Thoughts on Death

I’ve been thinking about death lately.  I know, I know, but it’s winter what can I say.  Anyway, I was thinking if one is healthy and death suddenly appears it really has little effect on the suddenly deceased other than the fact he/she is dead, but, minimal pain is involved; healthy life, then extinction.

But, when I think about dying, anticipate it, I face the existential dilemma of no longer being here, in this my familiar environment which may not be perfect but certainly has pleasant aspects that I will surely miss, which is the reason, I guess, that thoughts of death are generally not thought of  in a positive light.

Which then leads me to wonder what’s next; the idea of a descent into nothingness is pretty hard for most of us to bear, which explains the various incredibly complex explanations and anticipations of preternatural existences man has thought up over the millennia.  There’s the heavenly realm, a Zanadu-like ideal city and Valhalla, the home of the gods. And then there are the more new-agie notions of rejoining the Collective Consciousness and the ancient Hindu notion of reincarnation leading eventually, if one is lucky, to re-unity with the Atman.

I guess some would call this fantastic, even delusional, but when I think of the absurdity of maintaining a sense of our individual significance in a world of billions of people and dolls in a limitless universe I guess entertaining thoughts of an after-life isn’t so terrible.

Mysterious Burial

Mysterious Burial

Why?

I was listening to my friends the other day discussing which of the big ‘W’s’ (you know, where, when, who, what, why) they thought was the most important.  The Barbies were clearly in the ‘who’ camp: who was the hottest celeb, who would the next bachelorette pick, who would ask them to spring prom.

IMac girl thought space and time to be most significant; when and where the next notable meteorological occurrences and/or ecological disasters would take place. Being of a social nature, she also was concerned with the where and when of the next Philosophical Society Social.

Tiny Tina could be forgiven for seeing the importance of the ‘what’ her parents and teachers would next demand of her.

Poor Pitiful Pearl (who is neither poor nor pitiful) suggested that all that really mattered was ‘why.’  With ‘why’, she offered, one can question the legitimacy of those social values that have led us to believe short-term popularity is important; with ‘why’ we can question the importance of our artificial time structures as well as the legitimacy of our subservience to those who render power over us; with ‘why’ Pearl said, we can eliminate superfluous concerns and find the path to our true natures.

Pearl’s argument pretty much fell on deaf ears.  The Barbies said they knew their true nature which was being the most popular girls in school; IMac girl said one’s true nature hardly mattered in relation to the immanent destruction of civilization as we know it and Tina said she might be able to overlook the demands of her father and teachers but her mother was simply not to be trifled with.

I felt like I had just witnessed a microcosm of the essential dilemma of doll-kind: It’s not simply that were not all reading the same page; some of us are making paper airplanes.

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Medieval Vision

Have you ever had a supernatural experience?

It could have been something you dreamed was going to occur that, later, seemed to really happen.  Or maybe you saw something that you were pretty sure couldn’t really exist in the world as we know it.  Or, as you sat contemplating things a message from beyond seemed to pop up out of nowhere, maybe from an incorporeal being.

Apparently this sort of thing happened to people living in medieval times pretty regularly; the difference for them was they had a more fluid idea of what constituted the real world then we do today.

I was reading the journal of three 12th century monks who set out to find the ‘terrestrial paradise.’  As they traveled to the east they encountered little people ‘no more than two feet high’ and went through a mountain region where there were basilisks, unicorns and dragons.  They passed through a region of constant darkness where ‘mournful shrieking came from sinners drowning in a sea of serpents’ and ‘a giant chained between two boulders’ was being tortured with fire…..  Well, the account goes on and on, one extraordinary event after another.

In my rationalistic way of thinking it all seems very imaginative.  They simply were encountering things they had never seen before and were interpreting them in terms of the magical world in which they lived.

I don’t know if I should be happy in my understanding of the natural world or sad in my inability to realize a truly magical kingdom.

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Thoughts on Global Warming

I’ve been reading about climate change lately.  I’ve been trying to make sense of the number discrepancies and the diametrically opposing views about a subject that seems as if it should be pretty straight forward.

Some people are convinced the carbon dioxide emissions being spewed from autos and power plants worldwide is collecting in the atmosphere and causing, among other things, the ice caps to melt.  Others are convinced global temperature fluctuations are just a normal cyclical occurrence.

Both sides site their opposing statistics and their scientific experts but, it seems to me, for a lot of people the issue boils down to an emotional, us versus them scenario with an almost religious fervor.  Sometimes the issue seems reduced to name calling and ad hominem attacks just like it used to be on the playground in elementary school.

