See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Death and the Living

In the past few months, three untimely deaths have occurred in proximity to me; that is, deaths not of people to whom I was personally all that close, but who were dear to people whom I consider close.  All of these deaths were premature,  seemingly senseless.  Two of the deceased I had never met, and the other had never revealed much of himself to me.  In this strangest of times, I'm trying to decipher this message.

Death is no stranger.  Probably the hardest thing I've gone through in this life was the death of my mother, eight and a half years ago.  But hard as that was, and though I had the usual regrets, flogging myself over perceived lost opportunities and unmet obligations, she was eighty, and the last expression of her final illness was brief.  There's more to come, and nothing unusual in that; some of the people I care most about remaining in this world, are in their eighties, including my father.

But 2011 has been a strange year, full of illness, disaster and now unseemly death.  In short sequence, one of my friends lost a 23-year-old daughter who'd just begun to manifest heart problems.  Then the 47-year-old husband of one of my closest relatives died in a few months of pancreatic cancer.  Then, just last week, the infant grandson of a good friend died suddenly, SIDS.  None of these deaths could have been foreseen at the beginning of this year; one of the deceased had barely been conceived.  The feelings of the aggrieved are not unimaginable to me, but I know I have not had them.

It is unavoidable that I quest for meaning in all this - that I look for a message.  Strange that in these last few months, I feel that I do know what happens after death.  Not from any teachings, but from experience.  I know that my mother was around for a while after her death, then she moved on from here.  I'm not the only one who's had that experience.  I feel that she moved into me, in part; there are parts of me that weren't there before she died.  And also that she moved on into the world, into others.  Ultimately, to move on and do what she needed to do next.

I do feel strongly that we survive our deaths in this world.  It seems that we come here to do what we have to do.  And we come back, eventually, to do what we need to do next; that these transitions happen in eternity, not in time, and my next manifestation may be in the past of "this" world, or in another.  I do not feel the Buddhist doctrine of anatman - that there is no individual self.  I feel strongly that there is.  Nor do I really believe in moksha, release.  I share the belief of my Germanic ancestors that life is a good thing, though hard at times - and that we come back to be in this world, without the need to escape it.

Not that we're not more than our little selves, you understand.  That's a discussion for another time.

Nor is this the place to discuss the way we as a species value life so wrongly - that so many of us value its quantity over its quality.  That we extend the lives of our old ones into misery, that we keep alive so many who are called to die, beyond their time, and in defiance of their well-being and our own.  That we have through our misguided worship of human life in the abstract, filled our world (as of tomorrow!) with seven billion, in a planet that can at best support a few hundred million once the petroleum bubble of industrial civilization is burst - soon, now.  That we have in our greed and ignorance condemned billions to die, not naturally, but of starvation, famine, and war.

No, I'm just left contemplating the death of those who died, seemingly for no reason - though there was a reason, I think they knew it before they came and have realized it now.  Only to us, struggling to make sense of our own lives, do their deaths seem senseless.

But there is a reason, and a meaning, for us, too.  If life was eternal - if we lived as our present selves, endlessly - it would cease to have meaning.  Ask Lazarus Long.  Death is the darkness, the shadow that enable us to see the shapes of life.  Without it, life would have no definition.  We would be unable to perceive our limits.  The truth is, we can't right all of our wrongs (shouldn't that word really be 'wright', as in 'wheelwright'?).  We don't have time to make all the changes we would need to make, to be perfect.
Without the limitation of death, we couldn't see.  Anything.

So perhaps the death of others help us to see the shapes of our own lives.  And not to despair of them.  The deaths of others give our lives meaning - a chance to see the shape of things before our own deaths terminate our own ability to see, to change.

Not that this makes it any easier to lose a loved one.  But our lives are not supposed to be easy, even if we tell ourselves that sometimes.  And in the coming dark time, few of them will be, no matter how well or how poorly we think we've prepared for our illusory futures.

Shape the future in the present, with your own hands.  Shape yourselves.  In some sense, you've chosen the part you now play.  Develop and deepen that character.  You are the universe and also yourself.  How would you like to live, today?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beyond Meditation

(An interim statement).

Some of you will think this post unspeakably arrogant. Some of you will think that I am merely self-deluded. There is no objective way for me to counter that you are not correct. But it's a subject that is incomprehensible to some, perhaps obvious to others - the moving beyond meditation.

