It's rare for me to deal with the issue of homelessness. For one thing, there are too many people with far more knowledge and experience who can address it with more authority.
Jen, as an example, wrote a post in the weesmas about the final night at a cold weather shelter that is closing for the season. Obviously I pay attention to what she says. She has the bonafides, has done her time in the trenches and knows more in ten minutes than I will in a lifetime.
At the same time, we come from different approaches. Her educational background is in psychology. Mine is sociology. I read what she says and my head automatically looks at it from a very broad perspective, the perspective of one who has studied societies.
That will automatically cause us to view the same thing through a different lens, even though we share the same visceral reaction.
I don't have practical solutions. I don't understand the labyrinth of social service agencies and government programs. While I have a yeoman's understanding, the actual mechanics of getting something done is completely beyond me.
I'd like to give a picture of this problem through my lens. Just something else to consider.
Western societies hold the functionalist view. Homelessness is part of the natural order of social organization. There will always be those who have more than others and that hierarchy defines natural order.
Lenin wrote a lot about this view of society in his book The ABCs of Historical and Dialectical Materialism. I don't agree with his conclusions but he did write a decent analysis of it.
American culture, given its Puritan underpinnings, specifically holds the judgemental view that only "bad" Americans become homeless because they are lazy, drug-addicted or careless about their own lives. That gives permission to ignore them, to pretend there is no obligation to do anything about it. At the root of the belief is that most people, given the choice, would sit back and do nothing, stop working and let the government support them. The homeless are effectively used as a social scare tactic.
There is also an element of the conflict theory. The basis of that theory is that social order is determined by power and coercion. The only way to change our social status is by power struggle through competition.
This view holds that the homeless are simply too weak to climb the ladder.
The third view is called symbolic interaction. This theory holds that individuals give meaning to social behavior and that creates society. The society as a whole is created by the collective of individual beliefs. It is more subjective than the other two. Social status is demonstrated through symbols. Status symbols. The society determines what those status symbols might be. As an example, being fat used to be a status symbol. It meant you had enough to eat.
The relationship between the individual and society is that the individual and society are both interdependent. This perspective views the homeless through symbols. These symbols can be anything. The clothes they wear, the way they act and the foods they eat.
This view, in my opinion, combined with the other two creates a real problem for the homeless in this particular society.
If we believe they are a part of the natural order, we need them to remain homeless to reinforce that view.
If we believe they are simply weak, then they become disposable. We can relegate them to non-personhood.
If we believe they are a symbol, what is that symbol?
That is the root question, in my opinion.
I am interested ~ as always ~ in hearing your thoughts and opinions.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
Snarfed shamelessly from Sober Briquette this morning. :)
Amusing's Childhood Dreams Meme. If you are reading this, you are tagged. The objective is to give a glimpse of what your life would be like if you'd actualized your childhood dreams.
My house is an old Victorian on a tree-lined street. The rooms have hardwood floors. There is a slight musty odor in the house. Not a distasteful odor at all. It is just a very old house. A few cats and a dog roam freely and peaceably. They can usually be found asleep on the old Persian rugs or the antique furniture.
The den has two walls entirely filled with books. The rest of the room is cluttered with artifacts from my various travels throughout the world.
I am a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at a New England university. My course involves the investigation of myth as a foundation for cultural development. I sit with the afternoon sun streaming in through the bay window, putting the finishing touches on my third book ...
The debate over the place of science in cultural anthropology is an epistemological controversy that can be illuminated by considering the evolution of the hominid brain. The brain evolved under conditions in which cultural knowledge was stored in the biological memory of human beings by specialists such as shamans and story tellers.
Of course, I would not have been able to write such a thing except for my good fortune in studying with the best and brightest in the field. Joseph Campbell, Eric Wolf, Julian Steward and that new upstart Michelle Rosado. My shero is Elsie Clews Parsons. My PhD hangs on the wall.
I live a quiet but satisfying life. I have good friends and academic passion. I've travelled far and wide in an effort to learn more and more. The learning never ends.
Reality: In fact, my major in college was Sociology. Alcoholism intervened and I did not get a Masters Degree or a Ph D. I was a part-time student which means basically that I was going to school for a very long time. I had to work and did not qualify for any grants. However, I am inspired by those people who have gone back to college in their elder years. Who knows what decisions I might make in Thailand.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The other day I mentioned that during my conversation with Ajahn S, the topic of discipline came up.
When he said that, I felt challenged in a not-entirely positive way. Stuck way in the back of my head, I had all kinds of weird Calvinist crap lurking there, images of doing things I didn't want to do in a structured manner with someone ready to judge and chastise me if I didn't do it "right". In the past, I had a tendency to rebel against all kinds of rules, often even when I knew they'd be good for me. That was because I had no concept of what "discipline" really means. Put in the context of only being about management of our efforts completely misses the point of what discipline brings to us.
What Ajahn S was talking about is a different type of discipline entirely. He was referring to the Eightfold Path and Right Discipline. It involves a kind of renunciation. We stop complicating issues and practice simplicity. We have a simple straightforward relationship with the things and people in our lives. We give up all the complications that usually end up clouding our relationships.
A challenge for me, certainly! I am a seeker and have an analytical personality. That's a nice way of saying that I can complicate a bowel movement. I must admit there is a certain degree of arrogance in that, as though I alone would manage to uncover some undiscovered truth about the meaning of things. Not bloody likely!
It's a shock to realize how absentmindedly we live most of the time. We keep our minds captivated with entertainment and speculations. The right way to be absorbed is in nowness, accepting things as they are. We find ways to discipline our minds, to keep us from getting caught up in mental machinations like worrying, creating problems where they don't exist and craving stimulation. We need to have some sort of discipline to end that absentmindedness.
I have chosen Yoga. Meditation bores me silly. Maybe I am not ready for it.
The culture I have chosen is absolutely packed full with rules and rituals. I never understood the comfort that can come from definite set of standards until I began this transformation. There is a certain security that comes with that kind of discipline, knowing that certain things happen in certain ways and that they have certain meanings. In a sense, that is what gives me the freedom to concentrate on the discipline of my mind.
I'd be curious to hear from others. How does ritual fit into your life? Do you find it valuable? How do you practice discipline?
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I saw something clever on TV tonight and started thinking about it.
The pastor of a church in Kansas City, MO, came up with the idea of passing out rubber bracelets for his congregation to remind them to stop complaining about petty things.
No kvetching for 21 days?
Now keep in mind that I am talking about kvetching, complaining, bitching... mindless, petty bitching ~ not talking or discussing important topics like the state of the world or something really big happening in our lives.
I'm talking about the nattering we do as a matter of course throughout the day. Our coffee's too cold or too hot. Someone didn't take off fast enough when the light turns green. Someone didn't say good morning quickly enough. It's too hot. It's too cold. It's raining. It's sunny. You know what I mean.
Apparently, it's struck a chord with so many people that the church has had over one million orders in the mail from those who want the bracelets.
I understand the logic behind what he's doing. So much of the energy we expend each day includes that kind of internal or external talk. It becomes a way of processing experience to accentuate the negative.
Not sure if I would be able to entirely stop complaining. While I'm not much of a complainer by nature, I do my share.
I leave it to your judgement. Do you think you could make a commitment to stop complaining for 21 days?
It's late here. Time to go turn on the radio and listen to some good alien talk. I just wish Coast to Coast started earlier. 10.00 PM is rather late to ...
Monday, March 26, 2007
(**I am back from my medical maze. Thanks for all of your good thoughts. :) Gratefully accepted! The medical stuff wasn't all that bad. It's just preparation for eye surgery. At my age and given health problems, they make me go through blood tests, an EKG and such. That in itself wasn't so bad but the flourescent lights killed me! I'm ready to curl up in a ball in a dark room. Too much light, too much noise, too much, too much... but I'll be around later today.
