Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull in a bookshelf I don’t look at too frequently.  I had no idea I had the book and imagine it probably came from my father.  I had read it when I was about 10 years old and absolutely loved it then. It’s a very short little book so I decided to read it again.

I didn’t like it so much 36 years later.  Not sure if that means I’m getting cynical in my old age, or what.  It irritated me.  Of course, I haven’t been feeling well and life hasn’t been looking particularly rosy or hopeful, so maybe it is cynicism that caused the irritation.

Once upon a time, life seemed like it was about achieving your full-potential, becoming all that you can be and not letting the nuisances of every day life or the banality of normal societal existence keep you down.  But I’m 46 years old and have watched untold numbers of friends take huge nose dives while trying to achieve untold heights. Several walked out on their spouses and children seeking a more “meaningful” lifestyle and didn’t find it.  Another friend ended up completely bankrupt and reliant upon whomever would take him in because he was certain that by creating the company of his dreams, he’d become a millionaire.  Maybe it finally happened, but I doubt it.  And even if it did happen, did it contain the meaning he expected?

I do think you should go after what it is you want to do.  But at what cost?  If Cognitive Psychologists are correct, then what makes us genuinely happy is ordinary stuff like family and friends, not extraordinary achievement.  Richard Bach left his wife and six children because he decided he didn’t believe in marriage.  I don’t believe in marriage, either, but I think there is a lot to be said for commitment.

A lot of people claim Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about transcending the ego.  I don’t read it that way at all.   Chasing after your desires is all about ego.  Of course, there is also a lot to be said for flying for the sake of flying, eating for the sake of eating, raising children for the sake of raising children, and loving for the sake of loving.  I’m just not convinced you need to leave the ordinary things of this world, like spouses and children, in order to be extraordinary.

Speaking of leaving children, we have yet another vagabond teen staying in our home tonight.  This is the third kid we have taken in who has been kicked out of his house this year!  I seriously don’t get it. If your child violently assaults you or someone in your home, throw him out.  But if he comes home stoned or talks back or something like that, please figure out a more adult way to deal with it!!  Throwing him out on the streets is guaranteed to make him worse, not better.  If you aren’t expecting him to be homeless because you know he’ll likely find a decent place to stay, just know that most of us have our own struggles and don’t really want to have to take on yours, too.

Sorry! I’m just grumpy because I’m not doing much soaring, lately.  I haven’t been feeling well. Not sure what is wrong with me.

Ink (2009)

I have a strange taste in films.  I get that.  I also get the feeling that my love of Ink is going to make my taste in films seem even stranger.  But, I really did love this film!!

I’ve been wondering why it’s called “Ink”.  There are storytellers that invade our dreams at night.  According to the film, they give us our “good ” dreams, and they look nothing alike.  They represent individuality.  But there are also Incubi that invade our dreams at night and comprise our nightmares.  They all resemble one another – egoic compliance.   And then, there are creatures in between, like Ink.  They are drifters and haven’t yet decided on one side or the other.

Perhaps the reason the story is entitled “Ink” is because what is written (that which gets put down in Ink) is up in the air?  An oral story can take all sorts of twists and turns forever and ever.  It’s individualistic.  Yet, what is written, is what is written.  It becomes static.  No more movement.  So who gets to decide what is written?  Our shame? Our guilt?  Our hopes?  Our dreams?  Who ultimately decides?  The storytellers, the incubi, or the dreamer of the dream?

I LOVE this movie.  It’s like watching a theatrical play because it was produced with just $250,000.  In my opinion, it puts blockbuster Hollywood movies to shame.

Watch it and tell me what you think!

The King of Masks

The King of Masks came out in 1999.  I remember seeing it with a friend during one of our rare outings without kids.  She and I were both crying by the end of the film. It actually would have been perfectly appropriate for the kids to have seen, too, but we didn’t know that until after we had seen it.  Maybe it wasn’t rated.  Or maybe we just wanted to get out of the house without kids.  I’m not sure.

Last night, it showed up on my Netflix Instant Watch queue of “Films You Will Love” so I watched it again.  It’s a beautiful story set in 1930s China.  The King of Masks is an elderly street performer who can change masks with a slight of the hand.  The literal translation of the art is “Face Changing”.  This is an old Chinese art and is based on a performer who could change 12 masks at once.  The actor for the film learned to manage 4 (the rest was managed by the magic of film).  He can only pass his art down to a male heir so he goes to where children are sold illegally in the hopes of purchasing a male child.  Lots of girls are sold because there is such a strong preference for males in 1930s China.  It’s heartbreaking!

The old man, Wang, purchases a child who tugs at his heart.  He thinks he has purchased a boy, but soon discovers she is an 8 year old girl.  After this discovery, he tries to get rid of her but she stubbornly remains with him because she has already been sold 7 times.  Her last master beat her.  She promises to scrub the decks and do whatever work Wang demands of her.  So Wang agrees to keep her on, but he is no longer “Grandpa” to her, he is “Boss”.  Zhou Renying plays Doggie and offers a heartwarming performance.  She’s a phenomenal child actress!

