Dibs and Dabs

Fun is dribs, then some drabs, a call for dibs, a plea for dabs.

The quest for pleasure, the science of pleasure, it’s literature, it’s armamentarium, it’s practice has always been a dab elusive.  The hunt, peck and grab for fun, laughs, parties, happiness, good times — it’s tough hiking.

What do we do, we epicures, we gourmands, we hopeful debauchees?

I have just a few thoughts.

We can let  life’s pleasures come us as they will. 

Why thus and so this way? 

The opposite doesn’t work well. Coerced pleasures, forced joys, over-arranged fun has an artifical, trying-to-hard, unsatisfying flavor to it. Forced eating, forced laughs, forced sex — it’s yuck. 

Mandate pleasure and remain dissatisfied. 

But in contrast, as we relax, choose well, live at peace with our neighbors it seems that pleasure, using the element of surprise, peaks shyly at us from within the mystical realm of the divine ordinary. 

This morning, sitting in the car with my daughter in a parking lot, I was struck by the beauty of the small, pink flowers of a hedge blowing in the rainy wind as I prayed for her to be guided and safe. The beauty in front of me, moving in the storm, was not scripted nor orchestrated by me, not even expected. It was small, momentary, ephemeral — it was peace giving. 

I think of ataraxia, Epicurus’s state of lucid and robust tranquilty. That kind of pleasure, found in peace, seems to me to come from a conscious acceptance of the now, a making friends with reality, a seeing what is, not a forcing of what we want.

Want pleasure? Accept it as it shows up, bobbing in the wind in front of  you.

The other thought I have, meager as it is, perhaps helpful to us, is to be watchful, aware, tuned in, even purposely aligned toward the good and the pleasurable. It may come to us, and we may miss it, if we are not watchful for it. 

There are many whiners in life, in fact they are the majority. They are always looking at what they don’t like. And there is always something not to like, some pain, some health issue, some relational hurt, some slight, some jeaousy, some hate, someone to stumble on and take up arms against. But whiners are unhappy as they focus on the unhappy and so they miss the simple pleasures right in front of them. 

But in contrast, how refreshing it is to be in the presence of those who look for the good, and put their minds on the lovely, humorous, fetching nature of reality. 

In pain they laugh, hurt they help, sick they smile, irritated they keep their mouth shut, hopeful they pray. There is a kind of courageous gorgeousness to those who enjoy and celebrate the good, the pleasurable, the beautiful in a world of evil, pain and ugliness. They focus on the delectable-good. 

Pleasure is intrinsic to life. The enjoyable is everywhere. It is the gift of God. But it is found by those who look for it. Pleasure arises out of our own purposeful awareness of the good gifts of God. Pleasure is something we should keep an eye out for —  not force or mandate. It is something that happens as we watch. It comes to us now and again naturally as we wait expectantly — as the watchmen wait for the morning. 

Today, as it rains, and I write at home alone, my cat has snuggled up to me, keeping warm, seeking companionship, being close. 

It is a small thing, a micro-pleasure, a natural movement. It is a dab. I put the back of my hand on her silky, soft fur. This reassures me all is well. 

 


Love the Process

There are no isolated events, only processes that have gone unnoticed.

I have been thinking about processes lately, and like all of us, living in limbo within them. I am especially attempting to move contentedly within the unfinished sunshine of the linked-up, imbricate, tangential nature of process.

This week, I lived a process, a process of extraction, of annihilation, of removal. Everyday, in my few minutes of extra time — like some kind of deranged serial killer — I chopped small appendages into small pieces with my big loppers, and I sawed big appendages up with my reciprocating saw, and I stuffed them all in the trash for disposal.

Today the evidence disappeared, along with the hedge we had removed, when the trash truck came by, and now, in place of an old overgrown side yard, is my beautifully renewed and glowing side yard filled with flowering shrubs, stone pavers and wooly thyme.

It was a killing — and a vivifying. It was a process. It was a process of removing old thirsty sod and an over grown and entangled hedge and replanting water-saving beauty. I liked it.

Processes are good. They take some guts, often some team work and a good amount of persistence, but they can pay off nicely.

Looking back, redoing the yard was a crazy amount of work, but it was worth it. My wife and I have increased the beauty of our world; we will save water this next year, we applied and will receive a rebate from the water authority to pay for our work, and we have proven yet once again that we are a force, a team, able to transform reality together.