Thought I'd clarify one thing to have this post make more sense. It is not about romantic love ~ which is something I know absolutely nothing about. The more I consider the notion of romantic love, the more I come to believe that I am not really constructed for it. This is about community and friend love.**)
I got an off-list note about one of my comments from long ago. We were discussing love and I mentioned it as a behavior, not a feeling. I had to take a few weeks to really think about what I am trying to say when I use that phrase.
One time, I read that when Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, someone in the audience asked her how we can help facilitate world peace. She said, "Go home and love your family."
Naturally, my own approach is a bit more inclusive in the sense that "family" can mean all kinds of things to different people. For me, it just means the people who surround me. My community in Sacramento. My community in Thailand. My friends and their friends and families. Basically, it means most people I come in contact with in the process of daily life.
Authentic love, the kind that binds us together as a community is not a euphoric emotion that sneaks up on our blind side. Instead, it is something we keep learning and relearning it, over and over again.
A springboard quote for me is from Antoine de Saint Exupery, the author of "The Little Prince". He wrote "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." It is recognizing commonality that enriches experience of love. Knowing that we are all here for a similar reason, to learn our lessons of this incarnation, allows us to grow and mature as uniquely different individuals, yet bonded together.
The core of it ~ and what determines our behavior ~ is a willingness to believe the best about the people in our lives. I struggle with this on occasion because my monkey-brain tries to turn me away from that basic view. The world has not been friendly in the past and it takes constant effort to change my thinking. But I insist on doing it.
When I assume the best about others, which in itself is a chosen behavior, manifestation of that seems to naturally follow in my actions. The way it manifests is in kindness, even when kindness isn't easy or convenient. It means being kind, even if you don't choose to be kind in return.
If I assume the position that I will love you only if you love me, that's not love. That's business. That's trying to pull something from you for me. It's bartering. That's about the farthest thing from authentic love that I can possibly imagine.
I believe loving behavior is a willingness to encourage the best in us. It is a recognition that while we are flawed, we are at the same time perfect ~ just as we are.
I believe loving behavior is benevolent. I give to you because giving to you is joyful. I don't keep score or have expectations of a particular return. It's not an investment. It's a gift.
I believe loving behavior doesn't allow me to lie to another person because it is easier than telling the truth. And telling the truth should always be done with compassion and respect.
I believe loving behavior requires me to understand that when someone hurts me, they rarely do it intentionally. It is equally important to recognize that sometimes the most loving thing to do is separate myself from someone who is toxic.
On a global level, I believe loving behavior includes respect for the resources around me, to respect animals and people. It means loving the ground that I stand on and the earth that ground covers. It means loving the beauty we have that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Within this fairly simple (and perhaps even naive) framework, it allows me to live a loving life which then passes along to the next person ~ and the person after that ~ and the person after that. Those people love ten more and on it goes.
In that regard, I understand what Mother Teresa meant.
Lately, there have been several posts floating around about blogs and the implications of making them commercial. I read Mad's series on this topic and found it very good and thorough. I agreed with some of her points and disagreed with others. Some strongly. Today, Julie has written about it. Please read hers as well as this one because my comments are a branch from that tree. This started as a comment on her blog and got too long.
The various points have been weighed by those far smarter and more savvy than me, but nevertheless I found that my reaction to them was visceral, almost to the point of wanting to shout "absolutely not!" Do not commercialize these forums! I don't care how you try to rationalize it. Do. Not. Do. It.!!
Technically, these blogs are simply a more individualized version of the old bulletin boards. We went from Delphi-style bulletin boards to Yahoo-style mailing lists to blogs.They use a more sophisticated tool but it is essentially the same objective that keeps them going. It's a way to be heard. It's a way to learn new ideas. It's a way to communicate.
It has only been very few times I took a look at some of the "popular" sites and was turned off by both the content and the NASCAR appearance of their sites. The pages took forever to load in because they were cluttered with ads and self-promotion of one type or another. I was turned off and did not return.
I can't tell you in mere words how utterly put off I am by the world of commerce and the mentality that comes along with it. The pandering, the promotion of products or individuals, the "popularity" aspect of it. Blecht. My life is too short and my time is too valuable to waste it on something like that. Just recently, I stopped reading someone's blog because it became too focused on the commercial potential of his writing. And make no mistake.. I thoroughly loved that blog! I was very disappointed when it went in that direction ~ but after three or four weeks of visiting, only to read about which cell phone to buy or whether or not that individual would be able to make money, ostensibly off of my visits, I had to bite the bullet and say "so long".
The best thing about blogs is the free-wheeling, outspoken nature of them. It's the Wild, Wild West of ideas. Everyone writes what he or she chooses to write about and invites others to comment or not comment, include themselves in the conversation or not. Very few are niche writers. Even the so-called "mommy bloggers" are quite diverse in all respects and while they write about raising their children, there are much broader issues being addressed at the same time. The "Social Justice Roundtable" posts are an example. While they may have been spawned out of concern for the future of children, they also provide an excellent resource for knowing what people are thinking about, what they perceive as being critical social problems to be solved and they give us a Cliff Notes view to follow up on or not follow up, again by choice.
Blogging is a roundtable, closest to the traditional concept as is humanly possible in the rather dry and mechanical universe of the Internet. We use our words to put color between the lines. These forums are accessible to nearly everyone. Internet access is not off the table for a good portion of the population in many parts of the world. Even the homeless can get access in the library. This requires no privilege. I live on a fixed income that is less than the "privileged" spend at Starbuck's in a two- or-three-month period. My computer is an older model that was given to me by the girlfriend of a friend when she upgraded. If it dies, I'll get up on Craigslist and buy another for a few hundred dollars. While I do have high-speed access, the cost is split between three people. Mine is far from a voice of "privilege".
Blogs can be a way to find likeminded others. Sure. If I wanted to go niche, I could probably draw other short, pudgy, middle-aged eccentrics who plan to move to Southeast Asia. All the short, pudgy, middle-aged eccentrics who plan to move to Southeast Asia would have a little community. We could share our plans and give each other ideas on how to make the move smoother. We could wax poetic about our chosen homelands and be as happy as the proverbial pigs in mud.
And it would become one-dimensional and boring as hell because there is only just so much that can be said around the central thought of "I'm a short, pudgy, middle-aged eccentric and I plan to move to Southeast Asia." The community would last six months or so. Like specialized, topical Yahoo lists, there would be a flurry of activity and would eventually end up with diminishing traffic because it would become just as interesting as watching paint dry. It's too insular.
Sticking a toe into the pool of commercialism might feel good initially but it's soon discovered that the pool is actually quicksand. The world of commercialism has no room for diversity ~ or freedom of speech ~ or any of those other things we consider to be the core and lifeblood of blogging.
Having worked for a newspaper, I know how writing can ultimately work its way back to "the bottom line". My words were to be strung together for a certain purpose. That purpose was to sell newspapers. I had to be sufficiently controversial and sufficiently tapped into whatever "everyone" was talking about or I'd get a verbal swat on the wrist from the editor. That meant week after week of writing about the same topics whether they interested me or not. I had to watch the daily news, keep track of the "big topics" on talk radio. I had to write cutesy pieces about Hallmark holidays. I had to write the occasional human interest column, designed to appeal to the emotions of the readers, usually to encourage monetary participation in someone's cause or influence their political thinking in the face of some upcoming election. I wrote so much pop-culture dreck that I should have been on a daily dose of insulin. I was a glorified propagandist.
Speaking only for me, I will never sell my soul like that again.