The director, Wu Tianming said, “I wanted to make this film because I fear that society is forgetting our Chinese traditions. Those traditions emphasized the value of morality and ethics, proper manners, a sense of honor, and taking care of each other…Through this story of an old man and a child in a world full of struggle and suffering, I wanted to express the importance of love.”  In 1930s China, a street performer was considered to be a member of an elite fraternity, despite his meager lifestyle.  His life is honest, full of integrity, beautiful and even prestigious despite being extremely humble.  He lives a very happy life despite his poverty.

Throughout the film, there are displays of beautiful Chinese festivals and operas complete with the incredible, colorful costumes that go along with them.  We are also shown magnificent statues of Buddha and several Buddhists temples where Wang goes to worship.  It’s an absolutely exquisite film.

The Kindness Handbook

I finished reading Sharon Salzberg’s The Kindness Handbook yesterday and got a lot out of it!  Salzberg has studied Buddhism for 35 years so much of the book involves Buddhist practices which seem to me to be quite practical.

Salzberg says that from the Buddhist perspective, lack of effort is lack of courage.  But this is not an easy thing to see about oneself. We think of ourselves as being kind or compassionate when really all we are is afraid.  We can also think ourselves compassionate when we’re really actually feeling guilty.  We may see someone else suffering and think we do not deserve our own happiness because of their suffering.  But this is not compassion.  It’s guilt, which is defined within Buddhism as a form of self-hatred.  Concern can be helpful, but it must to contrasted with guilt.  Going over and over what you should have said or done is not concern, it is guilt which drains our energy and puts us in center stage.  Concern, on the other hand, puts the other in center stage.

Salzberg says that evolving a spiritual practice is not about having and getting.  It’s about becoming more and more compassionate toward ourselves and others.  I think this is what bothered me somewhat about Gay Hendricks and his book I recently read, Five Wishes. He seems to equate spirituality with desire fulfillment – having and getting.  Self compassion has three components: self-kindness vs. self-judgment; a sense of common humanity vs. isolation; and mindfulness vs. over-identification.

Salzberg has a very different understanding of success than Gay Hendricks, too. Hendricks suggests that success is however we define it.  But Salzberg claims success goes way beyond our ability to perceive. Just being willing “to take a risk, trying hard in new terrain, learning to be whole hearted instead of diffident, courageously working to overcome setbacks rather than despairing, beginning again if we falter – these are often actions we do not count when we are accessing our “successes”.   In Buddhist teaching, the immediate result of an action and how others respond to it is only a small part of its value. The more significant aspect is the intention that gives rise to an action. This intention is formed by our worldview.  Is an action motivated by love?  Or hatred and revenge?  For instance, giving something away because you are motivated by the thought – “I don’t deserve to have anything so I might as well give it away” is not an action motivated by love. It seems like an ethical, generous act but it is motivated by fear.  Also, we can never know how our actions ripple out and affect others.  So it is important to at least recognize what motivates our actions. As T.S. Elliott wrote, “There is only the trying.  The rest is not our business.”

She quotes Bob Thurman on seeing the world more truthfully:

Imagine you are on the New York City subway, and these martians come and zap the subway car so that those of you in the car are going to be together…. forever.  What do we do?  If someone is hungry, we feed them.  If someone is freaking out, we try to calm them down.  We might not at all like everybody, or approve of them – but we are going to be together forever, and we need to respond with the wisdom of how interrelated our lives are, and will remain.

What a powerful image!!

The Kindness Handbook was an exceptionally helpful little book.  So glad I read it!

Five Wishes

I’m not entirely sure if Gay Hendricks’ Five Wishes is worth reading.  I finished the book earlier today and all day long I’ve been mulling over what my answer would be if on my deathbed, someone asked me if my life had been successful. I can’t help but think I’d answer “yes”, even though I haven’t accomplished everything I would like to accomplish.

I feel like my personal spirituality has been leading me away from equating success with desire fulfillment and toward simply being happy with the way things are rather than wishing they were otherwise.

Maybe I’m running away from something with that answer. But I don’t feel like I am. I’ve just never been convinced that the thrust of spirituality is obtaining the material stuff you want out of life. I tend to think it has more to do with accepting things as they are.

Alan Watts

I was sent a very interesting video based on Alan Watts. The little blurb on the video quotes Watts: 

Atheism in the name of God is an abandonment of all religious beliefs . . . giving up the attempt to make sense of the world in terms of any fixed idea or intellectual system. It is becoming again as a child and laying oneself open to reality as it is actually and directly felt, experiencing it without trying to categorize, identify or name it. ~ Alan Watts

There are comments under the video claiming that atheism is not a belief because it is simply the disbelief in God. This always cracks me up.  Especially since this IS Alan Watts after all.  Read the full quote:

Atheism in the name of God is an abandonment of all religious beliefs, including atheism, which in practice is the stubbornly held idea that the world is a mindless mechanism. Atheism in the name of God is giving up the attempt to make sense of the world in terms of any fixed idea or intellectual system. It is becoming again as a child and laying oneself open to reality as it is actually and directly felt, experiencing it without trying to categorize, identify or name it. This can be most easily begun by listening to the world with closed eyes, in the same way that one can listen to music without asking what it says or means. This is actually a turn-on a state of consciousness in which the past and future vanish (because they cannot be heard) and in which there is no audible difference between yourself and what you are hearing. There is simply universe, an always present happening in which there is no perceptible difference between self and other, or, as in breathing, between what you do and what happens to you. Without losing command of civilized behavior, you have temporarily “regressed” to what Freud called the oceanic feeling of the baby the feeling that we all lost in learning to make distinctions, but that we should have retained as their necessary background, just as there must be empty white paper under this print if you are to read it.

