Do happiness and enlightenment go hand-in-hand?

Question – Does enlightenment / awakening / personal improvement automatically lead to more happiness?

I’m reading “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy” by Eric G. Wilson, and he makes some good points about how happiness is just a bit overrated… and chasing it for its own sake can lead to a somewhat vacuous, one-dimensional life. Melancholy connects us with the rest of life, the flow, and it makes us more creative — and more interesting — people.

I haven’t finished the book, so I may get something else out of it before all is said and done, but it’s got me thinking.

One thing he talks about, is how Christianity used to be trained on the idea of suffering, but now it seems all about God wanting us to be happy and prosperous and abundant. The “man of sorrows”, as Jesus has been described, is now a personal growth advocate who just wants you to live the good life.

I think the author’s onto something there — again, I haven’t finished the book, so I may change my mind by the end of things. And the idea that’s been looping through my brain has been, whether enlightenment and awakening and spiritual advancement are necessarily all about happiness.

Looking around online, there are a lot of websites that make that connection, using “happiness” and “awakening” and “joy” in their urls. As though becoming more conscious is going to impart unbridled joy — and the true mark of a spiritually elevated person, is that you’re never sad, never suffering, never un-happy.

And I’m not so sure about all that.

It seems to me, there’s a much greater likelihood of unhappiness, when you’re conscious of what’s really going on around you. I mean, seriously, there’s some pretty nasty stuff going on in the world — always has been, it just changes the type of nastiness as time goes on. Suffering, pain, all that…

Of course, there’s plenty of joy, and keeping sight of that is every bit as enlightened, in my opinion, as being aware of suffering.

To me, there’s a flow to it all. And the whole enlightenment thing seems more about being able to roll with it… to see it all, but not get sucked down into the abyss. Getting stuck with others in feeling their suffering, for the sake of what you think is solidarity, is not my idea of enlightenment or awakening — for anyone.

But this is just me talking, mortal and all.

It’s actually a beautiful day, so let’s all go find out what’s going to happen today.

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To be fully here

Here, there… was, will be…

When I was a kid, I usually had my head in a book — usually fiction or anthropology.

My tastes in reading have swerved into lanes of philosophy, autobiography, memoir, and most recently emerging studies of the mind/brain/body connections.

I’ve morphed into a sucker for a good research paper, a scholarly discussion of double-blind tests with standard deviations and all that jazz, but in terms of reading for the sake of reading, I’m much more interested in notebooks, these days, than just about anything else. Camus. Nietzsche. Snippets of insight into the minds behind the words. They link the authors to the flow of life around them, and they smack of the everyday, which absolutely begs to be explored.

The mundane… the blessedly fascinating mundane.

Moments interest me these days, a lot more than hours and days… and beyond. Moments of life — real life. Wherever it may find itself.

And each individual moment seems packed full of every other moment that led up to it. To the point of being dizzying with its density. No matter how fleeting.

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by moments — the everything that fed into the particulars of an instant — and that fascination has endured. Through the years of day-jobs, through the moves from one place to another, the shifts in relationships, the changes of fortune… through the years of genuine struggles, the boring rote required routines, through the years of sorting things out, piece by piece, till things all came together.

In the midst of it all, are our moments.

And the NOW — fleeting as it may seem — is anything but.

It is everything we have ever been — individually and collectively.

It is everything we will ever be.

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Oh, Lord… Brainpickings will be the end of me

My latest vice: – a regularly updated site, bringing you all sorts of tasty bits about awesome books, inspiring ideas, and art that deserves to be seen.

You should visit the site, bookmark it, follow it, dive deeply, and explore. Now.

And return frequently for more.

At your own peril, of course. Don’t blame me, if you lose more time than planned, by following links, reading and thinking, thinking and reading some more.

It’s causing serious disruption to my life — more than Facebook ever did. No offense to any of my FB friends, but the steady stream of heady info that comes out of Brainpickings is the kind of stuff I want to invest in. Voluntarily. In detail. In depth. For hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Every waking moment, on some days.