Skeptics think of proponents as tree-hugging alarmists just looking for another world threatening crisis; proponents think of skeptics as anti-intellectual luddites with their heads buried in the sand.

Well, whether or not human-caused global warming is as dire as some claim it seems to me we could all do a little more to reduce our carbon footprints and ease the pressure on Mother Earth.

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True Happiness

Pearl and Imacgirl got into a discussion the other day about whether one was better off and would be happier establishing firm beliefs or maintaining a healthy skepticism, you know, as a basic philosophy of life.

Imacgirl, the more pragmatic of the two, inclined as she is toward science, maintained greater understanding and happiness would be achieved by building on the core of established empirical truths methodically, the walls of which providing safety and security for the believer.

Pearl on the other hand, has a skeptical nature and is inclined toward unconventional explanations for what most would consider conventional wisdom.  She said doubting razes pre-established thought structures presenting unlimited opportunities.  Truth becomes an open question.  Walls disappear leaving one awestruck by the vastness of possibility and here, she said, is where true happiness lies.

My two friends were clearly at a stalemate so they asked me what I thought.  I guess it all came down to whether I would prefer the predictability of a life within the confines of common understanding or if I would throw caution to the wind, go where no doll has gone before and take my chances in the ethereal realm of the unknown.

Well, I told them that as much as I enjoyed abstract philosophical thinking what I really wanted to do was go for a walk in the woods, feel the breeze and listen to the birds. They decided to go along and eventually we all agreed that the experience we were having fit well with both philosophical positions.

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On the Life and Death of Satan

I was reading recently about how the idea of Satan came about.

In the early middle ages St. Augustine determined that, as a result of Adam’s original sin and seeing as how we’re all descendants of Adam, evil exists in everyone.  This meant that when bad things happened everyone had only themselves to blame since they all had a bit of badness in them.  People bought into this pretty well because finding a scapegoat when badness happened wasn’t difficult.

Then, after a while, people began to take exception to St. Augustine’s concept thinking they really weren’t all that bad; actually they felt pretty good about themselves.  So they got to thinking it wasn’t them but something or someone outside themselves that made them be bad.  They anthropomorphized badness into a somewhat ambiguous horned satyr that they saw as perpetrating evil just because he wasn’t a very nice creature.  He was an idea most everyone could fear and dislike.

Later, in modern times, now that people don’t so much believe in supernatural entities anymore, Satan has begun to fade away.  So now, when bad things happen some people have gone back to finding a scapegoat, others have looked to St. Augustine and blame our inherent sinfulness and still others have dismissed the concept of evil altogether and rationalize badness as being relative to peoples and times.

When I think about how I stand on this I guess I lean towards relativism, but it takes some pretty hefty rationalization to accommodate some of the atrocities one hears about these days.

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Life Stories

Friends and I were sitting around the other day chatting over afternoon tea. Sister Chloe got into talking about the providential nature of her life: How God had seen fit to bless her with strong, supportive parents who had taught her right from wrong, follow the Golden Rule, do no harm and help others when possible and to follow the path that God had laid out for her.  She acknowledged God’s ways were sometimes mysterious and were not always easy to understand, like when her brother was left on the driveway behind the family car and subsequently ended up looking like Flat Stanley.  She questioned how God could let that happen but said she believes he must have had his reasons as he does for everything.

Well, Lala then proceeded to offer that she saw her life in quite different terms.  Fortune, she said, had been kind to her.  Following a particularly potent incantation her father had won the favors of a Toys-R-Us manager and ended up being featured in a toy exhibit which enabled him to secure a fine home for the family.  Even though the family had had their share of bad occurrences, mother having been purchased by a quite rowdy child and very likely ended up moldering in a damp basement her stuffing infested with centipedes and spiders,  cosmic justice had, for the most part, shined upon her and she hoped the stars would continue to do so.  She showed us an amulet she was wearing that came from her ancient ancestors.  She felt sure this would continue to protect her through the travails of life.

Then it was my turn.  I told them that my father was fond of telling us when difficulties arose that there was no reason to fear unpleasantness or worry about things because what would be would be and we had the freedom to make choices in our lives that would lead us, in all probability, provided they were wise choices, to a content and happy life.  I told them this advice had worked out pretty well, that I’ve always done well in school, able to overlook the prejudices of my human classmates and even the potentially devastating event of my aunt being lost in a family move (I think the dog carried her off and buried her somewhere) was met by us all with stoic acceptance.  I said that I was content in my ability to choose and felt comfortable letting each day unfold as it will.