To most of us who are or were regular meditators, the idea that meditation may or may not at some point in our lives become unnecessary or even inadvisable, is not one that is commonly held nor encouraged - certainly not by those whose livelihood, whose social position or even self-esteem is supported by the meditation enterprise. The majority of us come to it in the first place at a point in our lives where life without meditation, more or less what Socrates called the unexamined life, is either not worth living, or feels incomplete. Whereas Socrates was probably referring more to a kind of philosophical self-examination, the meditation which many of us have sought comes from both Eastern and Western traditions which encourage a kind of transcendence of the merely rational.

The traditional meditations - assuming we have a common enough understanding of that word to use it - of the West mostly died out or were killed off long before our era. The Druids and the shamans of Western Europe were annihilated by the demons from the desert in the form of the Christian Church by the end of the first millenium A.D., though they are rumored to have survived in pockets and in various schools of lore. The Church taught blind obedience to authority, and suppressed the pockets of revitalized meditative, Gnostic practices are they re-arose both from the traditions and from the natural inclinations of man who wanted something more than slavery.

There could be a lot of discussion of the relationship between meditation and prayer; at time the two merge, become the same. But that's a topic for another time, a totally internal navigation and distinction between inner and outer direction, a definition of greater subtlety than may initially appear, which is either best reserved for another time and space or left to the individual altogether.

While admitting the possibility of isolated and individual exceptions, sociologically speaking, meditation "returned" to America and the West by way of the East; beginning in the nineteenth century, for the most part, the teachings of the East, notably India, and to some extent the Orient, returned to the a West which was sufficiently "liberated" from the grasp of the Church (although arguably - as I will argue - subject to other forces just as mind-altering or oppressive or both) to consider non-Christian teachings, and to adopt them on a large scale. As a whole new world of prosperity and seemingly limitless possibility opened after World War II, particularly in the US, Eastern teachings flourished - from the "Zen" of the Beat Generation (check Kerouac's Some of the Dharma if you want to see how far off-track from "real" Zen this really was) to the more authentic but somewhat watered teaching of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (see Transcendental Meditation). America was a gullible wonderland for false teachers who were able to slip in with the more credible ones, into a culture which had no antibodies, no filters for these charlatans). Even in the case of good teachers with good intentions (see Sunryu Suzuki and read Shoes Outside the Door), the traditional teachings fell into a cultural vacuum and became lost, distorted or perverted when the original teacher was gone.

This is not the place for a debunking of American Zen - which I maintain is to some extent a theatrical production, and is definitely as much of a reconstruction of medieval Japanese practices as Asatru is of ancient Nordic or Germanic ones. Modern American Zen, regardless of its relation to the original, culturally embedded teaching of Dogen, has a lot to offer. Like any other institution, those who rely on it for their identity or sustenance - the Priest class or its lay equivalent - pose a separate issue. Those who of necessity seem personal gain, even in the most non-materialistic sense, in issues so central to the self-realization of practitioners, always pose a danger, albeit sometimes unconsciously. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that direct and unfiltered meditation upon the "self" and ultimately through the "self" is a necessary step in liberation from what William Burroughs calls Control.

I stopped doing zazen meditation in the formal sense a bit over a year ago, several years ago after the activity in which I was engaged, on a subjective level, had become something entirely different anyway. Meanwhile over the last few years I had become engaged in Asatru, largely as a result of realizations I had during zazen. I hesitate to dwell too much on my subjective experience, both because of its intensely personal nature (which leads to and constitutes a kind of vulnerability) and because of its necessary uniqueness; I would and should not expect anyone else to duplicate my experience. Nonetheless, it has become clear to me on a level of intuitive perception that others have had experiences which are similar in type and direction, if not in content.

To put it briefly and in the context of a metaphor I have used often: after long periods of zazen (and again, this is for me) at some point the self - the consciously and socially formed sense of self, of identity, what Ramana Maharshi calls the I-thought, not just drops off, but breaks up. I tend to visualize it in reconstruction as the self exploding into a mass of ball bearings which go bouncing across the concrete floor of sheer being/nothingess. That is when one, or at least I, perceive(d) emptiness. But upon sticking with that - with staring into Emptiness, I came "in time" (or outside of it) to see another self, which I saw as a true self, emerging from behind the curtain.