So many ideas, so little time.

Brainpickings, thanks for everything.

And nothing.

:) :(

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A writer’s first obligation

It’s October. It feels like time to go back to school in Germany. Every now and then, when the weather starts to turn, a part of me that remembers that sense from almost 30 years ago, when the shortening days and chill in the air meant that classes would be starting again in Tuebingen, and it was time for me to get everything in order, so I could start the school year right.

That feeling is back again. It comes and goes, but this year it’s especially strong. Of course, it’s moot — I have a job and a house and a much-loved life here in the U.S., and I’m long past the point of heading back to school as a part of an annual routine. I have deadlines to meet, a mortgage to pay, a life to lead, right here where I am.

And yet, there’s something in me that’s intensely hungry for the kind of experience I had when I was going to university in Germany from 1985-87. It was a much simpler time, Cold War angst notwithstanding. The Berlin Wall was still up. There was still a clear East and West in Europe. There was still a definite line between The Evil Empire over there, and the God-given rights of Americans to live as we pleased over here. The September 11 attacks had not happened. You could buy a one-way plane ticket from Philadelphia to Zurich for $500. And very few everyday people in continental Europe spoke fluent English.

A different time, for sure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about one aspect of cultural life there, in particular — the distinction between creators and the people who made a study of what they created.

I was meeting up with a study group in a university hall, and I was scanning a collection of flyers posted on the walls around me. There were notices of upcoming lectures about writers and literature, and it occurred to me that none of the people presenting were actual authors, themselves. They studied and taught about the authors, but they weren’t the writers, per se.

I was surprised and remarked (probably a bit dismissively) to my German peers that it seemed odd that there were no actual writers giving presentations on writing. My German counterparts seemed puzzled that I would expect to be any other way.

“Lectures are given by professors who study the topics,” they said. “Writers should write. Teachers should teach.”

At the time, it seemed odd. And I wondered if it were even possible for a professor to adequately explain the meaning and intent of a work of literature — especially when the author was still alive. But over the years, watching the increasing commercialization of arts and literature, and the encroaching commoditization of artists’ and writers’ private lives (you have to have a following to get noticed, after all, and people tend to follow people they feel they know personally), it’s occurred to me that there’s something to the idea that:

Writers should write. Teachers should teach.

I might add “Marketers should market.” But that’s another rant for another time.

In the world we presently inhabit, where people become famous, simply because they are well, famous… and where the line between public and private is so blurred, so voyeuristic, and so opportunistically invasive, the spoils tend to go to the people with the biggest personalities, who have the most followers on Facebook and Twitter, who produce one video after another talking about (or doing)… whatever. The more intimate and revealing, the better. And in the publishing world, where the obligation to accrue followers falls to the writer, the author, the creator of objects of commercial desire, the pressure to peel yourself open like a can of sardines is no small thing.

It just seems so strange to me, that writers — who so often take to the printed word, precisely because they’re not all that keen on interacting with everyone directly — are expected to do all the heavy lifting for marketing and outreach and promotion. What’s even stranger, is that publishers — who don’t actually own the printing presses anymore, so WTF dude, what is it that you bring to the publishing equation, nowadays? — think they can reasonably expect writers to do all that promotion work, and do it well… while continuing to write.

How odd.

This puzzlement is such a common complaint/conundrum, it seems cliche, and I suppose it is. We can bitch and complain about it to our hearts’ content, but that isn’t going to change the situation.

That’s just how it is.

And it’s not how I want to write or publish or frankly make my living. I want to write, yes absolutely. I want to publish, to be sure. And I want to do both with my only allegiance and obligation being to my craft, the language, and the meanings we derive from the whole of a fully lived life.