Sister Chloe asked me how I can go about without faith in the existence of a benevolent overseer.  Lala asked Chloe how she could possibly believe her ‘Superman in the sky’ could care about the events in her life.  I asked how either of them could attribute future occurrences to the Supernatural.

As I poured our second cup of tea we all agreed it was time to change the subject.  We decided to talk about the weather.

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Karma

 

Hindu believers see existence as never ending; people are born into being, live their lives and die only to be reborn, hopefully into a better situation than they left.  Although, if they aren’t lucky or haven’t accumulated enough good karma they might end up as a lesser animal or even inanimate like a rock (or a doll).

The skeptic in me thinks they might very well have gotten this idea by watching plant and animal life cycle through the seasons year after year but who am I to question an age-old belief embraced by so many people.

So, when I look at some of the Hindu gods I have to wonder what kind of karma they accrued in their previous lives.  Take Ganesha: human body, elephant head and lots of arms.  The story goes he was born of Shiva and Parvati both of whom had lots of arms so that attribute may have been hereditary, but it certainly doesn’t explain the elephant head.

If we assume Ganesha accumulated, in previous lives, sufficient good karma to become a god then maybe an elephant head is superior to a human head; maybe Ganesha is further along the karmic path than anyone else.

I’m not sure how to think about my own karmic destiny.  Considering the present quality of my construction my previous life must not have been all that wonderful.  Maybe if I’m exceptional this life I’ll come back as …………….a Barbie?

An Audience with lord Ganesha 3

Age of Aquarius

My friend Astrid and I were planning to get together recently when she called to say she couldn’t leave the house.

Astrid is a strong believer in the efficacy of the Astral Plane as an indicator of future events.  She had just found out Saturn was entering her seventh house signaling Saturday, our planned meeting day, an inauspicious time to socialize.  Better, she said, not to tempt fate.

I thought about this for a while.  It all sounded pretty new-agie to me, but I decided to give Astrid the benefit of the doubt and found my birth chart on-line.

As you might imagine determining the exact time and date of my extrusion wasn’t easy.  The year was printed on the bottom of my left shoe; I consulted my keeper as to purchase date, estimated delivery time and took into account the slight flaw on my shoulder as an indicator of a rush job probably done shortly before the end of workday.

Anyway, my chart indicated among other things the moon was in Aquarius just passing into my eighth house.  What this suggested was my head was full of original ideas but that I would have the tendency to be selfish and blunt.

Being the skeptic I am I called Pearl.  We went out and had quite a good time.  I thought I was quite a pleasant companion until Pearl told me she hadn’t noticed the smear on my shoulder before.  I responded by telling her she wasn’t exactly Miss America herself.

Pearl just shrugged off the comment but it definitely got me thinking:  I wonder what will happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars?  Will peace guide the planets and love steer the stars?

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Religion as Art

I was reading a while ago about the Ban-Yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage which is performed in the Braj region of northern India.  Unlike many pilgrimages the ban-Yatra isn’t focused on reaching a sacred locale or the place of Holy Relics but rather is about uncovering the sacred in the profane as the pilgrimage progresses.

Braj is believed to be the birthplace and playground of Krishna.  Many of the stories of Hindu literature mention places and land forms here as sites where Krishna performed his miracles, cavorted with his cowherd friends and engaged in love-play with the Gopi’s and his beloved Radha. The pilgrimage involves circumambulating Braj, visiting shrines and temples and partaking in various rituals.

Unlike some eastern religious philosophies the worship of Krishna isn’t about renunciation of this world-denial of desire, but quite the opposite: realizing desire in the beauty of nature and celebrating the love of Krishna as being non-different from it. In order to do this the pilgrim cultivates bhava, an emotional and imaginative energy that allows him or her to see beyond the mere commonplace and experience the presence of Krishna in the natural surroundings.

One scholar suggests that in achieving bhava the pilgrim becomes like a poet creating meaning in the landscape as he or she passes through it.

Wow!  What a great observation. The artist certainly creates alternative worlds through imaginative emotive means; a significant parallel to the creative religious practice of the Ban-Yatra pilgrim. Maybe the difference between the two lies in just how literally one believes in the existence of this other world and its inhabitants. The artist, I suspect, is less likely than the pilgrim to embrace his/her imaginings as factually existent.

It seems to me religious practice in general could profit from a bit more creative play and a bit less dogmatic belief.

Krishna and the Walking Dead3