Monday, May 30, 2011

Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness / Supernatural Part Two

Supernatural, Part Two

Supernatural, Part Two is the ninth installment in the free online serialization of my book, Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness (Click the link for an index of every chapter to date.)

Supernatural, Part Two

What’s special about people now? Since we’ve followed the tone of Nietzsche’s √úbermensch, the super man toward which we’d stretch in escaping the legacy of our disgusting simian ancestors, has our music grown sweeter or more discordant? Does the zeitgeist allow us to as genuinely respond to the appeal of angels Shakespeare illuminated? Do we still believe we have the grace to mingle with heavenly cohorts?

The Blessings
The Blessings
16 in. x 20 in.
Angels At

We know it’s not true. In fact, the tamping down of idealist expectations is fed to us in heaping amounts every day through television. It’s as if derision were an antibiotic and hope a disease.

Commercial television persistently reminds us how small and ineffective we are, how pathetic and trivial are our ambitions. We sit still for it, the vicarious dose of video life as addicting as any of Marx’s opiates. Maybe it’s the best we have left. Maybe we haven’t the ambition to hone ourselves like fine sculptures but have gone over to gathering ourselves as feckless collections of pebbles instead.

For myself, I’m blaming Nietzsche for discrediting the legacy of evolution. Toss Shaw in too, for fanning the flames.

At least Nietzsche had the decency to go bonkers.

An interesting trend in the last decade is the growth or, at least, the visibility of what are thought of as New Age sensibilities, although most–like love, oneness and inner peace–are nebulous and hard to define. The explosive popularity of both the book and the movie, The Secret, whatever else anyone thinks of the ideas promoted, exposed a craving for more. When a chance to satisfy a need our religions don’t handle well anymore arrived in acceptable clothing, an eager, mushrooming audience listened, absorbed and accepted.

What made the phenomena more intriguing was the absence of any serious mainstream backlash. Usually, you’d expect mockery and a parade of debunkers trotted out by the national media. It didn’t happen. The negative reaction was minor, believers in the “law of attraction” cast as selfish and deluded, even cultish, but the criticisms weren’t especially aggressive. Advocates, like Wayne Dyer and Esther and Jerry Hicks, appeared on national television without serious challenge.

A cultural relief valve opened, releasing pressures built up by persistent, colorless conformity and control. Truth be told, the suddenly and wildly popular law of attraction–which, if true within nature now, must always have been–had been presented by Esther Hicks, posing as “nonphysical teacher,” Abraham, as an explanation of how reality works for twenty years already. And the Abraham-Hicks operation had not so much invented it as repackaged the idea. They hadn’t even created the term. Now, they helped make it a smash hit.

Esther and Jerry Hicks emerged like law of attraction rock stars, and in contrast with their eccentric position, it’s hard to imagine a more likable couple. Even when detailing the wildest claims, they sat levelly in front of huge television audiences as if explaining something as ordinary as the joy of knitting competitions.

Esther and Jerry, whose mantra, “Life is supposed to be fun,” decorated the rear of the “monster bus” they drove from seminar to seminar, looked and acted liked the beloved grandparents they were. Yet, the story they told was so extreme it tested anyone who gave it much thought. It had the benefit of seeming harmless.

In simple, self-deprecating, even funny stories, Esther told audiences about nonphysical beings from a purely spiritual realm who took over her body, gradually persuading her to be a conduit for their teachings. Jerry’s role was facilitator, an openminded third party with a gift for asking great questions, taking notes and making recordings. After a period of adjustment, Esther was able to call up Abraham whenever necessary for seminars and book writing, a mission they assigned for themselves that resulted in the bestselling book Ask and It Is Given. What Abraham taught was, in the words of Wayne Dyer, “You get what you think about, whether you want it or not.”

Secret Garden II
Secret Garden II
Rej, Bent
27.5 in. x 19.75 in.

“No exceptions,” Esther, speaking for Abraham, would add.

Simple to preach, maybe, but not when the preacher is a nonphysical group of approximately one-hundred, all speaking in the same odd voice through a transfigured Esther Hicks, yet they made it easy, relaxed, confident, even playful. It didn’t hurt that Esther and Jerry, in normal situations, were both warm, genuine and optimistic or that Esther had a strong resemblance to Shirley Mclaine, the Hollywood popularizer of reincarnation. The couple seemed to be without pretense and easily able to have a laugh at themselves and their exceptional circumstances.

The public seemed ready for an uplift. Whether listeners fully accepted the idea of “talking to dead people,” as Abraham jokingly called themselves, or not, the teachings broadly resonated. There were no serious clinkers or whacky claims, apart from the circumstances, for critics to latch on to. Abraham described causes and interactions within lives listeners recognized as like their own. Their teachings insisted on gaining control to make things better, laying full responsibility on individuals for their own happiness or unhappiness. Blaming others for bad results was rejected.

Consistency made a difference and so did resonance. A generation of experts had turned the giving of advice into a profession, the basis of which was that the educated advisor knew better than his or her client. In the days when a Dutch uncle played such a role, trust had been earned by experience. Now it was demanded by a diploma and certification.

Professionals diminished individuals first by describing a culture structured around positives and negatives, rights and wrongs, that the participants themselves were not capable enough or, more accurately, educated enough to figure out for themselves, using age old methods that had somehow failed.

Diminishing individuals was the inevitable result of a passion for higher education that saturated America after World War II, the pledge from our parents that they’d give us “the things we never had,” higher education being one of them. Oddly, having heard so many pitches that grew through the 1960s, I don’t recall higher education being identified with any value other than increased income. Nobody seemed to think it might be an enriching experience as learning about the world and how to think had once been seen. Higher education was being geared to create better consumers. The past was being denigrated, one net effect being a cultural disempowerment of individuals.

