Whistling in the Dark

12764456_10154018288953993_5512391176604870963_oArrogance can be cute in children but appears decidedly less so in adults. Presumption born of inexperience is understandable. There are situations when humans are operating in the dark and forced to simply make stuff up in order to cope. These situations may be more common than we would care to admit.

The thirteen Thai boys who were trapped in the cave sat in the dark for over a week until suddenly, and from their perspective, unexpectedly an Englishman in a scuba outfit surfaced, shone a flashlight into their faces and asked “is everyone all right?” They assured him they were all OK. He said “Help is on the way” and went back where he came from.

Naturally the boys talked among themselves, and hatched a plan. The first boy they would send out would be the strongest of the group. He would be best able to quickly ride his bicycle from the cave entrance to his parent’s house and assure them they were OK. Little did these boys know that as each arrived to safety he would be conveyed by a personal helicopter to a hospital, assigned a personal physician, and that hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the world were watching the progress of their rescue with baited breath. They had no prior experience or current information to make them think their plan for the strongest boy to pedal home was not a sound one.

Another example of trying to make plans with limited data.

In the mid-1960’s, anthropologists discovered that people living on remote Pacific Islands had built replicas of radar towers, airplanes and army barracks out of bamboo. They were hoping these would once again attract “cargo.” The oldest members of their community remembered that over twenty years earlier, their peaceful island had suddenly swarmed with United States Army soldiers who built landing strips, barracks and then airplanes arrived with cargo. The islanders’ lives were changed in an instant. The army and all that equipment stayed for a while, then when the war ended they quickly packed up and hurriedly left. A few things were inadvertently left behind, and these things became sacred objects, deciphered only by priests. The chief of their tribe would don a pair of headphones that had been rescued from the burn pile in order to hear spirit voices tell when Cargo would return. He chanted “Roger Wilco” into a bamboo replica of a microphone. Young people begged their elders to recant once again the stories of that glorious time, when their island was awash in cargo, when chewing gum and snickers bars flowed like water.

We like to think we’re more sophisticated than either of these groups for we know what’s up. We’ve identified the causative factors at work in our lives, that we’re in control of our algorithms and hence our destiny. But there’s a good chance that we’re just little boys whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. If we enjoy good fortune, we like to take credit for it. If not, we complain bitterly and try to blame the persons or forces we imagine have robbed us of our happy birthright.

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Fierce Grace

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He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

-Aeschylus

If you spend a lot of time in school, you could easily form the impression that everything has already been cut and dried, labeled and codified, when actually the world is delightfully ambiguous and full of surprises. Too much schooling takes all the fun out of it, removes the element of surprise, and turns everything into a report that could be graded, evaluated and certified. If you’re willing to risk saying “no thanks” to schooling, life can be pretty exciting.

But wisdom comes at a cost. Real wisdom, the kind you experience directly, cannot be ordered up in transferable credit hours. It is a gift from God, via his awful grace.

What happens without my prior expectation or permission could be also considered “fierce grace.” There’s a documentary about Richard Alpert, aka Baba Ram Das, named that. He had a stroke and decided to experience it as a gift.

Fate has a way of not asking permission before it acts. Not asking permission beforehand is a form of mercy. How I feel about what is going to happen versus what actually happens is, in the long run, not important. If I want to be happy, I have to learn acceptance and to appreciate what is. I have to cultivate patience and gratitude. Otherwise I’ll always be somewhere between miffed and outraged.

 

Obsession or Enlightenment?

Right next to our house is a ruined temple. It lies directly to our west, and in the evening the sun sets over the temple Lately, I’ve been photographing it every day, for the clouds change in the background. It can be quite dramatic.

I haven’t decided if I have developed the Buddha nature and can dig the profundity of everything around me, or if I’m just lazy and easily obsessed by that which takes little effort to find. Here, in northern Thailand, the vegetation doesn’t resemble anything in the States except maybe Florida. It’s the kind of place you need air-conditioning for most of the year.

Here are a bunch of pictures of this same view.

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Eastern Mysticism (Thai Buddhism)

Eastern Mysticism (Thai Buddhism)

I’ve been reading a book about the history of psychedelic research in the fifties and sixties, before 1966 when Congress put the kabosh on it. We live about a city block from a temple on a dead end street that contains the ruin of a previous temple, as well as modern buildings. I’m sort of templed-out here in Thailand, but thought maybe I would jump on by bicycle and ride down there before the next rain shower and see if I could find anything new to photograph.

Here are the images from this afternoon.

 

 

A Fable, A Parable

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The ship had no captain, so the storms terrified the crew. They were already evenly split on believing that the navigator knew his job, but with no captain and no time or inclination for democracy, they were perpetually terrified. They were lost and a storm was raging all around them.

If only they could find respite from gale winds and crashing waves long enough to elect a captain they might be able to rekindle hope, but for now that seemed impossible. With each minute that passed, despair grew, until it was a palpable presence.

The crew began to fight among themselves. In the face of impotence, they ascribed blame. It was easier than doing nothing at all. Someone must be wrong, someone must be punished. Being right while others are wrong makes not knowing what to do slightly more tolerable.

In the face of all this uncertainty, some passengers and crew simply threw themselves overboard. Better to meet a certain end than a drawn-out one. They rather resigned from the debate than argue their point.

While I’m still on the planet

Endure and thrive

I’m listening to Chopin nocturnes and wondering how someone who changed the world of music so completely came to be who he was, to achieve the level of mastery he did, and to persist creating something new despite few financial rewards. It just seems incredible that there was a world of music before Chopin that did not directly lead to his output. I’ve listened to others who pointed a bit in that direction, but he pretty much had the field all to himself. He invented the Nocturne and the Ballade. He sprang full-grown as a brilliant innovator. All over the world people are studying his music yet. Ten thousand Asian girls under the age of twelve are learning to play his compositions.

I am sixty-eight and I’m just about to launch into a Nocturne I’ve always admired but been reluctant to tackle because it’s either got four sharps or flats…

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