in a big way.

Ahh... how the pendulum swings. Now, it isn't only men who are supposed to suppress and deny their "unmanly" feelings. We're all - guys and gals alike - supposed to focus only upon our joy, casting our sadness and bitterness aside. Never mind that those "negative" emotions were the very tools we used to learn the value of happiness. Never mind that our "failures" paved the way for our greatest successes, bestowing upon us the humility required to truly appreciate our victories.

Despite what the New Age would have us believe, our tears are cathartic, and are typically the foundation upon which our most heartfelt laughter is built.

As a child, falling down and skinning my knee would leave me crying, yet my mother's attempts to comfort me left me feeling richer than I had before the fall. On the other hand, efforts to make me "act like a man" only left me angry, and I predict the same outcome from the constant admonition to engage only in "positive thinking."

Sadness is the spice which allows us to truly savor the taste of joy. Anger is the catalyst by which we learn true forgiveness. And failure is the only benchmark against we may measure our success. And when in our lives can we feel more honestly enriched than when we offer a helping hand to one who is struggling? Yet the new "path" suggests that we turn away from such altruism as well, lest we sully our own joy with another's sadness. Without all these "negative" emotions, we can never be whole. Without touching the face of despair, we can never taste the sweetness of jubilation. And thinking we can - or should - merely wish these "negative" elements of life away is a "Secret" best left untold.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reflections on The Secret

(Originally submitted to Joe Vitale's blog on Feb.24)

I am simultaneously amused and saddened by the discourse surrounding The Secret, as it seems to be a metaphor for the intense polarization that has long replaced true introspection and exchange of ideas.

On the one hand, supporters of the Secret/LOA claim that they represent Universal Law, yet rationalize that any event which might appear to be inconsistent with its status as law is merely a misinterpretation of the "law" or the event itself, along with the implication that the observer misses the point due to his or her own lack of spiritual evolution. This is merely the perpetuation of the early dogmatic teachings of a priest class eager to maintain control over the unsophisticated masses. Such condescension might keep some "believers" in line, but does not serve the quest for spiritual growth.

On the other side, there are those who dismiss any theory which has not been proven with empiric data in numerous studies as being the product of deluded fools. In so doing, they attempt to elevate themselves as being intellectually superior to others. Again, condescension replaces honest efforts to discover truth.

What these people fail to consider is that all instances of human progress were borne of efforts to establish a "truth" that was not previously considered, much less proven. Had Edison followed such a mindset, he would have known - thanks to extensive prior research in metallurgy - that a tungsten filament would not work in an incandescent lamp. He proceeded, however, his enthusiasm based in what *might* be, while facing scorn from the *scientists* of his day.

Somewhere in the middle, there is (IMHO) the presence of real Truth, as opposed to the polarized interpretations of truth. To claim that the universe is like a catalog, and that it is our highest calling to browse that catalog and focus upon our desires runs contrary to the lessons of all major spiritual teachers.

I am especially put off by the notion that in order to achieve a positive life, one must turn one's focus upon what is desired, and away from all things negative. Christian tradition is based upon embracing the less fortunate, and Buddhist tradition is founded in the realization achieved by Siddhartha after he finally emerged from his protected life and observed the sadness that arose from the insatiable fulfillment of desire. He understood that attachment to the "good," as well as avoidance of the "bad" were merely the two sides of the same coin.

He also understood that Right Thinking was powerless without Right Action. Focusing upon a desired outcome was essential, but failure to expend the logical effort to achieve that outcome rendered that Right Thinking powerless.

My greatest objection to the Law of Attraction/Secret phenomenon is that it serves to perpetuate an imbalanced approach to life. I realize that the marketing phenomenon surrounding it is very successful, and that (Vitale is) to be credited in no small part for that success. But I am left to wonder: When sales of this latest, greatest Path to Enlightenment begin to dwindle (as have those previously marketed by the proponents), will yet another, even greater Path be "discovered?" If so, perhaps The Secret/LOA consumers should objectively ask themselves what it really is: A spiritual path or a marketing exercise.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Attack of the Eternally Right

Well, the Rev has obviously been out of school too long. Looking back, I can remember the little cliques that considered themselves “intellectuals.” By and large, they emerged from the Science or Philosophy Clubs in high school, where they would gather to reaffirm their uniqueness in a culture which demanded a conformity and social finesse they somehow lacked. These self-proclaimed intelligentsia were admittedly interesting to talk to, until they began their cerebral wagon-circling, bemoaning the inferiority of those outside their circle. At that point, they became pretty toxic and frankly, boring, and those of us who merely visited on their periphery would inevitably wander off in search of more positive interactions, leaving the kids (typically labeled losers or weirdos) to their cerebral circle jerk.

