Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Meaning of Life


Sitting in the coffee shop I see that the meaning of life for the two year old running around the room is love, connection, and the joy of moving.  That little boy, expressing sheer joy, has managed to communicate that feeling to everyone in the room.  That is as it should be, and is probably as far as we really need to go.

As we get older, it gets more complicated.  Pain, loss, death, and suffering come into our lives.  Finding Meaning in the midst of suffering is difficult for many of us.  Many people find their meaning in following.  They follow gods, rulers, gurus, preachers, the girl next door, teachers, or their family and tribe.

Some of us, however, refuse to follow.  One of my mottoes is “Don’t trust anyone who says he knows the will of God.”  I prefer to think for myself.  I search for answers and have for as long as I can remember.    I am 72 years old and I am still searching.  I have had a number of peak experiences.  These experiences have come in several contexts, Christian, Buddhist, chemical, and in nature.

Every experience was life changing, giving me a new way of seeing and being.  Sometimes they are brief, fleeting.  Other times I have dwelled in the grasp of divine love for as long as a year.  I have prayed without ceasing, done mindfulness meditation, spoken in tongues, laughed in ecstasy, cried with joy, and had years of no spiritual connection at all.

I know that a spiritual connection does not have to come in any specific religious context.  I do not, however, know how to maintain that connection all the time.  It is just not “After enlightenment, the laundry.”  It is not being able to sustain a practice for a sustained period.

Do I lack discipline?  No.  I have maintained a discipline for an extended time and had an event that broke the connection.  Am I a spiritual dilettante?  It seems so.  Most of the time,however, I am a spiritual nobody.

It’s a mystery.  I know without any doubt that there is more to life and being than this round rock we ride through space.  I have seen the eternal web of universal connection and oneness.  I have been wrapped, enveloped in God’s love.  I have received spiritual gifts.  I have shared those gifts.

Now it seems that my task is to live in the world as a householder and writer.  I do a ten minute meditation every morning and that’s it.  Most of the time the meditation is clutter.  Sometimes I get an experience of complete peace.  That, for now, is enough.

I am not called to lead, to take action in the world.  I learn, reflect, write a little, try my best to be a good husband and friend.  I have family, which is saying a lot, as I come from a family with weak ties.  Today the ties are strong and growing.  Love.

Another task before me is to smooth out the bumps in my brain.  I get angry, irritable.  I obsess about meaningless things.  I get depressed.  I forget and procrastinate.  I eat too much and don’t exercise.  Lots to do.  It is time to be in the world and find meaning here, not out there.

The Third Grade

Old Fruita Elementary

Old Fruita Elementary

I had a turbulent third grade. There were things I couldn’t do. I am so left-handed that I produced terrible cursive handwriting.  It was so bad as to be almost unreadable.  My ADD didn’t help, I tended to be disruptive, especially when I didn’t like the subject material or the teacher.  I did not like Mrs. Bastian.  To me she was just old, ugly, and mean.  To her, I was rebellious, noisy, inattentive, and defiant.  In retrospect, she was burned out and could not afford to leave.

My defiance showed up on the health chart.  Every day, Mrs. Bastian graded the class on several things, including cleanliness, combed hair, clean fingernails, and other things.  My thing was clean fingernails.  While walking to school I would rub my fingernails in the dirt, getting them as filthy as I could.  My health chart had all good marks except for the row of black marks for my fingernails.  Big black marks.  Bob Silva also had black marks, but not because his nails were not clean but because he was so dark the teacher thought his nails were dirty. She was so mean.

The other problem was with my dog.  Spanky was a black Cocker Spaniel, as exuberant and careless as I was.  Some mornings he would get loose and follow me to school.  I think he wanted to go to school.  If I saw him before I got to school, I would take him home and be late for school.  Mrs. Bastian did not like that and would not accept my excuses.  Other mornings he would make it into the classroom.  The other kids loved it.  The teacher was livid, and sent both of us home.  I had to have a parent bring me back to school.  Sometimes I just stayed home.

My father was the town telephone man, and my mother was the high school secretary.  I know I was an embarrassment to them, but they also knew how much I hated that woman.  The parent-teacher conferences must have been quite interesting.

I don’t think I learned a lot in third grade, but it didn’t matter a lot.  I was a good reader, and drove my parents crazy with my questions about everything.  I learned third grade on my own.  I don’t understand why they did not move me across the hall to the other third grade class, but that woman and I got to dislike one another for the entire school year.

