Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Update

So, I'm here. Usha, who seems to be in charge of practical matters around the place, gave me a tour of the house, encouraged me to rest, and kinda let it be at that. I have wifi, a tv, and a dvd player in my room. This is not the monasticism I was expecting. I wasn't sure I'd have a room.

I still don't know much about much, like what I'll be doing for the next couple of months, but it's nice to lie down on a bed that's my own. No secrets of the universe revealed tonight.

Yours,

Yotam

Monday, February 15, 2010

The whole "third-eye" thing

Hi Friends,

It's 11pm on Monday night. I'm in Nowhere Specific, Florida, and I'll get to the ashram tomorrow evening. I've got a really nasty cold, and I should be asleep right now. Please read gently.

I've got some notes in various places about the conversations I had in Texas and elsewhere. I met my quota, and I also had some wonderful barbecue, picked up an ex-junkie vagabond hitchhiker, and explored New Orleans just before Mardi Gras. I'd love to tell you all about all of that, but I'm not sure what internet access I'll have at the ashram, or what mental availability I'll have for writing about these adventures. We'll have to see what I end up getting up here. Are y'all especially interested in any one part of that?

Ma claimed before that I have a naturally open third eye, and a few people have asked me what that means exactly. I don't entirely know, to be honest, but I want to get a few thoughts about it on the record before my opinion changes tomorrow.

There are unobvious truths about the human capacity for spiritual experiences (or experiences we label 'spiritual') and in Hindu tradition, it is the third eye that guides us through those realms. I think Ma was suggesting that I have a stronger intuitive grasp of those experiences and their hidden truths. I've had a few experiences with her and elsewhere that give me a little idea of what that could mean.

When Ma has activated my third eye before, and on a few other occasions, I've felt a kind of extra level of perception. I feel immersed in something dense  and substantial. It's very spatial, often with a suggestion of size and of directional flows. I've never really been able to understand what's going on with these shapes and flows, but I think that Ma's training will show me a signal in the noise. 

I also, from time to time, feel as though I know exactly what to say about someone. That I see some truth of their being and can give that truth voice, but I can't identify any evidence for it. Usually, it's a story about their path in life, their gifts and obstacles, and it feels as though I'm just presented with this story fully-formed. Usually it happens in their company. In many cases, people have recognized truth in what I saw in them, but unflattering explanations abound. If there is something factive or useful in these 'perceptions,' perhaps Ma can improve my accuracy, precision, and access. 

I try to be empirical about spiritual experiences. So if I meditate for a while, then feel that I have existed for all eternity, or I'm one with the universe, or Jesus hates puppies, it doesn't mean I actually have existed for all eternity, etc., especially inasmuch as that claim would contradict the results of other modes of inquiry. I mustn't confuse my feeling for some kind of fact, but I can call Fact on my ability to access a feeling of such eternity. I believe that such feelings and experiences have a value in life in and of themselves, regardless of their ability to inform us (or not) about reality. I try to make this perspective explicit in how I write about spirituality, but if I trip up, try to read me that way. I may not list the cynical interpretation each time, but bear with me - I'm just reporting how it appears.

I really hope you don't think I'm crazy, and I do still try to make decisions reconcilable with consensus reality. If the experiences I mentioned above are just delusions, or perfectly normal events I've misinterpreted, I hope to find that out and move on. I also don't like the shades of self-aggrandizement in suggesting that I have some ability that others do not. But I've had this experience, and I want to explore it more deeply. Starting tomorrow night, my health permitting, I get to do that.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Condescension and Bullshit

So, last week I met the Marlboro Man at a Waffle House. I said "Hi. You seem interesting. Can we talk for a while?" He said "Owright," and we ate some cheesy eggs and talked our way through all the issues. He's read his Russeau and his Popper, of course, and can spoke eloquently on any subject. He goes to church, hates gay people, and watches Fox News. He told me why he does these things. His reasons are self-consistent, and hint at the secret logic of Texas.

[Here I elaborate on his reasons for these crimes, and explain that secret logic]

Between hot-button political issues, we talked about family, masculinity, God, Television... He respects my opinions and defends his own. I convince him to read Ken Wilber, and I learned that [...]. We watched a football game (somehow this Waffle House has a big screen TV) and for the first time I cared about it. The whole time, he called me "son." We're now Facebook friends.

Today he called me up to mention that he's been thinking about what I said, and maybe the gays won't burn in hell for all eternity, and he's trading in his 4x4 for a Prius. Also, he's started watching The Wire, and he loves it.

Meanwhile, I have come to understand why George W Bush wasn't a complete disaster of a presidency. I also learned the secret to getting Glen Beck off the air, and soon the whole electoral map will turn blue. George Lakoff, Al Franken, and President Obama sent me a letter of thanks, and we're planning a group hug for when I get to DC.


This is what, on some level, I wanted to write about Texas.

I've been thinking a lot about my "three conversations" mission. I wrote "MISSION: 3 good conversations with Texans about how they see the world." You'll read in a while about some conversations I've had, but I've started to see some real problems with that agenda. 

It's the last bit that really bothers me in the fantasy. Not the Lakoff/Franken/Obama group hug, but the idea of turning the map blue. I'm not here with an entirely open heart and mind. On some level, I'm talking to the people I meet trying to figure out why they're so wrong about everything. I'm for gay rights and against CO2 emissions. Much as I want to understand why some folks disagree with me, I'm not open to changing my mind. That's hardly the way to form a new understanding. 

So that's problem number one. This project is, or at least could be, really condescending. And seeing Texans as some Other, some Foreign Strange Thing, is exactly what I wanted to deny. 