One could certainly argue - and the argument has been made to me, rest assured - that the new Self I saw is false, and there will be a series of others behind him. The Zen metaphor is of an onion, which is pealed repeatedly until at the center is, again, nothing. Perhaps. Yet I am quite sure that the second self, I saw, is a true self which exists at a totally different level that the one I started with. I am someone, after all. Some distinct. No concept has been more harmful to us, especially to children as reared by this society (or fertilized and left to grow randomly like weeds, more like) than the idea : You can be anything! Nothing could be further from the truth. For the most part, you are what you are, and that is that, and much of succeeding in this life comes from accepting that fact.

Anyway - I am someone! I have genetic traits! And more than that, I have ideas and perceptions that are distinctly mine. Things I've always known. Things I was never taught but immediately perceived as true. Things that may be true for me, but not for you. Ways in which I am much more like my family and those more like me, than others). And I live in a world that tells me that that the ways in which I am unique or different, are wrong and unacceptable. But that is just one more circumstance of the life, existence and current manifestation with which I have to deal.

My intuition tells me that I am more than just this one mortal life, on earth. It has nothing to do with anyone's spiritual teachings - it is what I directly perceive, and more, know. What or who exactly that is - is to be examined further.

But back to meditation. By the time I left Zen, I was already quite involved in Asatru. I think that to the extent my culture and my genetic pool's cultural heritage has survived, it is there - this despite the fact that modern Asatru is of necessity a reconstruction, and the understanding of that heritage should be supplemented by the understanding of parallel developments (notably both paganized Christianity, which is the basis of Western civilization as we know it, and Hinduism, which represents the flowering of an unrepressed Indo-European heritage which is yet blended with another, authentically Eastern tradition). Not that I am not fascinated by other traditions. But the proselytizing, Universalist nature of the "demon from the desert" religions (and the Universalist though less messianic tradition of Buddhism) misleads us from the perception that most of the world's religions are True for their own people. All the indigenous, ancestral ones, anyway. And pretty much useless for converts.

Asatru is for the most part a right-hand path. A social religion, like most of Christianity. To get at its essence, at one's own essence, for those so inclined, it is necessary to go inner, inside, via the left hand - to accept one's one uniqueness and existence as more than a social entity - to approach god(s) directly. There are such paths available; I am a member of an organization called the Rune Gild, but there are teachings, paths to follow, made available to all. Such as Edred Thorsson's Nine Doors of Midgard. The Nine Doors is.. well, more than I can say in this space which I am making a vain attempt to limit. It involves a lot of Rune work on a lot of different levels, and a lot of meditation. In accordance with its suggestions, when I took up its program in June, 2010 - pretty much simultaneously with my last participation in organized Zen - I abandoned any practices outside of its tradition, which is the pre-Christian Western one. I think I accomplished a lot. I learned a lot. I am not through with it, yet.

Yet for the last couple of months, I find myself not wanting to do formal, seated meditation in any tradition. When I first started meditating, years ago, it was often hard to make myself go and do it, because it was hard. Now, it's not that - it just seems hollow. Shallow. Nothing seems different when I "meditate" than when I don't. It's as if the process worked its way into my consciousness until the states were no longer differentiated. I could speak more about this, but I won't, because most of you have no idea what I'm talking about, or have already decided that I'm delusional. That's ok.

I know people who are seeming addicted to meditation. Something is wrong with their day if they haven't done it. I remember that. And probably it's a necessary thing; it seems to me from my experience that it is necessary, to get a "benefit" (which Zen practitioners in particular deny seeking, so words fail) to do it regularly for some time - and to do it A LOT at certain times. It took me the experience of long periods of meditation, day after day, to have the experience described above.

I do know of long-time Zen practitioners, teachers, who have after many years and careers in meditation, have abandoned it. And not in exasperation, either. I only did it for a few years and can't compare myself to those people; I know only my own experience, but I know it well. And I won't say that I'll never meditate again; I undoubtedly will. As life demands; I have no doubt that the universe will call for such a thing. I'm just saying that right now, I don't feel the need to do it. I'm very glad I did what I did. And someday maybe I'll do it again.

Please don't be a slave to enlightenment. Unless you want to be. But like everything, it can be transcended, and then encountered again and again, as the wheel turns.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Little Boxes on the Highway

Perhaps my main reason for resuming these Diaries was to get some personal truths out of my head, get them expressed. By that I mean that, in contrast to those ideas that come and go, and change - as did my attitudes toward "politics" and "spiritual practice" during the course of the first incarnation of this blog - there are some ideas that remain constant. These I think are worth examining and expressing, because they have been around and reaffirmed enough in my consciousness as to actually express part of my "self".