Fourth grade was a complete contrast.  The teacher was fun, actually liked children, and encouraged learning.  The only difficulty was multiplication tables.  My ADD has never let me be a good memorizer.  My mother drilled them into my head, bless her.

So, third grade didn’t create any lasting trauma, just some lasting memories.  I can still see that row of black marks I was so proud of.  My dog somehow missed out on fourth grade as well.  I still can’t write cursive.  I finally gave up trying and went back to printing everything but my scrawl of a signature.

Winter Blues


Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Here it is January.  It was cloudy and snowy for days.  The sun is shining today,  but bleakly.  Christmas and the rest of the holidays are over.  They served as a temporary lift from the dark, depressing days of winter that every year remind us of the inevitable destiny we all share.

But, no, it isn’t all bad, just mostly.  I don’t know why, but my regular seasonal depression is worse this year.  I started feeling flat and unhappy sometime around Halloween, a holiday that was started to point out the return of darkness, the time when the spirits of the underworld again manifest here in our vale of tears.  Recent news events have not helped.

For weeks I could not write, and painful memories and feelings arose.  I read worthless trash, and was even drawn to watching mainstream television programs (I mostly resisted).  I was crabby, restless, and had trouble sleeping.  In times past when the melancholy struck, I would turn to drink, but I know it is only a temporary bit of oblivion that makes the everyday reality even more painful.

I got my meds changed, and the depression has lifted enough to allow me to write and get out of the house for a movie (Into the Woods).  I feel a bit better, and the return of the sun is helping.

Abraham Lincoln said that the secret of happiness is happiness.  That is true but he remained a melancholy.  Maybe we have these times to remind us of the good times we so often take for granted.  Maybe depressions force us to go inward, to leave daily life out there and look into those corners of our being we try to ignore.

Carl Jung wrote about the need to integrate the shadow,  that part of the psyche that lurks behind the face we try to present to the world.  If that part of the personality is ignored, it will surface as beliefs and acts that seem to be the opposite of who we want to be.  The tragedies of  twentieth century point out how the shadow operates in society as well as in the individual.

Depression brings the shadow out, especially at 3:00 AM.  When it happens to me, I get to look at the events in my life I regret.  I have to acknowledge that I have hurt people, been a bully, lied, shirked responsibility, had rage episodes, cheated, stolen, and overslept.  If one tries to bury the dark side, it will surface in a more virulent form.

Learning to accept my shadow allows me to see when it wants to come out, and I am better able to deal with it.  Carol, my wife, calls it the other Bill.  Now my shadow mostly surfaces as irritability.  I usually am able to recognize it and deal with it before I make a big ass out of myself.  Depression makes me more irritable.

Today I am sitting in the doctors office while Carol has a procedure.  With a few days of the medication change and some sunshine, the depression has eased somewhat, even with less sleep than normal.  I think things are improving, even with the bad coffee here.


Paris Terror

Paris Terror

The events in Paris this week bring back memories of all the terrorist incidents we have lived through for many years.  Why?  Why kill innocent people for some cause they have nothing to do with, or they are only making fun of political situations?

Terrorism works.  The goal of terror is to put a spotlight on a cause, to get people emotionally involved in an issue they would not usually care about.  They become passionate and affiliate themselves with the side of the conflict they agree with.  The middle ground, where truth usually resides, becomes obscured as fear and rage take over.

Most people are reasonable and just want to live and let live, whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Protestant, Catholic, black, brown, white, wealthy, middle, or working class.  Terrorism divides people into opposite camps, where people view others as suspicious and dangerous.  The others must be controlled, removed, or eliminated.  There is no longer any room for dialog.

This depiction is somewhat extreme.  We have seen decades of terror and hate end in Ireland as the two sides finally stopped the killing mostly out of sheer exhaustion and the work of excellent negotiators.  An example of where terror achieved its end was in 1950s Algeria, when years of bombings, repression, and hate in Algeria and France ended with Algerian independence.

The Battle of Algiers,  a movie about that struggle, illustrates how terror works.  It has become either a textbook of terrorism or a lesson for those who wish to end the process of fear and hate.  Algeria was a French colony with a large population of relatively wealthy French amid a large population of mostly poor Muslim Arabs who resented French rule.