I enjoyed the process, but I am an American, so it was only somewhat enjoyable. I found myself rushing, trying to get through it. In American culture, we do this, and we are too often all about products. We want things done, in hand, fast, perfect.

That’s not reality. Life is a process, few thing are complete in one move, there seem to always exist a set of steps, a sequence or two, an overlap, the shift needed to get it done. And is it ever really done?

I want to get good with processes so I can be good with life. In much of life, the process is the product. The process is in itself meaningful, a kind of good end in itself, not something to simply rush through. Within every process exists hope, expectation, excitement, meaning, change, relationship, teamwork, good.

Good processes, like good relationships, are hard, long, expensive — and gorgeously and meaningfully fulfilling.

Sure, love products. They are fun.

But also, love processes! They are even funner!

You can check out the modern proverbs and epigrams that I recently wrote about “process” at http://www.modernproverbs.net

Gone Still Gamey

Pluck, grit, spunk, mettle, fire — we admire it; it’s needed.

I can still remember a few years ago asking for a surgery to correct the damage done by a previous surgery. It took some courage to go there. I didn’t know if it would work, neither did the doctor. We went for it. It did work, over time, time that was constructed out of anxiety, bravery, fear, some loneliness, hope, a good bit of pain and mettle.

When we do the thing that we don’t want to do to get to the place we want to get to we tap into something deep within our human psyche — the will to survive, and thrive.

I remember interviewing once for job, on the phone, from my bedroom, with nothing left inside but the will-power to believe in myself. I had just come through the most breaking emotional experience of my life, and yet, with nothing left, I still had something left. I had me and my faith in God, and guts.

That interview went nowhere, but another one did, and as the result of my tenacity, I now have a highly meaningful, challenging and very rewarding job. I am in a good place, my leadership gifts are in full play, because I had the grit to keep moving.

Gone we can still be gamey, beaten still brave, trashed still tough. God has built a resilience into us. We are endothermic, warmed by the gift of an internal fire.

I have learned this much about difficulty and pass it on to you: If someone aims at you, charge; if they fire, open your mouth; if they hit you spit the bullet out and keep moving. If you are a doormat, get off the floor. If you are high, come back down to earth. If you are plodding through mediocrity — risk.

If God wills it, and you want it, go get it.

Gentle Thoughts About Jealousy

She glanced over at the newly ensconced diamond on the pretty twenty-two year olds hand, and later that evening she took a moment to cry, in the lonely safety of her home. She wanted that.

He glanced down the street to the stoplight and his eyes stopped on the new red Ferrari. He ran his eyes over the curves, the lines, the tail pipes. Later that evening he looked up the price of that model online. He wanted that.

Weddings, cars, houses, jobs, resources, good hair — we want them. Health, safety, influence, love, good calves — we have all been jealous of someone who has more or better or superior goods or looks or personality.

Jealousy is interesting. It is the ugly-step mother everyone has. It is universally hated and universally practiced. Everybody feels some of it, very few if any admit it, because jealousy carries with it shame, self-reproach, and extreme social disapproval.

And yet jealousy is that one ugly family member, that one piece of clothing we just can’t bring ourselves to get rid of.

Why?

There is an intrinsic inner core to our jealousies that finds its existence within our deepest hopes and dreams. Jealousy is a flag waving over a soul in need of something.

Jealous of someone else’s engagement may arise out of desires to be loved, to be someone’s special one. This is so human, so normal, and the core desire in this is not wrong or nasty or evil. We need to be loved, we want to be loved and we should be loved. Jealousy of love tells us we too have this need.

Desire for a home is the same. Jealousy of someone’s nice house may often show that we have a dream within, of living in the shire, of having our own garden to putter in, of having a safe and beautiful castle for ourselves and our cats, a refuge-home from the wild, wild wood and world.

The fast, sleek beautiful car we might admire? There is a universal dream in many of us to launch, to fly, to fly fast and slick and sleek, to turn heads, to go past those slow, cheap, ugly utilitarian vehicles around us. The sports car represents the fulfillment of the dream of being beautiful and free.

All this, so human, so real, so common.

What to do?

Not cheat, fight, hurt, attack, criticize, condemn, hate. That is jealousy’s dark side. Jealousy’s principal temptation is to destroy what we can’t have.