One of the most resolute of these "fixed ideas" came to me as I was driving back to Nashville from Manchester last Sunday. I was on I-24, which is not the worst interstate in the world, but a typical melange of passenger cars, work vehicles, 18-wheelers, motorcycles, horse trailers, RV's, and whatever else might be out on a sunny Sunday afternoon. All that would be missing to call this Chaos would be to move it to Thailand and throw in a few pigs and chickens.

As I was alternatively passing and being passed in my Toyota Corolla by all these random entities, it occurred to me, as it occasionally does, that should one of the larger victims make a wrong move, or should I, I would be immediately annihilated, or mangled so badly I'd wish that I had been. As defensive driving courses (I'm sure) would teach you, right or wrong has no meaning in a crash. It's all down to vectors and force, the sheer laws of physics. Once the Mac truck hits a motorcycle, all the human, philosophical, spiritual, intellectual elements are gone - merely unevenly sized pool balls on a break.

When considering the origins of this mess, all sorts of philosophical, legal, historical and legal factors come into account. The selection of vehicles on the highway is the spawn of both the auto and transportation industries, and separate entities. But before we get into all that, what's the solution? It's not the reason behind the problem that matters so much as the solution.

The answer that comes to me, repeatedly, after thirty years or so of considering this mess, is to (1)remove the trucks from the highway, and (2) to mandate that everyone on it drive a uniform vehicle.

The early reactions to my hint about this blog entry, in the previous one, suggests that the readers thought I was going to be advocating mass transit. Which I am, where possible. Having lived in San Francisco with its amazing system(s), to return to Nashville into standardized American chaos, where each person drives his own 2,000-lb monster to work each day, was a re-entry shock (OK, it was as bad in Albuquerque - I'm abbreviating). OK we now have HOV lanes and the cars are a bit smaller, the fuel a bit closer to its true cost. But still..

But mass transit is not the total solution for passenger travel in all but the most concentrated parts of the US population. Although I believe that a corollary measure - a mandatory national rail system for freight - is essential. There's no way that a load of bricks or shit or computers moving from Atlanta to Nashville, or wherever, needs to be driven in a series of trucks. The trucks really only need to come into play once the cargo reaches the urban center or region of its destination. What to do with it, once it gets there, to keep these killer behemoths (the 18-wheelers) off the road during rush hour, is to do just that - to regulate which roads, and when the trucks can function for urban delivery. There is no reason I should need to compete with them at 8 a.m. at lunch or at 5. Or on certain roads, at all.

While the country is searching for ways to revitalize the job market (and THAT is a topic I can't even touch in this entry), how about instead of even more road work, build a national rail system? Harken back to the days of the WPA. Or Europe after WWII (after the Americans and British destroyed all the old systems)? Yeah, there's that nasty funding issue - we'll get to that. But do it! And make them (the corporations) use it!

As to the cars - why does my Corolla need to run the risk of being rear-ended by a 1978 Pontiac Parisienne? Why does a Dodge Ram compete with a Prius? (I'm out of step with modern vehicle names, so forgive my last of creativity). It comes to consideration of our fucked-up concepts of both personal freedom and free enterprise.

Are you outraged that the government might tell you what kind of vehicle to buy? Really? Have you been so indoctrinated by the religion of Consumerism that you believe that Freedom consists of your freedom to choose between an iPhone and an Android one, or between shaving creams, or cars? To choose one consumer product over another (all while the PC media whispers and shouts to you which one is "really" best)? While the government erodes your most basic rights - your rights to go to school or church with whom you choose, to join clubs of your peers instead of the homogenized mass - your freedom of association? Your freedom even over your own body - and I'm not beating the abortion cow here, I'm talking about your right to choose to live or die in a hospice or nursing home or a prison, or to bleed to death in some oil or battlefield? And you wanna choose between your Hundai or your Ford? Are you that far gone?

All these issues are going to be addressed very extensively in the articles that follow. But let me suggest to you how to begin to clear your head. It takes a while. Step one: turn off the TV. Disconnect the cable. Or make sure you DVR everything and edit out the commercials. And don't watch the news. Search for your info in print or on the internet, find a "cooler" medium (and read your McLuhan if you don't know what I mean). Get the voices of the Masters out of your head. [Zen is all about shutting up your own voice. That comes later. First get the others out.]