An Arab liberation movement began a campaign of terror, bombing public places where French people gathered.  The French army responded with a policy of repression.  People were arrested and tortured, curfews imposed, matters escalated and the bombings began in France, especially Paris.  The polarization, radicalization, and repression escalated as well, finally ending when the French government under DeGaulle granted independence to Algeria.

The parallels with Israel and Palestine are obvious.  The situation there is so divided that many view any peaceable resolution as unlikely, at least in the short run.  In Europe, the parallel is with Muslims living in a secular culture that are marginalized and discriminated against, just as the Catholic minority was in Northern Ireland.

The reasons for terror are not only religion.  Religion often becomes the justification for acts of terror, but race, class, ethnicity, and alienation are often the underlying reasons.  What is needed is tolerance, dialog, and human connection.

Keep calm and carry on.



Hate, Faith, and Polarization

War Children

War Children

I read recently that if people with strong conservative or fundamentalist beliefs have their beliefs challenged, their position hardens.  I don’t think that applies solely to conservatives.  When I see some outrageous statement form Michele Bachmann or others of her ilk, my negative feelings tend to strengthen my position.

Back when I was taking Political Science courses, the prevailing mantra was that the underlying strength of American democracy was a spirit of compromise.  Legislators on opposite sides of the aisle would come together and work out a deal that accomplished some of the goals of each side.  There was an atmosphere of give and take.

The nation has had periods of cooperation. The Truman and Eisenhower years may be an example.  Polarization has also been a repetitive theme in our history.  Slavery and race are the issues dividing the nation since the eighteenth century.  We seem to be inching toward a resolution, but don’t look for peace and harmony yet.

The current impasse in congress is, on the surface, Republicans versus Democrats.  The rhetoric on both sides is “The American People want this” or “The American people want that”.  The members of congress want campaign contributions and more money.

Most Americans don’t know what they want or don’t care.  Under the rhetoric is ideology.  One the one side are the dedicated progressives with a broad view of how the country should change.  They see social issues that need to be changed.  They like the money.

The other side is composed of two main groups.  The true conservatives just do not want change.  They want retreat to a simpler time without the complex, baffling issues a huge, diverse culture is facing.  Think Norman Rockwell.  They also like the money.  The other group is ideological.  They see themselves as engaged in a global struggle between the forces of evil and the true path they represent.  To compromise would mean giving in to temptation and the path to destruction.  They  like the money.   They want power to overcome the Enemy.

The true believers on either side are resistant to opposing views, and when confronted their views tend to harden.  The Karl Roves are mainly interested in power.  The true believers are preparing for the end times, the final confrontation between the Antichrist and the faithful.

This confrontation has, of course, been a constant theme in Christianity since the Book of Revelation was written.  It was written about Rome during the time of the destruction of the temple and the Jewish diaspora.  The imagery is about Rome.  The Beast, the seven hills, all refer to Rome, not today.  This theme came up again around 1000 A.D., at the time of the Black Death, and often in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whenever some True Believer sees prophecies and does some calculations.

Almost every generation has applied it to their own time. Christ continues to tarry.  The faithful are not deterred.  The consequence of this hardened ideology is congressional gridlock.  Compromise is not an option when confronting demonic forces.  It doesn’t take too many fundamentalist Christians in Congress to lock things up.

The current trend goes back to the Enlightenment, which was followed by the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of a secular and progressive society.  Concurrent with the secularization was the growth of literacy and people reading the Bible for their own selves.  Now there is a book with a lot of themes.  There is rich soil for a fundamentalist ideology, a return to the City of God.

The Bible and the Quran came from a region where people have always fought over for land and power.  They also fought over ideas, moving from paganism with a God for every purpose to a God wanting everyone to follow His purpose.  Jesus and Paul wanted us to find God’s law and purpose in our hearts. That takes a lot of work, and most are content with the law. Mohammed laid down a new law and people went right to war over who should enforce the law.

Those who want power use the law for their purposes.  They are not too concerned with eternal truth.  Check that with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.  Some want to use to use the law and power for what they see as spiritual purposes.  Check that with Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin.

The struggle in the Islamic world is much the same.  Secularization and progressivism   contend with a reactionary attempt to return to pure times that never really existed.  Old tribal and religious hatreds return with true believers armed with computers and AK-47’s.

There is a broad movement of people seeking to use the common bonds of humanity to work and pray for peace.  I hope the peace seekers will prevail.  I pray with them.  There is a universal web of love that can overcome hate.