Tag Archives: buddhism

On The Cusp!

There are two books that have had an inordinately large effect on my life. One of them I can remember large parts of and can offer reasonably intelligent analyses of what the author was trying to say. The other one I can hardly recall one thing about, save for the overall message the author was trying to convey. The reason these two come to mind—and have affected me so greatly—is that they’re closely related conceptually and their messages resonate and overlap, at least as I see them and I’m pretty sure that’s about all that counts.

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The first of these two books is “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” by Alan Watts. The second of these books is “Passages,” by Gail Sheehy. Without going into any detail, I’ll merely note that each of them speaks to the inexorable rhythms of life and the inevitability of change. They also offer a philosophical approach to dealing with those rhythms and changes that offers one a chance to navigate them with as little friction and pain as possible. I read the book by Watts in my early twenties. At the time I was head-over-heels in love with a young woman, but the relationship wasn’t to be and she broke up with me. I was young, impetuous, and prone to bouts of manic happiness and deep, dark depression.

I somehow found the book; how is lost in the mists of my slowly calcifying synapses. Perhaps it found me. It wasn’t the first book by Watts I had read. That was “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” which I found quite helpful in navigating the changes I was going through shortly after high school, a short stint in the U.S. Navy, a slightly longer stint as a businessman, a somewhat shorter flirtation with Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of ’67, and a steadily growing antipathy toward the nation’s conduct of the war in Vietnam.

Another thing I thought interesting, and somewhat serendipitous, was the juxtaposition of the release of two Beatles records that coincided with my reading of these two books by Watts. When I read “The Book: …” the Beatles had just released “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” The book was kind of my introduction to Zen Buddhist philosophy and the concept of the dialectic as represented by the Yin-Yang symbol. I was beginning to understand the duality of nature and the essence of all forms of evolution. Some of the lyrics in the song point out that same kind of duality, e.g. “Your inside is out when your outside is in. Your outside is in when your inside is out,” and the title of the song seemed to resonate with Watts’s message that we needed to get in touch with our actual selves (our “inner monkey”) if we were to understand our place in the world and not color it with the expectations of others.

The second song, which coincided with my reading of “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” was “Let It Be” which, as I understood it was the message Watts was conveying about the reality there is no such thing as security, that all things are in a constant state of flux, and the only way to (paradoxically, a very Zen concept) achieve any semblance of security—no matter how ephemeral and transient it may be—was to stop seeking it.

Sheehy’s book, as I recall it (and I only read it once, whereas I’ve read The Wisdom of Insecurity three times) had a similar message, but it was less on a spiritual and philosophical level and more on a practical, everyday “here’s what to expect” kind of approach. She wrote of what she referred to as the “passages” we all go through as we age and gain experience, while everything around us is changing and moving forward.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I have reached a point (a passage, if you will) in my life where I find far too many reasons to prepare myself for the end. I’ll be 74 years old three months from today. Next month I will be fourteen years older than my father was when he died. I realize I’ve reached an age where I could, conceivably, live another decade or more, but I could also drop dead tomorrow. There sure are a lot of people doing it who are younger than me.

Throw in the reality that I still have two daughters at home, one of whom is a Junior in High School, the other a Freshman in College, and it’s producing a bit of a tension arc that I’m struggling to put behind me.

I’m not trying to be morose, or overly glum. I am, however, attempting to approach what is definitely the autumn (more likely winter) of my life with as much spring in my step and lightness in my heart as I can muster. I need to understand what this passage I’m experiencing is all about (Sheehy did not write about septuagenarians) and position myself to take advantage of all it might offer. If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there’s always benefit to be found in nearly every situation, at least until there isn’t (if that makes sense.) I am an optimist, so even when I get deeply (perhaps depressingly) introspective, I usually snap out of it within a few hours or now more than a day or two.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage of my life is going to offer. Both of my girls will be on their own in a few years, God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) willing and the creek don’t rise, and Linda and I will be on our own again. The difference for us, is we won’t be in our early to late fifties, like most people who have their families when they’re no older than their thirties. As long as I know my girls are doing well and taking care of themselves (which is an entirely different story) I’ll be OK with whatever happens. I will say this. Not having to help with high school homework will be deeply enjoyable!

If I live that long. 🙂


Secular Religion. WTF?

The United States’ rogue Attorney General, Bill Barr, gave an interview to right wing dick bag, Mark Levin, the other day and I came across this tweet and response that highlights what I think is a deeply troubling reality about religion in today’s United States.

Faith in another context

https://twitter.com/SoapItUpHard/status/1292664554804019201

Putting aside Barr’s constant projection, what Soap And Science, PhD says about how much of the religious world views science seems on point. Science is based, above all else, on provable facts and reproducible evidence. Conclusions may be reduced by some to dogma, but they will not be able to withstand the scrutiny of others who can show reality is otherwise. We’re constantly updating our scientific knowledge as we learn more.

Not so with religion. Most all religions, certainly the major religions of the world, are built on dogma. For Judaism it’s the Torah, the Old Testament. For Christians it’s the New Testament with a nod to the Old Testament. For Islam, it’s the Koran with a nod to both the New and the Old Testaments. For Hinduism, it’s the Bhagavad-gita, and for Buddhism it’s the Sutras of Buddha, as well as others. I certainly don’t hold myself out as a religious scholar, so please don’t hold me too strictly to my list. I’ve likely missed quite a few and, perhaps, mis-characterized one or more of the others. All these books might as well have been written in stone, as they are accepted (mostly) as the word of the Almighty. (NB – I don’t think the Buddha was seen as a God, per se, but I think the basic theme here is correct.)