And I don't want to spend my on-line time with anyone who would choose to sell theirs. I'm too old and tired to be bothered with popularity contests (which commercial sites ultimately become) and I am not interested in feathering anyone else's nest with my time and energy unless it is by explicit agreement.
So ~ when it comes to the commercialization and commodification of blogs, I am firmly in the "absolutely not" camp.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I was tagged by Neen at "Can We Kick the Bar Here?" for a music meme. You know, choose several songs to share with others and then pick seven others who will ostensibly do the same.
It's a good idea and all the ones posted so far have been very enjoyable, especially the ones that link the songs. Honestly, folks, I do listen to all of them. :)
The thing is that I have a very strange relationship with music. As a few others have mentioned they do not, I also do not have music on in the background when I am doing things. Usually, when it's on, I am actively listening to it.
Music radio is mind-numbing. Too many of the songs are shallow and meaningless. At my age, teenage dating behavior is oh so boring! I stick mostly with a group of musicians I've enjoyed for years and years. The new stuff usually comes when someone recommends it. Hearing unheard, I buy the CD and give it a shot. Mostly though, I still listen to Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel and Janis Ian. Shirley Bassey. The Doors. Van Morrison. The old folks, the ones who are probably collecting Social Security by now. At this very moment, I am listening to "The Essential Donovan". His music is so old that many who read here might not be familiar with him!
Lyrics matter a lot. If I don't like the lyrics, I won't like the song. Most of the songs I like have some personal significance, reminding me of an important event in my life or the poetry of the song makes a statement that I wish I had the talent to write in the same way.
In other words, I'm really picky.
Just the same, leaving Thai stuff aside, here are several songs currently on my CD player. I hope you will enjoy them, just as I enjoy all the ones I've heard from others participating in this exercise.
1. Catch The Wind - Donovan
2. Sweet Dreams - The Eurythmics
3. Blackbird - Carly Simon
4. Because of You - Kelly Clarkson
5. Scarborough Fair - Sarah Brightman
6. Sounds of Silence - Simon and Garfunkel
7. Am I Coming Home Again - Janis Ian
As for the seven I am supposed to pick .. um... I can't actually think of anyone who hasn't done it already but if you are on my sidebar, you're tagged. (I stole that idea from elsewhere, by the way.)
Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend! :)
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Last night, we had some interesting discussions.
I suspect most of us want to believe we are "old souls". It implies a certain wisdom and experience that will place us just a bit "above" the unwashed masses. We want to believe we come here with something extra that will make our lives more meaningful and more fulfilling because we have an understanding of our purpose here.
Personally, I believe that is a very western concept. It's competitive. It's a way to feed our egos by believing we have an advantage over most others.
I've studied this stuff for a long time and am very, very aware ~ sometimes painfully aware ~ that I am a new soul. It's not too likely that I've hung around this neighborhood very many times before. I still get lost too easily. If I had to make a wild, wild guess, I'd say I've had perhaps four lifetimes.
Not all of them were in the East, unless Poland would be considered "East". I once had a past-life reading that indicated my most recent life before this one was spent in Eastern Europe. I was a very ordinary person who died in the Holocaust, specifically at Auschwitz. This makes some sense to me because as a young kid, I used to weep inconsolably whenever I heard about it. It wasn't empathy crying. It was keening, weeping, uncontrollable tears that would cause me to lose my breath. That held true until my mid-teens when it somehow resolved and I was able to discuss it and hear about it with some semblence of rationality.
Some theories of reincarnation would say that is not possible because my birthdate is too close to the end of WWII. They say there are at least 100 years between incarnations. I don't subscribe to that particular theory because time itself is a linear concept, invented by us for our convenience. In the spirit world, there is no time. I believe we cycle when we're meant to cycle and it could be 100 years or 2 days. It depends on the soul's lessons and needs.
In another lifetime, I was a selfish, inconsiderate, horrid person who likely used others and discarded them with some abandon. I don't know the specifics or the location of that lifetime but I believe much of my karma in this lifetime is tied to that one.
Most likely, my first incarnation was in Thailand (or Siam, as the case may be). That is why it is "home". It is where my soul's tentacles feed into the earth and remain planted. When I was in Khon Kaen, I met several people whom I believe to be "soulmates", people I've known in that and perhaps other lifetimes. These are the souls who cycle with us each time. We always find them. (Ajahn S., as an example, is one of those people. My mother is one of them. There's no guarantee that a "soul mate" is a positive influence. It's easy to confuse this term with the romantic concept of "soul mate" but it actually means anyone who comes into our lives that contributes to our growth. That means a completely toxic person could very well be a "soul mate".)
The Balinese believe we are each born with "four brothers", four guides, who are always with us. They name their "brothers" and talk with them. That's just another twist on the guardian angel belief that seems to hold in most of the world's religions.
Thai people actually build a little house for their spirit guides and ancestors called San Phra Phum. I have done this as well and find it kind of comforting and familiar. That tells me that it is something from "home". Our first lifetime is very much like our earthly childhood. That is where we learn the basics. Most of the choices and patterns we develope come from our soul's "childhood", too. Just like an earthly lifetime, we continue cycling as we grow, change, develope and confirm certain beliefs and ways of life.
Well, at least that's my take on it. It would be interesting to hear what you believe, even if it is that I am full of baloney. Do you have an affinity for a particular time in history or a particular place?
Friday, March 23, 2007
I am all for civility. I love gentle manners. One of the things that attracts me to Thailand is the civility that is built into everyday life through its customs.
Kreng jai aside, I don't like the disingenuous practice of claiming to "respect" all points of view. One of the things I was thinking about yesterday was discernment. How do we decide what's valid, what's not valid, who to trust for guidance, who do we respect?
When I met Ajahn S., one of the first things I realized is how closely his behavior and his stated values match. I have to admit that I kind of "fell in love" with him. Not in the "I want to jump your bones and eff you" kind of love ~ but the kind of love that comes about when we realize that someone is completely trustworthy, when someone has no agenda, when someone has deliberately and consciously chosen a certain way of life and lives it, even when it's difficult. I respect him. That is how I knew I could safely listen to him and follow his advice.
Not all ways of viewing the world are equally worthy of respect. I don't respect the view that sex is a commodity to be bought and sold and has no relation to love. I don't respect the view of folks who think their race is superior to other races and that it grants them the right to oppress, discriminate against and even murder those of another race. I don't respect the view that babies can be sucked out of their mother's wombs and thrown in the garbage because they're inconvenient. I don't respect the view that might makes right and or power or wealth equal moral authority.
I don't believe we have the right to become rude and boorish when we are at odds with someone else's views, either, even if we don't respect the ideas or the person. Greg Koukl wrote an article at Townhall.com and put it this way: "We should be egalitarian towards people but elitist toward ideas." He points out the difference between logic and philosophical backdrop of "tolerance".
A little bit of spice is good, too much is bad. It's so important to be careful what we say we respect and what we tolerate, what we're willing to emulate. When it comes to choosing someone to accept guidance from, that seems even more important.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Because I am completely empty-headed today, I wandered over to one of my favorite sites, The Skeptic's Dictionary, where I found some New Age pablum ...
According to Jacqueline Stallone, a foremost American rumpologist, rump reading is an art that was practiced in ancient Babylon, India, Greece, and Rome. She claims that the ancient Greeks thought the butt was the key to health and fidelity. She says the Romans used butt prints the way some people use graphology today: to determine potential talents and future success.