Once upon a time, I had not one book contract, but two, and both fell through for business reasons. It was a heady, awful time, and it really threw me for a loop. But the thing that did the biggest number on me and my Work was not losing the contracts and being relegated to the commercial scrap pile. Rather, it was the focus I put on my work being commercially viable, “delivering value,” and actually altering much of my original vision(s) to meet the expressed and rapidly changing wishes of my publishers.

That shift in priorities — away from the language, the meaning, the exploration, and towards the economic viability — was killer.  And it occurs to me now that — after sitting relatively fallow, publishing-wise, for over five years — I can probably go back to doing what I wanted to do before, without angst, fear, and agitation. I’ve had the whole book deal experience — not once, but twice. And it almost ruined everything for me, my writing, and my vision as an author. I lost my focus, I lost my primary intention, and I wandered way off track.

For what? Nothing, ultimately.

So, this is probably the start of something new. I’ve actually been writing a lot, over the past year or so, with tens, even hundreds of pages ending up on my laptop. Some of it may turn out to be interesting to some folks. And I suspect precious little of it is going to be of any use to the established order of things. I haven’t got the pedigree, I haven’t got the CV, I haven’t got the degrees and certifications to actually qualify as a “real writer” in today’s marketplace. No writing workshops under my belt, no creative writing degree, no recent appearances in nationally recognized presses, either large or small. In the world of literature, I’m nobody. Less than nobody, actually. And if I stopped writing tomorrow, who the hell would notice or care? Maybe a handful of people, tops.

And that’s fine with me. I’m writing anyway, and I’m publishing as well. Bigger things await.

More to come. As I see fit.

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Fast for me, slow for you

Lots going on

The stuff that’s been rattlin’ ’round in my head has been coming at a breakneck pace.

For me, anyway.

For the rest of the folks around me, I’ve been very quiet — especially on FB, Twitter, etc.

Sorting things out as I go… with a number of works in progress.

There’s the Paris – In and Out book, which I haven’t forgotten about.

There’s a handful of essays covering subjects from “Good and Evil”  … to an exploration of “what 5 choices/actions make us stupid or smart” … and a larger Work which underlies it all, concering “Matter, Space, and Time and its role in shaping our Reality (M/S/T/R)”

At this point, my M/S/T/R Work boils down and bubbles up to the following:

  • Matter does not exist as we typically understand it.
  • Space does not exist as we typically understand it.
  • Time exists – but not the way we think it does. The way we usually conceptualize it is sorta-kinda way off.
  • Reality exists (now is not the time to argue with me – you’ll have your chance later) — and there are common-sense tests for it that appear to have arisen out of my cosmology of Matter, Space, and Time.

So, yeah… I’ve been pretty busy. It’s just that nobody else has been able to tell.

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Need more – and better – time…

Life is not easy. Nor is it fair. I think we can all agree on that. Ironically, as time goes on, the ease of life can increase, while fairness seems to decrease. We grow, we learn, we acquire skill… only to run out of time to apply what we know in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

Consider the “usual” course of a modern lifespan. We muddle through childhood with all its injuries and troubles, stumble through the obstacle course of our youth, cast about in a full-tilt boogie during our 20’s to overcome the challenges of our earlier years, and then work like crazy people getting on our feet on the ground in our 30’s. In our 40’s, we’re more solidly on our feet, but things start to go wrong – spouses divorce, longstanding relationships of all kinds fracture, kids run into trouble as teens, parents become ill and/or die, and much that used to see set in stone has a way of morphing into something completely different or dissolving and disappearing completely.

Then come our 50’s, when still more physical changes happen – hormonal shifts that change our bodies’ rhythms and alter our standing in society, the further decline of the generation come before us… and the growing sense that we don’t have forever.

Then our 60’s arrive, when society expects us to start fading away and we start stepping out of the flow of productive lives… going into retirement, to enjoy our “golden years”.

If we’re fortunate, we see our 70’s, which can be characterized by physical and mental decline, the gradual passing-on of our friends and family members, and increasing financial uncertainty.

Those who are lucky – or hardy – enough to reach their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond can expect more of the same.