Divine Guidance
Divine Guidance
Smith, Ford
32 in. x 34.5 in.
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Then, into an unidentified gap stepped New Age teachings that connected people intimately with, take your pick, God, the Divine, Source or infinite energies. And it was an old, always been there flavor of spiritualism. This was spiritual adrenaline. It made intuitive sense.
Here was the √úbermensch, softened up and pliable.

David Stone

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness / Supernatural, Part One

Supernatural, Part One is a chapter from my book, Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness 

Supernatural, Part One

What is it really to be a man or a woman?

A glow Shakespeare intended Hamlet to spark is amped, before being doused, when we read:

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in
 Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing
 how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel?
 in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the
 world, the Parragon of Animals...

12 in. x 16 in.
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The intensity is increased in contrast when Hamlet follows with a lament that he, in modern terms, can’t get into it. We, the audience, apparently believe we can.

Shakespearean audiences, it seems, find it poetically reassuring to ignore people like my late Uncle Stan.

I can imagine the scowl on Stan’s face as he’s being told that, “in Action,” he is “like an Angel.” Stan who failed as a truck driver after neglecting his parked tanker while it flooded a city intersection with milk serves as a lucky reminder that legions lesser than angels continue to stalk the Earth.

Fresh milk filling his truck was allowed to soak the street because Stan was preoccupied in a nearby bar, extending his lunch break. Modified by some easy humor, it was one of his milder offenses. It was the only time he ever made the news.

Another good example, lifting the conversation up to the better known and more outrageous, would be our own president, Andrew Jackson, whose non-angelic ambitions included stealing land from American Indians and killing as many as had to be killed to stall tribal resistance.

It’s possible this Paragon of Animals was “infinite in faculty.” We don’t know, but if his faculties were infinite, they weren’t overused.

In an online argument recently, a woman referred to ours as “a fallen world,” which made me chuckle a little, defended behind the barrier of a computer, fortunately, since my disagreement provoked threats that she might be persuaded to drop her commitment to world peace and pummel me.

Fallen from what? Nature?

The Sistine Chapel; Ceiling Frescos after Restoration, Original Sin

The Sistine Chapel; Ceiling Frescos after Restoration, Original Sin
, Michelangelo...
37.25 in. x 27.125 in.
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Of course not. The fable is that we are fallen from some idyllic Eden in which flush toilets were not needed because…well, because angels do not require such conveniences.

The foolishness of arguments about an idealized past in which qualities we equate with the more raw elements didn’t bedevil us is hard to fathom. Deliberate foolishness is always crazy, all along its borders and inside its pretty fields, but crazy can be crazy useful.

Religion or its equivalent must be invoked, so that fact, common sense and logic are deleted in whole or in part. Religion, which began as anxiety and sorrow over lost, natural connections, emerged as the all-purpose explanation for why a little separation was good and more will be even better. It’s the spiritual version of sour grapes. We didn’t really want to reunite with nature, did we, with all that filth and risk?

Since we are always part of nature, in spite of fantasized escape - What else could we be part of? - and evolutionary, we must have gained from our separation, and all the trimmings that come with it are there to make our new homeland, which we tell ourselves is outside nature, prettier. And, here’s the thing. We’ve gained enormously in survival and distribution of DNA by getting outside some of the worst hazards into which we were born.

Life expectancies have increased, and we are much less likely to be slaughtered in an invasion by a foreign tribe. We deal with illness proactively, and we gird ourselves structurally against such disasters as earthquakes and floods.

Awareness and manipulation of the natural state has served us well as a species. World population grew beyond what anyone once thought supportable because we created higher yield food sources to beat the odds. There’s that angelic, mindbogglingly successful thing about us that staggers anyone who really looks at it.

We’ve learned to take for granted the elimination or, at least, the profound restriction of nearly everything we innately fear.

We’ve conquered. Technologically, we may be gods. We’ve repeatedly shown we can dial up our versatility to meet any challenge on Earth, and off we’ve started on ventures to conquer planets and satellites not yet our own. It’s a marvel, but what is it doing for us, other than increasing and easing our survival?

We take for granted that a longer life is a good thing, even when hampered or painful. This alone, I’m tempted to say, paraphrasing something smart I read as a teenager, this alone proves that life is worth living. Or, does it just expose our fears and uncertainties about what not being alive means?

Again beliefs and careless thinking muddy the issue. If we believe, as most of us say we do, in an afterlife that is, assuming we behaved wonderfully in this one, paradisiacal, why value fighting it off?

No public poll gives us consistent results on what we believe happens after death. Our bodies halt. Our fifty-trillion working parts cease functioning as a unit. The subject is too emotionally fraught for clearheaded contemplation, but wouldn’t we live differently if not enticed by the promises of an afterlife?

Wouldn’t we use our vaunted versatility to get our rewards, here and now?

Rewards matter. In communities soaked with advertising, where commerce is king, the flow is persistent.

Banks reward customers with refunds and special services. A spectrum of personal hygiene products rewards us by easing us passed social barriers. The medical-industrial complex hooks us on everything from pain relief to the correction of physical deficiencies, so much so that we comfortably accept lives as defined by their symptoms.

Security and vicarious diversion are given us by a military-industrial-political crowd that tickles patriotic buttons. Rewards matter so much that a boss of mine never heard a protest as he reminded associates gathered around conference tables that, “Commission plans dictate behavior.”

Pavlov’s dog wasn’t wrong. In a controlled environment with no way out, you go for whatever gusto welcomes you. That’s not news. What is news is how refined and pervasive the reward-behavior mechanisms are today.
With nearly all our innate needs met, we’re enticed by desires we’re taught to value just to maintain civilized momentum. Without them, we’d lie down, having arrived at the top of the hill. We need experiences for which rewards are magnets, we invent or imagine empty spaces and create the action that fills them.