She does readings by mail. Just send her a digital photo of your rump and she will analyze it for a fee ($125, and she takes major credit cards and PayPal). Her website includes examples of appropriate rump shots, including one of "a male action hero movie star," "a Jewish princess," and "a Fortune 500 CEO." She'll not only give you a butt reading for your money, but she'll send you an 8 1/2 x 11 glossy color print of your butt, suitable for framing.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Thanks to all who responded to my post yesterday.
It got me thinking about something. When I called Ajahn S., I knew for certain that I would do whatever he said. That, in my mind, is the primary point of asking for advice and allowing ourselves to listen to another person, acknowledging that he or she might have more wisdom than we do.
Last night, I was listening to talk radio and came upon a program where some woman was advising callers on a variety of topics.
The core message in all of her responses was "you have to do what's right for you".
Now, if I knew what to do, I'd f***ing do it, right? If I knew what was right for me, I wouldn't be on the phone!
It seems we are reluctant to give real advice to each other. Between political correctness and supposed respect for all points of view, we've forgotten an essential part of being in this world together. We've forgotten that guidance is just as important in our lives as being heard now and then when we want to vent.
It's important to know the difference. I often ask people what they want before they start talking and fashion my response accordingly.
There's a normal hierarchy that developes among us. Some of us need guidance. Some give guidance. Some do a little of both. We all have our special areas of knowledge so there is no such thing as someone who is not capable of giving advice to others. Whether it's something as simple as how to make pumpkin bread or how to save a relationship, anyone who has been living on this planet has some knowledge to share.
When I met Ajahn S., I was new to Thai culture and beliefs. It seemed I was learning something new every day.
And no one was reluctant to inform me when I screwed up!
Least of all, him!
Yet I watched his life, the way he thinks, the way he reacts, the way he believes, the way his life is a shining example of all the best that culture and way of life have to offer. He just exudes spirituality and wisdom. His commitment to traditionalism and "old school" values is beyond question. His daily life is an example for all of us.
He doesn't chatter. He speaks four languages but uses all of them sparingly. He quietly listens and thoughtfully replies and is rarely off-target. That comes from his many years as an observer of life and people.
If he had said to me, "Well, ya know, you have to do what's right for you", I would have been pretty damned upset. It probably would have pushed me over the edge. At the moment I was talking with him, my idea of what was right for me was to go across the street, buy a bottle of Tanqueray and get smashed. I would hope that anyone who knows me and even cares about me casually would not say they "respect" my decision as though it an acceptable option. It was not an option and if I hadn't been in some pretty serious pain, it wouldn't have even come to my mind.
All of this to say that I hope we will all be a bit more willing to risk sharing our knowledge with others, with being a bit more pro-active in making a difference. That is part of the contract, as far as I'm concerned, of sharing this planet. It's part of the human-being contract, something we all can do for each other.
We might be wrong on occasion. Ultimately each person will decide for herself whether or not the advice has merit but giving advice is never wrong ~ and it's never disrespectful ~ unless it is unsolicited.
Just my humble opinion... :)
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
This past few weeks have been .. um.. challenging.
It's amazing how fast we can forget certain things and go back, full-fledged, into negativity of a life we've left behind. I've spent the past few weeks flopping around like a big fish on the deck of an old river boat, not connected to the things I should be ~ and totally connected to things that are not healthy and just take me back to an old way of being.
This is going to sound silly but I truly recognized it when I got up this morning, made tea, got dressed and didn't even bother with my jewelry.
That sounds goofy ~ but symbols are important to me and my stinky mind was disconnecting me from my symbols.
I revisited the past and got stuck there for a while. Anyone who has read here at all has probably noticed that my moodiness is a real problem. Sometimes I never know when it will come. It just hits me like a hurricane. It's my own personal Katrina.
Long long ago in a land far away, I learned an important lesson from AA. What they call "stinkin' thinkin'" is what gets most of us in trouble. Our minds start working overtime, taking our hard-earned and precious serenity, pulling it over rocks and sticks until it finds the one vulnerable place to attack. My lizard brain started taunting me:
Everyone hates you. I hate you. Life sucks, so go eat worms until you die! No one will give a shit anyway! You'll never get to Thailand, you unworthy piece of crap! Let's just go get drunk! C'mon! It won't hurt.. and no one will even know!
What am I? 15?
Five years of work can cascade down the drain in a few minutes if we begin to listen to those thoughts. That's what stinking thinking will do. Somehow, our minds are always our worst enemy.
I made an impulsive decision. I called my spiritual advisor in Thailand. It will probably cost me more than fifty dollars but it was worth every dime. I truly needed him. It was time to get my thinking straight again ... but needed guidance from someone wiser. It is 14 hours later in Khon Kaen and I had perhaps 20 minutes before it would become too late to call. I picked up the phone ....
Your problem has always been discipline. This is your weakness.
Ajahn S. and I talked about self-mastery and the level of discipline we need to take care of ourselves. When he mentioned that, I realized the truth in his statement. I get up each day and wander through it, no direction, no purpose. I just exist from sunrise to sunset.
Your problem has always been discipline. This is your weakness.
He knew what I'd been doing without my telling him.
When I first began all of this, meaning when I got back from Thailand, I knew to get up at a certain time, meditate, go for a walk, come back and have tea ~ then decide on something to do for the day. Whether it is reading, writing, working in the garden, cooking, studying something, practicing my language lessons, exercising, cleaning or doing something for one of my housemates or a neighbor, I kept reasonably busy. Not frenetic, just comfortably occupied. There is always more than enough to fill a day but when the stinkin' thinkin' comes, I don't do anything. I've been known to sit in front of the tube all day which is seriously the worse thing anyone can do. Getting bombarded hour after hour with advertising and crappy cultural dreck values will begin to make a dent in anyone's serenity.
Not good.. and completely within my control.
He gave me an "assignment". I won't go into the details of it because it wouldn't make sense to anyone who isn't involved in the same type of spiritual practice but I can honestly say that it is helping already.
I am still going a few rounds with my lizard brain but feel strong enough to fend it off.
Monday, March 19, 2007
While blog-surfing today, I read a post by someone on the topic of fitting in, finding likeminded others and such. It discussed the culture of blogging which was rather fascinating. Some points I agreed and some I did not. It's a topic worth exploring at some point.
It struck me hard because that is not a feeling that's familiar to me. And it goes far beyond the culture thing.
Some of us come with charisma, I believe. It's a light that shines from within and people just gravitate to it and those who have it never have to wonder whether they'll be included or accepted. It comes so naturally that it probably never enters their heads.
When I was really small, before Los Angeles, my mother used to chastise me. I was "too friendly". I knew everyone in the neighborhood and often disappeared into the homes of my little friends and my mother would have to come and find me. I would talk to anyone I met.. from the corner bum to the neighborhood cop. It didn't matter.
I believe that was the nature I was born with.
Sometimes life comes along and we're thrown into situations we're ill-equipped to handle. And charisma can die. In the absence of someone to explain it and educate us to social skills, it withers away. It dies like an unwatered plant.
Throughout school, I one of the ones who was excluded from the games, the cliques and the goings-on that make the lives of kids. I was not the one who was invited to the birthday parties. Nor did I have them.
I had a very intricate and well-designed community of my own creation. In other words, I had a rich fantasy life. I used to wander around and pretend to be someone else. It would give me a momentary thrill to meet some stranger and convince them that I had some fascinating history and life. (Most of those strangers probably knew a lot more than I realized! :)
Part of that fantasy life was all about how it would feel to "fit in", how that would look.
In my mind, it meant dozens of phone calls every day with people wanting my presence and my company. It would mean lots of letters in the mail. It would mean never spending a painful Friday night alone as a teenager. I would be smiling and happy alllll the tiiiiime! I would be so wanted and loved!
