May 23, 2009

Fixation's final seduction

From Stephen Batchelor in Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime,
Fixations are deeply embedded traits of human behavior. They do not magically evaporate the moment one experiences the world as "unfixatable." However liberating such insight may be, it is insufficient to free one from the habit of fixation. Once the intensity of the unfixated moment fades, fixations reassert themsleves. Even the experience of freedom itself is not immune to the corruption of fixation. As Nagarjuna is aware:

"I am free! I cling no more!
liberation is mine!" –
The greatest clinging
Is to cling like this.
A glimpse of freedom does not in itself free one from the craving to be someone special and apart. To be free from such longing entails the patient, ongoing cultivation of an intelligence that is acutely alert to the danger of self-deception. The aim of this process is to go beyond the very need to stand out. As Nagarjuna says,

Clinging is to insist on being someone–
Not to cling is to be free to be no one.
These lyrics [written by Kerry Livgren] for the Kansas song "Reason to Be" are insightful:

So long, someone is waiting
I got places to go, I got things to see
No more procrastinating
For this is the moment that was meant for me
And I'm moving like a wave on the ocean
Drifting to the opposite side
Traveling with no destination
Just riding the tide

People they say that I'm foolish
They say that I'm living in a fantasy
Well, I say, everything's easy
It's better than living in futility
So, I'm standing here in back of the curtain
Waiting for the start of the show
Acting like an actor is easy
If you can let go

Some day something will find you
A magical feeling you could not foresee
A feeling so devastating
From that moment on your life's a comedy
And suddenly you're light as a feather
You're falling like a leaf from a tree
The things you thought you needed are fading
No reason to be
No reason to be
Your reason to be
Your reason to be
Reason, Reason to be
Reason, Reason to be
Reason, Reason to be
In a passage in the poem Self, Nagarjuna offers a glimpse of the sublime depth disclosed when the constricting hold of fixations is eased:
It is all at ease,
Unfixatable by fixations,
Not only is the subjective experience one of ease, but ease is revealed as a feature of the sublime itself. For not only do fixations generate conflict and anguish, they also obscure a natural world that endlessly unfolds and vanishes, untroubled by the desires and fears of humankind.

May 20, 2009

Mathfails: Closet Turquoise?

I love this! And that love very much includes Mathfails's amazing gesturing with his hands.

May 19, 2009

Mathfails: Spiral Dynamics 2.0

Mathfails: Reads excerpt from Integral Spirituality

Mathfails: Evolving Bodhisattvas

Mathfails [Jonathan Doherty], a new find, talks about evolution, Bodhisattvas, Ken Wilber, elightenment, emptiness, ultimate ground, spiral dynamics, Big Mind, and the ultimate in growth and development, until something grows beyond that ultimate, toward the Ultimate Ultimate. Interestingly, once you talk the talk, you seemingly satirize.

But, do I think this guy's for real? Yes. I'm willing to overlook his youngsterness and proclaim him to be a real deal.

Brad Warner: Atheism and Buddhism

Brad Warner, author of Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate and blogger of Hardcore Zen, talks in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, about atheism and God as they relate to Buddhism.

May 16, 2009

The Myth of Pure Evil

Of the many things that preclude me from becoming a Christian, one of the top ones is my belief, in the mainstream of Buddhism, that differs from Christians' belief in Absolute Evil.

John Haidt, in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, borrowing from Roy Baumeister's Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty tags the issue exquisitely. Basically, the matter relates to people's ego-nature where we see the mote in others' eyes but not the beam in our own as Jesus said, [Matthew 7:3-5], or, as Buddha said [in the Dhammapada, verse 252], "A man broadcasts the fault of others like winnowing chaff in the wind, but hides his own faults as a crafty fowler covers himself."
Baumeister examined evil from the perspective of both victim and perpetrator. ... The disturbing part is that Baumeister shows us our own distortions as victims, and as righteous advocates of victims. Almost everywhere Baumeister looked in the research literature, he found that victims often shared some of the blame. Most murders result from an escalating cycle of provocation and retaliation; often, the corpse could just as easily have been the murderer. In half of all domestic disputes, both sides used violence.

... Baumeister is willing to violate the taboo against "blaming the victim" in order to understand what really happened. People usually have reasons for committing violence, and those reasons usually involve retaliation for a perceived injustice, or self-defense. This does not mean that both sides are equally to blame: Perpetrators often grossly overreact and misinterpret (using self-serving biases). But Baumeister's point is that we have a deep need to understand violence and cruelty through what he calls "the myth of pure evil." Of this myth's many parts, the most important are that evildoers are pure in their evil motives (they have no motives for their actions beyond sadism and greed); victims are pure in their victimhood (they did nothing to bring about their victimization); and evil comes from outside and is associated with a group or force that attacks our group. Furthermore, anyone who questions the application of the myth, who dares muddy the waters of moral certainty, is in league with evil.