And in the final years of our advanced lives, there’s always the lingering question of just what our larger community is going to do with us, when all our customary intimate support systems have dissolved and passed away.

That’s the “normal” progression in the modern world. Plenty of people fall outside that paradigm and are resisting the inevitability of decline through a variety of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual approaches. 60 is the new 30, for sure. But what we all have in common – in the paradigm of having limited time on earth – is the experience of investing a whole lot of time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into figuring out the world… only to realize we don’t have forever to put it to good use.

No sooner do we get to a point in our lives where we experience some level of mastery and a sense of accomplishment, than we become painfully aware that we’re not going to be around forever.

A window of opportunity opens on a bright, shining moment of feeling like we truly get it… and that window promptly begins to close.

Picking and Choosing : Adding Injury to Insult

Even worse than that – because let’s be honest, you could really die at any time, not only because of the ravages of time – if you’re living fully, paying attention, learning your lessons, and staying alert to the potential of life, you get to a point in life where so much more becomes possible than ever before. After years upon years of muddling through, figuring things out, being controlled by folks responsible for your welfare, weathering the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual storms of growing up, you amass enough experience to – at last – make your dreams come true and also do some good in the world.

You understand how things work. Finally. Perhaps even more importantly, you understand what doesn’t work. You have more ability than ever, to figure out exactly your dreams truly are, what needs to be done, what needs to be fixed, what needs to be stopped, what needs to be started. And you have the knowledge and experience and connections to make it all come true. At a certain age, with your hard-won accumulated knowledge, experience, ability, wisdom, drive, insight, and maturity, you have more power than ever to be the person you always wanted to be, do the things you always wanted to do, and effect positive change in the world.

But there’s not enough time in the day. You can’t do everything. You can think of so many things that could be done, that should be done, that should not go un-done. And you know how to do them. You’ve got the resources and resilience, to make it happen.

There’s just not enough time.

Sure, you could work like a crazy person, 20 hours a day, and sleep when you can. You could say good-bye to your friends and disappear into your World of Work. You could take shortcuts with bribes, manipulation, or other “workarounds”. But even with the most well-oiled machine on the planet, there would still not be enough time to do everything you can think of.

And so you either do many things so-so… or you let a lot of stuff drop, because you haven’t got the time to do it all. You make your choices. You cross things off your list. You prioritize and let go of prized projects that could really make a difference. You learn to live with that loss. And the world never finds out just what all you are capable of doing.

Because you only have so much time, and you can’t do it all.

So, What are Our Options?

How do we carry on in the face of these real and perceived time limitations? We of the modern Western world deal with “not having enough time” every single day of our lives, and we do it with varying levels of satisfaction.

As discussed above, we can give in to the apparent lack of time by picking and choosing what we do, and how and when we do it. We can develop all sorts of time management strategies, study how to Get Things Done, take classes and workshops, purchase paper planners and mobile apps, read the books of trusted experts, and follow time management blogs that give us daily updates on the latest in time management innovations.

If we accept that we have a limited amount of time on earth, these are our typical options. And they can give us some sense of influence and control over the movement of time in our lives.

Additionally, we have a couple of other options which range farther afield from our typical relationship to time:

  • Get Faster at what we do – do more with what limited time we have

  • Create More time – expand our experience of time, so that we literally have more to work with.

The idea of Getting Faster is not a new one. Athletes do it. Folks who earn their living from production of some kind do it. Folks in manufacturing, the trades, web technology production, and any kind of competitive business that relies on getting to market first, know intimately what it’s like to need to go faster – and do it better each time, so that quality isn’t sacrificed along the way. time crunches and deadlines are a way of life, and figuring out how to pack more high-quality productivity into a set timeframe is the brass ring countless folks reach out for on an hourly basis.

