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.

 

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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.

What now? What next?

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What do most people do to pass the time of day? I don’t have the faintest idea, and I’ve already been alive for sixty-eight years. I never have the faintest idea what I should be doing with myself. Maybe that’s why I became a writer.

Writers don’t often know what they’re going to write when they sit down to do so. Inspiration arrives or it doesn’t. The words fly onto the screen or page or they don’t. Sometimes the output is a pleasant surprise; sometimes it’s a crashing bore. But it’s something. It’s an activity that forestalls me asking myself “now what?”

I’m well aware there are people with no active inner life. They tend to watch a lot of television. If you’re studying something, like a musical instrument, you can devote hours to practice. Because I’m retired, I do more than my share of practicing the piano.There are rewards in that direction, though they may never be financial. But at least I’m not watching television.

Most people spend a lot of time at work, but that doesn’t mean they’re accomplishing anything. It just means that they’ve committed to a course of action, usually at a specific place, because somebody else told them that would be a good idea and would reward them for it. A lot of time neither result is as promised. But they keep showing up anyway, because the alternative would take more effort.

Creativity is sometimes rewarded, because of its scarcity. Since not many people risk going in that direction, there’s a relative lack of it. Unlike simply showing up at a job, it’s usually not paid for up front. In fact, most creative output is never seen by any more than the creator himself. Marketing is a completely different discipline and art from artistic or cognitive creativity.

It sometimes seems that I’m either in pain. vaguely irritated, or numb, but rarely delighted by my circumstances. In that respect, I’m probably normal. From what I read on social media, most people feel this way. And this is the thing that I can change.

I can decide to be delighted by the simple fact that I’m alive. I can choose bliss over boredom. Sure, it takes effort, but what doesn’t? Gratitude is an action more than a state of being.

Maybe Insane

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We are each the gatekeepers of our psyches, while the Internet is a vast soup of pictures, facts, lies, opinions, promotions, stories, attempts at critical thinking, and faux profundity, that flows by as fast as you can scroll. If you let it all in, you’ll become exhausted and maybe insane. So you have to make choices.

People who post pictures of aborted fetuses or tortured animals are the first ones I block. Then I go after people who post the same thing over and over. Fat guy and his wife at dinner. OK, I tried to be nice and “like” the first couple of times, but now I can’t do it anymore. Likewise the dog sprawled on the couch or bed. If that’s all you’ve got going on in your life, then keep it to yourself.

Unfortunately, I am most impressionable early in the morning when I am least critical. I share lots of ugly political posts about Donny Bonespurs the Pumpkin Spice Hitler and then have to go back and delete most of them. I don’t want my social media legacy to involve him in any way.

I try to post links on Facebook to my blogs, but they never result in any traffic going that way. Facebook has figured out how to block links to other sites without letting the poster know that’s what’s happening. They want you to create a Facebook page, then pay them to advertise it. If you try to get around that, by linking to Youtube or a WordPress blog, it will simply appear to be an active link, but it’s not.

Tube Junkie

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For as long as I can remember I have been a sucker for electronic gadgets. I was about nine when the transistor was invented. Before then, everything used tubes. The local dime store had a tube testing machine, and I found that I could collect old radio and televisions from the neighbors that no longer worked and find out which tubes were burnt out. Even though I couldn’t buy the replacement tubes, I could tell someone else how to fix the set.

We also had an X ray machine at the local shoe store that allowed you to see the bones in your feet. The salesmen would chase me away when they found me playing with it.

In the sixties, everything electronic began to change rapidly. Printed circuit boards containing semi-conductors don’t have the same panache that wires and tubes had. I began to lose interest. The more I learned about electronics, the more it seemed like math, which I had concluded wasn’t up my alley. I was in love with glowing orbs of glass, the smell of hot wax off a transformer, bakelite knobs and cases. I was an artist, not an engineer.

Tubes are making a comeback with the hi-fi crowd. There’s a factory in the Ukraine that still makes them. On my Facebook feed I see ads for them, and for audio amplifier kits that use them. Although I have no desire to try again to assemble an electronics project kit, (my Heathkit Shortwave Radio was a total bomb) I am amused and delighted to see my old friends that 12AX7 and the 6AU6.

And that nonsense idea “cut your cable bills and turn your house wiring into a giant antenna!” still lives! People are falling for it fifty years later. Maybe the price is so low people don’t bother to demand their money back.