The myth of pure evil is the ultimate self-serving bias, the ultimate form of naive


Outside of children's cartoons and horror films, people almost never hurt others for the sheer joy of hurting someone. The two biggest causes of evil are two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self-esteem and moral idealism. Having high self-esteem doesn't directly cause violence, but when someone's high esteem is unrealistic or narcissistic, it is easily threatened by reality; in reaction to those threats, people - particularly young men - often lash out violently.
Update 5/19: Whoa. Found a blogpost with the same title as this one, that also uses Haidt's book as the source of the write-up, but, sigh, does a better, different, more-interesting job of discussing the same material. Read "The Myth of Pure Evil," posted 10/27/08 in the blog spicy lifestyle network.

May 14, 2009

update on Bleak House

Possible trial this morning

Click link below in a few days to see if i'm incarcerated, writing a great prison novel using ink from an artery written on toilet paper.,THOMAS,EDWARD,4160766

UPDATE 3pm: Jury selection happened today, and opening statements. The trial continues on Monday. Can't say more.

May 11, 2009

The first-person dimension of homeless Sacramentans suffering from Schizophrenia

"Disabilities and dysfunction process from having been shunned and denied access to needed opportunitites and networks of support."
~ the brothers Lysaker in Schizophrenia and the Fate of the Self

What is schizophrenia? How many are homeless Sacramentans?

Perhaps 15% of the Sacramento homeless population suffers from schizophrenia. The percentage is difficult to determine for many reasons that branch from both the fuzzy definition of the malady and that many people within the homeless community who have the illness (1) are in denial and are undiagnosed and (2) have the illness as a diagnosis only – the disability can be faked by people who are successful claimants of social security and other benefits.

What is schizophrenia? One webspace gives us this definition: The most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. Typically develops in the late teens or early twenties. The overt symptoms are hallucinations (hearing voices, seeing visions), delusions (false beliefs about commonly held views of reality) and bizarre thought patterns. Another webspace adds this: Psychosis characterized by the breakdown of integrated personality functioning, withdrawal from reality, emotional blunting and distortion, and disturbances in thought and behavior

According to a study by Amador, et al, "Awareness of Illness in Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective and Mood Disorders" in the Oct 94 issue of General Psychiatry, between a third and two-thirds who have the malady deny or are unaware they have the mental illness.

According to Dr. Joseph Pierre's commentary in the Feb 2009 issue of Psychiatric Times, "What do you mean, I don't have schizophrenia?": my patients' world – and in the wake of the Contract With America Advancement Act of 1996 – a diagnosis of schizophrenia is one of the best ways to gain access to a disability income and other social services that are unavailable for those who "only" have a substance use disorder ... [M]y patients were far from relieved when I "took away" their schizophrenia diagnosis or an antipsychotic medication. On the contrary, their very existence was threatened.

Viewed from this perspective, I realized that malingering, if present, was often [caused by the medical establishment] – incentivized by increasingly restrictive criteria for disability incomes or access to care that characterize addiction as a lifestyle choice. I'd find myself thinking of Jean Valjean: given existing conditions, who wouldn't steal the loaf of bread as a simple act of survival?

Thus in homeless communities in America, there are many undiagnosed schizophrenics, and many with other problems but who get a schizophernia diagnosis but don't have the malady.

The number of homeless in Sacramento who are schizophrenic is approximately 420. But this educated guess could be off by a hundred or more, either up or down.

Blunted affect and diological self

The medications that schizophrenics take will relieve their hallucinations and delusions and bizarre thinking to great extent, but do little for the emotional blunting and withdrawl. Schizophrenics faithfully keeping up their medication regimen will be placid and unnoticed, but from their experience, they are alienated nothings.

From the book Schizophrenia and the Fate of the Self:
... blunted affect ... generally refers to a lack of emotional expression in inflection, expression and gesture. A person described as having blunted affect would show a limited range of emotions, perhaps appearing wooden or lifeless in the midst of a celebration or a time of sadness. In contrast to a drepressed person who might silently be consumed by pain, someone with flat affect would feel emptiness. If confronted with something painful, pleasurable, surprising, or disgusting a person with flat affect would show the same emotional response: nothing. ...

[As an example, one schizophrenic, Glass, describes his experience thus:] Glass tells us that he is in a cloudbank, suggesting a hazy, undifferentiated state within which direction is elusive. Moreover, none of the events wherein his life unfolds produces any particular effect in him, as if each self-world interaction were just more mist and vapor, including his own role therein.