The needs that have shouted at us the loudest and longest can easily be seen in our infatuation with automobiles, devices that were never needed for any essential purpose. Marketers have spent decades cooking up ways to get vehicles to appeal to desires buying them can’t fulfill, but doing it in such a way that you can’t blame the car. It’s as clever as ingenuity ever gets, although selling the public on the benefits of persistent war competes impressively.

Cars offer adventure, sex appeal, social status, respect and, the glory of them all, freedom. The open road calls us to winding trails with undeveloped ocean shores nearby. We conquer the wilderness in our Fords. Our families find security being driven through the world within the secure shells of our Chryslers.

Some genius even thought up extending the subduing of children by television into the rear seats of vehicles.

One of the Happiest Entries in Cadillac's Thirty-Year Record of Business
One of the Happiest Entries in Cadillac's Thirty-Year Record of Business
9 in. x 12 in.
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The miracle of what’s been accomplished by getting us into bigger cars with more features is that the only real reward is addictive distraction. Cars can’t do any of the things implied. Accepting the marketed concept artfully holds us in suspension with rewards just out of reach, but near enough to keep us driving.

In the last decade, tactics have been developed to respond to what must have been perceived as a flagging interest in cars that wore out too soon, much like ourselves. Suspicions were that carmakers churned their economies with planned obsolescence.

But then, manufacturers learned to get more money upfront, making durable vehicles while needing fewer plants, carrying prices higher. Profits weren’t hit. Just in case, broadcasters on cable networks, at the request of advertisers, began increasing the volume during television commercials, a tactic still in play, fearing that the endless cycle of advertising might be putting some of us to sleep.

The slug nestled behind the wheel never really turns off the road he or she has always been traveling. When you don’t reach your destination, you’ll keep going as long as you believe rewards are just around the corner. On the other hand, what options have you? Is there somewhere else you can be?

People Going About Their Business in Street, St. Louis, Senegal
People Going About Their Business in Street, St. Louis, Senegal
Gordon, Frances...
18 in. x 24 in.
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One of my favorite observations, timely in the 1990s, was about Yuppies, the Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals that were for a while a mass media rage. “Die Yuppie Scum” was careless graffiti sprayed near the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan side, greeting well-off young professionals threatening to gentrify New York’s other borough with an ocean harbor. But marketers were in love with them, especially since so many fancied themselves members of the elite group.

Someone, and I wish I still knew who, defined a Yuppies as someone “who believes his mass produced goods are better than everyone else’s mass produced goods.”

David Stone
Find Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness and all my other books on my Amazon Author Page.

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A Million Different Things: Noon, Meditation #11

A Million Different Things: Freedom, Choice and the Walls

Note: This is the 11th meditation from the middle section, Noon, from f my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World's Happiest Man. It's concerned with freedom and choice and those who try to smother them.

David Stone, Writer

First Love

When I was a teenager, Teddy Randazzo made a record I liked so much I squeezed the money out of my limited allowance to buy the 45. Randazzo made a career of writing hits for other artists, but this, as far as I know, was the only hit he had on his own.

Big Wide World, a ballad, contained the lyric, “Out of everyone in this whole wide world I fell in love with you....” While appreciating the dumb luck of discovering the perfect girl, Randazzo knew there were plenty more to pick from. Big Wide World was about abundance.

Choice demands freedom, and in their interdependency, freedom demands choice. If we relinquish some of either, we relinquish as much of the other. Both are bound up with power.

Take the choices we make about lovers. We can go back as far as our initial discovery of unique emotional attractions. I remember being six or seven and chasing a pretty, brown-haired girl named Terry around our rural school yard.

The game was some variation on Cowboys and Indians, and I was running after her along a gentle slope between the swings and ball field. A strong, rounded emotion surged in me, and I remember that autumn afternoon mainly because I was completely puzzled about it.

Few memories remain readily available from those early years, but my attraction for Terry is still vivid. It was my first memorable experience of emotional confusion or, better, incompletion.

Not long after, a buddy and I took turns kissing another girl, Linda, in the back of our school bus.

Next day, a teacher took us aside to awkwardly explain that kissing Linda was forbidden. Wrong or not, it was as exciting as all get out, and this was the first time I remember society stepping in to crush enthusiasm, no explanation necessary. What harm was there in practice kissing between seven year olds?

Linda was willing and remained my secret crush until a change of schools ended our daily contact. She never outgrew her girlish beauty, but we never got close again, even as adolescents. I’d moved on to choosing other girls, and she was probably busy fending off other boys like me.

The point of this vignette is that, even at an early age, emotion drives us to choices. Terry and Linda, in my memory, were the cutest girls in our school, and without knowing much about what I was supposed to do with them, I wanted to be engaged. Society wanted just as much to keep us separated.

Love at First Sight

Love at First Sight

Marcus Stone
39.5 in. x 27.25 in.
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There are times when the interests of the larger world can cause us to clamp down in a useful way. We don’t let children play with loaded guns and sharpened knives, and we don’t let them decide on which days they will attend school, sleep in or watch TV.

Adults make necessary choices, but when society steps in to interfere with the natural development of human relations, that’s disempowerment, the transferring of choice about what is good for an individual into a mass corralling of power for power’s sake.

Opposing Freedom

The moral or religious basis for restricting relationships goes back to the earliest controls benefiting evolving leaders of the pack. We find evidence of it all through the Old Testament, for instance, and it seems likely that invoking the deity, especially the one that inspires fear, has long been a handy tool for tyrants and benevolent despots alike.

