Tag Archives: spirituality

Where You Goin’?

silhouette photography of people
Photo by Kendall Hoopes on Pexels.com

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment, comparatively so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride. As Jim Morrison said, “No one gets out of here alive.”


Tax These Hypocrites

I came across this graphic on Facebook today. It struck me, as the concept has struck me for decades, that this should be part of any truly progressive agenda. I have been an “ordained minister” since the late sixties. I have performed approximately 50 weddings, which was the main reason I became “ordained.” It wasn’t to lead a congregation or even to claim tax breaks, and I claim no special relationship with the universe. In fact, I am an atheist.

One thing I learned early on, though, is the State considers a church a business, an organization, with the lone exception (that I can think of) of taxation. By not taxing religious organizations the State is giving them an unfair advantage over any other type of business and is, in my less-than-humble opinion, violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution by—in fact—making a law respecting an establishment of religion.

Even more egregious is the situation depicted here. Mega churches are nothing more than income sources for their “leaders.” I believe this is Joel Osteen’s “flock,” as well as his home. Why does a follower of Jesus, a poor itinerant, and one who purports to be a spiritual leader, need a house that could probably accommodate the entire village of ancient Bethlehem? If nothing else, these huge and “Osteen”tacious abominations should pay their fair share of taxes on the revenue they get from their “flock.”


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. 🙂


Dialectical Zenosity

The Interpenetration of Opposites

My philosophy of life has been informed by two people, both of whom I was first introduced to (not personally, but via their writings) in my early twenties. They helped me understand the meaning of the dialectic of life; the yin yang of our corporeal (and intellectual) existence.

The former brought me an understanding of spirituality that did not require the existence of a supreme “being,” while the latter helped me to see how our thinking is shaped by the material world we live in, and how our thinking can then help us act to change that world for the better.

The former brought me “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and taught me to accept the tenuousness of existence and the need to slow down and enjoy life absent regret for the past or anxiety for the future (not that I am proficient at it always,) while the latter gave me a much clearer understanding of both biological evolution and the evolution of human society.

These two people are: Alan Watts, who many considered the western world’s foremost authority on Zen, a philosophy I believe reflects our place in the universe; and Karl Marx who, along with Friedrich Engels, developed and promulgated the philosophy of dialectical materialism, which I believe accurately reflects how the physical world informs our existence and how our ability to understand that physical world gives us the ability to significantly alter it.

It’s been over fifty years since I first encountered these two aspects of what I consider to be a somewhat “unified” theory of existence. Nothing in the interim has dissuaded me from following their teachings. I find the physical universe to be infinitely more beautiful and mystical than any of the Gods humans have worshiped over millennia.


Hey! Where You From?

Humanist Bumper Sticker

No boundaries. Love all. Serve all.

This is a graphic I put together around eight years ago after seeing some bumper stickers declaring the driver (or vehicle owner) to be a native of California . . . or some other state. It seemed to be somewhat of a trend and I found it a bit stupid and offensive. Today I’m inclined to think it was also nativist, as in anti-immigrant.

I am a humanist and I believe we need to move toward a world that knows no political boundaries and respects all humans as part of the same family. I realize some may see this as a pipe-dream, but I believe it is part of the trajectory of progress that traces back to the days of primitive tribalism. Just as there are very few items remaining that can be made by one person, taking care of our planet and its ecosystems (both natural and human/social) is going to require recognizing our interdependence.

So that was my thinking when I created this graphic. Until such time as we discover life in other star systems, which I’m convinced we will some day; perhaps within my lifetime, I am of the opinion we are all part of the same race of beings and must conduct ourselves with that in mind. I was born in Los Angeles, California . . . but I consider myself a native of Earth and part of a very large and diverse family.


How Dare I Discuss Religion!

Hawk Circling

My Gateway to Everywhere & Everywhen

Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.

I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.

I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.

Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.

Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.

The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.

As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.

I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.

I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>

So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.

What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.


* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.

Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug


How Dare I Discuss Religion!

Hawk Circling

My Gateway to Everywhere & Everywhen

Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.

I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.

I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.

Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.

Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.

The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.

As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.

I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.

I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>

So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.

What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.


* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.

Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug


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