When one becomes fully emotionally flat like this, it disrupts one's sense of self. You have nothing to animate your character. Internally, for the schizophrenic, there is nothing to stir him to converse with others. But the schizophrenic does suffer from a sense of "nothing," feeling as if he is barely there and fading away.

Without an animating self, there is a lack of volition. There is simply nothing to compel one to pursue any particular course of action in a day.

It should be of no surprise, then, that the most common cause of death for a person with schizophrenia is suicide.

Problems for schizophrenics who are unaware of their illness

From Schizophrenia and the Fate of the Self:
Imagine having a vague sense that one was faring less well than before, but maintaining the belief that the likely symptom of and thus key to one's diminishment was irrelevant to one's situation. Presuming one's assessment was mistaken, one would continue to fare poorly, and perhaps waste time addressing unrelated situations. This is precisely the kind of scenario we think occurs when people lack insight into, or an awareness of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia - the dialogical compromises they affect continue unabated. The point is not simply that such folk are unlikely to seek help, but also that their lack of awareness prevents the development of a meta-position, for example, self-as-ill, which could help them interpret and thus delimit the influence of the unusual experiences and/or beliefs they find themselves having.

Lack of insight into one's condition is also likely to intensify social alienation. Without a plausible account of one's trouble, it would be nearly impossible to talk to others about one's experiences and the difficulties that often surround them.

... If dialogical breakdowns lead to a sense of self as diminished, and particularly with regard to one's agency, awareness of illness could be overwhelming. ... one of our [the authors'] central claims is that sense of self derives from interanimating play of self-positions. As that play proves increasingly disordered, sense of self will suffer, finding little to hold onto besides its diminishment. ... the thought that one is nothing but diminishment can be devastating. So it may be that a refusal to see one's symptoms as sympoms allows one a sense of self that is disoriencted and diminished, but at least not the nothingness that seemed to loom on the edges of paranoia.

Sorry, kind readers, for posting such a big block of text, but what's written here is important, I think.

In layman's terms from what I glean from the above: People, generally, use a lot of their energy trying to cope with and cover up their deficits. But for the large number of schizophrenics who are undiagnosed and unaware of their mental illness, things are triply bad. They can lose the ability to have a meta-position with respect to their self. [A meta-position, as I understand it, is how you fluidly present yourself as your interactions with others change during the course of short-range spans of time.] Not having access to more-resolved meta-positions, schizophrenics can be prone to more delusional thinking, and that leads to greater social alienation.

The authors believe that successful, orderly and accepted "play" between the different selves we each have makes us "normal." A schizophrenic experiences a sense of failure in transactions with others, disorder and unacceptance. Thus, there is a downward spiral toward feelings of disorientation, alienation and "nothingness." At this stage, a schizophrenic person might experience himself as disembodied.

Psychosocial rehabilitation

In a final, very short few paragraphs at the end of their book, the brothers Lysaker write about "pychosocial rehabilitation." They suggest vocational programs for supported employment; peer support and guidance and case management.

Also, the brothers are keen on creating social situations for schizophrenic people that elicit and support self-positions such that sense of self is celebrated and stabalized.

Helpful links:

Glossary Of Schizophrenia Terminology
Schizophrenia and the Fate of the Self at amazon
Schizophrenia and the Fate of the Self at Oxford University Press

May 10, 2009

The theft of the neighbor's lawnmower

The preacher last night at the Union Gospel Mission made a powerful-seeming point which began when he asked the congregation, "If I steal my neighbor's lawnmower, will I have sinned?"

The question hung out there, like a dark cloud over the congregants, for heavy moments before men in the audience yelled out a few "yeah"s and "yes"es and "sure"s.

But with flaying fury, the preacher informed us that No, he would not have have sinned, for it's not the theft of the lawnmower that creates the sin, it is the nature of the sinner. It is desire to steal the lawnmower where the sin is posited.

It is only through spirit and Jesus and God's grace that the lawnmower remains sitting there quietly on his neighbor's overgrown, weedy front lawn, he told us.

This lawnmower example/parable/whatever-it-was had me looking askance at the fellow waving his arms around behind the cross-shaped lecturn. Only by being in God's supple arms was he deterred from kiping* Mr. Jones's** Toro***!?

Now, this preacher is already one I respect less than most. He evokes the Christian Trap, as I call it, more than any of the few who do so. The Christian Trap works like this: The congregants are told something on the order of, "All who doubt the Word are chained by their nose rings to Satan. Thus, you must never doubt for a moment the sweet mutterings that a God-sealed soul like I tell you. You must wholly repudiate the Satanic secular world which is evil and cunning and intent on nothing other than to drag you down into the fiery lake." [And I kid you not, some preachers, like the one at issue in this post, are fully this hysterical.]