God was invoked to explain the heartless massacre of whole populations, every inhabitant, every woman and child, the lame, the sick and the aged. He ordered or commended it, and, lucky for them, He spoke exclusively to the rabbis. God was even credited with directing the execution of a man who violated a commandment by gathering wood to warm his family on a day of mandatory rest.

Claiming privileged access in eras of illiteracy and ignorance, any leader could recruit a deity to increase power. Threats of punishment up to and including the ultimate remain features of contemporary cultures.

As communities have evolved and, through education and experience, grown more secular, the effectiveness of religious control has diminished, but its long shadow remains. Rules about who we may safely associate with, even when subtle, are universally in place.

Restrictions on integration and lifestyle are taught early. No matter who or what the enforcer is, the rules themselves are there to disempower, often with no other reason than the pleasure and advantage of the already powerful.

Social Control

Class values infuse layers of culture and tell us what we supposed to want in life. In America, it’s very much a mercantile entanglement. Class is exposed by consumption.

As a class thing, we are instructed through commercials about what to obtain in establishing levels. Mothers pay extra for their daughter’s designer jeans, even when the quality of goods is the same, because that’s what her contemporaries wear.

This transfers decisions about human values to commercial interests profiting through mass marketing. When we make economic choices based on class identification, we aren’t thinking. We’re handing over something elemental within ourselves.

As a modern culture, we don’t give it enough thought to raise serious objections. A purchase affirms value. To soften resistance, we learn slogans, viral memes, about personal independence–which makes it ever more important to be conscious of what people do, not what they say.

Words really are cheap. They are sometimes salves for conflicted feelings. We’ve mastered a bountiful supply of quotes to explain whatever action we’ve taken or contemplated.

Love the Feeling of Freedom
Love the Feeling of Freedom
Meijering, Kitty
11.8 in. x 15.74 in.
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Choice requires power, and after power has been surrendered, choices are made in other ways. Freedom was once taken from us violently by stronger or less restrained overlords. It’s now simply given up in exchange for merchandise.

David Stone
Find A Million Different Things: Meditations of the World's Happiest Man and all my other books on my Amazon Author Page.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer Vacations, Part Two

Summer Vacations, Part Two

Cove in Summer
Vacation from an American Dream
Vacations can be dangerous. Vacations are marked by degrees of departure from everyday routines, routines about which most of us nurture a gnawing hunger to escape.

Type TGIF, short for Thank God it’s Friday, into a Google search and four and a half million hits pop up instantly, many of them involving a popular restaurant chain and others referring to what ABC television once called it’s Friday night line up.

That pervasiveness is possible because so many of us spend entire weeks hankering to get out of whatever it is we’re doing. We even call Wednesday “hump day” because we’re halfway there. Vacations are accented versions of culturally embedded escapism.

What does it say about us that a persistent cultural desire is to get away from ourselves or, more accurately, the costumed selves we put on to fit in the communities we’ve built, to get into a bottle of beer, to sleep a little more, to take our dogs on longer walks? Why is pleasure the exception, not the rule? What are we building here?

We build structures separation tells us we need. The beams and scaffolding may be moral, social and vocational, of any material available. Wood and metal aren’t necessary when fear and inhibition do just as well.

We put up frames that hold us back from the steady gravity of nature. Some look like churches, some like Big Blue’s headquarters in Westchester County. Others don’t look at all, but invisibly are. Manners and customs vary, but they exist mainly to patrol the distance between us and the lush, less predictable lands of our animal cousins.

Avoiding Ultimate Reality

When I managed a crew cleaning buildings, the public areas set apart by dubbing them “restrooms” were the most sensitive. Not only did these tile and porcelain echo chambers need to be visually cleaner and more odor free than others, they also had to be closed off for servicing.

My crew could roll through office spaces with vacuums and dust cloths or swirl buffing machines in a hallway any time, but the restrooms had to be first on the schedule, before most of the workers arrived. One memorable woman foiled us occasionally by bursting through a closed off entrance, singing, “Nature’s calling,” before settling over porcelain in a dim area behind a swinging door. Nature does much more calling than that. We deny it when we can and paste up wallpaper when we can’t.

Sex is a good example.

Why Sex?

If you spend a significant segment of your waking life developing ideas and observations to write about, you probably ramble through the curiosity of our resistance to sex for what it is. Sex, simply put, is what happens between people who are driven by anticipation of its well-known pleasures to do what humans and many other species do when they create babies.

Only speculation is available for explaining the evolutionary leap we took into separate sexes that screw themselves together for continuing the species, but a certainty exists that we didn’t initially know the ultimate reason for doing it any more than we knew why we chewed grass or meat off bones. The distance between the act and it’s occasional result was too remote in a reality dominated by now.

So, who needed a reason? Really, do we even today?

Reasons are for later. Nature called and keeps calling. Men and women merged and came away happy. Well, mostly men came away happy, but being bigger and stronger, it was their turn to drive. Enough time elapsed between the conjugal event, the “humping,” as some prehistoric guys I grew up with called it, and a result that probably took centuries before some early Einstein connected the dots.

One plus one eventually got three, but only some of the time. The idea that, modern exceptions aside, we must plunge temporarily stiffened parts of men into lubricated parts of women for a community purpose must’ve been a tough sell. Selfish acts promoted as communal altruism always are. Lust can loose its spice when it becomes good for the team.

Hanson, Pamela
35.375 in. x 26.25 in.

Children are still told bizarre stories about the creation of babies by lazy, reluctant parents. Days can be wasted speculating about the origins of weird tales about storks delivering infants to expectant mothers.

An uninhibited child might wonder why a bird bothered to provide uncompensated delivery services, but a civilized child, accustomed to people doing all sorts of things for ridiculous reasons, might see it as holding down a job, just like Dad. All that to distract us from openly knowing what we all know we do and what comes as a sometimes result. Keeping a distance from nature demands strange, unsatisfying acrobatics.