I would be married at 20 to my knight in shining armor, have 2.5 kids and a house in the Hollywood Hills. Maybe even Bel Air. That really did mean "fitting in" to me. At that time.
Today, both of my housemates were home. In the middle of the day, we had to find something. One of the renters at the other house is making an accusation that is not accurate and we had to find the receipt book and do the analysis, make sure that we were correct.
The receipt book was missing. All three of us searched high and low, in every crevice and crook of this house. We finally found it. Together, we examined the receipts, added, subtracted, came up with possible scenarios and developed our Plan A and Plan B. We laughed and made jokes but also dealt with the real possibilities.
D's son who lives nearby is sick. We all pooled together in our respective medicine cabinets and came up with aspirin, NyQuil and vitamin C. We each went through our cupboards and put a care package together for him with tea and comfort foods.
V. and I sat on the couch in the office and swapped old stories. He made a copy of a CD for me by "Low Stars".
We all had dinner and then went our separate ways.
And it occured to me: this is fitting in. This is what it really means. Inclusion without fanfare or deliberation. It just is... and that is really rather comforting.
I will never be the sort of person who gets tons of phone calls and invitations. Hell, I could plaster my phone number all over Craigslist and it wouldn't happen! LOL I will never be the one of the "in crowd". I will never be pursued. Even if it were part of my life path, I'm getting too old to relate at that level anyway. The charisma I may have had as a child will never come back. Too much experience and too much isolation killed that off.
But the ease with which we co-existed here today is good enough for me.
Not just "good enough". It was perfect!
Thanks, everyone, for the comments on "Yesterday". They give me much to think about. In fact, many of them are going to be the launching pad for posts this week. You all make such goodpoints and I have to think about them. Thanks for that. It keeps me from falling into an unconscious and incomplete way of viewing things.
I'll start with this one from Jen:
Maybe it's not a question of "generating" but one of "being".
I gave some thought to this last night, of how the current approach is adversarial. The language that surrounds the topic is aggressive. We fight. We call them on their stuff. We force them to look at it differently. Offense/Defense. Dialectics. The implication behind the aggressive words is that "they" are our enemies. It's also worthwhile to note that people who are attracted to that way of thinking and that use of power will be the only ones who will voluntarily participate in the process.
In many respects, that is how the US got into the predicament it's in now. It has truly manifested what is at the core of its being. There are many uses for power and the governmental process has become the most destructive and divisive. (I'd recommend the book The Pathology of Power by Norman Cousins for more on this topic.)
There's a difference between apathy and acceptance. The old serenity prayer comes to mind. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
While some might consider me to be apathetic, and it might indeed appear that way on the surface, it is actually an acceptance of the things I can change and the things I can not. As for wisdom, the jury's still out. That's very different from the "I don't give a damn" apathy that is also present in many places.
I can and must change myself. I can and must try to influence my direct environment. By being what I want to project into the world, others are influenced in a non-aggressive way. Lead by example instead of coercion.
All of this to say simply, as Ghandi did, "Be the peace you want to see in the world".
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Yesterday, I decided to take a walk a few miles from my house where people were gathering in a small neighborhood protest.
When I arrived, they were still setting up and there was an opportunity to talk with a few people. They seemed to wonder who I am and why I was there. One woman asked, "you're not a spy for the government, are you?"
Once assured that in fact I have no covert operative status to be blown, we had some brief conversations. Going from one to another, I noticed a some commonalities.
Most of them were unwilling to answer the difficult questions. I asked one of the organizers, "Do you really believe this has an impact? Aside from taking the pulse of the neighborhood, do you think all of us, individually or collectively, can change a darned thing the government is doing? We have an illegal and immoral regime in place, firmly entrenched and reinforced through the national security establishment. Here it is, a gorgeous day, and it's rather pleasant to be here, but do you really believe it will do any good?"
Through multiple interruptions from her friends and acquaintances, she looked at me with a rather blank stare and said she didn't really know but we need to at least try. And, she continued, at least we know we've done something.
It was just about that point when a man on a bicycle came up to us and said that he was going to put a sign on his bike that said, "The Solution". I found that kind of interesting because I really had no idea what he was talking about at that point. He went on to tell me that it was the solution to pollution, riding a bike instead of driving a car. He chanted it like a mantra.
There is certainly truth to his statement. I'm all for alternative methods of transportation. Bikes, buses, affordable taxis. Heck, bring us tuk tuks and sawngthaews ... just like Thailand's. It would provide independent jobs, reduce traffic and all sorts of good things.
But that's really not the point.
In talking with many of the people present, I realized that I've become detached. It will take a while to figure out why. The fire in my belly is gone. The righteous indignance of youth seems to have been replaced with a kind of benign acceptance. Honestly, I don't believe gathering on street corners, holding signs and chanting does any good. There comes a point where realism trumps idealism. As much as I would like to believe street activity such as this does anything more than allow a community of likeminded people to meet up occasionally, I absolutely do not believe it will change public policy. The sixties are gone forever. The days of "Power to the People" are on the ashheap of history.
It's a different world now. Globalization has changed the nature of geopolitics. And geopolitics is far more of a driver than domestic unrest.
Demonstrations such as this provide a release. They provide a venue for meeting likeminded others and feel a sense of community. There's certainly nothing wrong with that and it is refreshing to spend some time in the presence of others who hold similar beliefs. Those beliefs are reinforced by the cars that drove by, honking wildly in agreement. (And there was a lot of honking!)
Standing so long in the sun began to get to me and my balance was becoming precarious. (I have balance problems and bright sun aggravates the condition. Long, complicated, boring story.) The best idea seemed to be to begin walking home. I stopped here for some food and a break. Who can resist?
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Lord knows, I try to stay out of American politics. At this point of my life, I couldn't care less about the individuals involved. George Bush, Dick Cheney. Who cares?
Griping about them does no good because they are beyond our grasp. They are the new despots at the head of an illegal and immoral regime.
Okay. I've said it all before. Blah blah. So, what?
This weekend marks five years since the US invaded Iraq. During the past five years, we've learned that the majority of the justification was based on deception and lies. Most of us knew it from the very beginning.
Here are a few facts for your perusal:
Over 31,000 soldiers have died since the beginning of the war. These are mostly minority and working class kids who had to join the military because there were no other available options for them in their communities.
Over 55,000 have been injured. They come back to this country where treatment is sadly lacking. Often their lives have been permanently altered, if not ruined, and yet they can't even get decent medical treatment from the VA. Note the recent news stories about treatment for VIPs vs military personnel from the ranks at Walter Reed.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed, either by American military action or by insurgents, products of the civil war created by the invasion.
For those interested in the financial aspects, this war costs 8 billion per month, 280 million per day, 12 million per hour.
Can you imagine other uses for that money? How many people would get needed medical care? How many affordable housing units can be built? How many homeless people fed and housed? How many jobs could be created? How many social issues could be addressed and possibly solved with that kind of funding?
There will be marches throughout the country today, the largest being the March on the Pentagon which has already begun as I write this.
I debated whether to attend any here locally. My involvement in American politics is practically non-existent. My concerns are elsewhere. Yet as a citizen of the world, if nothing else, I do believe it's important to make a statement that this war for greed and oil must end now.
No more excuses. It's immoral. War for no higher purpose than continuing to enrich the already-rich is immoral. The continued feeding of greedy corporations and the business aristocracy is immoral. We might not be able to stop it but if nothing else, we can make enough noise to make it uncomfortable.
Friday, March 16, 2007
As for weight loss, aside from the rather desperate long walks of a week ago, I have had trouble motivating myself to get off my behind. I've been eating horrible things that will probably send me to hell ~ so I don't have anything positive to report.
The good news is that I will get over this phase and get back to doing something.