Of course, most of the fellows in the mission congregation, while Christian, have their other foot in the secular world, and are not all that easily swayed by a mission preacher's hystrionics. Still, as accustomed as I get with some of the terrible-preachers' bloviations, I always worry that some of my friends in the audience bite the hook in the preacher's bait.

But what was most interesting to me about the preacher's Parable of the Lawnmower was that thing that we non-Christians find to be the most freeky about some Christian of the immature stripe. That is, they believe about themselves that, failing Jesus holding them back, they'd run rampant breaking the Ten Commandments in a spree of mayhem.

This preacher, captivated by tribalist hate thinking, has demonized the secular world and all of us in it. Very likely there's a lot of text in the Bible that supports this way of thinking, just as there is much in the Bible that repudiates it. Contrary to what many Christians, like this preacher, think, the Bible is chockablock with contradictions and verse that can be interpretted in different ways, which sadly allows haters that come to the religion to cherry-pick from it what they choose to believe that supports hate mongering. This is the fundamentalist problem that most religions have.

I submit that 99.999 percent, plus, of secular folk are not on the prowl to steal lawnmowers. And that the preacher last night, should he disavow Christianity [which is not something I'm advocating; I'm just supposing], would not go out on a lawnmower-stealing spree, either.

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor [including thy perceived enemies] as thyself." [I cherry-picked the preceeding sentence from the Bible, here, here, here, here, here & here.]
* kipe: means "to steal" [It's a slang word that I like that dictionaries tell me is fading away.]

** I figure one's fictive neighbors should always be the Joneses, based on the old saw about "keeping up with the Joneses."

*** A good make of lawnmower that neighbors you want to keep up with are likely to have.

May 7, 2009

Outpourings from the Belief-O-Matic

My friend Steve Curless, the Sacramento Spirituality Examiner, recommended a blogpost to me by Roger Ebert about death, called "Go Gentle into that Good Night." In it, past the gentle musings, Van Gogh paintings and e. e. cummings viddies, was a note by Ebert telling us he took a religion test. I've taken it, too.

The test is the Belief-O-Matic over at beliefnet.

My Results

The top score on the list below represents the faith that Belief-O-Matic, in its less than infinite wisdom, thinks most closely matches my beliefs. However, I'm told, even a score of 100% does not mean that my views are all shared by this faith, or vice versa.

Belief-O-Matic then lists another 26 faiths in order of how much they have in common with my professed beliefs. The higher a faith appears on this list, the more closely it aligns with my thinking.

My top-scoring religions out of the 27 listed [with links to wikipedia]:

1. Mahayana Buddhism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (93%)
3. Liberal Quakers (87%)
4. Taoism (87%)
5. Theravada Buddhism (86%)

I'm pleasantly surprised to find myself in perfect-seeming sync with Mahayana Buddhism. While I, certainly, consider myself to be a Mahayana Buddhist, I have some beliefs outside its mainstream, I thought.

May 6, 2009

Dark Night: raising the Great Doubt

Though it might seem the province of Catholicism, Dark Night, derived from the writing of Carmelite monk St. John of the Cross in his work Dark Night of the Soul, is an important concept in Buddhism.

As succinct background, per wikipedia, St. John of the Cross was born Juan de Yepes Alvarez into a Jewish converso family in Spain.

On the night of 3 to 4 December 1577, when he was 35 years of age, following his refusal to relocate after his superior's orders and allegedly because of his attempts to reform life within the Carmelite order, he was taken prisoner by his superiors, and jailed in the city of Toledo, where he was kept under a brutal regimen that included public lashing before the community at least weekly, and severe isolation in a tiny stifling cell barely large enough for his body. He managed to escape nine months later, on 15 August 1578, by escaping through a small window in a room adjoining his cell. (He had managed to pry the cell door off its hinges earlier that day.)

Mystic St. John of the Cross is considered one of the foremost poets in the Spanish language. Although his complete poems add up to less than 2500 verses, two of them — the "Spiritual Canticle" and "Dark Night of the Soul" are widely considered to be among the best poems ever written in Spanish, both for their formal stylistic point of view and their rich symbolism and imagery.

Dark Night of the Soul (in Spanish: La noche oscura del alma) is a treatise. It has become an expression used to describe a phase in a person's spiritual life, a metaphor for a certain loneliness and desolation. It is referenced by spiritual traditions throughout the world.

In the Christian tradition, one who has developed a strong prayer life and consistent devotion to God suddenly finds traditional prayer extremely difficult and unrewarding for an extended period of time during this "dark night." The individual may feel as though God has suddenly abandoned him or that his prayer life has collapsed. In the pronounced cases, belief is lost in the existence of God or in the validity of his religion.