The other approach, Creating More time, may seem like a stretch. Isn’t time an objectively measured resource, which moves at its own pace, independent from our wishes and whims? After all, everybody uses clocks, and clocks measure the passing of time, regardless of how quickly or slowly we want it to pass. Doesn’t Father time have a mind of his own?

Maybe. Plenty of thinkers have pondered this in great detail, and they’ve come up with a lot of different explanations for the nature of time. My own experience, perceptions, and reflections tell me that this thing we call “time” is both an objective and a subjective phenomenon. It is both an independent entity in its own right and a part of our lives that changes its nature and qualities based on our own observations and experience of it. And it can change in response to certain types of intention.

Rather than being an immutable external “thing” that both rewards and victimizes us, time is a dynamic expression of our physical reality which changes its very nature based on how we relate to it and interact with its dynamic qualities.

Certainly, we can deal with the problems of “time shortage” by crossing items off our list of wishes and life missions. Yet ultimately, I believe – based on my own personal experience and a ton of a certain type of thinking I’ve been doing for years, now – that we can and do have the ability to not only change our pace to comfortably fit more activity into a limited timeframe, but also actually create more time to work with.

For me, personally, that’s good news.

I know how it works. I just need to be able to explain it on paper in a way that other people can understand and put to some use. I’m in the process of proving it all out, based on the assumption that there’s an excellent chance that I’m wrong… or that I’m missing something. But like any other theory or belief system, this is a work in progress, and it will necessarily change as more information comes to light.

Stay tuned…

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Cleaning house

I’ve been getting love notes from my ISP lately, about how much space I’m taking up on their servers. I have shared hosting, so I need to consider the needs of the many, versus the needs of the one (me).

After some initial irritation at being pinged every month or so about how much space I’m taking up (I did sign up for unlimited usage, after all), I took a look at what’s actually on my disk.

Seems I have a sizable proliferation of a whole bunch of crap for years gone by, which I never bothered to clean up. I was busy doing BIG THINGS, after all, and I figured that someday, oneday, I might actually need that stuff.

Turns out, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t need it. I haven’t needed it in years — some of it in decades. It’s time I cleaned up my act.

I’ve been spending this lovely afternoon in front of an open window, looking out onto my deerfly-infested back yard, wiping out old sites and WordPress instances that I thought would be a good idea, once upon a time, but never panned out. Some of the ideas were better than others. Some of them were dogs from the start. But ultimately, you can’t let the chance of eventually being wrong, keep you from attempting to be right.

And looking at all of my ideas along the way, it’s plain to me that my life priorities have shifted… away from technical implementations and roll-outs, for the sheer joy of doing it, to conceptualizing at a more abstract level those things which offer not only sheer joy, but also some pragmatic, utilitarian promise.

Doing stuff for its own sake is wonderful and fun.

Doing stuff because it holds water, it squares with reason, and it follows logically from one supposition to the next… and it continues to hold water even after being tossed around and roughed up a bit… now, that’s even more wonderful and fun.

One thing that strikes me, as I click on a subdirectory where I have installed a WordPress instance together with a handful of “helpful” plugins, is how much absolute glut there is in the system. These templated systems with their complement of useful tools and features are seriously bloated. Each function seems to have its own individual file, which may make it easier for the system as a whole to interact with, make it more modular and customizable, etc. But that comes at a price — bloat and glut and other consonant-laden words which convey a combination of dismay and disdain in a single syllable.

But holy crap — two words, I know — tinymce has a ton of moving pieces, which may prove useful to everyone and anyone who puts it to use. But geez. It makes getting rid of the thing quite involved via Filezilla.

I know, I know — I should just login via secure shell and do rm -r on the thing. I have done it for some disposable directories. But a part of me enjoys seeing all the different files and directories going bye-bye before my very eyes. Kind of like de-fragging a hard drive in 1999.

Well, in any case, tinymce is now gone, along with about 20 different directories packed full of all sorts of relics from my days of enthusiastic compulsive (?) starting-up of whatever came to mind. I’ve kept what I need.

For now, anyway.


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