Why is it so many atheists claim they don’t believe in anything just because they don’t believe in God?  Those who say they do not believe in God have at least bought into the intellectual idea that the question of God’s existence is somehow significant, even if it is simply to refute the affirmative response.  But not all of us find the question significant, so the answer doesn’t really matter.  Isn’t it possible we’ve simply been asking the wrong question for thousands of years and the insistence on answering it is the problem rather than how it is answered? Perhaps it’s time for all of us to transcend the labels we assign ourselves and one another and move on.

Sudden Awakening

Eli Jaxon-Bear’s Sudden Awakening was another book I found for $1.00 in the clearance section of the HalfPrice Bookstore next to my daughter’s dance class. I bought it because I attended an Enneagram class several years ago given at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin by one of his students from Leela.  I had a HUGE self-realization while reading his book, The Enneagram of Liberation, which had been assigned for the class.

 

Just a little back ground info.  I’m a seven on the Enneagram scale. This has been confirmed by several Enneagram practitioners including those from Leela, so I’m assuming it is an accurate assessment. Sevens are experience gluttons.   We have difficulty sticking with anything for long because we are always off seeking the next, new experience or grand idea.  Because we tend toward gluttony, our movement toward wholeness, according to Jaxon-Bear, is through “sobriety”.

I had already been through Richard Rohr’s class on the Enneagram as well as a class given by a Jesuit priest who was a psychologist and expert on the Enneagram in San Diego, so none of this was news to me when I took the class offered through the Leela Foundation.  But what I hadn’t considered before reading Jaxon-Bear’s book was that particular kinds of spiritual seeking can be a form of “gluttony”.  I wasn’t into the sort of religious experience people try to effect through meditation or drugs. That has always seemed to me more like gluttony than spirituality.  What I was into, however, was trying to figure out “the code”.  (I don’t know how else to put it.)  I felt certain that if I just studied enough, prayed enough, meditated enough… I’d figure out the spiritual secrets of the universe which would, in turn, “save the world”.  In Enneagram, Jaxon-Bear wrote:

Sevens love to skate on new ideas.  This is a place of synthetic or associative thinking.  They love to bring together new and interesting combinations… These are the future thinkers.  For them, the present is made tolerable by the future.  Sevens always envision us moving into a Golden Age. Things are going to get better.  Thoughts of the future are used to avoid the pain in the present moment.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. Part of the reason I’ve been a spirituality junkie is because I genuinely believe there is something to figure out and when it gets figured out and is presented to others in an understandable way, everything will be better. That this could be a form of avoidance never occurred to me, but it makes sense. It’s like Nietzsche’s idea of Eternal Recurrence. Would you be willing to live your life over and over and over again, as it is now – warts, wars and all?  Nietzsche had chronic migraines and serious, painful stomach issues.  This wasn’t coming from a man who was living a carefree life.   But it makes sense.  We aren’t living in the future. We are living now.  If your focus is on a “better life” in the future rather than gratefulness and verve for life as it is, then according to Nietzsche, you aren’t living.

Anyway, I was excited to happen upon another book by Eli Jaxon-Bear because I had gotten so much out of his first book. Unfortunately, the primary focus of Sudden Awakening seems to me to be on the very thing Jaxon-Bear warned sevens against in his previous book.  It’s full of “wake up so you can save the world” mentality.  I checked out the Leela Foundation on-line and the bi-line is: “Dedicated to World Peace and Freedom through Self-Realization”.  At one point in the book he writes, “Perhaps the only hope for the planet lies in our willingness to end our personal suffering.”

It makes me think of that George Carlin skit where he wonders if human beings have reached a new pinnacle of egoic arrogance by thinking we can “save the planet”. Carlin reminds us that the planet will be just fine. It will recover. It is human beings who are fucked!

Of course, I don’t disagree that there is value in ending our personal suffering.  Healing is healing and has a wide-reaching ripple effect that should never be underestimated.  And I truly got a lot out of reading Sudden Awakening.   Jaxon-Bear is fully of psychological insight.  But I can’t help but wonder:  if we place an urgency on human beings “waking up” in order to “save the world”, how is that not an attachment to the ego?  

How can we possibly put an end to our own personal suffering if our primary reason for doing so is to save the world?   This seems to me to be a double egoic attachment to waking up which I suppose keeps spiritual gurus in business.  It’s a great sales pitch:  “buy our services and we will help you ‘wake up’ which will put an end to personal suffering and world salvation will be yours.  But if we “do in order to get”, is that truly an awakening?  Maybe Jaxon-Bear needs to re-read the book he wrote on the Enneagram.  Especially the part about the Sevens.