Rather than resulting in devastation, however, the dark night is perceived by mystics and others to be a blessing in disguise, whereby the individual is stripped (in the dark night of the senses) of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue. Although the individual may for a time seem to outwardly decline in his practices of virtue, in reality he becomes more virtuous, as he is being virtuous not for spiritual rewards (ecstasies in the cases of the first night) obtained and only out of a true love for God. It is this purgatory, a purgation of the soul, that brings purity and union.

Entering this dark night of the soul is commonly referred to in Buddhism as "raising the Great Doubt."

The most important and influential teaching of Japanese Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku was his emphasis on, and systemization of, koan practice. Hakuin deeply believed that the most effective way for a student to achieve insight was through extensive meditation on a koan. The psychological pressure and doubt that comes when one struggles with a koan is meant to create tension that leads to awakening. Hakuin called this the "great doubt," writing, "At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully." Only with incessant investigation of his koan will a student be able to become one with the koan, and attain enlightenment.

Or, as Mark Epstein and Jonathan Lieff wrote, quoted in Ken Wilber's book Transformations of Consciousness:
…when the perceptual capacity to discriminate very fine changes in moments of consciousness is developed, regression in service of the ego has become transmuted to inspection in search of the ego. A period characterized by the subjective experience of dissolution is entered where traditionally solid aspects of the personality begin to break up, leaving the meditator no solid ground to stand on. This is traditionally the time of spiritual crisis, characterized by “a great terror,” the “Great Doubt” in Zen, and the struggle to allow a transformation or “decathexis” of the self.
In online Buddhism, arhat Daniel Ingram is one who speaks and writes about Dark Night. In the 25th chapter in his hardcore-dharma book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, he writes,
There are two basic things that happen during the Dark Night. One is that our dark stuff tends to come bubbling up to the surface with a volume and intensity that we may never have known before. Remembering what is good in our life can be difficult in the face of this, and our reactivity in the face of our dark stuff can cause us staggering amounts of needless suffering. On top of this, we also begin to directly experience the fundamental suffering of duality, a suffering that has always been with us but which we have never known with this level of intensity or ever clearly understood. We face a profound and fundamental crisis of identity as our insight into the Three Characteristics begins to demolish part of the basic illusion of there being a separate or permanent us. This suffering is a kind of suffering that has nothing to do with what happens in our life and everything to do with a basic misunderstanding of all of it.

Dealing with either of these two issues, i.e. our dark stuff and our fundamental crisis of identity, would be a difficult undertaking, but trying to deal with them both at the same time is at least twice as difficult and can sometimes be overwhelming. It goes without saying that we tend not to be at our best when we are overwhelmed in this way.

The knee-jerk response often is to try to make our minds and our world change so as to try to stop the suffering we experience. However, when we are deeply into the Dark Night, we could be living in paradise and not be able to appreciate this at all, and so this solution is guaranteed to fail. Thus, my strong advice is to work on finishing up this cycle of insight and then work on your stuff from a place of insight and balance, rather than trying to do it in the reactive and disorienting stages of the Dark Night! I cannot make this point strongly enough. ...

[The fruit of Dark Night is] the first attainment of ultimate reality, emptiness, nirvana, God or whatever you wish to call it. In this non-state, there is absolutely no time, no space, no reference point, no experience, no mind, no consciousness, no nothingness, no somethingness, no body, no this, no that, no unity, no duality, and no anything else. Reality stops cold and then reappears. Thus, this is impossible to comprehend, as it goes completely and utterly beyond the rational mind and the universe. To “external time” (if someone were observing the meditator from the outside) this lasts only an instant. It is like an utter discontinuity of the space-time continuum with nothing in the unfindable gap.

The initial aftershocks, however, can go on for days, and may be mild or spectacular, fun or unsettling or some mixture of these.

In a video, "Dark Nights of Meditation Practice," Ken Wilber responds to a young woman struggling with her Integral Life Practice. She's been experiencing discomfort, anxiety, and fear for her sanity while meditating. Wilber explains the "switch-points" between the major states of consciousness, each marked by its very own Dark Night: a death and rebirth of identity that can be scary to experience.

May 4, 2009

Spooky Christian Tautologizing

If it can't not be true, then it's not true.

After the music part of chapel, about a month ago, a young lady, of about 16 years of age, was introduced to give her testimony.
She talked about an allergy or rash that she had been suffering from. She said that it helped when she thought about how much Jesus suffered. That reminded her of how of little importance her pesky rash was in comparison – or in the grand scheme of things. Then, she realized she was grateful for her rash, because it reminded her that she was imperfect, a sinner.