I’d frankly forgotten about these kids, having long ago discovered that actually living a life was more rewarding than sitting on the outside taking shots at it, and that a sense of wonder was more enriching than pessimistic disenchantment. The other day, however, I discovered that the kids are still around, and just as alienated as ever. Only now, they call themselves skeptics or critical or rational thinkers.

One of them made a statement on a friend’s blog which I didn’t accept, claiming that acupuncture was a magic-based system that had definitively been proven ineffective. I responded that his conclusion – along with the debunking study he referenced – didn’t wash (my first mistake – never engage someone who claims irrefutable rightness!). He fired back that I had offered no studies to support my claim. It hadn’t even occurred to me to do so, as I was under the impression that I had joined in an informal, friendly discussion, where ideas could be exchanged. I went ahead and performed a quick search, which provided studies by the Mayo Clinic, NIH, and the like – hardly lightweight studies – thinking that would be the end of it. To make a very long story short, I was met with a tirade proclaiming the invalidity of the information I provided, peppered with some dismissive name-calling. As you can imagine, I was taken aback, but maintained enough of my naivete to think that some meeting of the minds was possible.

It didn’t take too long before I realized that the individual was more concerned with being right than with enjoying a discussion, and I tipped my hat and exited the pissing contest. Not content to just let it end without his desired resolution, the guy then proceeded to take the dialog up on his own blog, even going so far as to publish a private communication from my lady, whose inclination is always to take the high road and restore civility. I (foolishly) tried to respond to the guy’s rants, which only set him and a few of his fellow “critical thinkers” off even more. It was actually quite similar to incidents I remembered from the old high school days, where we would intentionally push the “intellectuals’” buttons by challenging one of their assumptions, then walk away, leaving them thoroughly agitated and struggling to reassert their “rightness.” Sure, it was mean on the same level as giving my mother's chihuahua an onion to fight with, but it was fun, in a perverse way. I realized (remembered?) the futility of engaging people like that in anything more than superficial dialog, and turned the page on the whole matter. As far as I know, they’re still going on about it, but I’m not interested enough to go back and check.

The whole affair left me with a sense of futility and some sadness. Those feelings, however, are somewhat offset by the knowledge that there will probably always be those who are so heavily invested in their own self-image that any challenge to anything they say or do will be taken as a direct attack upon that self-image, and upon their inherent worth. The challenge for me is to simply walk away from people like that at first sighting, and to allow them to wrap themselves in whatever image makes them most comfortable.

I freely admit to not being a “critical thinker,” as I’d much rather revel in the sense of wonder that is life than to seek out things to endlessly analyze. I further confess to not choosing to be a skeptic about life, but rather a realist. I do not require empirical data to prove to me the existence of things which I do not understand, but neither do I blindly accept that which common sense tells me is false. And I am quite comfortable with acknowledging that I do not have all the answers, since those who make such claims are inevitably shown to have asked the wrong questions, anyway. I live with a woman whom I love deeply, and who loves me, yet if asked to prove it, I would be hard pressed to provide the satisfactory “data.”

And despite the vitriol sent my way, I really hope that one day, these “rational” people will find something besides negativity to fill their lives, and will put aside their obsession with being right long enough to find that life can truly be filled with joy, if one will but clear a space for it.

Note: To all who have been so supportive in their responses (as well as the one individual who attempted to taunt me into rejoining the fray), I want to say "thank you." I have chosen not to publish any of the comments I've gotten - positive or negative - for the same reason I disengaged from the little tempest in a teapot in the first place. It served no positive purpose, and I will not do anything to perpetuate the rancor. Those who need the conflict are certainly welcome to continue it on their own playgrounds. Have a nice day.
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