A main theme in evolution, a sort of schism that remains unresolved, may have put us on a difficult path, out on our own first limb, long before the dinosaurs or other creatures emerging from oceanic slime to crawl ashore.

An early event near the base of our evolutionary tree was cell division. Primitive communities of energy enclosed within lubricated skins multiplied by splitting into pairs, a favorable result because their DNA or whatever replicating device they had doubled. Made up of related individuals now, communities became complex and larger. Nature likes that and rewards it with a desire for more of the same.

So, Why Do We Have Sex?

The first dividing cell had a tremendous numerical advantage over those that stayed intact, and it’s progeny probably shared the proclivity by inheritance. You can run that string out in your imagination to the present day, but I’m getting at something else.

Is it possible–rather, isn’t it likely that the early separated cells felt a hollowness on departure, a sense of something missing, and might this, all this way down the road, explain our inherited confusion over love and sex and all those unoriginal songs about longing that saturate the airwaves?

A necessary carelessness in terms prevails. Primitive cells didn’t “feel” or “sense” anything in the way we know those words, but here was the genesis. A connection was broken. How does that play out, all these millions of years later? Our instincts tell us a broken connection has negative implications when, objectively, it has no such thing.

Snap a twig. Tear a piece of paper. You’ve broken something. Your innate comfort with things that are whole signals a need for repair. Put it back together. Fix it. If you can’t, then you may be on to how our most distant ancestors “felt.”

When that irresistible desire to return to an initial state showed its versatility by becoming the popular and world famous “urge to merge,” evolution set the stage for humping vertebrates and, among the separated from nature, love and marriage, our modern, cleaned up renditions.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand, in other words, was code sung nicely by mop heads we understood intuitively as teenagers. We all did, it seemed, before social changes made such sweet songs jejune. Nature pushes back, always.

Bahner, Bertram
22 in. x 18 in.

Of course, none of us are separated from nature in any true sense. The phrase is a convenience to describe a situation we believe to be true.

Our entrenched beliefs on the subject are about as practical as those of a cat imagining his cattiness sets him apart from everything else.

Cats may be individuals, but they are individuals seamlessly within nature, not dreaming about being parked outside of it. None have ever voluntarily put on costumes, for example, the imaginative efforts of pet merchandisers notwithstanding.

We’ve become less flexible within unsettled nature than cats. We hang on rigid frames.

Objectivity keeps telling us we’re not only separate, we’re supernaturally separate. All we need to be guided by that wisdom is ignorance, which is, happily, in plentiful supply.

 David Stone

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer Vacations

Summer Vacation

Summer Vacation is the sixth chapter in the free online serialization of my book, Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness (Click the link for an index of every chapter to date.)

Summer Vacation

Like, do we ever really have one?

What is a vacation, after all? When I was a boy, it meant sleeping late in the morning, no yellow school bus, black lettering on the side announcing the district, advancing up through the sunny morning along the shank of the foothill on which we lived.

Boyhood Dreams
Boyhood Dreams
Rockwell, Norman
17.5 in. x 18.5 in.
Images of Boyhood At

Maybe there’d be a trip in the mix, but mostly, summer vacation meant a variation, an indulgence in play, community and exploration. Summer vacation was a continuation of farming traditions few were eager to see end. How could we be expected to sit in stifling classrooms when fields of wheat needed to be harvested? And spring break honored the old planting tradition. Even in the cities. Urbanization had come over us so quickly, our habits couldn’t keep up.

Vacations brought hours of baseball every day, a routine rarely disrupted by contrary weather. Off we’d go, soon after breakfasts of Corn Flakes or Cheerios soaked in milk and sugar, to the diamond we’d plotted for this summer. Drawing from a rural cluster of families, our teams were limited, usually only two players on each. My older brothers made rules that fairly accommodated our situation and kept the games fairly organized. Hits, for example, to the right side of second base were foul, since we all batted righty and were pull hitters. We also all pitched righty. In our last season, I scrambled things by deciding to become a switch hitter. When I went to the left side, the other team had to rotate its single outfielder–otherwise known as my brother, Larry–all the way over, grumbling but complying out of respect for my trying to conquer a challenge and reluctantly honoring my stubbornness.

High Dive
High Dive
Rockwell, Norman
12 in. x 14 in.
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Another problem caused by my opting for versatility was that we’d set up the playing field with no concern for distances to the right field fence, leaving it easy for me, the youngest and least powerful, to pop homers over it. A new rule was soon established that, homers to right were now doubles, which I fiercely contested, but being youngest and least powerful…

What ended my experiment in limited ambidexterity was my smart brothers’ noticing my swing’s extreme uppercut and the opposing pitcher’s learning to strike me out consistently by throwing letter high strikes. My missing them with alarming consistency soon returned me to full time on the right side and rewarded Larry with decreased aggravation. The games went on until early sunsets limited after supper contests, and as the school years accumulated, the older guys gained interests, girls for example, that precluded the dedication of entire summers to baseball.

I tried to keep the tradition alive, my intense love for baseball far from expired, but the unimpressively small cluster of baby boomers was exiting our rural stage with me at the tagalong end. Not enough boys my age remained, and the tradition soon deteriorated to where the fat kid up the street and I were applying ourselves to one against one whiffle ball in an odd backyard.

That was my initial direct experience with the complexities of evolution. What we called vacation was really only a release into our passions, which should have been our main business all along. Let loose from the artificial routines set up to teach us to become young men of substance, hard working and family oriented, we raced to the nature we’d been forced to stuff back. With voluntary adaptations commonplace, our species had prepared us to do volumes of things we didn’t want to do. Our thoughts dominated. Our emotions and everything else struggled. We were in training for the austere reality of our fathers and mothers, but everyone called it affluence.