What concerns me most about the point Soap And Science is getting at is the concept that religious nutbags like Barr are, indeed, jealous of how well science works and, in fact, that it serves to explain the world far better than any religion has or is capable of doing.

While it pains me to do so, I don’t see any other conclusion than that the right—representing, in part, fundamental Christianity—will not hesitate to use violence when they realize they’re not getting their way. They are more than capable of perpetrating every vile thing they accuse the left of currently doing. In fact, that it’s in the very nature is proved by their accusations when there’s no evidence to substantiate them. They are hateful and violent; ergo so is everyone else, especially those they fear the most.

As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “watch this space.”


I Stand With All People

I’ve been an atheist—meaning I don’t believe there is such a thing as God, i.e. a supreme being—since I was 15. I’m now 72. However, I was raised as a Jew and am bar mitzvah (a man of the commandments.) My ethics are fundamentally based on my Jewish background, especially given my four years of Hebrew school, with liberal sprinklings of Christianity and—later—Buddhism, primarily Zen.

I sometimes refer to myself as a Jewddhist, but my favorite designation—for fun—is Quantum Gestalt Humanist. Quantum for my belief in science and reality; Gestalt for my recognition of the totality, synergy, and systemic nature of the universe, and Humanist for my recognition of the beauty and value of my fellow human beings. Still . . . the ethics I recall learning, especially in Hebrew school, form the basis of these beliefs and feelings.

Even though I haven’t been to schul since I attended a very familiar, yet very uncomfortable, Yom Kippur service about 20 years ago, I will always be a Jew . . . and not just because my parents were Jews, but because the world—especially anti-Semites, but even the ignorant and those easily swayed by propaganda—will always see me as a Jew; nothing more. Besides, I was raised to respect and stand up for the oppressed and, despite the actions of the Israeli government, with whom I greatly disagree, there is no place for any kind of bigotry in my world, and that includes anti-Semitism. There is a world of difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Zionist.

I hope the United States is the enlightened society I’ve been led to believe it is, but my confidence level is not very high and my Jewish angstometer is slowly flashing a soft, pastel red. Donald Trump has been stoking the fires of hatred since long before he was “elected” president. Incidents of anti-Semitism, as well as attacks on other minorities, have risen rather dramatically and there appears to be a correlation in the rise of these acts following every one of his rallies.

So . . . I want to make it perfectly clear I will defend Jews, including Hasidic Jews with whom I share absolutely nothing save for a long, somewhat convoluted history. At the same time, my “faith” in the interdependency of the human race and all life compels me to stand with everyone, especially the oppressed and downtrodden.

Unfortunately, age is starting to wreak havoc with me. I lift weights and work at staying fit, but I’m approaching 73 and it’s quite clear things are slowing down. I haven’t the stamina, nor the strength, I once had. I’m pretty sure I don’t have the intellectual capacity I once had, but I must continue to fight in any way I’m capable.

I’m planning on attending this year’s Women’s March next Saturday in downtown Los Angeles, not far from the place of my birth. I’m bringing my 18-year-old and a friend of hers who’s in town from the Bay Area, where she’s attending her first year of college. They both went with me last year. I’m hopeful my 16-year-old, who was problematic last year and had to stay home, will also attend. I wish I had the ability to attend the numerous events taking place locally, some as protest and some for electoral politics, but I still have to earn enough to supplement my retirement income (not as easy as it once was), and I also have to help my troubled high school sophomore get through the next two and a half years.


You Can’t Hold on to Anything

Beauty and Death

Coveting Kills

I was reminded by a post from one of my Facebook friends that we lose many things in our lives by trying too hard to hold on to them. Many years ago I  had a girlfriend who had been a high-fashion model, working runways and some of the glitzier magazines of the day, including Cosmopolitan, Town & Country, etc. I met her through our mutual activity in the anti-war movement, including our work with the Vietnam Veterans Against The War. She had gone to Vietnam several times as a USO entertainer.

She was, as she put it, getting a little “long in the tooth’ and her modeling days were pretty much over (she was seven years older than me and I was approaching 30). She was constantly worrying about how old she looked, spending what I thought was an inordinate amount of time on her makeup and hair, especially if we were going out. One day it dawned on me just how much the constant worry was causing her to accelerate the aging process. Through the act of worrying she was actually making herself look older. I told her that and, frankly, I don’t think it made much of a difference to her. She was caught up in a “death spiral” of concern for losing something it’s impossible to hang on to.

It – as so many things do – also reminds me of the lessons I learned from reading Alan Watts‘ Book “The Wisdom of Insecurity“, the most important of which is that there is no such thing as security and absolutely anything can be snatched from you at any time; including your health, life, etc. Alan points out the futility and self-destructiveness of trying to hang on to things and the paradoxical value of “letting go”. He bases his teachings on those of Zen Buddhism. Currently, I’ve read the book three times over the years . . . and each time it has either drastically changed how I saw things or comforted me in my acceptance of things I couldn’t change. I recommend it highly.


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