Just wondering what it says about me that I can (still) sing along to all of the lyrics of "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers"? And at 6 a.m., at that?
Commercials can be really annoying but sometimes a clever one comes along that just has me laughing out loud.
Are there any commercials that make you laugh?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Probably stemming from the posts some of us wrote last week on male/female relationships, both Atavist and Bellezza have created a list of thirteen things they believe men want from women or women want from men. Although I've never attempted something like this before, I opened this template and will see what presents itself.
It's a difficult one because many of the things we say we want or need (big distinction) are probably the things we want or need from everyone, independent of gender. I will also say that I expect these things of myself.
1. Respect. The word speaks for itself. Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect me. Respect animals. Respect the world.
2. Individuality (mine): I am not your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. While we may have some commonalities (like being the same gender), don't make me responsible for her actions. Take care of your emotional baggage before getting involved with me. Get to know me as a person and approach me with that in mind. Just because some magazine says that "all women" like or dislike certain things, don't assume it is true of me as well.
3. Kindness: It is very important that you are a kind-natured person, someone who cares about others and the world around you.
4. Individuality (yours): I want someone who is willing to think for himself, present ideas and viewpoints in a respectful, intelligent manner and be willing to discuss things without getting defensive or emotional about it. Have your own interests, your own opinions and your own way of doing things. Live consciously. If we're compatible, it will work out. If not, we'll move on. There's no sense in trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. While I believe we should share the big values, cultural and otherwise, there's plenty of room for individuality.
5. Be secure: I am not your mommy or your nanny. Do what it takes to be secure within yourself. Know yourself. Do your own internal work. I will help in any way I can but I won't do it for you.
6. Integrity: Be consistent in your stated values and your behavior.
7. Affection: While I value physical affection as much as the next person, don't try to manipulate, cajole or pressure me about it. Those things happen naturally within context. Regardless of your perceived needs, please understand that I am not on this planet to meet them at your demand. Don't appeal to my emotions. Don't whine. It doesn't work with me. Know the difference between what is appropriate to say and what is not appropriate to say. Just because you read something in Hustler magazine, that doesn't mean it is okay to say those things to a respectable woman. I detest vulgarity. If I barely know you, your sexual fantasies are of no interest to me. As I get to know you, there will be no doubt about it when I am ready.
8. Maturity: I am completely turned off by men who emphasize that they may be my age or greater but still feel "young at heart". That just tells me you haven't grown up. Don't engage in childish behavior like pouting, sulking or passive-aggression. I can't stand childish displays of emotion, especially anger. It just makes me feel like putting you in day care and moving to another planet while you're gone.
9. Harmony: Harmony is very important to me. If you need to discuss something you consider to be a problem area, do it specifically and with suggested solutions. Think about it first. I am a very traditional woman and will probably do as you ask but don't make me guess about it. I'll likely be wrong. I'm not a mind-reader and we'll both end up disappointed.
10. Be responsible: Be responsible for your emotions and your actions. Own them. Don't try to make it someone or something else's fault. Keep your agreements.
11. Be a good partner: Work with me. I'm a very cooperative person, not competitive. Be open and honest about what you believe needs to be done and allow me to work with you. I am more than willing to let you be the boss ~ but do it well. Don't be demeaning or demanding. You'll likely find that my cooperative nature changes and I'll be gone. Understand that we each bring our own unique things to the table. Be clear about what you bring. I'll be clear about what I bring.
12. Be honest: This is probably the most important one. I notice inconsistencies and each time it occurs, my ability to trust you decreases. If I can't trust you, we can't have a relationship.
... and finally ...
13. Just be yourself: Don't try to pretend you are someone other than who you are because you have some unstated objective or want me to react a certain way. Don't "play games". Don't manipulate. I have neither the energy nor the inclination to put up with it. I'm getting old. My tolerance for drama and upset has long since been exhausted in the process of life itself. I don't need it from you. It's not fun or interesting. It's draining and obnoxious. Trust me to accept you as the person you are, flaws and all, because I will. I have flaws, too. Let me choose to love you as the person you are, not a fictitious image you've created. Images fade but authenticity grows deeper.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Today is going to be a "commenting only" day for me. Basically that means there won't be anything new here.
However, I'm involved in a couple of "roundtable discussions" on other blogs and I'd like to refer you to them. I hope you'll come by and check them out because they are both true exchanges of ideas on important topics. :)
One Plus Two has a post today on how changing our perceptions of homeless people is the first step to coming up with concrete solutions. There are several suggested solutions in the posts and the comments.
At Take A Picture, It Lasts Longer, there is an ongoing discussion about vanity and self-love which is morphing into a very good discussion on what those things mean and how they manifest in our lives and how they impact our choices and decisions. There are some really powerful voices in the comments section.
Hope you'll come by both of these spots and contribute your own thoughts as well. This really represents the best the Internet has to offer; a civil, respectful exchange of views.
See you all tomorrow. :)
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
So.. what does a person who is not wealthy do to create a retreat within the four walls of one's home?
I never understood how that could be done. Fortunately, I've since learned.
My living space is mainly two rooms. I have a den and a bedroom which is exclusively my part of the house. We share the kitchen, laundry room, back yard and so on. It's definitely a little community here.
Yet there are times I need to retreat, even from my housemates. One of the things I did in my den is install a refrigerator, a microwave, a toaster oven, coffee maker.. all the appliances that allow me to cook within reason. It's a galley kitchen without an oven or a sink. I bought the stuff from Craigslist and called it good.
Both housemates still work and one has an office here at home. There are people in and out all day, phones ringing, noise, conversation and music playing in the office. V. takes endless calls on his cell phone which has a ring tone that would grate on the nerves of the Dalai Lama. He's a hyper, active, pumped-up kind of guy and there are times when his energy is just overwhelming. My other housemate is not hyper but still can spread her own share of bad energy around when she gets aggravated about some small inconvenience. She considers me to be readily available as a listener.
There are times when I must close the access doors to my area of the house and literally block them out.
My two rooms look almost like a little Thailand. There are all sorts of Thai artifacts, arts, accessories, cookware, wall hangings and so on. I spent a fortune on eBay and bugged friends in Thailand to send me things. If I cranked up the heater as high as it would go and turned the humidifier on full tilt, it would almost feel like I am in Khon Kaen!
My housemates might object to that and I wouldn't blame them. :)
I created this space because there are times when I simply can't cope with the outside world. The noise, the chaos, the bombardment of marketing, the bombardment of the constant hustle of those trying to make their way in this culture, hunting and gathering. I start to feel crushed. Not emotionally crushed. Physically crushed. It starts with a headache and ends with full-fledged body aches.
For the next week, I am going to spend a lot of time here with the doors closed, the TV off, the newspaper unread and I'm going to limit my Internet browsing to blogs only. I will surround myself with good thoughts, good food, goodness ... clear energy. The spa didn't get rid of my physical aching. It's running rather deep this time.
Ba and I had a very good lunch yesterday. He gave me lots of language materials to study. In spite of his horrendous work schedule, he still found time to create these for me. It's some amazing stuff! It was also great to sit a few hours with someone whose thinking is similar to my own. I didn't have to explain or justify, didn't have to "mark my words" for fear of being misunderstood or be overly cautious of the content of my conversation.
I need to restore, get back into balance. It would be very interesting to know what others do to create "mini-retreats" for themselves.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Okay. I'm not picking on KCRA specifically. This is just the picture that popped up most easily in Google. :)
This morning I did a quick blogsurf while drinking tea. ThomasLB at Living Next Door To Alice made a comment in his post that got me thinking. Well, it reminded me of something I've noticed anyway.