My brothers left me behind as they had at earlier crossroads I wasn’t old enough to manage, this time when they started edging into an adult world where boys my age could barely nibble at the crumbs. A decade later, I struggled to shake the loss that summers without two month releases from conformity showered over me.

Still more decades later, I realized I hadn’t been wrong and wondered about what might’ve happened, had I been radical enough to refuse to step on the treadmill. A book I tried to write when I was twenty, Tramps, never finished, was probably, given my passion for it, my inner wisdom trying to reach me with fictional proposals on how to live. By then, however, I’d become far less skilled at listening inward.

Spring Flowers
Spring Flowers
Rockwell, Norman
12.125 in. x 14 in.
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David Stone

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Million Different Things: Noon, Meditation #10

This is Meditation #10 from the Section, Noon, the latest installment from my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World's Happiest Man. It is concerned with mindfulness meditation and manifesting abundance

A Million Different Things: Noon, Meditation #10

Buy at Art.comI paced along the estuary, walking with meditation, abundance... abundance... abundance, repeating in my mind, and found that the routine world I looked at every day became more beautiful and varied with each exposure.

Watery curls developing on the irregular surface as huge volumes of energy passed on the tides resembled the illustrations of the wave functions I’d read about in physics. It taught me that action in isolation enhances knowledge, but not understanding.

Clouds Over Ocean, Cook Islands
Peter Hendrie
18x24 Photograph...
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Reality itself, the interactions of energy governed by physical laws, is so complexly immense that our brains can barely capture a minority of the details. If a physicist focuses on how the world works from his professional point of view, it must so engage him or her that all else is lost. Even the mechanics of a handshake must break down into the chaotic soup of its quantum underpinnings. After learning certain things, we can never see our worlds in the same way again.

The water curled as propulsive energy interacted with resistant or contrary forces. It seemed muscular, power enacted against resistance. White foam escaped from the peak of a curl. Wind whipped it into sprays. On a blue-skied day when the interactions were maxed, the mix of blue, gray and white riding on the current was entrancing, a constant churning, a push-pull, nature conducting a boundless symphony of sound and sight, always reliable, playing this part of the physical environment.

On most days, the sun washed the waterfront and skyline buildings with light, much of which reflected down and across the water. Photons smacked against dense materials, rebounding into the estuary, some absorbed, some bouncing again, upward at a slant.

My eyes took in the scattering of light as some of the particles from each interaction bounced into them. Riding my occipital nerve, the information rushed to my brain, and in less than a second, that incredible spongy chunk of equipment gave me enough information to integrate that part of my world.

Simultaneously, many other events were happening. My ears gathered sound waves and dumped them into the repository that keeps constructing my reality. It collects and correlates with the lights. Receptors on my skin reminded me about hot and cold, the wind and its directions, while my nose picked up information from smells, with which the City is flooded, natural smells and manufactured smells and the aftereffects of industry.

My mouth, crammed with sensors, was less busy, closed and numbed by the overwhelming tastes of toothpaste and mouthwash still lingering on its surfaces. Second by second–or however we measure a moment–my brain took all this and far more, scrambled it together with history, anticipation, acquired knowledge and innate skills and made up a reality that was instantly replaced by the next and the next and the next.

That, for me, is the most stunning thing my brain or anything else in my personal make up does: it creates a tangible universe out of a ceaseless flood of information and lets me walk in this created world without hitting trees or being overwhelmed with influences. My brain condenses and shortens the world so that I can go through it, happy in the illusion that I am aware of most of what is around me.

Neurons Human Brain Cognition Synapse
Neurons Human Brain Cognition Synapse
16 in. x 12 in.
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What we as humans “see,” what we universally accept as reality, is composed from an interesting set point at which we’ve agreed that this condition or level in the seamlessness of matter is the one on which we stake our claim.

We’ve agreed on the material compositions our brains have evolved to translate into what we call “the world.” What is actually “out there” (accepting for the moment the unsettled argument that something definitely is) is both too impossibly small and too hopelessly large to see.

We speak knowledgeably about light years, but no one can honestly put that measure into mental space. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. The distance it travels over 365 days equals a light year.

The universe we believe ourselves a part of is many light years wide. Impossibly large, but as investigating creatures, we want to understand it in some way and write it down. That’s our gift, our unique motivation.

Take this incomprehensible structure down to the human level of trees and water and living rooms, and then keep going. Smaller than the structures we find our way through every day, often manipulating and testing, is a varied world of things that make up what we stand on and/or are built from.

Some are so minuscule, we probably have no chance of ever seeing them, except in our experiments and mathematical constructions. Neutrinos, the most commonly used example, are theorized to be so small they race across the universe, passing through massive objects such as the Earth without running into anything or changing directions.

Beyond that, things get so small they are suspected of being not matter at all but potentials expressed as energy, strings with qualities as strange as having only a single dimension. Try imagining one of those. Then, try getting used to the idea that such bizarre items may underly every physical thing we see, including ourselves.

Learning quantum physics or astrophysics is not so important as is knowing there are so many things out there that we know about only conceptually or experimentally. We are relatively large or relatively small–pick your perspective–clumps of the something that makes up our singular universe.

Don’t accept for an instant the proposition that there is nothing else, nothing more, for the fact is that there is much more to be known than what we have already found. Our scientists have not come close to exhausting the search. No one has every answer. Even the words and terms for some things have not yet been invented.