On the other hand, these people ARE WRONG. They are! They're not right. So when I try to talk to them about their reasons, they don't have good ones. When I challenge their reasons they change the subject or don't understand the question. Usually, actually, they think they've answered the question, but really didn't understand it and inadvertently they've changed the subject.

I'm trying to be a sympathetic listener and understand the rationale, but I think sometimes people just aren't rational thinkers. I might be missing it, but I'm a pretty smart guy and I really am trying. Maybe the standards for rational thinking aren't very high in most places. And maybe, even if I agreed with some blue stater's X's and Y's, I still would find that most people in this country don't think rationally.

Maybe, all in all, I'm not being condescending, but I am wasting my time. Maybe they're just as dumb as conventional wisdom told me all along. The resolution of my original problem is just that my team is mostly dumb, too.

Really, I don't think that's quite how it goes. I'm sure I am wrong about lots of stuff that the Marlboro Man is right about, I just don't know what. Maybe it's not the political stuff that he's wrong about. Maybe it's the stuff that I'm not skilled in considering critically. Maybe it's taboo subjects that I'm accustomed to considering uncritically. I don't know what that would be, naturally, but he would be right about it and I would be wrong. This week I've heard arguments from Texans for some kind of eugenics and for communism. Everywhere else I've been, you can't be taken seriously with those ideas, so nobody dares to hold them.

So the problem with this dialogue is that I'm no more capable of identifying and changing my mind about the subjects - and rationales - where I'm wrong than they are. And if I can't change, I can't change others.

I don't know. It's a limitation in the project. I'm not giving up or anything, but I'm adjusting my measure of success.

I promise, I swear, I really didn't come to Texas to find myself. I honestly thought I'd already done that in LA. But here I am, and I keep finding little pieces of me all over the place, tucked away in new experiences. So there's no jumping or shooting or bull-riding in this post, but it's definitely part of the adventure. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Target, Fort Worth, TX


Saturday night I was talking to my new friend Kris, and he told me about how much fun shooting a gun was. It sounded scary as hell and quite Texan, so I figured I had to do it. Kris meant getting drunk and firing automatic weapons out in the middle of nowhere, but yesterday I went to On Target Pistol & Rifle Range in Fort Worth instead.


There are 8 principles to accuracy with a pistol:
Sight alignment
Sight picture
Strong hand grip
Weak hand grip
Trigger finger placement
Trigger pull
Stance
Breathing

My instructor, Todd,


talked me through the safety rules and aim fundamentals before I even touched a firearm. On the range, he watched me carefully and reminded me of each principle as I violated it. My left index finger was over the trigger guard, pushing me a bit right (#4). I pulled the trigger too quickly, pushing my aim down (#6). My finger was on the trigger at the knuckle instead of the grip, pushing me left (#5). This was all about consciousness, careful awareness of my hands, body, and behavior. I expected a thrill like bungee jumping, and got a yoga class instead.

Todd said I had "outstanding" grouping for a first-timer. You can see the strays to the left, right, and below where I wasn't following the fundamentals. The big hole in the middle and the three in the head are from a .22 revolver, and the upper chest set is from a 9mm. Most shots were taken at 7 yards. Afterward, Todd sent the target out to 15 yards and put five bullets through those four holes in the mini-target:


I walked out of there feeling calm, focused, happy, but fifteen minutes later my hands were shaking. It was a little cold, but mostly it was awesome. I drove to Austin on a crazy adrenaline high, riding all the giddy thrill that would have distracted me in the moment and ruined my fundamentals.

When I got to Austin, I rode a mechanical bull. The pictures didn't really come out, but I'm writing this today with some very sore thighs.



Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Leap


That's right. Last Saturday, I jumped off a bridge. Twice.

Ever since seeing Yes Man, with Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, and an absurdly contrived plot, I've wanted to go bungee jumping. I fantasized about it for months, and somehow managed not to actually go and do it, but invested enough big talk in the idea that I couldn't leave LA without doing it.

Tristan Hendy was nice enough to tag along.

It was a five mile hike just to get to the bridge. Then half an hour of instruction, and a few dozen people jumped before I did. Once my turn came, it came suddenly. I climbed across the railing, bent my knees and stuck out my arms, and dove into emptiness like Superman. 90 feet later the rubber slowed me down, caught me, and threw me back into space.

If you turn up the volume on the video, you'll realize I didn't start screaming until a couple bounces in. I don't remember much of what happened in between, but I think sheer terror and the illusion of control kept me very, very focused on not dying. Screaming happened when I realized this was actually happening.

When I stopped screaming, and just swayed back and forth a minute, I was beautifully serene. Like the bungee caught my body, but all my thoughts crashed on the rocks.

Part of the appeal of this, I should mention, is my sheer physical size. The five mile hike was kind of intimidating (it went fine), but I wanted to entrust myself to rubber and metal, falling full speed into a river, 'cause for the first time in my life I really believed it would catch me. Not long ago I couldn't possibly have done that. Turns out I needed an extra-strong bungee line, though, which embarrassed me more than it should have. Turns out, also, heavier people get more bounces per jump than everyone else (more momentum and whatnot), which was awesome the first time and jarring the second. I wasn't prepared for that either, but next time I will be. So this wasn't quite the celebration of my new body-mind love that I hoped it would be, but definitely indicates improved relations.

In the end, I could only do two jumps. The second one freaked me out, with five or six bounces straight up and down, spinning, back to the river. I didn't enjoy the lack of control, and couldn't relax myself into it. I had a couple hours to debate the matter, but a third jump seemed less scary than unfun. I hiked back to the car feeling wussy, then just tired, but I shouldn't. I did what scared me, something I couldn't have done a couple years ago. I did it twice. 

WaaHOOOOO!!!! in fact.
I jumped off a BRIDGE!!!!!!