He mentioned the giggling and flirting, weather and sports that seem to be the sum total of the morning news. All the news shows in the morning, both local and national, seem to be saturated with silliness.
It's news for adults presented in childish nuggets.
When I first moved to Sacramento, I was looking forward to interesting news. After all, this is the capital of the state. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect some fairly good coverage of statewide issues, what's going on in the governor's office and what sort of activity might be taking place in the state legislature.
I know. It's asking a lot... but ...
Instead, we get giggling, flirting, weather and sports. Hm.
And here's what sticks in my craw more than any of the rest.
Stop attaching emotional content to weather forecasts! Fer gosh sakes, we're all capable of determining for ourselves how we will feel about the weather. The perky little bubblehead who delivers the weather forecasts on the above pictured but unmentionable news provider in Sacramento has a habit of nearly doing acrobatics while showing her approval or disapproval of the weather. You'd think she got up each day and made a decision.
Today, I'm sorry but we're going to have to put up with some rain. We really need it! You'll be glad this summer for the rain now! (tilts head and looks at co-anchor) Won't we, Edie?
And the temperatures are going to be just beautiful today! Now go out and enjoy it!
I wish someone would tell her she's not the weather mommy and we're not her toddlers!
Finally, at 10.oo AM, I can turn on international CNN where they deliver the weather forecast in a reasonable manner.
It's going to be sunny and 62 degrees in Lisbon.
It's going to be hot and humid in Bangkok at 92 degrees.
It's going to be snowing and 17 degrees in Reykjavik.
Yeah! That's how it should be done!
And while we're at it, how about the morning shows such as Today, Good Morning, America and others.
Who told you that listening to two thousand screaming people standing behind barricades in front of your studio is appealing?
~Chani, living where the weather is beautiful today and I've been duly instructed to enjoy it!
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Okay. So today hasn't been one of my better days. I should have seen it coming but got hit unexpectedly and hard by a depressive episode.
This stuff is chemical and I know the best thing to do is just wait it out. It goes away on its own. Physical exercise helps more than almost anything else.
This morning, I was feeling pretty crappy about several things, the main one being this damn isolation. Hearts in SF asked this morning in comments, "It's hard being an ex-pat in your own country, isn't it?"
Well, yeah. Actually it is. Most of the time, I deal with it pretty well. That's just how it is right now and there's no sense in bemoaning it. It won't change the circumstances in the least. I have good housemates and good friends. Additionally, I am pretty good at balancing it out and know when I've had enough American culture, American attitudes and just the swirl of American life around me.
That didn't work this time because of the double-whammy of a depressive episode and the other feelings colliding.
Physical exercise is the best solution. There's a little Thai restaurant three or four miles from my house. That would provide an 8-mile walk and, by damn!, I wanted sa tay chicken on a stick! And jasmine rice!
So I put on my walking shoes, grabbed my book and headed out the door.
The walk did help and some of that feel-good chemical started hitting my brain. By the time I got to the restaurant, it really wasn't all that bad. At least I didn't feel like my head was full of hot water.
I sat down, ordered my meal and began to read while waiting.
I heard a voice from behind me.
My friend Ba came in! Now this was completely unexpected and I can't tell you how happy I was to see him.
"Chaaah-nah!" (He doesn't call me Chani because chanee is a really nasty animal in Thai. He calls me Chana or Chada, depending on his mood apparently.) He gave me a big smile. I admit that I smiled for the first time today, too.
He was alone. That was even better!
I invited him to sit with me and we talked for an hour or so over good food. Ba has a bad habit of being able to read me pretty well and I wasn't fooling him with cheery talk. He bluntly asked me why there is "sadness in your eyes". Being a lousy liar and lousy at covering up, I began to tear up even more. Crying really isn't part of my nature and when I do, it's very quiet and not usually noticeable to anyone else.
I hate to dump on people and wasn't going to do it with him today. He can be trusted with many things that I can't say to others who surround me. He is here from Thailand for a fixed period of time, just to make money. He works his proverbial ass off and saves fifty percent of everything he earns. That's no easy feat in this part of the country. He plans to return to Thailand by the time he is my age. (He's 44 now.) There are certain things I know he "gets" about me. In other words, he's safe.
So I explained that I miss Thailand a lot. I told him that today in particular, I feel brutalized and battered by my surroundings. I feel it physically. It's like I've been beaten up by some angry punk in an alley. My muscles hurt. "That's why," I told him, "I'm here for some food. A taste of honey is better than none at all, eh?"
I kept trying to change the subject and he kept coming back to it. For a guy who only had an hour for lunch before having to go back to work, he was certainly persistent! He wasn't going to let me get away without talking which he knew would shift my energy.
It did. It shifted it enough to make this bearable. My next step is to spend 20 minutes or so in the spa. The hot pounding water will hopefully take the ache out of my muscles.
It really is extraordinary how we are provided with exactly what we need at exactly the right time. If there is a happy ending to all of this, that's it. Serendipity.
Tomorrow, Ba has the day off. We'll go to lunch again and he has agreed to be my Thai instructor. It is hard to learn a language with just CDs and practice. Due to his work schedule, we'll only be able to meet every few weeks but I'm certain it will be a great help.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The past few days have left me with a "hangover". No, I have not been drinking. The hangover is a result of too much American culture, too much, too much. I feel burned out. It's sucking the energy out of me.
Every now and then, I need to escape it. Sometimes that can be difficult when, naturally, the TV, the radio, the Internet and the people who surround me are all quite saturated in it. Marinated might be a better word.
It's times like that when I transport myself to Khon Kaen. When I try hard enough, I can even recall some of the smells. That spicy, hot smell of chicken over an open grill. The scent of the plants that mingle with the cooking. There's something in the air.
I can almost taste the food. Although I have spent the past hour making curry chicken with rice, it's not the same. I can't quite re-create it.
When I turn on the music, it takes me to the waterfall. It was awe-inspiring and that day, it didn't matter if I died right on the spot. As far as I was concerned, I'd seen the greatest beauty this world had to offer.
But, of course, there is something far more important to recapture. Words escape me to describe it. It's the tether that binds me to that place, the earth that roots my feet.
And sometimes I know it could be the ugliest place on this planet and I'd feel the same. It's not just the geographic beauty that holds me. It's something much more.
The ease in everyday interactions. I miss the smiles. I miss the purposeful strides of people on the street who have no aggression. I miss the warm-hearted courtesy. I miss the Khon Kaen Night Market. Oh, I spent way too much money there and elsewhere, too many times. I wear some of the jewelry to this day.
One of the things I loved most are the small, spontaneous gatherings that would take place, especially near the university. There was usually food present. Someone would yell out, "come sit with us!" The open-hearted friendliness was breath-taking at times.
We would chat. There was always someone or two who spoke English and I can belch out a little Thai if it's absolutely necessary. Broken Thai. Grammatically incorrect Thai ~ but that and some good sign-language always works. Time would pass. We would share ideas, talking about all nature of things. No pretenses. These were probably people similar to me, the assorted oddballs and eccentrics. It didn't take long for us to get past our differences. I was no longer "farang". They were no longer "Thai". We were just people.
I loved all of them. I didn't even know their names but I can see their faces.
Hours would pass. And there was nothing else but that very moment ~ complete strangers discussing everything from the meaning of life to music to food to ....
It didn't matter. I was home. By then, I knew it.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Here we go again with the "phenomenal new ideas" presented by Human Potential Movement hucksters who want to make lots of money from vulnerable people. The seminars are priced currently at $997.00 for one weekend.
The book itself is based on the "Law of Attraction", part of a loose set of principles which drove the "Human Potential Movement" of the 1960s. The basic premise of the Law of Attraction is that if you think about "it", dream about "it", you will attract"it". (As is fairly predictable, the majority of it is about material wealth and none of it about Right Action which is the natural extension of the Law of Attraction.)