We need to see this. We need to look unflinchingly at our jealousies, and recognize how they might ruin some of our best relationships. Jealousy can lead us to stupidly devalue our friends and turn them into our enemies. It can lead us to the ugly side of human sociality, to gossip, to undermining, to stonewalling, to attacking, to displacing and to destroying other human beings. Not good, not a place of health or quality or goodness.

There are other better options. We can look our jealousies in the eye and admit them. We can honestly admit to jealousy, and then decide not to turn its harmful ways on ourselves or others. We can take a moments to stop comparing ourselves to someone else, and to appreciate where we are, who we are and what we have.

And we can be gentle with our jealousies, and employ them, to understand our fragile, needy persons. Within our jealousies often lie the hopes and dreams of our souls.

These dreams need to be discovered to that we can begin to find realistic and legitimate and custom-made ways to fulfill them, to go out and get what our souls need.

The antidote to jealousy is found in the beautiful ensoulment provided by contentment, self-care and self-advocacy. The antidote to jealousy is found in the divine imperative to live within what God has allowed, given, graced, opened and provided. This is rich. Grace is always rich. There is and always will be enough for the soul aligned.

Are you jealous? So am I.

Then together, let us admit this, and with gentle love for others, and gentle self-care for our own souls, trust in what has been allowed, and with insight and understanding launch the warrior, lover, thinker and dreamer within to go out into the wide-wild world and wood to find the gorgeous safety, beauty and love we need.

I Love You, Emily!

This week I returned again to one of my old loves — literature, watching the BBC version’s of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and Coriolanus on a university data base.

Obscure as the plays are they move me. I grieve over Coriolanus’s hubris, and recognize my own. In Cymbeline I am reminded that “Great griefs … med’cine the less.” So do great joys. What a silly play. What a silly life. All’s well.

I also spent a Day and night — with Emily Dickinson. I fell in love with her years ago when I was teaching literature to 11th graders. I inflicted her on them. It was revenge for how they treated me. This week I went back to her like a neglectful lover and found her still as charmingly odd as ever.

Why love a weird, reclusive, abstruse 19th Century American poetess? Because when you read her, as when you read Shakespeare, bumbling through some odd bits and pieces of fusty language, you get the top of your head nicely blown off by improvised verbal explosive devices. Love that feeling!

Here is one of my favorites:

Did life’s penurious length
Italicize its sweetness,
The men that daily live
Would stand so deep in joy
That it would clog the cogs
Of that revolving reason
Whose esoteric belt
Protects our sanity.

In Emily we get truth condensed, but there is more than that. In her we find the universal longing for life and love and affection and attention and affirmation which we all share — and the not getting it — and the attendant gorgeous genius that follows. What does one do with unrequited love?

One makes the world pay by reinventing the language, by blowing up the literary universe into splendid little pieces — then hiding.

In honor of her I wrote a small set of proverbials, included below, each one drawing something from her poems, a fragment of a line, a piece of a thought, a slight verbal posture. In doing so, I incorporate her into my self and am the better. I sooth myself the way she did.

Weird little sister, I adore you! If I had known you I would have taken your hand, walked through Amherst with you, and we would have talked and named the flowers, and I would have loved you.

…..

When good men are very few, then Revery will more than do.

The soul selects its own society — then ducks.

Success is sweetest in suppose, a loyal love, a longer nose.

Charge into the danger zone, a heated brain — zero at the bone.

Tell the truth — add a slant — make a beeline — end tangent.

It’s okay now and again to be seen without our Diadem.

Love is never dead if it be fed — and plainly said.

Measure sadness and surprise with anything but analytic eyes.

Madness makes a kind of sense; sense has a slightly unhinged bent.

We outgrow everything but love.

Some show off, some hide their powers — reclining shyly within flowers.

Emily will more than do if Eloquence be lost and bees be few.

More of my proverbials may be found at http://www.modernproverbs.net. Check out the recent Franklins, anti-proverbs based on the proverbs of Benjamin Franklin.

Easter 2015

There is a definite spacio-temporal aura about the thing — nothing overly metaphysic — the very early-quiet morning, the women moving together wordlessly, the absence of so very many perhaps-expected others — the misty Mediterranean-like light.