Back on topic: "We" need to require that only one make and model of passenger vehicle be made. The contracts can be allocated out among existing manufacturers; I don't care. Everyone needs to drive an identical box. This ensures that when those inevitable collisions ensue, the result will be more like a game of bumper-cars that the uneven carnage we see now. Make them relatively slow and extremely crash-resistent. And make them all the same size and weight. You can have whatever color you want.

And if you want to drive a motorcycle, fine. Take off all the safety requirement for those. It's a perfectly valid, high-risk option of personal choice. And there will need to be some pick-ups, of comparable size and weight with the vehicles. Level the field.

Think about it. Try to stop expressing your personality through your possessions, and learn to express it through your person.

But how is all this to be done? True, the existing government never could or would put it into place, for a myriad of reasons. Personal interest and corporate ownership, mostly. As well as the objections of a bunch of well-meaning "individualists" who have been so co-opted by the Powers that Be that they don't know what "rights" or "freedom" mean anymore. Take the Tea Party. Or the current unconscious Puppet of Those Who Really Control, the OWS mob.

That's all I can say here. Intrinsic in solving this pragmatic, logistical problem is liberation of the individual from the yolk of tyranny, counterintuitive as that may sound. But we'll be working on that, in the next few entries. Or next lot of them, maybe. Maybe interrupted by some fun.

Stay with me, people...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I have decided, more than two years after putting this blog into remission, to restart the Ratzaz Diaries. I was moved to do so for several reasons. First, a lot of the conflict I was experiencing between my earlier posts and the later ones - and between myself and most of the original readership of the Ratzaz Diaries - has dissipated. That is, I no longer see the problems that we as a people (either as an independent culture or ethnicity, or as a species) as definable in any way by the culturally delineated conflicts between false poles - i.e., between Democrats and Republicans (who both work for the same masters), between Christians and non-Christians, etc. So that for me the idea of choosing at this point between Obama and Mitt Romney for example (and what a wonderful choice!) is meaningless. When Democracy has failed in its entirety. And when the only options most people are able to consider are the ones presented them thru media that exists only for the purposes of propagandizing the populace and keeping them ignorant and distracted.

I was in the act of leaving Zen behind, for example, when I wrote my last few posts. It seems sometimes that a break with a belief system is a lot like ending a bad marriage; the energy needed in order to mobilize to make the necessary change generates as either a necessary or collateral effect (I haven't decided!) to make for a bit of bad blood, that hopefully dissipates over time as we heal and move on. That is how I feel about my Zen lineage and background at this time; it was helpful to me and helped form me, and I learned a lot from it. Indeed, the experiences I had in zazen are what enabled me to move past it. And there are a lot of worse things going on in this world that Zen Buddhism! and not a whole lot of better ones, in fact. So if you're one of my Zen friends and I pissed you off, I apologize. Sit on.

Another reason for resuming this blog is that the lack of it - though necessary for a while - has frustrated me a bit in maintaining at least the illusion that I am communicating with people of like mind, people whom whether they agree with me or not, are at least willing to think about the issues. Which people are not normal nor have ever been, in the context of my daily existence. I appreciate and need your feedback, or at least your listening.

I've noticed that I tend, when I don't restrict my mind from doing it, to construct solutions to perceived problems of society or of existence, on a somewhat massive scale. A lot of them involve "what would I do if I were king of the world" type thinking which I have no ability to implement (arguably, a damned good thing). So my construct may appear as sky-borne pies to you and pretty useless. Yet when I break down the motivations for my thinking, I discover that at the root of it are conclusions about the most basic human values that are at great variance with the norm. One of the first things I intend to write after this brief introduction, are how I would change the US highway, passenger transit and freight systems to accord with economy, good sense, ecology and safety. Which, as I study it, involves an analysis of our perverted notion of freedom, twisted by consumerism. We have championed totally illusory and meaningless choice - between an iPhone and an Android phone, or between a Miata and a Dodge Ram, and abandoned some of our most basic and usually assumed rights, like freedom of association, the ability to live and work with the people we choose; the manipulated loss of this basic right has destroyed our communities and destructured society so that we can become a mass of mindless slaves.

Another issue I wanted to address, on a limited basis, is the horror of the US prison system - that wastes money and destroys lives, and is brought into being, controlled by the lowest and most base aspects of man. [This post actually goes on from here, but apparently Google is malfunctioning and posted an unfinished draft, which ends in the middle of this sentence. It may be time to find a different host for this blog, since there is plenty of competition now... and why in the hell did it take hours for someone to bring this to my attention... GRRRrrrrr....].

More soon, I promise....