She knew that her dedication to studying the Bible had flagged and she had an epiphany: The rash was Jesus telling her to renew her faith, to strive more mightily to be in accord with God's instructions. Then she found that when she studied before
going to bed at night, she awoke without the rash being a bother to her. Praise

But the rash came back, and she realized that a grudge she had with her sister was the cause of it. So, she made up with her dear sister, and the rash was suddenly gone. Praise Jesus!

She was grateful for her life. She was grateful for her rash. She was grateful for God's Glory. Praise Jesus!
The congregation at the mission gave the young lady a hardy applause. Of course, me being me, I was horrified by it all.

It seems crystal clear to me that absolutely anything that happens, the young woman would rationalize as a message from Jesus. If something bad happened, it meant she was falling short in God's eyes. If something good happened, it was a demonstration of God's splendor.

God's presence is proved, no matter what. Doubt is disallowed, and thereby overcome. Praise Jesus! It's a tautology: God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good. God exists, because it says in the Bible God exists, and nowhere else can the absolute truth be found.

In mathematical terms, X = X, and not-X does not exist, except as Satanism.

The [Evil] World's Out to Getcha

The day before, a man from Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church got up and read one simple verse, John 15:19, which is as follows:

19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not
of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth
The intent of the speaker was clear. He was telling the Christians seated in the chapel that non-Christians hate them, and that this news came direct from Jesus/God.

But the quote is taken wholly out of context. The quote appears in the middle of a talk Jesus was giving specifically to his twelve disciples and he was referring to the world they were living in at that point in time. Jesus, in line 27, addresses the people he's talking to as "you [who] have been with me from the beginning of my ministry."

Indeed, the Disciples were persecuted (and Christianity would have it very tough there for a while). [Visualize Christians being consumed by lions in the Colosseum.]

But things are different today. There aren't many Christian haters around, today. And I don't think any of the prominent New Atheists are, though few conservative Christians might accept that.

Non-believers in America today are not persecuting Christians for being Christian. No Christians are being fed to lions. The religion is not endangered because of a Grand Satanic Conspiracy by a vast underground network of non-believers. Christianity is not endangered, period.

And, quite frankly, had Jesus been speaking in general terms, talking about non-believers then, and non-Christians [once Christianity arrived on the scene, following Christ's death], for evermore thereafter, Jesus WOULD HAVE BEEN PROVED WRONG.

Haters of "God haters"

There's a lot of hating of "God haters" that goes on at the mission. Certainly, this is not true of a majority of the churches who come to the mission, but it is true for many.

We are told that it is a binary thing: Either you are with God, or against him. You are either glory-bound, or hell-bound. And, somehow, rather than awaiting God's Judgment, many of the churches have determined that here on earth there are exactly two types of people: God Lovers & God Haters. Which are you!?

Update 5/5/09: While I await Mumon's promised post [in his Notes from Samsara (link)] on suffering and Jesus that, I think, relate to this post, here's some things that have come in the hopper [ie, my google reader] that relate:

1) Kyle R. Lovett's post, "Truth Shall Set You Free?" in Progressive Buddhism talks about uncertainty - in thoughts, of belief in God and in quantum theory. His post ends in doubt and with a Nietzsche quote, thus: “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding.”

(2) In a comment to Kyle's post [see above], JJ tells us of Negative Capability and gives us its wikipedia link. Negative capability is a state of intentional open-mindedness paralleled in the literary and philosophic stances of other writers.

Update 5/6/09: Mumon has put us his blogpost. I recommend it to you. "The Noble Truth about Suffering."

May 3, 2009

Tracking Tom

Just in case they foolishly don't give me a laptop in my cell, here is how you can track me.,THOMAS,EDWARD,4160766

Monday may be Trial Day. If it is, and justice is swift and wrongheaded, perhaps I'll be in the hoosegow that afternoon.

Of course, I will try to smuggle a pen, pad of paper, postage stamps, envelopes, and a ham sandwich in via any orifice I find suitable on my person. Likely, corrupt guards will take my stuff. Damn them.

Update 5/3/09 9:00am: The persecution has trailed the case till 5/14. That is, there has been a continuance on the prosecutor's time for ten days.

May 2, 2009

Kinds of Empathy

In his words describing a quality he sought for the person he will select to replace retiring Judge Souter on the Supreme Court, President Obama cited "Empathy." While Obama was a senator, he questioned John Roberts, now our Chief Justice, and said, in the course of things, that 5% of cases a Supreme Court justice hears will center on the justice's heart.