And yet there is also a definitive recherche quality to the scene, the women standing in a half-dark with spices, present-uncomprehendingly, struck bewildered before a very empty tomb.

And then there is the interiority of it all — hidden and yet nonetheless real — the barrier falling softly through the floor of their reality, the new door opening for them on an entirely different existence, life picking up its feet, a new lift in its step, the world’s sociopathic intellect brightening, shy justice moving towards the front of the room, demure beauty blushing and touching her dark hair — and old, stupid, splenetic, soporific death falling over backward.

And therein is the laugh, the guffaw, the fall-out-of-your chair hilarity — the butt-kicking, power-excising, humility-making new order of all things.

This — this word-worthy, surd-sonant, ineffable-voluble totality, to me — this is knock-you-over delicious! This is flutter your heart gorgeous. This is nonpareil evocative. This is incipient reviviscence. This is our God, re-initiating life on earth.

This is nothing less than the resurrection of God from the dead!

Take that!

Epistemology 101

Though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience.”

Kant

According to Kant, there are two kinds of knowledge.

A priori knowledge — Things known by reason alone, independent of experience.

A posteriori knowledge — Things known by means of experience. This is what we call empirical knowledge.

In our modern world we are somewhat Kantian, often without even knowing it. We make much of experience. We also make much of reason. We tend to think of the mind as that which shapes our sensory experience.

Like Kant, many moderns see the mind as a filter, an organizer, and an enhancer of experience. In Kant’s day, this was revolutionary thinking. Kant turned epistemology inside-out by theorizing that objective reality depends on the mind instead of the other way round.

For me, I see reason and experience as merging, the a priori and the posteriori as enmeshed. I don’t think that they operate independently, ever. Reason shapes experience, experience shapes reason, what is true comes to us out of the entanglement of the two. There is no pure reason and no pure experience — we operate with an enmeshed epistemology.

Yesterday I spent the day rewriting my Cat, a Christian catechism for kids. As I wrote, in answer to the final question of the Cat, ‘How do we know all this is true?” I heard a knock on the office door. There was a man there, who often comes to the church for food, who wanted to volunteer.

He told me, “I want to work. I like to work. Do you have any work I can do?”

I did. It just so happened that the we needed to fill a hole, with dirt, an old driveway, taken out, in our new courtyard construction project, a small piece left over, untouched by the bobcat, needing some shovel and wheel barrow work. I got him started working and went back to my work.

I wrote in the Cat, “We know what is true by our experience, and by the experiences of others, and by our own thinking and judgments and by what we read in the Bible, that is, revelation.”

Kant believed that revelation was possible, but that for any given revelation we couldn’t be sure it is revelation.

I differ. So did Pascal. He saw revelation as a valid way of knowing. So do I, and it can be tested, with reason, and with experience.

In Psalms 104: 27-28 the author writes,

All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. …”

How does this writer know this? By experience, by reason and by revelation — as one process. He sees creatures with good things, he defines what a good thing is by his reason, he hears in his mind God telling him that He provides for his creation, and so he communicates his reason, experience and revelation to us in the Psalm. We compare that with our sense of revelation, our reason, our experience. We compare, and test and determine truth.

A man, at a door, on a day, exactly when help is needed. A scripture, telling me this is what God does. From this and in this all I see, experience, reason and revelation mixed to help me concluded, that God satisfies us “with good things.”

I sit in my office. A man appears at my door and asks to do a good thing for me. Is this coincidence? I remember that I recently asked God to help me with this very thing. I read in scripture that another man, the Psalmist, thinks God provides us with good things. I have myself been often provided with good things in life. The evidence of experience, my reason and what I have read that was revealed to another person — these three combine to cause me to determine, “I am being helped.” I conclude that this isn’t chance, luck or coincidence.

A man has work to do, good; another man needs meaningful work, good; a space is beautified, a barren patch of land is turned into a garden, good; a people trying to represent God to the world are helped, good; connection exists between heaven and earth, very good.

Reason and revelation combine in me to say that if there is a God, and he loves me, and if he created a beautiful world out of love for me, then it would follow that he would continue to love me and to help me bring more beauty and justice and goodness to that world.

Epistemologically, I live in one world, the world of reason and experience and revelation. I live in one house, all the rooms are connected, it is a single thing.

I am confident in how I know what I know.