I personally find the false hope presented in such a shallow and incomplete presentation of the Law of Attraction to be vile. When it is peddled by an outside agent, it is reprehensible. Hope has to be matched to realistic expectations or it is fantasy and wishful thinking which is bound to lead to frustration and disappointment. One of the things I found most disturbing about the New Age movement in general (from which this particular interpretation of the Law of Attraction spawned) is the idea that if you experience failure, illness or disappointment, it is somehow your own fault. Can you imagine telling a cancer patient that it is his or her lack of positive thinking that brought about the disease? Can you imagine blaming the poor for their own poverty? That is the primary underpinning of the Positive Thinking movement. We attract what we believe and what we think about, therefore it is our own fault if things go wrong. So just stop thinking negatively, dammit!
If you do not know what expectations are reasonable and what execrations are fantastic, what on earth to do?
Easy! Lighten up on the expectations.
Rather than approaching life with expectations, why not approach it as an adventure and a journey and just see where it takes you? (That is not to say the lunatic fringe elements that take a mistaken cue from Eastern mysticism and preach that "living in the present" involves no examination of the past nor planning and anticipation of the future are any better. That's just nuts.) Discontentment and unrealistic expectations are very close cousins. In general, especially the "Human Potential Movement(s)" of the 1960s have resulted in millions of people who don't have a clue about the difference between fantasy and reality, imagination and possibility.
Those who have at least a reasonable degree of maturity know that life brings both positive and negative things. Sometimes it is the pinnacle ~ and sometimes it sucks. Suffering is as normal as contentment. It's Samsara ~ the life cycle. Expectations lead to resentments. These are fairly basic and solid principles. The idea that we can have everything we want by thinking about it is just plain childish.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Just a quick note to thank all of you who participated with me in this dialogue over the past few days. It represents the best of what the Internet has to offer ~ a community of people sharing ideas and perspectives.
Much respect to all of you :)
Okay. So I suspect we've all ascertained by now that I am a rather unusual person. My perspectives are decidedly off-beat on a variety of topics but in thinking about some of this last night, I came to the conclusion that much of it surrounds the issue of craving.
I can look back over the fairly significant number of years I've lived and have a vague recollection of craving in my very young years. You know.. as a pre-teen. Somewhere between my tween years and young adulthood, the craving stopped. Note that I differentiate between simple wanting, normal desire and craving. We all "want" or we wouldn't even get out of our chairs.
I'm not a dreamer, not one who puts much stock in dreams. Ambition doesn't seem to be a part of my personality construct. For the most part, I'm pretty content with what comes along and in a material sense, my needs are minimal. My life is simple and satisfying. Aside from missing Thailand, I can't complain about much. The things I choose to change in my life are ordinary engineering problems that have to be solved. How to get from Point A to Point B. I look for the most logical and reasonable solution to any perceived lack I experience in my life. Meanwhile, I evaluate the potential solution within the context of my ethical and moral system and choose an action.
Many of the comments in response to my post yesterday dealt with the issue of "sparks" and feeling "love" at first sight. I am not questioning the authenticity of anyone else's experience but I truly don't understand it. I feel kinship with certain people I meet but I can't wrap my mind around the kind of craving or attachment that most people consider to be essential to a romantic relationship. I love my friends but that comes from getting to know them, building a history and building trust.
What most describe as "romance" feels clingy and sounds a lot like craving. Frankly, I find it such an odd concept that it's difficult to even write about it. It's like trying to describe something I've never seen.
From an observer's point of view, what I see is a commodification of everything in that arena, from meeting to sex. People gather in certain places, use Internet dating sites and an assortment of other outlets with their laundry list of expectations (planned resentments) in hand, looking each other over as though it was a car auction. Women and men both primp, strut and present an image of themselves that is often unrealistic. Women are expected to meet an unrealistic standard of beauty. We are expected to paint our bodies with products designed to make us look different than we actually are. (I hate make-up. Sorry, ladies..) Men are expected to perform in equally demeaning ways. There is a marketing of the Self that seems odd, something that sucks the humanity out of us. It sets us up for frustration and failure because it is not authentic.
That is what I find demoralizing, demeaning and repulsive.
I appreciate KC's observations very much because I resonate to biological determinism. When everything is crunched down, I believe we'll find that brain chemicals and brain function drives most of our behaviors.
My inability to relate to that particular aspect of life could be something as simple as brain deficiency. It could be that my brain doesn't produce those chemicals. Although I must honestly confess that I believe what surrounds me in many ways has blunted it.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about marriage and what kind of marriage would work best for me.
Even though I do quite well alone and don't mind being alone all that much, when we get to a certain age, it's important to have a companion. That's just practical, if nothing else.
My recent attempt to "date" left more than a sour taste in my mouth. It really confirmed that it is something I don't want to do, can't do and see no reason to do.
Even though my previous marriage didn't work out for other reasons, we did do one thing right. We skipped the "dating". We were both looking for someone, we both wanted to be married and as soon as we realized we didn't dislike each other so much that leaving us in the same room would risk a visit from the Homicide Unit, we decided to get married.
There was no pressure on me to "put out". There was no pressure on him to perform his manly duty of giving me money and protect me. We were both a couple of nerds who liked science fiction and computers.
There was nothing but friendship. No fireworks. No "chemistry". Just friends.
And lately I've been thinking that's not an entirely bad thing. So, we didn't have sparks flying. You know what? Honestly? I don't even believe that happens. I believe there are many people who are in love with the idea of love but not the practicality of it. Some people want to have that feeling so they create it. It's sui generis. It wouldn't matter if it's you or me or a slab of venison. If someone wants to become infatuated, he will. She will. Blame all the Meg Ryan movies.
One of the things that occured with my last dating experience is the guy telling me that he adores me. He'd say "I adore you! I really adore you!" It didn't "melt my heart". It just scared the snot out of me.
He'd known me for three weeks. He didn't even know me well enough to know my favorite color, let alone my values, my customs, my way of life or my character. Adore me? Talk about crapping on a biscuit and trying to convince me it's a chocolate cake! He just wanted to be "in love". And he must have thought I have the IQ of an answering machine!
I don't believe we "adore" other human beings. Save that for God.
I don't believe in love at first sight, "chemistry" or any of those other romantic myths. I believe we find a decent person, someone who has a cool sense of humor, a sense of responsibility, a good heart and we choose to love that person.
When we choose to love, it means we choose to be honorable, trustworthy, kind, compassionate and helpful. It means we recognize the divine in another human being and we treat them with respect.
It's not all that complicated. At least not to this simple mind.
I want to marry a buddy. I want to be comfortable, secure, safe and know that the person I am with will care about me the way my friends care. I want to know that he will be able to accept that caring from me, the way I care for my friends. We will also accept each other the way friends do.
My friends have always been a more valued presence in my life than any "dating" relationship.
Dating customs in this culture are repulsive, demeaning and demoralizing. (I have some controversial beliefs on this which I will keep to myself.) It's a cattle call, people looking at each other with the goal-directed objective of finding another human being to fulfill all their fantasies.
Fantasies are fantasies for a reason.
The marketing aspect of it has completely alienated me. When I even think about trying it again, my stomach gets queasy. I'd rather visit the dentist than even think about trying it.
I need a yenta.
(Are there yentas in Thailand? Hm. I'll have to check on that.)
I want her to find a man for me, assure me that he's decent and kind, that he's responsible and reliable. If he cares more about character than body type, that would be great. Wow. What a concept, that!
Find him for me, Yenta. I'll make it work from there.