Daniel Goleman, author of Ecological Intelligence, tells us, in a recent Huffington Post piece, that there are three types of empathy, [thanks to C4 for this link!] which are these:
  • cognitive empathy, means that we can understand how the other person thinks; we see his point of view. This makes for good debaters, sales people and negotiators. On the other hand, people who have strengths in cognitive empathy alone can lack compassion - they get how you see it, but don’t care about you. Psychologists speak of the “Dark Triad” - narcissists, Machiavellians, and sociopaths, who can be slick with their arguments but have a heart of stone (think Dick Cheney).
  • emotional empathy, refers to someone who feels within herself the emotions of the person she’s with. This creates a sense of rapport, and most probably entails the brain’s mirror neuron system, which activates our own circuits the emotions, movements and intentions we see in the other person. This lets us feel with the other person - but not necessarily feel for, the prerequisite for compassion.
  • empathic concern, the third variety of empathy. Empathic concern means we not only understand how the person sees things and feels in the moment, but also want to help them if we sense the need. A study of empathic concern in seven-year-olds found that those who showed least concern when they saw their mother in distress were most likely to have a criminal record two decades later
Since it is important here, let me add something Goleman didn't provide:  a description of "compassion" (taken from wikipedia):
  • Compassion is a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha's teachings. He was reputedly asked by his secretary, Ananda, "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?" To which the Buddha replied, "No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindess and compassion is all of our practice."
Below, in a viddie, Daniel Goleman talks about empathy and what motivates it. He tells us of the importance not being rushed has in bringing to the fore our natural empathetic instincts. Of homelessness interest, at the end of the viddie, beginning at ~12:12, Goleman says this: ...Friday, at the end of the day, I was going down to the subway, it was rush hour, thousands of people were streaming down the stairs, when all of a sudden I noticed there was a man slumped to the side, shirtless, not moving, and people were just stepping over him, hundreds and hundreds of people. But because my urban trance had somehow been weakened I found myself stopping to find out what was wrong. The moment I stopped, half a dozen other people immediately stopped for the guy. And we found out he was Spanish, he didn't speak English, he had no money, he'd been wandering the streets for days, starving, and he'd fainted from hunger. Immediately, someone went to get orange juice, someone went to get a hotdog, someone brought a subway cop. This guy was back on his feet, immediately. All it took was a simple act of noticing. And so I'm optimistic.

Who the Sacramento Homeless really are

Following is an opinion piece I submitted to the Sacramento Bee on April 7 – which, from their non-response, I learned they had chosen not to publish it. I found a copy of it in my backpack, today, and thought Gee, this is pretty good; I should let readers of my blog read it. And so, here it is.

Who the Sacramento Homeless Really Are, and
How Best to Help Them. Guidance from an Insider.

How can you a wealthy or, at least, well-off or working person in the Sacramento metropolis, best help the homeless in our area whom you've heard so much about, recently, and whom you care about and worry about!?

Ahhhh, that's sweet. Compassion is a wonderful thing! As the Dalai Lama is credited with saying: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." And as Jesus emphasized, according to the Bible: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

We homeless are your neighbors. This is something I have learned in my near-year out in Homeless World Sac. We homeless are remarkably like you, though not in the way news coverage has described things in recent months, during the post-Oprah media blitz.

We are not in overwhelmingly number cowering, broken Caucasian families, unaccustomed to not having the wherewithal to tool around on the freeways in our SUVs.

Most of us are solo men, and of these, we are disproportionately black. Certainly, there are women and boys and girls and couples and families, too, that are out there on the streets, living in tents, and staying in shelters. The variety of people is as broad as the general population. If you look, you'll find a near-doppelganger of yourself or your family in Homeless World Sac.

But, indeed, a great great many homeless folk have substance-abuse issues. And maybe a past that includes large swatches of time being locked up for bad, and sometimes terrible or monstrous, deeds.

Many, many homeless have debilitating mental-health issues and have been dumped by society. Of these people, many talk to themselves and do not converse with others.

Many homeless are as wholly self-interested and inured to others' problems as AIG executives. They feign sympathy; habitually, effortlessly lie; and play mind-games.

But savaged with problems or not, you will find, among the homeless, in greater proportion than in the general population, people with mighty hearts and kind natures – folks who are likable, lovable, thoughtful and as generous as they can be. Not surprisingly, Jesus was homeless [Matt 8:20], as was Buddha. And as are saints [like St. Francis and Margaret of Cortona] and bodhisattvas [like Layman Pang and Noah Yuttadhammo].

A lot of how homeless people are depicted is flat-out false. We are not whiny and morose, as we seem always to be on the news, or can seem to be on some homeless-advocacy websites. The homeless community, by and large, is cheerful and resolute to hold on and make do.

There's a lot more money in Homeless World Sac than I would ever have supposed before landing here. A great many of the guys get monthly disability checks – which some call "happy checks" – in an amount just short of $900. That is the prime source funding the considerable use of substances to alter consciousness or otherwise have a spree early in the month. Shelter space for men frees up very very noticeably early in a month, going from "insufficient to meet demand" to 20% empty beds.