Any mystic claiming understanding that surpasses knowledge is guessing. Mystics can guide science with inspired insights, but they can also misinterpret what contemplation tells them. Volumes can be written about bad ideas that fascinated and earned the trust of millions. Our brains are still personalized filters, adjusted for each of us according to our determination and direction. Truth is universal and personal, all at once.
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Quantum Fantasy
Jerry Clovis
16x20 Gicl...
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Which is the point I am getting at–with all that information and knowledge entering our minds in massive quantities, moment by moment, walking along any estuary alive with action, what or who decides critical issues about the reality we do see and how we think about it? This is the question of our time, I think. This is the really big one.

Is what’s going on in my brain while I walk by the water or write this book merely an accident in material space or a directed activity? Am I an illusion created to facilitate evolution or some other process or is there a me at the wheel?

According to my recent reading, most scientists concur that self-determination is an illusion, a flexible invention of the material laws that make our universe hum. Consciousness is a happy accident that somehow lets us enjoy the illusion that we are in charge and steering our ship.

I’ve gotten lost in the unanswerable question of, what’s the diff? If we think we are real and making choices, does it matter in any practical way if we are or are not? Finally, I took the unorthodox position in favor of free will and conscious awareness. I did this, at least in part, to kick off an experiment.

If I consciously make choices, or believe I do, in favor of a goal or direction, what happens next? Who is this “I” anyway, and what makes him tick? How effective is he? If I decide on one thing and experience takes me somewhere else, does that prove I’m not in charge or that I’m simply participating in the human experiment of determining effectiveness?

It seemed like a fun approach capable of occupying me for years. I even found laughing at my tangles and puzzles easy.

Am I deluding myself about free will and consciousness? Gradually, I’ve come to understand that such self-deception is impossible. In the end, I’d have to delude myself about deluding myself, and evolution would never waste its energy designing me for that. Evolution has better things to do.

No, I think science takes an unjustified shortcut. Since we can’t explain free will without resorting to something ineffable, like the dreaded God or other divinity, the whole idea must go.

Speculation quickly whirls into infinite regress as we look inward to ask what the “I” each of us always contends with is. Each penetration steps down to one more me beneath the other, without end. We discover no bottom.

It’s a condition of science that if we can’t touch, measure or define (read “confine”) something, it can’t be confirmed as real, and if not real, it can’t stand. My belief, to the contrary, is that anything taking such a hold on our imaginations as free will has must be thoroughly entangled in reality, and even if it seems permanently beyond our full comprehension, we still should lasso it and hold it in our corral until discovering everything knowable about it.

Choices are what we do. So, let’s get into choices.

David Stone

Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Some Room At The Table, Part Two

Some Room At The Table, Part Two

Some Room At Table, Part Two is the fifth chapter in the free online serialization of my book, Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness (Click the link for an index of every chapter to date.)

One strange day, a man or a woman scrambled his or her gray matter and, for the first time, saw an external world objectively–as a thing apart. We take for granted, these days, an “out there” separate from us, but it’s not possible that we always imagined reality to be like that.

There was a time when, like other living things, we didn’t imagine it at all. Imagining was for innovating in the present, not constructing it. We were once absorbed in a complete natural universe, aware but not apart. We observed and reacted to what we understood was around us, always part of it. We participated in an ebb and flow in which we evolved and belonged. Then, one day, someone pulled or was pushed back, shaken maybe by fear or boredom, and saw an external world operating “out there.” Along with religion, poetry can probably also be blamed on the person who had this experience. Opera, too.
Jeu de Voiles
Jeu de Voiles
Laigneau, Max
27.5 in. x 27.5 in.
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Have you ever noticed that animals we know to be sentient are turned on by novelty and fear? Our schizophrenic, first aware human must’ve been about as novel as anything the natural world ever generated. Strangeness draws attention. Attraction gains followers. Maybe this magician taught others that peculiar psychic twitch that forced a here and there. Maybe she only got them to want it. And if this meant getting invited out for more dinners and having more sexual relations, about which we were not then so finicky, the magician emerged with a quirky evolutionary advantage.
The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle
Alma-Tadema, Sir...
9 in. x 12 in.
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Conditions now defined as mental illnesses seem to be genetically transferrable, at least in susceptibility, but many centuries had to pass before we invented stigmas about it. Magicians became greater in number and learned to dominate, claiming to be closer to God and understanding that there could be manipulated by here. Magicians didn’t just let things happen. They took Godlike control and creativity emerged. Separation ramped community values. Ultimately, that from which we became separated, nature itself, dropped low on the charts of things we wanted for keep close at hand.

A characteristic of our time is a reverence for difference, individuality, even as something innate continues to press for conformity. Uniqueness is attractively disorienting. A magnetic discourse of pushing and pulling dominates our cultures. Separation made us who and what we are.

Separation fertilizes difference, but as with any illusion, it can’t be sustained.

David Stone

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Monday, May 16, 2011

More Cat Stories: A Clever Cat Gets To Paris

A Clever Cat Sneaks His Way To Paris

There are cat stories, and then, there are the cat's own stories.

Our cat, George, tricked us into taking him (and his tag-along black cat friend, Billy) on a trip to Paris.

Another Chat Noir / © Deborah Julian
Back home in New York, he dictated Travels With George: Paris the trip as he experienced it, but our angle on this smart cat in the City of Light was slightly different.

Well, maybe more than slightly.

When I flip through pictures from the trip, they don't seem quite real.

Yet, there our cats are: at the top of the Eiffel Tower, taking a bateaux down the Seine or, as you can see, strolling the Left Bank, surprised to find the famous Le Chat Noir and other posters at a curbside kiosk.

Chat Noir Poster print

George and Billy added to our Paris trip in a big way, hiding out in our luggage and being nearly as surprised as we we were when they popped out at our small hotel in Le Marais.

Always a clever cat, George, as he tells it, was frustrated at being left behind in the care of cat sitters. He launched his singular adventure in pet travel when, hurrying to catch a flight, my wife and I latched our suitcases without checking and loaded tow unexpected guests in the waiting car.