Why society gives so much money to "disabled"* people so that they can make themselves more disabled and shorten their lives, I don't understand. I wonder if things might change if people better knew what was going on.

And, finally, the homeless are not a bunch of Maynard G. Krebses, squealing "Work!" and running away. We line up for temporary work in Friendship Park, hoping something will come of it. We take whatever jobs we can, certainly including what's offered under-the-table. Guys work for small businesses doing telephone soliciting; putting up drywall; selling insurance on commission; waving signs on the sidewalk; working high-traffic hours at restaurants. Some of us recycle cans and bottles that the general population tosses out their car windows, and are Johnny-on-the-spot to help people move furniture or plant petunias.

How YOU can best help those most in
need in Homeless World Sacramento

Most of the homeless in Sacramento are die-hard fans of the homeless-aid and -advocacy programs in The Community. Me, I'm more of a curmudgeon and a critic.

Loaves & Fishes is Homeless World Sac townsquare to the homeless folk in our metropolis, and to those who grumble when they pass by it on light rail on their way to work. It's where about six hundred people get a free lunch each day and might spend an hour or two in its park or library. The affection homeless people have for Loaves – as it's nicknamed – is considerable, based on the view that, absent the facility, their lives would be downgraded to dumpster diving and great unhappiness.

Me, I'm a critic of Loaves, questioning its policies and efficiency in its use of funds. But I'm sympathetic to the mutual-dependency that Loaves and the homeless community are locked in. If Marcos Breton writes something hateful about the homeless, Loaves takes a hit in its fundraising and who knows how often meatloaf will start appearing on the menu and what leftovers the kitchen staff might need to put in it; If Loaves is lauded by Oprah Winfrey, we homeless might see nice, tasty, healthy food, served to us under the twinkling lights of international newcasts' TV cameras.

So should someone wanting to help the homeless do the simple thing, write a check to Loaves & Fishes, or another homeless-aid agency, like Volunteers of America or Union Gospel Mission or the Salvation Army or WIND Youth Services? Sure. If your time is valuable, one of those organizations is likely to squeeze a lot of good out of whatever you can send.

But if you can spend some time to target your money to really, really make it do good, here are my insider ideas: End-around bureaucracies and administration and get the homeless what they most need.

What do we need? Vegetables! There's lots and lots of sugar and starch in Homeless World, but artichokes and asparagus are next to unheard of. See if you can get your grocery store to help you out and sell you some produce that is being taken off the sales floor and GIVE it to you, or sell it to you at a deep discount, which you can GIVE to us!

Broccoli, green beans, asparagus, onions and tomatoes, hooray! If the quantity seems enough to provide a serving to feed a hundred-twenty, take what you collect to Union Gospel Mission [400 Bannon St.; Sacramento]; or, if its a great deal, that will contribute toward feeding 600, then take it to Loaves & Fishes [1300 N. C St.; Sacramento].

Another good idea: Buy Subway sandwich gift cards in the amount of $6 each and pass them out to homeless men and women you see. A Subway sandwich, much more so that McDonald's, say, is packed with plantlife. And Subway franchises, like McDonald'ses, are ubiquitous.

* I put the word in quotes, since it's an open secret that many of these disabled aren't disabled: they've just gotten themselves lawyers who know how to work the system.]

Tom Armstrong has been in Homeless World Sacramento for nearly a year, now. He was made homeless when his sister stole his inheritance and his belongings.

May 1, 2009

Homeless-aid organizations and the Mean Green Meme

[unfinished post, unfinished post warning warning] Above [click here or on pic to see image in a readable size] is a model borrowed from Spiral Dynamics that shows the primary value Memes of development, moving from the bottom, Beige, up the the highest Meme of the first tier, Green.

Rehabilitating confidence in truth and reason will undoubtedly be one of the tasks of the twenty-first century. As a culture, we must begin to recognize that while truth and objectivity may not be absolutes that exist perfectly free of time and history, neither are they hopelessly embedded in personal perspectives. Simply because truth is always subject to revision does not and could never mean that all truth claims deserve equal space at the table of cultural discourse. Let's not put reason and science on the pedestal of perfection, but let's also not confuse leaps of faith with rational inquiry. If the twenty-first century is being defined by an ongoing clash of traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews both in individuals and in societies around the world, then escaping that clash with minimal harm and maximal development will mean finding a fourth way. It will mean learning to steer our ship of culture away from the overconfident certainties of theology and science but also away from the overwrought uncertainties of contemporary philosophy.

Einstein is said to have remarked that the hardest thing to understand about the universe is that it is understandable. Socrates is said to have claimed that the only thing he knew for sure was that he knew nothing. Surely, somewhere in between those two perspectives we can find both truth that we can trust and our way into the future.