The Cats Are Missing

We were concerned that we didn't see them when we were leaving, but both cats are visibly unhappy when they figure out, from the suitcases being loaded, that we are going away. Being left alone without the indulge catering is unpleasant experience for them.

Usually, they try strategies like sitting on top of our clothes or hunching miserably in full view to get some guilt going. We guessed, this time, that they were emphasizing their protest by hiding under the bed, refusing to let us off the hook with a final tickle.

Cats dislike being left home alone as much as Macaulay Culkin did.

Cat Stories and Feline Manipulation

After a couple of decades sharing our lives with cats, I understand many of their tactics and sympathize with them. Whether it inspires charm, flirting or sulking, cats have agendas. They're clever and smart and hate boredom more than hunger.

When it comes to our going away for more than a day, the guilt tactic starts as soon as George sees the luggage come out. He knows it means time with only Billy for companionship and scarce visits from nice, but none too bright cat sitters.

(The conclusion that cat sitters are none too bright is his. This is largely because he has so little time to train them.)

It starts with sad-eyed hunching near our luggage and usually concludes with his best effort at obstruction, which amounts to climbing into a suitcase that must remain open until he is removed or blocking the hall it must roll down by parking for an extended grooming.

I was careless in closing our big suitcase with him in it. Why wouldn't I be? We had all of the clothes we needed, checked and re-checked. What more would I look for? But he'd burrowed in, hoping to go undetected – successfully as it turned out.

All I can tell you is that both of our beloved cats came bounding out, some ten hours later, when we opened the suitcase again in our hotel in Les Marais.

Welcome To The City Of Light. Let The Cat Stories Begin.

We all have moments in our lives when disbelief settles into our psyches as reluctant belief. This was such a moment. I even said, "Hi, Georgie," and reached out to stroke him before my wife said, "Oh, my God! George! How did you get here?"

In spite of stories, most of them jesting, neither of us believed in cats teleporting themselves seamlessly to new locations, although it was one of the possibilities that flipped by.

By now, George, a partially stripped black and white cat with a mostly white face accented by mascara-like marks around his eyes, had gotten onto the bed and was stretching in that indulgent way cats have.

"Maybe Billy can tell you," I said, the facts now having sunk in.

"Billy?" she said.

"Mouw," Billy said, climbing out of our clothes, taking in the surroundings.

"Oh, my God," my wife said again. "Billy's here, too!"

Seeing Paris, Like A Cat

Of course, even not knowing how they pulled it off, we scrambled at first to get their necessities taken care of – water, food and a litter box. Then, we made a plan about how we would spend the next week, visiting Paris with our cats.

It's easier than you think, especially if the cats accept leashes, as ours did.

The Sights, The Sounds of Paris

  • The Louvre. This great historical museum of art and culture was the place we'd talked about most. The cats didn't get it. Seeing and walking by scenes with are both motionless and odorless makes little sense to a cat, which didn't surprise us. They napped in their carrier bags.
  • The Tuileries through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. The dirt trail along open fields of fresh cut grass and alongside glorious flower beds might as well have been cat heaven. George and Billy stopped to sniff and paw at everything. Billy, when neither of us were watching, enjoyed a bud or two, fortunately not openly enough to get us kicked out. When I scolded him for it, he looked at me like I was crazy. How can anyone pass up these flowers? he seemed to wonder, and of course, I began to see he was right.
  • A beautiful pool just before the Tuileries yields to Place de la Concorde spun both cats into a tizzy with birds, which they casually think of as lunch and which benefited greatly form the presence of leashes, flying everywhere and colorful boats in the water. This excursion so filled them with wondrous discovery that they had no choice but to fall into deep sleeps when we paused for lunch along...
  • The Champs Elysees. This was another thing we learned from George and Billy, in addition to the "stop and smell the roses" lesson we absorbed in the Tuileries: naps are good things. They refresh you and extend your experiences. Why push exhaustion?
  • After a stop at the Arc de Triomphe at the top of boulevard, a stop that rattled the cats because of all the commotion in the intersections, we ambled down, stopping for rest and a drink, to...
  • Cats on the Seine / © Deborah Julian
  • The Eiffel Tower. Little did we know that going to the top would seem a miracle to George and Billy as, for the first time, they felt like birds, free floating above the world, wind brushing their fur. They didn't have to, and actually couldn't say it, but the looks on their faces were looks we had never previously seen. It was what I would call ecstasy.

The Rest Of Paris

Even cat stories end.

We saw everything we hoped to see and more. And we enjoyed this trip more than any other, even with the extra responsibilities and arrangements required with two cats for traveling partners. It was so nice to have them with us, a pleasure we'd previously not thought possible

We enjoyed ourselves more because we were not deprived of our cats for a week, of having a small warm body snug up against us at night.

We had to deal with a moment of panic when our cat sitter called with the frantic news that George and Billy were missing. Using the shared phone in the lobby of our hotel, we awkwardly explained that there was nothing to worry about.

Another reason we enjoyed ourselves more in Paris and on subsequent trips was because of what the cat stories taught us about the values of discovery: slow down in new spaces; sit, stretch and remain quiet while absorbing a new reality ... 

Cats may have evolved these traits out of necessity. Their value in enhancing security seems obvious. Nonetheless, each is now an indulgence – ones we enjoy nearly as much as they do.

Cat Stories of Pet Travel To Paris

Did they really smuggle a trip to Paris?

Or is this just a fanciful story intended to emphasize things we can learn from cats. Maybe you should read George's own version to be sure. Or maybe it doesn't matter as long as we learn the lesson of our cat stories about taking some chances, having adventures and indulging in life as it come by.

David Stone

You can find out more about Travels With George: Paris and all my other books on my Amazon Author Page.